Order for Second reading read.
, in moving that the Bill he now read a second time, said: The subject which I bring before the House to-day is one which has often engaged the attention of Parliament, and divisions were taken upon it both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the years 1870, 1871, and 1872. We have now before us the experience of the first General Election under the Ballot, and we have also a fact to deal with, to which I will presently allude, which makes the hardship of the limited hours greater than it ever was before. The special hardship of which I speak is this—that for every Parliamentary election there are two School Board elections; that the School Board polling hours are from 8 to 8 o'clock, and that it is impossible to get it into the heads of the majority of voters that the law has not been changed, and that the Parliamentary polling hours continue to be only from 8 to 4. As regards the experience of the late Election, the poll in most of London was taken in a dense pea-soup fog—taken, that is, by gaslight almost universally, and this fact disposes of the idle talk which was indulged in, in 1872, as to the great increase of personation which would occur if the poll were kept open to 8 o'clock. I venture to assert that there was not more personation at the last election with gaslight voting than there has been at previous elections with daylight voting; and I venture also to affirm that the School Board voting has shown that no inconvenience follows from keeping open the poll to 8 o'clock. If we consider this subject from a higher point of view, I think we must allow that when Parliament, has once decided that certain persons should hold political power and possess the suffrage, that then Parliament is bound, if it does not wish to stultify itself, to facilitate the voting of those persons by all means in its power. Now, in London, and some other towns, a large portion of the voters are virtually disfranchised. The skilled artizans, as a general rule, take so keen an interest in politics that they give up the whole clay, or half the clay, for political purposes; but the persons who belong to other great classes of the community are loss able, or less willing, to make this sacrifice. I speak on the one hand of the large number of voters who are below the rank of skilled artizans, and also of very different classes, such as bankers' clerks and city men. The subject is one of special importance in London because of the vast distances from the places where great numbers of voters have to vote, to the part of the City in which they have their work. Personally, I should be content to have a special law for London upon this point; but I am aware that the grievance is also greatly felt in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, and other large towns, and I have, therefore, thought it desirable to, at all events, raise the question in a wider shape; and if the counties do not need the Bill, I will accept a limitation to boroughs in Committee. The difficulties in the way of carrying out a scheme which, in the great towns, at all events, is much needed, are only two—the fear of the increase of personation, and confusion, which, as I have said, is met by the experience of the last Election in London, and of the School Board elections universally; and, secondly, the consideration that the presiding officers, their clerks, and the representatives of the candidates at the booths would become over tired, and incapable of performing their work if the hours were extended in the way proposed. With regard to the second point, I think that the experience of the School Board elections would go to show that much importance need not be attached to it; but if others should take a different view, I should myself prefer to see a pause in the poll during a portion of the least busy hours of the day, rather than its present absolute limitation to 4 o'clock. The history of this question in the House of Commons is a most peculiar one, and does not reflect much credit upon those of us who had seats in the last Parliament. In 1872, the then Government divided the House against my proposal, that the polling hours should be extended; but finding that there was a strong minority, they then proposed a compromise. This was the famous sunrise and sunset compromise which we much disliked, but thought preferable to the existing law. "When this compromise was objected to in the House, the Government wished to drop it, and when we objected to their doing so, they positively voted in a body against their own proposal. When the Bill reached the House of Lords, Lord Shaftesbury took up my Amendment, and moved it in my words, and carried it against the Government upon a division. The next day, however, the Government came down to the Lords, and asked that body to accept, instead of the Amendment that had been carried, their own compromise, against which they had actually voted in the House of Commons. Lord Shaftesbury gave way, and they carried their compromise in the Lords without a division; but when the Bill got back to the House of Commons again, and the compromise was again objected to by the same hon. Members who had already objected to it once, the Government again dropped their compromise, and matters remained exactly as they were before. This episode, when told in the country, was not likely to increase the respect in which it held the deliberations of the House, and I cannot but think that there will be a disposition now, especially when it is seen that in the great towns, one party is as likely to gain by the change as the other, to take a bolder and more sensible view of the question, and to facilitate the exercise of the franchise by those persons on whom it has been conferred. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—( Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
, in moving as an Amendment, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months," said, the question had, is his opinion, been adequately discussed by the late Parliament, for it had been repeatedly brought before it by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), but the House had always settled that the hours should remain as at present. He did not think the hon. Member had added much to what had then been advanced, nor had he made out anything like a case in support of the change which he advocated. The chief contention of the hon. Member was, that sufficient facilities were not given to the working men to exercise their privileges as voters. That was an erroneous contention. The fact was, that after an election some persons always attempted to account for the course of events, and that out-of-doors, some, who wondered why certain candidates had been returned and others not, had advocated an alteration in the machinery of voting. He had had an opportunity of looking over the late Election Returns for the borough of Chelsea, and he found that, taking the numbers of the highest successful and the highest unsuccessful candidate, 14,500 persons voted, as compared with 11,500 in 1868. [Sir CHARLES DILKE: Out of 25,000.] That fact showed that the proportion of voters on the register who voted had considerably increased since 1868—to the amount of 25 per cent—and that was also I he case at Liverpool and Manchester. In 1868,15,000 voted in Liverpool, and this year there were 20,000; while in Manchester at the last Election 38,000 voted, as compared with 27,000 in 1868. Where, then, was the argument of the working men not being able to record their votes, when they had such a large increase in the number of those who actually voted in the largest and most important constituencies? He held that the contention had no valid ground on which to stand. This, indeed, was, in a measure, proved by the fact that no complaint, cither in the shape of a Petition or otherwise, had reached the House with respect to the alleged defect in the working of the Ballot. His cure for the evil, if any such existed, would be not to extend the hours of polling, but to increase the number of the polling-places. Since 1832, the policy had been to abridge the period over which the election extended. It was unduly disparaging the intelligence of artizans to represent that they could not be convinced that the poll closed at 4, and to keep it open till 8 would induce many persons to delay voting till the last hour, when there would again be a crowd and a demand for a still later hour. Indeed, he believed that that practice already obtained to a great extent. The excitement, moreover, would be protracted into the night, and Returning Officers, who had shown every desire to satisfy the natural anxiety of candidates and voters by declaring the result the same night—this being effected even in Marylebone, where 25,000 polled—would be unable to do so. Further than that, the hon. Baronet had expressed an intimation that the counties might not probably require it. Neither in his (Mr. Goldney's) estimation, did the boroughs. A double stall' would be necessary if the hours were extended, and this would increase the Returning Officers' charges, which, as shown by three Motions for inquiry, were felt already to be excessive. The Bill would thus conflict with the principle advocated by the hon. Baronet, that it should be open to persons of any class to become candidates. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the rejection of the Bill.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—( Mr. Goldney.)
supported the second reading of the Bill. He should like to say one or two words with regard to the objections which had been urged against it by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. Member said that the number of voters who took part in the last General Election had not diminished as compared with 1868, but had increased to a larger extent than might have been expected from the increased constituencies. That, however, was only a negative kind of argument; because it did not prove that if those facilities asked for in this Bill had been in existence there might not have been a still larger number of electors who would have recorded their votes. And the hon. Member took no notice of the difficulty under which many of those who recorded their votes did so. The hardship of the present state of things greatly affected the artizan classes of the country, and their complaint was that if they were not exactly precluded from voting altogether, yet they had to record their votes under exceptionally difficult circumstances. They must either vote during the dinner hour, when they might find the polling places so crowded that they could not get in, or they must lose half-a-day's pay by absenting themselves from work in order to poll. Now, he contended that it was unfair to expect any class, and especially the poorer class, to forfeit half-a-day's pay in order to record their votes. The hon. Gentleman said, "increase the number of polling places;" and at the same time he objected to the hours being extended, on the ground that it would entail additional expense. Well, would not the increase of polling-places also involve additional expense? To extend the hours of polling did not necessarily involve the increase of the staff, but to increase the number of polling-places must necessarily do so. It was in the experience of all hon. Members that, the Returning Officers' expenses, under the Ballot, had been greatly heavier than before, and the reason for that was, that the Ballot Act had so largely added to the number of polling places. The hon. Gentleman said if they extended the hours of polling they would heighten the excitement of an election. For his part he thought it would have the very opposite effect, and in proof of this he would quote the case of his own constituents. The polling in Glasgow terminated at 4 o'clock, and it was announced that it would be possible to give the result the same night. The consequence was that crowds remained in the streets in a more or less excited state until after midnight. Now, if the poll had been open until 8 o'clock, it would have been impossible to have counted the votes that night, and the people, knowing this, would have gone quietly to their homes, instead of remaining about the streets until midnight. The hon. Gentleman said no Petitions had been presented to the House in favour of the Bill, but he must remember that the Session was yet young, and before long he might see plenty of them brought to the Table. In conclusion, he begged to say that, so far as his experience went, the artizan class were very strongly desirous that this change should be made, and he should therefore vote for the second reading.
hoped the House would agree to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), because it would be an unfortunate and mischievous thing at that early period after the passing of the Ballot Act to re-open the question. Further time was wanted to see whether that Act really required improvement; and if they assented to the second reading of this Bill, no doubt they would soon find that plenty of other grievances under the Ballot Act would be brought before the House. That subject was carefully discussed in the last Parliament, and three divisions were taken on that very question—the first on a proposal to insert 0, instead of 8 o'clock in the morning, which was rejected by 242 to 66; the second, on the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), to extend the hours to 8 in the evening, which was rejected by 206 to 98; and the third on a proposal to fix 5 o'clock P.M. for closing the poll in boroughs, which was rejected by 157 to 93. Every point now raised was raised in those former discussions, as would be seen from the reports of their debates. The hon. Baronet had failed to show that any inconvenience had been created, or that men had been unable to record their votes; or—what was an important point—that in instances where votes wore kept back till a late hour, the voters did not in some instances hang back—as was alleged in certain Petitions—in order to receive some small consideration for their votes. If the hour of polling were extended to 8 o'clock, these cases would be multiplied, and disturbances would increase, and temptation become more rife. It seemed to him that the Ballot Act, which it cost so much trouble to pass, had worked quietly and well, and they had better, for the present, remain satisfied with it.
said, that so far as his constituency (Hackney) was concerned, the present hours were very inconvenient—indeed, it was not possible for many of the best class of artizans to vote, for they left home for the City before 8 A.M., and did not return till after 6 P.M. He spoke of porters and packers—the very élite of the working classes—men who were entrusted with the valuable contents of the City warehouses, and who went to their duties earlier to prepare for the clerks and others who came at a later hour. These men could not vote without-having the time given them or losing half-a-day's pay. As to excitement, it was created more by voters having the time given them, and by their hanging about afterwards. He asked why the same facilities for voting should not be given at Parliamentary elections as were afforded at School Board elections, which were so satisfactorily conducted? If the polling-places were kept open until 8 o'clock in the evening, much less excitement than prevailed under the present rule would be found to exist, and he had no doubt that if the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) became law, much greater facilities would be afforded to the voter.
said, he must at once deny that the object of the Bill or its supporters was to give their own party an advantage. He would contend that the extension of the polling hour would increase the power of the popular party for the time being, and that therefore the hon. and gallant Member for Sussex (Colonel Barttelot.) and his Friends should not object to the Bill, for they would probably have an increased majority on their side of the House. He also wished to point out that, although the employment of cabs by candidates to bring up voters was prohibited by the present law against corrupt practices, yet at the late General Election that prohibition had been generally disregarded by both sides. That was a state of things which ought not to be allowed to exist. Either the law ought to be repealed, which made the employment of cabs in largo towns illegal, or the hours of polling ought to be extended so as to enable the working-men to walk to the poll. An extension of those hours would, he believed, decrease the expenses of elections in large towns by about £1,000 through the mere non-employment of cabs, and he believed that both sides of the House would find on inquiry that their constituents would welcome the change to a later hour of the afternoon than 4 o'clock. If the hours should be too long for Returning Officers and their clerks, let the polling commence at 11 or 12 in the day. The reality of the "Conservative working-man" must now be admitted; but it would only be a gracious act if his friends would recognize the inconvenience to which he was put in recording his vote, and would not expect him to make sacrifices disproportionate to those imposed on other classes.
said, that as the Ballot Act was only a temporary and experimental measure, they had better try the experiment a little longer before they set about altering it. They were very much too fond in that House, if an Act did not carry out all the objects which its promoters expected from it, of immediately bringing in another Act to amend it next year. Thus, by degrees, the law became so complicated and perplexed as to be a scandal to the country, as had been remarked by the Judges over and over again. Scarcely an Act was passed which did not inconvenience somebody in some particular, and they always found an hon. Member taking a personal view of it, and coming down to ask that it should be instantly altered for his own convenience, or that of his constituency. He objected to the Bill now submitted for various reasons. An attempt had been made to treat lightly the objection that the polling would, in the event of an extension of hours, be carried on after nightfall, His opinion was that that was a very grave objection, for with regard to it, one point had been very much overlooked—it had been supposed that boroughs were nothing but large cities. No doubt, in a large city there was not much difference in the streets by night or by day, and certainly in many parts of the Metropolis—for example, in Westminster the other day—the election was carried on during the whole day in Cimmerian darkness. There, whether it was 8 in the morning or 8 in the evening, it was pitch dark all the same; but then there were facilities which would enable that change to be carried out in large cities without inconvenience. In those places if it was dark they had only to turn on the gas; but how would it be in the ease of the country boroughs? There were a number of those boroughs in darkness in the long evenings of the winter months, and there it would lead to confusion and riot, to a certainty, if the elections were carried on in darkness. In Gloucestershire, the other day, the riots in the Forest of Dean would have been aggravated, if the polling had been prolonged into the hours of darkness. Prom his own experience, he believed voters were not kept from the poll, except in a few instances, by the hours; but there was no class which had not to give up something in performing the duty of citizens. It was as inconvenient in many cases for merchants and tradesmen to give up their time in order to vote, as it was for working-men; and those who were the great friends of the working classes were those who wished the expenses of elections to be thrown on the rates, which those classes would have to assist in paying. Yet they now cried out, because it would involve some small sacrifice of wages, if the working-man went to vote. He did not see that the working-man would undergo any great hardship. They gave up a great deal of time to their amusements, and he believed that those who really had strong political feelings would be willing to make some sacrifice to carry out their principles; but if there was any strong reason for giving greater facilities to voters, it might be done by multiplying the polling-places. In his constituency there were 22 polling-places, and they were within a mile and a-half of almost every voter. He thought the whole country had rather underrated the intelligence of the working classes in that matter, and he had himself supposed that it would be impossible to induce those men to come up in proper time and give their votes in the proper way; yet they had done so in great numbers in his own constituency, composed to a great extent of labourers, where only 44 votes out of 4,000 were rejected for informality. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) was very sanguine if he thought by extending the polling to 8 o'clock he would prevent the employment of cabs. Let them alter the hours as they pleased, yet they could not prevent cabs going about to pick up voters here and there, and voters often said they would not go to the poll at all unless they were conveyed. He saw many so employed in Westminster, and that was the case in all parts of the country in spite of the law. In conclusion, he thought they had better carry on the present system, at any rate, during the term fixed for the present Ballot Act, and when the Act came to be reviewed in its integrity, then would be the time, if it was to be renewed, to make any changes in it which experience-showed to be necessary. He said so, because he believed that the working-classes were well acquainted with the provisions of the law, and, in his judgment, did not in any way confuse the hours of Parliamentary and School Board elections as alleged. He further thought that, as far as mechanical facility was concerned, the Act had worked well both in town and country, and that no sufficient case had been made out for the alteration now proposed in it.
said, that during the last Session of Parliament he had spoken against the extension of the polling hours to 8 o'clock', and he should equally oppose the present measure having the same object in view, unless the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) would agree to a considerable modification of its principle; for it seemed to him (Sir Henry James) that the evils of an extension of the hours of polling, if it were general in its application, would be great and conspicuous. Those evils included a great increase of expense and greater facilities for corruption. If the voting were continued after nightfall, there would probably be greater difficulty in maintaining proper supervision in the polling-booths, and relays of staff would be required, while an additional number of horses and carriages would also be necessary. Every hon. Member who represented a county or a borough would feel that the practical inconvenience of such an alteration would be so great as to render its general adoption very un-advisable. Whilst holding that opinion, he also thought it would be wrong for him to decide the question solely by the light of his own convictions and experience. Some consideration ought to be paid to those who represented large borough constituencies, and whose experience might be very different. If the Representatives of such constituencies as Chelsea, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Hackney declared that many of the electors of those boroughs were practically precluded from voting at all, or could only do so at considerable inconvenience, and even sacrifice, some attention ought to be paid to them, and the question ought not to be repudiated by those who had had no experience of those inconveniences. He would, therefore, suggest to the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke) that his measure should be applicable to certain constituencies, and to those only. If it were the fact that some constituencies required that Bill, the majority must be considered and the common advantage, and not the advantage of a few constituencies only. If the hon. Baronet went further, and agreed that the constituencies desiring the Bill should prove their case, and that their names should be placed in a Schedule, then for such a measure, and for such a measure only, he would vote. It would be for such constituencies to make out their case, not simply by one of their Representatives expressing such to be their opinion, but by evidence given in some shape that would satisfy either a Committee of the House or the House itself that the measure was necessary for them. That step might meet the entire wants of the case, His own opinion, however, was that there was no necessity for an extension of hours in the great bulk of the constituencies. In a large town it would be no advantage to the working man to have 10 polling-places instead of five. What such a man required was that he should be able to record his vote without sacrificing half-a-day's wages. In some constituencies it was a habit not to work at all on the polling-day; and he understood that in many boroughs the employers gave a half or a whole holiday to their workmen, so that there the workmen would be idle whatever were the hours of polling. In Chelsea, on the other hand, a man who went to work in the suburbs might have to sacrifice a day's pay if he wanted to record his vote. It appeared that out of 25,000 persons on the electoral roll for Chelsea, only 14,000 voted. That showed there must be some reason why the other 11,000 did not go to the poll; and many of them probably might have done so if an opportunity had been given them.
said, his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Henry James) had adduced an admirable argument against the present Bill. His hon. and learned Friend would throw out that Bill, and bring in something else to remedy the present state of the law. Therefore, he would suggest that his hon. and learned Friend should join them in throwing out that Bill, and then if the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) chose to do anything to amend the law, and took a proper course for doing it they would support him. The passing of the Ballot Act was a great political experiment. Parliament thought so, and therefore they determined that the Act should only last eight years, that it should therefore be tried at two General Elections before its principles were fully decided upon, and that they should learn by experience what further alterations might be required in its provisions. Now, the present Bill was not that sort of cautious mode of proceeding. Englishmen carefully made political changes. They did it with precaution, they did it always tentatively, they took care when any change was made that there should be no great jar which could possibly be avoided. That course they pursued in this case, and they determined that they would see how the Ballot Act worked before they altered it. But the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea broke in and said—"I am not for that, I want immediate change. Something has gone wrong; I don't like it, and therefore I will come to Parliament to endeavour to induce them to depart from their cautious and regular mode of proceeding, and not to regard experience as worth anything, but to take my statement that reform is needed." Well, if Parliament were to take the hon. Baronet's personal experience, he begged to offer them his own. He represented one of the largest constituencies in the North of England. The number on its electoral roll was 35,000, of whom 25,000 voted; and he never heard in the whole election contest any complaint made by the working men. In fact, they rather liked the half-day that was devoted to what they termed "political excitement and exercise," and they voted then and there. Everybody was enabled to vote; and when it was said that at Chelsea only 14,000 out of 25,000 electors voted, he had yet to learn that the objection came from working men who would have voted if the poll had been open longer. He rather fancied that the persons who did not vote were the rich and the idle. He had always found the working men much more eager on those occasions, and much more determined to exercise their franchise, which they doomed of great importance, than the rich. Some people said—"I care but little how the thing goes; at any rate, my vote cannot be of much consequence." That, however, was not the feeling of the working man. He had the privilege of the franchise, and he liked to exercise it according to law. Well, he repeated that he had never heard any real complaint, and he said more, that the House now had no complaint before it; because the mere statement of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea—what was it? Why, that he did not like the Act. He had not brought forward the case of any poor artizan who from pressure or want of opportunity had been unable to vote. Therefore, that House of Commons, following the example of other Houses of Commons, would, he hoped, go cautiously to work. They had made a great experiment, and surrounded it with the safeguards they thought requisite. Time would show whether they were sufficient or whether something else would have to be done; and he hoped that the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who had charge of the Ballot Bill, would give them his opinion and sanction the principle he (Mr. Hoc-buck) was now laying down—namely, that the experiment which had been made should be fairly and completely tested, before they made any change in the law.
said, his experience was entirely at variance with that of his hon. and learned Colleague. That might, perhaps, be accounted for by the fact that his hon. and learned Colleague had the advantage of having his supporters conveyed to the poll in cabs and carriages, whereas his opponents had not. Now, any candidate who employed cabs in the fare of the provisions of the Act of Parliament, he distinctly stated ought to be ashamed of himself. The law ought to be repealed or enforced. When the Ballot Bill was before the House he had repeated applications from working men to support longer hours for the polling. Although it was true that over 25,000 men voted at Sheffield, yet a very large proportion of his constituents were left unpolled, and many of the men who polled went to him and complained that they had done it at the sacrifice of half-a-day's work, while others complained that leaving their employment for half-a-day was most inconvenient. The steam-engines were in motion, and a loss was entailed on the employers. It was said that tradesmen and merchants made some sacrifice in order to vote; but their case was not at all parallel with that of the working-man. As to those boroughs where it was alleged there was no gas, he asked where they were to be found in these days? the extension of the hour to 8 P.M., would not, he believed, cause any greater excitement at elections; and he also believed that working men generally were in favour of the change in the law.
said, that in the last Parliament he advocated an extension of the hour, but his experience during the late Election had convinced him that there was no real necessity for it. He was opposed by a working man's candidate, and not a word of complaint from him against the present law did he hear. The polling was a very dull affair—though plenty of time was given to all to record their votes; and it should be known that in the towns in Lancashire the electors were a very enthusiastic body of people, and anxious to record their votes. He held it to be the duty of the workman, when he had the franchise conferred upon him, to make some sacrifice, in order to discharge the responsibility that attached to him, as a citizen, in recording his vote. [Mr. MUNDELLA: Oh, oh!] The hon. Member for Sheffield might say "Oh," but that was no argument. The men working in the large factories in the north were not locked out, if they absented themselves for a short time.
believed that the present limitation of the hours of polling was inconvenient to many of the best class of artizans in Newcastle, where probably two or three thousand more votes in a constituency of about 21,000 I electors would have been recorded if the polling places had been open longer. In his district many of the best of the working men were employed on various jobs distant from the borough, and it was impossible for them to attend between the hours of 8 and 4 to vote, unless they made a considerable sacrifice, and perhaps gave offence to their employers. He contended that an increase in the number of polling-places would be of little use. He must express his surprise that the discussion should have assumed so much of a party character. Seeing that the Conservative working man had given such decisive proof of his existence, he should have thought that those who had boon placed in power by his aid would have been desirous of giving him greater facilities for recording his vote.
said, that as one of the Representatives of a constituency of 52,000, he might be allowed to say a few words on the subject before the House. When he presented himself as a candidate for the suffrages of the electors of Glasgow, there was no topic in regard to which he found anything like so wide-spread interest as was manifested on that they were discussing, and this was conclusive proof to him that, in large constituencies at least, there was a very general desire for the extension of the hours of voting. It seemed to him that the objections which had been raised to the proposal of his hon. Friend, the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), might be divided into three headings, like everything else. In the first place, there was the abstract objection to tinkering up recent legislation. It must be remembered, however, that the legislation on this point had taken place without the benefit of the experience which the country had since had. Nor did it appear to him that the substitution of 8 for 4 would lead to such a terrible complication of the laws of the country as seemed to be imagined. The next objection raised was on the ground of expense, but he confessed it appeared to him that, so far from necessarily increasing the expenses, the alteration would in many cases tend to decrease them. As a proof of this, he stated that in Glasgow at the last General Election, the Returning Officer, actuated by the laudable desire to make known the results as promptly as possible, consulted the various candidates beforehand, in order to obtain their permission to incur the increased expense of providing clerks to count the votes during the night immediately following the Election. As to the danger of rioting, he might remark that in his portion of the country the electors were prudent as well as enthusiastic, and while he did not believe many of them sacrificed their half-day's pay, he knew that many of them did more, for they sacrificed their breakfasts or their dinners. There was a proverb that "a hungry man was an angry man," and if there was a danger of rioting it was more likely to be experienced when a number of hungry men found that their candidate was defeated, because a number of persons of their way of thinking could not get an opportunity of voting for him. If, on the other hand, all were allowed to earn their full day's pay, to eat their meals as usual, and to vote for the man of their choice, there was much less fear of their being disorderly. It was said that employers were always ready to give their men holidays to allow them to vote; but, for his part, he thought that the Bill now before them would not be without good results, if it had the effect of doing away with the holiday nuisance; for if there was one thing more than another which conduced to rioting, it was the granting of these holidays on polling days.
said, that if the proposed change were introduced it would be effected against the entire current of recent legislation, which had been in the direction of abridging the hours for taking the poll. As to the question of light, he hoped that if the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea were agreed to he would propose that elections should be held at the time of full moon.
wished first to refer to the rather extraordinary argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman below him the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), who said that because the Ballot was a tentative measure, they ought not to make it more tentative. Supposing for a moment there was anything in this, it appeared to him that they might go on making it more and more tentative in order to see if they could not make it more effective; but he regarded the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman as of no force, for this reason, that this was not a question of the Ballot. It was simply a question of affording facilities for voting; and whether the Ballot was in operation or not, it was perfectly open to the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) to propose to provide extra facilities for voting. He was rather sorry to see the danger that this was about to be made a party question, and felt greatly astonished that, considering all the talk they had heard about the Conservative working man, in whose manufacture the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had proved himself such an adept, the party in power should be found opposing a Bill the object of which was to afford facilities for working men to vote. He hoped to be able to offer one or two reasons which would convince even hon. Members opposite that they ought to support the second reading. One thing on which he laid great stress had not yet been referred to, and it was this—that it was advisable to afford every facility in their power to enable, if, indeed, not to induce, all electors to record their votes. At the last Election it was certain that in large and important constituencies which had hitherto exhibited strong political passions and prejudices, there was very extensive abstention from voting. He did not wish to inquire into the causes which had led to that abstention; but he did wish to state the fact, and he might be excused from reminding the House that he gave his testimony as the Representative of a large and intelligent constituency in Scotland. There was no doubt that there was, on the part of a great many employés, great difficulty experienced in getting an opportunity to record their votes, and the matter was one which affected not merely the working classes, but also clerks and other mercantile employés. It ought not, therefore, to be regarded as a class question. Even taking it as a class question, however, it would be becoming on the part of hon. Members on the other side, who had come in with a large majority and found themselves in power, not to offer any opposition, but to consent to take a large and generous view of the question. It had been clearly shown that there were large constituencies in which considerable numbers of working men felt it to be a grievance that they had to make the sacrifices they were now required to make before they could vote. It seemed to him, therefore, that it would be wise for the Conservative party rather to fall in with the supporters of the Bill than to oppose them. They had at present a large majority; but he had seen in Canada two or three feet of snow on the ground, heard the tinkling of the sleigh bells, and seen the atmosphere clear and bright; and, twenty-four hours after, the snow had disappeared, the roads had been covered with mud, and the chariot wheels rolled heavily. The day might come when the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would have to appeal once more to the constituencies, and having in such a case as this failed to meet the just demands of the working classes, he might not find so many of them willing to support him again. Apartfrom that, however, this was a mere matter of convenience in voting, and he was very much astonished to find the opposition that had been raised to the Bill of his hon. Friend. He had been trying to conceive while the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) was speaking, whom he represented, and in whose interest he spoke. Was it the attorneys? Well, they knew that if attorneys were kept till 8 o'clock they would take good care to get compensation. Did he speak in the interest of legal agents and clerks? Then he apprehended there were cases in which Mr. Speaker himself sat a much longer time in that Chair than they proposed to make these agents and clerks work at the polls; and however exorbitant their demands for compensation, there was little doubt but they could find means of satisfying them. He did not think those arguments as to matters of mere practical detail ought to be considered of any importance. What they had to do was simply to consider whether there was anything to be said against the principle and propriety of the measure which was now proposed to be read a second time. One of the strongest points put against the Bill was this—that it was likely to aggravate the excitement of the Elections. With regard to that, they had already a practical experience in the case of the School Board elections. These had been exciting elections, and religious passions and prejudices had been raised by them, and the fact that they had been able to carry on these elections without any aggravated excitement was sufficient to cause the arguments on that head to fall to the ground. There was only one other thing he wished to suggest, and it was this—that the extension of the hours of voting would tend to enable working men, and employés generally, to he more independent of their employers than they were at, present. In the course of the recent Elections an instance of the power employers exercised in the way of preventing their people from voting had come; under his notice. There was every reason why they should remove such disabilities from the working man, and therefore he urged hon. Members to treat the matter in a spirit of generous concession, acting according to the spirit of the prayers which were daily said at the Table of that House, and which implored that they might be able to legislate without private interest, prejudice, or partial affection.
said, he only rose to mention that, as it had been distinctly denied over and over again that the working classes had shown any desire to have the hours for voting extended, his experience had been in an opposite direction. Over and over again meetings had been held on the subject, and he believed that in the City he represented (Edinburgh) the working classes were all but unanimous—if, indeed, they were not quite unanimous—in regard to it. It had been said by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and by an hon. and learned Member below him (Mr. Roebuck), that the use of cabs made the grievance very small, but there were many constituencies which respected the law which that House had made, and which did not use cabs. The constituency which he had the honour to represent had candidates of four different shades of opinion, and all these respected the law, not a cab being vised during the election. They found, moreover, that out of a constituency of under 25,000, 19,000 voters went to the poll themselves. It might be said this showed there were no great difficulties with the present hours, but great hardships were suffered by those who did go to the poll. They lost their wages, they inconvenienced their employers, and thus there were hardships suffered by those who voted as well as by those who did not vote. His hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) said they ought to multiply the polling-places. He (Mr. M'Laren), however, was satisfied from what he had seen at the last Election that there were far too many polling-places, and that double the number of electors could have voted at any one of them. The remedy, he was convinced, did not lie in that direction. the grievance rested here—that the working classes required to be registered in the districts where they resided, whereas their workshops were frequently miles off from the polling-stations, and it was quite impossible for them to come and record their votes with out losing half-a-day's work. That was a decided grievance, and therefore he heartily approved of the Bill.
, as an Irish county Member, although he did not think the change was required in the case of such a constituency as he represented, should vote for the second reading of the Bill on the understanding that certain modifications were made in it in Committee, in the manner suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James.)
should oppose the second reading, not because he had any fear of the working classes, but because he found that the Bill was introduced by hon. Members who represented an extreme section in that House. He believed that in the late Parliament it was almost a matter of ridicule if they ventured to mention the Conservative working man, but the late Elections proved that Conservative working men could find time to give the votes bestowed upon them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were no doubt dissatisfied with the result of the late Election, and therefore it was only natural they should support some such measure as this on the ground that their friends had not had time to vote.
supported the Bill. A great number of his constituents were employed in mines, and therefore had no opportunity of recording their votes without incurring considerable loss of time. At the recent Election, however, almost all of them recorded their votes, although such a proceeding involved the loss of a day's work. He might mention that to enable those working men to go to the poll the mines stopped working; and what was the result? It was well-known that there had been frightful riots during those Elections, arising from a large body of idlers being collected together. It was not the men who went to record their votes, but the idle population, who created those riots, and in the interest of the working classes it was necessary to pass this Bill.
said, it was admitted by the supporters of the Bill that the small borough constituencies ought to be excluded from its operation. Even supposing the alleged grievance had been proved to exist, still they were bound, in his opinion, to consider whether there were not other classes of electors besides the working man who equally suffered and whose claims ought to be recognized. For instance, the non-resident electors were put to great expense and trouble in recording their votes. They ought to consider all the grievances together, and not go into this piecemeal legislation.
said, that at the last School Board election in Southwark the greatest order prevailed, and there was no difficulty in the working classes recording their votes; but at the Parliamentary Election a large number of working men were prevented from polling, by the fact that the distance to the polling-booths was so great that they could not come up during the dinner hour. He suggested that the operation of the Bill should be restricted to the Metropolis.
was of opinion that while in a great number of boroughs the Bill would be found unnecessary, it was most desirable that the proposed change should be made in the interest of large and populous constituencies. Any clauses of the Bill which were not in accordance with the views of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) could be dropped out of the Bill. He was of opinion that more polling-places were required quite as much as extended hours. In the borough of Southwark, (bough there were upwards of 20,000 electors, there were only eight polling-places, and in many cases the voter resided at a great distance. Without some alteration, it would be impossible for all the electors to record their votes. He should vote for the second reading of the Bill, though he thought it capable of Amendment in Committee.
, to show that a grievance was felt by the working classes themselves, pointed out that a large public meeting had been held in Lambeth on the subject, and that he had presented a Petition that very day from the electors of that borough in favour of the extension of the hours of polling. He thought this proposition for an extension of the hours would meet the approval of all the working people throughout the country. Out of nearly 42,000 voters in Lambeth at least 20,000 did not vote at the recent Election.
I rise, Sir, to say that on behalf of the Government I shall oppose the second reading of this Bill; and I shall do so, in the first place, because I find that the Bill, as presented to us, means one thing, while the object of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) is totally different. I do not think it is fair to ask the House on a matter of this kind to vote for a Bill of simply one clause—from which, therefore, we cannot drop any clauses as suggested by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke)—and that clause affecting not only all boroughs large and small, but also the counties in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Yet with the general Bill before you, to which you are asked to give a second reading, the hon. Baronet states all that he wants is to affect two or three of the larger boroughs in England, and more especially the metropolis. I think that is not a fair way of treating the House. I wish to call the attention of the House to the fact that this matter has been discussed by it already at great length in two successive Sessions of the late Parliament, and that on the first occasion this proposal was rejected by a majority of 239 to 60, while in the second year, 1872, when the Ballot Bill passed into law, a proposal of this kind was rejected by 242 against 66. Having read those debates, I have listened attentively for any fresh arguments, but I have failed to hear any argument which was not pressed upon the attention of the House in the last Parliament. I expected that the hon. Baronet would have laid before us statements from several towns, and, instead of confining himself to general terms, would have given us details of cases in which this law has worked hardship. I should have thought, if there had been such cases, that we should at all events have had Petitions from some boroughs; but we have heard of none, except one just mentioned by the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. M'Arthur). And I certainly should have thought, occupying' the position I have the honour to hold, that, did the hardship really exist, some representation would have been made to me from some borough or some metropolitan constituency, or by some of the hon. Members for those constituencies—and I do not find that as a rule hon. Members are unwilling under such circumstances to come before the Home Secretary—before this Bill came before the House. As it is, I have received none, and therefore I say no grievance has been shown to have occurred during the last Election on which this House ought to act. A great deal has been said about Conservative working men. I have the honour to represent a largo and populous division of a county in which there are a great many Conservative working men, and all I can say is that, living and mixing among them to a great extent, I have never hoard a wish expressed to extend the hours of polling. I will not go into objections which wore raised before, because they have been discussed over and over again. I think there is a great deal in the question as to relays of polling-clerks, and a great deal is to be said in favour of voting early. That is a thing to be encouraged; but I believe that if you passed this Bill you would find that working men, instead of making an effort to vote early during their breakfast or dinner hour, would not vote until late, when they had done their work. I have heard of an instance at one of the elections of the school board at Croydon, since the General Election, in which, although the poll was open until 8 o'clock, when it closed there were hundreds of voters waiting outside to poll. One of the principal candidates attributed his rejection to the fact of his supporters having put off polling until it was too late. I should like to ask the House whether there is any proof that closing the poll at 4 o'clock realty has prevented people from voting? I have before me the numbers of electors and of those who voted at the last Election in some of the largest boroughs in England, and I do not see any indication that voters in great numbers were prevented from polling. In Oldham there are 18,000 voters, and almost 17,000 voted; in Warrington, with 4,800 voters, 4,500 voted; and in Wakefield, of 3,800 voters on the register, 3,400 voted. And so the list goes on; and I think it will be found that as a general rule a very much larger proportion of the persons on the register voted at the last Election than at former elections. I do not think we ought to encourage patchwork legislation. The hon. Baronet has already begun two pieces of patchwork. He has the Bill before us, and he holds in reserve a proposal for a Committee to discuss the whole of the Ballot Act, which is to come on next Friday. It may be that when the Election Judges have tried the Election Petitions, some points may be found in the working of the Ballot Act which require improvement, and when we have all the facts before us we can form an opinion as to whether the Ballot Act has any defect which would induce us to vote for this Bill. But until the Judges have tried the Petitions, and we have had more experience of the working of the Act, I submit that it would be most unwise on the part of this House to meddle with the Act as it stands, and I shall therefore give my vote against the second reading of the Bill.
said, that having had charge of the Ballot. Bill while it passed through the House, he wished to make one or two remarks. He desired before they went to a division to correct a prevalent misapprehension from which it would appear his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary himself was not altogether free. It seemed to be thought that the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) was framed with a view-to amend the Ballot Act, but, as a matter of fact, there was no such proposal before the House, for there was nothing whatever in that Act with regard to the hours of polling. It was quite true that at the time when the Ballot Bill was under the consideration of the House some hon. Members advocated the change now proposed, and there was a discussion on the subject for several hours, but the result was that nothing was decided about the hours of polling, and that the law was left in that respect just as it had previously stood. It appeared to him that they ought to deal with this question purely on its merits, and ought not to mix it up with any considerations as to whether this was a fitting time to open up the subject of the working of the Ballot Act. He had always, for his own part, been confident that the Ballot would have the effect of facilitating the voting and of rendering it more orderly and quiet, and, with regard to the hours of polling, he had himself felt that the arguments of those who contended for their extension were so strong that it was impossible to shut them out of court, but in order to meet the objection to voting in the dark, especially before the effect of the Ballot Act was known, he had endeavoured to frame an Amendment which would have enabled the electors to give their votes at any time between sunrise and sunset. In that endeavour, however, he did not succeed. He thought they must all agree that the experience of the last General Election had proved the working of the Ballot Act to be beneficial in obviating disorder, and he could not help rejoicing that one of the strongest objections brought against the Bill was now universally admitted to be removed, for, instead of people having shown an unwillingness under the present system to put themselves to the trouble of voting, there had been more voters than on former occasions. But although it was a fact that more persons had gone to the poll, finding they could vote in peace and order, this circumstance did not remove what seemed to him a real grievance, of which the Metropolis and some of the large towns had reason to complain. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had expected that more proof of the grievance would be brought forward. For his part, he did not know what more evidence they could ask for, than that one hon. Member for a largo borough after another should get up and state that their constituents had felt the hardship. He did not, however, know that it was so much experienced in the borough which he represented as in some others. He did not, for instance, imagine for a moment that any employers of labour in Bradford would throw obstacles in the way of their men going to the poll; but it was easier there to got a half holiday than it was, for example, in seaport towns. It was impossible to deny that in London there was a reality in this grievance, and for this reason—that the immense population of London was composed in a large measure of working men who lived at a considerable distance from their places of employment, and, there being less likelihood of public attention being attracted, it was more possible here than in most of our large towns for employers of labour to throw obstacles in the way of their employés voting. It must, however, be admitted that the grievance was not universal, but existed more in large boroughs than in small, and more in towns than in the counties. But in those boroughs where it did exist there was a reality in it which the right hon. Member for Shore-ham (Mr. Stephen Cave) had failed to appreciate, and he could not help regretting that Government had attached so little weight to the general expression of feeling which they had heard from the Representatives of largo towns. If an inquiry were made, he believed a case would be made out so strong that hon. Members on both sides of the House would be anxious to meet it. The hon. Baronet, it was true, had not moved for an inquiry, but had brought forward a Bill; but the matter might still be thoroughly considered if the measure were referred to a Select Committee, and if his hon. Friend agreed to that course, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) was prepared to vote for the second reading. There were three modes in which the object in view might be attained—first, by making the measure applicable to towns of a certain population; secondly, by naming in a Schedule the towns to which it should apply; and, thirdly, by leaving it to the towns themselves, or, in other words, to their municipal councils, to decide whether the hours should be extended. All these points might be fully considered by a Select Committee, and the Committee might be empowered to receive evidence. The result of this course would be, he believed, a general concurrence of opinion before the third reading in favour of meeting the grievance of which many hon. Members had complained.
said, he was of opinion that to refer this Bill to a Committee would be a mere waste of time. He thought further that it would be inconvenient to adopt that course, as to decide to what places it should, and to what places it should not, be applied, would be inconsistent with the Bill in its present form. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department that they had not sufficient information on the subject, and that it would be wiser to wait until they acquired more experience on the subject.
said, he had found at the late Election that the working classes, as a rule, had every facility afforded them for voting at any hour they liked, and that they almost invariably took advantage of this privilege at the earliest possible time. He contended that a fuller trial ought to be given to the existing law before it was altered, and he considered that one result of an extension of the hours of polling would be a doubling of the staff of officials.
said, he would willingly accede to the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), that in the event of the Bill being read a second time it should be referred to a Select Committee.
Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
The House divided:—Ayes 126; Noes 201: Majority 75.
Alain Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Bill put off for six months.