§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. Morley.)
§ * SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
I rise to ask the House to decline to accept the Second Reading of this Bill, and, in declining to do so, to give a specific and important reason for taking that course. I should propose to ask the House to say that it—Declines to proceed further with a Bill containing provisions effecting extensive changes in the representative system of the country, in the absence of proposals for the redress of the large inequalities existing in the distribution of electoral power.I am much indebted to the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) for allowing me to take precedence with this Amendment, although he himself had put one down upon the Paper, and although his knowledge of Parliamentary and electoral matters fully qualified him to take the lead in this discussion. I am anxious to ask the House to accept a proposition which involves not simply the rejection of this Bill, but a statement by the House of a principle which is of extreme importance, and by which I hope the House will be governed in any of its dealings with the question of electoral reform. I do not, of course, suggest that because there are many inequalities you are wrong in redressing some when you have not time to deal with them all. Of course, that would be an unpractical proposal. But what I do suggest is this—that where, in such a system as our representative system, you have large and glaring inequalities and anomalies, the existence of which no one can deny, the mischief of which has been experienced in our practical Parliamentary life, and the remedy for which is perfectly 53 clear, and has already been pointed out by the responsible Government of the Crown, you ought not to leave these glaring inequalities unredressed, and pretend that you are amending the representative system by correcting inequalities the anomalies of which are disputed, which are not matters of discussion and dispute between us, which have not produced any mischief that anyone can point to, and which, as far as our experience and the prospects of this Bill show, are not likely to be remedied without a most serious interference with and disturbance of our electoral system in many of its most important parts. In discharging the duty which has been given to me, I, of course, have to deal in the first place with the proposition in the Amendment which refers to the extensive changes made in the Bill now before the House. I propose to ask the House to examine the Bill and to realise for itself what an enormous change in our political system would be effected by the acceptance of a measure which shields itself under the modest but singularly clumsy title that disfigures the Bill now before the House. The question is one of importance, because if you deal, and deal in a manner which involves serious ehange, with minor difficulties, you give the sanction of your tolerance to larger anomalies, the mischief of which can be easily pointed out and must indeed be universally confessed. We have an interesting subject of contemplation in the provisions of this Bill and in the speech by which it was commended to the House. It is not long-since we had from the same Ministry, but from another of its Members, a different Registration Hill. Last year the present Secretary for India (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who certainly had immediate knowledge of the particular matters with which he was dealing, brought forward a Bill which I suppose represented the then opinions and desires of Her Majesty's Government. This year a different Minister (Mr. J. Morley) brings in a different Bill. The first subject of wonderment is why that particular Minister should have been chosen to propose this Bill to the House. Of course, the Government were entitled to choose their own spokesman, nor could they choose a spokesman more welcome to the House, whatever proposals he had to make, more courteous in debate, and more pleasant in discussion than 54 the right hon. Gentleman; but his personal acceptability does not remove the wonderment with which one sees that he has been chosen to take charge of the only two business proposals of the present Session. He is not, as far as I know, specially acquainted with electoral matters; and it surely is a little hard upon him that he who, of all men in the House of Commons, must most keenly realise, sometimes with contentment and sometimes, I think, with embarrassment, the grave anomaly to which I shall presently have to call the attention of the House, should be chosen to propose this Bill, especially when his colleagues know that his bosom will presently be racked with anxiety as to the competing claims of the evicted tenants of Ireland and the non-registered electors of Great Britain, who will be challenging each other for supremacy for their claim on his attention. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman has the control of the whole of the legislative business that the Government expect to get through in the present Session. I think we may see presently, when we come to examine one or two of the provisions of the Hill, why it has not been proposed to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India. When we ask why some of the provisions of last year's Bill do not reappear now, I think perhaps the Secretary for India may in moments of candour have to admit that there have been certain incidents in the history of the registration proposals of the Government which show that those proposals have not been made exactly with the view of improving the electoral system of this country. Not only have we a different Minister, but we have a different Bill. It differs in some interesting respects. We were told last year that the Bill then proposed was a Registration Bill, and that because it was a Registration Bill certain important questions were excluded from its provisions. When the Secretary for India (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was speaking in the House last year he said—It has been suggested that I should introduce a measure dealing with the plural or multiple vote; but that has really nothing to do with registration and will be dealt with separately. I have also been asked to include in the Bill clauses for the improvement of the method of holding elections: but this is not an Election Bill"—55 he could not have said that now—and however great an improvement it might be to arrange that all elections should take place on the same day, the subject cannot find a place in the present measure, which is confined simply and solely to the reform of registration.He therefore excluded the subject of One Man One Vote, and the subject of elections on the same day, because that was purely a Registration Bill. This year the spokesman of the Government has excluded from their Bill other matters which were included in last year's measure, and he has explained that he has done so because they cannot find place in a Registration Bill. Last year's proposals contained an important provision with regard to the registration of lodgers. It was strictly a registration proposal, and had nothing to do with the franchise, so that it quite appropriately found its place in that Bill. Why is it not in the Bill of this year? I think we know that the election agents of the Party opposite informed them that the result of the adoption of that provision might possibly be injurious to the political balance in a good many constituencies. The proposal which was strictly registration, and was included in the Registration Bill of last year, is struck out from the present Bill. But, curiously enough, its being struck out is defended on the same ground which was used to defend the exclusion of the One Man One Vote last year; and when the Chief Secretary for Ireland proposed this Bill, and came to touch on the lodger question, he said that must be excluded from the Bill because it went deep down into the question of the franchise. Why, the proposal of the Government last year did not touch the franchise at all, and the reason the right hon. Gentleman gave for not including it this year was not the real reason, because this proposal, framed as it was last year, did not go deep down into the franchise, or touch franchise at all. There is one other very serious omission in the Bill which I have noticed with interest. Last year there was a proposal with regard to successive occupation—n,nd there are cases which I shall have occasion to show presently in regard to successive occupation that are clearly registration questions and do not touch the franchise at all. It was in last year's Bill; will the Government put it 56 back again in Committee; if so, why not put it in this Bill? The differences that I have pointed out between the two Bills are somewhat interesting, and they, I think, indicate to us that the alterations that have been made in the Bill cannot have been made for the purpose of dealing with registration, and with registration in a fair way. Before I go on to examine the proposals of this Bill, I would like to point out to the House one matter which no Registration Bill ought to leave untouched, but which this Bill leaves absolutely untouched. The great difficulty perhaps with regard to registration which now exists is the difference between householders and lodgers. It is the law now, strange as it may seem, that if you have two houses standing side by side, exactly similar in construction, all let out in tenements, the persons occupying these tenements being precisely of the same occupation, and character, and capacity of franchise, if the landlord lives in one house the occupiers cannot get the franchise, and if the landlord does not live in the next house the occupiers do got the franchise. There never was a more remarkable example of that than the case that was argued by the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) in the year 1886. It was a case in which he was defending the votes of no less than 97 persons who occupied, as inhabitants or householders, premises for which a Parliamentary vote could be given. Those 97 persons were all struck off the list, in spite of the efforts of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because the land-lord lived in the house, and because "The Sanitary Authority would look to him if there was any question of its cleanliness." Certainly those 97 persons were struck off for no other reason; and that has been perpetuated by an Act of Parliament. In 1885, when, I think, the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) had the conduct of the Bill that passed through this House, and had to frame the Schedule, there was a provision in the Schedule—which has been repealed since—that if a landlord lived in the house he ought not to return the names of the occupiers in that house under him, although if he were not living there they would be entitled to the franchise. Of all the anomalies, of all the mischiefs, that exist in our registra- 57 tion, the distinction between the householder and the lodger, which has become in many cases an artificial distinction, is the most glaring and absurd, and in this Bill there is not the smallest attempt to remedy it. I have pointed out one very important want in this Bill; but I should like to say the main attack that I make on this Bill is, that it is not an honest attempt to deal with the reform of registration, but is, strictly speaking, an Election Bill. Apart from that, the main comment I make on it is that, in defiance of all the principles to which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have continually pledged themselves for years past, it tends to make registration more expensive, it tends to throw an immense burden not only on the constituencies, but upon all the candidates and Members for constituencies, and thereby closes up the avenues that are at present open, or, at all events, partially open, to the House of Commons, to those who are not endowed with much wealth, or who do not care to make themselves the mere servants of a political organisation. What is it we have understood to be the great desire of hon. Gentlemen belonging to the Party opposite? We have understood their principle was that the election of Representatives of Parliament was a national concern; that the expense of preparing a Register should be borne by the people at large; that the process of getting voters upon the Register and kept there should be made so easy and economical as not to require either very great trouble on the part of the elector, or very great expenditure on the part of any political Party. Nay, they have gone so far as to say that they would desire, many of them, that an allowance of public money should be paid to Members who have seats in this House. And one object of that allowance of public money, as we have always understood, was that poor men, men who had not very large means to spend on political matters, might be able to find their way to this House. If this Bill is accepted all that will be absolutely over and done with. If they carry this Bill they will have set up against such men as they profess to desire to see in this House, they will have set up against working-class candidates, an impassable barrier, and will have imposed on all the 58 Members of this House and all men who seek to obtain election in a constituency a pecuniary burden, the extent of which I will presently try to ascertain and show to the House, but which will be so severe that more than ever it will be necessary to be a rich man, unless, indeed, a man is content to become the mere servant of a political organisation. If this were a real Registration Bill, if this were an honest attempt to reform the Registration Laws of this country, I say, for myself, and I am sure for many on this side, the Government would find no steadier supporters amongst the ranks of their own supporters than they would find in us in endeavouring to pass a really good Bill. Two years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax proposed his Bill for the reform of registration, I was allowed to speak from that side of the House, and on the part of the Government, in answer to the Bill, and I said, not for myself only, but for others for whom I was allowed to speak, that we thought that when Parliament had decided that a certain class of persons were to exercise the franchise, it was our duty to see that there should be no artificial obstacles to prevent the enjoyment of that right; that it was our duty to make such arrangements as should enable the persons qualified according to our law to get easily on the Register, and to have their names kept there when they are on. I need not quote my own words on this matter, but I may be allowed to quote the words of my lamented Friend, Mr. Edward Stanhope, who last year, speaking from this side of the House, spoke for us on the question of the Registration Bill then introduced—We think that those voters who are declared by Parliament to be qualified to vote should be put on the Register without any unreasonable delay, and that they should not be taken off the Register for the trifling causes for which many are now deprived of the franchise; but, at the same time, every precaution should be taken for the purpose of preventing personation.Those are the principles on which we have been prepared to deal, and are prepared to deal, with any proposals for the amendment of the Registration Law. But what I want, and undertake, to show the House is that the proposals now made are not proposals in that direction at all, but proposals which contain in them elements of the highest mischief, against 59 which hon. Gentlemen opposite, as well as ourselves, have protested. I would like to refer to the last authoritative pronouncement of a Committee of this House with regard to the question of registration. I believe that before we deal effectively with the question of registration it will be necessary to have a Select Committee on the subject, and I think we have had no Committee since the year 1868.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
I was not aware of that, and I daresay we shall hear something about it presently, of its constitution and its recommendations: but in 1868 there was a Committee of this House of singular authority and importance, of which the late Sir Stafford Northcote, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), and the hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr.Rathbone) were Members, and another Member, and the Chairman of the Committee was the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the course of their interesting and important Report a passage was inserted which I ask the House to allow me to read, and, reluctant as I am to inflict long extracts upon the House, the House will readily admit that the authorship of the passage and its contents justify my reading it. That Committee said—The existing Law of Registration in boroughs is founded on the principle that such registration is the business of the State, and ought to be placed as far as possible beyond the influence alike of the ignorance or apathy of the citizens and of the interested action of political agents. But by the operation of the registration system as it works at present a large percentage of persons entitled to vote can only obtain the franchise by a troublesome course of proceedings instituted either by themselves or by others in their behalf.This result operates with hardship upon weekly-wage voters whom it is the special object of recent legislation to enfranchise, and the redress of their grievances becomes the necessary corollary of the Reform Act of 1867. To the artizan or labourer the trouble and loss of time sustained in making a claim comes as a severe pecuniary fine; he may lose several days' wages and risk the loss of permanent employment; and, after all, he may be defeated by technical objections or accidental blunders for which he is not responsible and which arise from the inexperience or negligence of the persons making out the list. This state of things leaves a result objectionable in principle and mischievous in practice.60When it is found that the working men cannot bear the burden of sustaining their own rights, party political organisations are formed for the purpose of discharging that duty which the law assumes to be fulfilled by the Public Authority. The correction of the errors of the Overseers' Lists is undertaken by rival Registration Associations. An expensive machinery is set to work to strike off assumed opponents and to place upon the Register persons who are assumed to be adherents, frequently on the very ground that their vote is obtained at the expense of those who sustain the claim. The action of such associations is necessarily prejudicial to the independence of a constituency, and not only affords the means, but supplies a grave temptation, to illegitimate practices and corrupt inducements, whilst, at the same time, the imperfect operation of the responsible Registration Authority justifies their existence and forms an excuse for their operations, it is notoriously difficult to discriminate between money legitimately expended in registration and money which, under the name of registration, is practically employed to corrupt a constituency.Now, Sir, in the year 1868 those words wore written by the right hon.Gentle-man, and they were unanimously accepted by an important Committee, and presented to the House, and they are as true to-day as they were then. The difficulties exist of establishing and getting the votes on the Register: voters are compelled to come on through the agency of political organisations, which thus throws them into the hands of those organisations and affords opportunity for corrupt influences being exercised on both sides. But if that is true—and the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that it is true—what is the excuse for now putting forward a Bill which, so far from remedying the mischief which was confessed and admitted 26 years ago, will make that mischief a great deal worse and rivet upon candidates, members, and constituencies, the authority of political organisations? Last year, when I heard a Registration Bill proposed, I did hope the effect of that Bill would be to give somewhat more freedom to the individual in our constituencies, and I hoped it all the more because, when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India moved that Bill, he made a speech in which he almost repeated, though he made them by his language his own, the words I have just read from the right hon. Gentleman's Report in 1868, and he declared one of the objects of the Bill was to release the constituencies of that necessity of submitting to political organisations, which in itself was a mischief, and might 61 lead to corrupt influences; and the Bill, on that ground, was welcomed with enthusiasm by many of those who were in the House. Among those who spoke most strongly upon the matter was the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy), and I quote a few words of his—The reason why I principally support this Bill and its application to Ireland is that it will make a great reduction in the burdens which rest upon the people. Not only will it make savings in the pocket of the ratepayers, but also in the pockets of candidates and in the funds of Party Associations. These savings might be calculated by tens of thousands of pounds.And in a spirit with which I entirely sympathise, and in language which I most gladly re-echo, the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) gave his welcome to the Bill that would have that effect. I shall be most anxious to hear what he will say with regard to this Bill, which proceeds in precisely the contrary direction, which increases largely the burden of the ratepayers, and adds enormously to the authority and power of political organisations. Now, Sir, the very first proposal contained in the Bill shows us what will happen. It is a proposal that, instead of one revision in the year, we shall have two revisions. There is much to be said for that proposal. I do not think, if you take either side of the House, you would find entire agreement between them as to the way the Registration Laws should be reformed. It is said at present there is a hardship because of the 12 months' residence which is required to qualify for a vote. The mischief is not in the 12 months; qualification. If the 12 months' qualification were retained, and you had a system that enabled a man at the end of 12 months to come immediately on the Register, and then to exercise the franchise in the place in which up to that time he had lived, I believe there would be no complaint of the 12 months; that it would be accepted that 12 months is not more than might reasonably be required as a guarantee of that substantial and continued interest in the affairs of the constituency which one would desire to have from those dealing with the election of Members. But the real grievance is not the 12 months, but the fact that it is long after the expiration of the 12 months before the man is able to exercise his vote. At the present 62 time we know it may be two and a-half years after a man begins to occupy qualifying premises before he is able to get on the Register for those premises, and the real sense of grievance that is felt amongst our people is the grievance of those men who have fulfilled the 12 months' residence, but are kept a year, 15, or 18 months before exercising the franchise, and the giving a protracted period of discussion and examination after the end of the 12 mouths creates another and a very serious difficulty. You take your Register from persons resident in particular districts up to the 24th of Juno in one year, but they do not then exercise the vote until after the first day in January, and the consequence is that during the interval that elapses between acquiring the right to vote and the opportunity to exercise it, a change has taken place in the constituency which, when you come to test its opinion in the following year, makes it extremely difficult, and leaves you a constituency to deal with that does not then live within the district you are dealing with. Perhaps no better illustration could be given than the borough in which a contested election is now going on, the borough of Hackney. Although only four months have passed, I believe, since the Register came into force, out of something like 11,000 voters 2,500 have gone outside the limit of the constituency. Of course, there is one way of dealing with that, which would be to establish a system by which there should be as far as possible an automatic registration of persons who had fulfilled the qualifying period. Another remedy that has been suggested, and widely accepted, is that the length of the qualifying period should itself be reduced. I have always thought the reduction in the length of the qualifying period was of far less importance than hastening the process by which the qualified person should become legally capable of voting, and I believe that if we had a Select Committee by which this matter could be examined simply as a matter of business, with the common desire to secure the power of voting to those qualified under the laws respecting the franchise, I believe we should come to a satisfactory conclusion) on that basis. The conclusion the Grovernment have come to is a very serious and dangerous conclusion. They 63 propose to set up two registrations, two revisions, instead of one; that is to say, they propose to duplicate the work that is done by the Local Authorities; and they propose, which is quite as important, to duplicate the work and the expense that is thrown on the candidates at elections. This is a grave matter. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the London University (Sir J. Lubbock) asked a question just now of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland as to his calculation of the expense that would be involved by this Bill. The right hon. Baronet could hardly expect to get any positive answer to his question, because it is a difficult matter to calculate, and I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman could obtain information on it to enable him to answer with any great positiveness. But I have taken a good deal of trouble to calculate the amount that will be involved. My calculation is that the cost of registration to the Local Authorities at the present time is a sum of £300,000 a year, and I believe I have taken pains to be as moderate as possible, and in any figure I give I think I shall be found to be under the mark. I believe it costs at the present time £300,000, and I believe the effect of this Bill, framed as it is, and especially as it disassociates the parochial list from the rate book, and throws on the persons responsible for the list the necessity of further work than they at present go through will be to double that expenditure. I need not trouble the House with details from the different places from which I have sought information; but I may mention, for instance, that in the borough of Liverpool, which has nine seats, the expense of registration to the Local Authority is about £4,000 a year, or something like £500 for each seat. In the three boroughs of Hackney the expense from public sources is about £1,200 a year, including, of course, the returning officer's expenses in connection therewith, and the best judgment I can form is that £300,000 is the present cost to the rates, and that will be doubled by the Bill which the Government propose. But I do not think that is the most serious part of the case. If it were necessary, for the purpose of giving us a true electoral roll which would be in all respects fair and satisfactory, and to which all politicians or 64 persons could look with confidence, I do not think the cost would be too great, and the constituencies would not object; but the mischief is that while spending this £600,000 a year in public expenditure to make your electoral roll, the electoral roll, after all, will represent, not the result of the responsible work of public officials, but the result of the action of political organisations. Now, I have endeavoured to make some calculation as to the amount now spent by candidates and Members in different areas in carrying forward their private share of the registration work. When I was speaking in 1892, I said I believed £350,000 a year was spent by the political organisations in the constituencies. I have reason to believe that I greatly understated it, and that it would come to at least £500,000, spent by Members and candidates, or political adherents who subscribe in boroughs and counties to relieve Members and candidates from this expenditure. That amount will be almost doubled under the Bill, but if it were increased by only one-half, the result would be that you would have an electoral roll which is made up by an expenditure of £600,000 from the localities, and an expenditure by Members and candidates of £750,000, and which would then only represent the activity of the political organisations and not the true result of the work of an official and impartial authority. I submit that to the careful consideration of the House, and I venture to say at this point that I have justified what I said when I contended this Bill went directly counter to the principles which have been promulgated by hon. Members. How can they expect working men Members, if they make their registration system such that the man who stands for a constituency must spend £400 or £500 a year out of his own pocket or the pockets of his friends, to carry on the registration work? How can you expect to give an opening to persons independent of Party influence if you make it necessary to keep going the machinery of canvassing a constituency and testing the correctness of the Register from one end of the year to another instead of for a few weeks only, as at present? That would be undoubtedly necessary if you are to have two revisions, two sets of notices, two 65 sets of objections, and two sets of appeals. Now, Sir, with regard to the qualifying period and the double registration, I venture to put this as a very serious matter for the Government to consider, and I venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I hope he will let me put it to him at this moment as one who does desire to improve the Registration Laws and to get a good Register cheaply,—whether this Bill will not go far to increase, to stereotype, and render permanent those mischiefs which in 1886 he so admirably denounced. I do not wish to dwell on details at this stage, and the House will forgive me if I have trespassed too far in that regard. I pass to the next point. It is proposed to abolish the rating qualification; and here again the Government are creating a great difficulty, and the mischief is in the same direction as that which I have already pointed out. It is said that the rating qualification is only evidence, and that since there is no longer the requirement of personal payment of the rates, there is no object in keeping the system in existence. That does not apply, of course, to Scotland. Out of 600,000 voters on the Scotch Register, no less than 63,000 lose their qualification because they have not paid their rates. It is a most important, and serious proposition to take away the pressure which is now advantageously exercised in the public interest for the payment of rates. I believe the Government will find if they inquire that there is always a large payment of rates at the end of the qualifying period, and just before the vote is to be claimed. A man does not like to expose himself to the reproach from his fellows that he is not one who has borne his share of the public burden, or that he is one who has lost his electoral privileges for non-payment of rates. It is important that the rates should be regularly paid, and the arrangement we now have as to registration helps to secure the regular and proper payment of rates, though that is collateral to the main purpose of the registration system. A matter I ventured to put before the House in 1892 and which I still ask it to consider is this. It is in my belief of the greatest importance that the roll of electors should not be prepared simply for political purposes, 66 but should have its basis and foundation in the fact that it has been prepared by some Public Authority for purposes other than those distinctly political. Now the overseer puts the names on the rate book. It is his duty to put on the names of those who are rated. It is his duty to scud out to the occupier of the house a notice calling on him to give the name of the occupier in that house in order that it may be put—where? Not merely on the electoral roll, but in a separate column of the rate book. I do not wish to overstate this point. I know that the compound householder has interfered with such an arrangement; but there is no reason for ceasing; to regard the rate book as the basis of the registration. The next proposal is that all the polling should take place on the same day—a proposal which was excluded from the Bill of last year. With regard to that, I should like to say it seems to me to be an unreasonable proposal, and I cannot see on what grounds it has been made. It is clearly an unreasonable proposal in this way: the effect of it would be either to lengthen unduly the period of the contest in the boroughs, or to shorten unduly the period of the contest in the counties. No one can pretend that a borough election requires so long a period as an election in a large and scattered constituency, where a candidate must necessarily have a much longer time, in order to make himself even known by name or by face to the electors. As to Saturday being fixed as the polling day, if the Government will make inquiries they will find that in many parts of the country Saturday would be an extremely inconvenient day, though it would not make the smallest difference as far as Parties are concerned. To have all polls on Saturday, and especially all county polls, when the counting of the votes cannot take place the same night, so that the excitement and disturbance of a contested election will be continued through Sunday, is a proposal which the House ought not lightly to accept without much stronger reasons for it than the Government have given. But I now come to the main objection I have to the Bill, which is in regard to the proposal to abolish the plural vote. It is said that the plural vote is an anomaly. I deny that absolutely. The anomaly would be for every man to 67 have the same vote. It would be an anomaly to give the same authority and influence in the election to the man who has by education and habit the capacity for dealing with public affairs, and has position and responsibility, as to the man who, by the accident of birth, has been untrained in public affairs and uneducated in the history of public life. To give two such persons the same weight in public affairs is an anomaly; and that anomaly is only partially redressed by the existing system of plural voting. Perhaps, in the opinion of some, I am giving expression to an unpopular doctrine, because the doctrine of the absolute and necessary equality of all members of the community has become popular in many quarters now. [Cheers.] I am glad to hear those cheers, because they will justify the quotation which I am about to make. It is not so very long ago since the Liberal Party recognised Mr. John Stuart Mill as a great authority on public affairs. I remember the chorus of welcome which greeted Mr. Mill when he rose to address the House for the first time in 1866, as one who represented the mind of the Liberal Party in its most energetic and cultivated form. The words to which I desire to call attention are these—The American Institutions have imprinted strongly on the American mind, that any one man (with a white skin) is as good as any other; and it is felt that this false creed is nearly connected with some of the more unfavourable points in American character. It is not a small mischief that the Constitution of any country should sanction this creed; for the belief in it, whether express or tacit, is almost as detrimental to moral and intellectual excellence as any effect which most forms of Government can produce.Let me read another passage—A person may have a double vote by other means than that of tendering two votes at the same hustings; he may have a vote in each of two different constituencies: and, though this exceptional privilege at present belongs rather to superiority of means than of intelligence, I would not abolish it where it exists, since until a truer test of education is adopted, it would be unwise to dispense with even so imperfect a one as is afforded by pecuniary circumstances.["Hear, hear!"] Then the suggestion was made that the future might have in it a larger extension of education, and that the need for this might presently disappear, and he added this, which I commend to the hon. Member who cheers— 68But if the best hopes which can be formed on this subject were certainties, I should still contend for the principle of plural voting.I said it was not long ago since Mr. John Stuart Mill, who never recanted these opinions, wrote the words which I have read. Now, I want to ask, why is it that the Government are taking an entirely different view, and why is it that, exactly at the time when democratic finance is tending to pile all the burdens of the country upon those who are in the position which gives them the power of plural voting, that power of plural voting should be taken away? We know that it is because the education and intelligence of the country is against the present Government. They know that, broadly, what were called, with some attempt at opprobrium, the classes—they know that the classes were against and are against the main elements in their policy at the present time, and it is because this body of voters is believed to be against them that they desire now to disfranchise them. Well, Sir, it is a strange thing that this should be done. It is not so very long that this body of plural voting has been adverse to the Party opposite. I believe that down even as late as 1885 there was a real and substantial division of opinion in the voters of whom we are now speaking, and the Liberal Party has had, in times gone by—and I do not see why it should not have again—the support of a very large share of the intelligence and the wealth of this country. [Ministerial laughter.] I am more hopeful for the Government than they are for themselves. This body of educated opinion has turned almost unanimously against them, and they want to disfranchise them. I encourage them to be more hopeful. Let them look forward to better times, when the policy which they adopt and propose to the House can commend itself to those who are interested as deeply as this class are in the affairs of the country. It will be a mistake to disfranchise a class. Surely it would be better, gradually, at all events, to try and convert them. But if it is necessary for their present political purpose to crowd the Register—as indeed some of the provisions of this Bill would crowd them—with numbers of the less independent and less intelligent voters, and if it be necessary for their purpose 69 that they should erase from the Register this body of intelligent opinion, I suggest to the Government, that while they are trying to get rid of what I believe to be the just and fair influence of wealth and education, which is indicated to a large extent by the wealth of the country, they should take care not to give to wealth, and the illegitimate operations of wealth, a very enormous power in the electoral system of the country; and the proposal which they make with regard to plural voting appears to me to be as mischievous as a proposal could possibly be. Just let me ask what the result of it would be. I have pointed out the great increase in expense that would follow from duplicating registration and revision, and from increasing the burden upon candidates; but let me ask the House to consider what will be the real and practical effect of the scheme for the abolition of plural voting which the Government have introduced. They do not propose to take away the votes or the right to be registered in respect of different qualifications, but they do propose, while they allow a man to be registered in two or three or half a dozen places, to say to him, "You shall vote for only one of these constituencies at one election." What will be the result? It will throw an enormous power, not at present enjoyed to any extent at all, into the hands of the permanent political organisations of the country. Take the position of a man who has two or three votes. Take my own position. I have three votes. The right hon. Gentleman is dealing in this matter with a mass of votes far larger than that to which he has at any time referred. The Chief (Secretary for Ireland, in one or two of his answers to questions upon this matter, has spoken as if the ownership vote was the only vote with which he had to deal, and as if the 500,000 ownership voters who stand upon the Register in this country in respect to ownership qualification were the only persons who would be affected. It is impossible to say how many will be affected; but it is certain that that figure of 500,000 by no means represents, or nearly represents, the number that will be affected. It is not the ownership vote, it is the occupation vote that is affected. Every Borough Member knows, with regard to his own 70 constituents, that there are hundreds of voters who have an occupation vote in the borough by reason of the business they carry on there, and have an occupation vote in the county by reason of their residence in that county. I can see no conceivable reason for disfranchising these men—for not allowing them to have their votes. The man who is carrying on business in a town is interested in the affairs of the town, is qualified to judge with regard to them, and is surely entitled to have some voice in the selection of the Member who in this House represents the town. Nor can it be said he is less closely interested in the affairs of the place in which he lives and from which another Member is to be sent: and you propose to disfranchise him by restricting him, and restricting him only to the one vote wherever be may choose to place it. I have heard it said this is not a disfranchising proposal, and that there is no disfranchisement in this Bill. In the year 1859 a Reform Bill was proposed by a Conservative Government, and that Conservative Government was practically turned out of Office through a proposal in that Bill, upon an Amendment which was moved from the other side. This proposal was that a freehold voter should vote not in the county, but in the borough in which the freehold was situated. It was pointed out by Lord John Russell and by Mr. Bright that the effect of that would be that where he had a vote for a county, and also had an occupation vote in a borough, he would lose one of those votes, and the House of Commons rang with the denunciation of disfranchisement which came from Lord John Russell and Mr. Bright, because he was not allowed still to retain his two votes. And here it is denied there is disfranchisement when you absolutely cut off the man in the position I have suggested, from giving a vote except in but one of the places for which he might be qualified to vote. Consider what the result will be. You will establish a class of voters—a sort of floating, class of voters—who do not until the actual day of election make up their minds where their political influence is to be exercised. What would be the inevitable result? Suppose I had two or three votes—and there is nothing of the kind existing at the present time—what would happen? Take my two votes, I 71 have my vote for London in respect of the house in which I live, and I have a vote for the Uxbridge Division of Middlesex, for the house where I live in the country. At the present time I have the right to vote for the Holborn Division of London, and also for the Uxbridge Division of Middlesex. But suppose this law were passed, and I was told I must only vote for one and not for both places, as a Party man I should desire to take the advice and instruction of someone who knew what the electoral needs of these constituencies were. If Holborn was the place in danger—which by-the-bye it is not likely to be—or if the Uxbridge Division was in danger—which it is not likely to be—if one of those places was in danger, but in the other we had an overwhelming majority, of course I should get a line from the Central Office asking me to record my vote for the place where it would be of most value; and it would be given there. The result of this proposal, therefore, would be that you would throw into the hands of the chiefs of the political organisations of the two Parties the power of directing the political forces upon these different constituencies on the day of polling, and not till then, in a way which would defeat the calculations of many of those who were engaged in political contests, and would cause what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy talks about, in his most interesting book on America—namely, it would make the "boss" of the political machine the person who really would have the electoral authority in his hands. Of all the proposals to come from a Liberal Government is not this the strangest? In the name of the purity of registration and the purity of election, they are putting before the House of Commons a Bill which would have the effect of largely increasing the public burdens, largely increasing the burdens upon numbers of candidates, and thereby excluding from any hope of political life men who have no means, men who are not willing to become the mere tools of a Party organisation on one side or the other, and setting up such a system with respect to actual voting at the election as would make us far more than ever we have been, 'and far more I hope than we ever shall be, the tools and the instruments of political organisations. Now, Sir, I fear I have not left myself 72 long to deal with the other proposition to which I have to address myself. I hope the House will feel that that which I have pointed out to them as being so defective and directly mischievous in this Bill strengthens very much the proposition I ask them to accept. You might have accepted some honest and straightforward registration reform Bill, and you might have not refused to accept practical and immediate reforms, simply because other things were left untouched; but when you are dealing with proposals like these, what conceivable excuse is there for doing what the Government propose—namely, in order to redress what I deny to be an anomaly, but what they allege to be an electoral inequality, to set up a system having results so mischievous and far-reaching as these, and to leave absolutely untouched the great and cardinal inequality which affects not the decision of a constituency, but the decision of this House itself? What is the object of the Government? They desire, I presume, or it is suggested they desire, to get such a system as may make this House the true, accurate representative of the opinions of the people of the Three Kingdoms. If that is their object—I do not think they are sure about their object, for they do not cheer that, but it ought to be their object. I withdraw any expression of belief that it is, but if that were their object, what would they begin with? Why, Sir, there is one obvious and clear anomaly—great, staring us in the face, and confessed by all, affecting not only the distribution of Parties in this House, but actually affecting the tenure of that (the Treasury) Bench at the present moment, and that is the anomaly which gives us in this House, as representing Ireland, 23 more Members than Ireland ought of right to have. This is not a question which needs argument. The figures have been examined long ago, and their result cannot be disputed. And more than that, I said at the beginning of my speech that the anomaly I was going to point out was a great anomaly which was to be left unredressed and which was to have the tolerance of Parliament by being allowed to continue, and was one which not only could not be denied, but had been admitted by the Government, and for which they themselves had proposed a remedy. Why, 73 Sir, they have gone through the labour which is required for redressing the grievance. Last year, in their Home Rule Bill, they proposed to reduce the number of Members in this House coming from Ireland to 80, and they actually undertook and performed the labour of providing a new Reform Bill for Ireland, specifying the constituencies by which these 80 Irish Members were to be elected. So that we have the grievance obvious, glaring, admitted; we have the remedy suggested—provided indeed—by the Government themselves, but why will not they apply it? Why do they pretend that they are redressing and amending the Registration Law by bringing in a Bill which will have manifold additional dangers, which leaves the obvions difficulties and mischiefs of Registration Law absolutely untouched and unredressed, and which has the far-reaching results that I have indicated? I think we see what the reason is. They are prepared to disregard their declarations, and to discard even the Bills they have submitted to Parliament. They are prepared to make alterations in our Registration Law which go directly against all the declarations of principle they have made, and all the expressions of desire they have given to us as to what election laws should be; and they do this, we know, because they dare not touch the great mischief and evil which all confess, because really they are dependent upon and they must tolerate that great anomaly, because it is by the aid and under the shelter of that anomaly they still continue to hold the place of which I think the constituencies would be delighted to relieve them. I have the honour to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words—
This House declines to proceed further with a Bill containing provisions effecting extensive changes in the representative system of the country, in the absence of proposals for the redress of the large inequalities existing in the distribution of electoral power."—(Sir E. Clarke.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."74
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester Forest of Dean)
said, the two parts of the very able speech of the hon, and learned Member were of a very different character The first part was a most clear, most interesting, and destructive criticism of many of the details of this Bill, which would be open to their consideration in Committee; but the second part, which was intended to defend the Resolution the hon. and learned Member had placed upon the Paper, was less full, and, if he might say so, was less convincing even to the hon. Gentleman's friends than was the first part. In the former portion of his speech the hon. and learned Member spoke of last year's Bill in terms of appreciative regard which might have improved the fortunes of that Bill had they been made upon the Motion for its introduction. The Motion made upon last year's Bill was the subject of a very able and elaborate speech by the Leader of the Opposition, and that speech sealed the fate of the Bill, because it absolutely condemned the principal proposal which that Bill made and upon which all the other proposals rested. The hon. and learned Member had specially put before the House the case of the lodgers, and had asked the House to reinstate in the present measure the proposals that were made last year for the special and exceptional treatment of lodgers as compared with their present treatment. The objections raised last year would, no doubt, be again considered this year, one of those objections being that the lodger franchise had become very largely a fraudulent franchise, and that it was undesirable to give further facilities for the registration of lodgers outside the existing law. The lodger was a highly technical voter. His right to the franchise depended, not only on the payment of a sum of money which differentiated him from the occupier, but also on the position of separateness of occupation of particular rooms, which was not required in the case of other voters. That separateness of occupation made the lodger franchise one which had been differentiated as against the political Party to which they (the Liberals) belonged, and which was also exposed to very great dangers and risks of fraud. He had received from the Overseers of one of the largest civil parishes in this country the whole of 75 the lodger claims on both sides made at the last registration of voters. He did not know which were the Liberal and which the Conservative claims, but he should be glad to show the whole of them to any hon. Members interested in the subject, and he thought they would agree with him—and he had the Register showing these people had succeeded—that these claims were fraudulent from one end to the other. With much that had fallen from the hon. and learned Member in certain parts of his speech he was prepared entirely to agree. He would, however, point out that the very matter which the hon. and learned Member put forward as the instance of the greatest hardship which he could give to the House—namely, the case he quoted in which the hon. and learned Member for Louth had appeared—that that grievance had been dealt with and fully met by Bills which, in four successive years, were brought forward by the Liberal and opposed by the Conservative Party in this House, and, finally, when they passed this House and went to the House of Lords, were rejected in the latter House on the Motion of Lord Cairns himself. That instance the hon. and learned Member gave—the lodger instance—was dealt with by a Committee over which the Chancellor of the Exchequer presided; it was dealt with in the Bills which for four years in succession endeavoured to carry out the Report of that Committee, and which were sent to the House of Lords and rejected by the Conservative Party in that House. The hon. and learned Member alluded to the Committee! whose Report he had quoted as being the last Committee which investigated the matter; and although the matter was not-one of importance, he ventured to say there had been a subsequent Committee, and it was only courteous that he should now say what he meant by his interruption. There was a large Committee of 23 Members in 1878 to which three Registration Bills, introduced by private Members, were committed. That Committee, composed of those most skilled in the question, combined these three Bills into one joint Bill of between 70 and 80 clauses; it passed through both Houses of Parliament, and became the Registration Act of 1878. The hon. and learned Member 76 had spoken of the whole question of registration from almost a Radical point of view, which contrasted very strangely with what he ventured to call the rank Toryism of the latter portion of the speech. But while the hon. Member might he a Tory on the franchise, he certainly, as regarded registration, might claim that he was Radical. The conclusion of the hon. and learned Member was a very weak one. Although the hon. Member gave some favour to the Bill of last year, yet he was unable to allude very definitely to that Bill as a Bill he would favour because its main feature was the creation of a public registration officer to be appointed by the county, and that proposal was absolutely condemned by the Leader of the Opposition in a most powerful speech in which he destroyed that main proposal of the Bill of last year. What was the proposal the hon. and learned Member made? It was the final resort of all embarrassed and baffled politicians—a Select. Committee. He wanted them to see that they were so hampered by existing legislation that it was desirable not so much to pass a Bill, as to appoint a Committee to consider on what principles a Bill should proceed. The main point of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was that this Bill contained provisions effecting changes in the representative system of the country so important that they ought to be accompanied by other changes still more important. The changes were twofold changes, and the hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded to both in detail. He had referred to the changes which affected the period of qualification of electors, and changes which affected the principle of One Man One Vote, which were intended to prevent people voting in respect of more than one qualification at the General Election. As to the period, he (Sir C. Dilke) was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member admit that the period of qualification was very long. He had feared they would hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman what they had heard from Members sitting near him—namely, an indication that in his view six mouths instead of three months would be the right period. However, nothing of the kind fell from him, and he (Sir C. Dilke) was glad of it. But it was not the period of qualification that was most important, but the period which 77 followed before a man actually got upon the Register, and the further period which elapsed before he actually exercised the vote. In his (Sir C. Dilke's) own opinion, the period in the Bill was vastly too long, greatly as it reduced the present period. Under the Bill it would be nine mouths and one-third at the shortest before a man could get on the Register. A man who claimed a vote on the 25th of March would not get on the Register of electors, let alone find himself able to vote, till the 1st of July next year—a period of 15 1–3 mouths. That was vastly too long, and he was glad the hon. and learned Gentleman, in his somewhat destructive criticism of some portions of the Bill, had not ventured to assert that the period proposed in the Bill was too short. They had actually lengthened the period of qualification as regarded the whole of the Local Government electors of the country except the Municipal Corporation electors and the county electors in the course of the present year. The hon. and learned Member had expressed his preference—if it could be accomplished, though, of course, he saw the difficulty of dealing with the matter—for the period running to the time of voting rather than to the time of the completion of the Register. This year they had abolished the system which previously existed for every Local Board election, Board of Guardians election, and for every Metropolitan Vestry election and at every Vestry poll. They had done away with the system the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to recommend, and had substituted a longer period of qualification simply because of the impossibility in which the House found itself of making the Register without some means of testing and supervising it before responsible officers and Registrars. It would be 21 1–3 months before some unfortunate people could vote who were now able to vote at the end of 12 months. He was afraid, however, that these difficulties were inevitable. All they could say was, make the period of qualification and of making up the Register as short as possible. To his mind, there was no reason for a period of qualification for the Imperial vote. What they wanted to know was that the man was there for the purposes of the Register. The months which were taken to prepare the Register were sufficient for 78 that purpose. No qualification before the date on which they began to compile their Register ought to be needed for the purposes of the Imperial vote. He now came to the main point of the hon. and learned Member's criticism. The hon. and learned Member objected, above all, to the provisions of the Bill, both as regarded the elections on one day, and also as regarded repeated voting by persons possessing more than one qualification—to the principle which was sometimes called "One Man One Vote." His own criticism of the plan of the Bill would be somewhat in the opposite direction from that of the hon. and learned Member; and so far from objecting to people not having two qualifications at a General Election, he did not see why a man should be allowed to vote twice at bye-elections. It was very hard if a gentleman on the Treasury Bench had a majority at the General Election, and then had, when seeking re-election after appointment to office, to submit himself to a different set of constituents, out voters from all parts of the country being brought to turn him out. He confessed that if that principle were good in the one case it, was good in the other, but that was a point with which they might easily deal in Committee. It was idle to deny that the Bill as it stood would involve in a great number of constituencies expense both in the double registration and in the inquiries which would be necessary to prevent double voting by persons registered in separate constituencies. On the other hand, there was the set-off' that that expense, unlike the expense thrown upon constituencies, was not absolutely a necessary expense, because those who had enthusiasm at their back, and represented working-class constituencies which were swept by waves of strong public feeling, were able to do this work without expense. ["No, no!"] His right hon. Friend behind him (Sir H. James) doubted that. He would ask that right hon. Member to consider the case of Battersea, where the whole of the work at the last Election was done by the voluntary labour of the working people. The right hon. Gentleman would remember the powerful speech he made when he introduced his last Bill on the subject of election expenses—be would remember, perhaps, declaring that the 79 tendency was to replace paid labour by voluntary labour. There was another plan for accomplishing the end of "One Man One Vote"—namely, an extension of the plan of the hon. Member for East Norfolk, alluded to on the introduction of the Bill by the Chief Secretary for Ireland—the plan of making ownership voters claim every year, accompanying the claim with a declaration that they were not at present registered elsewhere, nor claiming to be registered elsewhere, which might be adopted as an alternative to plan of the Government. Other plans to accomplish the end in view might be discussed in Committee, but the main point was the principle, and he was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member, who was not generally considered a retrograde, but rather an advanced Member of the Conservative Party, express uncompromising adherence to the principle of one man several votes. The hon. and learned Member had not maintained the principle which he ought to have maintained as the foundation of his Amendment. He suggested, though he did not prove, that the changes in the direction of "One Man One Vote" ought to be accompanied or immediately followed by a proposal for the redistribution of seats. The hon. and learned Member asserted it, but he did not prove that there was anything in the proposition bearing directly on that. He did not prove that they must previously or simultaneously redistribute seats in Parliament, or that "One Man One Vote," even if adopted in the fullest degree, would worsen the anomalies of which he spoke or render them graver than they were at present. Imitation was supposed to be the sincerest flattery. Well, in his Amendment the hon. and learned Member had adopted the terms of a proposal originally submitted by Radical Members of the House annually from 1874 to 1880. Year after year the Conservative Party voted against the extension of the franchise, and also against, a redistribution of seats; but now the hon. and learned Member said there was such a mischief in the glaring inequalities which pervaded our electoral system that they needed immediate attention. These glaring inequalities would not be increased, but rather diminished, by the principle of "One Man One Vote"; but they would not be greater under this Bill 80 than they were as the result of the settlement arrived at in 1884 and 1885. It might have been wiser to go further than was done in those years. As a party to that settlement he (Sir C. Dilke) had expressed his view in favour of going much further. He believed the noble Lord the Member for Paddington and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, as well as himself, expressed the opinion that they might have gone further.
§ * LORD R. CHURCHILL
was understood to say that the average constituencies in England were under 10,000. Only in one point had he desired to go further. He thought the two-Member boroughs were the great blot upon the redistribution scheme.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
said, he understood that the noble Lord was willing to go further; but the point was not one of importance. Both Parties, in their wisdom, agreed to a particular scheme, and the anomalies which the hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken of as so glaringly mischievous were virtually the same as those which existed then. The hon. and learned Member had defended as a principle the anomaly of one man several votes. Surely when the House of Lords, as they often did, appealed to the opinion of the country on a particular measure, they did not wish to get the opinion of one person several times over. On these occasions it was always said, "We will get the opinions of the electors," not "We will get the opinion of some electors a dozen or 20 times over." He looked upon the part of the hon. and learned Member's speech which dealt with that point as rank Toryism, and doubtless when he came to see his words in print in The Times to-morrow he would regret those observations. It was unfortunate that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have supported himself by a quotation from Mr. Mill, which he said Mr. Mill had never repudiated. The book referred to was written many years before the year which had been suggested—1866, and all who knew Mr. Mill in the years which followed the writing of that book must be aware that he greatly changed the view which he had held in favour of giving several votes to one man. A common case of the plural voter was of a man who had a vote for a University, 81 another for a town house, another for his country seat, and others for freeholds which his forefathers had acquired in times past for the purpose of manufacturing faggot votes. No doubt there were flagrant cases in which even in our own times noble Lords and country gentlemen had acquired small freeholds for the sake of the votes they conferred. The question was whether that was a desirable way of indirectly representing intelligence. In the country, certainly, property often did not represent intelligence, and, on the other hand, he knew a good many cases of persons of intelligence, well qualified to take a share in the representative institutions of their country, who had no votes at the present time. Those who sat in that part of the House would not be content until the right to the franchise was removed from the real or technical possession of property or occupation of buildings, and placed upon the personal consideration of fitness. And he believed that many hon. Members opposite, judging from the speeches they had made outside, were willing to go further than the hon. and learned Member and concede the principle of "One Man One Vote" if they could get with it a large redistribution of seats. He had no doubt opinions of that kind would be expressed in the course of this Debate, if not by hon. Gentlemen opposite, at any rate by hon. Members on the Unionist Benches behind him. They were very prevalent opinions amongst Members of the Opposition. The root idea which was at the bottom of this proposal received no colour from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Member said that 500,000 ownership voters would be affected by the adoption of the principle of "One Man One Vote." There were no statistics which would make that matter clear, but he was sure that the figure was not so large. Each Member of the House who knew his own Register pretty well could go through it for himself. He could look at the ownership voters and form his own estimate. The conditions differed infinitely in different constituencies, but his belief was that only one-fifth to one-tenth of the ownership voters would be affected by the "One Man One Vote" provision. That argument on this question was a two-edged 82 argument. It cut both ways. It meant that the grievance felt on the Liberal side of the House at the existence of this class of voters was to some extent an exaggerated grievance, but, on the other hand, it destroyed the argument on which the attack on the "One Man One Vote" provision was based, because he was convinced that the number of non-resident voters who disturbed the local balance of the constituencies in cases where the majority one way or the other was not large was smaller than hon. Gentlemen opposite supposed. There was a Return in regard to Scotland, but none with regard to England or Ireland, and the Scotch figures went far to confirm his view. The number of ownership voters who would be affected by the One Man One Vote provision was much smaller in Ireland than in Scotland or England. To suggest that there were anything like 500,000 persons in the whole of the United Kingdom who would be affected by this provision was to make a monstrous exaggeration. The so-called ownership lists did not contain freeholders only, but five different classes of voters—not only ownership voters, but copyholders and leaseholders of over 20 years—and the vast majority of these leaseholders were persons who resided in the places where their property was situate. In Scotland there were 50,000 ownership voters, and of these only 10,000 odd did reside on their properties. Therefore, in Scotland one-fifth, and in his constituency one-tenth, of the voters would be affected by the provision. The hon. and learned Member and his friends had accused the Government of having specially prepared this Bill for the benefit of their own Party in the State. It was suggested in the House, and much more markedly outside, that the unfair arrangement or manipulation of the electoral system upon which the Government had embarked was to be redressed by some form of redistribution of seats that would correct the anomalies which were keeping the Party opposite out of their rights at the present moment, and which, if set right, would bring them again into the possession of power. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not dealt with the matter at length. He had dealt with the case of Ireland, but did not even suggest the case of Wales. The Government did make proposals for the reduc- 83 tion of the Irish Members, and those proposals would undoubtedly be made to the House again in connection with any scheme for the devolution of Irish affairs to any local Irish Assembly, but when they were asked to deal with Ireland on a redistribution of seats they would not be asked to deal with Ireland alone. The suggestion was that there was something to be done in the way of redistribution—that the distribution of seats was to be put upon a different basis, so as to restore the balance of power to the advantage of the Conservative Party. That was what he understood the argument to be. There were, of course, a great many Members on his side of the House who were in favour of a much nearer approximation to electoral equality than existed at present, and they would all support a further redistribution of seats at the right opportunity. The anomalies which existed before 1885 were, of course, overwhelming as compared with the anomalies existing now. The anomalies in respect to county divisions were small; it was in the boroughs that they were heaviest. The redress of these disproportions he, for one, would very heartily welcome. Whenever the time came that the Conservative Party were inclined to approach redistribution in a business-like way, be should, as the Americans said, be ready to make a deal. There were many Members who sat on that side of the House who would give the Conservative Party their support, and he was sure, when they were prepared with a scheme, they had only to show it to them, and if it was a reasonable one, it would very soon be forced on the Government. The Conservative Party were very much mistaken, however, if they thought that redistribution on the lines of equal electoral districts would benefit them from a Party point of view. Whether it was a question of one vote one value or of equal electoral districts, in neither case would it benefit the Conservative Party. When the last redistribution scheme was under consideration, the desire of the Conservative Party was that the Boundary Commissioners should divide the districts so as to distinguish as clearly as possible between the urban districts and the rural districts. They insisted upon that, and it was carried out. Of course, nothing 84 like equal electoral districts or one vote one value could be arrived at while this distinction was made between the urban and rural parts of the country. The sole reason why there were anomalies between county and county, and the sole reason why county anomalies continued after 1884–85, and existed now, was because it was thought undesirable by anybody to breakup the old county boundaries—and undoubtedly if a scheme were adopted which could only be brought into operation by getting rid of the old boundaries it would meet with a large amount of local unpopularity, and a Bill founded upon it would be wrecked. With regard to the boroughs, the House dealt very tenderly with them in 1885. He himself would have gone further, and he knew that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Bristol (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) would have gone further, and he believed that if at any time the Conservatives made up their mind that redistribution was necessary, with a view to a nearer approximation to the system of equal electoral areas, they would be able to get their way with the support of a number of Members on that side of the House. At the same time, he warned the Conservative Party once more that they would get no Party gain. If they were to have a nearer approach to equal electoral districts, or one vote one value, it was quite clear that they must abolish the University seats. It was impossible under a system of one vote one value to retain the nine University seats, the Members for which were at present elected by the exercise of the double vote. He would come now to the question of the boroughs. If they took the small boroughs in which there were say under 4,000 electors, or 20,000 population, they would find that the majority of the seats were held by Conservative Members, and although he admitted, for the sake of argument, that it was possible that Metropolitan seats and other large seats which might obtain additional Members under this scheme, might be held by a majority of Conservatives—(but here they were in the region of hypothesis)—still, taking the most favourable aspect of the question as applying to hon. Members opposite, he was sure they would discover that they would gain nothing under this plan—certainly nothing that would compensate for the loss of the nine 85 University seats. He feared that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth would have to sacrifice himself under an arrangement of this kind. Cardiff, which was persistently putting forward a claim for larger representation, had three times the number of votes that one Member for Plymouth represented, and it would take the two Members for Plymouth and a third Member to make up the number represented by a single Member for Cardiff. He ventured to say that the Bill now before the House would not intensify the existing anomalies, but, so far as it affected them at all, tended in some small degree to redress them. With regard to the double voters, they were not mainly in the small boroughs, nor did they exist in such large proportions in the boroughs as in the county divisions, which in the suburbs of the great towns were very rapidly increasing. Take the suburbs round London—Tottenham, Ealing, Hornsey, or Wimbledon. In these cases they would find that if they took away, not one-tenth or one-fifth of the ownership voters, but everyone of them, so rapidly had these constituencies increased since the re-distribution scheme of 1885 that they would still he up to the average limit in point of numbers of voters. The case of Wimbledon was a very strong one. At Wimbledon they found the largest number of ownership voters existing in any constituency in the United Kingdom—between 7,000 and 8,000—but so rapidly had that division increased since it was purposely put at a low figure in the scheme of 1884–85, that if they took away, not a proportion, but the whole of these voters, numbering between 7,000 and 8,000, it would still have 10,000 occupation voters left. So far as they could judge, this class of voters would be taken from the divisions which could well afford to spare them, and, therefore, when the statistics of the voting under this Bill came to be published, he believed it would be found the House, in passing it, had done something to reduce rather than to increase the electoral anomalies he had described. It was impossible to ascertain what the facts were in reference to the boroughs, but he thought he had said enough to prove that it was impossible to base any redistribution scheme in advance upon the principle of "One Man One Vote." When 86 the time came for redistribution he had no doubt that the new opinion now held on the Conservative side of the House would prevail with that Party in the State; that they would reverse the opinion they formed in 1884 that the right policy was to separate the urban from the rural portion of the counties, and adopt the view that in order to approximate the electoral system more nearly to the old Chartist principle of equal electoral districts there must be a certain measure of fusion of the borough and the county. The Conservative Party would undoubtedly receive support from a great many Radicals if it frankly adopted that view, but it would have to take its punishment in the form of the loss of the University seats, and it must make up its mind also to the sacrifice of a number of the smaller boroughs, the majority of which were now held by its adherents. There was, however, this advantage, that whatever might be said in public they all admitted that the small boroughs, despite the efforts of his right hon. Friend behind him (Sir H. James) were still corrupt, whereas there could be no doubt that the great borough and county constituencies to which extra Members would be given were universally pure. That consideration, besides all the others which went in favour of further redistribution, would help them in arriving at a conclusion when a scheme was authoritatively put forward, as it could not be put forward in reference to this Bill. The ease of Ireland had been made a stalking-horse of by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. It was an unfortunate instance to point to in supporting his contention for further consideration. The Conservative Party in 1885 did not propose any reduction in the representation of Ireland.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
(continuing) said, he believed the noble Lord was wrong as to the exact figure, but at all events when the matter came to be debated in that House not much stress was laid upon the Act of Union. The matter was discussed upon its merits, and 132 Members voted in the majority for the Bill as it stood and 25 against. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth suggested 87 that Ireland was greatly over-represented, and no doubt if they took the population into account it was over-represented; and there were other parts of the Kingdom that were over-represented, such as Wales and the Highlands, and the Eastern and South West counties of England. Undoubtedly, whatever scale they took of enfranchisement or disfranchisement, or whatever scale of borough and county representation was adopted, some portions of the United Kingdom must always be over-represented and other portions under-represented. The only way of avoiding some measure of local over-representation or under-repre-sentation must be to adopt the principle of equal electoral districts on the old Chartist system without respect to boundary. In 1884 that system was not followed, but the old plan was pursued, and the only objection the Conservatives put forward was that in the case of Ireland three seats ought to be taken away, so reducing the representation from 103 to 100 Members. But curiously enough the application of the scale adopted would have had the effect in the case of Ireland of taking away the two University seats and one other seat at the time held by a Conservative Member. When the Conservative Party faced that fact they very promptly dropped their scheme for the reduction of the Irish Members. As he had said, he was ready himself to go further, and he hoped that they would soon go further. What he had sought to prove was that there was no reason for making this Bill—which, after all, was not a particularly large one—the ground for insisting upon going further at the present time, which, of course, speaking to the House as a body of sensible men, meant the wrecking of this measure entirely. They knew that a Bill for the redistribution of seats could not be carried within the limits of the present Parliament. It could, however, be carried in a future Parliament if the House would give enough time to it; but even if they settled upon a plan of the sort, unless they were agreed to chop up the counties into equal districts, and to chop them up again after every Census, they would find these anomalies existing again just as they existed at present. In 1884 the counties were so arranged by the Boundary Commission as to make the divisions as equal as possible, yet 88 already there was a considerable disproportion in several of the constituencies. These disproportions would arise again after any distribution on the present Hues, and if they wished to enter upon a scheme which would not be only complete in itself, but which would last for all time, they must adopt the Colonial or Continental practice of a self-acting scheme which would automatically redistribute all the seats. That was a great change from which he believed the Conservative Party would shrink, but it was not a change that would frighten the Radical Party in the House, and if a Conservative Government was at any time prepared to bring it forward they might be sure of obtaining a considerable amount of support from those Benches.
§ MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)
said, he must ask why, if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean admitted the anomaly of over-representation, especially in the case of Ireland, and urged that the only remedy for it was equal electoral districts, the Government did not propose to establish such districts in the Bill rather than deal with the smaller and less important defects in our electoral system? If the Bill had dealt with that great anomaly, and had sought to bring about more equality of representation, he believed very many Members on that side of the House would have been equally ready with Members on the opposite Benches to see that a very great reform bringing about equality of elections was established, in order that Members might be returned to that House by an equal vote. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken particularly of the districts which surrounded the large towns, but he had only quoted the instances of the constituencies in the neighbourhood of London. As representing a constituency to which this Bill, if passed, would have a serious application—a district which formed a suburb of Manchester—he desired to say something on behalf of those of his constituents who resided in the neighbourhood of Manchester and Liverpool both upon this matter. The right hon. Gentleman had laughed at the idea of one man having two votes. He had taken the case of the publican with many votes, and of the gentleman who inherited his votes from his father, but in the case of those votes which were the votes of the 89 tradesmen of great towns, it could at least be said that the owners of them were entitled to exercise them upon their own merits, and because of the position which they had made for themselves by their industrial enterprise. The votes of which he was speaking were those of men who had raised themselves in life by their capacity and energy, and who took an equal interest in the town and county with which they were connected. The right hon. Gentleman had said, and he (Mr. Disraeli) thought had rightly said, that it was wrong to draw the line too closely between the urban and the rural districts: but in a case like this, where there was an urban population planted in a rural district, it was impossible that they should disfranchise these men for living seven or eight miles from their business places without showing very good cause indeed. They were not told whether under this Bill a man was to have his choice as to where he should vote—whether he was to vote in the place where he slept or in the place where he worked. Of course, if a man was a City Father, he would naturally vote in the city or town wherein his position had been made and where his business lay, but in addition to that he might have acquired the interest of a landowner in the suburbs, which was an entirely different kind of representation; but under this Bill his position in that respect was to go for nothing, and his influence as a voter in the rural constituency would be null and void. He ventured to think that the case of a man in that position ought to be considered in any Bill which was to purify elections. If the Government, in dealing with a great reform like this, was going to niggle with the small corners of the existing anomalies without touching the great anomalies, he thought the less that was seen of this Bill in the House the better. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had thrown some doubts upon the purity of the lodger franchise. He quite agreed with that, and believed it was due, not so much to the claims made, but to the action of the Revising Barristers. The decisions of the Barristers had been utterly at variance in different localities. In one division it was difficult to get a lodger on the list, and in another it was easy to do so, and this, of course, led to 90 many anomalies. In London he believed the lodger franchise was in a very unsatisfactory condition. Why did not the Government deal with this question in their Bill, and prevent the Revising Barrister being the sole arbiter as to whether a man should be placed on the lodger franchise or not? To remedy this defect would be a much greater reform than the abolition of the plural vote. As to the proposal to hold all the elections on the same day, he thought the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill hardly appreciated the difficulties that would attend such an arrangement, especially in the counties, in relation to the staff and machinery necessary to carry it out. He believed those difficulties would be found to be greater than had been anticipated, particularly in regard to police protection at elections in the counties. Then as to Saturday as the particular day for the elections, that might be a convenient day for the people of London and for many of the working men in towns, but for the country constituencies, and especially for market towns in the country, it would be a most inconvenient day. It would greatly interfere with business, and the excitement of the election would be carried over to the Sunday. With regard to registration, as the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth had wisely said, the great question was one of expense. He knew very well, and every one knew, that the money for registration would have to come out of the pocket of the candidate or his supporters, and that if registration was done at all well it was, and must be, expensive. Volunteer canvassers never produced such successful results as paid agents. ["Oh!"] Well, experience showed that that was the case. If two Registers, as now proposed, had really to be made, it was obvious that the expenses of registration would be doubled throughout the country. It would also often be a matter of needless inconvenience to a voter who was uncertain as to his right to vote and would have to assure himself that his name was on both lists. He would have to attend the registration twice a year, and in many cases lose two days' work. If the Registers were compiled at different seasons of the year this trouble would be still further aggravated. He submitted that the present system for the 91 inspection of the Registers was bad, and would suggest that they should be kept in charge of an official, who would always attend at his particular office on certain days all the year round, in the same way as the Register of Births, Marriages, and Deaths was now managed. He would further suggest that if a man could prove that he had been in occupation 12 months on bringing up two householders as sureties, he should have his name put upon the Register. This seemed to him a better proposal than that of the Bill, and he would recommend the right hon. Gentleman opposite to consider it. Then, there was the point which had been called the only argument the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ply-mouth had put forward—and it was the strongest argument of all against doing away with the plural vote—namely,, the 23 Members from Ireland in excess of the number she should have. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had said that there were inequalities in other parts of the United Kingdom which would have to be dealt with if the Irish representation were altered. He did not see why they should touch a small reform like that they were proposing when they knew that before very long they would be face to face with the necessity for a Redistribution Bill. He thought it would be an excellent opportunity for Her Majesty's Government to terminate their existence and go out on a Redistribution Bill. That would be doing the country a lasting good. He was not inclined to traverse very severely the objection that had been so strongly urged by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, that rich men and publicans should be no longer allowed a plurality of votes for the same constituency. But he held that by proposing to do away with plural voting they were doing great injustice to a large class of people whom he represented. He contended that a man who had a large house in one county and perhaps large business offices in another five or six miles away was perfectly entitled to vote under the double occupation.
§ * MR. H. L. W. LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, the House would have seen from the very ingenious though somewhat inconsistent speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for 92 Plymouth that a change had come over the spirit of the Opposition since the Bill was first introduced. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that it was in many respects a great improvement upon the Bill of last year, and now a charge was made against it that it was an attempt for the pettiest Party purposes to gerrymander the political system of the country. He (Mr. Lawson) had very great doubts as to the Party gains that would be made out of any reform of this kind. In the past political prophecies and calculations had generally proved very futile, and any reasoning based upon them had almost invariably been falsified. It was not from any motives of the kind suggested that Liberals on that side of the House advocated the abolition of plural voting, but solely as part of the principles of their political creed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) spoke of 500,000 voters depending upon the ownership qualification for their franchise, but he had not shown upon what he based his calculation as to the number of those who had this ownership qualification without residence. Knowing that the owners were usually occupiers too, he thought his estimate a gross exaggeration. Even if the proposal of the Government had an immediate effect, it could not have any prolonged effect. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth had said that Members and candidates would fall into the hands of political organisations if this Bill were passed into law. He (Mr. Lawson) had, unfortunately, had sufficient experience of elections to know that political machinery was already in such a high state of perfection that nothing could increase the influence of those who worked it. What he did anticipate was that in future political agents would see where the votes of those who had a plural suffrage could be exercised most satisfactorily. In constituencies such as he represented it was the case that at election times a great number of men who had no interest in or connection with the county came in, and, although they did not absolutely swamp the resident electors, exercised an influence to which the resident electors thought they had no claim. Although he did not anticipate any great Party advantage from a re-adjustment of the political machinery, he 93 believed that it would remove a rankling sense of injustice which lurked in the breasts of a great number of the working classes. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth had said that what was required was a scheme of redistribution to accompany the Registration Bill; but the Opposition would agree that the Ministry had a sufficient programme for the Session without this new load. He was wholly with the hon. and learned Gentleman in most of the arguments which he used in favour of redistribution, but it must be on a fair basis and not merely a cutting off of the tassels of the Celtic fringe without redressing any of the other inequalities of our system. They must deal also with the University seats and small boroughs where corruption lingered. Turning to the part of the Bill which dealt with the holding of all elections on one day, he was not sure whether his right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Morley) would not have to modify his proposal to suit the convenience of certain constituencies; but he was certain that in the great majority of constituencies it would be quite possible and not more expensive to hold the elections on one day than to extend them over the long period of time during which they lasted at present. The prolongation of the election contest meant dislocation of business and civil inconvenience as bad as in the United States with their perpetual elections. His right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill need not be afraid that it would increase the expenses of the candidates. A larger staff which would have to be employed would receive less remuneration. At present candidates paid each time for the whole apparatus. Turning to the question of registration reform, whilst he most cordially agreed with most of what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth upon that subject, he would venture to ask him why during the six years that he and his Party were in Office nothing had been done to carry out any one of the suggestions of continuous Registers, for instance, which had been made from the Opposition Benches for the first time that night? Nobody believed more strongly than he in the necessity of altering the law with respect to the lodger franchise; but it was impossible to do that without putting lodgers and 94 occupiers upon an equal footing, and to do away with the £10 limit and the provision for "sole and separate use." As for the enfranchising part of the Bill, in the reduction of the period of qualification, no more had been done than had been done in other Registration Bills to extend the franchise. In the Bill of 1878, for example, a separate occupation of part of a dwelling house was sufficient to enable a, man to claim the franchise—in so far as the Bill effected that object it was an extension of the franchise. With regard to the three mouths' qualification, to use an expression which had been used by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, a good deal of "political bunkum" had been talked about the possibility of corrupting constituencies, by bringing into them a huge army of men, merely for electioneering purposes. Could it be imagined that a contractor, for instance, would go to the expense of importing an army of workmen into a constituency, and paying them for nine months in order that they might exercise the franchise? The suggestion must have been invented for a simple-minded audience on a country platform in order to discredit the Bill. In a case where nothing but natural causes were at work, and where a certain number of men, for a short time, were obliged to reside in a place where they had no real interest, the provisions of the Bill would get rid of a good deal of objection, because these men would not remain long on the Register. As soon as they loft they would be struck off. There were several minor points in the Bill upon which when the instructions to the Committee were moved he would like to say a word or two, but at the present time he was content to assort that he believed it would be found possible in the Bill to do away with some of the technicalities of our registration system which ought not to be allowed to prevail in the future. Why should it not be laid down by the House of Commons that objections which went to the essence of a vote should be dealt with by the officer who made the revision? The Bill left a good deal yet to be done. It did not, and it did not pretend to, make symmetrical our existing-system, but in the English fashion it sought to deal in a practical way with obvious mischief's. It was by no means a cut-and-dried plan of symmetrical pro- 95 portion, but because it lopped off some excrescences of the electoral system and remedied some glaring injustices he should support it on that occasion and upon the subsequent occasions when it would come again before the House.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, the hon. Member who last addressed them had expressed the desire that lodgers should be more easily placed on the Register, and had made an appeal on that score to the occupants of the Opposition Benches. He thought the hon. Member should have more properly addressed himself to his own Leaders, and have asked them how it was that the facilities which they afforded to lodgers in the Bill of last year were not in the Bill now before the House. If the Government answered according to the spirit of truth they might have to tell the hon. Gentleman that from the Debates of last Session and from other sources they learned that the lodgers as a whole voted Conservative, and that it was not, after all, extremely desirable to give them facilities for being placed on the Register. He admitted, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, against whom, if this Bill became law, he should not have the pleasure of voting again as he had had before, that the Conservatives made a great mistake in 1884–85 when they desired to separate the urban from the rural constituencies. It was then thought that the strength of the Conservative Party lay in the country, and that the Radicals, being the more advanced and aggressive, and, if they liked to say so, more intelligent Party, would find their strongest support coming from the towns. He ventured to say at that time that the Conservatives were wrong in taking that view, and his prophecy turned out to be correct. The opinions of the electorate had completely changed from what they were 10 or 15 years ago, as proved by the very fact that a Bill containing the provisions of the Bill now under consideration had been brought before Parliament. They had the other night the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill admitting, with some show of regret, that the strength of the Conservative Party lay among the working men in the great towns and centres of industry. The main effect of the Bill would be to disfranchise out-voters, who belonged to the intelligent classes, and, 96 by lowering the period of qualification, to enfranchise men at the opposite end of the social scale. He did not think they ought to leave out of account the way in which this Bill was brought forward. It was not introduced by the responsible Minister, but by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Could the fact that the Bill had been brought in by the Chief Secretary for Ireland be intended as a broad hint to the Irish Home Rule Members that the Bill really aimed at the conversion of the "predominant partner" to the policy of Home Rule? The hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. Dodd), in addressing his constituents recently, had said—and the House knew that the hon. Member had great authority with the Government—The Franchise Bill was brought in for the purpose of increasing Radical seats, because he was sure the new electors would be of their Party, as the out-voters who were disfranchised by the Bill were all owners of property and belonged to the Conservative Party; for instance, in the Romford Division he estimated there would be about 3,000 of the present electors disfranchised, which would make it a sure seat for the Radicals at the next Election.That was plain speaking, and probably expressed the real feelings of the Government and their supporters. In 1884 the Conservatives objected to a Franchise Bill unaccompanied by redistribution; and the Chief Secretary, speaking at a meeting at St. James's Hall, said—What, not in earnest about redistribution! Do you think we are such fools as not to wish for redistribution that we may take seats from the South of England, where the Liberal Party is weak, and give seats to the North of England, where the Liberal Party is strong?That was something very much like gerrymandering the constituencies. If the Liberal Party was strong in the North of course they ought to have seats there, but if the Conservatives were strong in the South they were entitled to retain their seats there. It seemed to him that the expression of opinion at St. James's Hall 10 years ago differed very little from that which fell from one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters at Pontefract a little time since. It was necessary to enter a little more deeply than previous speakers had done into the nature of the franchise, through which the State was vested with the protection of the rights which man in a state of nature would defend on his own account. Why did a man want a vote? Apart from the 97 general ground of his concern in the welfare of the State, he wanted it to protect his property, to protect particular interests of his own. There were in this country particular interests which certain voters were more concerned in than they were in others, and apart from the general ground a man desired a vote in order to protect his particular interest in a particular place. Now, if they took away votes from a man who had more than one vote they might take from him the power of influencing that House in a place where a great deal of his private or class interest was situated, He would give an instance affecting his own constituency. There was a large grazier and buyer of cattle who lived in Buckinghamshire and who came down to Hereford market every week, and had permanent rooms kept for him there, and was on the Register. That man, of course, had interests in Buckinghamshire, but he also had interests in Hereford. He was interested in the prosperity of the town and neighbourhood and in the markets. Under this Bill, however, he could only vote for Buckinghamshire, and consequently had no means whatever of bringing any influence to bear upon that House by way of safeguarding his interests in Hereford. Let them take another case. A man who lived in Hereford went 16 miles off to a small town where he practised the law and where be might be registered as an occupation voter. Surely that man, while having his home in Hereford, had an interest in the particular locality from which he drew his income, where all his clients lived, and where he spent the best part of every day in business; and, if so, ought be not to be able to influence that House through the Member for that locality? The plural vote gave him the opportunity of protecting that particular interest. Again, suppose an Englishman had property in Scotland, and in England too. He would have a vote in England and in Scotland; but if under this Bill be had to vote in England, how could his interests in Scotland be safeguarded by giving a vote to an English Member who know nothing at all about Scotch affairs? He did not wish to labour this point, and he thought he had now said enough to show how unjustly the Bill would work. The House should remem- 98 ber that it was not property that had the plural vote. Property was only the sign of a man's interest in the State. Admitting that a man had the right to protect his property wherever it lay in this country, they must see that the only way in which a man could influence that House for the protection of such property was by the exercise of the plural vote. Those who were not plural voters must very properly be supposed to have their interests centred in the place in which they dwelt. He was afraid that, after all, this measure was only devised for Party purposes. Of course, he was not going to say that the Party system was not a good one or that the plan of government by Party was not the best; at the same time, government by Party did not mean government by one Party only. That, however, seemed to be the view of hon. Members opposite. Under the guise of improving the Registration Law and equalising the rights of voters in this country the Government were so manipulating the constituencies that they would be swamped not by the out-voters, but by the three months' man.
§ * MR. LEESE (Lancashire, N.E., Accrington)
said, he cordially sympathised with and approved of the objects of this Bill. He said this because, although, like the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir E.Clarke), he was going to take exception to some parts of this Bill, he could at all events give his earnest support to the provisions for the reduction of the qualifying period to three months, the two revisions of the Register, the abolition of the disqualification for non-payment of rates, the elections to take place on one day, and the restriction of the vote of the elector to one constituency. If he had to differ from the Government in respect to omissions from the Bill he must say that he should very earnestly support them in regard to the provisions which he had enumerated. As hon. Members opposite would easily believe, it would be difficult for one holding his political convictions to differ from the Government, but be thought that if fault were to be found with the Government at all, it was not so much with the progressive character of the legislation they had initiated as with the omission of a few finishing touches needed to make that legislation complete. He was one of those who looked with great jealousy 99 upon the influence of money in elections. In his view, there was very little difference between the actual buying of a seat and the expenditure of an unnecessary and undue amount of money in preparation for the election. It was within the power of a candidate for Parliament to debauch a constituency by extravagant payments under the cloak of legitimate expenditure almost as effectually as though, through his agents, he bought votes with money or beer. He hoped it would be understood that he was not making a charge against any candidate, nor was he casting a slur upon either of the Parties of the State, nor did he refer to the particular Party which happened to be the richest, although, of course, he could not help saying that, being in possession of most money, that Party naturally fell under the greatest temptation. Perhaps the House had already gathered that the omission from the Bill of which he complained was that the measure contained no provision for preventing the spending of money upon elections to a larger extent than had been the case in previous times. He had taken some pains to ascertain the public cost of preparing registration lists in his own division, and he thought he was justified in taking that division as a fair example of the great commercial constituencies and a typical commercial centre of Lancashire and Yorkshire. He had endeavoured to follow the Return, showing the cost of the preparation of voters' lists for the Metropolis, issued by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) when he was at the Home Office in 1892. It was somewhat difficult, even following the items in that Return, to find the exact-amount of public expenditure in the whole division, but he had ascertained that last year the amount paid to the Overseer in the borough of Accrington for preparing the lists was £142. Printing came to £99, publishing on church doors and other public places £25, and there was a further sum for miscellaneous expenses of revision (excluding Revising Barristers' fees) of £18. He had been unable to ascertain accurate details as to the cost in the outlying portion of the constituency, but it so happened that in the Accrington Division the large town of Accrington was in the centre of the constituency 100 with about 40,000 inhabitants, and just about half the number of voters in the whole division. It had been suggested to him as a fair calculation to make that the total of £285 for registration matters in the town of Accrington might, under these circumstances, fairly be doubled, and that would give a total of £570 as the cost of registration in the whole division. Put there was another charge to be added which had to be paid by the County Council for Lancashire—namely, the cost of printing the Registers, and that amounted to £122, and if they added £200 for Revising Barristers they got a total of £892. That was as near as he could make it the present public contribution for the purpose of registration in his division. In round figures it was a sum of £900. This Bill, although it did not propose to alter the machinery as that of last year did, proposed to get more work out of it. The Overseers were to remain. They were not to be superseded by Superintendent Registrars or District Registrars, and Clerks of County Councils in counties, or Town Clerks in the case of boroughs, would issue their precepts to the Overseers to prepare the lists as hitherto. The lists would be made, printed, and published and revised just as they were before; but under the new proposal this would have to be done twice instead of once, and there would be a double set of proceedings. And now be asked what was all this extra work to cost? If during the second revision the same salaries were paid, and if the same charges were made for printing, publishing, &c, as now, the £285 must stand at the same figure for Accrington borough, and that amount doubled would be the cost of the registration under the new system. If the.£122 were added to the cost of the printing of the lists there would be a total of £692, or, in round figures, £700. In making the second calculation he had deliberately omitted to include any further fee or allowance to the Revising Barrister. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Why?] There were a good many men of his profession, and he thought outside that profession, who were of opinion that the Revising Barristers were already very well paid. If the £700 were added to the £900 which would be payable under the present system, the total cost from 101 public sources in his division would be, as nearly as he could estimate, £1,600. He had made no provision, however, for the increased number of names there would be on the list, and as the Overseers were paid 2¼d. per head for each person on the -Register, and as the printing would cost more, he thought he might reasonably add another £100, which brought the total cost from public; sources up to £ 1,700. He did not desire to be misunderstood; he did not complain of this large expenditure. It seemed to him to be money that would be rightly and properly spent. He thought that the reduction of the residential qualification, and the consequent two revisions, were cheap at the price. There was, however, no provision in the Bill for this extra expenditure, and he assumed it would have to come out of the same sources as at present. He accepted that, and he assumed that everybody in the House would agree I hat it was right that public money should pay for the preparation of these lists: and, further, everybody would agree that the lists so paid for should be accurate and complete lists. It must be remembered, however, that the private expenditure connected with registration would he increased in the same proportion as the public expenditure. If the work paid for by the public and executed by public servants was efficiently done, there ought to be no need for any private expenditure at all. He made no charges or insinuations against anyone, but he contended that if the Overseers had done their best—as he believed they had—and that their work had notwithstanding to be supplemented by work paid for by private persons, there must be something radically wrong in the system. What alarmed him was that there was no attempt made in the Bill to perfect the present machinery and so to remove the heavy tax which fell at present upon a comparatively few earnest and ardent politicians of both Parties in each constituency. In Accrington the cost of maintaining the two Party Associations was, he was advised, about £900. Taking the rateable value of the division at £290,000, and deducting 2 per cent, for unoccupied premises and variations in assessments, an impost of about ¾d. in the £1 would produce this £900. Of 102 course, the increase in the number of voters would add to the cost of maintaining and working these two Party Associations. It could not be supposed that the £900 would pay for an enlarged Register and for two revisions a year instead of one, as there would necessarily have to be more clerks, more sub-agents, more canvassers, and more book-keeping. His hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Clarke) had said that one-half more than the present cost would be enough, but on the advice of careful and thoughtful experts he would suggest that one-third more would be sufficient. Consequently, the £900 would become £1,200, and the total cost of the registration under the new system would be nearly £2,900, after adding together the expenditure coming from public and from private sources. Everybody in the House of Commons knew only too well all about Registration Associations, with their agents, sub-agents, canvassers, and clerks, to say nothing of bogus claims and bogus objections. He believed that these registration contests were as fairly and efficiently conducted in his division as they were in any place in England, and yet what were the results? During the five years between 1889 and 1893, the Tory and Liberal claims for Accrington heard by the Revising Barrister had amounted to -5,500, of which 1,900 had been allowed; whilst the objections had numbered 8,000, of which 5,000 had been allowed. There had, therefore, been about 3,500 bad claims and upwards of 3,000 bad objections, which meant that to that extent the two Parties had tried to put men on the Register who ought not to be on, and to keep men off who ought to be on. He blamed no one, but he had much to say against the system which made such things possible. He might be asked what was the remedy? He said frankly, that he could see no possibility of getting rid of the present tax as long as private individuals and Party Associations were permitted to amends the lists. The only true way, in his opinion, was to make the list published by the Overseer or by some other and responsible person who was put in his place the final list. In a constituency where the registration were keenly fought, and both sides were 103 well equipped with money, the practical result was very little in favour of either side, and he should think that under such circumstances a reduction of armaments would he a wise course to pursue. If one Party in a constituency happened to be poor and the other to he rich, the poor Party was certain to be sadly and cruelly punished in the Revision Courts. He should imagine that the adoption of two registrations a year and of a shorter period would make the proposal that the Overseer's list should be final more reasonable than it would be under the present system, because if by any chance a voter was left off, the rapidly succeeding Registers would make the omission of his name less serious. He could see no other means of escape from the rapidly coming time when the richest party in the State would ipso facto he that which wielded the greatest political power. Unless this proposal were adopted he thought the public ought to bear all the cost of the supplementary examinations and corrections of the present imperfect list. The feeling in his constituency, among Conservatives as well as Liberals, was that the present system was indefensible, and he could not conceal from his right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill their dismay at the inevitable continuation and increase of this intolerable tax on the earnestness and sincerity of political feeling of both Parties. He should have liked to say a word or two more, but the period had arrived when it was customary to take a brief adjournment, and he was loth to stand between hon. Members and their proper leisure. As to returning officers' expenses in his constituency, he thought both sides would say that they should be paid by the public. He came somewhat fresh from an election, and, therefore, had this question of expenses fresh on his mind. At the last election for the Accrington Division he paid £202 out of his own pocket, and his courteous and amiable opponent, Mr. Hermon Hodge, had to pay the same sum to provide polling stations, ballot-boxes and papers, presiding officers, clerks, &c, in order to enable Her Majesty's lieges, the free and independent electors of Accrington, to exercise the national right of voting for their own Member of Parliament. This had 104 only to be stated for all to agree that it was monstrous. There was a real danger ahead. The expenditure of money in elections was growing and increasing. When he fought Accrington in 1886 the cost was £850 for each candidate. In 1892 it had grown to £1,050, and in December, 1893, to £1,260. This Bill, excellent in its enfranchising clauses, rather added to this danger than reduced it. For lovers of purity of election, for men who sought for the true and uucorrupted verdict of the people, amongst whom he included his hon. Friends opposite as well as himself, this Bill was a disappointment. It was not only a disappointment but a danger, for these increased costs must mean that useful men, who were perhaps endowed with more wisdom than wealth, would be prevented—to the country's loss—from rendering' public service in the House of Commons; and if he had only succeeded in bringing these facts more vividly to the mind of the Government so that some change could be made in Committee, he should count his efforts as successful indeed.
§ * SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that if it were a reproach to have-opposed previous proposals of the Government on the subject of registration reform, he at any rate was free from it, for he had actively supported the last Registration Bill brought in by the Secretary of State for India, and he had also voted in favour of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. In his view, there were few subjects in which the constituencies were more interested than in the question of registration reform, and he was satisfied that there was a well-founded claim for great alterations in the present law. Registration reform was the most important feature of the Bill, and it was that which would guide him in his vote. It was considerably more urgent than any question of plural voting or elections on a particular day, and he was sorry that the Government had lost a great opportunity. The anomalies and inequalities of the present Registration Law called strongly for amendment. He would take as an instance the question of the qualifying period of residence. No one could contemplate the possible 27 months of exclusion of voters from the 105 Register without admitting that reform was needed, and what was worse than this denial of the right of franchise was the inequality between neighbouring voters, which they could not appreciate, as to the time at which they might be respectively called upon to exercise the franchise. Instead of recognising this right, it seemed to him that every possible difficulty was placed in the way of the voter. Instead of making it easy to got on the Register and difficult to get off, which ought to be done, every impediment was interposed. In addition, registration was surrounded by technicalities and absence of opportunities for amendment on the part of the Revising Barrister, which greatly interfered with the operation of the law. Could anything be more unjustifiable than that such an Amendment as this could not be made? If the qualification was stated to be a "dwelling house" instead of "dwelling house successive occupation," the Barrister was powerless to make any amendment, and the voter was deprived of his light. It was literally true, as had been stated by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, that the lodger franchise was a most technical franchise. Having observed a large number of claims, he did not impute that they were based upon fraud, but he could say that scarcely one in a hundred was properly filled up, and probably a very small proportion would be held good if they were seriously contested on points of law. In the case of the lodger franchise, too, there was the invidious distinction of the absence of successive occupation, and other disabilities—in fact, that franchise might be said to depend almost upon the opinion of the Revising Barrister and the different Overseers, and very often there was a difference of decisions in almost the same neighbourhood. He believed the principle of the lodger franchise, as it existed at the present moment, to be wrong, and instead of allowing voters to construct, if they could, claims based upon very artificial values it would be far better to adopt the household rule, and allow houses of certain value to carry a certain number of voters. One of the defects of the Bill was that it not only failed to deal with the lodger franchise, but it made no attempt whatever to give those 106 facilities to which that class of voter was entitled. The Member for the Forest of Dean said that whatever difficulties might be created would be remedied to a great extent by additional voluntary work. He took a different view. He regarded the political drudgery of attending a revision as the very worst form of political employment, as a dissipation instead of an increase of political energy, and for that reason he strongly regretted the inadequacies of this Bill. He thought, too, with regard to revision, that it coutained a misapplication of the combative spirit of our law. It seemed to him that it was ill-applied in the case of the assertion of the right to vote. This was a right which ought to be investigated and established, and not one in which political Parties should make it a duel as to whether an individual voter should be entitled or not. One strong reason he had for registration reform was that he desired to retain household suffrage as the franchise of citizenship, and he was convinced that anything which tended to make it exclusive instead of inclusive greatly endangered the ultimate position of that principle. He was desirous, by shortening the period of residence, and offering facilities to voters entitled to be on the Register, that they should be afforded an opportunity of becoming so at the earliest possible moment consistently with evidence of their legal possession of the right. For these reasons, he thought it very undesirable that this question of registration should be made in any sense of the term a, mere Party question. In introducing the Bill of last year the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India did him the honour of quoting what he (.Sir A. Rollit) had said at their own Conservative political organisation in favour of such reform, and he had not only introduced measures for this purpose, but had consistently supported the proposals of the right hon. Member for Halifax and the Secretary of State for India in his Bill of last year. He supported that Bill because it redressed a great many anomalies of registration; because it shortened the period of residence required for voters, and because it adopted the principle of a public officer for registration purposes, and got rid of the combative principle. All experience 107 tended to the conclusion that that was the best and proper mode of dealing with the matter. The experience of Scotland was amply in point. He knew one hon. Member, then present, who represented a constituency containing 18,000 voters, where the whole registration process, as in other boroughs in Scotland, was automatic, where the Register was in constant preparation, and where, if there were any difficulty or doubt, the point was taken by the Sheriff—the counterpart of whom in this county would be the County Court Judge or Stipendiary Magistrate—and quickly disposed of without expense to the parties or inconvenience to the applicants. In the course of some two or three years the whole time consumed in the process of appeal, which always gave satisfaction, had not exceeded three hours. He also supported the Bill of last year because he thought it just to the lodger franchise. It seemed to him that instead of reproducing these real reforms the present Bill failed to deal with defects in the present system of registration. To his mind, this was a much worse Bill, and from the registration point of view he was bound to condemn it as a bad and retrograde Bill. It not only did little or nothing in relation to registration reform, but in some respects did that which ought not to be done. He thought it was inadequate, incomplete, and quite unequal to the demands made, and he did not think he should have difficulty in showing that in many respects it absolutely intensified the evils which existed at present, and which it ought to amend. Take as an illustration the present system of conducting registration. He said that while the voter sought a right which ought to be readily recognised every impediment was put in his way, and this Bill, if it did not double the difficulties and inconveniences, very materially increased them. So far as voters were concerned under this Bill they might have to claim twice a year; they might be subjected twice a year to objections, real and frivolous, and if they did not appear they might lose their votes, so that from that point of view it might be a disfranchising measure. To the political Parties it would greatly increase the necessity of organisation. He thought Party organi- 108 sation was already carried to a great extreme, and he thought that by this means they should place the political Parties and Members and candidates in the hands of experts to a great extent, and they should have the turmoil and trouble of almost perpetual political mechanical work. There was one other point in respect to which be thought this was a retrograde measure. The Party opposite prided itself in giving opportunities for labour candidates, and it was desirable that labour should have a fair share of representation in that House. But how, under this Bill, would a Labour Member or candidate be affected? The wealthy would be made more powerful; those who had the most wealth and the greatest resources would be able probably to continue to occupy their position: but in the case of those who had not means, and particularly labour candidates, it would either be impossible for them to obtain an equal chance or a more favourable position, or it would throw upon themselves or their own labour organisation additional cost. In addition,the Bill did not attempt to deal with any of the technical points which bristled in connection with revision. There was no attempt, to create some consolidation of the law. The right to vote was distinctly hidden from the voter in numerous Statutes, which none but experts could collect and understand. One of the first things that ought to be done in connection with registration reform was to give a Code which people could readily understand, but no attempt was made in that direction. Very little was done for the lodger, who was merely saved from a claim in a second revision, and was left with all that disability which the Secretary of State for India emphasised of having to make and prove his claim year by year, his inducement to exercise the franchise being thereby greatly diminished. An hon. Member, he noticed, proposed to add to the inconvenience in an Amendment calling upon the lodger to produce independent evidence of the value of the premises occupied. In his opinion, that value was arbitrary, difficult to prove, and based upon a wrong principle, and the value of the house itself ought to determine the adequacy or otherwise of the lodger franchise. Again, there was nothing 109 about one Register—one burgess roll for the boroughs and one set of lists for the county, and no attempt to do what ought and might be done and had been done in Scotland—to automatically prepare the Register and have it in constant progress, and as closely as possible up to date when an election took place. All these questions affecting the right to vote, which materially reduced the franchise and jeopardised the principle of household suffrage, were urgent points, while the political questions dealt with in the Bill might in many cases be deferred until a wider and more comprehensive measure dealt with the whole question of the franchise. He thought the suggestion of elections on one day was very much in accord with the views constantly expressed by Chambers of Commerce in relation to the long continuance of the turmoil and very deleterious effect on business produced by the holding of a General Election. On the question of plural voting there was a great deal to be said, and the subject was greatly exaggerated; but an inconsistency in the Bill was, that while plural voting was to be taken away on the ground that it represented property, still the option of where the vote should be exercised was to be given and based upon the very same principle. If property was not to be a factor in such a matter why should property confer the right on the voter to vote for one division or another according to his choice? He thought the proposal which allowed a man to vote in one district or another might also have the grave disadvantage of the manipulation by political Parties of the Register with the view to casting the balance in doubtful constituencies. But he preferred to rest objection to this Bill on the fact that if property was not to be a factor to the vote it ought not to be a, factor to the option which in itself was a right based upon property. While he appreciated in the very strongest degree the necessity for registration reform, while he had consistently supported every measure which had been brought before the House in principle with that object, and while the Government had had what support he could give on the last occasion in favour of their Bill, he considered that this measure differed materially from 110 the former Bill, that it completely failed to deal with the pressing questions of revision at the present time, and it placed by contrast in positions of importance questions which relatively, so far as the possession of the franchise was concerned, were both numerically and politically far subordinate to the question of a complete Register, that he could not give it that support he should otherwise have been glad to have given it, and on the ground of the insufficiency, incompleteness, and inadequacy of the registration proposals be should feel it his duty to vote against the Bill.
§ * MR. PAUL (Edinburgh, S.)
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down claimed credit to himself for having supported the Registration Bill of last year, and condemned the present Bill for not containing a codification of the law. But he would point out that that was a defect which belonged also to the Registration Bill of last year. There was one point on which be cordially agreed with the hon. Member. He did not see why the possession of property, or rather a particular kind of property, in more constituencies than one should entitle a person to choose in which constituency he should vote, any more than it should entitle him to give more votes than one. He should be compelled to vole in the constituency in which was situate the house in which he resided, or if he resided in several he should vote in that county in which he most habitually resided. They were not merely engaged upon the Second Reading of this Bill. They were also discussing an important Amendment, moved in one of the ablest and most interesting speeches he had had the good fortune to hear by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth—an Amendment which raised and brought before the House a very distinct issue. The hon. and learned Member complained that this measure of reform of registration was not accompanied by a scheme of redistribution, and the method of carrying out the object he desired was to move an Amendment which, if carried, would not give them redistribution but would prevent them having registration. That might be good advocacy—of that he could not judge—but it did not seem to him to be 111 good polities. The hon. and learned Member complained that the Government were redressing one set of anomalies and were paying no attention to another; and he asserted and endeavoured to show that the present distribution of seats was unequal and unfair, and in order to prove his proposition he had brought forward the ease of one part of the United Kingdom, and one part alone. He had referred to Ireland and had asserted—what was perfectly true—that according to the principle of population Ireland was over-represented in that House, and he had not thought fit to examine the question whether other parts of this country or portions of these parts might not be equally over-represented. The hon, and learned Gentleman was, of course, too well informed to talk about gerrymandering the constituencies, but people outside, representatives of the Party opposite, had accused the Government of attempting in this Bill to gerrymander the constituencies. What was gerrymandering? It was a word derived from the performances of a certain Governor of Massachusetts who, at the beginning of this century, unfairly divided the constituencies of that State for the benefit of his own Party; in other words, he produced an unfair distribution Bill. They could not gerrymander constituencies in a Registration Bill, and what people who brought this charge against the Government advocated was, that the Government should not do what was incompatible with gerrymandering, but that they should do what would enable them to gerrymander. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not taken that point. He had not adverted to the fact that the Redistribution Act agreed to by both Parties in the State was not yet 10 years old, whereas the system of registration dated from a very much longer time back than that. It might be rash, but he (Mr. Paul) had indulged in a little amateur redistribution, and had not confined himself to Ireland, but had taken the whole of the United Kingdom. He had adopted a process which, whatever else might be said of it, was at all events simple. He had taken, as the Redistribution Act of 1885 took, the basis of population. He had taken 40,000 as the population which ought to entitle a constituency to a Member, and 112 he had struck off all those constituencies where the population was less than 40,000, except in the ease of those counties—of which there were several in Ireland, but, he thought, only one in England, Huntingdon—where the two divisions had a population of less than 40,000 each, and in that case be had given such county one Member, and in every case where the population was over 80,000 and there was only one Member he had given two, and where the population was over 120,000, three. That gave a considerable margin, and had the not undesirable result of somewhat reducing the size of that House. But what was the result of that process from the Party point of view? It struck off from the majority of the Government 45 seats, and it struck off from the Opposition 40 seats. That was a balance in favour of the Opposition of five. It added to the Government 33 seats, and to the Opposition 34. That was a balance in favour of the Opposition of one, or, adding it to the five, a balance of six. But if they went upon the principle of One Man One Vote and One Vote One Value they must strike off the University seats, which were nine, and that left the Government with a balance of three. He would not pledge himself to that figure of three, being, he dared say, a bungling arithmetician; but what he said, and what he was prepared to prove, was that under no fair system of redistribution whatever would the Liberal Party have anything to lose. Of course, in his calculation he had included Ireland; and if they excluded Ireland the advantage would be very considerable to the Liberal Party. The only statesman who had made any serious attempt to reduce the representation of Ireland on the basis of pure population was the right hon. Member for Midlothian, who did it in his Home Rule Bill of last year. If they were not to give Home Rule to Ireland, and if they were, nevertheless, to reduce the Irish representation, they would find themselves confronted with a very serious problem indeed, compared with which any difficulty of registration would be exceedingly small. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean in the course of his speech said that both Parties had agreed in 1885 not to interfere with the Irish representation, and he 113 was very much struck with an interruption of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington, who said that that was because the Irish representation was guaranteed by the Act of Union. They on that (the Liberal) side were inclined to agree with Mr. Bright that the Act of Union was a Statute which Parliament passed and which Parliament could repeal; but a very different view had been taken by gentlemen opposite. It had been represented over and over again in the discussions on Home Rule by gentlemen on the other side of the House as a Treaty which could only be dissolved by the consent of all the parties to it. An integral portion of that Treaty was that the representation of Ireland should be at least 100, and to reduce that representation without the consent of Ireland would be, by the admission of the Party opposite, unless it were accompanied by a measure of Home Rule, a breach of international faith winch this country ought to be ashamed to commit. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth taunted the Liberals with their desire for the abolition of the plural vote. The hon. and learned Member, not in the amiable manner which usually distinguished him, attributed to the Liberals rather discreditable motives. He said they were not the educated nor the intelligent Party, that education and intelligence bad left them altogether, and, as these qualities were in some peculiar manner personified by the plural voter, they were anxious to disfranchise that personage in order that they might, rely on the ignorance of people who had only one vote. He had been made acquainted with many views about the plural voter, but not before to-day had he been told that the plural voter was the peculiar representative of intelligence. That was a singular, almost a miraculous, coincidence. He could understand in the abstract, an educational franchise, though he did not see how it could be worked. He could understand competitive examinations on the system of one mark one vote, though it would he so ridiculous as to be almost sublime. He could conceive a pecuniary franchise—one pound one vote; though he did not think it would commend itself to the people 114 of this country. It reminded him of a curate reproached by his Bishop for not believing as much as himself. The curate said, "Consider the difference of remuneration. I am sure that, pound for pound, I believe as much as your Lordship." But plural voting did not even represent wealth. A man might have £100,000 a year, and only one vote. The University franchise was believed to belong to the quintessence of educated intelligence. It was supposed by those who had not been to Universities that academical degrees indicated abnormal wisdom. He was not ashamed to confess that he had taken a degree. He had never, however, had a vote for his University, because, being rather short, of cash, he thought he could employ what he had better than in proceeding to the degree of Master of Arts. There was one more point, he was sorry to say, connected with himself. The Member for Plymouth told them that he had three votes. He had only one vote. This, of course, was as it should be, because the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth was not three times, but 30 times, bettor educated than he or any other Member of the Liberal Party. Put if, instead of occupying the house which he happened to own, he was to let it and live somewhere else, he could obtain two votes. Would he become more intelligent or wiser? The truth was, that plural voting was a ridiculous franchise, founded on no principle whatever. It was a fictitious and an arbitrary franchise, which could not be defended on any principle, or even on any combination of principles, however ingenious or grotesque. A man exercising it need have no local interest whatever, and need never enter the constituency except on the day of the poll. For his part, he regretted that this system would not, under this Pill, he abolished altogether. With regard to the provision for holding elections on the same day, the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth sought to establish, not altogether without success, that some parts of the Pill would unduly increase the expense of elections. On the question of disqualification for non-payment of rates, the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth had been good enough to refer to the country in which 115 he had the honour of representing a constituency, and had argued that the rates in Scotland would not be paid unless non-payment of them constituted a disqualification. That was a very singular theory. Rates were not voluntary contributions. If it was said that it would be a disgrace to a man to be disfranchised and would lower him in the eyes of his neighbours, which of the two cases was the worst? To lose the vote or to be sold up? To be taken off the Register or to have the bailiff in the house? He would ask the House whether it was prudent and dignified to employ the Parliamentary franchise as a means of assisting the rate collector? It was his business to get the money, to say nothing of the question, which did not arise so often in Scotland, but which was very prominent in England—the case of a man who had his rates nominally paid by the landlord, and who might be disfranchised through no fault of his own. That was a system which nobody would defend. There were, however, portions in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman with which he felt some sympathy. He could not bring himself to see the absolute necessity of the double Register. The Bill of last year provided for a supplemental Register, which would satisfy the requirements of Scotland; and he hoped the Government would reconsider the question, and ask themselves whether this double Register was an integral part of the Bill. He did not see any answer to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth that there was only a technical distinction between the lodger and the householder. How could it affect a man's citizenship whether his landlord lived on the premises or off them? Why, again, should there be any pecuniary qualification for a lodger? The Chief Secretary said that if they dealt with the lodger question they would cut deep into the franchise. He could not for the life of him see the distinction between dealing with the qualification of time and the qualification of money. If they altered the period for which a man resided, were they not dealing with the franchise just as much as if they were dealing with the rent which the man must pay?
§ MR. PAUL
said, he was glad the hon. Member for West Derby agreed with him, and he hoped the Government would take the question to heart. They had heard from one of their leading opponents a most powerful argument to show that there was no distinction between the lodger and the householder. Would they act upon it? He believed it to be the fact that at this moment in the City of Edinburgh no single working man could get on the Register as a lodger, because the Sheriff said that £10 a year meant 6s. a week. The interpretation of the qualification was what was called, in the language of lawyers, a question of fact. He should have thought that it was a question of arithmetic. If they had a proper franchise, a universal franchise, there would be no question of bogus or sham qualifications. He was not sure that the inclusion of large numbers of citizens in the franchise, who had no votes now, would always make in favour of the Party to which he belonged, but he did not think they had any business with that. They ought to do what was fair and right to all classes of the community, and then they were not responsible for the consequences. The lodger franchise as it was left by the Bill could not be defended. He hoped the Hill might be amended and improved in Committee. If it was amended and improved in Committee he cared very little what would happen to it in another place, because either it would be accepted, and then they would have a good measure, or it would be rejected, and then they would have a good argument.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, the House had listened with attention and great satisfaction, and with some considerable amount of amusement, to the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman invariably succeeded in putting his arguments before the House, not only with force and ability, but with such a degree of humour which, if it did not make the arguments acceptable to the House generally, it made them more palatable than they would otherwise have been. The Opposition had no right to complain of anything that fell from the hon. Member for South Edinburgh, but he did not think the Government were in quite as favourable a position as the 117 Opposition on that point. He listened with the greatest possible care to the speech of the hon. Member, and it seemed to him that the hon. Member defended what he thought ought to be in the Bill, but was not, and he had very little to say for that which the Bill proposed to do. The hon. Gentleman advocated a complete reform of the franchise on lines which were not in the Bill; and, as usual, he had made a calculation to show that the result of redistribution would be satisfactory to the Party to which he belonged, but it was the custom of political prophets to arrive at conclusions which were found to be far-fetched when the real results became known. In any event, this was not a Bill which ended, as it should end, with the redistribution of political power which it commenced by disturbing. The hon. Gentleman at the end of his remarks expressed the hope that the Bill would be largely amended in Committee. He ventured to say that if the recommendations which the hon. Member gave to the Government were accepted and carried out there would be precious little left of the original measure when it emerged from Committee, for in order to fall in with the suggestions of the hon. Member, the Government would practically have to reconstitute and redraft the measure. He approached this question of registration on the whole as impartially as it was possible for a man to do, because he was in this fortunate position—that he represented a constituency which no Bill, even of the ingenuity of that introduced by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, could upset or alter. He represented a constituency which was purely and entirely working class, and which enjoyed no advantage from dwellers in other parts, who gave their votes on the day of election in constituencies in which they did not reside. But apart from that consideration, he had never concealed his opinion that with due reason and common sense every facility should be given to the people of this country who were qualified to be voters to become voters. He, however, did not go quite so far as the hon. Member for South Edinburgh. He was not prepared to say he would desire to see such a measure of registration pass as would make everybody an elector, but he agreed that the fundamental 118 principle which ought to underlie the possession of the franchise was residence rather than any other qualification which could give the right to vote. He believed himself that if they made it a necessity that a voter should be a resident in the locality, that if they attached to his residence a condition that he should have been there for a sufficient length of time to prove that he was practically a permanent resident with a real interest in what was going on around him, he believed they would have placed their franchise on a perfectly secure foundation. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh had indulged in some criticism of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth with reference to education and intelligence, but he did his hon. Friend an injustice. His hon. Friend had not asserted that the Party opposite did not contain among them men of great intelligence and great ability. The hon. Member himself was a striking repudiation of such a statement if made that it was possible to desire. What his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth had said was that hon. Gentlemen opposite had declared, through the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, that the distinction between the two political Parties was that on one side were to be found the classes and on the other side the masses. He admitted that the possession of property should not be taken as an indication that necessarily education, intelligence, or ability was possessed by the owner. But his hon. and learned Friend was justified in his argument that the possession of property was, at all events, a proof that the owner had a stake in the country, and was also an indication that there was education behind him, or, in any case, that he had some opportunities for studying the serious problems which the electors, and consequently the House of Commons, were called upon to decide. He was sorry that the most excellent speech of the hon. Member for Accrington earlier in the evening had been delivered in a rather empty House, though, perhaps, in the interest of the hon. Gentleman's Party and of the Government, it was well that the audience was sparse. It was a practical speech—a most clear and able speech—and it brought to bear on 119 the proposals of the Government the most searching criticism which had yet come from the Government side of the House. He desired to approach the question from the same point of view from which it had been approached by the hon. Member for Accrington. He entirely agreed with his hon, and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth that it was necessary to facilitate the means by which a man qualified to vote for a Member of Parliament could get on the Parliamentary Register. There could be no doubt that it was a great hardship that a man should have to wait sometimes for two years before he got the qualification to vote to which he was entitled to long previously. He entirely agreed that Parliament should do everything that was fair, just and practical in order to remove those anomalies, but what he submitted was that the Government, while seeking to redress this wrong, had proceeded in the wrong direction. The disease being in one limb, they proceeded to apply the remedies to another. They had endeavoured to cure the weakness of the arm, so to speak, by attending to the leg. The real difficulty was not in the period of residence necessary for qualification. The difficulty centred in the delay attendant upon securing legal sanction to the right to vote. He might add that under the Bill the plural voters would be like the Militiaman who enlisted in several battalions. He made a big show in the different battalions, but all the time he was only one man, and effective only in one battalion. If the Government had proceeded to so alter the machinery by which these votes were rendered valid they would then have gone in the right direction. If they had been content only to deal with the anomalies of registration, to redress the injustice, and to facilitate the acquisition by an elector of the right to vote, they would have found on the Opposition side of the House as much support as they would now undoubtedly find opposition. This Bill would, in reality, turn upside down the electoral system of the country, and to make changes in the franchise to which it was impossible for the Conservative Party to assent. It was said that if the Bill were passed the power of the political organisations would not be in- 120 creased. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth had pointed out that if the purposes of the Government were passed into law—that was to say, if they allowed the plural voter to remain, but left him the option as to where he should vote, they would put the power entirely in the hands of the individual voter, and, therefore, in the hands of the officers who conducted the political associations, because they would decide that the weight of those votes, on the one side or the other, should be cast where they would be most useful in the Party interest. The hon. Member for Gloucester opposite had doubted the accuracy of that statement, and had instanced the fact that during all the elections he had been through the outsiders had been canvassed by each side and brought up in considerable numbers. But that was not the point. The point submitted by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth was that they knew at the present time what the electorate was—the number of residents and the number of out-voters—but if this Bill passed they would never know till an election had taken place what a constituency was, what was its strength, and the number voting. The result would, therefore, unquestionably be an increased power of the political associations. Those difficulties would only be satisfactory to wealthy men, who did not care what it cost to get into Parliament, and therefore had no need to consider matters of this kind. It was, undoubtedly, a great objection to the Bill that it would add largely to the annual cost of registration. Indeed, the burden both of expenditure and labour would be doubled by having two registrations a year instead of one. In Liverpool the cost of looking after the registration of one voluntary association was between £3,000 and £4,000 a year, and nobody could doubt for a moment that this Bill would double the expense in a city whore the population was not only rapidly increasing but constantly changing. The present difficulty in regard to these populous places was to see that the men who claimed were those entitled to be on the Register, and to secure this, house-to-house visitation was necessary. But the Government were now going to increase the difficulties of registration in large places like Liver- 121 pool. In the first place, they would double the labour of local Registration Bodies by having two registrations instead of one; and as, owing to the shortness of term, it would be easy to make bogus claims, they would have to exercise greater care in the house-to-house visitation in order to ascertain whether the man who claimed was the right man. He was sure that there was no one in the House—no matter on which side he sat—that would willingly see a measure passed which might facilitate a man's chance of getting on the Register who had not a full claim to be there. No doubt the present state of things could be improved, and in his opinion what was required was not a change in the existing Registration Laws but a Redistribution of Seats Bill. The Secretary for Ireland had brought forward the present Bill, he believed, from a simple and honest desire to carry out a reform which he and his Party considered to be necessary and in the interest of the country. He very much questioned, however, whether the right hon. Gentleman had realised what the effect of the measure would really be. It had been supported in such a way that one would suppose, after hearing the speeches of hon. Members, that the Government in bringing forward this measure were fighting the battle of the poor against the rich. Whatever charge might be made against the Conservative Party generally, he did not believe there was any foundation whatever for a, charge of that kind. He did not think it was necessary in debating a matter of this kind to cast such charges across the floor of the House. He thought the representation of the rich and poor was much more evenly distributed in all quarters of the House. He would say that there was no desire on the part of the Opposition to obtain special privileges for the rich, but, on the contrary, there was a unanimous desire to give full, free, and fair play to all classes of the country to express their wants and to secure for them the sympathetic attention of a Democratic Parliament. He assorted again that this measure would lead to serious and grave difficulties in many constituencies. How would the Bill affect the City of Liverpool? In Exchange Division there were 7,134 electors, of whom 1,451 lived in the ad- 122 joining counties. They would under this Bill be subtracted from the electorate of the Exchange Division. [Mr. STOREY: Not necessarily.] He made that statement believing the Government meant to carry out their principle of "One Man One Vote," and it was immaterial, therefore, from which constituency they were subtracted. In addition to the 1,451, there were 1,155 electors in Exchange Division who resided in other Liverpool constituencies, so that if these two classes, numbering 2,606, exercised the privileges given them under the Bill and voted where they lived, the Exchange constituency would be reduced to 4,500. In the same way the 8,678 electors in the Abercromby Division would be reduced to 5,300. When he turned to West Derby, the division he represented, the electors there numbered over 10,500, while in the adjoining division of Everton there were about 10,300 electors, so that the result of the Bill would be to give to the 4,000 Exchange electors and to the 5,000 Abercromby electors the same political advantages and representation as was given to the 10,000 in the adjoining division. It might be said that they could not do everything in one Bill, and that the Government had not time to do it all at once. There was some justice in that statement, but if they wanted to carry useful and practical legislation likely to command the sympathy and support of the country they should not, in seeking to redress existing anomalies, create others far worse. One word more as to the effect of the Bill upon Liverpool. Not only would it create that extraordinary distinction between divisions he had mentioned, but it would go against the settled, hard-working people, and put power into the hands of the shifting and moving population, who had not the same stake in the country. So that the Bill would do a double injustice. He was rather surprised at first when he found that the Chief Secretary was in charge of this complicated measure, not because he-doubted his capacity to deal with it, but because they used to regard the duties of his Office so laborious as to demand all his time and work, and if the Chief Secretary of the late Government had taken charge of such a measure the Irish-Nationalists would not have been so 123 silent as they now were. But his wonder ceased when he discovered what would be the practical effect of this measure in many parts of the country. The Chief Secretary once said that by carrying English legislation they would be facilitating the carrying of Home Rule. There was to be found the secret of the right hon. Gentleman having charge of this measure. For what would this Bill do? It would hand over the control of many of their large cities, both in regard to municipal and Parliamentary representation, to the Irish minority within the constituencies, and undoubtedly the English working men would consider that in doing that the Government was doing them an injustice, for it took the power from the settled population and gave it to the unsettled classes. It was for the English working man to consider whether he would quietly accept such a change. It had been suggested by hon. Members opposite that the conflict over this Bill was one between the wealthy and the poor, but he maintained that it-was one between the resident working-man and the moving and shifting working man. The change that the measure would make in the representation of the country would be so serious and so far-reaching that he should heartily support the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had said that the Bill had many critics and few friends. His experience of life was that the truest friend was the honest critic, especially in Parliamentary affairs, if, after the criticism, he took care to vote steadily with his Party. The hon. Member had said that the Government in proposing that a man with plural votes might decide to vote in one place or the other were acting in the game way as the Militiaman who enlisted in several battalions, who figured in all, and who yet was only one man. But the Government were doing exactly the reverse. They had at present those Militiamen voters who were in five or six constituencies; but as the Government laid it down that all the elections should take place on the same day, each of those voters would count only in one constituency. He wished to say generally that the Bill seemed to him 124 a very hopeful Bill from the point of view of those who believed in a universal suffrage. He had always held that not only every man in the country, but that every woman in the country of full age should have the franchise; and he hoped that that state of things would soon be realised. At any rate, the admissions made by hon. Members opposite seemed to point in that direction. What was necessary was that every man qualified to vote should be put on the Register with the greatest possible ease, and that the mere fact of the settled residence should be a sufficient qualification either for a householder or for a lodger. Hon. Members opposite admitted that.
§ MR. STOREY
said, he was only stating a point on which all sides seemed to be agreed. Again, the hon. Gentleman had expressed his concurrence in the suggestion that a poor man should be able to chose as his Parliamentary Representative a man equally poor as himself, and, further, they all seemed to be agreed on the principle of "One Vote One Value." Indeed, it was understood that no objection would be raised by any considerable party in the House to the principle of "One Man One Vote." [Sir E. CLARKE: No.] At any rate, they had been given to understand something very nearly approaching that. There were so many points of agreement between the two sides of the House that it ought not to be difficult to shape the Bill in Committee to the satisfaction of both Parties. He admitted frankly that the Bill came to them in a most inconvenient form, and that it dealt with the questions of registration and election in a very incomplete form. But hon. Members in connection with that must realise the exigencies of Parliamentary procedure and the limits of Parliamentary time. He did not accuse hon. Members opposite of being worse than his own Party were when in Opposition, for there had always been a tendency on both sides to deal with the measures of the Government of the day at such length as to prevent the chief Bill of the Session passing. Could hon. Members suggest any more practical or common-sense way of dealing with the question than that adopted by the Government? His opinion 125 was that they had approached the question in a business-like fashion. He proposed first to deal with the question of "One Man One Vote." He was not one of those who held merely that every householder who was qualified should have a vote, but he was in favour of every man having a vote, and he would be very glad to see the Bill extended in that direction. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth had suggested that they ought not so to extend it, because at present votes were not of equal value and the constituencies varied too greatly in size, and those inequalities should first be redressed. His Amendment told them in terms that if "One Vote One Value" were conceded the objections to "One Man One Vote" would disappear. [Sir E.CLARKE: Certainly not.] If that were so, then the Amendment was simply a trap. He submitted that the two things were not essentially one, although one followed upon the other, and it was quite practicable to deal with the one and leave the other for settlement in the near future. "One Man One Vote" was in their judgment just. The Government had been in Office two years, and would remain there another 12 months at the outside. Their supporters approved what they had done, the Opposition disapproved, challenges were being constantly thrown out for an appeal to the country. Soon the grand inquest of public opinion would be held to decide between the two Parties, and was it not strange that one Member of the jury should have 20 votes in the settlement of the controversy, while another jury had but one vote? Surely that was a state of things which could not fairly be defended. What were the grounds of defence put forward by the hon. and learned Member? It was submitted that property and intelligence ought to be specially represented. Well, he had to say, in the first place, that the possession of property did not always imply the possession of intelligence; and in this country there was a great deal of intelligence where there was very little property. The proposition of hon. Gentlemen opposite was that wisdom, experience, virtue, and base and sordid property should each have two votes. But even in this respect the suggestion would not work fairly, for it was only certain kinds of property 126 that carried with it this right of excessive representation. He knew a man connected with shipping who was worth £250,000, and who had only one vote, and another who was worth a tenth of that sum, but who had six or seven votes in respect of little shops in different localities. The hon. and learned Member who proposed the Amendment had told them that he had three votes. He put it to the hon. and learned Member—who was admittedly a man of property and of intelligence—did he count for three at an election? [Sir E. CLARKE: I ought to.] The hon. and learned Member did himself an injustice. He did not count merely for three; he counted rather for 300 or 3,000 besides his actual votes. He had intelligence, knowledge, experience, and the power to sway men, and that was the power intelligence had and ought to be content with in this country. There was nothing new after all in the Government's proposal, because, in municipal elections, a man might have property in many different wards, but be had to choose which he would be put on for. They had an even more remarkable precedent than the municipal one. Birmingham was divided for Parliamentary purposes into seven different constituencies, but while a man might have a vote in all of them he could only vote in one. He held that "One Man One Vote" was a large step in the direction of every man and woman in the Kingdom having a vote. He was entirely in favour of the proposal that the elections should all be on one and the same day, because it would limit the disturbance of trade which attended every General Election, but he earnestly protested against that day being Saturday. He knew it was the best day for Newcastle, which his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary represented. Many a time they had laid their heads together and tried to get the election fixed for a Saturday. But for many other places Saturday was the very worst day of the week, and especially where it happened to be market day. And Monday would not do either, because it would lead to Sabbath breaking in preparations for the polling, and to that Presbyterian Ulster and Scotland would strongly object. As to the period of qualification, while, of course, he would strongly support the 127 Government proposal, he agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean that the period fixed was even now too long, and he was in favour of one mouth instead of three months. In Durham and other places in the North of England term-day was not the 25th of March, but the 1st or 13th of May. That, being the summer quarter, was the favourite term for moving. By the 24th of June, persons so removing would not have been three mouths in residence, and thousands of these would be hit by this proposal of the Bill. With regard to the provision that the payment of rates should be a qualification for the franchise, he thought hon. Members did not sufficiently realise the circumstances under which numbers of poor people did not pay rates. He knew one place where thousands of people did not pay their local rates, and the reason was simply because the state of trade was such that they had no work, no money, and no food, and were therefore unable to pay. Yet these poor people were treated by the law as if they were vagabonds, and were struck off the roll for their misfortune and not their fault. Surely it was absurd to say that because these people did not pay their rates in time they should have no votes. Lord Salisbury, he was told, had recently spoken of the migratory class as vagrants, although he had since denied having used that term. However that might be, the migratory class was often spoken of as if it were a less worthy class than others. But there was nothing unworthy in the migration of these people. They migrated either because of slackness of work, because of the falling off of the income, and the consequent necessity to live in a less expensive house, or because they had to go further away to their work; and for that they were struck off the Register, and had to claim to get on again. That was an unnecessary burden of which he complained. What were the defects in registration at the present time? One, as the hon. and learned Member opposite had pointed out, was the failure to distinguish between the householder and the lodger. That was a serious and practical difficulty that ought to be met in the Bill. Then there was no supervision of the Overseers; but that was partially met 128 by the power given to Parish Councils, if they saw fit, to supervise the operations of these officials. Another great defect that was unsolved by the Bill was that there was no provision for successive occupations. It ought to be the duty of the Overseer to seek out and verify successive occupations and put them on the Register. It ought not to be left to the man himself or to a political Party to do this work. Then, as to the question of expense, in connection with which he wanted to deal bluntly with the proposal that there should be two registrations in the year. This would practically amount to registration all the year round. Before the registration in April was over the new one would have to be begun. With regard to expense, the House might take it that the cost of registration at the present time to the public for the general Register was £350,000 a year. These figures he had arrived at by means of an independent investigation made in various districts. Then, under the Parish Councils Act, there was an entirely distinct charge for registration created of no less than £100,000 a year. Therefore, £450,000 a year would be spent out of the public rates for the purpose of registration. But that was not all. There was the expense to political Parties, which, he was informed by competent persons, was at least £250,000 a year. Therefore, £700,000 a year was now being spent in registration. Then came the proposal of the Government, which he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see fit to modify, for a double registration. He did not say that would be double the present cost, but it would cost the public nearly £300,000 more, and political Parties, perhaps, another £200,000. He appealed to the Government and to the Liberal Party as a whole to seriously consider this matter. Let them for the moment leave the Conservatives out of the question, and suppose there were none in the House. Let them suppose there was nobody else there, and let them ask which was the Party that was likely to lose by this arrangement?' Which was the Party that wanted candidates with brains rather than money? Liberals claimed to be that Party. They knew that at present their candidates and electors were heavily burdened, and yet the right hon. Gentleman proposed with 129 a light heart to add to the expenses of the candidates and the Party all over the country an additional sum which might be reckoned, perhaps, at hundreds of thousands of pounds. He knew that that was an argument which ought to make hon. Members opposite vote for this proposal, and not against it, but, of course, they would look at the interests of the country as a whole, and not be influenced by what he said. But he thought his right hon. Friend should reconsider this matter. If the expendidure of this additional money was necessary he should not object to it, but he contended that it was not necessary in the slightest degree. On an average there was only one election in five years, and thus at present four of the annual Registers, speaking generally, were useless for Parliamentary purposes, except in the chance of a bye-election. If 10 Registers were made in the five years, nine of them, in the same way, would be useless for Parliamentary purposes, except in the case of a bye-election. Was it not, therefore, a great waste of labour and money to make so many Registers? But for how many people was the additional expenditure to be incurred? At the present time they were spending £700,000 a year, and the Registers comprised about 7,000,000 voters, including women. In round figures, this was a cost of about 2s. a head for every person registered. It would be found that 75 per cent, of those on the Registers were in settled occupation and were put on year after year. Therefore, only 25 per cent, on the Register wore left to be dealt with as more or less migratory, and of that number 15 per cent, would be disposed of if a three months' qualification period was insisted upon and the rating clauses were abolished. Hence it would be for the sake of dealing with only the remaining 10 per cent, that the second Register would be made. Therefore, he maintained that a proposal to make this change, and to incur an expenditure of £300,000 a year for dealing with that small number on the Register, was an extravagant and a wasteful proposal, and one that ought not to be accepted by the House, at least in its present form. He put it to the Chief Secretary whether, in these circumstances, he did not think one Register was sufficient, and whether, in reconsidering 130 the matter, be would not devise or consider certain proposals that had been suggested as to successive occupation and as to additional powers being granted to Overseers, with the consent of the town clerks in towns and county clerks in counties, to make the necessary transfers from one district to another. He believed if such a proposal was adopted it would put an end to any necessity for a second Register, and would secure practically that the great bulk of the persons whom the right hon. Gentleman wanted to be placed on the Register would be put upon it. His only desire was to secure, with hon. Members opposite, that as many persons as possible should be placed on the Register; and, in the interests of the public and of economy, he thought they should endeavour to attain that object in as inexpensive a way as possible.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. SHAW-LEFEVRE,) Bradford, Central
said, the Government had no reason to complain of the criticism of his hon. Friend, because no man in the House was more qualified by knowledge and experience to speak on the subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth, who brought forward the Amendment in a speech of great ability and interest, not only showed that he was well qualified to criticise a measure of this kind, but he was capable to lead a movement like that indicated by the Amendment, destroying the Bill, not by a direct attack, but by raising a side issue, no doubt of great importance, but irrelevant to the subject-matter of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that some of the clauses of the Bill of last year were welcomed on the Opposition Benches, but the House would remember that the hon. and learned Gentleman gave them no assistance in passing those clauses. As to the difference between the Bill of this year and the Bill of last year, he would point out that that difference was in the main due to the omission of the clauses proposed by his right hon. Friend the Secretary for India, by means of which it was proposed to establish Chief Registrars in every constituency and Registrars in every parish. There was a great deal to be said in favour of that proposal, though 131 it did not meet with the universal approval of hon. Members on the Government side of the House, and when it was announced that strenuous opposition would be offered to it by hon. Gentlemen opposite it became clear that the proposal could not be carried, and that, therefore, the Government would not be justified in proceeding further with it at that time. But he believed it was mainly in that direction they had to look in future to make registration an automatic process, so that voters might be put on the Register without the aid of political agencies. At some future time another Government might be more fortunate in this direction, but the withdrawal of those clauses reduced the Bill to moderate proportions, and made it possible this year to include other proposals with regard to plural voting and holding elections on the same day, which last year it had been intended to include in another Bill. He admitted that those additions prevented the Bill from being strictly called a Registration Bill. Though the Bill included other important points, it proposed to abolish certain anomalies which experience had shown to be hateful to the people of this country and detrimental to our electoral system. The first was the great length of the residential qualification; next, the ratepaying clauses of the Act of 1867; and, third, plural voting. On the subject of residential qualification, he stated that last year the Leader of the Opposition said it was an outrage that it should take a man two and a-half years to vote in a constituency, although he might possess every other qualification. With a 12 months' qualification, the shortest period in which a man could get on the list of voters was 18 months, and the longest period two years and six months, giving a mean period of two years. With a six months' qualification, the shortest period would be 12 mouths, and the longest period two years, giving a mean period of 18 months. With a three months' qualification and a single Register, the shortest period would be nine months, and the longest period 21 months, giving a mean of 15 months. Therefore, the mean period of qualification was not much reduced, and that fact had led the Government to consider whether it would not be wise to have a second registration. 132 This would at once reduce the period of qualification by one-half. The second registration had been attacked on the ground of expense, and he agreed that it was not a matter which touched any great political issue or was the subject of great Party differences. It was merely a question of whether the advantages to be gained by a second registration were worth the cost. If the figures of the hon. Member for Sunderland were correct, the expense would undoubtedly be very heavy; but he ventured to think the hon. Member had not fully investigated the subject. It was undoubtedly the fact that the expenses of the present single registration were considerable. The expense of a single registration varied very much in different constituencies. In Birmingham, registration was carried out in the most perfect manner possible, and it was hardly necessary there for the political organisations to act at all. The cost was only 6d. per head of the electors, which was considerably less than half the average cost over the country. In London the cost was 1s. 2d., and in other parts of the country it varied from 6d. to 2s. 6d. If the whole registration of the country could be done as at Birmingham it would come out to be about 6d., whereas the average all over the country was 1s. 4d.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, that he believed the difference was largely due to the printing, which was the main item of the cost of registration.
§ * MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, that in London the cost of printing was two-thirds of the whole cost of registration. In Nottingham the cost had been greatly reduced by the simple process of keeping the Register in type. If the registration of the whole country were done as cheaply and as well as in Birmingham, the total cost in England and Wales would not be more than £120,000, or not much more than one-third of the cost at the present time. Although a second registration would cost more than a single registration, he did not believe it 133 would cost double, but he thought that If the Registration of the whole country could he carried out on the Birmingham plan the whole cost would not be more than the present. The hon. and learned Gentleman expressed disapproval of the proposal of the Government to abolish the fatepaying conditions, but that proposal was a necessary consequence of reducing the residential qualification. These ratepaying conditions Were of no value at the present moment, and were only a snare to a certain number of householders, He was greatly surprised to hear the hon, and learned Member defend the System of plural voting, and to say that it was no anomaly, but that the anomaly was that the principle was not further extended. The hon, and learned Member quoted John Stuart Mill in favour of this proposal, but from personal recollection he was satisfied that sometime before 1867, when this question was under discussion in the House, Mr. Mill completely altered his mind. The proposal was made by Lord Derby's Government to extend dual voting, but it Was condemned universally by all parties—by Lord Salisbury, by Mr. Lowe, by the right hon, Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, and from every part of the Mouse. There was no practical difference whatever between dual and plural voting. A man was subject to severe penalties for voting twice in the same constituency, and he believed that the practice of permitting plural voting outside the constituency was very much attributable to accident. Thus in Liverpool, Bradford, Birmingham, and other large towns, men holding several different qualifications within the borough could only vote once, but if a man resided just outside the borough and bad another qualification in the town he Was entitled to two votes. It was, however, in London that the system of plural voting exhibited the worst results. He knew, for instance, three partners in one firm—and he was sorry to say they were Liberals—who were registered in 20 different constituencies. [An hon. MEMBER: They have to pay the rates.] It was in the freehold votes that the system showed at its worst. The freeholders frequently had no interest in the districts in which they had votes; they did not even reside in them, and, when the election came they did not even go into the 134 constituency because they had polling places erected for them in London, and there they recorded their votes for Middlesex or Surrey. The result was that the Middlesex or Surrey divisions Mere swamped by non-resident freeholders who had no connection whatever with the constituencies, but who were able to override the views of the resident electors. This grievance had, in his opinion, been very much increased and multiplied by the Redistribution Act of 1885, by which the constituencies were broken up into single-membered districts. The County of Lancashire, for instance, was formerly divided into a limited number of constituencies, but the effect of the Redistribution Act was to cut it up into 23 different constituencies, He believed there wore certain brewers who had public-houses scattered all over Lancashire, and who could vote in each of the 23 constituencies. In his opinion, this was a perfect scandal, and he could not imagine anyone defending it. It was worthy of notice that Members opposite had not dared to move an Amendment directly dealing with the question, but had raised side issues dealing with the representation of Ireland and the distribution of electoral power. His right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), in a speech of remarkable ability, had dealt with those issues in such a conclusive manner that little remained to be said about them. The condition of things in regard to Ireland had not altered since 1885. All those constitutional questions which were then considered by the House to make it impossible to reduce the representation of Ireland remained in the same position. Both Parties in 1885 concurred in the view that it, was impossible to reduce the Irish representation. The consideration of the Act of Union prevented the House in 1885 raising the question, and if the question were again raised he did not for a moment doubt that the House as a whole would come to the same conclusion. Ireland was not the only part of the Kingdom that was over-represented. The rural parts of England were quite as much over-represented. The 17 most thoroughly rural counties of England had, curiously enough, a population exactly equal to that of Ireland—namely, 135 4,700,000; and by a further curious coincidence, they were represented by precisely the same number of Members—namely, 101. These Members were divided between the two Parties very much as the Irish Members were, although the majority was on the other side. There were 70 of these rural Members on the Opposition side of the House and 30 on the Government side; in the ease of the Irish Members, 23 sat with the Opposition and the remainder supported the Government. There were also 22 other constituencies scattered about England, mostly small boroughs but including one or two small counties, returning 23 Members—a number which was plainly in excess of the proper number. If Parliament began to redistribute according to population it would have to begin with these small boroughs and counties before approaching the Irish Question. When gentlemen opposite said the Government were acting unfairly in dealing with one anomaly, and omitting to deal with another which was in the opposite direction, they were under a mistake. He thought they would find if they attempted a scheme of redistribution according to population that the Party they represented would not derive any benefit from it. They would have to get rid of the nine University Members, remove the excess in the representation of the rural districts of England, and then reduce the excessive number of Members who now sat for the boroughs of England. The Government would be perfectly ready to consider the whole question of redistribution whenever the proper time came. He was certain, however, that hon. Members opposite would have nothing to gain by a general scheme of redistribution. The fact was that the system of plural voting must be looked at by itself. Was it or was it not a just and proper part of our Parliamentary system? He believed that the more it was examined the more it would be found to he unjust, and that it could not he defended in public, as it was hateful to the people of this country. He therefore commended the measure to the House, with a feeling that it would put an end to a gross anomaly without being in any way a disfranchising measure, inasmuch as every man who was entitled to a vote would continue to have one, although he would be unable in future to vote more 136 than once at the General Election. If gentlemen opposite considered that the Government were leaving an anomaly unremedied in giving people the option of voting in more than one place he would invite their assistance to get rid of it. He would conclude by saying that in making this proposal to the House the Government were endeavouring to put an end to a public scandal, and to bring about a state of things which would he believed be grateful to the bulk of the country.
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down if he had convinced the House of nothing else must have convinced it that he believed implicitly in the cry of "One Man One Vote." He (Mr. Wyndham) had listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with amazement, because the right hon. Gentleman seemed still to be in blissful unconsciousness of the nature of the challenge which had been thrown down to him by his opponents. The one thing of which the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly certain was that the question of plural voting must be considered by itself. With all deference to the right hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Wyndham) felt obliged to contradict every single statement made in the right hon. Gentleman's peroration. The question of plural voting must be considered as a part of this Bill. Since this Bill purported to be an amendment of the Act of 1885, it must be considered as an amendment of that Act, and, this being a Reform Bill, it must be considered, as all Reform Bills had been, with regard to the state of public business and to the condition of affairs which a reform of the electorate might influence. There had been during the discussion a great deal of interesting academic speculation on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and those who had preceded him, directed to show that one man should only have the right of casting one vote. These gentlemen had based their arguments upon the consideration of the question from the point of view of the right of the individual. They had asked whether the Opposition thought that because a man was rich he ought to have two votes, or because he was intelligent or educated he ought to have more than one vote. The Opposition 137 believed Done of these tilings, but they said that never until now had a Reform Bill been based solely upon the right of the individual. In the Act of 1885 consideration was given to the local colour of the constituencies which were to be represented. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the fact that there were constituencies in England and Scotland which were over-represented. These, however, were not oversights, but were deliberately agreed to by the late Prime Minister (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), because he was determined to preserve to a certain extent the local element in representative institutions. In the speech in which he (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) introduced the Bill of 1885 he said that it was necessary to deliberately over-represent certain parts of Ireland and Scotland unless the voices of their Representatives were to be drowned and swamped by the voices of such industrial centres as Lancashire and London. And now the colleague of the late Prime Minister happened upon this mare's nest, and told the House that there had been oversights in the Bill which he and his colleagues passed. The right hon. Gentleman said the House could not deal with the question of redistribution, because the present scheme was only 10 years old, but the plural vote was also 10 years old, as it was deliberately maintained in the Act of 1885 by the late Prime Minister. The aim and object of the late Prime Minister in 1885 was to give to every householder in the Kingdom a vote. It was said that the representation of Ireland could not, be reduced without a breach of faith towards that country, inasmuch as 100 members were guaranteed to Ireland under the Act of Union. If this were so it seemed to him that the House was in rather an unfortunate position, inasmuch as, while it could not rescind the part of that contract which acted unfairly as against English constituencies, that very part of the contract was to be used with the object of obtaining the rescinding of the contract altogether. They were, therefore, travelling in a vicious circle. They were not to object to anything in the Act which injured England, but at the same time the provisions of that Act which not only favoured England but. safeguarded the truest interests of the Empire were to be 138 swept away by the very over-representation which they were not allowed to touch. As the right hon. Gentleman and other speakers had indignantly repudiated any imputation of motives he would not impute any motive to him or his colleagues, but he was bound to say that when first he read the Bill he was tempted to think that it was merely an electoral device. Of course, he was now ready to change his opinion, as he had been convinced by the guileless innocence of the right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House that he implicitly believed in the formula of "One Man One Vote." When one saw-that anything had been by human ingenuity endowed with an eccentric shape, one was driven to think that that, shape had been imparted to it in order to effect some special purpose. He was reading the other day a passage in which a learned professor pointed out that the corkscrew and the theatre had assumed their peculiar shapes in order to meet the needs of two varieties of human beings—namely, the thirsty and the pleasure-loving, He thought, that in this ease hon. Members might trace some connection between form and function; they might guess at the cause which had originated this measure, and assume that it had been framed in order to meet the peculiar needs of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. His chief objection to the Bill arose from the fact that he was there as an English Member. He represented English constituents—men who, he must own, had taken as a rule very little interest, in academic discussions upon the fastidious perfection of the political machine, but who cared about this Bill a great, deal. They viewed the Bill, both on account of the occasion of its introduction and on account of its character, with not, a little jealousy and not a little alarm. The occasion of the introduction of the Bill was peculiar. Reform Bills had, for the most part, been brought in in the ripe old age of administrators who could point back to many good deeds done; but, this Reform Bill was brought in after an unprecedented period of legislative sterility, following upon a period of profuse electoral promise. He did not suppose that such hopes were ever raised as were raised before the last General Election, and that so many hopes were ever disappointed 139 as had been disappointed since that Election.
It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.