Order for Second Reading read.
The Bill which I have the honour to ask the House to read a second time contains one very short and simple clause for the purpose of applying a remedy to what many of us believe to be a gross anomaly, in equality, and injustice which has survived the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884, which was not fully appreciated when those measures were passed, and which has been considerably and inadvertently increased by the later of those Acts. It is a matter which offends against the great principle of equality of political rights under the Constitution, and which lends itself to operations for creating votes for the express purpose of overruling the votes and opinions of the resident electors in many constituencies. I do not think it can be contended that we are precluded by precedents from dealing with such a question without re-opening all the other debateable points in the franchise and distribution of seats. The House will recollect that in 1868 it remedied a grave defect in the Reform Act of the previous year by virtually getting rid of the spurious principle of the personal payment of rates as a condition of the franchise. In the same manner, I propose to ask the House to deal with the special grievance of the plural vote. I believe I am justified in saying that the Constitution has from the earliest times recognised the principle of the absolute equality of electors, in the case, at all events, of individual constituencies. But it has never conceded to electors of wealth or status a superiority of voting power over their fellow-electors. A proposal was made to give a dual vote to certain classes in 1859, but it was scouted by the Liberal Party of that day, and has never again appeared in any Liberal Reform Bill. The same principle was again proposed in Lord Derby's Reform Bill of 1867. It did not, however, meet with approval in any quarter of the House. It was condemned by the best authorities of all Parties—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) in the strongest terms; by Mr. Lowe, the then leader of a section of Liberals who had defeated the Reform Bill of the previous year; by Mr. Henley, and by the present Prime Minister, then Lord Cranborne, who described it as unpalatable and impossible. It may be worth while to quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, as they seem to be almost equally applicable to the plural vote. He said,
Mr. Lowe followed with these words—"To the dual vote I record an implacable hostility. This dual vote is, in the first place, a gigantic engine of 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, under the notion of fortifying his position, this weapon to use against his poorer countrymen, on that day you sow oppression."
Now, it appears to me that these arguments apply—possibly not to the full extent, but to a very large extent—to the system of plural voting. It was expected that the proposal would apply to about 200,000 persons, but it was withdrawn by Mr. Disraeli, and not a tear seemed to have been shed over it. In County Council elections and elections for Municipal Corporations not only is the dual vote unknown, but if an elector has two or more qualifications in separate wards or districts he may vote only once, and, having given a vote in one ward or district, he would subject himself to a very severe penalty should he vote again in another ward. A different rule prevails in Parliamentary Elections, and although an elector is prohibited from voting in respect of more than one qualification within a borough—even where that borough is divided into several electoral districts—yet if he has separate qualifications for other boroughs or other county districts he may vote at a General Election as many times as he has separate qualifications. Before the counties were divided, in olden times, when travelling was expensive, and when tradesmen and shopkeepers in boroughs resided in their places of business, the possibility of giving plural votes in respect of different constituencies produced very little effect. But as it became easy and cheap to travel the non-resident freehold voters assumed a much greater importance, and it became worth while to acquire freehold qualifications in counties for the express purpose of giving votes. In London also, and in most towns in the country, it became the fashion for men of business and tradespeople to reside in villas and houses other than their places of business, and where there happened to be in a different constituency such persons were able to vote in respect of both qualifications. Lastly, the system under which counties have been divided into one-membered districts, and London has been divided into twenty-seven different boroughs, has greatly increased the number of plural votes. In the first place, a man may have as many votes for different county districts as he has freehold qualifications in them. Secondly, he may have as many occupation votes as he has bonâ fide residences in different constituencies. I know many men among my own friends who have four or five votes for different constituencies. I know men of wealth—men with very large means—who have only one vote, and I know others of smaller means who have two, three, and four and five votes. I have myself five votes for five different constituencies—not that I have sought the votes by purchasing property for that purpose; but they have come to me accidentally on account of holding property in different places. Two are occupation votes, two freehold votes, and one is for a University. But I know many who have a great many more votes than five. I think it was Sir Robert Fowler, a late Member of this House, who used to boast that he had no fewer than thirteen votes in different constituencies, and that he was able at one General Election to record them all. Then there is the well-known case of the Oxford tutor—a man who had eighteen different qualifications, and, at the Election of 1874, voted in respect of these different qualifications eighteen times. But this case pales before one I heard of recently. A clergyman of the Church of England, who has a hobby for acquiring qualifications in different constituencies, has been able to obtain fifty votes in different places, and I was informed that at a certain General Election he contrived to vote in no fewer than forty different places. I could multiply cases—perhaps not so extreme as that—in which persons possess and record a number of votes, and I shall be able to show presently that there are in London special facilities for persons obtaining many votes in different boroughs. In the meantime, I will venture to point out another anomaly which arises out of this system of plural voting. It is one of the peculiar features of the great towns of the North, such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, that they have been cut up under the Redistribution Act of 1875 into several electoral districts, but they still remain part of the same boroughs, and any voter having different qualifications can only, by law, vote in respect of one. On the other hand, where counties are cut up into several Divisions, persons having different votes may vote in the different Divisions. The county of Lancaster, for instance, is divided into twenty-three electoral districts, and I am told that there is more than one case of a firm of brewers who, by virtue of their public-houses scattered all over the county, have a large number of qualifications in a large number of different constituencies. Another anomaly arising from this system is very well illustrated by the town of Bradford—a Division of which I have the honour to represent in this House. Under the Redistribution Act of 1885 Bradford is divided into three Divisions, and there are 1,200 persons there who have qualifications in respect of two of these Divisions—that is, they reside in one, and have their places of business in another; but in a General Election they can only vote in one of the three Divisions. If they had their residences just outside the borough, as well as a place of business in the borough, they would get two votes—one for Bradford, and one for the county. It is, however, in London and in the adjoining county districts that the greatest anomalies occur, and that the system of plural voting is exhibited in its worst form. I have already pointed out that plural voting is not permitted in the London County Council elections, but it is otherwise in the case of Parliamentary Elections. It did not appear to have been considered in 1885 that London was a single community. It was treated as a congeries of distinct boroughs, and not as a single borough, like Liverpool. Before 1885 there were eleven distinct London boroughs and a person having qualifications in two or more of them could vote in each borough at a General Election. The Act of 1885 increased the number of London boroughs to twenty-seven, and therefore the possibility of plural voting was very much increased at the same time. Some of these London boroughs are sub-divided into two or more electoral divisions. For instance, the Tower Hamlets is divided into seven divisions, Hackney into three, and St. Pancras into four; but if an elector has a voting qualification in each of these separate electoral divisions he can only vote once in any one of the boroughs, though, as I have already pointed out, if he has a qualification in another borough, he may vote also in respect of that. If his qualification arises in connection with any of the twenty-seven boroughs into which London is divided, he can vote in as many of them as he has qualifications. The effect of this sub-division has been very much to increase the possibilities of plural voting, and has very largely increased the number of votes which can be given at a General Election in the different boroughs of London. I might illustrate that by the case of a lawyer who has an office in Gray's Inn, and has a residence in Barnsbury. Before 1885, as both places were within the same borough, he could vote only once—for Finsbury. But under the Redistribution Act, one is in Holborn and the other in Islington, and such a person can vote twice. The same thing occurs in many parts of London. Nearly all professional men, most tradesmen, and a great many shopkeepers have residences in London, or in the neighbourhood of London, where they live apart from their places of business, and the number of double qualifications arising from this cause is extremely great. The fashion also has grown up for people in business to have places of business in different parts of the Metropolis, and there are many firms who have places of business in four, five, six, and even fifteen and twenty different parts of London; and I have actually ascertained that there are four or five firms in London who have places of business spread about in the different boroughs in London in greater numbers than there are boroughs, and it may be presumed, from the way in which these are scattered about, that they have qualifications in each one of the twenty-seven boroughs into which London is divided. These persons are not only on one side of politics, for a Liberal agent told me the other day that he had been successful in putting four brothers, who were members of a firm engaged in the coal trade, on the register in twenty different constituencies. Those four brothers will, therefore, have eighty votes amongst them in London at the General Election which is about to take place. I have no doubt these are representative cases, and that there are many double qualifications, and qualifications giving four, five, and even eight and ten votes to one person. The case of London is aggravated by the votes of the members of the Livery Companies in the City. There are about seven thousand liverymen who have votes for the City of London by ancient custom. Of these, five thousand have no qualification in the City of London other than that which they derive from the companies, and they are nearly all of them persons who have qualifications in other parts of London, and therefore exercise a plural vote. Then, again, the case of the counties round London is of an exceptional character. Before 1885 Middlesex was one county, and all the freeholders of London voted in the County of Middlesex. By the Act of 1885 the county was split up into seven different divisions, and the freeholders were attached to four—namely, Tottenham, Hornsey, Ealing, and Harrow, and in these divisions the freeholders of London vote not because they have any property in those divisions, but by virtue of the freehold qualifications they have in other parts of London. Take the case of Tottenham as an illustration. There are 2,800 non-resident voters, and of these 500 only obtain their qualification within the division; the other 2,300 derive their qualification from freeholds in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and other parts of East London. They are separated from the division of Tottenham by many miles. They do not even go to Tottenham for the purpose of recording their votes; they have voting places erected specially for them in the East of London, and they vote for Tottenham, though they have no real connection of any kind with the people of Tottenham. The consequence is that they exercise a great, and indeed overwhelming, influence in the elections which take place; and Tottenham, which is really a typical working man's constituency, is converted into a preserve of another kind by the 2,300 freehold voters in the East of London. These people are entirely separated from Tottenham; and the result is, that the whole thing falls into the hands of the election agents, whose policy and duty it is to look about in the East of London for Parliamentary voters whom they can put on the register for Tottenham. The opinions of the people of Tottenham are overruled by these freeholders, who are put on the register by the election agents to achieve that purpose. The same thing takes place in the other divisions of Middlesex—Harrow, Ealing, and Hornsey; and I have great complaints from all these three places as to the effect of the present system of plural voting arising from these non-resident freeholders in other parts of London, who have no connection with the divisions, and do not even go there for the purpose of voting. The freeholders of the City of London vote for the division of Hornsey, with which division they have no connection, either by property or residence, and on the election day polling places are erected for them in the City. I have also had very great complaints from the Harrow Division as to the Multiplication of freehold votes by rent-charges on freehold property in London. In one single property in a part of London, which for this purpose is attached to the division of Harrow, there are no fewer than twenty rent-charges imposed for the purpose of creating twenty different qualifications for electors in the Harrow Division, and all these twenty persons have other qualifications for other constituencies. On another property, also within the part of London in which the freeholders vote for Harrow, there are no fewer than fourteen rent-charges, by which fourteen persons are entitled to vote for a division. The same thing takes place in Wimbledon, that portion of the County of Surrey which is nearest to London. The freeholders of London, south of the Thames, about three thousand in number, are attached to that division, and they exercise an overwhelming influence on the elections for Wimbledon, though they have no more connection with the division than the freeholders of East London have with Tottenham, and do not even go to the division for the purpose of recording their votes. They have polling places specially erected for them, and are merely gathered together by the election agents for the purpose of overruling and overriding the popular feeling. I venture to say that these anomalies are of a very extraordinary character, and ought to be removed. I could give illustrations of the same kind of thing in the North of England, and it may be laid down that all the great towns in the North of England are surrounded by county divisions in which the free holders of the towns, besides having votes for the towns in respect of residential qualifications, have votes because of the freeholds in the towns, and are thus able to swamp and overrule the opinions of the actual resident voters. Then there is another class of plural voter—the purely residential occupation voter—to whose case I have already slightly alluded. There are numbers of people who have residences in London and in the country—sometimes more than one residence in the country; and in such cases the plural vote extends not only to them, but also to their servants. I have been told of the case of a gentleman who has three occupation qualifications—one in London, one in the country, and one up in the moorlands of Lancashire—and his coachman, by virtue of the service franchise, has three votes also. How many of these plural voters exist throughout the country it is impossible to ascertain with any accuracy. A Return before the House shows that there are 180,000 nonresident freeholders; but I believe it is admitted that the Return is very de- fective, and I do not think it can be relied upon. Probably four-fifths of these non-resident voters have other qualifications in respect of which they vote elsewhere, and therefore they are probably all of them plural voters. There are no means either of ascertaining the number of double qualifications arising from the residential and service franchises, but the number of double qualifications and plural votes of all kinds must be very great. It seems to me that the system which I have described is open to all the objections which were urged in 1867 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), Mr. Lowe, and others, against the system of dual votes. It may be described, in their words, as a system of fraud on the constituencies, which strikes at the very root of the principle of equality and of the Constitution. I have shown how full of anomalies it is, how uncertain it is in its operation, and how unequal it is in different parts of the country, and I have also shown how it lends itself to the machinations of the election agent, with a view to the accumulation of votes in a particular district, to overrule the will and opinion of the resident voters. The system I have described is a symbol of class privilege. It is one for which a remedy ought to be applied. The Bill which I ask the House to read a second time to-day proposes to apply a remedy, and it proposes to apply to this system of plural voting exactly the same rule which now applies in the case of the seven divisions of Liverpool and the seven divisions of Glasgow, or in the case of the various divisions into which London is split up for the purpose of the County Council elections. It proposes to enact that a single person having one or more qualifications shall only vote in an election for one place; and that when he exercises his vote for one place, he will exhaust his qualification for every place, and that if, after having voted once, he gives a vote for any other place, he will be subject to penalties under the Corrupt Practices Act. This will not be so severe a penalty as exists in the cases of Borough Council elections, or County Council elections in London. I thought those penalties were rather high, so I have taken the penalty as provided in the Corrupt Practices Act. It seems to me that there will be no difficulty in maintaining these prohibitions. The prohibition already applies in the case of great towns like Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, and there is no difficulty in enforcing it; and as plural votes are for the most part in the hands of persons of the wealthy classes, it is not to be expected that they would exercise their votes more than once lest they should incur the penalties of the Bill. The Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) proposes to meet my Bill by an Amendment, which, so far as I understand it, does not traverse the principle of the Bill itself. I understand that the Iron. Member by his Amendment practically admits the anomaly and injustice of the present state of the law. He does not deny that the system is unjust in its working; what he practically says by his Amendment is that he and the House are not prepared to make a change in the direction indicated by the Bill, unless it is at the same time proposed to correct other anomalies which exist in the redistribution of seats. It appears to me that the issue which he raises is irrelevant to that which I have submitted to the House, and I gather that his principal motive is to raise the question of the representation of Ireland and Wales. May I point out to hon. Members opposite that this question was raised and discussed at some length on the Redistribution Bill of 1885, and a Motion was moved on the Second Reading by Sir John Hay to the effect that no redistribution would be satisfactory which did not reduce the representation of Ireland in accordance with its population? That Motion was supported by only twenty-five Members, and was rejected by a large majority. It is quite true that then, as now, Ireland was over-represented in proportion to its actual population as compared with the United Kingdom, and that Wales was and is now in the same position: But there were three main arguments which induced the House not to enter upon this thorny and difficult question. The first was, that Ireland was no more over-represented in this House than the purely agricultural counties of England, including the boroughs within this area, and that it would be unjust to take Members from Ireland and give them to the populous parts of England until the same measure had been applied to the English rural districts. It was felt by many that in so far as the existing system somewhat favoured thinly-populated rural districts where the population is spread over a large area, involving great labour in canvassing, there was something to be said for it. Secondly, it was urged that it would be somewhat shabby treatment to Ireland to take Members from her at a time when from causes of a perhaps temporary character her representation had become above what she was strictly entitled to on the basis of population, when for seventy years at least since the Act of Union she was greatly under-represented during the greater part of the time, by of at least half the number her population entitled her to. Thirdly, it was urged that if the Catholics in Ireland are somewhat over-represented there is a very large population of Irish Catholics in English and Scotch constituencies — I should say about one million and a half—who are completely lost in the surrounding constituencies, and who have no direct representation in this House, in the exception, perhaps, of one hon. Member who may fairly be said to represent a portion of them. The arguments had weight with the House on the occasion I refer to, and I believe that in the main these arguments would still prevail if the subject were discussed at any length—at least, in the present relation of Ireland to the Imperial Parliament. I may mention that if we take the eighteen most purely agricultural counties of England, including Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Oxford, Huntingdon, Rutland, Berkshire, Somerset, Wilts, Devon, and others, you will find that they have a population of four millions six hundred thousand, exactly the population of Ireland; and these eighteen counties are represented by one hundred and one Members, which is exactly the number of Irish Members. To complete the analogy, I find that the minority in these coun- ties is represented in this House in about the same proportion as the minority in Ireland. That shows, I think, that until the whole question of redistribution of seats is entertained, it would not be fair to entertain the question of the reduction of the representation of Ireland. I do not believe there is any general concurrence in favour of reducing the representation of the counties mentioned, and giving their Members to the populous parts of England. Personally, I should not be averse to a redistribution of seats on a purely population basis; but I do not believe public opinion is ripe for such a scheme. It would interfere with too many interests. It would necessitate the extinction of boroughs, in the sense that their boundaries would no longer be the limits of the constituencies, and it would involve a transfer of Members from the rural districts to the populous districts. I do not see any such general concurrence of public opinion as would make such a change possible. Certainly, in the present condition of the relations of Ireland to the Imperial Parliament, and having regard to the arguments I have ventured to present in respect of the agricultural parts of England and of the boroughs, I do not think, if the matter were thoroughly discussed, the Amendment of the hon. Member would be adopted, or that the House would entertain any great scheme of redistribution. The question raised by the Bill, I venture to submit to the House, is one which is altogether apart from any question of redistribution of seats. It raises the questions of equality of electoral rights, and of the abolition of privilege as between the wealthy and the poor; it aims at equal treatment of persons of all classes. Having these great objects in view, it has commended itself to great bodies of people throughout the country, and I believe there is no question raised of recent years which has aroused greater interest in the country, or which is more certain at an early day to require to be dealt with by Parliament. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time."I cannot express the repugnance with which I view the dual vote. It seems to me to be more invidious than anything which can be devised. You are raising up a sham sort of oligarchy to control and overbalance the will of the people. I will not associate the giving of power with any shabby expedient to counteract it."
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—( Mr. Shaw Lefevre.)
The right hon. Gentleman said that this question was one in which the country is considerably interested; but if the interest of the country in any question is measured by the interest shown by the House, no one would believe it was a very interesting question who saw you, Sir, sitting there, till ten minutes to one, waiting for enough Members to make a House: There are two ways of meeting a Motion like that of the right hon. Gentleman. There is the way I propose, and there is that suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore), of rejecting the Bill altogether. Although I do not take that course I am far from denying that there is something to be said for it. We do not under the Constitution give the vote as a right to any man, or every man would have it, and we know that every man has not got the vote. The vote is attached to the holding of a house or land in any part of the country, and it is defensible for anyone on the opposite side to say they will not go behind the register of houses and lands. I do not take those grounds; my Amendment deals with the question as part of the democratic tendencies of the time. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said I did not attack the principle of his Bill. The question has been raised before, but not as one of those great political issues with which we have had to deal in the last sixty years. During that period, by a gradual process of electoral evolution, we have reached our present position, which is the enfranchisement of the capable male citizen. The Bill proposes to break through that. The right hon. Gentleman professes to have discovered for the first time that owing to the property qualification in different parts of the country the rich voter has some advantage over the poor one, and he proposes to disfranchise by his Bill a properly qualified elector who may have a twofold qualification. The right hon. Gentleman says that he has five votes; I have two: one in Dublin and one in Chelsea; and I must make up my mind under the Bill at which of these places I will give my vote. I have said this is not the first time this proposal has been made. The right hon. Gentleman talked about a discussion on dual voting in 1867, but I think he will admit that that discussion ranged more on the question of the creation of faggot votes than on that of dual voting, as dealt with in this Bill. The right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) then declared his impregnable hostility to dual voting; but in 1884 he positively refused to adopt a Motion precisely similar to this Bill, and therefore I take it that in 1867 he was declaring really his impregnable hostility to faggot voting. In 1884 the Representation of the People Bill was before the House, by which two million new electors were to be added to the electorate. Mr. MacLaren, sitting on the Government side below the Gangway, moved an Amendment in Committee on that Bill proposing to prevent the holder of dual votes voting at both places. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) said that a proposal was made to reduce the Irish representation, which was only supported by twenty-five votes. But how many votes did Mr. Maclean's proposal of "One Man One Vote" secure? It only secured forty-three, and the Front Bench with the right hon. Member for Midlothian declined to support him. It is singular that right hon. Gentlemen find things convenient when they are out of office which they do not find convenient when in office. That is the case here. What is the position I take up in my Amendment? I simply say that I should be content, and those who support me would be content, to go on with the franchise as it is. We consider that the electoral machine is in good order and capable of doing good work; but if there is any overwhelming anxiety to have the machinery renewed, or to have any new constitutional machinery introduced, then we contend that, instead of tinkering with the voting machinery, we should see that the constitutional machinery we are to get and which is to be put in its place is machinery that will stand the wear and tear before it, and that is powerful enough to stand the test to which it will be submitted in the future. That is exactly the position we take up. What would be done by this Bill? I do not speak of the Bill from a party standpoint, because the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that it cannot entirely be called a party question. These dual votes do not belong to one party—they belong to both. What does this question amount to, when we look at it as regards the votes that would be affected by this Bill, if it were passed, in England and Wales? They number 199,843. These are the men out of something like four millions that would be affected by a vote of this kind. In the counties there are 121,287 nonresident voters, and 10,770 nonresident occupation electors; in the boroughs there are 56,630 non-resident occupation voters, and 11,156 nonresident voters; making a total of 199,843 electors. It is not a very large measure at best, and cannot be entitled a party measure, although if right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench did not expect to derive some party advantage from it, they would not be moving it now when they rejected it in 1884. Still, I do not look at it as a strictly party measure, and I do not think it would very greatly matter on either side if it were to be passed. The right hon. Gentleman over and over again in his speech used the words "equality in voting." I agree, if his object be to secure equality in voting, that he ought to be supported. I am in favour of equal voting, and that is the object with which I put my Amendment on the Paper. "One Man One Vote," if you like; but "One Vote One Value," in addition to that. If the right hon. Gentleman is anxious about equality of voting, I cannot see how he can possibly oppose my Amendment. Take the present distribution of the population in the country. The population of England and Wales, according to the Census of 1891, was, roughly speaking, twenty-seven and a half millions, and England has 461 Members. The population of Wales was 1,500,000, and Wales has thirty-four Members. The population of Scotland was a little over 4,000,000, with 72 Members. The population of Ireland was 4,750,000, with 103 Members. If the Members were distributed according to population in the three countries, we should reach this result: In England there would be 484 Members instead of 461; in Wales there would be thirty-one instead of thirty-four; Scotland would have exactly the same number as it has now; and Ireland, instead of 103, would have eighty-three Members. There would be a reduction of twenty in Ireland, and three in Wales. Now, in order to secure equality in voting, there would not only require to be a redistribution as between the three Kingdoms, but there would have to be a very extensive redistribution in Ireland itself. Let us take some of the glaring anomalies; and I quite admit, as the right hon. Gentleman contends, that this dual vote is an anomaly; but the Constitution is full of anomalies. All I contend for is this: If we are going to take the Constitution to pieces in order to correct anomalies, let us correct some other anomalies which are equally patent and flagrant while we are at the work. Let us take some of the facts as regards Irish representation, not as affecting the relation between Ireland and England, but as affecting the relation between one part of Ireland and another. Let us take three boroughs represented by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. Take the borough of Galway. It has 1,655 electors; Kilkenny has 1,639 electors; and Newry has 1,875 electors. In all three boroughs there are 5,169 electors, and they send three Members to sit below the Gangway in this House; and the borough of Belfast with 35,000 electors only sends four Members to this House. Now, Mr. Speaker, on what principle has a wretched Galway freeman, worn out by corruption, as the whole class is worn out—?("Oh, oh!") The whole class of freemen in Galway, I say; who will stand up and defend them? On what principle is a Galway freeman to be counted as six times more influential than a Belfast artisan in this House. If that is not an anomaly greater than the dual vote, I do not know how to weigh the comparative merits of questions. Take the Counties of Kerry and Antrim. The County of Kerry has 20,792 electors, the County of Antrim has 36,712 electors. Antrim has 16,000 electors more than Kerry, and they have four Members apiece. Take the County of Longford, and contrast it with the County of Londonderry. Longford has two Members and 10,014 electors, and Londonderry has 20,845 electors, and only two Members. Take Donegal and contrast it with Down. Donegal has 28,149 electors, while Down has 38,982; and they have four Members each. The average Unionist vote in Ireland for a seat in this House is 9,100 in the counties; and the average Nationalist vote is 7,300 in the counties. In the boroughs the average Unionist vote is 8,800, and the average Nationalist vote is 5,200. The right hon. Gentleman thought it would be unfair to interfere with the Irish representation. Some hon. Members in this House have gone so far as to say that it would be unconstitutional; but that stand has not been taken to-day. It cannot be more I unfair to bring the Irish representation into harmony with the population of the country than if we were to attempt to change the relation between England and Ireland on a representation so flagrantly unjust as that. The anomaly is not confined to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that. There are three boroughs in England which have only 13,030 electors altogether, and yet have three Members, namely—Gravesend, which has only 4,695 electors, Hythe, which has 4,167, and Kidderminster which has 4,168 electors; whereas the great borough of Wandsworth, a suburb of London, with 16,283 electors, has only one Member. It may not be fair, in the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, to touch the representation of Ireland under the circumstances. I hold it would be unfair and positively unjust to proceed to the discussion of any question involving the relation of Ireland and England with a representation so flagrantly unjust to the Unionist Party as it is at present. My contention, as regards this whole subject, is an exceedingly simple contention. The right hon. Gentleman denies that it would be possible to reconstruct the seats without great labour and without much time. With that I am inclined to agree. I think it would take time and labour; and because I think that, I complain that it was not done when the seats were being redistributed and the votes were being dealt with. They might have been dealt with in 1884. The right hon. Gentlemen on that Bench neglected to do it; and the real reason why they did not touch the Irish representation was, not that they thought that Ireland had special claims, or that the population of Ireland might be increased in the future; but both sides of the House were afraid to touch it. They ought to have dealt with it; but neither side dared to grasp the nettle. I move this Resolution, not because I am against "One Man One Vote"—I am prepared to welcome it—but, whilst you are seeking for equality in voting, I say you cannot reach that end unless you supplement the proposal for "One Man One Vote" by a proposal for equal electoral districts, and for every vote to be of the same value. So far as I am concerned, what I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman is simply this: If he wishes that end, I am ready to support him, if he is really anxious that every vote should be of equal value and that we should not give a power to one man that another has not got I am ready to support him. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
In rising to second this Amendment I do not wish to take exactly the same line as that taken by my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone with regard to the Bill which has been brought before the House to-day. I think that a good deal may be said against the measure upon its own merits, and that the principle proposed to be introduced by it requires very careful examination before it should be adopted by us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) was very severe in his criticisms on a voter who might have votes in more than one place; but it seems to me that what is called the non-resident voter may easily have very great material interests in more than the district in which he actually resides. A merchant, for instance, of the City of London may be a useful and valuable member of the community not only in the city where he does his business, but also in the suburb in which he resides. The principle of the Bill is really one which does away with what has been always recognised as a qualification for the possession of the electoral privilege of this country, because it says that although a man may, perhaps, be the largest ratepayer in his own parish, yet he shall be deprived of a vote in that parish. Now, if you take away the electoral right based upon property on that account, are you also going to relieve him from the obligation of paying rates? Otherwise, you will have representation dissociated entirely from taxation. But, as the question of equality of voting has been raised by the Bill, I think it is perfectly to the purpose that my hon. Friend should ask that when this principle is taken into account, other anomalies than that of plural voting should also be discussed. There is no greater anomaly anywhere than the present representation of Ireland. The right hon. Member for Bradford said that this subject of "One Man One Vote" excited great interest in the country. I have spoken to many audiences on the question of the excessive representation of Ireland, and I have found that everywhere it is regarded as a very great grievance by the people of this country. In fact, the excessive representation of Ireland now is considered throughout Great Britain as a fraud upon the constituencies of this country. It seems to me that the Amendment affirms a simple proposition, which I am astonished that any man on the opposite side of the House should not gladly embrace. It lays down the plain statement that in a democratic system of government it is essential that all votes for the election of Members of Parliament shall be of equal value. The right hon. Member for Bradford criticised that proposal, and with a most wonderful amount of ingenious hair-splitting discovered all manner of objections to it. I have never heard even the pretence of an argument in favour of the maintenance of the present system of the representation of Ireland, except one, which, to my astonishment, has been made by some Members on this side of the House, and also by some hon. Members opposite. It is that it is an obligation of the Act of Union that we should maintain the existing number of Members for Ireland. That is an argument which cannot lie in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite, at all events, because they are extremely anxious to repeal the Act of Union altogether, and on various occasions during the present century they have already materially altered that Act. The maintenance and preservation of the Established Church of Ireland was an essential part of the Act of Union, and yet what weight had the moral obligation imposed by that guarantee upon the present Leader of the Opposition when he took it into his head that it was desirable to disestablish the Irish Church? The present representation of Ireland depends upon other considerations altogether. It cannot be described as an essential part of the Act of Union. It was based on considerations of the proportion between the wealth and resources of Ireland with those of Great Britain at the time of the Union; and I have a speech of Lord Castlereagh, made in the Irish Parliament before the Union, which describes very clearly the way in which the conclusion to give Ireland one hundred Members was arrived at by the Government of that time. Lord Castlereagh said—
These are evidently shifting conditions. The population of England since that time has increased very nearly threefold, the population of Ireland has barely increased at all, and if you take contributions to the Imperial Revenue into account, I may say the burden of England is proportionately very much heavier now than it was at any previous period during this century. In that case there ought to be a very great change, according to the conditions laid down at that time, in the representation of Ireland in this Parliament, and England has an equitable right to demand that her population shall be properly represented in this House. The right hon. Member for Bradford, among other ingenious arguments, said that it was not only in Ireland that anomalies exist, but that there are anomalies in the representation of this country. The rural districts, he said, were over-represented in proportion to the great towns. But does he fail to see that, if we take from Ireland the twenty-three Members to which she is not now legitimately entitled, the Members will be transferred to the great boroughs of England, and that thereby the excessive representation of the rural districts of this country will be completely done away with and the representation fairly distributed over the boroughs and the rural districts? Then the right hon. Gentleman also said that there were one and a half million Irish Catholics in this country who were not represented at all. Why, our great grievance is that they are so very largely represented at the present moment. The fact is that the population of England in our great towns has grown very largely through Irish immigration into England. A large proportion of the population of Ireland has gone away from Ireland, part to America, I admit, but a very large part has also settled in England. Those Irishmen who come over and settle in our midst under our free Constitution at once enjoy the privilege of voters. At the time of the 1885 election, it was reckoned that the Irish vote which was so much in dispute between the two great parties in this House was very large in more than forty different boroughs, and that the difference in the strength between Conservatives and Radicals at that time was so small that the Irish vote in most of these boroughs would be quite sufficient to put the balance of power in the hands of Irish electors. That is a state of things with which many of us on both sides of the House must be perfectly familiar, and it is therefore absurd for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Irish electors of Great Britain are not adequately represented. I remember hearing the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Cuninghame Graham), whose frankness we always admire, say in this House that he was elected not by the Scotch voters in his constituency who are supposed to send him here, but as Member for Mr. Parnell; and we all know that in the next Parliament there will be a considerable number of Members sent to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, who will really be here as Members for Archbishop Walsh and the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy). That is the result of the immigration of a large number of Irishmen into this country; and all we say is that when they come here and get votes they ought to transfer with them from Ireland their fair share of electoral power. As it is, these Irish residents in our midst not only control the elections in our large boroughs, but are still represented in the depopulated districts of Ireland from which they have come by Members who have really no moral right to sit in this House. This is a very great question. An Irish vote at the present moment is not only as good as, but a great deal better than, an English vote; and what we want is fair play all round. I do not think that this proposal can possibly do any injustice to the Irish voter. We are not seeking to disfranchise anyone. We simply say that if we give them votes in England they shall not also maintain their representation in Ireland to the same extent. I am quite persuaded that the Government could undertake no more popular measure than a Bill for redistributing the whole of the representation of the United Kingdom in a fair way. It is very important that this task should now be undertaken, because we have under consideration a vital question affecting the whole of the United Kingdom, and the presence of so large an Irish population in our midst, combined with the excessive representation of Ireland, must prevent the opinions and wishes of the English people from being fairly and freely expressed in this House. In very many constituencies the real opinions of the English people are completely misrepresented by the Members who are sent to this House by an Irish vote which is stronger than the difference between the Conservative and the Radical Parties in those divisions, and when a great vital question of this sort is at issue there can be no doubt that the real feeling of the whole of the population should be expressed upon it. That cannot be done until this excessive representation of Ireland is redressed. I say that the rule of the Unionist Party is to have fair play all round. We are anxious to give to Irishmen everything that Englishmen and Scotchmen can fairly claim in the way of the rights of self-government; but, at the same time, we protest against this artificial misrepresentation of Ireland in the House of Commons, which gives to a small section of the population of the United Kingdom the right, on critical occasions, to determine the destinies of the Empire."As to representation, the object should be to take it in the combined rate of numbers and of wealth. Now, the population of Great Britain was supposed to exceed ten millions and that of Ireland to be between three-and-a-half and four millions. Here was a proportion of more than two to one. On the other hand, the contributions of Great Britain were to the contributions of Ireland as intended to be fixed by the Act of Union about as seven-and-a-half to one. These two proportions taken together would produce a mean proportion of about five-and-a-half to one. If, therefore, with the British House of Commons consisting of five hundred and fifty - eight Members, Ireland should send one hundred, I am of opinion she will be fairly and adequately represented."
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it would not be just or expedient to carry out the principle of 'One Man One Vote' embodied in this Bill unless the number of representatives allotted to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland respectively were previously settled in proportion to the population of each of those parts of the United Kingdom, and the principle of equality in voting thus secured."—(Mr. T. W. Russell.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. While it was directed to a matter of considerable importance with respect to the question of representation, it was as wide from the original question before the House as one can well conceive. The hon. Member for South Tyrone endeavoured to hold up this scheme, as something that is more desirable than the scheme which has been proposed by the Mover of the Resolution. Now, I have sat here since a quarter to one o'clock, and I have listened to two speeches with reference to the Amendment, and I confess that I have been unable to find out what the question of the redistribution of seats has to do with the question of the plural vote; I also entirely fail to see what the question of the plural vote has to do with Unionism or non-Unionism as regards the Union of England and Ireland. It has been pretty generally admitted that the results of plural voting are not so entirely political as they are personal. The hon. Member for South Tyrone stated that he had no sympathy with the argument that it was only fair and reasonable that the people who have property in different boroughs should have votes in each borough; but we wished to hear what arguments he had to advance against the principle which is embodied in this Bill, and which we, on this side of the House, declare to be thoroughly sound. We cannot see the difference between a man having a number of votes in one constituency, and having a number of votes in adjacent constituencies. In London a man may not have a vote in the two divisions of Shoreditch, or in all the seven divisions of the Tower Hamlets. He may, however, vote in any number of the adjacent districts, provided they are not in the same borough. The position of affairs in London, therefore, makes it exceedingly difficult for hon. Gentlemen opposite to argue that it is a fair and right thing to give a man a vote in a number of different constituencies when he has not the right given to him of plural voting in any one constituency. That is a point which hon. Gentlemen opposite do not care to deal with. They try to entangle the question by raising an entirely different matter—they drag a red herring across the track by raising the question as to whether Ireland is over-represented or not. Now, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down have spoken as if the question of the redistribution of seats generally were involved, as well as those great anomalies which exist, and in which we find that large bodies of voters are represented to only the same extent as small bodies of voters. But I would point out to the House that much greater anomalies in this respect exist in England than in Ireland, and that if the matter is to be tackled at all it should first be dealt with within the limits of England. What does the hon. Member for South Tyrone say? Why, that—
But I would point out that the principle of equality is not in any way interfered with. The hon. Gentleman dwelt with considerable force upon the fact that the population of three small constituencies in Ireland was only about one-third or one-fourth of the average population of many boroughs in the United Kingdom, and he said those constituencies were represented by Members of the National Party. Yet the House should remember that there are not fewer than thirteen or fourteen constituencies in England and Wales alone—to say nothing of Scotland, in which there are a considerable number—of the same size as those referred to by the hon. Member, which also elect Members of Parliament. There are likewise no fewer than twenty-eight, if not thirty, borough constituencies in England and Wales which do not contain more than half the number of voters in the average constituencies, which are also represented in Parliament. Out of the thirteen boroughs I have referred to, I find that nearly all of them are represented by the Party opposite. So that "What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander"; and if you say that before you can remedy this anomaly you must alter the representation of some parts of Ireland to meet the wishes of a certain Party in that country, then we answer that these anomalies exist to a much larger extent in other parts of Great Britain, and it is equally useless now to call for their rectification. If we were to take the twenty or the twenty-three Members referred to from Ireland and give them to England, the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment thinks that would enable us to meet the difficulty. Why, the difficulty in England is not only one of under-representation of certain districts, but of the over-representation of others. There are a large number of constituencies—thirty at any rate—in regard to which complete redistribution is required. There are certain parts of England where the over-representation is very marked—as in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset. Therefore the whole case is full of anomalies, and to imagine that they can be removed by depriving Ireland of a certain number of Members and giving them to England is about the most ridiculous assumption ever made. What the hon. Member should have urged was that there should be a Redistribution Bill brought in to remove the whole of the anomalies, if it is required; but it was not his object to do that. His Amendment was something very different. He says only that Ireland is over-represented, and that we should proceed to diminish its representation. It should be remembered that fifty years ago the population of Ireland was more than half that of England, and very nearly one-third of the population of the whole of the United Kingdom. Then it was represented by 103 Members out of 665—that is to say, by less than a sixth of the whole. That state of things continued till the population of Ireland diminished; it has now come down to a seventh. That has been the result of your precious government of Ireland—that is the way in which you have made Ireland a "prosperous country" as you now call it. I wish the House to observe that practically up to 1880, Ireland was under-represented, and that whilst the population of that country has decreased nearly one-half during the last fifteen years, that of the rest of the United Kingdom has very nearly doubled. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment referred to the Act of Union The Act of Union guarantees to Ireland one hundred Members in this House. "But," says the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), "that should not be used as an argument for the retention here of one hundred Representatives, because the side of politics to which you belong are willing to change that Act." Yes, but the side to which the hon. Member belongs is unwilling to change that Act, and they go through the country declaring that everything is going to ruin, because we are going to change it. That Act is the rock to which they cling; it is the anchor of the whole case for them. Well, the Act of Union is perfectly clear on this matter. The fourth Article of it says one hundred Commoners is to be the number to sit and vote on the part of Ireland in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That is a provision of a Clause of the Act of Union, and yet the hon. Member for South Tyrone is perfectly prepared to urge the desirability of meddling with it in order to hinder a desirable English reform. The attention of the House, I am sorry to say, has been diverted from the main issue before us, which is decidedly and distinctly an act of justice. But that is the fault of those who have drawn a red herring across the path in the form of the Amendment. Now, I will ask the House to look for a moment at the magnitude of the figures bearing on this question as contained in a Return obtained by the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) in 1888, and I take it that those figures have not materially altered since then. The Return in question showed that two hundred thousand votes would be struck off the register if this Bill became law. But I venture to believe that those numbers are grossly minimised, and no doubt many hon. Members who have looked into this matter as it affects their own constituency will agree with me. In my own constituency, for example, the outvoters constitute ten per cent. of the whole, according to the register; but I feel sure there are a great many more, because the register is very carelessly made up, and here I may incidentally say that there is great need for a better method of making up the registers. Judging from my own experience, I venture to think that instead of 200,000 votes this Bill, if passed, would affect double that number. To a large extent these plural voters are concentrated in a certain number of constituencies which they are practically able to secure for their Party. The existence of plural votes is especially noticeable in and around London. In the Wimbledon district the sub-voters are twenty-five per cent. of the whole, and in the Tottenham district—and in this case I only speak from memory— they are about twenty per cent. of the I whole. In such constituencies as these, scattered all over the country, the resident voters are completely outvoted by persons from outside, and this constitutes, I think, a very unsatisfactory element in the politics of this country. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill spoke about the plural voting of London, and it is only as a Metropolitan Member that I have ventured to do so too. I should like to add to what I have already said that in London, on the marked registers, there are more than 35,000 double voters; and basing my estimate on what I know of constituencies, I say that that number does not represent more than half the truth. Well, Sir, I trust the House will see its way to vote in favour of this reform It is a matter of regret to me that we have to vote on an Amendment which hon. Members who have supported it have failed to show has anything to do with the main issue. It is, however, a consolation to know that if this Bill is not passed in the present Parliament it will be in one not now very remote. Plural voting is a remnant of an old and bad system, which stands condemned amongst the masses of the people, and which the House has practically condemned also, and I trust hon. Members will see their way to support the Second Reading of this Bill."It would not be just or expedient to carry out the principle of 'One Man One Vote' embodied in this Bill, unless the number of representatives allotted to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland respectively were previously settled in proportion to the population of each of those parts of the United Kingdom, and the principle of equality in voting thus secured."
I agree with the Amendment that if the principle of "One Man One Vote" is to be carried out it must be accompanied by a large and drastic measure of redistribution, which will take into account, not only the relative population of Great Britain and Ireland, but the varying population of different districts of Great Britain itself. But as one who is absolutely opposed to the principle of "One Man One Vote," I think it only right that I should have put on the Paper an Amendment directly traversing the policy of this Bill; and although I shall not have the opportunity of taking a Division on my Amendment, yet in the few remarks I have to make now I should like to say something on the real issue put before us by this Bill. Now I contend, in the first place, that no real injustice is inflicted upon a community or indi- vidual voters by the system of plural voting. I contend, moreover, that there is no possessor of a single vote who should feel any sense of hardship in the fact that another voter has more than one vote, providing that that further vote is held in respect of a substantial and bonâ fide interest in a constituency. It may be well that when this House has to consider the whole question of representation once more it should provide more stringent measures for the prevention of the artificial creation of rent-charges. But by this Bill you are seeking to punish the innocent with the fictitious possessor of a vote. I repeat that a man who has only one vote cannot and does not feel any real sense of wrong because his neighbour happens to have another bonâ fide qualification. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) has told the House that he has five votes. Well, if he possesses them in virtue of a substantial stake in particular constituencies, I confess I cannot bring myself into a state of hysterical indignation so as to grudge him, for one moment, the possession of them. I should like to lay before the House a concrete illustration. Suppose the case of an owner of land in Kent. The man farms a certain amount of land in that county, employs a good deal of labour, pays considerable rates, is an active member of the local bodies, and endeavours to interest himself in every local good work. Suppose also that that man happens to be a large employer in London, as a man of business, and that, in consequence, he is obliged to make his home in the Metropolis during some portion of the year. He must be a large ratepayer in London, and perhaps he exerts himself whilst here in every good work just the same as when he is in the country. Will the House say that that man would not have a proper sense of direct personal injury and wrong if it is decided that he must elect to vote either in London or in Kent, and not in both places? Suppose he elects to vote in London only, and a question involving the nationalisation or municipalisation of land—and, therefore, his land—comes before the country at an election, would it not be a monstrous wrong that he should not be able to give a vote on this question in Kent? Or, if he elects to vote in Kent and the question of a legal eight hours day comes before the constituencies, would it not be a monstrous wrong that he should not have a right to vote in London on that question? When you come to the bottom of this matter, the idea of right hon. and hon. Members opposite is that you can give effect to some sort of equality between men. Well, I do not think that is either natural or possible; I do not believe that by legislation you can prevent one man having more political power than another. You may try, but your idea is Utopian, delusive, and merely encourages false hopes. You cannot create equality between individual voters, for it must always be the case that character, intellect, knowledge and influence in a locality will give to one man more power than to another, despite the most absolutely perfect system of "One Man One Vote." Does it at present look as if the power of wealth to influence voters; is at all diminishing? I do not think so, and therefore I believe that any idea of giving to individual men votes of absolutely equal value is illusory, and I think would also be injurious. It is curious to see four ex-Cabinet Ministers and the representatives of Trade Unionism combining in an endeavour to prevent the exercise of the franchise by a body of men who, by the very exercise of their vote, prove their interest, for it necessarily follows that a freeholder living in one place who takes the trouble to vote in another constituency must be genuinely interested. It is curious, too, to note that those gentlemen are not affected by the other gross anomalies which mark representation in different parts of the country. When it comes to the question of the abuse of the illiterate vote—and it is a notorious and undisputed abuse in Ireland—right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench will not even condescend to discuss the question except through the rather indiscreet utterances of an ambitious Whip. The action of right hon. Gentlemen opposite has been to show extreme gentleness to murder, where it was the murder of gamekeepers; they have wept over the woes of a Miss Cass; they are very anxious to find excuses for social intimidation, and some of them have not shown any desire to make the conviction of criminous clerks more easy. But now they come as a united Party to inflict novel penalties on the freeholders of England who, at their own expense and trouble, dare to exercise the vote. For those reasons I do not shrink from meeting the plain issue. I hope this Bill will fail, and I hope that for all time a large majority in this House will maintain with me that no injustice to the community or to the individual is caused by the plural vote in connection with a bonâ fide qualification of residence or of property.
We always hear the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore) with pleasure, but I think we have never heard him with greater pleasure than to-day. It is refreshing, in such an atmosphere as that in which we have been groping about during the last two hours, to hear a downright, straightforward speech, going for the merits and demerits of the question. It is the sort of speech which we wish to answer, and it contains the sort of argument by which we desire to be met when going before the electors. I should be glad to learn that the Government had resolved to fight behind the standard of the hon. Member for Chelsea, rather than behind that of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). The speech of the hon. Member for South Tyrone was, as ever, fiery and burning, and it was marked, too, by a most significant absence of argument. It is really hardly possible to answer that speech except in a few sentences, because its arguments were so scanty and so extremely trivial. The first of these arguments was the fact that at this period of the Session there is some difficulty in making a House. The only answer I will make to that argument is that more than once when the question of Household Suffrage in the counties was before the House, we, its advocates, had equal difficulty in making a House. Yet Household Suffrage in the counties is part of the law of the land, and we accept that omen. Then the hon. Member tried the argument of inconsistency He said: "You Liberals now endeavour to take away the plural vote, whereas you did not show the same eagerness in 1884"; and therefore the hon. Member moves an Amendment to the effect that the representation of Ireland is to be diminished. I will answer that argument very shortly. In the year 1884 it is quite true that this question of plural voting was brought before the House of Commons, and that only forty-three Liberals voted in favour of dealing with it; but it is also equally true that in the course of the same Debate the question of reducing the representation of Ireland was brought forward, and that only twenty-five Conservatives were in favour of it. And so we will put the forty-three against the twenty-five, and I think that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the greatest master of the argument of tu quoque that ever sat on those Benches, will not be able to make anything out of it. The hon. Member complained that it would be unfair to pass this measure because, while diminishing the number of plural votes in England, Scotland, and Wales, the Unionists would remain handicapped by the excessive representation of Derry as compared with Antrim, Longford as compared with Londonderry, and in several other instances. It is not, however, necessary for me to meet the hon. Member's argument, because he went on to say that this was not in any sense a Party measure, that there were plural votes on both sides, and that he did not consider one side would be seriously more damaged than another. By that statement he cuts away from himself the power of laying any stress upon his argument that the plural vote in England neutralises the under - representation of Unionism in Ireland. He went on to say that the grievance was a small one, and that there were not more than two hundred thousand voters concerned. That point was insisted upon last year by two able speakers, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie); but care was taken to treat very gingerly such an Amendment as the one now proposed, because they must have known that it did not bear in any serious respect upon the great question of plural voting. The grievance is much more serious, however, than the hon. Member for South Tyrone represents; there are infinitely more than two hundred thousand plural voters. In the towns plural voting depends upon the occupation vote. A man has a villa in the suburbs as well as a shop or place of business in the town. We have a Return about these non-resident occupation voters, and I will give the House one or two extracts. In South Bristol there are 1,374 non-resident voters in one district, in Central Birmingham 1,973, in one division of Liverpool 1,636, in another 1,350, in one division of Manchester there are 4,400; in one division of London there are thirteen thousand, and in the City, not counting the livery voters, there are nineteen thousand. Over and above those mentioned in the Return, there are numbers in Scotland who have carefully taken out a non-resident occupation vote. In a single division of Glasgow I find there are 2,991, of whom 1,500 reside in Renfrewshire and 1,100 in the Partick Division of Lanarkshire. In addition, a great number of non-resident votes must be added in consequence of the culpable negligence which has characterised the making out of this Return. Places have been omitted, and they are precisely those places in which the greatest number of nonresident occupiers live. In London such divisions as the Strand, Westminster, and St. George's, Hanover Square, have been left out. I do not know how many thousands of non-occupiers there are in those divisions, but I am sure the number would come to a good many thousands. The Return also excludes Hull, Sheffield, Leeds, and Salford. Such is its worth. And now let me come to a much more serious question—that of the county voters. The counties are absolutely swamped by plural votes. The Return gives the number at one hundred and twenty-four thousand, but it is most deceptive. I will take a single county district—that of Fareham, in South Hants. The number of freeholders stated in the Return is 4,700, and of these 4,200 are said to reside in the Fareham Division: but they reside for the most part in Portsmouth and Southampton—that is to say, in towns which are technically included for the sake of enabling freeholders to vote, but which are not in the division for residential purposes. In the Lewes Division of Sussex there are three thousand ownership voters put down as residents, but they all live in Brighton, and are Brighton men. They are not in any sense resident voters except for the sake of this Return. I have not the slightest doubt that a genuine Return of the non-resident voters would embrace half the property voters of the country. There is a curious proof of this in a single passage in the Times newspaper. I see that the Return states there are only 280 non-resident voters in East Dorset, but on the occasion of the recent election in that division, the Times said there were upwards of six hundred outvoters, of whom eighty-five per cent. may be reckoned as Unionists. That means that instead of 280 out-voters there are at least six hundred. A few months before, at the election in North Bucks, the same newspaper announced that the election was in the hands of the out voters, 600 in number. So here you have two important elections, one of which went in one direction and one in another, which by the confession of those concerned in the election, depended not upon the vote of the real genuine residents, but on the vote of a number of people who came in for the sake of the election alone. What I should like to know is what on earth the Amendment has to do with the main question. I agree in one respect very much with the mover of the Amendment. I am all in favour of the principle of redistribution according to population, and there are certain people who are seriously injured by this redistribution not being according to population But how does it help a man who is in the position of being out-voted if you put off this most important reform for the sake of another? Here is a man in, let us say, the Harrow Division of Middlesex; he has not his fair share of representation owing to Ireland being over-represented, but at the same time this man has still further diminished his fair share of representation, because some 3,000 individuals come from St. Pancras and Marylebone, and other parts of London—I forget for the moment what parts are told off to the Harrow Division—and out-vote this man, and thus prevent him from having his fair share of representation. We wish to remove this grievance, but the hon. Member says "No, you shall not do it, because you will not reconsider the whole question of reform." One great superiority of our plan over his is that our plan is quite complete. Our plan at any rate will redress this great grievance, and his plan is partial. It affects the relations between different parts of the kingdom, between the different nations; but it leaves equally grave abuses alone. It may be wrong that Wales should have twenty-seven seats when she ought to have thirty, or, taking in Monmouth, thirty when she ought to have thirty-four. But it is wrong likewise that within the confines of England eleven boroughs with a Member each should only have an electorate of 33,000, whilst Bristol, with 39,000, has only four Members; Bradford, with 35,000, has only three; and Newcastle, with 32,000, has only two. There you have a grievance greater than the over-representation of Wales, or even of Ireland; and yet the hon. Member comes forward with this Amendment, and proposes to cross a great and complete reform like this with a mere re-adjustment of representation between the countries, the nations, the provinces—whatever he prefers to call them—that constitute this Kingdom. Now I come to the speech of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Whitmore). He went straight to the root of the matter, and in the first place drew a distinction between the County Councils and Parliament. We are extremely pleased to have a most excellent precedent set us by the Government three or four years ago, when, following the lines of the just system of the municipalities in this country that a man may only vote in one ward in a municipal contest, they laid it down that a man could only vote for one division in a County Council election. But, says the hon. Members that is a very different matter from politics. I see no difference whatever. The Gloucestershire County Council is the Council of Gloucester; the London County Council is the Council of London, and Parliament is the great Council of the nation. It is right that every man in Gloucestershire should have one vote for Gloucestershire, and one vote only; to the London County Council the same principle should apply; and each man should have one vote and one vote only for the great Council of the nation, the Parliament. But the hon. Member says, "Oh, yes, very true; but a man may have property in Kent and property in Yorkshire, and when Kent questions and Yorkshire questions are being discussed in the House of Commons, he should be able to have a distinct voice and vote on each of those questions." But some counties are very large. Take the County of Northumberland, for instance. It is cut in two by a range of mountains, and the two parts of the county are entirely different in character. What earthly reason is there for giving a man a voice for Kent and a voice for Yorkshire in the great Council of the nation that there is not for giving a man who has property on the Tyne and property near Berwick-on-Tweed two votes in the County Council of Northumberland? The argument is exactly the same; the deduction should be exactly the same. Take the financial state of these counties. It is proposed to levy a penny rate in Gloucester and a penny rate in Kent, and a man who has property in Gloucester and resides in Kent is interested in both, and can give a vote at both County Council elections; but in Parliament every tax that is made affects the whole community alike, and whereas the rate of Gloucestershire is entirely distinct from the rate of Kent, the Income Tax is exactly the same all over the country. But the hon. Gentleman went to the root of the matter when he told us that this was a question of political equality, and it is for political equality that we are fighting. We are absolutely in favour of political equality. We know very well the difference between the Quixotic cry for equality in matters which cannot be attained—for equality in the matter of wealth, for equality in the matter of intellect, and in everything that fortune and birth can give, and the equality which you can attain and which you ought to enforce in every department of State, and that is equality under the law. Every man should have the same vote, every man should have exactly the same voice in electing a Member of Parliament. That is to say, he should be able to give one vote for one Member of Parliament, and that for a very good reason, because every man in every class presumably has the same interest in the deliberations of Parliament. It is entirely fallacious to imagine that a man's interest in what passes in this House can in any way be measured by his property. The poor depend upon this House, the working classes depend upon it in many respects to a degree that the rich do not depend at all. For whose benefit are most of our sanitation laws, all laws which prevent excessive labour, all the laws which soften the load of suffering and dependence, for whose sake are these laws passed? They are more for the sake of the poor than for the sake of the rich. If you go even to the questions of war or recruiting, the lot of the private soldier is more dependent on the deliberations of this House than that of the officer, and so is the lot of the private sailor, than that of the merchant captain or the captain in the Royal Navy. The poor man depends for his welfare on this House just as much as the rich, and I maintain that he has equal capacity for giving his vote rightly in the election of a Member of this House. Our view is that the most important thing is to get the greatest number of intelligent and independent votes; and since the advance of education in this country the votes of the working classes are, for the purpose for which votes are given, an intelligent expression of the needs and aspirations of those who give them. They are perfectly intelligent, and since the Ballot they are perfectly independent. (A laugh.) An hon. Member opposite laughs. If he thinks the Ballot does not make them independent, then why does he want to do away with the illiterate vote? But the working man has not the same franchise as those who are more fortunate. If you go to ecclesiastical matters you find amongst the congregations of the Nonconformists that the ministers have each one vote, whilst the clergy of the Established Church have, to a great extent, two votes. They vote for the place where they reside, and they vote for the University to which they belong. On a question which to the working classes is absolutely second to none, the liquor traffic, the question of the happiness of their own households, the elevation and sobriety of their own class, it must be remembered that while the working man seldom has more than one vote—and under the existing system of registration it is often difficult to get even that—there is no class which so revels in multiplied votes as that which is connected with the liquor traffic. But I have been reminded that this is not only a question which affects the rich, but that it also affects a great number of working men, who are fond of house property in which to invest their savings. There are such men, I am glad to think, but they will not be largely affected if this Bill is passed. The working man who owns his own house for the most part lives in it, and if he lives in it in a borough he votes for it in a borough, and he does not vote as a county voter. The working man very seldom owns a plural vote, and I will venture to say he never owns a faggot vote. And these out-voters in very many cases vote on sham qualifications, and with votes purchased outright, and without any shame. Look at the Livery votes in the City of London. Again, you often find cases where three or four men are quartered on one poorhouse, the rateable value of which is just enough to cover the three or four votes—a house the locality of which they do not, know, the outside of which they would not recognise, and a house which enables them once in four or five years, as I think it ought to be, or once in six of seven years, as it is now, to vote down the opinions and wishes of the real residents. It is said that plural voting is a sort of test of civic virtue. It is no such thing. But there is one permanent test of civic virtue which I am glad to see is always in force, and that is the public opinion of the locality as to the character and intelligence of such and such a man. A man who has the confidence and respect of his neighbours will turn scores and hundreds of votes at a contested election: and that is as it ought to be. The only thing that the faggot vote and the plural vote is a test of is that a man is willing to strain to the utmost the provisions of a bad law, and is ready to spend his money and his leisure to get advantages which his more busy and poorer neighbours cannot obtain. I believe there is no Act of Parliament through which a clever agent could not drive a coach and four unless it is plain, simple, and short in its provisions like this. The only cure for faggot voting is to abolish plural voting, and that this Bill does in a short, simple, and plain manner, in a manner in which it has already been done by the Government in municipal elections and in every English-speaking country where plural voting has been put down. This is a question of establishing equality before the law with regard to the highest of all functions, the most valued of all rights; and if the Government wishes to convince the people at the General Election, which is now all but upon us, that our Bill is inexpedient and unjust, they must find some very much better argument than this miserable ghost of a red herring which has been drawn across our path.
Sir, I differ somewhat from my hon. Friend who sits beside me (Mr. Whitmore). I am prepared to concede to the fullest extent the principle of political equality, and to maintain that principle as far as in me lies. The principle upon which the proposition before the House is based is a perfectly intelligible one: it is that every voter should have an equal voice in the government of the country. That I conceive to be a principle from which it is too late to go back. It is no use for us to try to put back the hands of the clock of time, but what we are objecting to is that hon. Members on the other side fail to see that in some cases it may be equally foolish to put the hands of the clock of time too far forward. We object to a partial and incomplete application of the principle which I have stated. We object to that principle being applied in such a way as rather to make the representation of this country less accurate than it is at the present moment instead of making it more accurate. The principle is an obvious and plain one, and has been admitted by many Members on this side, but we are accused, when we support the Amendment, of wanting to draw a red herring across the trail. I, for one, wish to address myself to the main point at issue in this case, and I venture to think that is, shall we at the present moment make a partial application of the principle, or is it not rather the right thing to make a complete application of the principle in due course? Perhaps I may give a homely illustration which will make my position clear. When a carpenter has to smooth a rough piece of wood, he starts with a jack-plane; he then puts on the trying-plane, taking off a certain further roughness, and then finishes with the smoothing-plane, which clears away the final irregularities, and finishes the work. It appears to me that the Bill is an attempt to put on the smoothing-plane before the jack-plane. That is to say, that so long as there are the vast inequalities in the value of each vote which exist in the constituencies at present, it seems trivial to bring forward a matter of this kind. I venture to think, Sir, that the real motive of hon. Gentlemen opposite is to serve up one of those dainty dishes which are served up from time to time for consumption outside the House. There are great social and industrial questions being discussed by vast bodies of men outside this House which hon. Gentlemen in the House do not discuss, and in some cases refuse to discuss. It is sixty years since the first Reform Act was passed, and we have been constantly mending the Constitution since then, and I think the time has now come when we should put the machine to some practical work, instead of stopping from time to time to dangle these little bits of constitutional change before the electorate. The attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite reminds me of that of a soldier sharpening his sword periodically at the grindstone instead of going out to test it on the enemy. For sixty years we have been sharpening the sword at the grindstone; I think we should now try to put the instrument we have to some use before we go further with the sharpening process. Hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to me to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. If I may invert the metaphor for the moment, I would say if they are prepared to swallow the camel I do not think after that process has been accomplished—doubtless with many wry faces—we shall be unprepared to bolt the gnat.
I am less concerned with the Bill than with the Amendment, which is directed against Ireland. I can understand the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore) moving the direct negative to the Bill, the principle of which is simple and clear. There are two logical positions which can be taken up with respect to the Bill; either that persons liable equally to the duties of citizenship should have equal electoral rights, or if property is to be regarded as the decisive test the right should be proportionate to it. If the vote is to attach to houses and lands it should equally attach to ships, Consols, or mines. I take the position that men are equal and should have equal electoral rights; or else, if property is the qualification, the right should be proportionate to the property, and that is a position which the most enterprising plutocrat would scarcely care to defend. I will now turn to the Amendment, which is directed against Ireland, and I say so, because the hon. Member who moved it confessed without reserve that its effect if carried would be that England would gain twenty-three Members by taking three Members from Wales and twenty from Ireland. The Amendment is moved by an Irish Member, but not by an Irishman. I doubt if any Irishman would have moved it. No Irishman has spoken in support of it, and I shall be curious to hear from any Irishman who supports it he how reconciles the reduction by one-fifth of the representation of our country with the interests of Ireland. The hon. Member enjoys the political hospitality of Ireland; he was a stranger, and we took him in. But, Sir, not only among civilised, but even among savage, races the receipt of hospitality is supposed to entail some obligations. The marauding Bedouin of the Desert makes it a point of honour not to meddle with the possessions of those with whom he has broken bread or eaten salt. The hon. Member has enjoyed the political hospitality of Ireland, and the way he proposes to show his gratitude is to run away with as much of the political property of Ireland as he can. The guest who behaves in such a manner towards his enter- tainers would do well to consider the reception which he is likely to have on his return to Ireland. The hon. Member is a member of the Unionist Party, and this is one of the numerous actions by which we are driven to conclude that the policy of the Unionist Party is Separatist at the core. Is this in any practical sense of the term a United Kingdom? If it be, what is the meaning of the argument that as between different parts of the United Kingdom representation ought to be strictly proportionate to population? The speech of the hon. Member is one which I could understand if this were a Federal Assembly and Ireland a separate State. Then you would, no doubt, be entitled to consider the strict representation of Ireland in proportion to her population. But I submit, when you raise here the strict argument of the representation of Ireland, without regard to special circumstances or interests in proportion to population, you raise a question which is Separatist in fact, and not Unionist. The Amendment of the hon. Member may very soon lose practical interest, but we are bound to consider it at the moment. The hon. Member who moved it is a Member of the Party the head of which at the present moment is engaged in fomenting a conspiracy of violence against the constitutional determination of the constitutional claim of Ireland, which we expect to get settled this year by the population of the country and ratified by Parliament and the Crown. And this is the moment selected by the Prime Minister's henchman to propose that the representation of Ireland in this House, which is to be used in making that claim, should be curtailed. If leaders of parties are to excite the population against a constitutional settlement, such a moment is not a fitting one for reducing the constitutional force Ireland may bring to bear on the settlement of the question. The gravamen of the charge of the hon. Member against the towns of Ireland is that only one returned a Liberal Unionist Member. I noticed that the hon. Member cited only those counties where the Unionist Party appeared to be prejudiced, but there are counties where the Nationalists are equally prejudiced. At any rate his reference to the internal anomalies which exist and must exist not only in Ireland, but in the United Kingdom, is entirely irrelevant to the Motion so far as it is directed against Ireland, because he did not attempt to make any reply to the crushing argument of the Mover of the Bill, who showed that in eighteen counties in England, which have the same population as Ireland, the representation is the same as that of Ireland, and therefore there are as striking anomalies in England as in Ireland. I do not think that in any other Legislature in the world, which has to deal with different races, different communities, and different countries, there could be found a man to do what the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) has done to-day—to deliberately propose that the representation of the country by which he has been elected should be reduced. He founded his argument on population. You ought to be ashamed to mention it, and to pray to be relieved from any mention of it. The decrease of the population of Ireland under your rule is the most disgraceful and damning fact in your political history. But so long as the argument of population was on our side you said nothing about it; why do you turn to it when it is in your favour, though that may not be for long? When you passed the Act of Union Ireland had a population of five millions and England ten millions, though, if the argument of the hon. Member for South Tyrone is valid, we were entitled to 219 Members in this House. How many did we receive? We received one hundred. It is strange how indifferent you could be to arguments founded on population then. There was another settlement of the representation thirty-two years later, when on the same principle we were entitled to 243 Members; then we received 105. It is only within the last ten years that the argument of population has served your purpose. And how are you entitled to endeavour to come to a decisive conclusion on what may prove to be the transient circumstances of the present moment? It was only within the last ten years that you began to pass reform laws for Ireland. You reformed the land system in Ireland. You have established there a land purchase scheme, the ultimate effect of which will be to make every farmer the owner of his holding, and the result of that will be a manifest and overpowering tendency to increase the population. I submit to you that if ten years ago you could derive no strength from this argument of population, ten years hence the argument of population may be used by the Irish Members in this House to prove beyond the possibility of a doubt that Ireland, instead of diminishing, is entitled' to increase the number of her Members. Why has the population of Ireland decreased? It has decreased in consequence of your deliberate policy; and I say you cannot solve a question of this kind by the pure tests of arithmetic. You must remember the lessons of history; and you cannot shut your eyes or harden your hearts against moral duties. The population of Ireland fell because she lost her Parliament; the population of Ireland fell because you insisted upon ruling her from this House. Your repeal of the Corn Laws limited the means of living in Ireland, and drove the population away; your land system, which enabled the landlords to evict their tenants, drove the people from the shores of Ireland; your coercion has made Ireland a hateful place, even to people who love their land so much; and I say you are not entitled, having taken away the Parliament under which she throve, and under which her population increased, to use your own wrong-doing, to avail yourselves of your usual policy, to make that condition of Ireland, which you have deliberately produced, a reason for robbing her of the means of protection in this House. I say Ireland is a distinct country; a country with separate interests. It is not merely a question of population. Does anyone say that Ireland would be fitly represented here if she had only the same representation in proportion to population as the City of London? ("Yes.") I should have thought that that would not commend itself to anyone who was disposed to give an impartial or intelligent consideration to the subject. The Members for London live at your very door. They are in constant and daily attendance in this House—as a matter of routine. The Members for Ireland, in order to discharge their duties here, have to travel five hundred miles over land and sea. Their attendance here is different. I submit that Ireland, on account of her remoteness, is entitled to special representation; and I also say because of her separate religious creed and separate economic condition, and because of the fact that you are constantly obliged to pass special legislation for her, she is entitled to particular consideration as regards the number of her Members. From your point of view, she constantly needs coercion; from our point of view she constantly needs reform; so that Ireland constantly needs special legislation in this House. I submit that the fall in the population of Ireland is due to your evil policy, that in the future there may probably be an increase of population, and that in the moment of transition between the bad old system and the new system, which we hope to be better, you are not entitled to take advantage of the number of her population at the present moment in order to reduce the representation of Ireland. No; the true mode of dealing with Ireland, a mode dictated by political motives and a mode which is obviously just, is, not to take advantage of your own wrong-doing in the past, but to avail yourselves of a means by which you can get relief from all trouble with regard to that country, and that is, to restore to her the legislative power which your strength took away from her weakness by brute force and by shameful crime.
I had not the slightest intention to intervene in this Debate a few minutes ago, but when the hon. Member for West Belfast, who has just sat down, gave such a direct challenge to Irish Members to get up and support the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, I could not refuse to accept the challenge. The hon. Member for West Belfast has used the most extraordinary arguments in regard to the Motion before the House. He said the Leader of our Party is fomenting resistance to the law in Ireland. I have the utmost respect for the opinion of the Marquess of Salisbury; but does the hon. Gentleman believe that any remarks of Lord Salisbury on the question would have the slightest effect either in inciting Ulstermen to action or in deterring them from taking what action they think fit? If he does think so, I must assure him that his connection with West Belfast, which has lasted for five years now, but which, I daresay, will not be very much longer prolonged, has not sufficiently educated him as to what Ulstermen are capable of and determined to do. He has used the very curious argument as to this being an inopportune moment to raise this question while that incitement was going on, and to propose to reduce the constitutional representation of that part of Her Majesty's dominion. Well, it appears to me that one of the very strongest arguments that could be used to justify the conduct of hon. Members is that, because that part of the United Kingdom has too great a preponderance in the constitutional representation of the country, those who object might take some other means for modifying it.
What other means?
If the hon. Member for West Belfast will consult Hansard he will find that when called upon to speak after the very magnificent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in proposing his Home Rule Bill in 1886, I then designated what means I considered they would be justified themselves in taking, and, if that legislation was passed, what means I thought would be necessary to protect the rights of Ulster. When that time arrives, I will state what those means should be. The hon. Member has said that that representation in this House should be maintained because it was always required by hon. Members opposite to carry out reform measures and was always required by us to carry out coercion measures. No coercion measures whatever would ever be necessary for Ireland, except for the coercion of the hon. Member and his friends. Coercion has only been applied by this House to meet coercion, on the homoeopathic principle; and I am glad to say that the homœopathic principle has proved to be thoroughly effective. Why should the hon. Gentleman object to population being taken as the guide for representation? It appears to me that that is a good Radical theory and a good Radical solution of the question which has so long been agitating this country. I confess if the franchise question is raised, I can see no satisfactory solution except by equal representation for every part of the United Kingdom, whether it be in Ulster, Leinster, Munster, Yorkshire, or the Metropolis. The reason why the hon. Member for West Belfast objects to the amendment is, not so much because it would reduce the representation of Ireland as that it would reduce the proportion represented by the party of which he is so distinguished a Member. ("No!") Yes; why should he object to that? The average number of the constituents represented by Unionists in counties in Ireland is 9,056; the average number of the constituents represented by Nationalists in counties in Ireland is 7,178. In boroughs the average number represented by Unionists is 8,779; and the average number represented by Nationalists is 4,413; the average represented by Unionists on the whole of Ireland being 9,004, and the average represented by Nationalists being 6,755. I have no intention of occupying the time of the House. I should not have spoken at all if I had not been directly challenged as an Irish Member to speak on this question affecting Ireland, and I am very glad indeed that I came into the House in time to reply to the challenge.
I must say I think it is a very extraordinary view of the Irish franchise which has been taken by the hon. Member for West Belfast. He has spoken as if it were the absolute possession of the Nationalists; and from what he has said as regards my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, one would think he had gone to Ireland for a visit and stolen the spoons. I can understand the franchise sixty years ago being considered the possession of a man who had the nomination of a borough in his power, but it seems to me that that notion is wholly and completely opposed to our modern democratic ideas of the franchise. The hon. Member has said that, to seek to equalise the proportion of Members for Ireland to that of this country, is treating Ireland unfairly. It is doing nothing of the kind; it is treating Ireland as an integral part, as it is, of this country. It may be worked out thus—ten thousand men in Ireland should have the same right of representation as ten thousand men in England or Scotland. I do not feel it my business to defend the Leader of my Party, or of any other Party, for what he has been saying in regard to Ulster and its proposed action. This I can only say, that it has not been a matter of endeavour-to incite, but only of pointing out what is the probable state of facts to which a certain policy which is before the country is likely to lead, and putting that state of facts before the consideration of the constituencies in this country and elsewhere. You cannot create a rebellion by speaking from the outside. Mr. Burke said long ago, dealing with the American question—"Rebellions are never encouraged; they are provoked." It is not the words of any man on this side of the water that could by any possibility create rebellion in Ireland. It would be the action of the Parliament established in Ireland—that would be the only possible cause of creating such a rebellion. Then the hon. Member spoke of the Irish counties, and said the cases that had been taken were individual particular cases which happened to stand in favour of the Unionists and against the Nationalists. But there is no need to take individual cases, because, according to the figures given by my hon. Friend, and those which were given by the other side, the average in the number of electors all round in each of the Unionist constituencies is startlingly larger than in the Nationalist ones.
The population and the electorate come exactly to the same thing. I assert, until the contrary is proved by some hon. Gentleman, that it comes exactly to the same thing whether you go on the footing of population or electorate. It is more convenient to take the electorate, these being the figures given in the last Return. Then the hon. Gentleman spoke of the decrease of the population in Ireland, and he argued that that was the consequence of the Act of Union, as I understand, in the first place, and of the bad government of this country in the second. But from the time of the Union onwards the population of Ireland increased, as it had never increased before. Between the passing of the Act of Union and the famine it had just more than doubled. At the time of the passing of the Act of Union the population of Ireland was four millions; and at the time of the famine it was eight and a half millions. It is perfectly true that at the time of the Union the number of Members that were given to Ireland did not correspond with the numerical proportion of the inhabitants of Ireland to the inhabitants of this country; but at that time the numerical argument had been in no way accepted. What was sought then was not symmetry or numerical equality, but that each country should have a fair share of representation. It was on that footing that we went, not only at the time of the Union, but in 1832, in distributing Members through the country. I cannot, therefore, see that the fact that, according to this modern principle, Ireland did not get full justice in the past is any reason at all that in the future Ireland should get a great deal more than justice. It may be perfectly true that it is only within the last few years that this argument has told against Ireland; but it tells against Ireland now, and if this question is forced upon us now—and it is not with the desire of the hon. Gentleman who has proposed the Amendment, or the other Members who will vote for it, that it should be—Ireland must take its chance. The hon. Member used an argument which was used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in 1885, and which, of course, has considerable force—that Members representing the extremities of the country ought to be greater in numbers than the Members representing the centre. No doubt there is something in this, but it seems to me to be over-ridden by the larger general principle of equality in our electoral distribution. And you have to remember this: that the power of gentlemen sympathising with the hon. Member for West Belfast is not by any means limited to the number of Members who are returned for Ireland. There is an Irish vote in constituencies on this side of the water, and I think that Irishmen can feel that they have a very large share of influence in the conduct of a great many Mem- bers who sit on these Benches, though they may not happen to be returned for Irish constituencies. But to turn to another subject. We had a very eloquent and a very large speech from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan). The arguments were in favour of Universal Suffrage—not for Manhood Suffrage only, but for Womanhood Suffrage also—equal electoral districts, and the residential vote—a complete change in our system, and then, after the mountain has laboured in this way, we have a mouse brought forward in the shape of this Bill for abolishing plural voting. In the course of his speech, while he was bringing forward these arguments, he was objecting to the Amendment of my hon. Friend as not being relevant. It seems to me he stated, in the clearest words as the fundamental basis of his argument, that it is right that a man should have one vote, and one vote only, for the great Council of the nation, and it is surely part of that that these votes should be of equal value. It is quite illusory, if you attempt to give every man a single vote, and in one case he is to have the two-thousandth share in returning a Member of Parliament, while in another case he is only to have the sixteen-thousandth or the eighteen-thousandth share. The one man gets eight times as much as the other does in such a case. The right hon. Gentleman deprecated the larger discussion, and said that this scheme which he was proposing was complete. Out of his own mouth and out of his own speech you can see that it is fundamentally incomplete. I do not mean only because it does not touch these larger questions which were the groundwork of his whole argument, but for this reason. His great attack, through half his speech at least, was upon the non-resident vote. He was arguing that no man was entitled to have a vote unless he resided in the constituency, and this Bill does not touch that question at all. It leaves the nonresident voter in just the same position as at present. It leaves just exactly the same possibility of flooding a constituency—of jerrymandering and of concentrating votes upon a particular constituency—that exists at present. In order to carry out what the right hon. Gentleman desires, you must insist upon a simple residential franchise, which is something totally different to this. Another great point that the right hon. Gentleman made was that you must abolish the freehold franchise in boroughs; that you must put things on the same footing as in Scotland, where a freehold in a burgh does not give a vote in the county. These are two essential parts of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but they are not in any way touched by the Bill before the House. He criticised the Return giving the number of nonresident votes on account of culpable negligence. That Return does seem to me rather careless, but there a great many points that you have to consider on the other side. For example, in the case of Plymouth the number of occupation voters who are resident is given as 854, and the number of occupation voters who are not resident is given as 9,690. That seems to me a rather startling statement, and probably means a mistake of something like ten thousand votes in favour of the right hon. Gentleman, and which, I think, will go far to cancel a good many of the smaller errors and discrepancies which he found in the matter. Then, to give another instance of the smallness of the question, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford quoted the case of Lancashire, and gave some figures as to the amount of plural voting in Lancashire. In the County Divisions of Lancashire of which he was speaking the number of county votes on the register is a quarter of a million, and the whole number of non-resident voters is 3,344. That is to say, the whole question means just about one-and-a-third per cent. of the whole electorate. The right hon. Gentleman and several Members have said this question is not political. I should like to know very much why hon. Gentlemen are so ardent in the matter if it is not political. For myself, I believe it cuts to a great extent both ways, but I cannot imagine any reason for right hon. Gentlemen pitching upon this particular small point among a whole set of anomalies with which our franchise is beset, unless they consider that it is of some definite political importance to themselves. We have not always found them so ardent in correcting anomalies. We had the other day the question of the illiterate vote. When the question came up we did not find these Gentlemen coming forward and making the case which was so convincingly made from the other side of the House against that anomaly. They did, it is true, not come to defend that anomaly, but were content to leave that Bench empty for the occupation of an hon. Gentleman who usually sits on the opposite Bench. Another point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, as explaining why action was not earlier taken in the matter, was that it was not important in the past. The matter was infinitely more important in the past, in the days when the franchise was more restricted than it is at present, for an obvious reason. The matter was in the minds of everyone on account of the abuses that had taken place in Scotland in this respect in the old unreformed days. Before 1832 the number of voters in Scotland in the counties was most absurdly small. The qualifications were purely nominal. They were absolutely faggot votes for the most part. Writers and advocates from Edinburgh poured down on the counties, and formed a majority which carried the elections and prevented the expression of the true opinion of the people. Before 1832 the opinion of the people of Scotland was not heard at all, on account of the abuse of the plural vote; but reformers have put an end to this state of things, not by cutting off the plural vote, but by preventing faggot votes, and by increasing the number of voters, so as to make plural voting comparatively unimportant. The question has been argued mainly as between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and, of course, it may be said, in reply to that, that the treatment is partial. So it is, but that argument does not seem to me to come with any good grace from hon. Gentlemen who are supporting a Bill that touches so small a part of the fringe of the whole subject. We are prepared to fully accept the principle of equalisation, but the question must be dealt with as a whole. We cannot agree to the suggestion of hon. Gentlemen to only touch a particular anomaly which may be against their interests as a Party, such as plural voting and University representation. These are anomalies in our present system, survivals of a former state of things, when what was sought was not universal equality, but the proper representation of the nation. The ideal of Burke was to make the House of Commons the true and express image of the nation, and there are two entirely distinct ways in which you can do that—either by giving a vote to every man in the nation, or by taking samples and giving only these the vote. The latter was the principle of the old system of representation, but it is gone now, and we do not seek in any way to maintain it. We accept the full principle of democracy, of equality in the country of the power given to every voter; and what we insist upon is that this principle shall be carried through consistently, that it shall not stop short by touching merely one point, and thus we shall produce a Parliament that is the true representation and the express image of the nation.
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The main question has been thoroughly thrashed out, and upon it I will only say that the way in which we deal with it depends very much upon whether it is thought that a vote should represent property or manhood. We think that it is very much more important that manhood should be represented than property. From my point of view, the wealthy man requires a vote less than the poor man, the educated man less than the uneducated, for the wealthy and the educated have opportunities of expressing their views and of exercising their influence which the poor and uneducated have not. Therefore perfect fairness, in my opinion, would require that the poor should have more votes than the rich. Then we have the objection that this reform should not be given unless some other reform is added to it. That is always the argument of those who do not desire reform, and who have not the manliness to say so. I know people in Ireland who on the same principle say, "We do not like Home Rule, but we are quite prepared for separation." The hon. Member for Tyrone dwelt very much upon the numbers of voters in Ireland, but I contend that representation should be based upon population rather than upon the number of voters, for the latter varies from time to time, and if representation be based upon that we shall always be altering the Divisions of the country. Now, if we take the counties of Ireland and include the towns in their respective counties, I find that Ulster is not so badly off after all. The county which is worst off is Dublin, with one Representative to every 70,000 of the population. Wexford is also badly off, having one Member to 56,000; Clare has one to every 62,000; whereas Antrim, Down, and Belfast together have a Representative for every 55,000 of the population. As to the proportion of the representation for England and Ireland, I wish to join my voice with that of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) in his surmise that in no other country in the world could we find, as we have found here to-day, Representatives who would desire that her strength should be diminished and her representation decreased; and if anything would impel me to desire reform for Ireland it is the knowledge that such a feeling exists in the heart of any of her Representatives. I think that the House should remember that Catholic Ireland during the early part of this century was altogether under-represented, and that if there has been depopulation it has been from misgovernment as well as from natural causes. I would like to point out that during the early part of the century Ireland was under-represented, and it is extraordinary that a change, should now be desired that has not been asked for before.
The hon. Gentleman and others have spoken as if those who supported the Amendment desired some change. Now, I have distinctly stated that I was content to go on with the machine as it is; but if there is to be a change it should be a perfect and a thorough change.
I leave it to the House to decide between us. I say that we are at present under a disadvantage with regard to the representation of Ireland, and that it would be very un- fair indeed to reduce it. If anything we should have a larger proportion of representation than we now have.
I must say that I think the attack made upon my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone is uncalled for. I have several times heard, in the course of this Debate, that the desire of those who support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is to diminish the representation of Ireland. I quite understood my hon. Friend in the direction in which he has corrected the hon. Member who has just sat down—namely, that he does not at present propose to reduce the representation of the people of Ireland, but that he says, if a fresh distribution of electoral power is to take place, that change would naturally form a portion of any general scheme of the kind. I have been at a loss to understand the difficulty which some hon. Members opposite feel as to the relevance of the Amendment to the question of the Second Reading of the Bill. One Member after another has practically said that he saw no connection between the two; yet, nevertheless, in their speeches they continue to use the phrase "equal electoral voice." I cannot see how we can have an equal electoral voice unless we have one vote one value, as well as "One Man One Vote." We do not raise the question that there should be "One Man One Value," or that there should be "One Man One Vote," but we say we are not prepared to accept the one without consideration of the other. There is a clear connection between the two. On what ground does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford propose this Bill? On the ground of the removal of electoral anomalies. We say that if you are going to enter again upon an examination of the machinery of legislation, instead of the question as to how the existing machine is to be used, we must have a thorough examination of the machinery and see whether, in other respects, anomalies require to be corrected beside the particular anomalies to which the right hon. Gentleman has called attention. The right hon. Gentleman does not do what he professes to do. His whole point is that every man should have an equal voice in the election of a Member of Parliament. I would point out that he will leave anomalies even by the Bill he has himself proposed. This Bill says that no person is to vote in one year in more than one constituency, and then the right hon. Gentleman thinks he is applying a complete cure. The House will see that the anomaly will remain that at bye-elections everyone will be entitled to vote according to his different qualifications. A person with several qualifications—one, say, for Cambridge University, one for the City of London, one for the county, and one for some other borough, may, if an election takes place at Cambridge one year, an election in the City the next year, and so on, vote in each case, retaining the same political power as he has now, after the introduction of this Bill. Is it not an increase of political power to give a person the liberty of selecting the borough for which he shall vote? It is said that we are to check jerrymandering by this Bill, but I submit that jerrymandering will receive a stimulus under it. An examination will be made where plural votes will be most effective, and in many cases elaborate electoral precautions will be taken to keep the votes of plural voters not where they reside, but where they happen to be most wanted for political purposes. It therefore seems to me that the Bill does not settle the question in the direction even in which the right hon. Gentleman desires to settle it, for if we pass it we should have precisely the same difficulties again; but it simply involves a tinkering with the Constitution in order to remove a particular anomaly. The right hon. Gentleman does not touch the freehold franchise. He endeavours to deprive the freeholders of the power of voting, but he does not strike directly at any franchise. He seeks to undermine them by an indirect process; but his clients will not be content with this—they will attempt to carry the matter further. They will say, "We have not yet got what you told us we were to have—namely, one man one vote." The spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill seems to me to show that he thinks infinitely more of the individual than of the community. What is the meaning of the Amendment in its broadest form? It is that, if anomalies are to be corrected, communities would have equal power. We are departing from the old spirit of the Constitution when we look simply to the individual and not to the community. "One Man One Vote" must mean manhood suffrage; but it should not be put simply on these little anomalies. It would be more honest to tell us that this is a step towards manhood suffrage, and that every man should have an equal vote—not simply that we should abolish this particular form of plural vote. This is really an instalment of manhood suffrage, but we are not called upon to decide that question at the present time. The cheers with which the mention of manhood suffrage was received show that we are wanted to shift the basis of our Constitution from the community, and to rest it upon the representation of the individual alone. Then surely we must come to equal electoral districts, and equality of electoral districts implies equal power to every individual.
To every male individual.
My right hon. Friend says "every male individual." That is a point I will not now discuss. The Party opposite hold to equal power for every individual. Manhood suffrage leads clearly to this result, which must apply to Irish Members. Did I hear a cheer from an Irish Member as to that statement?
The right hon. Gentleman must refer to me; but I will only say that I have been listening to him with attention, and that I did not open my lips.
Am I to understand that the hon. Member approves of my statement?
The right hon. Gentleman must not catechise me.
I have not the audacity to catechise the hon. Member, but I venture to say that there must be a redistribution of the Irish representation if the "One Man One Vote" principle is adopted. Therefore, let us all be perfectly frank. The democratic idea of equal electoral power means disfran- chisement in Ireland. The hon. Member for West Belfast has said that while he thought this was a most inconvenient time for raising the question, it might have less importance in the future. I wondered what that meant. Does it mean that if Home Rule is passed, this subject will have less importance to Irish Members, because they will not sit in subsequent Parliaments; or, if they do sit here, that it will be with a largely reduced representation? If there is any point in his remarks, one of these two alternatives must be present in his mind. Now, before I sit down I should like to say a few words about the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford as it stands, quite irrespective of the Amendment. I am opposed to the Bill because it ignores the representation of the community and deals simply with the individual. The whole attention of hon. Members opposite is always centred upon this question—has a particular man an equal right with another particular man? But is a particular man not to vote in a particular community because he happens to be interested in another community? In this way a prominent political personage might be deprived of his right to vote in a particular community, because his vote might be wanted for political purposes in another part of the country. I say that does not commend itself to my judgment. Hon. Members opposite must not make this a question as between the rich and the poor—an issue they generally attempt to raise when it is most convenient to them to do so. I contend that an individual should not be deprived of the right to vote in a particular community. Then, again, I would point out to the House that this would mean the disfranchisement of the Universities. I am anxious to put the dots on the i's, and to show what it is that we are asked to vote for. It amounts to this—that the representation of the Universities could not survive if this Bill were passed, and that would mean the disfranchisement of a large number of people. You do not think the number is large; but whether it be large or small, it is clear that University representation must go with such a Bill as this. Well, then, I shall vote against the Bill on the ground that it indirectly disfranchises those institutions, whose representation I think valuable to the country. But does not this question open up matters broader than the particular one before us? If we have to deal with the redistribution of seats we shall also have to deal with the broader question before us—the question of general representation. Many instances have been put before the House of grievances in order to show how a particular man—or rather, I should say, how the feelings of particular men—were injured. One hon. Member explained not long ago that you do not get an equal value under the present system; but you say one man is to have one-three-thousandth part, while another is only to have one-ten-thousandth part in the power of election according to the constituency he belongs to. The case of Wandsworth was, I think, quoted, where there is only one Member for the Division, while three Members represent English boroughs whose total electorate is not equal to that of Wandsworth. In Ireland there are six borough Members who together represent a number equal only to that of Wandsworth. That does not at all strike hon. Members opposite as an anomaly, or, if it is an anomaly, they do not propose to correct it. As regards the constitutional qualification for the vote, I do not think that ought to be disturbed in the manner which is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford. He quoted some passages from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) against the dual vote, and he thought the same applied to the plural vote; but the dual vote was to be given on the ground of wealth, on the ground of superior property, and you were to allow one man in one constituency to have a larger political power than another man in the same constituency. I venture to think that is a totally different matter to this—that a man should only be allowed to vote in one constituency, although he may have votes in other parts of the country. I oppose, and the Government oppose, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman on its merits. I have shown how incomplete, how unfair, is a measure which does not redress other anomalies while redressing one particular anomaly which may interest hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) spoke with reference to the diminished population of Ireland, and he asked why we had not proposed to increase the representation of Ireland in proportion to population at an earlier date of her political history. It has already been pointed out by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Maclean) that Lord Castlereagh did not take the test of the population only, but took the test of population and of wealth. I do not think hon. Members would desire—no one would desire—that such a test should now be offered to Ireland. They are far better off with only the test of population than with the test of population and property together.
That was not the test of the Union. If property had been the test of the Union, we should have had 170 Members.
I think the hon. Member did not hear the historical part of the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham. The hon. Gentleman said that by population Ireland would have had 200 Members.
By population I think 219.
I think the hon. Member is mistaken upon that point. The test was taken at that time when wealth did enter into the consideration, and I think hon. Members from Ireland are better off with population only than under the old system of the Union. Then the hon. Gentleman held this country responsible for the diminution of population. I will frankly admit that this country has, in its dealings with Ireland in the past, not always acted with justice or with magnanimity. I make that confession freely. But to hold that this country is responsible for the diminution of the population of Ireland, as suggested by the hon. Member, is contrary to historical fact, and, more than that, the onus probandi will be entirely upon the hon. Gentleman. Are there not many parts of the agricultural portions of Great Britain where the population has fallen, since the Union, almost in the same proportion as in Ireland? Economic causes have been at work in the agricultural parts of England as they have been at work in the agricultural parts of Ireland; and it is really distorting history to say this country is responsible for the diminution. The hon. Gentleman says, "Let us hold our hand now, because the population in Ireland, after the reforms and beneficial legislation of the last ten years, may again establish the old proportions." I trust the population of Ireland will so increase, and I accept the compliment which the hon. Gentleman has paid to the legislation of the last seven years, which proves that this Parliament has been able to pass measures by which, on his own showing, we may expect the population of Ireland once more to prosper and increase. But even if the sanguine dream of the hon. Gentleman and his friends were realised, and our beneficent legislation were crowned, as they would call it, by the grant of Home Rule to Ireland, they cannot think that the growth of population in Ireland would exceed that constant growth of population in England, Scotland, and Wales, which has characterised the last half of this century. I do not think the hon. Gentleman can argue to this House that on account of the probability of growth of population in Ireland we should, therefore, hold our hand. Before I sit down I should like to tell hon. Members from Ireland that I do not consider this Amendment to be directed against Ireland, or against Wales, or against any portion of the United Kingdom. We do not raise the point from these Benches, but the demand has come that there is to be equal electoral power distributed under a new system, and in new proportions, and that demand comes from hon. Members opposite. As it has been raised, we say that the consideration ought to apply to all parts of the United Kingdom. If you pass "One Man One Vote," you must have a general Redistribution Bill for the whole of the United Kingdom. You cannot deal generally with all these questions at the present time. I hope I have conclusively proved this—that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman necessitates a redistribution of seats. Are we to have a redistribution of seats? Is it part of the Newcastle Programme that there is to be a redistribution of seats as well as the introduction of the principle of "One Man One Vote"? If so, we have not heard of it. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman would seem to be to attempt to pass this one measure and then to leave the necessary redistribution probably to a subsequent Parliament, and meanwhile all these anomalies which exist at present would be intensified and increased by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. By the Bill great bodies of men would be disfranchised; it would be an act of injustice not alone to individuals, but also to the community, and it would establish a principle from which I hope we are still somewhat removed—namely, that it is not to the general interest of the community, but simply to the individual claimants of the vote, that we ought to look when we consider the reconstitution of the general institutions of the country.
The five minutes which the right hon. Gentleman has left me are sufficient for me to say all I have to say in reply. I have sat in the House a good many years, and more often than not on the same side as the right hon. Gentleman, and year after year I have heard him make the same speech against every proposal for electoral reform. He is always full of terrors, full of alarmism; always has it been with him a measure which must ultimately end in manhood suffrage; always has it been the disfranchisement of the Universities or some other bogey filling the mind of the right hon. Gentleman which for years has induced him to be the sturdy opponent of household suffrage. It is remarkable that against this proposal for the remedy of a great electoral injustice, the main spokesmen should be the right hon. Gentleman, the enemy of all electoral reform, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), the enemy of electoral rights in Ireland. I shall not be prevented by fear of manhood suffrage or fear of what may happen to the Universities from giving a cordial vote in favour of this Bill. There has been an endeavour to mix up with this other questions with which it has nothing whatever to do. I know that, in your opinion, the Irish question has to do with everything. It is that question which poisons every demand for justice to every other part of the United Kingdom. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can regard no other question, except in the light of how it will affect that policy towards Ireland of which the hon. Member for South Tyrone is the principal spokesman. I think it is quite enough that the opposition to this proposal should be led by the right hon. Gentleman on that side and the hon. Member for South Tyrone on this side of the House. Through all the subtleties of the right hon. Gentleman the people of this country will see very clearly. Members for county constituencies know perfectly well, and their constituents know, what is the effect of bringing in a number of outsiders. They will not be deceived by such speeches as that we have just heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and will not be induced to abstain from doing an act of justice to the people of England unless it is accompanied by an act of gross injustice to the people of Ireland.
rose to speak.
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
(5.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 196; Noes 243.—(Div. List, No. 133.)
Main Question, as amended, put.
(5.45.) The House divided:—Ayes 237; Noes 189.—(Div. List, No. 134.)
Resolved, That it would not be just or expedient to carry out the principle of "One Man One Vote" embodied in this Bill, unless the number of representatives allotted to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland respectively were previously settled in proportion to the population of each of those parts of the United Kingdom, and the principle of equality in voting thus secured.
It being Six of the clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.
House adjourned at Six o'clock.