Skip to main content

Extension Of Polling Hours Bill

Volume 53: debated on Friday 6 June 1913

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Order for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee) read.

I beg to move, in respect of a new Clause (Additional Officers), "That the Bill be recommitted."

In moving to recommit the Bill in respect of this Clause, I am not prompted by any desire either to delay the passage of the Bill or to obstruct it. I think I ought to explain in justice to this Amendment that I have been asked to move this Amendment by a number of officials who are not interested in what I may call the politics of the Bill, but who are very much interested indeed in what the position of the presiding officers and polling clerks will be under this Bill, and I think that for this new Clause I may claim the support of the Members of the Labour party who in this House have always advocated a proper restriction of the hours of labour. This Bill will increase the hours of presiding officers and polling clerks from twelve to fourteen, and I submit that unless this Amendment is passed we shall impose a great injustice upon those gentlemen who now fulfil the functions of presiding officers and polling clerks, and, what is still more important from the point of view of this House, we shall make it impossible for them to discharge their duties efficiently. Under the provisions of the two Acts which I quote in my new Clause, the Ballot Act, 1872, and the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1875, the number of persons who can be employed by the returning officer is restricted. They are restricted to one presiding officer for each polling station and to one polling clerk for each 500 electors at such polling station. Let me disabuse the minds of hon. Members on one point. Where at any particular polling station there are more than 500 electors on the register, it is quite true that there are two polling clerks employed, but those two polling clerks cannot be employed to relieve one another. They both have to be present during the whole of the proceedings, because the duties of the polling station are divided between them. In the case of a polling station at which there are more than 500 electors voting one polling clerk is entrusted with the duty of marking off the register and the other polling clerk with the duty of standing at the table. I submit that in the first place it is unfair and improper to ask any official to work for fourteen consecutive, continuous hours. It is a preposterous suggestion. I would remind hon. Members that although during a part of the day the duties of the officials may not be very arduous, there are periods of the day during which the duties both of the presiding officer and the poll clerk require great alertness and great concentration. I would also remind hon. Members that during no period of the day are either the presiding officer or the poll clerk allowed to leave the precincts of the polling station. If you pass the Bill in its present form you will be condemning the presiding officer and the poll clerk not merely to fourteen hours' continuous work, but you will be condemning them to remain for fourteen hours within the precincts of the polling station. I am sure Members on both sides of the House will be reluctant to impose these conditions upon presiding officers and poll clerks when they realise the nature of the duties performed by those officials.

One great argument that has been advanced in favour of the Bill, as a whole, has been the great pressure at the polling stations during the last hour that it is open. In Committee we were told that the fact that there was always a rush of electors between the hours of seven and eight was in itself evidence that there was a large section of the population who were unable to vote in the middle of the day. I submit that is only human nature, and that however late you keep the polling booths open there will always be a great rush of electors during the last hour. I believe if you keep the polling booths open for twenty-four hours there would still be a rush of electors during the twenty-third hour, because I think it is human nature in a matter of this sort to put off the duties of citizenship until the very last moment. If this Bill is passed in its present form, you will be asking officials who are worn out by thirteen hours dof continuous labour to grapple with their duties at a time when it is most necessary that they should be alert. If you do not provide some means for relieving presiding officers and poll clerks, you increase the danger of impersonation to an untold extent. I believe any hon. Member who has had experience of contested elections will agree with me that not only is it very necessary for presiding officers and poll clerks to be thoroughly alert and awake to their duties during the last hour, but that it is during that hour that most of the impersonations take place and that most of the spoiled votes are spoiled owing to the poll clerk neglecting to stamp the paper. At every election, or most elections, there are a number of spoiled votes owing to the omission of the poll clerk to stamp the papers. That class of spoiled vote will increase enormously if you compel the poll clerk to work for fourteen consecutive hours. I feel it is unnecessary for me to labour this argument. The preposterous suggestion that any official of the State, even if he be a temporary official, should be compelled to work for fourteen continuous hours is so obvious that I am sure the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will accept my Motion.

I beg to second the Motion made by the Noble Lord. I myself moved an Amendment in Committee drawing attention to the great additional labour that would be imposed upon the polling officials taking part in an election unless some means were devised for relieving them. The Committee did not go very carefully into the matter at the time; but I think there is a general feeling among those conversant with elections that a serious difficulty has to be dealt with in this matter, because the law as it now stands does not allow the presiding officer or poll clerk to vacate the polling station during the hours of polling. Therefore, unless this Bill is recommitted on the lines proposed by the Noble Lord, there will be a considerable increase in the labour performed by those officials, and I think there will be very serious impairment of efficiency in the conduct of the elections. A good deal has been said upstairs in Committee, and also during the previous Debate in this House, minimising the difficulty and saying that elections only take place once in three years, and that there is not any very great hardship in an official or a set of officials being called upon at such an infrequent period as three years to take part in an election lasting fourteen hours. I would point out that in London we have frequent elections. Take the most recent instances. We had the Metropolitan borough councils elections, followed by a good many by-elections consequent upon the elevation of certain councillors to the aldermanic benches. A very few months afterwards the county council elections took place. Within a month of the county council elections the boards of guardians elections took place, and owing to the process of the co-option of certain members, which is the same thing as the promotion of a councillor to alderman, vacancies occurred which necessitated a series of by-elections. These elections have come automatically. Within a period of three or four months we have had no less than five or six sets of elections in London. That is not an easy task. The whole of the local government electoral machinery is employed at these elections, and the officials employed are taken off their ordinary work. If you put too much pressure upon the officials it will interfere with their other public work, and will be a great strain upon them. Above all, I believe it will impair the efficiency of the arrangements that have worked with so much success in the conduct of elections in the past. I appeal to hon. Members opposite, and particularly to Members of the Labour party, to take the same view that we do upon this matter, and see that the officials employed at elections have not a hardship put upon them. If this Instruction is carried, the Bill will come down again, and Provision can be made to get over this very serious difficulty. I hope, therefore, that the House will see fit to carry the Instruction moved by my Noble Friend.

I regret to say that I shall not be able to recommend the House to accept the course proposed. I assume the Noble Lord and the hon. and gallant Gentleman are not less anxious than we are to see this Bill satisfactorily dealt with and passed through the necessary stage in the course of this afternoon. The reason why I say the proposal is quite uncalled for is that it never has been the practice where the hours of polling have been extended to deal with this difficulty in this way. If my memory of the Debates is right—I read them about a month ago—exactly the same sort of objection was made when the proposal was made to extend the hours of polling from eight to eight, lest there should be too much work thrown upon somebody on polling day. That proposal then failed, and, for the same-reason, it ought to fail now.

I am indeed surprised that not one word of pity or mercy for these thousands of officials—for this Bill affects the employment of at least 30,000 officials—should have fallen from the Solicitor-General. The Bill adds to their already strenuous labours another two hours a day. The only argument the Solicitor-General advanced was that when you added to their labours before year never thought of giving them extra help or remuneration. On that occasion we were not adding inhumanely to their work. Occasionally to have to work a twelve hours' day is something that happens to us all. Twelve hours' work is a great strain upon anybody, yet when it is proposed to make it fourteen hours instead of twelve the Solicitor-General says that because we did not offer them any extra help or remuneration when their hours were made twelve instead of ten, you need not offer them extra help or remuneration now. There may be another Bill to extend the hours of polling from six in the morning—[HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear!"]—there are evidently advocates of that upon the other side of the House—or, perhaps, from four in the morning till twelve at night, and I can imagine the Solicitor-General saying, "We never gave them any extra help or remuneration. Let them work the twenty-four hours if necessary; what does it matter to us?" It does not matter to us here. These 30,000 or 50,000 presiding officers and clerks at all these elections must not have an eight hours day, but must work from sixteen to twenty-four hours if necessary and earn their money! That, I understand, is the view of the Labour party. We know something of their sympathy for an eight hours' day, yet they are willing to impose a sixteen hours' day upon these officials for their own convenience. I am one of those who are not the least afraid of the effect of an extension of the hours of polling—in fact, the more the hours of polling are extended at the present time the greater will be the majority against the present Government. For my own part, I should like to see the poll open for twenty-four hours, because at every single by-election it would increase the majority against the present Government.

Whatever may be our desire in the matter of the extension of the hours of polling, and however little we fear that extension, we ought to feel for those who have to conduct these elections. I agree with my Noble Friend (Lord A. Thynne) that these officials have an enormous strain cast upon them, particularly during the last few hours. I have been through many elections myself and know the work the presiding officers and polling clerks have to do during the last hour or two. In some constituencies it is most necessary that they should be particularly alert during those hours to prevent impersonation. A sleepy clerk or presiding officer is not the person I should choose to prevent impersonation. He wants to have all his faculties about him and to be fully alive. A man who begins work at seven o'clock in the morning and has to continue it up to nine o'clock is not the sort of man who ought to preside over a polling booth, or the sort of polling clerk who ought to be employed for that particular class of work. It is not only fourteen hours' work that is being imposed upon them. We must remember that the presiding officer and polling clerks are generally chosen from outside the constituency to which they belong, because neither party is willing to lose their votes. It is the practice to choose these officials from other constituencies, therefore they will have to get up at a still earlier hour in the morning, and it will not be a fourteen hours' day, but probably a sixteen or eighteen hours' day for them. These matters do not appear to receive consideration from the Solicitor-General. They ought to receive consideration in giving adequate and not inadequate hours of labour to those who have to perform these arduous duties. The Bill will not be lost if it is recommitted; it will have the same chance of becoming law as it has now, and the House will show that it has some mercy and consideration for these thousands of officials employed in the conduct of our elections.

It is quite refreshing, and I am delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher) speaking in favour of the sweated polling clerk, and the sweated returning officer at £4 4s. a day. I do not know whether he had his tongue in his cheek when he said that the longer the poll is open the greater would be his party's victory next time. If that is so, why does he appose it? A twenty-four hours' day would be a nice, comfortable three shifts for these poor sweated clerks. I have been in a polling booth and I have had a great deal to do with elections, and have thought that the presiding officer had one of the softest jobs, and that the returning officer has a better job still. It is said they will have to come from a distance in the morning. One hon. Member said that they would have to get up at four in the morning in order to get to a distant town, and that the work was of such a character that it demanded men with tremendous intellectual capacity. I have thought once or twice that I might have been able to do a job like that myself. When he went on to declare that some of the presiding officers had three elections in a week, which made it twelve guineas a week, and pleaded for the sweated returning officer, he seemed to be carrying it too far. What I understand the whole House wants is that every person who is entitled to record his vote should have an opportunity of recording his vote. Whatever the expense of an election is you have to pay for it, and if a few extra polling clerks are put on to relieve in the middle of the day when they take a little light refreshment for two hours, they have to be paid for. I have known an enormous number of people to be polled during the refreshment adjournment. I do not know how it is, but it has happened that they have come in and polled in the meantime. I suppose it is perfectly bonâ fide, and that that is the time when the dead ones vote. I ask the House to reject this proposal. We want an extension of the polling hours, and if any hardship can be proved at a later date I have not the slightest doubt that the champions of sweated labour on the other side of the House will bring in an amending Bill so as to enable the men to be paid properly. If they move to extend the hours so as to make it a clear sixteen and get two eight-hour shifts, I should vote for it, because it seems a reasonable thing. I hope the House will let us get on with the Bill, and decline to recommit it altogether.

The hon. Member apparently thinks no one can oppose this Bill except for party motives. He says if this party is going to gain by the Bill, why do we oppose it? We oppose it because we think it is unnecessary. There are many things which do not have a marked effect on one party rather than the other, but which are an undesirable form of wasting public money. I think the hon. Member, before he expresses an opinion as to whether presiding officers and returning officers and polling officers—he seemed a little confused between the various classes—are underpaid or not, should take the trouble to find out what the remuneration is. In the case at least of Parliamentary boroughs, I know that the presiding officers only get £3 3s., and not £4 4s. The limit placed on the number of officials employed by the Parliamentary Elections Act and the Ballot Act is absolutely impossible if this Bill passes. Figures have been worked out by a responsible body which show that the addition of one-third to the number of officials will be required. At present I understand that about 30,000 officials are employed in elections, and this will mean that an extra 10,000 will be required. I do not know where they are to be got from, but in any case it is desirable that they should be got, because in many cases the duties of those employed in the polling booth do not end with the closing of the poll. Many of them are employed the next day in counting the votes, for which they need all their wits about them, and where any carelessness resulting from fatigue is very much to be deprecated. I think it is most desirable that you should not work men for these long hours the day before they have to perform this very responsible duty.

The Committee had no want of sympathy with the officers who are engaged in elections. The point was fully considered, but the Committee decided that in a Bill of this kind it was contrary to precedent and practice to put in a Clause dealing with the matter. It is not to be supposed for a minute that if these officials have to undertake extra work they will not in some sense get extra remuneration for it. [HON. MEMBERS: "They cannot."] I fail to see how it is impossible to arrange it. Most of us have examined returning officers' expenses at one time or another. In these particular items, when you deal with returning officers' expenses, then will be the time to consider those questions, rather than complicate a simple little Bill like this, which, though it is not a large subject, is a very difficult one, and a matter that requires a good deal of careful consideration.

I think the hon. Member does not really appreciate the seriousness of the point which the Noble Lord has raised. He recognises that some further remuneration ought to be given to these men if they are called upon to perform municipal duties, but how can it be done? Is he aware that at present the Act of 1875 fixes a maximum, and nothing more than that can be paid as the law stands at present? The only way it could be done would be by some amending Act. The hon. Member says that may be true, but do it by another Act and not by this Act. His proposal really is this: Impose the additional duty by one Act of Parliament and let them wait for their remuneration until this House finds time for another Act. What are the chances in this Session or next Session of that going through? It must depend, in the first place, on whether anyone is lucky enough to find a place in the ballot, and, if he finds a place in the ballot for this particular Bill, whether it ultimately passes through all its stages. The hon. Member (Mr. Crooks) is dealing with only one set of these officers who do get a high remuneration. He has entirely left out the case of local government elections, where the remuneration is very small, and in that and in some other cases they get no extra remuneration, but it is a part of their ordinary duties. The amount he named only applies to Parliamentary elections. The Noble Lord's argument was not so much directed to the question of remuneration as to the question of hours. He was not complaining about the remuneration which was being paid alone. He based himself on two grounds. In the first place, if you give them additional work, you ought to give them additional remuneration; and, secondly, in any case these are such long hours that the men will not be in a position to efficiently discharge their duties. I do not think the hon. Member's speech touched the case that the Noble Lord put forward. If you pass this Bill without at the same time introducing an Amendment allowing additional men to be employed, you would be

Division No. 102.]

AYES.

[12.45 p.m.

Agg-Gardner, James TynteFisher, Rt. Hon. W. HayesPease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R.Gastrell, Major W. HoughtonPeel, Lieut-Colonel R. F.
Anstruther-Gray, Major WilliamGilmour, Captain JohnPerkins, Walter F.
Baird, John LawrenceGlazebrook, Captain Philip K.Randles, Sir John S.
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)Greene, Walter RaymondSamuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)
Banbury, Sir Frederick GeorgeGuinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds)Sanders, Robert Arthur
Barnston, HarryHaddock, George BahrStanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Bigland, AlfredHarrison-Broadley, H. B.Steel-Maitland, A. D.
Blair, ReginaldHewins, William Albert SamuelTalbot, Lord Edmund
Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid)Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian)Terrell, G. (Wilts, N, W.)
Bridgeman, W. CliveHunter, Sir Charles Rodk.Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)
Bull, Sir William JamesIngleby, HolcombeWilloughby, Major Hon. Claud
Burgoyne, Alan HughesJessel, Captain H. M.Wills, Sir Gilbert
Burn, Colonel C. R.Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E. R.)
Cassel, FelixLocker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lieut.-Colonel A. R.Yate, Colonel C. E.
Clay, Captain H. H. SpenderM'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)Younger, Sir George
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)Newman, John R. P.
Denison-Pender, J. C.Nield, HerbertTELLERS FOR THE AYES—Lord
Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid) Alexander Thynne and Mr. Goldsmith.
Falle, Bertram GodfrayPaget, Almeric Hugh

NOES.

Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)Ffrench, PeterLundon, Thomas
Alden, PercyFlavin, Michael JosephLynch, A. A.
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbarton)George, Rt. Hon. D. LloydMacdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)Glnnell, LaurenceMcGhee, Richard
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert HenryGladstone, W. G. C.Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)Glanville, H. J.MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)
Beale, Sir William PhipsonGoddard, Sir Daniel FordMacpherson, James Ian
Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)Goldstone, FrankMcKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald
Bennett-Goldney, FrancisGrey, Rt. Hon. Sir EdwardMartin, Joseph
Birrell, Rt. Hon. AugustineGriffith, Ellis J.Mason, David M. (Coventry)
Black, Arthur W.Gulland, John WilliamMasterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G.
Boland, John PiusGwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)
Booth, Frederick HandelHackett, JohnMenzies, Sir Walter
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)Hancock, J. G.Molloy, Michael
Brace, WilliamHarcourt, Rt Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)Morison, Hector
Brady, Patrick JosephHarcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)Muldoon, John
Brunner, John F. L.Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.)Munro, R.
Bryce, J. AnnanHavelock-Allan, Sir HenryMurphy, Martin J.
Burke, E. Haviland-Higham, John SharpMurray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.
Burns, Rt. Hon. JohnHobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.Nolan, Joseph
Carr-Gomm, H. W.Hogg, David C.Nugent, Sir Walter Richard
Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood)Hogge, James MylesO'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Chancellor, Henry GeorgeHolmes, Daniel TurnerO'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Chapple, Dr. William AllenHorne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich)O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir RufusO'Doherty, Philip
Clancy, John JosephJardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)O'Dowd, John
Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)Johnson, W.O'Malley, William
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Cotton, William FrancisJones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)Parker, James (Halifax)
Crooks, WilliamJones, William (Carnarvonshire)Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Crumley, PatrickJones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)Phillips, John (Longford, S.)
Cullinan, JohnJowett, F. W.Price, Sir R. J. (Norfolk, E.)
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)Joyce, MichaelPriestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford)
Delany, WilliamKelly, EdwardPringle, William M. R.
Denman, Hon. Richard DouglasKennedy, Vincent PaulRea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Devlin, JosephKilbride, DenisRedmond, John E. (Waterford)
Dickinson, W. H.King, J.Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Dillon, JohnLambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Doris, WilliamLardner, James C. R.Roberts, George H. (Norwich)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th)Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Esslemont, George BirnieLeach, CharlesRoch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Falconer, JamesLewis, John HerbertRowlands, James

employing these men for such a length of time that they could not efficiently discharge their very important and arduous duties.

Question put, "That the Bill be recommitted in respect of a new Clause entitled ( Additional Officers.)."

The House divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 155.

Runciman, Rt. Hon. WalterTaylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)Whitehouse, John Howard
Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.Ure, Rt. Hon. AlexanderWhyte, A. F. (Perth)
Sheehan, Daniel DanielVerney, Sir HarryWilliams, John (Glamorgan)
Sheehy, DavidWadsworth J.Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John AllsebrookWalton, Sir JosephWing, Thomas
Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)Wardle, George J.
Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)Webb, H.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Sutherland, John E.White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)W. Pearce and Mr. Wiles.
Sutton, John E.White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)

Bill, as amended, considered.

The new Clause (Application to Local Authorities) standing in the name of the hon. Member for South St. Pancras (Captain Jessel) will come as a proviso to Clause 1. The second new Clause (Limitation of Application) in the name of the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Sandys) is too indefinite and vague and there is no machinery for making the Amendment operative. The third new Clause (Additional Officers) in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Bath (Lord A. Thynne) is disposed of by the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, as stated. The fourth new Clause (Consent of Local Authorities to be obtained) in the name of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Sanders) is a proviso to the first Clause. The same observation applies to the next new Clause (Application of Act to Local Government Elections) in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Bath. The new Clause (Limitation of Act) in the name of the hon. Member for Stowmarket (Mr. Goldsmith) will come as an Amendment to Clause 2.

Clause 1—(Extension Of Polling Hours)

(1) At every Parliamentary and local government election the poll (if any) shall commence at seven o'clock in the forenoon and be kept open till nine o'clock in the afternoon of the same day and no longer.

(2) The expression "Parliamentary election" in this Act means an election for a county, city, borough, place, or combination of counties, cities, boroughs, and places (not being any university or universities) which returns any knight of the shire or Member to serve in Parliament, and where the same is divided for the purpose of such return includes an election for such Division.

(3) The expression "local government election" in this Act means an election for any county council, municipal borough council, or metropolitan borough council.

I beg to move, at the beginning of Sub-section (1), to insert the following words, "From and after the next Parliamentary General Election." My object in moving this Amendment is to get, some guidance from the country as to whether this Bill is required or not. I have tried to ascertain, so far, whether such a big change as this has any substantial backing behind it. I cannot find that there is in reality any desire for it. There seems to be a sort of general rush to try to get out of the provisions of the Bill. In the Committee upstairs we found the representatives of Scotland vying with the representatives of Ireland to get their countries excluded from the Bill. The Members representing county divisions said that the extended hours would not suit them, and many Members representing urban constituencies were also opposed to the Bill. With the solitary exception of those populated districts outside London, and one or two of the big towns we really could not find any representative in favour of this Bill. At the first meeting of the Committee the Lord Advocate was asked whether he would exclude Scotland. He replied that thirty-four Members from Scotland had voted in favour of the Second Reading, and he regarded that as a sufficient mandate to refuse assent to Scotland being taken out. At the last meeting of the Committee the Motion to exclude Scotland was again pressed, and the Lord Advocate said he had come to the conclusion that there was no volume of opinion in Scotland in favour of the Bill, and therefore he urged that the proposed Clause to omit Scotland should be adopted. Since the Second Reading he had endeavoured to ascertain what was the opinion in Scotland, with the result that while no voice was raised in favour of the application of the measure to that country, numerous communications to the contrary had been made to him; about 120 boroughs had expressed opposition to the Bill and the county councils were also against it. I admit frankly that we did not discuss the question of Ireland, but no opposition to the exclusion of Ireland was taken by the Irish representatives. In this country there was no mention of this proposal in any election address at the last General Election. There is no grievance in the matter, with a very slight exception.

1.0 P.M.

Everybody interested in representative government must be in favour of as many electors as possible taking part in elections, but there is nothing to prove that full advantage is not taken in the majority of cases. In the recent Newmarket election 90 per cent, of the electors voted, and in the Altrincham election 86 per cent. I submit that there is no necessity for this change which is going to cost all of us a great deal more money as regards returning officers' charges, while imposing additional labour on the officials who will take part in the elections, without any possible relief as regards their hours of work. No communication in its favour has reached me from anybody, and I doubt very much whether hon. Members opposite can produce evidence that even their political associations had passed resolutions urging them to support it. In London there has been a singular want of interest in this Bill. We all know that if the contrary was the case we would have had urgent and frequent communications from the people in the constituencies to their Members. Nothing of the kind has taken place. This Bill is brought forward simply to suit certain individual constituencies, but as regards the great local governing areas in this country we have no evidence given in favour of this great change. It is going to apply not only to Parliamentary elections but also to every single municipal election. The only experience we have got of the alteration of the hours of polling is as regards the elections for guardians in London, and the experience to be drawn from that is the very worst argument in favour of this Bill, because while we have from 80 to 90 per cent, of the electors voting at Parliamentary elections at the elections for guardians in London which are the only elections in whose case the hours have been extended the proportion of electors taking part varies from 17 to 24 or 25 per cent. This Bill will cause a great amount of inconvenience throughout the country, without doing any good to a single human being, with the possible exception of two or three of the districts outside London. It should not be inflicted upon the rest of the country against the wish of the constituencies, and therefore I trust that the House will accept my Amendment.

I beg to second the Amendment. I would appeal to the common sense of the House to postpone this Bill until after the General Election. We have from the Government a solemn pledge that a large omnibus measure dealing with registration, franchise and electoral reform will be introduced during the lifetime of the present Government, and there is a pledge that if the Home Rule Bill is put on the Statute Book redistribution will also be undertaken. If that be so why bring in this small petty measure now? If the Government are really going to bring in this great omnibus measure why bring in this small twopence-halfpenny Bill? Both Front Benches would be very much surprised if they knew the measure of agreement there was on the back benches in all parts of this House regarding matters of electoral reform. I believe that if we could summon a round table conference excluding Front Benches on both sides we should thresh out all these matters and bring forward a comprehensive measure which would do away with all the difficulties from which we suffer in this matter. In this question of electoral reform I have taken a non-party position. I have the honour to be secretary of the Redistribution Committee which is purely a non-party body. I am also secretary of a Representation Society, and that is a non-party body. I have always myself found, even with political opponents, that on certain questions of electoral reform we are largely in agreement. I appeal to the House to, at any rate, postpone this measure until after the next General Election.

This Amendment was the first to be moved in Committee, and it was discussed at very substantial length, and some of the hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House also spoke in Committee. The matter, therefore, has been thoroughly considered. As the result of that consideration, the Committee by a very substantial majority, more than two to one, decided that this Amendment ought not to be made. I would point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment is proceeding under a misapprehension in supposing that the insertion of those words would secure that this Bill would not become law after the General Election. Supposing that this Amendment were inserted, the result would be, once the next General Election was over, that it would apply to all future elections. If this and nothing else was to be the issue at the next General Election, the fact of the Amendment being inserted that the Act shall not come into operation until after the next General Election would not, as he supposes, give the country the opportunity of judging upon it. The practical difficulty in many constituencies is aggravated very much indeed owing to the fact that the hours of polling are not more extended, and it is a difficulty which is constantly pointed out in any discussion of the subject. This matter having been very carefully considered in Committee, and the arguments used there having been repeated here, I trust it will not be considered necessary to discuss the Amendment at any great length, as there are other and important matters to come on.

The Solicitor-General treats this Amendment in a very light hearted sort of way. He says that it will not be effective for the purpose proposed even if carried, because the Bill would apply to all other elections after the next General Election. That is not my forecast of what would happen. Those who support this Amendment believe that at the next General Election the views and opinions of the electors up and down the country, and of county and municipal authorities and other public bodies would be gathered in such volume as to empower any future Government to repeal this measure if it becomes an Act. I was not a member of the Committee, which considered this Bill, but Scotland has withdrawn from it, and Ireland does not want it, and, given the opportunity, I believe England would withdraw from it also. The Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend would enable England to withdraw from it. We believe that after the next General Election, when the country would have an opportunity of expressing its view, any Government in power would find itself justified in saying, "This Act must be taken off the Statute Book, because it is obviously a very unpopular measure." Many of us have been engaged in public life now for practically a quarter of a century, and we have been constant recipients of many resolutions of all sorts from municipal and other bodies. We have had thousands of questions and resolutions addressed to us on the political platform. Has any one of us been the recipient of any resolution from any single body asking us to support a Bill to extend the hours of polling? I do not think there has been any expression of popular opinion on this Bill in any shape or way. Personally, in London, I have never had such a resolution addressed to me from any body, however insignificant, nor have I ever had a question addressed to me about the hours of polling. Among the thousands of questions put on the platform, I have never once been asked, "Will you vote for a measure to extend the hours of polling?" All the time I was a member of the London County Council I never heard the question raised, nor a single petition or request for this Bill from any quarter. I firmly believe that just as the Scottish and Irish representatives do not want the Bill, so the English representatives, if they knew the real desire of the English people, would not want it either. The Member for Enfield made a very proper appeal to the Government not to deal with this question in a piecemeal fashion. Electoral reform ought not to be debated on the Bill of a private Member, however worthy, or however much time he may have devoted to the subject. Electoral reform is a matter for the Government, and should be a matter of general agreement as far as possible. There is a greater body of agreement than hon. Gentlemen opposite, seem to think. We on this side are quite prepared to consider the whole of this subject, and even the extension of the hours of polling. The danger arising from treating this question in a piecemeal way is very great indeed. Following upon this Bill is another Bill which is going upstairs—a Bill providing that all elections shall take place on one day—one poll in London on one day. One Bill can' not very well be considered without the other. One of the greatest arguments, against having the polling on one day in London is the difficulty of making adequate police arrangements. The difficulty will be greater still if the hours of polling are extended.

The arguments which, the right hon. Gentleman is now using are arguments against the Second Reading. The other Bill has been read a second time; the House has approved the principle. He must now confine himself to, some reason for postponing the operation of this Bill until after the next General Election.

I may have gone too far, but this matter is one that ought to be considered by the Government itself in its relation to other questions of electoral reform, and one of the most important questions is in reference to police arrangements for the conduct of the poll. I have heard nothing from the Home Secretary or anybody about that. I maintain that is a plea which may well be put in for the proper and fuller consideration of all questions of electoral reform, not by a private Member bringing in a, private Bill on a Friday, but by the Government taking up the question seriously and laying down on large lines the manner in which he can proceed. For my own part, I have no desire to delay or to obstruct this particular Bill, but I do say that the time has come when the Government might well consider whether they should not, devote themselves, if not in this Session then in the next Session, to some far larger measure of electoral reform which will satisfy the great majority of the House.

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if those who are in charge of this Bill, and the Government of the day, would let us know what attitude they intend to adopt in regard to this Bill. There are difficulties, and very considerable difficulties, but, on the other hand, there is a legitimate grievance that has got to be met, and I do not feel that we are going to meet that grievance by postponing the operation of this Bill until after the next General Election. There are districts where undoubtedly the hours of polling ought to be extended. That is absolutely essential if we are to get a satisfactory record of opinion in those constituencies. On the other hand, there are a far greater number of constituencies where there is no necessity whatever and where the extension would be an intolerable nuisance and a great grievance which ought not to be done. The moment this Bill went up to Committee, Scotland gets out of it, and yet I dare say there are one or two districts in Scotland where it would be desirable to have it; and Ireland gets out of it, although I dare say there are one or two districts in Ireland where it would be desirable to have it. For the bulk of Ireland and Scotland, and for the bulk of England, it would be an intolerable nuisance. Why do, we want to have the hours from seven o'clock to nine o'clock, keeping a lot of people at work on one of the most difficult and trying days that some people go through? Surely there is common sense enough on the Govern- ment Bench or amongst the promoters of this Bill so to provide that those districts where it would be useful should have it, and that those where it is not wanted should not have it! I do not think there are more than 10 or 15 or 20 per cent. of the constituencies where this would be of any value, while in 75 or 80 per cent. of them it would be a great nuisance. It is as if a man came here to propose that because he had a short leg everybody else should wear a thick boot. There is no necessity for it everywhere, while it could be adapted to the reasonable requirements of some districts. I do not think we ought to carry this Amendment and postpone the operation of the Bill. The grievance is an urgent one, and it is one that ought to be dealt with at once for those constituencies which require it. We do not want it applied all over the country, where it would be a great nuisance and a great grievance.

I think we may congratulate ourselves that at last we have had a real gleam of intelligence from the other side, and I personally thank the right hon. Gentleman very sincerely. He has put the whole of our ease in a nut-shell. We desire that this Bill should not come into operation until after the next General Election for the very reason he has set forth so very ably, because we believe, as he believes, that there are a very large number of constituencies where it would be perfectly useless, and where it is not required in the smallest degree. I have had a pretty large experience in fighting contested elections, and the different classes of constituencies I know vary enormously as to the requirements of the length of the Dolling hours. I agree where you come to a working-class constituency it is far more difficult for the electors to poll in the prescribed hours that exist at the present time. I do not believe there is a single man on this side who would desire to do anything to prevent the electors from registering their votes, and, in fact, we would do everything we could to facilitate them. Where there is no preponderance of those who are forced to remain at work, why should it be necessary to inflict extra toil and trouble, and I really think inflict on the unfortunate candidate himself real agony during those long hours, which must entail immense extra labour on everybody, and very considerable hardship on all those engaged in the election. I do urge on the right hon. Gentleman and on hon. Members to take seriously the point the right hon. Gentleman has just raised. I believe it would be possible for us all to meet on common ground. I agree there are an enormous number of things required for the benefit of electoral reform and I do ask the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. W. Pearce), who is the proposer of this Bill, to very seriously consider our point of view and do what he can to meet it.

I am interested in that portion of the Bill relating to Scotland, and I did intervene briefly in the discussion in Committee. The Committee decided on a rather sweeping Amendment to omit Scotland and Ireland altogether. Some of my hon. Friends from Scotland do desire to amend the Bill on the precise point put by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I think very reasonably, that this may be wanted in special districts. If you, Sir, allow this discussion to proceed, although possibly it is not strictly relevant, I should like to know whether my right bon. Friend, the Solicitor-General, or other Members of the Government can draft an Amendment which would meet that special point. I tried my hand in Committee and offered an Amendment allowing constituencies, especially for Parliamentary purposes, to adopt the Act.

The next Amendment raises two very substantial issues on which those points may be discussed.

I am sure the House must feel impressed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) because, although he ended up by saying that he was not in favour of delay, that seemed to be the one conclusion of his speech. He said this Bill in its present form was not acceptable. He pointed out in very weighty language the strong objections which might be urged against this provision. He offered no alternative, and yet he said he was not in favour of delay. The object of delay is, of course, very obvious, although the Solicitor-General seemed unable to appreciate it. We want delay so that there should be the opportunity of reversing this Bill after the next General Election before it comes into force throughout the country. It is quite true that it will come into force after the date of the General Election, but only for the moment in the case of by-elections. Perhaps there would be three or four by-elections before the Bill would be reversed. That would not be important, and we should be saved the very great expense which would be incurred by this Bill being brought into operation. Meanwhile, it would be possible for the Government, who have distinguished themselves by appointing so many Select Committees on various subjects, to appoint even another Select Committee to inquire into the necessity of this proposal and to distinguish between the conditions of the various localities. I think that there is a case for delay, because the country has not considered this matter. Personally, I have fought elections for local purposes and for Parliamentary purposes in London, in a county, and in a small provincial borough, and in no case have I found any desire for this Bill. I have never put it before the electors, and I have never had any electors speak to me of the need for such a change. I believe that no one at present is disfranchised from this cause, and I honestly believe that the passing of this Bill will disfranchise more people than it will enfranchise. It is well known that the unstamped ballot papers become more frequent in the evening when the presiding officers who have been on continuous duty are suffering from brain-fag.

The hon. Member is now discussing the general principle of the Bill. That has been accepted. He must confine himself to the Amendment.

I appreciate your ruling. I only wish to impress upon the Solicitor-General, who did not deal with the point in his speech, that there is no public opinion whatever in favour of this Bill, and that no argument has been advanced to show that the Bill would be rendered any the less efficacious by a short delay. In view of the lack of any expression of public opinion, I think the Government would be well advised to compromise by accepting the Amendment.

So much has been said about their being no demand for this Bill that I desire to dissociate myself from that view. For more years than I care to remember, the Trades Congress, which is representative at any rate of working-class opinion, has made a strong demand for the extension of the polling hours. They have urged this reform upon successive Governments for many years. There is not an industrial constituency in the country where it would not confer a great advantage upon the workers. Speaking for my own Constituency, I remember that in the first election of 1910, although there had been no overtime worked during the previous week, it seemed on the day of the election as if there was an epidemic of overtime, with the result that it was very difficult to get the electors to the poll before eight o'clock. It is all very well for Gentlemen on the other side who have the command of motor vehicles at a General Election. But we Labour men are not in that fortunate position, and our supporters consequently have to walk to the, poll. In the case of London, a man living at Greenwich may work five or six miles away, and that, in view of the difficulties of transport from one side of London to another, is an argument in favour of this Bill. To my mind the hours of polling from beginning to end are too long. Why not have an interval between eleven and twelve o'clock for those who are engaged—

The hon. Member can raise that point on a later Amendment. It does not arise on the Amendment under discussion.

I am sorry to transgress. As far as the working classes are concerned, the extension of the hours of polling is essential.

Division No. 103.]

AYES.

[1.33 p.m.

Agg-Gardner, James TynteFalle, Bertram GodfrayMorrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)
Anstruther-Gray, Major WilliamFell, ArthurNewman, John R. P.
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. HayesNorton-Griffiths, J. (Wednesbury)
Banbury, Sir Frederick GeorgeFletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Barnston, HarryGastrell, Major W. HoughtonPaget, Almeric Hugh
Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich)Gibbs, George AbrahamPease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Bigland, AlfredGilmour, Captain JohnPeel, Lieut-Colonel R. F.
Blair, ReginaldGlazebrook, Captain Philip K.Perkins, Walter F.
Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid)Goldsmith, FrankRandles, Sir John S.
Bridgeman, William CliveGreene, Walter RaymondSanders, Robert Arthur
Burgoyne, Alan HughesGuinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds)Smith, Harold (Warrington)
Burn, Colonel C. R.Haddock, George BahrStanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Carlile, Sir Edward HildredHope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)Talbot, Lord E.
Cassel, FelixHope, Major J. A. (Midlothian)Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)
Cave, GeorgeHunter, Sir Charles Rodk.Thynne, Lord Alexander
Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)Ingleby, HolcombeWilliams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.Joynson-Hicks, WilliamWilloughby, Major Hon. Claud
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)Wills, Sir Gilbert
Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.Yate, Colonel C. E.
Cripps, Sir Charles AlfredLyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)Younger, Sir George
Dalrymple, ViscountM'Calmont, Major Robert C. A.
Denison-Pender, J. C.M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Captain
Duke, Henry EdwardMagnus, Sir PhilipJessel and Sir Harry Samuel.
Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.Malcolm, Ian

in this matter. In Committee neither the Mover of the Bill nor the Attorney-General was in a position, when challenged, either to produce new statistics showing the necessity for the Bill, or to name any constituency in which the Bill was required, or to give any evidence of any demand in any part of England for the Bill. The proceedings in Committee were characterised by an extraordinary anxiety on the part of Scottish Members on both sides to exclude Scotland from the measure. There has been no demand shown in either agricultural or industrial England for the Bill. I submit, therefore, that we ought to postpone its application until after the next General Election, when it will be possible to collect specific statistics dealing with the question. As to what would be the effect of the extension of the polling hours, I believe that it would operate just as much in favour of Members on this side as of Members on the other, so far as increased facilities enabled to vote a certain small number of voters who are now prevented from so doing. Where we shall stand to lose by the Bill is in the increased facilities it will give for personation. What transpired on the previous Amendment, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite opposed relief to presiding officers, clearly shows that the right hon. Gentleman himself is not blind to what we regard as the most dangerous effect of this Bill.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The House divided: Ayes, 68; Noes, 179.

NOES.

Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)Hancock, J. G.Nugent, Sir Walter Richard
Addison, Dr. C.Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)Nuttall, Harry
Alden, PercyHarcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert HenryHavelock-Allan, Sir HenryO'Doherty, Philip
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)Hayden, John PatrickO'Dowd, John
Beale, Sir William PhipsonHenderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)O'Malley, William
Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)Henry, Sir CharlesO'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Bethell Sir J. H.Higham, John SharpO'Shaughnessy, P. J.
Birrell, Rt. Hon. AugustineHobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.O'Shee, James John
Black, Arthur W.Hodge, JohnOuthwaite, R. L.
Boland, John PiusHogg, David C.Parker, James (Halifax)
Booth, Frederick HandelHogge, James MylesPease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Bowerman, Charles W.Holmes, Daniel TurnerPhillips, John (Longford, S.)
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)Holt, Richard DurningPrice, Sir R. J. (Norfolk, E.)
Brace, WilliamHorne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich)Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford)
Brady, Patrick JosephHoward, Hon. GeoffreyPringle, William M. R.
Brunner, John F. L.Hughes, Spencer LeighRadford, G. H.
Bryce, J. AnnanIsaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir RufusRea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)
Burke, E. Haviland-Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)Reddy, Michael
Burns, Rt. Hon. JohnJohnson, W.Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Carr-Gomm, H. W.Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood)Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)
Chancellor, Henry GeorgeJones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Chapple, Dr. William AllenJowett, Frederick WilliamRobertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.Joyce, MichaelRoch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Clancy, John JosephKelly, EdwardRoe, Sir Thomas
Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)Kennedy, Vincent PaulRowlands, James
Condon, Thomas JosephKilbride, DenisRunciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.King, J. (Somerset, North)Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Cotton, William FrancisLambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Crooks, WilliamLardner, James C. R.Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.
Crumley, PatrickLarmor, Sir J.Sheehan, Daniel Daniel
Cullinan, JohnLaw, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)Sheehy, David
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th)Shortt, Edward
Delany, WilliamLeach, CharlesSimon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook
Denman, Hon. Richard DouglasLevy, Sir MauriceSmith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)
Devlin, JosephLewis, John HerbertSpicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert
Dickinson, W. H.Lundon, ThomasStrauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)
Dillon, JohnLynch, A. A.Sutherland, John E.
Doris, WilliamMacdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)Sutton, John E.
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)McGhee, RichardThorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Esslemont, George BirnieMacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)Wadsworth, J.
Falconer, JamesMacpherson, James IanWalton, Sir Joseph
Fenwick, Rt. Hon. CharlesMcKenna, Rt. Hon. ReginaldWardle, George J.
Ffrench, PeterMartin, JosephWebb, H.
Fiennes, Hon. Eustace EdwardMason, David M. (Coventry)White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Flavin, Michael JosephMasterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G.White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)
George, Rt. Hon. D. LloydMeagher, MichaelWhite, Patrick (Meath, North)
Ginnell, LaurenceMeehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.
Gladstone, W. G. C.Menzies, Sir WalterWhyte, A. F. (Perth)
Glanville, H. J.Molloy, MichaelWilliams, John (Glamorgan)
Goddard, Sir Daniel FordMooney, John J.Wilson. W. T. (Westhoughton)
Goldstone, FrankMorison, HectorWing, Thomas
Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir EdwardMuldoon, John
Gulland, John WilliamMunro, R.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)Murray, Captain Hon. A. C.W. Pearce and Mr. Wiles.
Hackett, JohnNolan, Joseph

I beg to move in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words "At every Parliamentary and local government election," and to insert instead thereof the words, "Where a duly nominated candidate at any Parliamentary Election has given notice in writing on the day of and immediately after his nomination to the returning officer then"

It appears to me to be right to introduce this proposal here, and I trust it may be thought by the House to be a real Amendment that will meet the reasonable criticism which has been put forward from some quarters as to this proposed change being of a partial character. It has been pointed out, and I think it is quite true, that such extension of the hours proposed may be needed in some parts, and there is, I think, no doubt, that in others it is not needed at all. That is a perfectly just criticism, the force of which I have never thought of denying either in the Committee or here, and the question is, how is it possible to meet it? It would seem to some of us that it might be very convenient to meet it in this way. We may assume, I think, that the candidate nomi- nated and who has paid a not unsubstantial deposit, means to go to the poll, and therefore will not wish to incur the odium of extending the hours of polling in places where it is not needed. Any such proceeding would immediately expose the person concerned to the criticism which has been, made here. On the other hand all parts of the House, I take it, will agree with me that if there is an opinion in the constituency strong enough to run a candidate, and which honestly feels that an extension of the hours of polling is needed, then it is right that that poll should be extended. I cannot believe that that principle will be disputed. Under these circumstances we may very easily meet what is a difficulty. I think perhaps it is the only serious difficulty in the way of the application of this Bill, hence the desirability of a provision which distinguishes between these different cases. I would therefore propose the words that I have quoted, or words to the same effect, and I trust that hon. Gentlemen opposite will see that we are making a real endeavour to deal with the situation indicated, and that they will meet the offer in the spirit in which it is made. The effect of the Amendment will be that in those constituencies where there is either on the part of the Liberal, Conservative, Labour, or even Independent candidate, a genuine and general opinion, supporting that candidate, that it is desirable to extend the hours of polling, because the supporters of that particular candidate feel their candidate has not got a fair chance, they should have the chance to take upon themselves the responsibility of asking for the hours to be extended. Such proceeding would certainly not be done for fun. The candidate is not going to do it for amusement. I submit that this Amendment will really deal with what is the central difficulty in the matter.

I quite admit that there are certain aspects of the Solicitor-General's Amendment which appeal to many of us on this side of the House, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he has not included in these Amendments the question of local government elections.

My intention was to propose that this should not deal with local government at all; that it should be limited to Parliamentary elections.

I am very glad to hear that that is the Solicitor-General's proposal. I think everybody who touched this question must agree it would be a very great hardship upon municipalities that they should be included in a Bill of this character. I had a Clause upon the Paper giving local option in these matters. We on this side of the House are very glad to see that local government elections are to be taken out of the Bill. The question now narrows itself down to the suggestion put forward by the Solicitor-General. I would like to ask him one further question about this matter. As regards the Amendment and the Instruction put forward by my Noble Friend the Member for Bath, there seems to me to be really some difficulty in regard to the officials in the matters of the hours of polling. I believe you cannot change your officials—

No! The question arose on the question of the popularity of the change, and I only venture to remind him of the previous discussion. Let me give another aspect of this matter. I think in the interests of the suggestion contained in this Amendment, which may have many merits, the right hon. Gentleman should consider another suggestion embodied in the Clause of my hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgwater Division of Somerset (Mr. Sanders) which stands on page 7 of the White Paper, and which is:—

"This Act shall only apply in the case of Parliamentary or local government elections in pursuance of a resolution of a county council, municipal borough council, or Metropolitan borough council, passed by a majority of the members present and voting at a meeting duly convened for the purpose."

Of course the words "urban borough council" would necessarily have to be put in, because there are urban district councils, and, indeed, in the Solicitor-General's own constituency there are two or three.

I do not quite understand the point the hon. Gentleman is now discussing in reference to this Amendment.

I was going to ask whether, instead of the proposal coming horn one candidate or another, there should not be a resolution of the local body concerned?

I should have thought some proposal of that kind would be more suited than a proposal coming from the candiate on one side or the other. I do not entirely oppose this, but I should like to hear the matter more fully developed before we agree to the Amendment put forward by the right hon. Gentleman.

I venture to think that the suggestion made by the Solicitor-General is really a very good one. I do not think you would be sure of meeting the grievance here if you left it in the hands of the county council, but as the Solicitor-General has said if the candidate has force enough behind him to justify and bring about his nomination, and if he desires this, I think he should have it. It seems to me that is the simplest way of doing it. I also think it is quite true that no candidate will ask for this in a district where it is likely to be a great nuisance. I would suggest this is a genuine attempt to meet a real difficulty, and that in these circumstances we should insert it in the Bill.

I think we ought to express our gratitude to the Solicitor-General for meeting many of our objections. Personally, I think it would be fair better not to pass the Bill until we have had further evidence that the people of the country wanted it. The Solicitor-General is willing that this Bill should not apply to any local elections. That was the point we were prepared to press upon the attention of the House, that the local bodies as regards local elections should have the opportunity, first of all, of expressing their opinion as to whether or not they desired the extension of the polling hours. The Solicitor-General has conceded that point and practically says there is not sufficient evidence that this Bill is desired by local bodies, and therefore he does not propose that the Bill should apply to local elections. Then, again, I understand that as regards Parliamentary elections the Bill would only apply in those cases where the duly nominated candidate—that is to say a man of substance, and a man who did not desire to make himself extremely unpopular with the constituency—applied for it. I think that the Solicitor-General in recommending this Amendment meets largely, not wholly, objections put forward on this side of the House, because in their knowledge a great number of constituencies would be embarrassed rather than assisted by any such extension of the polling hours such as is suggested in the Bill. I express my gratitude to the Solicitor-General, and for my part I shall withdraw further opposition.

I think it right to say at this stage of the discussion that if the House is pleased to accept the Amendment of the Solicitor-General, I shall recommend my colleagues to allow this Bill to apply to our native country.

It seems to me that every candidate who has no chance, or thinks he has no chance, of winning an election will endeavour to better his chance by suggesting that the hours of polling should be extended, and he will do this because he will try and make the election turn on the plea that his opponent is not in favour of longer hours of polling. A few years ago there was a gentleman who was in the habit of contesting elections although it was well known that his chance of winning was hopeless. Naturally such a candidate would always suggest that the polling hours should be extended, because be would endeavour, instead of fighting on the party issue, to make the election turn upon the question of longer polling hours. I am confident that every candidate who thinks he is going to lose will be in favour of this extension and will try to make capital out of it. The result will be that in an enormous number of constituencies, where the electors do not want longer hours, we shall get this extension. In my own Constituency it has not been mentioned and there is not of the least desire there for an extension of the hours of polling.

Whatever suggestion the Solicitor-General makes to meet the wishes of hon. Members opposite they do not seem to be acceptable to some of them. I do, not agree with the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) when he says that only those people who think they are going to, lose will be the people who are going to ask for this extension of hours. In Manchester I believe the extension of hours will be a great benefit. I have had some experience during the last twenty years in electioneering, and I know that at almost every election there are thousands who are working overtime until 7.45 in the evening, and they are unable to get to the poll to record their votes. I trust that the Solicitor-General will make no further concessions in this matter, but will stick to his guns in spite of the Opposition.

2.0 P.M.

I do think we have a certain amount of ground for complaint that this announcement was not made earlier. On the Second Reading we discussed this Bill and we considered it before the Standing Committee for several days. No objections have been raised which have not been brought against the Bill before. The only difference has been that whilst hitherto these points have been urged from this side, this is the first occasion on which we have found an hon. Member opposite ready to get up and urge our claims. I think we have some ground for complaint that no attention is paid to our objections, but directly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) gets up the Solicitor-General gives way. I think we have some reason to complain that such a large amount of time has been wasted because the Government did not come to their senses earlier. I think the plan proposed by the Solicitor-General is very much better than the Bill as it stands. I thought a much better way out of the difficulty was the plan embodied in a proviso standing in my name which has been referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend, that is to give the option not to the candidate but to the local authority. After all, although this is only to apply to Parliamentary elections, it is another thing which has been sprung upon us at a moment's notice after a lot of discussion, and after the Government have refused in Committee to make that concession. I think the proposal to leave the option with the local authority will be better than leaving it to the candidate. The Lord Advocate I understand is going to move that the Bill shall apply to Scotland. I wish to know if it is going to apply to Ireland as well. If so, I think we ought to have a new Bill drafted, because it will be entirely different, and we shall have to go through the measure carefully to see what alterations are necessary. I think the proposal of the Solicitor-General is very much better than a Bill of this kind, and I shall not vote against it.

We have suddenly been told that local elections are to be left out of the scope of this Bill and the result will be that in the Metropolis our main local elections will take place as in the past. Furthermore, a candidate can decide the day in such a way that a considerable number will be prevented from recording their vote. We are not only considering the candidate but the voter, and the man who has difficulty in getting to the poll at a Parliamentary election—because it closes at eight—has the same difficulty in getting there at a county council election. There is, however, this difference, that a man might get his employer to let him go home earlier to vote at the Parliamentary election, but he would be less likely to allow him to go early to vote at a county council election. I am bitterly disappointed with the action of the Government. This is a question which applies more to London than any other part of the country, and I think the people living in the Metropolis are entitled to have a fair opportunity of recording their vote up to a reasonable hour. I regret that at the last moment we have been informed that the Government propose to exclude local elections from the Bill, and perhaps for ten or twenty years we may still be looking to a Liberal Government to give us as fair opportunity in local elections as they do in Parliamentary elections. If this Bill passes, we shall have this position, that electors will be able to vote till ten o'clock for a guardians' election, till nine o'clock for a Parliamentary election, and till eight o'clock for a London County Council election. No one will really know when the poll is open and when it is closed, and we shall have greater confusion than we have at the present time. Speaking candidly, it seems to me the position has been absolutely abandoned, and I must express my great disappointment at the action of the Solicitor-General in the matter.

If the change proposed by the Solicitor-General is carried, the Irish Members will desire to have the Bill apply to Ireland.

The option given by this Amendment is doubtless an option which will be exercised in Divisions like that which I represent and that which the Solicitor-General represents. What does that mean? It means that the result will not be declared on the same day. At the last General Election our result was not declared till 12.30 at night. It means that the result will have to be declared next day, and that will undoubtedly mean extra expense to the candidates. If we have the election declared on the same day we know where we stand, but, if it is declared the next day, it means extra expense and greater worry. I think that is a point which the House ought to consider.

I am disappointed as a promoter of the Bill that my child has not been allowed to grow to full stature, but at the same time I do recognise, that if there is to be any chance for my Bill it must be made as uncontroversial as possible, and all through the proceedings I have been anxious to meet hon. Gentlemen opposite as far as one could. I have sufficient faith in the principle embodied in the Bill to believe that the object lesson even of the Bill as it stands to-day will lead to a great step in the extension of the hours of polling. The Amendment which I understand the House is likely to accept pretty unanimously will also have another good result. It will allow Scotland and Ireland to be put back into the Bill. I have heard many expressions of disappointment from Scottish Members that they were excluded from the operations of the Bill, and in the Committee upstairs the exclusion of Scotland was only carried by eleven votes to ten. I have been also informed that many Irish Members were disappointed that they were excluded. They, again, would be able to come in. Naturally, I would have liked the larger achievement, but I do think we shall have done something to effect a great advancement in the comfort and convenience of the voter in many large and populous districts.

There are some differences in the circumstances of England and Scotland as regards the proposal to exclude local government elections from this Bill. I do not venture to discuss the circumstances of English boroughs, and particularly of London, but I believe that in Scotland there is no desire to have local government elections included in the Bill. I myself have received a protest from the Burgh of Melrose saying that they do not wish it, and I know that the Convention of Royal Burghs has expressed an opinion against the application of the provisions of this Bill. I am, therefore, quite willing to agree to that part of the proposal which excludes Scottish Government elections from the Bill.

I am intensely disappointed that this Amendment has been proposed. I do not think that there is a constituency where late polling is more necessary than in the one I represent, and it is even more important for county council and borough elections than for Parliamentary elections. It is a great confession of weakness on our part that, having brought in a Bill which we all support and are prepared to stand by, the Government should come in and make this concession to the Opposition. There may be a strong reason for it, but I am very much disappointed, and I know that my Constituents will also be much disappointed that local elections should have been eliminated from the Bill. I doubt very much, if there were a Division, whether I should be able to vote for this Amendment.

I was impressed by the remark made by one hon. Member with regard to expenses, and I would venture to suggest whether it would not be possible to include an Amendment providing, if it could be shown that any extra expenses were incurred, that they might fall upon the candidate who desires to have the extension of the hours of polling.

I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. W. Pearce) upon the courteous and considerate manner in which he has conducted the proceedings on this Bill. I can assure him that I know what a proud feeling one has when he has got a Bill through the House of Commons.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

Words, "Where a duly nominated candidate or his agent at any Parliamentary election has given notice in writing on the day of and immediately after his nomination to the returning officer that he wishes the Act to apply at such election, then" inserted.

I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "nine o'clock in the afternoon of the same day and no longer," and to insert instead thereof the words "two o'clock in the afternoon, after which the Doll shall be closed till four o'clock in the afternoon, and after that hour be kept open till nine o'clock and no longer."

I would suggest to the promoter of the Bill that he might accent this Amendment permitting two hours' holiday in the middle of the day. Fourteen hours, after all, is a very long stretch to keen the presiding officers and polling clerks at work. I find that from two o'clock in the afternoon until four is the slackest period of the day for polling, and I would suggest that those hours be adopted as the hours for a mid-day holiday to relieve the officials.

I am sorry I cannot accept this Amendment. I have gone into it very carefully, and I do not think the proposal will be practicable. So far as London is concerned there are certain constituencies, such as South Kensington, where the hours of two, three, and four are the busiest hours of the day.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, to leave out Sub-section (3), which is consequential upon the acceptance of the Solicitor-General's Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2—(Application, Of Act)

This Act shall not apply to Scotland or Ireland.

I do not know what the views are on this side of the House in regard to this matter, and I certainly cannot speak for Scotland. I do not know whether the Lord Advocate or the promoter of the Bill have been in communication with the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs who took a considerable part in the discussion upstairs. In his absence I do not know what attitude I ought to adopt. Perhaps some of the Members for Scotland might speak.

I had the opportunity of communicating with the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs, and I think his view was exactly the same as my own, that there was no general demand for this measure in Scotland, but that there were exceptional cases in which the measure might be very useful. From the communications I have had with the hon. Baronet, I know of no reason why he would oppose the application of the measure to Scotland as now limited.

I have had a good many communications with the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs on this matter, and I think the hon. and gallant Member opposite need have no anxiety now as to the views of the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs. I rather rejoice at the omission of local government elections from the scope of the Bill. I think we are all agreed upon this matter.

Amendment agreed to.

In the title of the Bill, I beg to move, to leave out the words "and local government."

Amendment agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed with an amended title.