HC Deb 28 February 1896 vol 37 cc1427-31

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)

regretted to have to oppose a Measure which he looked upon as a necessary Measure; but it would be in the recollection of the House that by an Order issued by the Local Government Board, the elections for Parish Councils must take place on March 9th. He thought he would be able to show that that was a most inconvenient day, as it would have the effect of disqualifying a large number of electors in the rural districts. The ordinary day on which people changed their houses was Lady Day, March 25th, and supposing a man changed his house on March 25th last, he would be disqualified from voting at the election on March 9th this year. When the Local Government Act was passed in 1894 they all took pride to themselves that they were getting rid, as far as possible, of qualifications. They endeavoured to make the time qualification as short as possible, and it was fixed at 12 months. What would be the effect of the Order of the Local Government Board? It would be this, that, in the case he had mentioned, instead of a residential qualification of 12 months, the elector would have to have practically a residential qualification of two years. Therefore the Order actually transgressed the spirit of the Act of 1894. This Bill was a Bill to correct mistakes. He believed the Bill to be necessary because mistakes would occur, and he was inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had made a very great mistake by the issue of this Order. The better plan would be for the right hon. Gentleman to admit it and try to correct it; and he thought it was the duty of the Government to amend this Bill in such a way as to make it cover the difficulty to which he had called attention. He would press on the President of the Local Government Board the importance of this question, and ask him that he would, at any rate, attempt so to amend this Bill as to prevent this disqualification of electors. He begged to move that the Bill be read a Second Time this day six months.

MR. C. J. MONK (Gloucester)

said, he had no intention of opposing the Bill; indeed, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to carry it through rapidly; but he rose to suggest an Amendment which would remedy a great evil which existed in certain parts of the country. The President of the Local Government Board had appointed March 9th for the election of parish councillors, and under the principal Act it was necessary that the assembly of the parish meeting should be held on March 25th. In many parishes it would be extremely inconvenient that two parish meetings should be held within a fortnight of each I other. His Amendment was that "The Local Government Board may, by Order, authorise the holding of the annual assembly of the parish meeting on the same day as that on which the election of Parish Councillors takes place."


As far as I can see, that is not pertinent to the purport of the Bill. This Bill is merely a Bill to enable the Local Government Board to set right any mistakes made in working the election machinery. Any discussion on voters' qualifications or the day of the election would be foreign to the subject matter of the Bill.


said, that while he quite sympathised with the hon. Member for Tavistock, he must point out to him that he had taken a somewhat extraordinary course, for while he desired to see the law amended in certain respects, for which great facilities were afforded in this Bill, the hon. Member had moved that the Bill be read a Second Time this day six months, and it would be quite impossible to amend the Measure if that Motion were carried. The hon. Gentleman said that a most inconvenient day had been fixed for the elections. It might or it might not be an inconvenient day, but he ventured to think that that was a matter on which there might be some difference of opinion. The hon. Member said that one effect of this Order would necessarily be to disqualify people who had gone into residence upon March 25, 1895, and that I this would be to transgress the spirit of the Act of 1894. But the elections at which there were to be polls were to be held on March 30, and he was told that it was an open question whether people who had gone into residence on March 25, 1895, would not be competent to go to the poll on March 30, 1896. Of course if it should appear that the day selected should have the effect of disfranchising people who would not otherwise be disfranchised some alteration would clearly be necessary.


Order, order! I do not see anything with regard to qualification in this Bill nor anything about fixing a date.


said, that of course he should respect the Speaker's ruling. He thought he had said enough to show the hon. Member opposite that he was not wanting in sympathy with the view that hon. Member took. He believed that the passing of this Bill was most desirable and necessary in the interests of the coming elections, and that it would to a large extent meet the views of hon. Members.


asked what the precise effect of the poll would be with regard to the Order that had been issued. The object of the Bill was to remedy certain irregularities, and he took it that the Bill would not pass for a good many days, perhaps not until after the 9th of March. [Mr. CHAPLIN: "No, no!"] Well, he wished to know to what extent it would apply to what was likely to take place in the course of next month. The probability was that there would be a good many irregularities in the elections this year. Would it be in the power of County Councils to remedy those irregularities if the passage of the Bill were delayed until after March 9. Would the Bill be retrospective in its application, and what was the view of the Local Government Board with regard to the question whether it was possible for the parish meeting convened for the purpose of electing the Parish Council to synchronise with the annual parish meeting?


In what part of the Bill is there anything about the date of meeting? As I read it this is a Bill under which when any difficulty arises in respect of any parish annual election, or of the first meeting or in consequence of any defective machinery in elections, the County Council may by order do anything which appears to them necessary or expedient for the proper holding of the meeting. The Order referred to means any Order relating to such matters as are mentioned in the first section which governs the Bill.


said, that the object of the Bill was to enable the County Council to do certain things when an election was not held, or was defective. If the election of a Parish Council should not take place on March 9 it would be irregular, and the object of the Bill was to enable the County Council to remedy that irregularity. He wished to know whether in the event of an irregularity of that kind taking place the County Council was to have power to say that a fresh election should be held, or would they be able to ratify the irregular election and give it legal value?


asked leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill Read 2a, and committed for Monday next.