§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Causton.)
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I hope the hon. Member will not persist in the Motion. The Bill, I believe, has general approbation. County Councils have again and again urged us to introduce it and they have stated that unless the Bill is passed they do not see any possibility of carrying out the elections on November 2nd with anything like satisfaction or accuracy, that the number of elections is very large, and that the time for revising and printing under the existing law will not allow of the register being made up in time for the forthcoming County Council elections. It is a matter of urgency, and we have introduced the Bill at the request of the County Councils.
§ MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)
I think the right hon. Gentleman cannot have examined the Amendments on the Paper to this Bill. They are Amendments of a very serious character and I do not think it is reasonable to ask the Committee to proceed with the discussion at such a time. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make progress with the Bill he must take the discussion earlier in the evening. I cannot waive my objection.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Surely the hon. Member will allow us to proceed to the first Amendment? It is clear that unless the Bill passes before Easter it will be useless and must be withdrawn. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government have certain financial 2041 business that must now be proceeded with, and this is simply a Bill for the readjustment and acceleration of the registration machinery.
§ MR. CAUSTON
I am not opposed to the principle of the Bill but I must maintain my objection to proceeding with, it without discussion.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
The House should bear in mind that County Councils hare pressed upon individual Members the desirability and urgency of passing the measure. It must be obvious that when hon. Members opposite give notice of Amendments which widen the scope of the Bill and convert it into something else, it will be a reasonable inference that their object is to defeat the measure by a side wind. I hope Her Majesty's Government will insist on passing the Bill, and if necessary devote a Morning Sitting to the purpose.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
The desirability of passing the Bill is generally acknowledged. I hope the hon. Member will not persist in his Motion. If the Bill is not passed the result must be that a large number of electors will be disfranchised so far as the next County Council elections are concerned. When County Councils were established it was recognised as one of the advantages that County Councils might make useful suggestions to this House, and here is the first practical suggestion, the value of which is acknowledged. 1 hope the Government will stand by their Bill, and if necessary name a day for the Committee to report the Bill to the House.
§ MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
It is desirable that we should understand each other. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied if we get as far as the first Amendment?
§ MR. STANSFELD
I suppose there is no suggestion that any of us are desirous of defeating the Bill? I am not aware that there is any such desire. But we claim time for the discussion of Amendments which appear on the Paper. To proceed through Committee to-night would not be reasonable; but I think there is no objection to making some progress, and, under the circumstances, I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw his Motion.
§ MR. RITCHIE
We are extremely anxious to pass the Bill, because we have a great regard for the wishes and representations of the County Council as to the enormous difficulties they will have to encounter if the Bill does not pass. The Government have placed on the Paper certain Amendments in order to carry out their undertakings. The other Amendments deal not with matters of mere machinery for registration, but with questions of franchise, and these the Government cannot accept Therefore, it is entirely in the hands of the House whether the Bill shall pass or not.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
May I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should revert to the old practice of committing the Bill pro formâ, when the Government Amendments could be inserted? It is most difficult to see how the Government Amendments will work, and the anxiety is in regard to Parliamentary registration. Many Members are of opinion that as the Bill stands it is a disfranchising measure. I do not say whether they are right or wrong, but I am quite sure the Government Amendments will help to clear up many points, and if these were inserted pro formâ we should be better able to judge of the effect.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Very well. The Government Amendments are few, though important; and I will adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman if the Bill will be forwarded by that course.
§ MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
Sharing the strong feeling that the Bill should be proceeded with, and yet admitting the force of the objection to the Bill being proceeded with at this time of night, I venture to suggest to the Government that they should take a Morning Sitting for the Bill. Time has been wasted on Friday nights recently, Members not availing themselves of the opportunity afforded them for Motions of which they have given notice, and a Morning Sitting on Friday might be usefully devoted to the Bill.
§ MR. RITCHIE
If the hon. Member will withdraw his Motion I will formally move the insertion of my Amendments.
§ MR. CAUSTON
I really cannot agree to the proposition. It is now nearly half-past 12. Members who have Amendments on the Paper are not here, not expecting the Bill to come on. I have no desire to stop the acceleration of the register; indeed, the nearer the register upon which an election is taken the better for the Liberal Party. Nothing is further from my intention than to disfranchise any elector, but it is unreasonable, under the circumstances, to proceed with the Bill, and I must persist in my objection.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
; Let me assure my hon. Friend that the proposal is to take a merely formal stage, and the rights of himself and others to move Amendments will remain intact. It is, in fact, merely a reprinting stage. We shall have the convenience of having the Bill in the shape in which the Government desire it to proceed through Committee in the usual way, and subject to other Amendments.
§ MR. CAUSTON
On this understanding, and in deference to the right hon. Gentleman, I withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made.
§ Bill reported; to be reprinted, as amended [Bill 234]; recommitted for Thursday.