HC Deb 12 March 1912 vol 35 cc970-2

I beg to ask for leave to introduce a Bill "to facilitate the acquisition and exercise of the Parliamentary Franchise by Soldiers who, in the course of their military duty or service, are removed from one constituency to another."

The object of this Bill is to give soldiers better facilities for utilising the rights which the law now gives them for acquiring and exercising the Parliamentary franchise. It is to make those rights a reality, and not, as they very often now are, a mere sham. The position is that soldiers—officers, warrant officers, noncommissioned officers and men—are entitled, nominally entitled, to acquire and exercise the Parliamentary franchise under the same conditions as civilians. Such is their legal right. But owing to the fact that they are removed from station to station at frequent and relatively short intervals, it is quite impossible for them to acquire or exercise that franchise with the same freedom as the civil population. The result is two-fold. A man is frequently removed from one station to another before he has had time to acquire a vote in his first station, and when he goes to the second station he has to begin his qualifying period over again. Another result is that a soldier may have acquired the right to vote in one station and is then removed; not by his own will, but as part of his military duty, to another, and it may be a distant station. He has not time to acquire a qualification in the second station before an election comes on, and in that way is prevented from exercising his vote. Cases have occurred and been brought to my notice where men have been in active service in the Army for twenty years or more; had they remained in the same station during that time they would have been continuously entitled to exercise their vote; but, owing to their frequent removal from one station to another they have never once, during the whole course of their twenty years' service, been able to exercise their vote at all. I submit that this is a case for special treatment, and that the soldier is in an entirely different position in regard to this matter from almost every member of the Civil community, because his removal from one station to another is not his free, voluntary act, but an act consequent upon his conditions of service, and in the discharge of his duty as a soldier, and an act entirely outside his own control. Under those circumstances, I ask the leave of the House to introduce a Bill which has two main objects. The first is that if the soldier at the time of his removal from one station to another has not completed his qualifying period provision shall be made for his completing it in the second station; and, secondly, that where a soldier, at the time of his removal is on the register at the station from which he is removed provision shall be made for transferring his name from the register at that station to the register at the station to which he is removed.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Butcher, Colonel Lockwood, Viscount Helmsley, Mr. Worthington-Evans, Viscount, Castlereagh, Mr. Charles Bathurst, Colonel Burn, Mr. Kerr-Smiley, Major Morrison-Bell, and Mr. Joynson-Hicks; presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 75.]

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