§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. G. J. SHAW LEFEVRE, Bradford, Central) rose to ask leave to bring in a "Bill to prohibit Plural Voting at Parliamentary Elections, and to provide for taking the Polls at a Parliamentary Election on one day, and for purposes consequential thereon." He said: I may remind the House that last Session the Government introduced a Bill not only dealing with these two subjects, but also with the far wider question of Registration, and the reduction of the period of residential qualification from one year to three months. We hoped then that time might be found for dealing with all these questions in one Bill in a single Session, but the result did not coincide with our anticipations. The Government, therefore, this year thought it better to resort to their earlier policy, and to deal in the first instance with the subject of plural voting and elections on one day. I should also point out that it would be impossible, except with the assent of hon. Members opposite, to deal with the question of Registration in time for the registrations this year. That must be admitted; but it will be quite possible to deal with plural voting, and the advantage would be that the Bill would take effect immediately after its passing into law. The aim of the Government will be to carry the Bill through the House of Commons, and, if possible, through Parliament in order that it may come into effect at as early a date as possible. The clauses of the Bill will be almost identical with those of the Bill of last year dealing with these two subjects. I need hardly take up time saying anything on the question of holding elections on one day. In the Debate of last year that part of the measure did not meet with opposition from any quarter. I think it was generally admitted that it would be to the advantage of all parties that the time of General Elections should be very much curtailed, and that it would be fair to all parties that the elections should take place, if 132 possible, on the same day. That is the rule in most other countries. The rule obtains in the United States and in France, and it gives general satisfaction. I think the proposal would cause great saving to the country, and it would limit the period of political agitation. The only question is, what day of the week should be fixed—whether Parliament should fix the day or whether it should be left to the discretion of the Government of the day. We have thought, on the whole, that it would be better to take the responsibility off the shoulders of the Government of the day and to fix it by Parliament, and we have determined that Saturday, on the whole, is the most convenient day for the great majority of the people. In this matter the convenience and the wishes of the great majority of the people must be consulted. Saturday is the day when large numbers of working men return to their homes from work at a distance. It is also the day when fishermen return to port for the Sunday. I do not believe that Saturday will be seriously inconvenient to any very large body of people. We have been told that small shopkeepers may find that day inconvenient; but they can go to the poll early in the morning before the pressure of business begins. This, however, is a matter which may fairly be discussed in Committee. The more serious, difficult, and contentious part of the Bill is that dealing with plural voting. We propose, in respect of plural voting, to prohibit persons who have more than one qualification in different constituencies from voting more than once at a General Election. In that respect we are only following what has already been enacted by Parliament in respect of almost every other class of local government elections. The principle on which we justify the proposal is this—in our opinion no inequality should be permitted as regards the suffrage between rich and poor; that no man by reason of wealth or accidental status should have any greater voting power than any other ordinary citizen. We hold, also, that the system of plural voting which now prevails is a monstrous fraud upon our system, for it leads in many cases to persons going from one constituency to another on the polling day, and so overruling and setting aside the choice of the majority of the resident 133 voters; and in that respect it has caused the greatest indignation in a great number of constituencies.
§ MR. J. W. MACLURE (Lancashire, S. E., Stretford)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman, seeing that he was going to do justice to everybody, was going to give the Franchise to women.
§ *MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I do not think this is a very convenient time for raising the question of Women Suffrage. If the hon. Member can find it possible to raise the question on this Bill he will do so, but I hope he will not find it possible. I have always been of opinion that it has been by accident rather than by design that the system of plural voting has grown up in our Constitution. From the earliest times in our history, there has been voting equality between rich and poor in each individual constituency. Parliament has never consented to give to one set of men in a constituency a greater voting power on account of their wealth than is given to poorer men in the same constituency, and when attempts have been made to bring about such a system they have failed. The attempt was made in 1859, and it failed miserably; another attempt was made in 1867 by Lord Derby's Administration, and met with no approval from any quarter of the House of Commons, and it was denounced by Lord Salisbury, who was then a Member of this House, as impossible and unpalatable to everybody. It was also denounced by the right hon. Member for Midlothian, in language which seems equally applicable to plural voting in more than one constituency, who said:—To the dual vote I record an implacable hostility. This dual vote is, in the first place, a gigantic fraud. It is a proclamation of a war of classes. The British Constitution rests, and has rested from time immemorial, on the mutual goodwill, respect, and good feeling of the people; upon the equality which they enjoy before the eye of the law. But when you place in the hands of the rich man this weapon, to use against his poorer countrymen, on that day you sow oppression.Is there any difference of principle between dual and plural voting in several constituencies and dual or plural voting in a single constituency? The cases, I believe, rest on the same principle. If a man is able to record five different votes in five different constituencies at the same 134 General Election, how does this differ from his giving five votes in the same constituency? In both cases the man having such a privilege as that has five times the voting power of ordinary persons, and that is an unjust and unwise privilege to give him. Before the Reform Act of 1832 the question of plural voting was a very unimportant one, for the number of plural voters was very small in those days. Merchants, tradesmen, and professional men as a rule lived in the houses where they transacted their business, and therefore did not have a second qualification in respect of separate residences; the facilities for travelling also were very inconsiderable. The result was, that plural voting, although it existed, was insignificant in amount at that time as compared with the present day, and might be righted.
§ *MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I cannot give the numbers, but I infer that they must have been small, for the reasons which I have given. Since the Act of 1832 the number of plural voters has enormously increased. In the first place, large bodies of tradesmen and professional men now live in other places than those in which they carry on their business, so that they have both a qualification vote and a residential vote. Then the division of counties into single-member electoral districts has multiplied the number of these voters; and travelling facilities are such that it is possible for a man to give as many as 20 different votes in different parts of the country during a General Election. This, I believe, has actually been done. The result of all these changes is, that the polling booths in counties are now often invaded by an army of out-voters, who have no practical interest in the division where they vote, and who too often overrule the wishes of the majority of the actual residents. I need not point out that, under the law as if now stands, a man may vote for as many constituencies as he has qualifications, with one important exception. In a borough which is divided into two or more electoral divisions, if a person has two or more qualifications for the divisions of a borough of that kind he 135 is prohibited from voting in more than one division under severe penalties; and should he disregard the law he is guilty of a misdemeanour, and may be sent to prison. But the same law does not prevail in counties. Where a county is divided into single-member electoral districts, a person may vote in every one of such districts, provided that he has the necessary qualifications. Let me illustrate my statement by examples. Liverpool is divided into nine electoral districts, and there are hundreds of persons there who have double qualifications in those divisions, but they can each vote only once for one district. On the other hand, Lancashire is divided into 23 electoral districts, and a person can vote in all 23 if he has the necessary qualifications. I am informed that the members of some brewery firms actually have such qualifications in respect of public houses owned in every one of the 23 districts. [Mr. BARTLEY: "Can the right hon. Gentlemen give us names?"] I do not think it necessary to do so; but it is well known that some of the Lancashire brewers have an enormous number of public houses in the county. [MR. LONG: "Is this multiplication of qualifications confined to brewers?"] It is most common among the brewers owing to the number of tied houses, but it is not confined to them. In Bradford there are three divisions, and 1,300 persons have double qualifications in that town, but they can only vote for one division. On the other hand, there are many hundreds of persons owning premises in Bradford, and residing in the neighbourhood of Shipley, who can vote for both places, because the Shipley Division is technically a part of Yorkshire, although it is really a part of Bradford. But it is in London where the system of plural voting is carried to the greatest extreme. London is divided into 31 boroughs and 60 electoral districts, and if a man has qualifications in several of those 31 boroughs he can vote in all those in respect of which he is qualified; and there are cases of business firms whose members are entitled to many votes in various parts of London. An electoral agent has, indeed, told me that to his knowledge four members of a firm of coalowners were put upon the registers in 20 boroughs of London, so that the 136 members of that one firm had 80 votes in the Metropolis. In London, perhaps, we have the most conspicuous case of plural voting. In the City there are 19,000 non-resident voters, and there are 9,000 liverymen, all of whom are non-resident, and who, with rare exceptions, have votes in other parts of London. A great number of these same persons have also freehold votes for the county of Middlesex. The arrangements respecting these freeholders are most incomprehensible. The freeholders of London are divided in some strange manner between the four divisions of the county, and the freeholders for the East of London are allocated in the county division of Tottenham, which is many miles away. There are 3,000 freeholders in the East of London who have the right to vote for Tottenham, near which they never go, even to vote, for arrangements are made whereby they can vote in the City of London. And yet the majority of voters in Tottenham are overruled by these 2,000 or 3,000 voters from the East of London.
§ *MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I suppose the hon. Member is the Member for Tottenham, and I daresay he takes a different view of the matter. I have had personal communications with men who are interested in Tottenham, and that is the account they have given to me. [Cries of "Name!" and "Order!"] And the same takes place in the case of other county divisions round about London—in the cases of Wimbledon, Harrow, Hornsey, and other constituencies of that kind. There is no means of ascertaining what is the total number of plural voters in the country, but a Return was issued in 1888 showing the number of freehold and non-resident occupation voters in every constituency in the country. That Return gives the number at something like 160,000, but it is notoriously incomplete; and my belief is, that the number is very much in excess of that. Of the number given in the Return, the greater proportion had two votes, but many of them had three or even five for different constituencies. I am myself fortunate enough to have five votes for different constituencies—two occupation votes, two freehold votes, and a vote for 137 my University. I recollect that the late Sir Robert Fowler boasted that he had 12 votes, and that at the General Election of 1874 he was able to vote in 12 constituencies. Then, there is a well-known case of a clergyman who made it his hobby to acquire qualifications in different parts of the country, and was able to boast of having qualifications to vote at 50 elections, and was able to vote at 40, which was about as much as he could do in the time over which the elections spread. There is a right hon. Member of this House who is in the same fortunate position of being a plural voter, and he has on a previous occasion given his opinion on the subject in language so terse and appropriate that I do not think I could possibly do better than quote it. I refer to the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. Speaking on 7th January 1885, almost immediately after the passing of the Redistribution Act of 1884—an Act which left a good many inequalities in the distribution of seats—the right hon. Gentleman said:—I am in favour of the principle of One Man One Vote, and I object altogether to the plural representatives of property. I will take my own case. I have six votes. I usually vote on the right side—that is not the same side he now votes upon—but I consider this an anomaly altogether inconsistent with the principle on which we stand; that principle being, that every householder at all events has an equal stake in the good government of the country—his life, happiness, and property all depending upon legislation which he is as much entitled to assist in framing as anyone else. If we are to make a distinction, I am not sure that it is not the poor man's interest that ought to be regarded first, for if you have bad legislation it may lessen the means of the rich, but it may destroy altogether the means of subsistence of the poor man.I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has altered his views on the subject since then. If he has not, they must differ very greatly from the views of many hon. Members opposite, and especially from the views of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, who, last year, in moving the rejection of the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on the subject of Registration, dealt mainly with the subject of plural voting. The hon. and learned Member always 138 speaks with great ability and thoughtfulness, and his speeches are always interesting and worthy of being read afterwards. Therefore what he said is worth quoting. The hon. and learned Member said:—It is said that the plural vote is an anomaly. I deny that absolutely. The anomaly would be for every man to 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.Well, the hon. Member has the courage of his opinions, and I thank him for his argument, because it coincides with my own—namely, that there is no difference in principle between plural voting in the same constituency and plural voting in different constituencies, and the same objections seem to me to apply to both. But Parliament has of late years emphatically condemned the system of plural voting. Last year it condemned the principle in the case of elections of Guardians and Vestries. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 condemned the principle in the case of the election of Town Councils. It provided that if persons were qualified in more than one ward they should only vote in one. The Local Government Act of 1888 applied the same principle to County Council Elections. That was adopted by the Party opposite, but I am not sure that they quite knew what they were doing, for it was only after long legal discussions in the Courts of Law on the construction of the Act that it was laid down that, on the analogy of the Act of 1882, plural voting at County Council Elections was not legitimate. The same is the case with the County Council of London. We have this anomaly, that in London persons having a double qualification may only vote once for the County Council, whereas in the case of Parliamentary elections a man having two or more qualifications may vote as often. I contend therefore that Parliament has on many occasions of late affirmed the principle of One Man One Vote, and condemned the system of plural voting. What we propose to do is to extend to Parliamentary 139 elections the same principle that is laid down by the Acts of 1882, 1888, and 1894 in connection with local elections. For my part, I deny that this proposal involves any disfranchisement. Any person who has a right to Vote at Parliamentary elections will continue to have that right. All we do is to declare that he shall not have the unjust privilege of voting for more than one candidate in more than one constituency. I admit that persons possessing two or more qualifications will still retain a certain advantage, for they will be able to choose the district in which they will vote; but that is the case now with persons possessing two or more qualifications for County Council Elections, and we do not propose to disturb it. My belief, however, is, that the result of prohibiting plural voting will be to do away with the motive for obtaining double qualifications. Persons already entitled to vote under residential qualifications, will not take the trouble to apply to be registered for freehold qualifications. Now, I do not propose on this occasion to deal with the rival principle of One Vote One Value, but I have no doubt that it will be trotted out again on the Second Reading, not because hon. Members opposite are particularly enamoured of the principle of One Vote One Value—indeed, I think that when they carefully consider what it will result in, they will be rather frightened at it; but because, if we look back into the history of past Parliamentary discussions about the Franchise, we shall find that every proposal with regard to the alteration of the Franchise has been met in the same way. It was so in 1831, again in 1832, again in 1863, and again in 1884. The argument by which all these proposals were met was this: "If you are going to make this alteration you must do something else"; and the principle of One Vote One Value is the argument that will be put forward in this case. When the proper time comes we, on this side of the House, will be able to show that this principle of one man one value cannot by any possibility be of any value to the Party opposite. I presume their idea is that the carrying out of that principle will be of some Party advantage to them. I do not propose to enter into the argument at present; it will be more 140 convenient to deal with it when it is raised on the Motion for the Second Reading or some future stage; but I shall be able to show, on that occasion, conclusively, that if this principle were carried out, and if a system of redistribution were adopted, founded upon the principle of one vote one value, it would be of no advantage politically to that Party opposite. At the proper time the Liberal Party, I doubt not, will not be unwilling, in concert with hon. Members opposite, to enter upon a new scheme of redistribution of seats; it would not be the interest or the practice of the Liberal Party to oppose any change in this direction; but at present we do not think it wise to mix up that question with the proposals of this Bill. What we desire to do now by this Bill is to assert the equality of rich and poor in the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise. We believe that principle to be just and sound, one easy of comprehension by the people, and the only one which, in our opinion, is compatible with the democratic principle of popular and representative government. I move for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)
I should like to be allowed to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the admirable manner in which he has played his part in this evening's performance. I feel sure that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been present he would have been very pleased with it. He has successfully controlled that disposition to laugh which was obvious in many parts of his speech; he gave us a dry, business-like speech; and he talked of the Second Reading and the Committee on the Bill as if they were stages likely to be reached. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has complained several times recently of a disposition on the part of the House of Commons to discuss important Government measures on their First Reading. It has never been the practice of this House to allow the First Reading of an important Government measure to be taken as a matter of course; but it is true that discussions on First Readings have, of late, been prolonged; but that is because the House has thought fit to curtail the opportunities Members have of discussing the principles of Bills. 141 There is no Motion, on going into Committee; the Committee stage is often conducted in private upstairs; and when you deprive Members of opportunities of discussion they are sure to find them for themselves. Since last Session there are additional reasons why Members should seize upon the First Reading to discuss the principle of a Bill, and one is that it is quite impossible to tell whether this may not be the only opportunity which the House may have. Another reason is, that the First Reading is the proper time to discuss the circumstances under which a Government measure is brought forward. In this particular case, the peculiarity, the most interesting feature of the whole Bill, is found in the circumstances in which it is brought forward. I should be very glad to fall in with the general make-believe of the Government, and to pretend, like the hon. Gentleman, that there is going to be a Second Reading; but I cannot resist the temptation to discuss the effectiveness of that part of the Bill for curtailing, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the time of election contests by making all the English boroughs, which are accustomed to have their elections held as rapidly as possible after the Dissolution, wait until the remote counties of Scotland and Ireland are ready for the poll. With regard to the one day on which elections are to be held, if we were to discuss that it might appear that the supporters of the Government are by no means so enamoured of Saturday as the right hon. Gentleman seems to think. This is the proper time to discuss, not what the Bill has in it, but what the Bill has not in it; it is the time when you can press the Government to make the measure more complete. The Bill, no doubt, will effect a constitutional change, small in its results, but large in its principles; it would involve a reversal of the ideas of representation in this House which prevailed when I was a young Member. Then you looked to the constituencies by which the House was made up; Members spoke, not of a mere division, a mere arbitrary section of the people of the United Kingdom, but they were supposed to represent constituencies. From time to time, constituencies were made as nearly equal as they could be made, so as not to give 142 undue representation to small constituencies, and increase of representation to larger and growing constituencies; but the idea of the constituency as the electoral basis, as the unit upon which the eye of a Constitution is fixed, has never been departed from in this House. The extension of the Franchise to all having interests in a constituency was welcomed; and I cannot see what that principle has to do with a dual vote at all. The proposal in this Bill is to let one electorate have twice or thrice as much voice in the selection of representatives as another; and that is a principle to which the House has always offered strong opposition. Ever since the Reform Bill there has been a considerable amount of overlapping. On the borders of counties there must be people with property in two counties, and in the cities there must be business people with residences outside, who necessarily have a vote in two constituencies. This is not the first time our Constitution has been revised; it has been revised by Governments of both Parties; but how is it that this extraordinary injustice has never been found out before? [Opposition Cheers and Laughter.] How is it that it has been reserved for the present Government to discover it? Some of the newer Members of the House laughed; but if they were to go through the Parliamentary Debates of 1867, they would know that this extraordinary injustice had not been found out by the right hon. Member for Midlothian or by Mr. Bright. It has been found out because the Members of the Government have been advised by their wire-pullers that the existence of this dual voting is detrimental to the Party which is now in Office. It is a very plain and blunt statement, but it is perfectly true. In my younger days I have been a wire-puller myself; I was a pre-Schnadhorst in the management of elections. I know very well that those who were engaged in them perpetually pointed out to the Leaders of the Party they served that certain changes in the electoral franchise would be productive of gain to the Party. In these predictions they were almost always wrong. I am old enough to remember the days of 1867, the Whig Party of those days expected to remain in Office an indefinite period. 143 They thought that by perpetually lowering the Franchise the electors would always give them a majority. But their scheme was defeated by what was known as "dishing the Whigs"—Mr. Disraeli's masterly conception of going down at once to the bed-rock of household suffrage. I remember what was said when he did that. I recollect a current saying of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was not then in the House of Commons, and I cannot refer to any public speech he made. But what he said produced terror in my young mind. The effect of his words was—They are driving us into the quagmire of household suffrage. We shall go deeper and deeper until we stick fast, and we shall never come out again.That was the prophecy of Mr. Vernon Harcourt. What was the result of that prophecy? Why, the great household suffrage boroughs—where there is household suffrage far more drastic than the household suffrage of 1867—are now the strongholds of the Tory Party. The new idea which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends by a new system of electoral arrangements have conjured up is that constituents are no longer to be regarded as the units of our electoral system; that constituencies are only a convenient way of dividing up the mass of the electors of the United Kingdom into convenient numbers, and that an electoral constituency may properly be deprived of the assistance of those of its electors who have got qualifications elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Tottenham Division of Middlesex, and seemed to have an extraordinary knowledge of the way in which the electors of the Tottenham Division had recorded their votes by ballot. He says he was told—he does not vouch for it himself—by some wire-puller, who knew nothing at all about it, not how the electors had voted, but how he wished to believe they had voted. The electors of the Tottenham Division are to be deprived of the assistance of those electors who happen to have qualifications elsewhere, and exercise them elsewhere, and they were to choose a person no longer representing the Tottenham Division, but a person to sit as one of the Members of this House who is elected by a convenient number of citizens of the United 144 Kingdom sliced out by means of a Division like that of Tottenham. It must be perfectly obvious to the meanest capacity that if the new system which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced is a proper system of Parliamentary representation and is to work with anything approaching justice, you must have equal electoral areas. There are two anomalies in the existing system which the right hon. Gentleman addresses himself to. There is the first anomaly of certain electors voting in more places than one, and there is the second anomaly of certain constituencies having fewer electors than others, and therefore each elector having greater electoral power. There is the anomaly of the plurality of votes and the inequality of the electing areas. Why have the Government redressed one in this way and left the other anomaly unredressed? The first anomaly is disadvantageous—so the right hon. Gentleman has been told—to the Government Party; the second anomaly the right hon. Gentleman perhaps may see for himself—I do not know that he requires to be told—is not only advantageous to the Government Party, but is absolutely the only circumstance that keeps them in Office, because if that anomaly were redressed—take one instance only, that of Ireland—if she had only the number of Members to which she is entitled, to say nothing of electoral areas—why, the Government would not be in Office a day. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the whole object, the whole tone and temper in which a Bill of this kind should be regarded by himself and his friends is one of electoral advantage; and he attributed exactly the same motives to us. He said this readjustment of electoral areas which we wanted to have would not do us any good, and he would prove this in Committee. But I do not think that is the real opinion of the right hon. Gentleman himself. I will tell you why, without waiting to hear the arguments which he is going to give in Committee. I venture to say that to redress this anomaly would not be disadvantageous to our Party or it would be in the Bill. Now I proceed to say a few words about what is, after all, the real subject which we ought to discuss on the first reading—that is, the circumstances under which this Bill has 145 been brought forward. Last night, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that to-day was to be devoted to the purpose in which we are now engaged, his announcement was received by his own Party with surprise; and that surprise very quickly deepened into alarm, because they said about the Lobby of the House that it was a sign of speedy Dissolution. I do not think the Lobby gossip of the supporters of the Government is at all complimentary to their political morality, because evidently their supporters think that the moment they begin to tamper with the Franchise it is a certain sign of an early Dissolution. I cannot believe this is one of the measures intended to "fill up the cup"—first, because I do not believe it is ever intended to pass this measure through the House of Commons; and, secondly, because I do not think the Government would ever give the country such an object-lesson in the value and necessity of a Second Chamber as would be received by the country if this measure were sent up to another place and rejected there. This Parliament is singular among all the Parliaments of the world, I believe, in the fact that it is not only a legislative Assembly, but it is also a constituent Assembly. It not only has the power to pass laws, but the power of itself to alter the Constitution of the country. I believe that in that respect the power of this Parliament is unique; and a body which has that absolutely extraordinary power, if it had not the check of any Second Chamber, would very soon make away with the liberties and freedom of the country. Remember that this Parliament may alter the Constitution of the country in ways which are not contemplated by the electors at the time Parliament is elected. I do not say that would be so here. This proposal to put an end to Plural Voting was no doubt discussed before the constituencies at the time this Parliament was elected. But if this particular measure had never been put before the people of the country at all Parliament would still have had the power to alter the Constitution in a manner which the constituencies had never contemplated. Now, for a Government whose hold upon the majority of the people of the United Kingdom, is to say the least, slight, to occupy the 146 last few weeks or months of their tenure of office by making an alteration in the electoral law, as the right hon. Gentleman plainly told us, for the express purpose of giving an advantage to their own Party in the elections, is so monstrous an abuse of constituent powers which are reposed by the people in this Parliament, that I venture to say a Second Chamber would be utterly unworthy of holding a place in our Constitution if it allowed such a step to be taken. I do not think this Bill is going to the House of Lords, for this reason—that, with all their infatuation, I do not think the Government would give to another Assembly an opportunity of raising itself in the estimation of the people of this country, as it would do by opposing such a measure. But suppose the Government do what they have threatened to do in the country—but have never said a word about in this House—and abolished the House of Lords, then a danger of the kind would be real. You would then have an exhausted and defeated Party continually attempting to use its majority at the last moment to change the electorate to which it had to appeal; and I do not think a measure of this kind—which is brought in just to satisfy a certain number of the supporters of the Government, to show they have completed their Newcastle Programme—is ever intended to be persevered in, in this House, still less to give the other Assembly of Parliament an opportunity of showing the people how necessary it is to the Constitution of the country. But there is another curious object-lesson which this Bill has accidentally given to the House. What is the next order of the day, Mr. Speaker, which succeeds this? It is a Bill brought in by the Government to promote councils of conciliation and arbitration in trade disputes. The Government have given one day to the discussion of the Factory Bill, and that discussion, by the confession of everybody on both sides of the House, was of a most valuable and most useful description to the well-being of the people of the United Kingdom. If the Government could have been induced to spare another day, for the discussion of the Bill to promote councils of arbitration and conciliation, no doubt that discussion and the forwarding of that Bill would have given hopes of very 147 great and practical amelioration in the condition of the people. I hope, however, the people of the country will note that, in the opinion of the Government, it is more important that the House of Commons should discuss this wretched One Man One Vote than the measures which are of practical importance to the people. [Cheers, "Oh, oh!" and counter-cheers.] Hon. Members may groan, but I think the people will groan when they appreciate the real opinion which the Government have of those important social measures. I hope also that the Independent Labour Party will take notice of the way in which the Government have deliberately wasted, in what must necessarily be an acrimonious Party Debate, the time which might have been well devoted to more useful purposes. The other measure which the Government have postponed for this Bill no doubt excites great interest in the country, and it might be productive of very great advantage.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
I do not oppose it. I have never opposed the Bill which the Government have introduced. On the contrary, I said on the First Reading that I would do everything I could to help it forward. It does not go as far as I would like it to go, but it is a step in the right direction. But these matters affecting the interests of the people cannot be disposed of by the House without discussion. I am in favour of arbitration and conciliation, but there are employers of labour, trade unions, and other interests which ought to be heard before a satisfactory measure is passed; and my point is, that the first night of extended time now given to the Government has been deliberately wasted by them, when there is a second measure on the paper which the whole House is desirous to discuss in a candid spirit, desirous to pass into law, and one in which the interests of the people are vitally concerned.
§ MR. E. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
thought it would be useful to point out the remarkable history of this Bill. This was the third time that the Government had tried to put into legislative form the phrase "One Man One Vote." On the first occasion the Secretary of State for India (Mr. Fowler), whose absence 148 through illness he regretted, brought in a Bill which would have been very difficult to carry out in many respects, but it was an attempt to amend the Registration laws in a statesmanlike spirit. That Bill, however, did not receive much support from anyone; it was not evidently up to the standard of Government Bills, because it only tried to improve the Registration laws and did not attempt to injure anyone. Therefore, it was not proceeded with. Last year another Bill of a different character was brought in, though it had been condemned before by the speech of the Secretary for India. It was evidently a Bill of the machine-maker of Parliament Street, and it was entrusted to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who had not been well crammed when he made his speech. That measure was laughed out of the House, and after the Second Reading no more was heard of it. That Bill, however, dealt with Elections and with Registrations. It was a large measure; but now the Government had produced a purely disfranchising Bill. It was nothing more than an attempt to disfranchise the owners of property in counties and those who resided in boroughs, and who happened to be small freeholders, probably as the result of their thrift. If the Government desired to remove anomalies he invited them to look at the anomalies in regard to the Franchise which they could remove. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the unequal constituencies and to the over-representation of Ireland. If it had not been for that over-representation the Government would have been in a minority over and over again. Then there was the question of double-member constituencies. The borough of Northampton, for example, returned two Members, and every elector in that constituency possessed two votes for one qualification. That was a greater anomaly than the anomaly which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with in the Bill. The House ought to deal with the Franchise in a fair spirit. He was not opposed to the principle of one man one vote if it was dealt with fairly; but he should prefer to see one vote one value. What was needed was, that there should be equal electoral districts, so that every vote should be worth the same in the House of Commons, and the over-representation of Ireland 149 should be reduced, so that Ireland should not exercise an arbitary rule over this country. [An hon. MEMBER: "The Universities!"] The Universities represented at all events the learning of the nation, and not the illiteracy. It was curious, moreover, that this Bill should be brought in at the present time, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked for the whole time of the House, because the Government had not time to pass the measures they had already introduced. Now, however, a new measure was sprung upon the House of the greatest importance and urgency, if it was to become law. It was also remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman selected to bring in the Bill was the President of the Local Government Board, because the right hon. Gentleman went on an electioneering tour in Lincolnshire last autumn. Speaking at Louth, he told the electors that the Government must do as much as they could this Session because it was to be the last of the present Parliament. No Government, the right hon. Gentleman declared, identified as they had been with the Newcastle Programme, could honourably ask the House to sit after the present Session. Did the right hon. Gentleman believe that he could carry this Bill as well as the other measures without asking the House to sit another Session? The Government were bound to stop, in view of the above declaration, further legislation after August in the present year. Did the Government really intend to proceed with their Bills? The country was beginning to understand what was the real value of one man one vote. There was no topic upon which hon. Members could get an audience to listen with greater attention or more enthusiasm than the present position of the House of Commons and its enthraldom to the illiteracy of Ireland. The people desired to see the question of one vote one value fairly dealt with; and if the Government really desired to promote a better system of Registration, and a more equal Franchise, he was sure that they would have done something to show their intention in the present measure. But at present it appeared to him that the Government wished to gerrymander the next Election, and they evidently cared little for what might happen hereafter. It was the 150 duty of the people in these circumstances to see that the Government did not carry out what he conceived to be a most iniquitous object.
§ CAPTAIN CECIL NORTON (Newington, W.)
reminded the right hon. Gentleman that when he spoke of the over-representation of Ireland a redistribution scheme was under consideration ten years ago. At that time the over-representation of Ireland was as manifest, or at least was as glaring, as it was now; but the Opposition offered no objection to that over-representation, because they were at that time coquetting with the representatives of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that if there was one thing that would materially affect the agricultural interest it would be one vote one value. But one vote one value would really place greater power in the electorates of London, Lancashire, and the great urban constituences. They were told that agriculture was not sufficiently represented in the House. Considering, however, that the agricultural labourers were leaving the country for the towns, the principle of one vote fine one value would confer greater power on urban constituencies. When this question was discussed some time ago, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury protested against the iniquity which deprived of his vote a voter who lived in one constituency and worked in another. With that he heartily concurred. The right hon. Gentleman protested against a worker who lived in Wimbledon, and who went to the City for a few hours in the day, being deprived of his vote in the City. He, however, knew of men living in West Newington who went to the City, not merely for 5 or 6, but for 10 or 12, hours in the day, and who were deprived of a vote in West Newington. The system now proposed had been in operation with regard to the County Councils, and had not been found to have any disastrous effect. With regard to all the elections being held on one day, in the area of the County of London the Bill which he had introduced had been found to work well in the case of the County Council elections; and, while he recognised that in some country districts Saturday might not be the most convenient day for holding elections, he was convinced that in 151 almost all the working-class constituencies in London 300 or 400 workmen had been disfranchised through elections being held on days other than Saturday. He therefore supported this Bill in the interests of the working-classes throughout the Metropolis.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said, that he did not think that the abolition of plural voting would receive any serious opposition. It was, however, an alarming circumstance that every time this question was raised, either in the House or in the country, the question was also raised of the representation of Ireland in that House. He noticed that both the right hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Gorst), and the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage)—seized the present opportunity to deliver an attack against the present representation of Ireland. He could only say that if Irish Members were to understand that this measure, or any measure of this kind, were to be accompanied by a measure for tampering with the representation of Ireland, it would receive very little support from Irish Members in the House. On a former occasion the Home Secretary said, that he was not opposed to the principle of One Vote One Value, and he intimated that a measure of that kind would receive the support of those now in power. He did not know how far the speech of the Home Secretary on that occasion represented the views of the present Government; but, speaking for himself, he would only say that while quite in agreement with the principle of the Bill, and as strongly in favour of it as the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, he protested against using this measure as an argument for interfering with the number of the representatives of Ireland in the House of Commons. In the last public speech ever made by the late Mr. Parnell in the County of Dublin, he said, dealing with the subject of plural voting, that while in agreement with the principle of the Bill for its abolition, he and other Irishmen were apprehensive that the raising of this question would carry with it the raising of the question of the over-representation of Ireland as it was called. No measure for dealing with Irish 152 representation was now before the House, but he thought it was not out of place for an Irish Member to state, at the earliest moment, that the Irish people would not consent to this or any similar Bill being made a pretext for interference with the representation of their country in the House of Commons. In this matter Ireland stood on a different footing from any other part of the United Kingdom. He repeated that Ireland occupied a special and particular position in this matter. Under the Act of Union—as a part of that Act, and as one of the conditions upon which the Irish Parliament was abolished—the present number of Irish representatives in the House of Commons was fixed and guaranteed. He thought it came with particularly bad grace from the Conservative and Unionist Members, who put themselves forward as such ardent supporters of the Act of Union, even to suggest in the slightest way any interference with that Act. He believed that the Irish people, as a whole, were in favour of the principle of the present Bill, and that they would be glad to see elections all held on one day throughout the country; but he could not refrain from stating upon the present occasion that he also believed that the vast majority of the Irish people would not tolerate the Bill being used as a pretext for interfering with the representation of Ireland in the House of Commons. For himself he would rather see the Bill withdrawn or defeated, if he thought it were going to be made use of as a peg upon which to hang an attack upon the present number of Irish representatives.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, that he did not deny that a good deal of revision was required in our Parliamentary electoral system; but he would recommend a drastic reform, and not merely what this Bill suggested. He would not follow the last speaker in all his remarks, but would simply retort upon him and other Irish Members, that, in the Home Rule Bill a proposal to take away 20 Irish Members from the present number was agreed to by them and received the approbation of the majority of the House. That being so, the question could not be long delayed. In regard to the question of One Man One Vote, it should be considered that a man might have divergent interests in 153 different parts of the country. To take a concrete case, a man might have large works in London and a large estate in Hertfordshire. If he paid taxes and fulfilled his obligations in respect of both places, it was unfair to deprive him of representation in both places. He supposed that the old principle of taxation and representation going together still applied, and on that principle it was only right that this man should be represented in both the constituencies. Hon. Members opposite were in favour of Payment of Members. Would it not be unfair to make a man pay for a Member without being entitled to vote for that Member's constituency? No statistics had been given upon the subject. The Government would not condescend to give statistics, and the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill stated that they had no means of finding out those statistics. But the House of Commons was omnipotent, and if it desired that statistics should be furnished, it would be done. It had been stated that the system of One Man One Vote would be an advantage to the Liberal Party; but he doubted it, and contended that whatever the effect might be, the question should be regarded from a national and not a Party point of view. He believed that not a little difficulty in working such a Bill would be, in many cases, to trace the dual voter, especially if the term of qualification were shortened as suggested by a Bill that had already been introduced. Another strong objection he had to the Bill was, that it proposed to hold all the elections on one day. If such an arrangement could be carried out conveniently, and without inflicting injustice it would, in some respects, perhaps, be an advantage. But it could not be so carried out; and, moreover he believed the present electoral machinery in the country would not be equal to the strain that would thus be put upon it. The effect would be, not only to cause great inconvenience to the people generally, especially if Saturday should be selected as the day of the election; but it would practically result in disfranchising large numbers of men, particularly railway-men and policemen, whose whole time would be absorbed by extra duties on such an occasion. A further and very serious disadvantage of holding the 154 elections on a Saturday would be that the work would be carried on into the Sunday. An hon. Member had reminded the House that a Motion in favour of the principal of One Man One Vote had already been adopted, and he alleged this as an additional reason why a Bill embodying that principle should be passed. But he would point out that the House had passed Motions approving of other changes in our electoral system, but the Bill altogether disregarded them. For instance, there was the important question of the illiterate voter. In the last Parliament he ventured to bring that question forward, and the House affirmed the opinion, by a large majority, that whenever it should be thought fit by Parliament to revise or alter our electoral system the question of illiterate voters would be dealt with at the same time. The anomalies under the existing system were very great. At the present time in Ireland one in every four or five individuals claimed to vote as illiterate, and if, as in Donegal and elsewhere, the priests were to be allowed to march such voters to the poll, and to remain in the polling booth to see and hear how they voted, our representative system was a sham. In England and Scotland he knew the case was very different from this; still, the question was not an unimportant one in many parts of those kingdoms; and if the Government, in seeking to revise the electoral system, had dealt with such defects and anomalies as these, instead of seeking, for Party reasons, to partially disfranchise a few men who had dual qualifications, they would have been doing a public service. With a free and compulsory system of education the illiterate voter was a disgrace, and ought to be abolished. Another defect in our electoral system which ought also to be dealt with in any Bill which proposed to alter the present condition of things, was the gross anomalies which existed in connection with the electoral areas. As had been already pointed out there were constituencies in Ireland of only 800 or 900 voters, while in London there were constituencies containing 15,000 or 16,000 voters, yet both alike returned one Member. In population alone London was entitled to 12 or 15 more Members than it now had, to say nothing of its exceptional wealth and influence. Why had not the Government 155 given attention in their Bill to the anomalies he had referred to? If the electoral system was to be altered the work should be taken up thoroughly, and at least an effort made to remedy obvious defects. But the Bill was one-sided and incomplete; it dealt with only one phase of the question. It was a curious thing, and a mark of little respect to the House, that the Government, notwithstanding the many important measures they had already introduced, should at this time of the Session bring in another highly contentious Bill. The truth, he believed, was that the Bill was introduced for Party purposes. He had just returned from electioneering work in the country, and he imagined, from what he had seen and heard, that there was a regular scare among the Radical election agents, who had probably told the Government that unless some alteration were made in the Franchise, and all the elections fixed for one day, the Unionists would sweep the board at the next General Election. At any rate, the Bill was partial and unsatisfactory, and he should oppose it.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill had stated that the Government were going to revert to an earlier policy. They had been bringing in Bills of cognate policy every year for the last three years, and had changed their proposals each time; now, it seemed, they were going back to their early view. They were also told that the Government intended to press forward this Bill, and they heard it with some amusement. Was this Bill to have precedence of the Welsh Church Bill, the Irish Land Bill, or the Local Veto Bill? He doubted very much whether they would see or hear much more of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had claimed, as the main ground of his proposals, principles of equality, but he would like to know what were the principles of equality in this Bill? If equality meant to be fair to your own side, and to do everything you could to oust the other side, he could understand the right hon. Gentleman's claim. The right hon. Gentleman had talked about the value to his Party of a Redistribution of Seats; he seemed to have gone into this question with a view of seeing which side it would pay best. The Bill was 156 really and truly a Bill for disfranchising a number of persons who were now entitled to votes, and the Bill was not only a disfranchising Bill, but as gerrymandering a Bill as could be introduced. With regard to the question of a poll on one day, he candidly acknowledged that, although there were many inconveniences in it, and considerable difficulties, he was not very strongly opposed to it, and had even advocated it. There was a great deal to be said on both sides. There was no doubt that if it were to be effected, a great deal more would be required to be done than was put into this Bill, because it meant a complete alteration of the electioneering machinery, a different system of returning officers—there would have to be a returning officer for each constituency; and there would be a considerable increase of cost. In Islington, for instance, there was at present one returning officer for the four divisions, who was also the officer for Paddington. To effect these changes it would be necessary to put clauses into the Bill which would make the Bill far more cumbrous, so that it would be almost impossible to get it through on the present occasion. In the abstract he did not object to the system, but it was obvious that the Government had not thought what this change would really mean, or had had any idea of the great trouble and labour which it would involve. As to the day for elections being Saturday, he should have thought that, after the last County Council elections, the Government would not have been so keen for Saturdays. He thought the fixing of the day should be left largely to the locality. Saturday was thought by some to be a good day for many, but there were a great many tradespeople whom it would not suit, and he thought it varied with different localities. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the questions of Saturday, and of a One-day Election were subsidiary, and that the real question was the doing away with Plural Voting, which was the disfranchising clause. He would like to know why it was considered so unreasonable that a man, having interests in two places, should not be allowed two votes. He thought the great bulk of those who had two votes were people of some position and property, who had a largish stake 157 in the country, and who were possibly more intelligent. No doubt the larger proportion of them voted for a Conservative policy, but it was by no means only the rich people who had two votes. There were many members of the working classes who had saved a little money, and had got a little freehold of their own, and so obtained a double vote; that was an inducement to them, and they ought to foster in every possible way the desire of the people to possess small properties. The Radical Party professed to do all they could to raise the people; but their measures, as instanced by the present Bill, hardly tended in that direction. There was no doubt that London was a great stumbling-block to the Radical Party. They were annoyed that, although the Franchise had been given to practically everyone in London, London was still enormously Conservative. There was no doubt the duplicate voting was, in some parts of London, of importance; but he was quite sure the practical result of any alteration such as that proposed, would not have a sweeping effect upon London, as hon. Gentlemen opposite desired. He believed the result would not be so great, but that, on the other hand, it would produce a feeling that an injustice was being done. There were in London a great number of small freeholders who had a double vote, and who would very much resent its being taken away from them. Any alteration of the Franchise should be in order to make the representation of the people reflect better the opinion of the United Kingdom. This was really what every Reform Bill up to the present time had tended towards, to make the House a sort of photograph of the views of the whole country; but it could not be done by a gerrymandering system. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) whether, even admitting that it was desirable to alter our electoral law in this direction, he could say in sober earnest that this was a fair and a reasonable Measure. It was mere hypocrisy on the part of the Government to attempt to abolish such a minor evil as the plural vote, whilst they left the more glaring evil of the grossly unequal representation of the different parts of the United Kingdom untouched. That was a good reason 158 why the House should refuse to pass this Bill. We had not yet attained a perfect system of representation, and perhaps we never should do so; but nevertheless, all changes in our electoral system that had hitherto been made had been effected with the view of rendering representation more equal. It was not because, at one time, the landed interest and wealth had been over-represented, that we should not seek to make the existing anomalies in our electoral law worse than they now were, as this Bill would do if ever it became law. Hon. Members were bound to look at this subject as a whole, and to see that it was drawn up in accordance with the principle of electoral equality. It would be most unfair if the Government were to use their majority of eight or 10 to force this Bill, which would revolutionise our electoral law, through the House of Commons just at the moment when they were going out of Office. England had been Conservative almost the whole time during which the Radical Party had been in Office, but she did not ask to be over-represented, and was content to be in a minority as regarded the United Kingdom as a whole; but it was only reasonable that she should obtain her fair share of representation according to her population. He would point out to the House some of the most glaring anomalies in our present system of representation. The right hon. Gentleman had said that his Bill would make the representation more fair and more just than it now was; but, unfortunately, it would only operate in one way, and that was against the right hon. Gentleman's political opponents. What were the facts which he ventured to say could not be disputed? Under our present system of representation England had one Member for every 59,000 population, Wales had one Member for each 50,000 population, Scotland one Member for each 56,000 population, Ireland one Member for each 45,000 population, while London had only one Member for each 73,000 population. In other words, England, which had 465 Members, ought to have 488 Members, or a deficiency of 23; Wales, which had 30 Members, ought to have only 28, or an excess of two; Scotland, which had 72 Members, ought to have only 71, or an excess of one; Ireland, which had 103 Members, ought to have only 83, or an excess of 159 20; whereas London, which had only 62, ought to have 81, or a deficiency of 19. There could be no justification for such anomalies as these. The Government, which had the power to do all the mischief which was proposed to be done by this Bill, was kept in power by a majority that would be turned into a minority if the different parts of the United Kingdom were fairly represented. If hon. Members were to examine into details, they would find that matters were even worse than the figures he had given showed them to be. Thus, while there were 55 Members who each represented a population of over 80,000, there were 18 who represented less than 20,000; there were 52 Members who each represented over 13,000, while 17 represented under 3,000 each. Why should a man in one part of the United Kingdom have four times the voting power that another man has in another part of the kingdom. Cardiff had one Member for a population of 132,163 and 16,800 electors, whilst Kilkenny had one Member for a population of 13,300, and 1,639 electors. Three constituencies (Stockport, Cork, and Devonport), having 10,000 electors or less, returned two Members each; while four constituencies (Sunderland, Portsmouth, Newcastle, and another), having over 20,000, only returned the same number of Members. Two constituencies (Bath and Devonport), having only half the population of Cardiff, which returned only one Member, each returned two Members; and 12 constituencies, having two Members each, had a less population than several constituencies which only returned one Member. Then there were five constituencies in Ireland, having a total population of 104,000 and 12,600 electors, being less than that of most London single-seated constituences, returned five Members between them. He had taken the trouble to work out these figures very carefully, because he believed that they were applicable to this measure. The Gladstonian Party were ready enough to demand the abolition of Plural Voting when it suited their purpose, but when they found it convenient to do so they acted upon the opposite principle. Thus, in the London County Council, in which the numbers were equally balanced from a political point of view, the Radical Vice Chairman had no hesitation in 160 going from Committee after Committee and giving a casting vote in favour of the principles of his Party. Only two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in the House of Commons, said:—No one can deny that great irregularities exist in the representation not only in Ireland, but also in London. That I am perfectly prepared to admit, and before long, probably sooner rather than later, there must be another Redistribution Bill.The Government had found time since the right hon. Gentleman thus spoke to bring in many abortive measures, but had not found an opportunity to bring in such a Bill as the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to. The Government knew the sands of the glass were running out, and they did not dare to carry out the pledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was true the right hon. Gentleman objected to have a Committee, because, quoting the words of Lord Beaconsfield, they could not refer the British Constitution to a Select Committee. There was no wish to refer the British Constitution to a Select Committee, but there was a wish that any change in voting should be accompanied by a proper and fair redistribution of seats. The Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to say the subject of redistribution must be dealt with very soon; and, in his opinion, what was wanted was not resolute symmetry but a general rule-of-thumb agreement as to a common-sense adjustment of the representation of the country—an agreement under which, probably, the Metropolis would have a larger representation than it had at present, and some smaller constituencies done away with altogether. That was his view, and he was glad to find the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed with it. But did this Bill do anything in the direction indicated? No. It had been framed with one object, and one object only, and that was to strengthen, by hook or by crook, the Government at the next Election. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench had recognised that things were looking very black for them, and they had sat down to see whether they could not do something to avert the catastrophe that was apparently in store for them. It was admitted that those persons who had a 161 plurality of votes were, in the main, Conservatives. The Government felt that somehow or other they must get votes—they must get them fairly if they could, but they must get them; and, although the present system had not been in force more than 10 years, although the Government of 1885 adopted it with all its faults, although right hon. Gentlemen knew that Plural Voting was the smallest of all the anomalies (if it was an anomaly), although they knew it was one of the things which really affected the representation of the country least, although no doubt it might to a certain extent be argued against,—they had the effrontery to say that, in the name of equality, they introduced this measure. In short, this was a Party measure. By it, it was intended to gerrymander the constituencies; to somehow or other delude the public, or to throw dust in their eyes. He and his friends would oppose the Bill in every possible way. They did not believe they would see it again, but if either the Welsh Church Bill or the Irish Land Bill were to be dropped for it, they would oppose it. If it were carried through this House, it would be the duty of the other House—and he was not ashamed to say it, he would say it on his own platform—to prevent this suggested gerrymandering of the constituencies, and to see that the House of Commons was not made a party instrument by a small majority. If they were going to reform the electorate, let them do it fairly and openly.
§ *MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicestershire, Harborough)
desired, in a few words, to thank the Government for introducing the Bill, and he could conscientiously say he approved of the measure from no motive connected with electioneering. Why was the existing system supported? Was it not supported because it was generally believed that under it property was represented? The hon. Member for Islington had just said those who had the largest stake in the country should have the greatest number of votes.
§ *MR. LOGAN
inferred that that was what the hon. Gentleman meant. His contention was, that the present system did not effect what the hon. Member desired to see carried out. If the hon. Member wished to see property fairly 162 represented he ought to devise a different system to that which now obtained. Suppose a butcher in Leicester occupied a few acres of land in the four divisions of the county he would have five votes; whereas if a manufacturerer in Leicester built for his own occupation, a factory which was worth say, £1,000 a year he would only have one vote. If a man purchased a house in the Borough of Leicester and occupied it himself he would have one vote as an occupier; but if he allowed his house to remain empty and lived in a house belonging to some one else he would have two votes—a vote in the Borough of Leicester for the house he occupied and a vote in the County of Leicester for the empty house. If a grazier occupied small pieces of land in the different divisions of the County of Leicester he would have four or five votes, although the total acreage he occupied in the four divisions might not in the aggregate exceed 100 or perhaps 50 acres: yet if a farmer occupied 1,000 acres in one division of the county only he would only have one vote. If a man occupied his own house in the Borough of Leicester he would have one vote, but if he let off a pigsty connected with his freehold property for 40s. a year he would get an additional vote for the county. Hon. Gentlemen who desired that property should be more fully represented, should be consistent and bring in a Bill that would give to freeholders votes in proportion, to the property they occupied, and so effectively nullify the votes of those who only had property in the shape of bone, muscle, and brain. He understood from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby that it was intended to defeat this Bill if possible. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends would endeavour to confuse the issue by raising the old cry of "one vote one value." He was in favour of "one vote one value" as far as it was possible to bring it about. If we had "one vote one value" in Great Britain, and for present purposes he dealt with Great Britain only, the 15 constituencies in Great Britain which, having less than 3,000 electors, now returned 12 Tory Members as against 3 Liberal Members, would not each of them have as much political power as the constituency of 14,000 which he had the honour to represent! He hoped the opposition to the Bill would not be 163 successful. At any rate, he trusted that if hon. Gentlemen desired to oppose it they would do so upon its merits and principles. He agreed with what the Member for West Birmingham said some time ago. That right hon. Gentleman said:—We shall not have any direct opposition to this Bill, but the opposition will not be lees dangerous because it is insidious. We are told the Tories will not allow us to pass a Franchise Bill unless at the same time we declare our proposals of of Redistribution. Well, the Tories are not masters yet. I should like to ask a reasonable Tory—I suppose there are reasonable Tories—why these two questions should be bound together? For the life of me I cannot see the necessary connection.He was of the same opinion as the right hon. Gentleman, and for that reason he supported this Bill.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Mr. Speaker,—I certainly feel that the Government, in introducing this measure, are entering thoroughly into the spirit of the comedy which was so well described by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last night. We have already three great Bills of the very utmost importance and of the widest application, besides a host of minor Bills, which we are asked to consider and to pass into law during the present Session. Now the Government introduce a fourth measure, which is certainly not less important in its results than any of the others, and expect to add it also to the list of their triumphs in the few months of the Session that now remain. Of course they can succeed, if they desire to succeed, by using to a still greater extent than before the methods by which they succeeded in the past. They have only to make the closure drastic enough and they can carry 40 Bills as easily as four. But they cannot carry their Bills according to the system which has hitherto obtained in the House of Commons—they cannot give them that adequate discussion which has been hitherto thought necessary in order to secure satisfactory legislation. [Mr. MACNEILL: "Coercion!"] I cannot see the force of the interruption of the hon. Gentleman, because the Coercion Bill to which he refers was fully and amply discussed in this House. [Opposition cheers and Ministerial laughter.] Yes, it was discussed for months in this House, and it 164 was only owing to the obstruction of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues—obstruction of the most flagrant description that has ever taken place in this House either before or since—that it was thought necessary to introduce the operation of the closure. The time for obtaining the closure will be when each of these Bills has occupied the House as long as the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred; and, if they are going to occupy our time as long as the Coercion Bill, then I say it is a perfect farce for the Government to think they can carry all of them in this Session or in two Sessions. Turning to the Bill now before us, as I understood the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, it is now reduced to two propositions. There is to be in the first place all the voting on one day. I do not quite understand what is the object of the right hon. Gentleman in making that proposal at the same time that he proposes to do away with Plural Voting. He might propose that all elections shall be held on one day as a means of preventing Plural Voting; but, if he is going to do away with Plural Voting altogether, it is a matter of surplusage to institute, at the same time, that all elections shall be held on the one day. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the latter proposal is open to very great objections. You cannot have all the elections on one day without lengthening the time that is now given for borough elections. You must separate county and borough elections. You cannot reduce the time now taken in county elections, because of the enormous area which those constituencies occupy. You must therefore considerably lengthen the time for the borough elections; and I ask every borough Member, on whatever side he may sit, whether he desires that the time for election in his constituency shall be lengthened, which must mean, for one thing, that his expenses will be very materially increased? I imagine, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will have to show very good reasons for the course he proposes to take before he can induce the House to adopt one day for all elections. Then I do not think that Saturday is at all a convenient day for the working people of this country. Of course, circumstances differ largely in different constituencies. Saturday may be the best day for the 165 elections in London, as a London Member has said. ["No, no!"] I do not know whether it is or not. But I am quite certain it is not the best day for Birmingham, for instance, because in that city the Saturday half-holiday is so universal that it is the custom for the working people, the moment work is over, to go out into the country; and they will be deprived either of their holiday or of their votes by a proposal which forces them to vote on a Saturday. But a more important proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is the proposal to abolish plural voting. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would tell us, in the first place, what will be the result of this disfranchising proposal to which he has given his authority. Can he tell us how many voters there are who have what I will call, for the sake of distinction, bogus qualifications—who are chiefly 40s. freeholders under the old system; and how many voters there are who have substantial qualifications in more than one constituency? It is rather curious, by the way, to notice the change that has come over Liberal opinion in regard to this matter of plural voting. Every one knows that the 40s. freeholder was the invention and the work, not only of a Liberal, but of a Radical—Mr. Cobden. It was Mr. Cobden who led to a great extension of the practice of plural voting by 40s. freeholders. Now the Liberal Party appear to have come to the conclusion that, whatever may have been said for it in the time of Mr. Cobden, the practice has become a great abuse. I confess I am inclined to share that view. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a speech of mine which, like all those speeches, was delivered a very considerable time ago—[Ministerial laughter]—yes, a very considerable time ago—as to which I will say that since then, no doubt, some of my opinions have been modified and some of them remain unchanged. In the present instance I do not think I have modified the opinion which I did express in the speech that has been quoted. At that time I occupied a position which I have long since ceased to occupy—that is to say, I held six separate voting qualifications, five of which, at any rate, were what I call bogus qualifications, being 40s. freeholds, in different constituencies in which I had no other interest whatever; 166 and I then agreed that to use those votes for local purposes was practically an abuse, and it is one, therefore, I should be glad to see put an end to. But let me point out that there is a great distinction between votes of that kind and votes which rest on substantial qualifications. These votes are of two kinds. There is, first, the case of persons who hold two estates or two properties in different constituencies, but who only reside upon one. These persons are absentee voters, although they have substantial local interests and qualifications; and as to them I will say that as the original basis of the Franchise undoubtedly was local interest and qualification, you are going to make a very serious constitutional change if you deprive them of their votes. But a still stronger case is the case of persons with double residences. That is a case of the greatest importance; and if hon. Gentlemen think they have got a good electoral cry in abolishing the Plural Votes of these people, I tell them—although I know they will not take my opinion; I give it for what it is worth—they will find that they are greatly mistaken. These people are working people and small shopkeepers, who live in the suburbs away from their places of business. We have done everything we could to encourage these people to live in the suburbs in order to lessen the congestion of the towns and the insanitary conditions under which so many of the working classes live. We have induced them to leave the towns by means of the provisions for cheap trains, which we have been introducing into so many railway Bills and other legislation; and these men will take it as a great hardship and a great wrong if they are deprived of the votes which they now give in respect to interests in separate constituencies. They have a real, actual, and live interest in two constituencies, and they feel, under the circumstances, that they are entitled to vote in these contituencies. The right hon. Gentleman has not been able to give us any figures; he has not been able to tell us how many persons will be affected by the change he proposes; but if he will give us these figures, for which I ask, I am certain it will turn out that the persons who have these votes belong rather to 167 the poor than to the richer classes. The Government might well have thought fit to deal with bogus qualifications; they might well have thought fit to go a step further and deal with absentee qualifications; but many people will question why they should not let alone those qualifications which arise from double residences and from legitimate double interests. I now come to a point on which I cannot help thinking the greater part of our future discussion will turn. We naturally ask ourselves, especially after what has been said in the country by the supporters of the Government, why has this Bill been brought in at this time—why, if you are going to deal with the anomalies of our representative system, should you choose this particular anomaly and leave all the others alone? I ask, why at this time? There sits on the Treasury Bench the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir George Trevelyan) who has always taken a very laudable interest in this question of Franchise. But when last a Franchise Bill was passed by this House in 1884–85, the right hon. Gentleman declared that there was no one then living who would see another Franchise Bill introduced, so satisfactory and so final did he regard that measure, for which he as a Member of the then Government was responsible. And yet here is the right hon. Gentleman supporting another Franchise Bill, and a Bill so onesided, so grossly unjust and partial, that I do not think it can commend itself to the common sense of the country. An hon. Gentleman below me referred to the case of the separation of Franchise and Redistribution in 1884–85. I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman took a very little interest in politics at that time, but if he did it was on the other side. But there was no intention on the part of the Government of that day to separate Franchise from Re-distribution, except as to time, and even as to time there was no intention whatever to separate them between two Parliaments. [Sir C. DILKE: "Hear, hear."] That is to say, a distinct and specific pledge was given on behalf of the Government that when the Franchise Bill was passed it would be followed by a Bill dealing with Redistribution. The reason why we at first objected to the demand that the two should be taken 168 together was that we thought—as it turned out afterwards, and as history will show we were wrong in thinking—that it was the intention of the Conservative Party to use Redistribution in order to defeat the Franchise proposals. In the course of negotiations which subsequently took place, it was shown to us that we were totally mistaken in that view. The Tory Party, by its Leaders, agreed to a scheme of Redistribution, and practically the two Bills were dealt with at the same time. But this is a totally different case. We have before us a great Disfranchising Bill, but nothing has been said as to Redistribution. If the Government had said—We think it convenient to consider these questions of the Franchise separately, but we give you our word of honour that the Franchise Bill will not come into operation until a satisfactory scheme of Redistribution shall pass through this House,then, indeed, the hon. Gentleman below me would have a right to say that the present proceedings resemble very closely what took place in 1884–85. Everybody knows that the Government are not only not going to give any pledge, but that they have good reasons for not giving it; everybody knows that this is a mere attempt to doctor the electorate in their favour. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for East Clare, who, alarmed at the suggestions for Redistribution, got up to warn the House of Commons that the vast majority of the Irish people would not tolerate any tampering with the Irish Franchise or any reduction of their present numbers. I think the hon. Member is not present now, or I would like to ask him whether the majority of the Irish people, if they share his opinion, would have power in the matter? Suppose that a Government came in, and, acting on the example set by this Government, determined to force through this House by means of the closure, by the gag and the guillotine, a simple Bill which reduced the representation of Ireland by 23 Members, and made its proportion the exact equivalent of the representation of England, how could the whole of the Irish people prevent it? In the old days, of which the hon. Member was perhaps thinking, no doubt the Irish Party had very great opportunities and the means of making their desire 169 felt, and it was a bold Government indeed which ventured to oppose them. But this Government has taught us a great deal. It is quite true they cannot be called the inventors of the closure. They, perhaps, do not claim that honour themselves; but they have given to it such an enormous development that really the original patent would be nothing without the improvements which they have added. I must take the opportunity of warning Irish Members who have given their assistance to the Government, in all these arbitrary proceedings, that they will not find it as easy stopping a Bill for dealing with Irish representation in the future as they might have done in the past. Now, Sir, I say again there are great anomalies in our representative system, no doubt, but the greatest of all, undoubtedly, is the unequal distribution of electoral power. I do not say it is confined to Ireland, although that is the most glaring illustration, but even in the country the extraordinary divergencies between the electoral and voting power of certain constituencies, as compared with others, undoubtedly demands the first attention of any future reformers. The Government survey the whole field of anomalies; they recognise them all; and they pick out the only one as to which they can say with any degree of certainty that it would benefit their Party, and then they call upon us, as the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway did just now, to put aside side issues. This Bill is brought in as a Party Bill. There is not the slightest pretension of fairness or equal treatment in connection with it. The anomaly which it is proposed to redress, although I admit it is an anomaly, which may very properly be dealt with, is certainly not one of so urgent a description, except in the interest of Party, that it requires immediate solution. On the other hand, the greatest anomaly connected with our present representative system is left absolutely untouched. In these circumstances the Government cannot expect from us that we shall allow this Bill to pass without (of course, if they give us the opportunity) the most exhaustive examination; and if we are defeated in this House we shall carry our protest into the country, and I do not believe the great majority of the electorate will sup- 170 port the Government in what is merely a gerrymandering proceeding.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN,) Glasgow, Bridgeton
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, as we should expect from a Gentleman of his great Parliamentary experience, has, on the First Reading, rather indicated the line which he proposes to take on future occasions, and has not gone into great detail, in which example I shall follow him. I should like to say one word or two on his main objections to the Bill and the method of its introduction. In the first place, he objects to its being brought forward under circumstances in which he considers it never can pass, because of the immense amount of contested Government Business already before the House of Commons. In that respect I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He speaks of the Bills which are already seriously before the House. Three Government Bills of importance have already passed their Second Reading. One of these—the Factory Bill—was received with universal acclamation; another, the Irish Land Bill, passed without a Division, on the Second Reading stage; and the third, not only was passed by a majority of 44 or 45, but a considerable number of hon. Gentlemen did not take part in the Division because they were not unfavourably disposed to the Bill. The amount, therefore, of what may be called fiercely contested business which the Government has now placed before the House is comparatively small for a Session that is yet young. This, in addition to what the Government have already placed before the House, is not a Bill of very great length. It is a Bill of four clauses—a remarkably simple measure with an intention of no great intricacy. The hon. Member for Islington referred to one of the two objects of this Bill—that is to say, the holding of elections upon a single day; and he twice said that that was a proposal which he had often advocated and did not strongly oppose. The hon. Member, at any rate, does not view it with any intention of serious opposition, so that for the purpose of serious contest we come down to the one simple proposition—and one proposition only—on which 171 the sense of the House could be taken very soon; and that is, that every man, be he rich or poor, shall find his vote in moulding the destinies of the country, and shaping its legislation, shall have exactly the same power and no more. The right hon. Gentleman asks how many people there are who have substantial qualifications in more than one constituency. It is not a question of statistics, but of principle. When the Parish Councils Bill was before the House no one asked how many people there were who had substantial qualifications in this or that parish ward, and the House unanimously determined that, however substantial a man's qualifications might be in two or three or four wards, he should only have one vote for the parish council. When the County Councils Bill was before the House right hon. Gentlemen opposite laid it down that the man who had a substantial qualification in ever so many electoral divisions should vote only once for the county council; and in the same way this Government, following their example and adopting the same principle, say that, however many substantial qualifications a man may have, in ever so many electoral divisions, he shall have only one vote for the National Council. Hon. Members opposite in the course of the Debate have said it was very hard when a man happened to have a substantial interest in a county district, yet, if he lived in a town, that he should not be allowed to vote for that county district in which he had a substantial interest. But you cannot use that argument when you are talking of county districts which surround great cities. What is the case in the Harrow Division of Middlesex? When an Election takes place in that Division a number of people who have no substantial interest there, who have never been there once in the six years that have elapsed since the last Election, and whose substantial interest is not in Harrow, but in the electoral divisions of Hampstead and Marylebone, go down and vote in the Harrow Division of Middlesex. When there is an election in the Division of Hornsey, which is a rural constituency, people go to vote there who have not one single acre or rood of land in Hornsey, who have no sort of pecuniary qualification there, but who have qualifications in the City and 172 in Islington. These people have no more to do with the Division of Hornsey than Kamschatka has to do with Surrey or Sussex; and, when it comes to Surrey, people who have qualifications in Southwark, and, I believe, in Lambeth, go to vote for the Wimbledon Division of Surrey, though they have no connection whatever with that Division except that they live on the same side of the river. We are told that we must not remove this great grievance because there are other grievances which are not also removed. We are told it is unnecessary and unfair to do away with the swamping of the county electors by the borough electors, because in different constituencies of the country a smaller number of electors in some cases elect a Member, and in others a larger. Now, I cannot see the force of this argument. I quite admit that it is a grievance for the voter in Hornsey that he is only one of 13,000 who elect a Member, whereas in Cambridge University a voter is one of 6,600, or just about half the number. But, because I admit the grievance, I do not wish to leave another grievance unredressed. The voter of Hornsey is wronged twice over; but two wrongs do not make a right, and because this Bill redresses one grievance it is no answer to say it does not redress the other. I cannot understand how it can be said that the Government is springing a surprise upon the House, when as early as the month of April it brings in a Bill which was mentioned in a place of honour and prominence in the Queen's Speech. It may be the custom in all Parliaments and Governments to mention too many Bills in the Queen's Speech; but in this Speech 11 Bills were mentioned, and of these 8 have already been brought in and only 3 remain. Of those 3 this is one, and it was given, as I say, much the most prominent place. I do not believe that the surprise of the right hon. Member was shared by anyone who sat beside him. The right hon. Member said the Government gave this Bill precedence over social Bills or Bills dealing with Labour. I deny it has been given such precedence. The Conciliation in Trades Disputes Bill, which was damned with faint praise by the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, has precedence over this Bill. It is down for Second Reading; 173 this Bill is down for First Reading only. So far from agreeing with the suggestion of the right hon. Member, I doubt whether there is in the Independent Labour Party a single mail who will not give this Bill a hearty welcome; and rightly so, for, if this Bill be passed, it will give an immense stimulus to Labour legislation. There will not be a single working-man who will be disfranchised by this Bill; but what it will do will be to correct the great, inequality between rich employers, in respect of the great number of votes which some of them possess, and the Labour vote, which will then have more influence than it has at present. It has been said that what we want is to get the opinion of the nation. That is what we want to get. We want to get the opinion of the nation as a whole, once expressed by the mouth of every individual member of the community; what we do not want to get is the opinion expressed three, four, five, ten, or a dozen times over by the same people. The right hon. Member spoke of the duty of the House of Lords in regard to this Bill. That is the business of the House of Lords. Our business, unless we can get better arguments, is to pass this Bill through all its stages, and, as the preliminary to this operation, to give it a First Reading as soon as possible.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
There is no Member of the House who is fonder of winding up his speeches with contrasts about the rich and the poor than the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He said that the passing of this Bill would stimulate Labour legislation. I think Labour has just as much chance of legislation from the present constituencies as it would have from future constituencies. What the right hon. Gentleman meant to say was that those who have got two votes are less likely to promote Labour legislation than those who have one vote. That I repudiate entirely. And as to surprise at this Bill being brought forward, why, the right hon. Gentleman must be in the clouds if he does not know that his own side were as much surprised as any of those who sat on this side. The general public were surprised, and it was the talk of the Lobbies, as the right hon. Gentle- 174 man ought to know, that this Bill should be introduced. It would have been more candid if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told us beforehand that the first use to which the time he obtained would be put would be to introduce such a Bill as this. The Government now seem to have forgotten the precepts and the utterances of their own Prime Minister, who proclaimed that it would be impossible in one Session to perform all the work which has now been suggested by the Government. The Secretary for Scotland went through the Bills now before the House, but one seemed to have slipped from his memory, and that was the Local Veto Bill. I wonder whether the omission was accidental or not. Has an arrangement been made that the Local Veto Bill should be dropped and this put in its place? I do not know whether the right hon. Baronet was in a specially sanguine mood when he spoke of the prospects of the Welsh Church Bill, but I can assure him that, judging from the information which has reached me, that Bill will occupy just as much of our time as it would occupy had the Second Reading been agreed to by a much smaller majority. The Government know that the Table is already overloaded with Bills, and yet to-night they bring forward another Bill to add to the block of business. The right hon. Baronet is so fond of measures which tinker with the Constitution that he forgets entirely the question of finance. He forgets that we have not yet approached the Civil Service Estimates. With the financial business of the country so greatly in arrear, is it wise or fair to introduce this new Bill? The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the Constitutional argument that by their scheme the Government will disfranchise in some localities persons who have the greatest interest in those localities. I will not allude to landowners, because I know that if anything disagreeable were to happen to them but little impression would be made on the right hon. Gentleman. But I will take the case of a farmer with an enormous interest in an agricultural county. That farmer, although he might be a leading man, although he might be chairman of the County Council, would have no vote for 175 his county under this Bill if he happened to have a vote for a town. [Mr. BRUNNER: "He would have the choice."] He could, of course, select to vote for the county, but, suppose he had a shop in London, and was deeply interested in Metropolitan questions, he would wish to vote in London, and then he could not be represented in the county where he has distinct local interests. Hon. Members opposite are so afraid of one anomaly that in order to remove it they are prepared to create another. The anomaly of not allowing persons who have a great stake in a particular locality to vote in that locality is as great an anomaly as to allow people to vote twice. The right hon. Baronet has not answered the point put by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham—namely, that there is a vast number of persons who belong, not to the privileged classes, but to the working classes, who will suffer under this proposal. The right hon. Baronet drew an analogy, saying, "We do not allow persons to vote in several wards at Parish Council Elections." There is, however, no analogy here. If a man could vote in each of four wards he would have four votes in respect of the same interest, and we do not claim that a man should have several votes in respect of the same interest. What we say is that he should not be deprived of his votes in respect of different interests in different localities. The representation of a man's interest in a locality ought to be secured to him. The President of the Local Government Board treated the whole question from a Party point of view, and the right hon. Gentleman, who has just sat down argued as if all the plural voters who would be affected belonged to the side opposed to him politically. The introduction at the fag end of this Parliament of a measure which would disfranchise important interests and which would create new anomalies whilst purporting to remove an old one does not speak highly for the political morality of Her Majesty's Government.
§ SIR RICHARD TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, that he represented a part of Surrey that was very densely peopled. He represented no fewer than 14,000 voters, and the Register was increasing by several hundreds annually, so that in a short time it would reach 176 the high figure of 15,000. Elsewhere there were constituencies consisting of from 5,000 to 8,000 Electors. Thus the people of Surrey, who in wealth and political intelligence were not inferior to the inhabitants of any portion of the United Kingdom, had, man to man, not more than two-thirds of the influence of Electors in some parts of the country, and not more than half their influence in other parts. Why was a man in Surrey or Middlesex to have only half the influence on the affairs of the nation that was exercised by a man in the south of Ireland? Under the system of plural voting and outvoters the hardship suffered by his constituents was mitigated, but if that system were done away with they would naturally become desperately discontented. There was no denying the fact that while the principle of "One Man One Vote" conduced to Liberalism, the principle of "One Vote One Value" conduced to Conservatism, for the latter principle would give to the metropolitan counties and to those adjacent to the great centres of British intelligence their fair share of representation, and the centres of thought and enterprise were the strongholds of Conservatism. It would be most unfair to wipe away the conditions that assisted Conservatism and to retain those that assisted Liberalism. The most important class in his constituency consisted of men who had businesses or professions in the Metropolis and resided on the banks of the Thames. These men had their homes, their family concerns, and their house property in his district, while they had business premises in the Metropolis, and so had one qualification for the city and another for the county. According to this Bill each one of these men would be disfranchised in respect to one or other of these qualifications, and that would be a glaring injustice. If any such Bill as this were passed the agitation for Redistribution would become more acute than ever. He could not help expressing his astonishment at what fell from his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to two very prominent Bills in the Programme—the Welsh Disestablishment Bill and the Irish Land Bill—and he seemed to think that they might pass the House in a comparatively short time. He could not 177 understand how anyone with the Parliamentary experience of the right hon. Gentleman could say that in the face of the present opposition. Although the first of these Bills was read a second time by a majority of 44, it was the most contentious measure that had been introduced since the middle ages; and with regard to the Irish Land Bill, although it passed the Second Reading without a Division, yet from all he heard during the Debate, he understood that many parts of it were as contentious as anything could be. How then was it possible, with two such Bills before the House, that a Bill of this kind could be carried through? How could it be supposed that such a Programme was possible of attainment? It was astonishing that a Minister could make such a statement to the House. In his belief the introduction of this Bill was nothing more than an attempt to fly a kite for the amusement of the electors outside.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
said he represented a constituency larger in area and bigger in population than almost any constiuency, and the idea there was—it sounded like a platitude and a truism to say it—that if they had one man one vote, they should also have one vote one value. He could find no other words which so accurately expressed the view of his constituents. This was how the matter stood. There were 13,000 men in South-east Essex who had one vote, while on the other side of St. George's Channel every 14,000 men had six votes. That was the way they looked at the question in Essex. The preponderance of voting power in Ireland was much greater in proportion to the population than it was in and about London. The Government were quite willing to remove an anomaly that told against them, but were unwilling to remove an anomaly which told against their opponents. In fact they—Compound the sins they are inclined to By damming those they have no mind to.This was not a Party question, because if the Party of the Government would lose seats by Redistribution, as they would lose such seats as Colchester, the Opposition would lose seats like those for the Universities. He did not blame the Government for the present unequal distribution of seats. That was a legacy 178 left to them by the Government of 1885. Of course they all knew that one of the ideas of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian was that constituencies far removed from the Metropolis should have a larger representation than constituencies which were nearer the centre of public business. He did not know why the right hon. Gentleman held that idea unless it was that he thought the Celtic fringe was more likely to bring him votes than were the constituencies nearer London. He supposed there would be no Division that night, but in deference to the views of his constituents he should certainly take the earliest opportunity—namely, the Second Reading, of voting against the Bill.
§ *MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
observed, with regard to the holding of all the elections on the same day, that there might be some parts of the country in which Saturday would be a conveient day, but in Lancashire it would be the most inconvenient day that could be selected. Certainly in his own constituency it would be the most inconvenient day. A great deal of shopping and business, which was held over from the rest of the week, was done on that day, and it was also a day on which amusements were arranged. He had seen the excitement of an election, and he had seen the excitement of a great football match, and he was certain that the Party that required polling to take place on the day of a great football match, would not be the popular Party in his constituency. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, had said that the question of plural voting was one between the rich and the poor. It seemed to be the intention on the other side of the House to describe every proposal made by them as being for the benefit of the poor and opposed to the interests of the rich. He did not believe the constituencies would be deceived in that way. This was no question between rich and poor. In his constituency there were hundreds of workmen who were thrifty and industrious and had invested savings in freehold houses in the borough. That gave them a vote for the neighbouring county division as well as for the borough. Most of his constituents called themselves Tories, and they felt proud of this extra vote because they called it the old 179 Tory vote; and the extent to which they valued the privilege was shown by the fact that sometimes two men, each having a house of his own, arranged with one another to live in the other's house, so that each obtained the occupation franchise and the freehold Franchise. They considered that there ought to be a difference between the improvident man and the thrifty man, and they thought it unfair that those who took the trouble to make themselves worthy members of society should be treated just on the same footing as the careless and improvident. On that ground he would have, he was sure, the hearty approval of his constituents in opposing the Bill. In the second place, this Bill was a violation of the old Constitutional privilege that taxation ought to go with representation. It ought to be the object of everyone who looked to the stability of our institutions to maintain the principle that, where a person had a taxable interest in a constituency, there he should have a right to vote. This One Man One Vote, when carried to its extreme limits, was a reduction ad absurdum of representation. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill looked forward to a simple system, in which no one should be allowed to vote except in the constituency in which he resided. But how would that operate in the City of London, the greatest commercial centre in the world? The only residents of the City were care-takers and porters, who could not be considered as qualified to judge of the commercial interests of that vast community, and was the representation of the City to be left in their hands? Anyone could see that this Bill was simply meant to prepare the way for a General Election. The theory was, that the measure would work to the advantage of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and that they would benefit if intelligence and thrift were given a smaller share in the representation of the country. They alleged that the measure was to end the anomalies of our electoral system; but they left all other existing anomalies untouched, including that of the illiterate vote, which no one could defend. The effect of a Disfranchising Bill of this kind, brought in on the eve of a General Election, would be to make it difficult for the Party organisers to do much in the way of arranging 180 votes so that they should not be wastefully expended where they were not wanted, to the injury of other places where they were wanted. This work would take time, and the Government had kept the Bill back to the last minute, because they thought they would gain by confusion. If the Bill were worthy of adoption, it ought to have been given precedence of several others in the Ministerial Programme, and time ought to have been given to enable the constituencies to vote without confusion.
§ *MR. A. B. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
said, with respect to the fixing of a uniform polling day, that in the County of Lancaster such an arrangement might be very inconvenient to many constituencies. If the right hon. Gentleman were going to select Saturday as the pulling day, he would disfranchise the greater number of the electors, particularly of the working classes, in many of the agricultural constituencies around Liverpool. In these districts, varying from six to 14 miles from Liverpool, the farmers left their homes at three o'clock on the Friday morning with their loads of agricultural produce for sale in Liverpool. They did not get back till late on Saturday evening. Saturday was also the must inconvenient day for the small Liverpool shopkeepers, for on that day they did their largest business. Even in Lancashire there was the utmost difficulty in finding an adequate staff of revising and counting officers for the elections; and if all the elections were to be held on one day, the difficulty would be greatly aggravated. The right hon. Gentleman had disclaimed any idea of this Bill being a disfranchising Bill. He said that the elector who had a qualification in more than one division could select the constituency in which he would exercise his vote. But the right hon. Gentleman did not explain how he intended the voter to exercise that choice —whether at the time of the election or at the revision of the voters' lists.
§ *MR. FORWOOD
said, that if the voter were to select his constituency at the Revision Court, a power of influencing a certain number of votes would be placed in the hands of the political agents. There 181 were, in such cities as Liverpool, many duplicate voters, and it became at once a nice calculation on the part of the political agent as to which constituency he should allot his votes. If a voter were to select where he would vote at the time of voting, that was undoubtedly the better of the two plans; but there would be great difficulty in taking proper care that a voter did not exercise the Franchise in more places than one. He might have votes in two or three places, and the closest watch by a political organisation would not be able to prevent him voting more than once. Although this was the lesser of the two evils, yet he would warn the right hon. Gentleman that there was this danger. Allusion had been made to the anomalies in the Bill, and he would point to that of the City of London. It had three Members; and why? Because it had 35,000 electors. If this Bill were to became law, instead of 35,000 electors, it would have only about 5,000, mostly care-takers and office-keepers. Without a Registration Bill London would positively return two Members, while places like Birkenhead with electorates of 16,000 would return only one.
MR. GRANT LAWSON (York, N. R., Thirsk)
said, he wished to offer to the House and the country some reasons against the Motion which Mr. Speaker had put from the Chair. In the first place it was desirable that the attention of the country should be called to what was the exact nature of that Motion. It had several times been stated that this was a First Reading of a Bill to deal with Plural Voting. That was not absolutely accurate. The Motion before the House was, that leave be given to bring in a Bill upon that subject. The First Reading took place when the President of the Local Government Board had made the regulation journey to and from the Bar, and had handed the Bill to the Speaker. Now they had on many occasions this Session, notably the previous night, been rebuked for discussing measures at that particular stage of their progress. But the remarks he would venture to offer were to be made that night, or else for ever he must hold his peace, for his objection was to the Bill being introduced at all. Why? Because he considered that the stage on 182 which this Bill was to be introduced was already overcrowded with other performers of great importance. He did not think it desirable in the interests of public business that any measure should be now introduced this Session except measures of a character to which he would presently refer. The right hon. Member for Bridgeton had said this was only a very little Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said the Bill only consisted of four clauses. But in his opinion, far and away the most important Bill before the House—a private Member's Bill to repeal the Crimes Act in Ireland—consisted of only one clause. The Programme of this Session was already overcrowded. The feat of trying to drive two omnibuses abreast through Temple Bar was completely outdone by the present Government. They were prepared with dozens of omnibuses every one of them laden—as they said—with most valuable materials. The right hon. Member for Bridgeton said the Factories and Workshops Bill and the Irish Land Bill were not furiously opposed. The principle that there should be a Factories and Workshops Act and an Irish Land Act was not contested in any quarter of the House. But the details of these Bills were matters which would require considerable discussion. If the Home Secretary were present he would admit that Clause 13 of the Factories Act—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is not entitled, on the Motion before the House, to discuss the details of the Factories Bill.
said, he bowed to that ruling. He was merely pointing out that there was already a considerable amount of contentious matter before the House, and controversial measures of great importance took precedence in point of time of this measure. The previous night the Government wanted more time for the measures they already had in hand. The Leader of the House said that last year the Leader of the Opposition complained that the Government were late in introducing their controversial measures, and that that could not be said this Session—because controversial measures had already been brought in. Support was obtained for the Motion of the previous night, he would not say by false pretences, but pretences of a doubtful 183 character. To his certain knowledge Members from Ireland supported the Resolution of the previous night—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member must really keep to the question—that leave be given to bring in a Bill to deal with Plural Voting.
regretted that he was not able to make his meaning clear. He was endeavouring to point out that the time of the House was, by the declaration of the Leader of the House, already so heavily mortgaged that there was not time for any other measures. Perhaps that was the strongest argument against bringing in a Bill of this description, which proposed to change what had been the Constitutional law of the country ever since Parliament had existed. He believed that the right to vote in every constituency in which a man was rated was as old as the Constitution of Parliament in this kingdom. If they were making a new Constitution they could do away with Plural Voting. They were not a new country that they need not attempt to wipe out all anomalies. Two years ago there was an opportunity of making a Constitution entirely without anomalies, but the present Government, in framing their new Constitution for Ireland, did not do away with the anomaly of plural voting. If there was to be room on the stage for this Bill, it was perfectly obvious that some other measure would have to be dropped. Was it possible to drop any of the large measures? How could the Welsh Church Bill be dropped? The Welsh Members, though a small band, would not allow that. How could the Land Bill be dropped? The big battalions of the Irish Members would not allow that.
MR. GRANT LAWSON
said he was pointing out that if time was to be found for the discussion of this Bill, other Bills of the Government would have to be dropped.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
In carrying out that object, the hon. Member is not in order in discussing other Bills before the House.
MR. GRANT LAWSON
said, they gave leave last year to introduce a Bill to abolish Plural Voting. Did any good 184 come of that? A certain number of days were spent in discussing it, and then it disappeared. If that was to be the fate of this Bill, he thought it would be better to check it in its initial stage. Was there anything in the character of the Bill itself which would entitle it to claim introduction? Perhaps, to use a theatrical term, it was necessary to the plot—it was necessary to bring all the company on the stage before the curtain was dropped. Did the introduction of that Bill mean that the curtain was to be dropped? What was wrong with the present constituencies? It was by the votes of the present constituencies that the Government got into power and was kept there for the past three years. They were, however, now told that the present state of the constituencies was "a monstrous fraud," so that the Government sat on those benches by the votes of "a monstrous fraud." It seemed, indeed, that the present constituencies were not going in the direction which the Government wished them to go. That was the reason why they were asked to allow that Bill to be introduced. If votes were cast against the Government, why were they so cast? The reason was, the conduct of the Government itself. He must congratulate the Government on their self-complacency, for they said:—As the present constituencies are against us they must be wrong; therefore, let us introduce a Bill to remedy that by altering the present constituencies.Would it not be a simpler principle to alter the present Government? The hon. Member then argued that it was a great mistake to suppose that the out-voters were all landed proprietors and wealthy men. The great majority of them, in his opinion, were not of this class, and the Bill would disfranchise the man who had an occupation vote and also a vote for his own cottage. In Lancashire there were many building societies, and there it would have a disfranchising effect, so that the Government would find they were raising a hornets' nest by this Bill. What was the reason for the introduction of this Bill? It was said it was introduced with a view to a Dissolution; but it was argued that that could not be, as a Registration Bill would not come into effect until towards the close of 185 the year. He called attention to the fact, however, that the whole of the Registration portion of the Bill of last year had been dropped, and the Bill, if passed, might come into operation the day after. The Bill was described as One Day, One Man, One Vote. As to the choice of Saturday for the polling day, many Jews would have conscientious objections to going to the poll on that day. It was urged that the selection of anyone day would put us in the same position as France and the United States, but he had no desire to do that. If Saturday were chosen as the polling day, the caretakers in the big cities would elect the representatives, as the big merchants would be out of town on that day. All classes should be represented in the House of Assembly, and he would ask, Was there ever a House of Assembly in which more classes were represented than there were in that House? This Bill was an unfair weighting of the dice, and he did not think, as it was a mere Party device, intended only to help one Party and not to benefit the whole community, that it was wise to introduce it to contend in the time of the House with other measures of greater importance.
§ CAPTAIN JOHN SINCLAIR (Dumbartonshire)
claimed that measures of this kind should be judged by their intention rather than by anything else. It was clear that this electoral device, as it was called, would have no effect in flooding the constituencies at by-elections; it would also, according to the last speaker, disgust the Jews, and would bring a perfect hornets' nest about the ears of the party which had introduced it. The objections put forward against the Bill were fanciful objections, which did not meet the real point of the case. He would have thought it more in accordance with the subject of the Bill if hon. Gentlemen opposite had taken up the position that its two main enactments were unfair and unjust; or, on the other hand, if they had contended that no Bill could be framed to meet the difficulties which existed. He could not see what ground there was for taking up the position that the Government Party would lose everything from Redistribution, and that the Conservative Party would gain everything by it, unless, indeed, they were to ignore entirely the principle upon which 186 constituencies had been hitherto divided—namely, that those at a greater distance from the seat of Government must be considered when estimating the size of the electoral divisions throughout the country. He based his opinion as to this upon the Debates which took place at the time when the last Redistribution Bill was before Parliament. The Liberal Party had no more to fear from the redistribution of seats than any other Party. He regretted, as many other hon. Members did, that it had not been possible for the Government to bring in a more comprehensive Bill. He admitted that there were many anomalies in our electoral system, and that reforms were needed, but the Government had not been able even to attempt to deal with them in this measure. He would remind hon. Members opposite, however, that this was not the only Bill that the Government had introduced on the subject, and if this measure was not so comprehensive as those brought in last year, and the year before, the responsibility must rest on the Opposition, who had consistently opposed every Bill on the subject proposed by the Government. The Government had gone as far as they possibly could to meet the circumstances of the case with the serious purpose of passing the Bill into law if possible. With regard to the objection urged against the elections being held on a Saturday, he confessed that he himself saw no great necessity for adhering to that day, but he would suggest that the only alternative would be to select some other day, and to make that day a general holiday for the purpose of the elections. As to the principle of One Man One Vote in other words, that no man should exercise more than one vote at Parliamentary elections, he believed it was just and desirable, and that it could be fairly worked. He saw no difficulty whatever in a plural voter being called upon to select the qualification for which he would exercise his one vote in the future, and he thought the law would be quite sufficient to prevent the electoral offences to which some hon. Members seemed to fear the Bill might lead. It had been stated that the Bill was a disfranchising measure, but it was not so, nor was it introduced with any such intention. It would disfranchise no man, but would place all men on an equality 187 as to voting power. He believed the Bill would commend itself to the country at large on the ground that it applied the only fair principle of voting that could be adopted. An hon. Member had shown very strongly how unfairly the present system worked, by citing the case of a man who might have a small retail business in several counties, and would therefore have a corresponding number of votes at a General Election, while a merchant carrying on a large business at one place, and employing perhaps 200 or 300 hands, would have only one vote. For his own part, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for introducing the Bill, which he felt certain would effectively meet the points at which it was aimed.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said, the right hon. Member for Cambridge University urged a very powerful argument against the Bill. It was based on the fact that, even granting the postulates in support of the measure as it stood, the Bill made no attempt to deal with one of the most serious injustices of our existing electoral system, namely, the inequalities of representation. The hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire made a rather thin attempt to reply to this omission, by stating that he had always understood that the question of remoteness from the centre of Government entitled the distant places to greater representation than those places which were nearer. He had never heard that argument used by anyone except by the right hon. Member for Midlothian, who certainly did advance it in 1893, in defence of the obvious absurdity of leaving Ireland in the possession of 25 more Members than she was entitled to. But the hon. and gallant Member was very unfortunate in his illustration, because he took, not the case of Ireland, but that of Scotland. Now Scotland had exactly the amount of representation to which she was entitled by population. No one proposed to alter the Scotch representation, and therefore the argument of the hon. and gallant Member fell to the ground.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR
said, he was dealing entirely with the point of equal electoral districts, and not with the representation of any particular part of the United Kingdom. What he meant to say was that in Scotland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, there was 188 great disparity of numbers in some of the constituencies.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
That explanation still more cut away the argument which the hon. and gallant Member based on distance from the seat of Government. He seemed now to adopt the views of hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House—namely, that if you establish the principle of One Man One Vote, you must, in order to make it all fair in operation, also establish the principle of One Vote One Value, which meant equal electoral districts. The hon. and gallant Member complained that hon. Members on that side of the House had not dealt with the two principal features of the Bill—the abolition of what was called plural voting, and the establishment of single day, Saturday, Polling—and had not condemned these as unjust and undesirable. That was scarely fair to those who had spoken on the Opposition side. However, he was quite prepared to declare that these proposals were neither fair nor desirable. He wished first, however, to refer to the way in which the Bill had been introduced. He wondered whether there was any precedent for a Government introducing a measure of first-class importance, such as this, without laying before the House figures and statistics on the subject; for it must be borne in mind that this Bill would wipe out some eight hundred thousand or a million votes. The Government had given no information, and as to the disfranchising effect of the Bill, he would remind the House that last year the right hon. Member for Bury, than whom there was no higher authority on electoral law, stated that the effect of such a measure would be to wipe out, at least, 800,000 votes. That statement made last year was not disputed at the time by anybody, and in default of the Government giving them any information he was justified in assuming it to be accurate. Was there any precedent for such a measure being produced with only 20 hours' notice? No doubt they would be told that the Conservative Party showed no great interest in the matter because the Benches were not crowded that evening, but the reason why there was not a better attendance on both sides of the House was that practically no notice had been given.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark)
was understood to say that it was not the practice to give notice of a Bill before it was put upon the Order Paper.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he was aware the measure was mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but sufficient notice had certainly not been given for a Measure of such importance. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Captain Sinclair) had complained that the Bill was not comprehensive enough; he supposed hon. Members regretted the absence of the three months' registration clauses, which would practically enable English constituencies to be flooded by casual Irish harvesters and labourers. The absence of that clause was accounted for by the great objection to the registration clauses taken by his own Party far more than to any influence possessed by the Opposition. He was very glad to see that the clauses which doubled the registration and the revision, and thereby doubled the cost of elections, had been omitted from this Bill, and he hoped that they would never be re-introduced. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill told them that the choice of the constituency in which they would vote by electors who had several qualificacations was not to be determined until the period of election. He would like to ask the Government for information upon that point. Take the case of an elector who possessed qualifications for three constituencies, which he would call A, B, and C. Suppose he recorded his vote in A at the General Election, and within 13 months of a General Election there occurred a by-election in B, would he be allowed to vote in B? And if there were another by-election in C within 13 months would he be allowed to vote in C? Supposing also that the Government decided that he was not to be allowed to vote in B until the next General Election, and that in the interval of 13 months between the General Election and the by-election at B, he lost his qualification for A, was he to be allowed to vote in B for the by-election, or was he to lose his vote altogether?
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
said, it was not from any want of courtesy that he did not answer the question then, but he thought it was 190 more appropriate to the Second Reading or Committee stage of the Bill.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, not by way of interpretation but by a speech in debate he was entitled to an answer. He asked these questions now because it was more than doubtful whether the Bill would ever reach those stages, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would communicate these points to his right hon. Colleague Mr. Shaw Lefevre. Supposing also an elector were qualified to vote in Ireland and England, what would happen when a by-election occurred? Must he always vote in Ireland and not in England, or vice versâ? Who was to keep the register, recording the votes given by electors with duplicate qualifications? The hon. Member who spoke last made very light of the inequalities of representation of which they on that side complained. The Bill would affect the predominant partner more than any other portion of the electorate, and yet the Government refused to take the smallest step to redress the inequalities of representation which at present existed. This was essentially a disfranchising Bill, which affected England mainly. Every English Member represented an average of 61,250 persons, whereas every Irish Member only represented an average of 45,500 persons. England had an average of 9,800 electors for every Member, while Ireland had an average of only 6,200. The boroughs of Galway, Kilkenny, Newry, and Waterford each returned a Member to Parliament although their total electorate was only 9,840 votes; whereas the borough of Cardiff alone had 18,200 voters, and the Romford Division of Essex over 18,000. And yet in the face of these monstrous inequalities the Government proposed to sweep away hundreds of thousands of English votes on the plea of the Abolition of Plural Voting.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, the Universities had very large constituencies, the electorate of Cambridge University being 6,600, of Oxford 6,100, and of Glasgow over 8,000. What the ground was on which the Government proposed to do away with Plural Voting he failed to appreciate altogether. By so doing they would wipe out the votes 191 of the most industrious, stable, educated, and valuable section of the electors He would take the case of a man who was in a large way of business in the City of London, who also had a residence in one of the suburbs of London, or in one of the Home Counties. That man had an interest in both of the places in which he was now qualified to vote. He was a large employer of labour in the City, and helped to promote the trade and commerce of the country; and in and about his residence he was also an employer of labour, employing household servants, gardeners, grooms, and others. That man did far more good to the working classes than the casual agitator who went about the country preaching One Man One Vote. Why should not such a man have a vote for his home residence as well as for his place of business in the City? He joined issue with the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the question of Plural Voting. Every hon. Member in that House represented the local interests of his constituency, as well as the general interests of the country. He could not understand why an elector who happened to have an interest in two different localities should not be entitled to have both those interests represented in that House by means of his voting in both localities. He wished to remind the hon. Members opposite that the old Radical principle was, that there should be no taxation without representation and no representation without taxation. Therefore, if a man were compelled to pay rates and taxes in more than one locality he was entitled to vote in each of these localities. To deprive a man of his right in that respect would be to violate the old Radical principle. Coming to the question of the Single-day Polling, he must say that in his opinion considerable inconvenience would be caused to the small shopkeepers in the large towns by fixing Saturday as the polling day. That class of persons generally took a great interest in elections, and desired to take an active part in them; and, inasmuch as the principal part of their business was transacted on the Saturday, they would be prevented from taking that part in the elections which they would wish to take. He knew for his own part that he would have but a small chance of being elected were it not for 192 the personal canvassing of some 200 or 300 of volunteer workers in his constituency, of whom a considerable portion belonged to the shopkeeping class. There were many evils that might arise out of Saturday polling. It would be unwise to fix upon that day for the general polling throughout the country because of the excitement that usually prevailed on the night that the poll was declared, and which would undoubtedly be extended over the Sunday. Then, again, in the case of county constituencies, the counting of the votes could not be commenced until the Monday, and in that case also the excitement would be extended over the Sunday and would greatly interfere with its due observance. On the ground, therefore, of the obviously Party character of this Bill; and because he believed it to be most unjust, and to have been merely introduced for the purposes of Party advertisement, without the least chance, or expectation, or intention, of being carried into law—he should offer this measure his most strenuous opposition.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said, that he should not have risen to take a part in the Debate had it not been for an argument that had been put forward by speaker after speaker as a ground for opposing this measure—namely, that Plural Voting ought not to be dealt with as long as Ireland remained over-represented in that House as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. According to the contention of those hon. Members who put forward that argument, Ireland was over-represented at the present time, on a comparison of the populations of the three kingdoms, by some 20 Members. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in dealing with that argument when it was put forward some years ago, had said that the further representation was removed from the legislative centre the greater it should be and that Ireland by reason of the peculiarity of her position and her distance from the Metropolis ought to be more tenderly dealt with in that respect than those parts of the United Kingdom that were in greater proximity to the Metropolis. But, taking another view of the question, he wished to point out that the so-called over-representation of Ireland was due to the fact that since the union her population had largely diminished while that of 193 England had doubled. If Ireland had been fairly treated at the time of the union she would on a comparison of the population of the three kingdoms have been entitled to 225 Members, and even a quarter of a century ago she would have been entitled to 112 Members. He recollected the late Mr. Butt in 1873 making the remarkable prophesy that the falling-off in the population of Ireland would some day or another be made the excuse for depriving her of the representation which she then possessed. He desired to incorporate that salient fact into the Debate. The abolition of the Plural Vote was in accordance with the tendency of electoral reform, which was in the direction of raising the personal influence of a man as opposed to the influence of property. If the old view as to the rights of property prevailed at the present time a large number of hon. Members would have been unable to sit in that House. They all knew that various Acts were passed insisting that men should have a certain amount of property before they entered the House. The last of those Statutes was only abrogated in 1858. He mentioned this by way of illustrating that the tendency of modern reform was against plural voting, and in favour of every man being considered a simple citizen without any of the extreme privileges which accidental circumstances of birth, property, or land gave him. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University spoke of this Bill as a revolutionary measure. Why, as far back as the time of Henry V. an Act was passed providing that no one should vote in a constituency unless he was a resident of that constituency. There was no innovation about this Bill at all. Perhaps he might be permitted to refer for a moment to the University representation. He believed he correctly interpreted the President of the Local Government Board's suggestion when he said that those gentlemen who voted in the Universities were to vote nowhere else. Had the right hon. Gentleman ever considered how many of the electors in the Universities were out-voters in other constituencies, and indeed out-voters in Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin themselves? He trusted that in Committee the right hon. Gentleman 194 would make it quite clear what was intended in respect to the Universities. A short clause might be introduced enacting that, pending the entire abolition of University representation, which he hoped would come soon, gentlemen who chose to vote at a University should not vote in any other constituency. In conclusion, he wished to revert to the question of the representation of Ireland. He knew perfectly well the mischief that could be done by representing that Ireland sent to the House of Commons 23 men more than she was entitled to send. He knew how eloquent the hon. Member for South Tyrone was on English platforms when he was dealing with the subject, though that hon. Gentleman took good care to hide his light under a bushel when he got to South Tyrone. Granted that Ireland was over-represented, and that the English people were dominated by the Irish Members. What had the over-representation of Ireland done in English polities? It was that over-representation which carried the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which carried Catholic Emancipation, and which carried three Reform Bills. As long as the English people were dominated by such masters he hoped their slavery to over-representation, so far as Ireland was concerned, might be perpetual.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
confessed that he had followed the right hon. Gentleman in his historical excursion with some surprise, for he knew the hon. Member was learned in history. The hon. Member spoke of the recognition of the principle of popular representation in the time of Henry V.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said, he stated that there was a Statute passed in the reign of Henry V., which enacted that only residents in a constituency should vote in that constituency.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
Yes, but they did not vote directly for a Member. No doubt the right of election was in the resident householder, as he was called, but it was right of election of municipal officers who elected Members of Parliament. He advised the hon. Gentleman to consult the writings of Palgrave, for there he would find it stated in respect to extended suffrage—a victory obtained by the many over the few, and resulting from the destruction of the primitive 195 custom by which the legal right of election and nomination devolved either upon the chief members, the magnates of the people, or upon select bodies acting on behalf of the community.He had another extract if the one he had read did not suffice, but he thought it would. The hon. Member told them that the proper tendency of legislation had been to exalt the individual at the expense of the community; in other words, that the measure of the voting power of the community should be the number of individuals it possessed. The hon. Gentleman also told them that the population of Ireland was one-half of what it was when at the Union 100 or 102 was fixed as the proper representation of Ireland. If that was so, and if the individual was to be exalted at the expense of the community, Ireland had not 23, but 50, Members too many. That followed logically from the hon. Gentleman's argument, and he expected to see the hon. Gentleman introduce a Bill to take away from the island which he so greatly admired, not 23, but 50, Members. Some men held the doctrine that every elector, when he was near London, was to be shrunk in electoral power to a dwarf, but if he got to the farthest extremities of Ireland or Scotland he was to be swollen to the proportions of a giant. He remembered reading the only allusion—it was a playful allusion—made to that subject by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. The right hon. Gentleman did not regard it as a serious argument—nay, he did not himself believe in it as an argument—because, when he introduced the Home Rule Bill he proposed to take 20 or 25 members away from Ireland. He could not admit that those who lived in the extreme parts of Ireland or Scotland should have three or four times more electoral power than the people of England, simply because they were farther away from the centres of intelligence and enlightenment. Allowances had, of course, to be made for this most unfortunate Government, considering the extraordinary position they were in, but still it was impossible to take the Introduction of the Bill seriously. And he would point out the curious fact that, while last year this Bill was considered of such first-rate importance that it had been confided to the hands of the Irish Secretary, this year 196 it had diminished so much as to be capable of being handed over to the President of the Local Government Board, with the Secretary for Scotland to fall back upon for its support. The Secretary for Scotland seemed to have so very little in his mind the condition of the Business of the House, that, when referring to the three Government Bills before the House, he forgot altogether the fourth Bill—the Local Veto Bill, which would take as much time to consider as the other three Bills together. The right hon. Gentleman forgot another thing of great importance. This year the House met a month later than last year; yet the Budget would not be introduced till Thursday, or a fortnight later than it was introduced last year, or, if they added the previous month, at an interval of six weeks later than last year. It was upon the Budget above all that the Chancellor of the Exchequer relied for immortal fame, and as this Budget would possibly be, like the last, an ambitious Budget, and a great bid for popularity, it would occupy hardly less time than the three months the Budget of last year occupied. It was strange, indeed, that the Government, overloaded as it was with Bills already, should have added to the mass of legislation this Bill, which everyone thought was dead and entirely forgotten. If old things were to be unexpectedly dug up in this way, he would not be surprised if, on coming down to the House some day, he heard something about the famous Resolution in regard to the House of Lords. The Secretary for Scotland had said that the object of the Bill was—to secure that every man should find that his vote in the affairs of the Empire was of exactly the same power, and no more, as every other man's vote. But it was the exact contrary that was the case. One of the grounds of complaint against the Bill was, that it did not deal with the inequalities in the power of the vote which now existed. The Secretary for Scotland had also said that the Bill was intended to do some definite good—to whom? Not to the great Liberal Party, but to the Independent Labour Party. He should have thought that the Government had already sufficient tyrants in the House, driving them now hither and then thither, without being anxious to add 197 another to the body in the shape of the hon. Member for West Ham; and yet that alone, so far as he could see from the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, was the object of introducing this marvellous Bill. He was very much interested in comparing this Bill with the measure in which the device—for it was nothing more—was embodied last year. Last year it was an Enfranchising Bill; a Registration Bill, and an abolition of Plural Voting Bill. This year Registration and Enfranchisement had disappeared. It was a disfranchising Bill, and nothing more. But in what way was disfranchisement to be brought about? Last year, the proposal for restricting every elector to one constituency was to have added to the questions at the polling booths:—Have you since, the First of January, or First of July (as the case may be) voted at a Parliamentary Election other than at an Election for this constituency?He presumed that was the way double voting was to be prevented now. The Elector would be asked—Have you since the First of January voted at a Parliamentary Election other than at an Election for this constituency?This talk of One man one vote appeared to him to be the merest claptrap—the merest begging of the real question. They might as reasonably advocate "one man one eye," or "one man one leg." Some men had only one eye, why, then, should other men go about with two eyes? Some men, who had met with accidents, had only one leg. Why, then, should he (Mr. Bowles) be allowed to have two legs? He was merely illustrating the absurdity of the cry of one man one vote. Besides, the Government would not get by their Bill one man one vote. Supposing a man had seven votes—one in seven different constituencies; supposing Parliament lasted seven years, and that each year there was a by-election in one of those constituencies: that man with the seven votes could vote seven times. He could use his vote every time there was a by-election, for it was only at a General Election that the sacred principle of one man one vote came into operation. The only result of the Bill would be to encourage gerrymandering practices, for registration 198 agents would put all their plural votes into a critical constituency, instead of allowing votes to take their natural course. The President of the Local Government Board had called plural voting a monstrous fraud. This Bill, however, did not get rid of the monstrous fraud; it perpetuated and, in certain respects, most seriously intensified it, because by it either Party would be able to throw their plural voters into the constituencies where their support was most required; and he had no doubt such a system would be largely availed of. The whole of this proposal rested on a fundamental misconception of the nature of the British Parliament and the English Constitution. Their system of Government had been to take communities living together, with common life and common interest, and having a community of action and system amongst them—to take these communities and say to each of them: "Choose your men who shall speak for you in the House of Commons. "Under this system of representing not individuals—but co-operating communities, common life, and common existence—they had got very diverse representation in that House, and they practically secured a fair reflection not of the individuals, but of the communities of the country; and that, he submitted, was what the Houses of Parliament should be. If they were going to make any alteration in a very ancient principle, it was important they should well and wisely consider it, and not fling this question before the House suddenly, and ask for it to be discussed and its Introduction accepted in a few hours. He had been greatly struck by the declarations of eminent statesmen upon the British Parliament. The great Lord Burleigh told them that—England can never be ruined except by Parliament.Sir William Temple, a wise statesman, said:Parliament alone cannot save—Parliament alone may ruin the nation.These declarations did not go beyond the solemn truth of the case; and if that were so, it was only with the most careful hand, and the most reverent spirit, that 199 the Constitution and working of this Parliament should be touched. He did not think the Government had shown that tenderness of hand or reverence of spirit they were entitled to expect by flinging a measure like this in so sudden a way upon the Table of the House. He thought it was idle to discuss the real merits of this measure, and it was not upon its merits that it had been brought in. It was brought in, in the words of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, because—We are told that education, enlightenment, leisure, high station, and political experience are arrayed in the opposing camp; and I am sorry to say that, to a large extent, I cannot deny it.This Bill was introduced in order to correct the men of education, enlightenment, high station, and political experience, by men of no enlightenment, no education, of low station, and devoid of political experience. They all knew that this was an electioneering dodge, a gerrymandering trick, a mere partisan, factious device. He could quite understand that it enlightenment and education were against them, the Party opposite would like to bring into being some new world to redress the balance of the old. The Government knew the time was coining when they must appeal to the present electorate, who would send them back discredited; and they, therefore, were anxious to invent a new electorate which would be more favourable to them. There was one very ominous passage in the speech of the President of the Local Government Board in introducing this measure. He told them that it was the intention of the Government to press on and carry this measure through the House. If that were so, then it meant that the Government intended to give up the Welsh Disestablishment, the Irish Land, and the Local Veto Bills. But with what face could they then go to their constituents and say they had not robbed a Church, or an Irish landlord, or even so much as an English publican? Were they going to give up all these measures? If they intended to press the present Bill forward, and carry it through, then it meant that the three measures he had indicated must go, for there was no hope for them. What did that mean? It meant that the Government felt they were approaching near to an election, 200 and that, not being able to trust the present electorate, they would, they hoped, be able to create another electorate more favourable to them. But he thought they would find that even this would not suffice, and that they must already see the handwriting on the wall, which told them their days were numbered. If they were going to appeal to the electorate on some heroic achievement, he could have understood it, but for the Government to go before their friends with such a miserable, shallow device as this, passed all comprehension and belief. The time was approaching which the Opposition desired, and which the Government could not avoid, when the Party now in office would be weighed in the balance, and when this absurd and miserable attempt to gerrymander the constituencies would not affect the decision which they, on his side of the House, confidently awaited from the English people.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
should not have risen to take part in this discursive Debate, into which he should not follow the hon. Member at length, had it not been that there were a few considerations which presented themselves to the mind of one who had given some attention to a similar subject and which were applicable to this Debate. They were considerations which ought to be mentioned on the Introduction of a Bill rather than on the Second Reading, because the measure was not yet actually shaped, and there was still room for changes and additions to it which could be better made now, before the Bill was in print, than they could be at a subsequent stage. The argument of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, that the Government ought to have been prepared with statistics, appeared at first sight to be a weighty one, because in all Bills dealing with electoral matters it had been usual to prepare them. The fact, however, was that it was absolutely impossible, as anybody was aware who was acquainted with freehold lists, to present statistics on the subject. He would defy the Member for West Birmingham, with all his administrative ability, to produce statistics which would be worth anything. In the constituency which he had the honour to represent there were close upon 3,000 small freeholders, mostly working men, and 201 mixed up with these were a number of survivors of the old 40s. fagot votes—votes held, some of them, by Members of this House on both sides of politics. The small freeholders and the old fagot voters were all so mixed up together that it would be impossible for any overseer to prepare statistics which would separate the one class from the other. The thing could not be done. His right hon. Friend also seemed to suggest that this question not only affected the rich voters, but also the poor, and he was astonished to hear that working men now largely lived out of town and owned houses in the country. So far as they did own places in the country they did not vote in the town. Some Conservatives maintained the solid value of plural voting as a representation of property. If it possessed that value, why did the Conservative party give it up in 1888 so far as the counties were concerned? He believed that the great majority of this House were now prepared to throw over that principle, provided only time and place were fitting, and their great objection was to the present Government dealing with the matter at the end of a Parliament and with a small majority. He spoke with some impartiality on the subject, knowing the immense difficulties of dealing with it practically, but chiefly because he was one of those who believed they would never touch bottom or get rid of all the difficulties which surrounded the electoral question until they simplified the Franchise, and until they had one Franchise which would supersede the 17 or 18 Parliamentary Franchises which existed at the present time. That was the root of the whole evil. Peddling might satisfy for a year or two, but it would not put an end to the question. The main argument of the Conservative Party, after all, against the proposed reform was the question of Redistribution of Seats. He had always held views somewhat at variance with those of other Members on that question. It was astonishing, however, to hear the 202 right hon. Member for Cambridge University advance that argument, because undoubtedly the one thing which prevented an arrangement between the most advanced Radicals and the Conservative Party was the question of University representation. Until the Conservative Party were prepared to throw over University representation they would never be able to induce the people of this country to place the Redistribution of Seats on a purely numerical basis. If they would throw the principle over, they would have no difficulty in inducing a great number of Radicals to support them in a strong measure of redistribution, from which the Radicals had nothing to lose. With regard to the particular plan adopted by the Government, his right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham asked: Why have a double-barrelled means of getting at the plural voter? The answer was that any plan under the present Franchise for getting at the plural voter must be imperfect. It was already felony if John Jones, who was twice on the Register in the same constituency, voted twice at a Parliamentary Election. Even if he did it innocently it was felony, because it constituted in effect the offence of personation. In spite of that it was done, in some constituencies, to a considerable extent. A further difficulty was a possible addition to the already enormously great expense of Parliamentary Registration. Of course, the Government scheme did not apply to by-elections, except within the year, and this might cause awkward complications. In Wimbledon there were over 7,000 non-resident freehold voters, who nearly all belonged to the Conservative Party, and, Wimbledon being a fairly safe Conservative seat, those voters, as a rule, would vote elsewhere if the plan of the Government were adopted. At a by-election, however, it might become highly expedient from the Conservative point of view to import these voters back into Wimbledon, and that could be done. Was there 203 no other possible scheme besides that proposed by the Government? It had been suggested that it would be possible to prevent voters from being registered in more than one constituency, but, considering the cost and the difficulty of the inquiries that would have to be made, he thought practical men would see that that course was out of the question. But at the present time we facilitated the registration of freeholders as compared with other voters. There were five classes of freeholders who could be registered without any residence at all, although from the poor lodger or householder or service voter in practice a two-years' residence was required. For other freeholders the period of residence was only a nominal six months, as against a nominal twelve. There were innumerable cases of freeholders remaining on the register after their death. Instead of facilitating the registration of freeholders, means ought to be taken to supervise their registration more strictly. Would it not be possible to make a freeholder declare at the time of registration that to the best of his belief he was not registered, and that he was not claiming to be registered, elsewhere? Would it not also be possible to make him claim his vote every year, as in the case of the old lodger? If they made it more difficult for the freeholder to get on to the register, and more difficult for the freeholder who had gone out of existence to remain on, half the difficulty which the Bill was designed to meet would disappear, for the plural voting at elections would be greatly reduced.
§ *MR. WALTER LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
observed that the right hon. Baronet appeared to possess much more useful statistical information on the subject under discussion than was given to the House by the Minister in charge of the Bill, but he questioned whether the Government would regard the right hon. Baronet's intervention in the Debate as altogether favourable to their cause. For what was the position 204 taken up by the President of the Local Government Board and the Secretary for Scotland? It was that this was a small measure which could easily be passed this Session; but the right hon. Baronet had now shown how wide the field was into which they might be invited to enter. It had been said several times that one reason why the Conservative party ought to abandon their support of plural voting was that in 1888 they threw over the property vote by the Franchise which they set up in connection with County Councils. But that was not a correct description of the policy of the Unionist Party in 1888. What they really did was—to extend to counties the system of Local Government already existing in boroughs; and, in the circumstances of the case, it was not possible to take any other course. The Government of that day adopted the precedent of the Municipal Corporations Act, and extended electoral privileges to the counties in the form in which they existed in boroughs, and whether they were right or wrong in so doing they at all events were consistent in what they did. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was not following that precedent. At present an elector in a city who was qualified to vote in more than one division could be put upon the Register for any or all such divisions, but when the Register was finally prepared before the Revising Barrister he had to elect for which division he would vote, and an asterisk was placed against his name, and he was compelled to Vote for the Division for which he was "starred." That was not what the Government were doing. They were adopting precisely the opposite course. They were leaving the Electors to decide for which division they would vote. That was by no means introducing One Man One Vote. In the Exchange Division of Liverpool there were something like 1,300 out-voters, and under this Bill they would be left to vote or not as they thought fit. Anybody who had had large experience of electioneering would, he was confident, 205 agree with him that one of the greatest troubles connected with our Parliamentary system was the large amount of wire-pulling machinery that now existed. It was constantly complained that it was the cause of a large amount of expenditure which candidates would be glad to avoid. The Government talked about putting the voters on an equality, but they were going to do that which would give the rich man greater power, for they were going to increase the power of wire-pulling. If the Government really wished to distribute electoral power fairly and equally over the country, they must accompany their arrangement with a redistribution of seats. The right hon. Gentleman quoted largely the action of the late Government in the County Government Act, and referred also to the view the Opposition took on the District and Parish Councils Act. It was true that in 1888 the then Government took one man one vote as the principle on which to found the Franchise, but they also took care to divide the counties into electoral districts as nearly equal as possible, and also as representative as might be of the different local interests. That was exactly what the Government ought to do if they dealt with the question at all, and until they had done that they would not equalise the electing power of the people. The difficulty of finding officials to preside if the county elections were all held on the same day had been referred to, and he could assure the Government that, as regarded purely agricultural counties, that was not an imaginary difficulty. That argument was used when the District and Parish Councils Act was passing through the House and it was pooh-poohed, but he would appeal to anybody who had taken part in Elections under that Act whether they were not alive to the fact that there was a practical difficulty in securing men to deal in a satisfactory manner with the complicated questions arising at the polling booths. In the case of Parliamentary Elections in an agricultural division, even now, when the Elections were held on different days, though within the space of a week or ten days, it was undoubtedly the case that it was extremely difficult to get men sufficiently conversant with electoral law to be in-trusted with the responsible and delicate 206 duty of presiding over polling booths. He hoped the Government would not treat this criticism as simply obstructive, but would really inform themselves on the subject. If one polling day, and that a Saturday, were fixed for all the country districts, then he hoped the Government would introduce some special clause providing financial assistance for the agricultural districts, to enable them to get the proper staff of election officers. He did not wish to make any charges against the Government; their position had already been very fully described, but he could not regard this Measure as having been introduced with any real intention of amending the Franchise law. There were only three months of the normal Session left. Some Gentlemen might like legislating in August and September, or in an Autumn Session, but the majority of the House did not like it. However anxious hon. Members might be to be in their places, health, and the calls of their private affairs, brought about this result—that when Parliament sat into the Autumn the attendance was not representative of the House as a whole. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had himself stated that legislation in August and September was not likely to be as carefully considered as legislation in the normal months. There were about three months left, and there were three or four first-class Measures, the Budget, and the Estimates to be disposed of, so that it was impossible to give proper consideration to this Bill, and if it was to be passed, it must be rushed through. The Government complained of the Opposition debating Bills on the First Reading, but they had created the trouble themselves. It was owing to the Government's practice of introducing so many Bills that the First Reading was often the only stage on which hon. Members had an opportunity of criticising the Measures. It was said that the present Bill would be proceeded with. The House was told that last year with respect to the Local Veto Bill and other Measures, but the House never saw them again. The action of the Government in this case could not be regarded as sincere, or as intended to deal with the difficulties of the case.
§ MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
wished to consider the 207 question of simultaneous elections from the point of view of the borough Members. If all elections were to be held on one day, the time of the county elections must be curtailed, or that of the borough elections extended. In the latter event there would be a considerable increase to the cost of the borough elections. It was a matter of great astonishment to him that such a proposal should be brought forward by a Government which professed its wish to decrease the cost of elections, one effect of this Bill being to increase the expense of borough elections. Another point was, that there would be many more speeches to make to their constituents. Well, they were not all gifted with the great power of oratory. It was not very pleasant, he should think, for a borough candidate to speak day after day in the same place, while a county candidate was going from village to village in a large and scattered constituency. As to having elections all on one day, they were told as a recommendation that that was the practice in the United States and in France, and that there it was considered a great benefit. He did not wish to say anything uncourteous of the United States or France, but the same class of people did not take an interest in politics in the United States as here in England. In the United States the man who was successful in business did not care to enter politics, but in England those who had been successful in business considered it an honour to have a seat in that House. And he did not see any advantage on the side of France or the United States in this matter. He thought the argument used in this respect was a very poor one. Then it was argued that a greater number would have the opportunity of voting. In the constituency which he had the honour to represent there was a County Council election in 1892. The election was on a Saturday, and 5,000 polled. At the Parliamentary Election in the same year, which was held on a Thursday, 7,400 voted. They might say that one was a County Council Election and the other Parliamentary, but there was a great interest taken in the last County Council Election, and yet the increase of voters was only 400, though the number of the electorate had gone up in the meantime. Therefore, this particular argument, he urged, fell 208 to the ground. As to Plural Voting, surely if a man had an interest in two districts he had a right to vote. The great complaint by the Radical party against the Tories was that they had gone in for class legislation, but it seemed to him that this was legislation for one class only.
Bill presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 220.]