HC Deb 17 June 1913 vol 54 cc223-5

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to shorten the period of qualification for and to facilitate the registration of persons entitled to vote at Parliamentary, municipal, and local government elections."

I feel that I owe some apology to the House for intervening, even for a few minutes, on a day so occupied by important business as this is. My excuse for bringing forward this Bill is that it is most urgently required in the public interest. Unless a measure of this kind is brought forward for public discussion this Session, it is almost impossible that the registration anomalies which are admitted to exist, can be rectified before the register is compiled on which the next General Election will be fought. Under our present Registration Law some 25 per cent, of voters in industrial constituencies are disfranchised by the mere fact that they are compelled by circumstances to change their place of residence. Under the Government Bill which was introduced last Session it was proposed to refranchise about two and a half million voters by a change in the franchise. This Bill which will merely ensure that every man who is entitled to a vote, under the present franchise, shall be placed upon the register, will at once enfranchise a million voters. This Bill will not prejudice or affect any proposal for the abolition of Plural Voting or for the establishment of adult franchise. Any franchise reform that you like to introduce will be incomplete without a reform of the anomalies and inconsistencies of the Registration Law, which year by year causes so much trouble and expense to the agents of both parties, and to the general public. The only difference is this—that whereas franchise reform is contentious and uncertain and may be indefinitely delayed by differences between the two Houses of Parliament, this reform is simple and uncontentious. It will enfranchise half the voters that were sought to be added by the Government last year without in the least prejudicing the claims of the other half. If the Government is in earnest in its claim to abide by the voice of the people, I cannot see how they can ignore a measure so transparently democratic as this.

At the present time a residence of eighteen months is in fact required of each voter of the poorer class before he gains the vote. This Parliament were not returned by the men who were in residence in 1910, it was really returned by the men of 1908 who were put upon the register in 1909. Thousands of men who are deeply concerned in their daily lives by the Budget of 1909 were never permitted to vote upon its merits when it was submitted to the country. The only effect of this Bill will be to make it easy for those who are really qualified to vote at the next election to be placed upon the register. It proposes to establish a half-yearly register upon a three months' qualification. I do not think that having regard to the trouble and expense it would cause, that even the Government would be inclined to adhere to the original proposal of a continuous register with a six months' qualification. The plan adopted in this Bill will ensure that every man fairly entitled to vote shall be placed upon the register without undue delay, while it prevents the excessive strain and disorganisation which is involved in a continuous register. It places the lodger vote for the first time upon a satisfactory basis by providing t hat, first, every lodger who has occupied rooms in the same borough—not necessarily the same rooms—shall be entitled to the franchise if he has occupied them for three months and their weekly value is not less than 4s. a week.


of the BOARD of-EDUCATION (Mr. Pease): Is this qualification in substitution of the existing qualifications or in addition to them?


It is in substitution of the existing qualifications. Moreover, the lodger will not be compelled to make successive claims in respect of the same rooms year after year, but will be entitled to be retained on the register in the same way as a householder, thus doing away with an anomaly which has pressed very hardly upon the poorer classes in the community. The clearing up of the vagueness and difficulty which has surrounded the lodger qualification is in itself a reason for the passing of the Bill, and the provision that a lodger must actually pay at least 4s. a week in rent will do away at once with what is known as the "bogus ledger" vote, which has given rise to so much complaint. Then we propose to hurry forward the time of coming into operation of the register so that the register shall be completed by 20th October and come into force on 1st November, while the spring list is to be compiled on 20th April and come into force on 1st May. The consequence will be to obviate the elections on stale registers, which give an unsatisfactory reflection of the views of the electors.

The longest time that can possibly elapse under this Bill between the first occupation and the grant of the franchise is eleven months, instead of the twenty-three months which is now possible under the existing law. Of course, I do not expect that arty measure for the reform of so vast and complicated a subject as oar present Registration Law will command the unanimous assent of the House in all its details, but I hope that, if this Bill is given a First Reading, that the Government will give it reasonable facilities, so that it may be sent to a Standing Committee, where the common sense of all parties may succeed in framing a scheme which will ensure that at the next election the will of the people shall be expressed in the fairest and clearest manner possible. I confidently submit this Bill to the House in the hope that it will be given a First Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. GOLDMAN. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Wednesday, 25th June, and to be printed. [Bill 210.]