HC Deb 06 August 1914 vol 65 cc2108-10
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to remove electoral disabilities which may arise in the case of members of the Reserve, Militia, Yeomanry, and Territorial Forces, by reason of absence on the Naval or Military service of the Crown."

This Bill is founded on the precedents of the Bill passed in 1900, with the necessary adaptations to meet the various changes which have been made in the constitution of the military forces since 1900, at the same time extending the provisions of the Bill to the naval services. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to read the Clause, which is a somewhat long one, but, as I say, it is a mere reproduction with the necessary adaptations of the Act of 1900 to the present circumstances. In reply to a question which was put earlier in the day by the hon. Member for Woolwich, I may say that there is a provision in the Bill that a person so acting shall not be disqualified by reason of his wife or children having received poor relief during such time. I believe the Bill has a general approval of the House, and I beg to move.


What about the signing of the necessary papers in the absence of the voter?


Exactly the same Clause in the Act of 1900 is reproduced. If the hon. Member wants to know what the words are, they are these in regard to lodger claims: "The claim to be registered as a lodger may be made and signed, in the case of a person so absent, by any other person on his behalf, and the form of the claim and declaration may in those cases be modified accordingly."


I entirely agree with the proposals of this Bill, but I would like to ask whether it is the intention of the Government to do anything to reserve the franchise rights of those people who suffer unemployment and distress brought about directly as a result of the war?


The Bill does not interfere with the Poor Law.


May the House take it then that the only change in the Bill from the Act of 1900 is necessitated by this being a different war.


And, owing to the changes which have taken place in the military services of the country, the Bill is extended to the naval services.


It does not introduce any new principle?




We would like to know whether the Government proposes to deal with those who, though remaining at home, are impoverished by the war, and will be driven to receive poor relief? We submit to the House that it is improper that the state of the country should deprive these of their franchise rights?


Will people employed on relief work lose their qualification, exactly the same as the people who take advantage of poor relief? If so, we are going to disfranchise a large number of people.


The point which is being raised by my hon. Friend below the Gangway, whilst it may be pertinent to the register the year after next, will not be pertinent to the immediate register which is about to come into force. One of the main reasons for this Bill at the present moment, and why there is some necessity for its passage at once, is that those who have been called into the public service, in the last few days may be debarred from obtaining their qualification as lodger voters. The Bill is brought forward with a view to enable the lodger voters to continue to be on the register whilst serving their country. The Bill is on "all fours" with a Bill which was passed when we were at war last in 1900. It is not a Bill for any permanent alteration of the principle of the Poor Law. One or two of the points raised are controversial. I think, under the present circumstances, it is desirable that we should all unite on the point where there is no controversy.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill to remove the electoral disabilities of members of the Reserve Militia, Yeomanry, and Territorial Forces. Ordered to be brought in by Mr. Herbert Samuel, and Mr. Pease. Presented Samuel, and Mr. Pease. Presented ordered to be printed. [Bill 365.]

Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


Even under our present extraordinary circumstances, I think it rather a bad precedent that a Bill should be taken, of which no notice what ever has been given, which does not appear on the Order Paper, and which hardly anyone knew was coming on. If there are any emergency Bills to-morrow. I would venture to suggest that this Bill should be taken then.


There is one point with regard to the lodger vote which, I think, it is very essential we should not forget, while safeguarding the interests of those who are going to the front. There is a great variety in the judgments and opinions of revising barristers. Some revising barristers will give a lodger vote for a house with a qualification as low as £8, while other-revising barristers would not do so. I think there ought to be in a Bill like this some general indication on this matter—seeing that the person is not there to state his claim—so that it should be some guide to the revising barrister, so that we have not a very large number of rejected cases and many kept off the register. I do not know whether there is a provision in the Bill, but I do know that some revising barristers will give a very low qualification, and the next revising barrister wilt strike the whole lot out.


That would be an alteration in the general law, and is not within the scope of this Bill.


In reply to the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. James Hope), it must be remembered that it is only since yesterday that we have been at war. It was through the kindness of the Member for East Birmingham in putting a question to the Prime Minister that my attention was called to this real grievance. The hon. Member will see how we were not able to put the Bill upon the Notice Paper.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Pease.]

Bill considered in Committee, and reported without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.