§ (2) Section two of the Parliament Act, 1911, shall, in relation to any public Bill passed by the House of Commons after the passing of this Act and during the continuance of the present Parliament, have effect as if the Session ended in September, nineteen hundred and fourteen, and the Session in which the Bill is so passed were successive Sessions.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "six" ["as if six years"], and to insert instead thereof the word "five"—
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I want, if I may, just to make a very short statement, which I think may facilitate our procedure. My right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Bonar Law) and I stated the views of the Government in regard to this matter last week on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I then indicated that the Government were quite prepared, though it was a Committee point, to deal with this question of time. There are various considera- 60 tions which affect the question. On the one hand, there is the difficulty of making the time unreasonably short, and, indeed, the impossibility of preparing a register on which those who are absent from the country fighting for their country would be able to be enrolled. On the other hand, there is the feeling, which I believe is rather widespread and not confined to any particular quarter of the House, that it is undesirable to give too long an extension of time, at any rate without an opportunity for further consideration later on, to the prolonged life of the present Parliament. I do not want to go into either of those questions in any detail. I am very much afraid that whatever the number of months we put into the Bill, the probability of a register being compiled by the end of that time which would really satisfactorily reflect the opinion of the whole country, including the returned soldiers and sailors, is at any rate problematic. The probable duration of the War, and the contingencies of the future, are so uncertain that I do not think any of us would attempt to forecast, still less to predict, what that time would be. On the other hand, I am impressed with the feeling, which I say is not confined to any particular section of the House, that it is undesirable for Parliament—though not without precedent, it is very rare—to prolong beyond the statutory term its own life, to extend that prolongation in point of time beyond what I may call a necessary and reasonable term. There are various Amendments on the Paper to the Bill suggesting different dates. Some are longer than the terms proposed by the Bill, some are shorter than the terms proposed by the Bill, and, in view of all these considerations, and in the hope that we may avoid anything in the nature of a controversial discussion in a matter of this kind, I would suggest to the House, on behalf of the Government, that the term allowed in this Bill should be a term of five years and eight months. I think that is a reasonable give-and-take arrangement as between the various points of view, and if, as I hope, it may be generally assented to by the House, I think we might spare ourselves a good deal of rather unprofitable discussion.
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'six' stand part of the Clause."
§ Sir H. CRAIK
As I have put down this Amendment, I rise immediately to say that I perfectly recognise the fairness of the Prime Minister's proposal.
§ Sir J. D. REES
May I ask the Prime Minister if it is to be understood by the House from what he says that he definitely abandons the proposal of twelve months? I myself believe that if he proceeded with it it would meet with the approval of the majority of the House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I move an Amendment for eight months and a year. I know there are strong feelings one way and another in every quarter of the House. I do not say what my own opinion is. I will keep that hidden in my own bosom, but I suggest to the House that this is on the whole a reasonable and legitimate compromise.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
As far as I am concerned, and so far as I am able to judge of the feeling, I think that is regarded generally as a favourable compromise.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I am sure that all Members of the House appreciate the difficulty and delicacy of this position, and the Prime Minister will, I am sure, forgive some of us if we say that the figure he has taken, be it right or wrong, is not an equation between the different Amendments down on the Paper, but is a very great change from the figure brought before the House in this Bill, which we were told was the decision of a united Cabinet, and which everybody understood was the modification of an earlier proposal which would have extended the life of the Parliament longer. Those of us, therefore, who put down Amendments which would have the effect of substituting eighteen for twelve months, are naturally not—[An HON. MEMBER: "Enamoured."] An ingenious friend of mine suggests "enamoured," and I respectfully adopt it—of the proposal of my right hon. Friend. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) that if my right hon. Friend had adhered to the period of a year which came before the House with the authority with which he brought it last week, when he was supported by the Colonial Secretary, I am confident it would have been carried in this House by an overwhelming majority against all criticism. I hope he will allow to the House free voting, in order that its views on the matter—but one of those comparatively few matters on which special Governmental knowledge is not necessary—might now be indicated, and that the matter may not be, I will not say pre-judged, but pre- 62 decided, before the Debate on these various lengths of time has taken place in the House. I do not desire at a moment of this kind to detain the House, but I do urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of allowing the House to decide this without any pressure from the Government whatever, and I do express my strong, but respectful regret, that the year was not adhered to which would have been the via media by which we should have proceeded.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PETO
In regard to the course which the Prime Minister has taken, I desire, while not going into the merits of the question, particularly after what has fallen from the hon. Member for Middle-ton, to know from the Prime Minister whether, when on the 10th August, 1911, in another place, the Parliament Bill passed the Third Reading, this House did not, on the same day, pass a Resolution in favour of payment of Members. It has always been held by those who support that view that the electors of the country had fair notice before the election that if a Liberal Government were returned to power they would propose the payment of Members, and that they had also fair notice that this Parliament was to endure for five years only. But I do not think we can possibly lengthen the life of this Parliament without any reference to the fact that there was a clear statement before the last election to the effect which I have quoted, namely, that the Liberal Government, as the Prime Minister reminded the House on Tuesday night, was responsible for the shortening of the duration of Parliament to five years, and he gave the reason, a very cogent reason, namely, that the House might not become stale and outwear the opinions of the constituencies. At the same time, there is the question of the payment of Members. I do not think we can possibly avoid considering those two questions, which are so closely connected with the subject now under discussion. We are bound to consider whether we are acting fairly, in prolonging the life of Parliament, in placing a charge upon the public funds for a further period in respect of the payment of Members of this House. I consider that the House in this matter is a trustee in charge of the public purse, and I think we have got to look very careuflly, from that point of view, to our trusteeship in order to see what we do with those funds.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question which the hon. Member is raising is, perhaps, one that could properly have been brought forward in the Debate on the Second Reading; we are now dealing only with the point whether the period shall be eight months instead of one year.
§ Mr. PETO
Whether the period is six months, eight months, twelve months, or eighteen months, the question to which I refer is still involved, and I ask the Prime Minister whether he has considered the fiduciary position of this House with regard to the electors, and, having reference to the speeches which were made before the last election, whether he thinks it right and proper we should continue this charge upon the public purse for a further period of eight months?
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
As I understand the statement of the Prime Minister, the Government have decided to adopt the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, which also stands in my own name. If that is so, I congratulate the Government on the wisdom of their decision, and I would deprecate that there should, on the part of my hon. and learned Friend (Sir R. Adkins), any expression of dissatisfaction with this proposal. I would point out to my hon. and learned Friend that really the acceptance of this Amendment does not mean, as he suggests, that the General Election is hanging over us all the time; it only means that this proposal is almost unprecedented, and that the Cabinet or the Government of the day will have to come back to the House of Commons and ask for a renewal of it. That is practically what it means. I firmly anticipate myself that, even if an election takes place in four months, or six months, or eight months, the House of Commons will keep control, so far as the extraordinary circumstances in which we stand at present are concerned. I hope the Government will stand by their decision.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I am not in a position to congratulate the Government on having departed from the line that they took up the other day, by accepting this proposal. I am perfectly confident that the majority of Members of this House wish to support the considered view of the Cabinet, which is for one year. I also hope that the Government will allow a free vote, so that the House may decide whether Parliament is to continue for a year or for eight months.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I should like to add my voice to those who have said that we ought to have one year. I do not think it is to our advantage to keep raising this question over and over again. If we are to have a controversial fight we had better have it in the country as a whole than on the floor of this House. The speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) distinctly shows that this is likely to lead to a controversial and party fight. We do not want to do that here, and if it is to be done, we had better have it done in the whole country, and before the electors. What we want to keep is the unanimity of this House and of the country as long as the War lasts. The oftener this question crops up the more will the keeping of unanimity be endangered; therefore, I plead with the Government that we should not have this Debate renewed before another twelve months has passed. I think it would be greatly to the disadvantage not only of the Government and the House of Commons, but of the whole of the country, if there was a possibility of raising this Debate every six months.
§ Sir GEORGE TOULMIN
I hope that the Government will permit us to vote on this question without the Whips, and without being bound. I think it is peculiarly a question which ought to be left to the individual Members of this House. There are many conflicting considerations which must influence all of us—those of us who think of all the men who are away, and who ought to take part in any decision which must be come to by the new electorate. It is a decision which ought not to be lightly undertaken, for any House to prolong its own term of existence. It is a very different thing from a House shortening its term, reducing it, say, from seven years to five years, because that is only appealing again to the electors who send us here. But if the House is to do it, I think there are very strong reasons for its giving itself a very reasonable latitude by one Act. Parliament does not, as has been suggested, lose its control; it keeps its control all the same, whatever period is fixed, and at any moment the House can decide that there should be an election by defeating the Government. What I rather object to is being tied to have an election by a legislative limit, and I think there would be a greater breach of constitutional propriety if we were to keep deciding every six or eight months that the House should be continued for another six or 65 another twelve months. I think that at the present moment the extension by eight months is not to be defended, because, on practical grounds, we cannot get the register ready. Is there a Registration Bill ready at the present moment? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If there is no Registration Bill, when are you going to prepare it, and how are you going to prepare it, and when is the House going to pass it? How are you to prepare for your election in September of next year? I think it would be a great disadvantage for the House to tie itself by fixing a short period, the extension of which would require all the forms of legislation which involve the consent of the other House. I hope the House at all events will have this question left to it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) on having given a lead to the Government of which he is so detached a supporter. I also desire to express my sympathy with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norfolk (Mr. Hemmerde) in his unfortunate position, as he supported on the Second Reading what he considered ought to be the view of the Government, and he finds that they have once more reconsidered their position. The present position practically points, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury said, to the need of a Redistribution Bill. In the month of July last the President of the Local Government Board stated on behalf of the Government that the question of Registration was under the consideration of the Cabinet. Now we have waited for six months, and apparently the Cabinet are no nearer a decision as regards Registration. Surely in these intervening months they have had time to deal with this question. On the first day, on the reassembling of Parliament after the recess, I put a question on this subject to the overnment—first of all, as regards the duration of Parliament, and, secondly, as to Registration. I was told that both those matters were under consideration. They are still under consideration. I beg to support the plea put forward by the hon. Member for Bury, that the question of Registration should be immediately taken in hand, so that, if the necessity of an election arises—and nobody knows how soon that necessity may arise—there may be a register for the purpose, and we may be enabled to get as good a decision as possible from the people of the country. I would like to make an appeal to my hon. 66 Friends above the Gangway, who do not often listen to me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—who do not often pay any attention to me—I would like to make an appeal to them that they will not, on this occasion, show their distrust of the Government, but that they will set others an example and remain, as they have been in the past, the docile and servile supporters of the Government.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I think hon. Members have forgotten an incident which took place, and of which I would like to remind them. I cannot understand the attitude of some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway in regard to the object of my Amendment. The right hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) made a suggestion to the Prime Minister in the course of the Debate on the Second Reading. Then the Prime Minister said this:—The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a different suggestion, as I understood him, namely, that the term to be fixed in the Act should represent something like the average duration of an ordinary Session.Mr. Duke nodded assent.The Prime Minister: Well, there is a good deal to be said for that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December 1915, col. 1984, Vol. LXXVI.]Reflecting upon those words, I simply put my Amendment down as an obedient follower of the Prime Minister, because it seemed to me that five years and eight months interpreted that conversation. As to there being any party point, I do not see it. The suggestion is made in good faith, and to carry out the response of the right hon. and learned Member for Exeter. I appeal to my hon. Friends above the Gangway not to pursue these recriminations. I assure them such an example is catching and may spread, and gives great pain to those of us who sit below the Gangway. I thank the Government for accepting my Amendment.
§ Sir STEPHEN COLLINS
I join with the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) and other hon. Members, and most respectfully ask the Prime Minister to give us freedom in voting on this matter. I regret very much that the Prime Minister has given way, and I quite agree that if he had kept to the year we should have had an overwhelming majority in favour of that period. I trust he will reconsider the decision, and stick firm to the first well-considered scheme of the united Cabinet.
§ Mr. COWAN
If hon. Members above the Gangway decide to oppose the decision of the Government as announced by the Prime Minister, I shall find myself in 67 a position to support the Government. I am quite sure that the Prime Minister appreciates support from this part of the House far more than any support above the Gangway, because he knows it is sincere and disinterested. I support the Government in this case, believing as I do that any extension of the life of this Parliament brought about by its own action is improper and unconstitutional, and therefore the shorter the term of such extension the better I am pleased. I had hoped that the Government might have
§ seen its way to accept an Amendment put down mostly by hon. Members on the other side, limiting the extension to six months. I will accept any reduction of the original term, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on the breadth of view and of mind and the tolerance which has inspired him to the decision he announced to-day.
§ Question put, "That the word 'six' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 23; Noes, 158.69
|Division No. 23.]||AYES.||[4.19 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||John, Edward Thomas||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||King, Joseph||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Goldstone, Frank||Partington, Oswald||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.)||Richards, Thomas|
|Hemmerde, Edward George||Rothschild, Lionel de||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir R.|
|Hinds, John||Rowlands, James||Adkins and Sir G. Scott Robertson.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Gelder, Sir W. A.||Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza|
|Addison, Dr. Christopher||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.|
|Alden, Percy||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Arnold, Sydney||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Mount, William Arthur|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Grant, J. A.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Hall, Marshall (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield).|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Henderson, Lt.-Col. H. (Berks, Abingdon)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Herbert, General Sir Ivor (Mon., S.)||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Pratt, J. W.|
|Boyton, James||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Prothero, Rowland Edmund|
|Butcher, John George||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Radford, George Heynes|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Houston, Robert Paterson||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Campbell, Captain Duncan F. (Ayr, N.)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk.||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Keating, Matthew||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Kellaway, Frederick George||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)||Kenyon, Barnet||Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dewsbury)|
|Clive, Captain Percy Archer||Larmor, Sir J.||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Cowan, W. H.||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Shaw, Hon. A.|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Shortt, Edward|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Crooks, William||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)|
|Currie, George W.||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||Macmaster, Donald||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Stewart, Gershem|
|Davies, Timothy (Lines, Louth)||Macpherson, James Ian||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John|
|Dawes, James Arthur||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Thomas, J. H.|
|Denniss, E. R. B||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North))|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Magnus, Sir Philip||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Tickler, T. G.|
|Fell, Arthur||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Finlay, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Gardner, Ernest||Molteno, Percy Alport||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Wardle, George J.||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)||Younger, Sir George|
|Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)||Worthington Evans, Major L.|
|Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Watt, Henry A.||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert||Gulland and Lord Edmund Talbot.|
|White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Word "five" there inserted.
§ Further Amendment made: After the word "years" ["years were substituted"], insert the words "and eight months."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (2).
I move this Amendment with some confidence in view of the fact that the Prime Minister has already accepted one Amendment, thereby admitting that the Bill as brought before the House required amendment. Therefore, I hope he will not decline to accept this further Amendment. I shall discuss this proposal not from the point of view of the merits of the Plural Voting Bill, but from the point of view that a controversial measure should not be introduced at the present moment. I was very pleased to see in the "Times" on Saturday a letter from Mr. James Caldwell, who not only was an old Member of this House and an ardent Radical, but for a long time occupied the post of Deputy-Chairman of Committees, and the Radical Government so appreciated his services that they appointed him to His Majesty's Privy Council. An opinion coming from a gentleman of that description merits serious consideration. This is what Mr. Caldwell wrote:Party politics are silenced as a ruling factor and no by-elections could possibly take place on a party issue.I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should yawn, as this is no doubt a rather awkward quotation for him.To introduce a highly contentious party measure such as the Plural Voting Bill would be obviously contrary to the purpose for which the House of Commons and the Government presently exist.I am fortified in that opinion by remembering what occurred when the Bill for the postponement of the Welsh Church Act was abandoned by the Government. I think the Motion was moved by the Home Secretary and supported by my Noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Everyone knows that my Noble Friend was a strong opponent of the Welsh Church Act, and a strong supporter of the Suspensory Bill. Why did he rise from the Treasury Bench and support the Home Secretary? Because the fact that there was in being a Coalition Government did away 70 with all controversial measures. If the Government allowed my Noble Friend to make that statement, how much more ought they never to introduce a highly controversial Bill like the Plural Voting Bill. I base my objection also on the ground that if the Sub-section is allowed to remain it may be taken as a precedent. It may be said, "Oh, yes, it is quite true that we said no controversial measures should be introduced during the War, but we have already introduced a highly controversial measure by keeping alive the Plural Voting Bill; therefore we can do it again." The Amendment is also necessary for this reason. It is possible that at the end of the eight months another extension of the life of Parliament will have to be made. If that is done, I trust there will be no further attempt to revive the Plural Voting Bill. It may be that this Sub-section was put into the Bill without adequate consideration. My right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary may have felt himself bound to support the Sub-section on this occasion. But there can be no reason for suggesting it on another occasion, especially after the view of practically the whole of the Unionist party upon this subject is known. One of the reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend for this particular Sub-section was that it would not have any effect, that it was inconceivable that it would ever be acted upon. The Prime Minister stated that in his opinion it is not worth considering. He said:—I shall say nothing about the Plural Voting Bill—not that I undervalue its importance, nor because I have changed my opinion as to its merits and expediency, but because I think that that is a matter which neither upon one side nor upon the other is regarded at this moment as of vital importance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1915, col. 1982, Vol. LXXVI.]If the Colonial Secretary thinks it cannot be acted upon, and if the Prime Minister does not regard it as of any importance, why put it in the Bill at all? I am glad to see that there are several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who think that, whether or not this is in their favour from a party point of view, it is a breach of the agreement, and they have the courage to stand up and say so. I express my gratitude to them for the attitude they have taken. Their action is likely to raise the House of Commons in the estimation of 71 people outside. It at any rate shows that there are a- considerable number of Gentlemen in this House who are at the present moment above party feelings. I notice also that the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) says that he does not attach much importance to this proposal. If all sections of the House do not attach much importance to it, why put it in the Bill at all? I do not know whether the Minister of Munitions has come down to support me; if so, I shall be very pleased to have his assistance.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I wish to support the Amendment. The Government have already given way on one point. I hope they will follow that precedent by giving way in this matter. There is one question which underlies all the proceedings of this House at the present moment, and that is whether a democracy without national service can properly prosecute a great war. Is this a time to put forward a proposal of this nature? It is strongly controversial and altogether such as should be carefully excluded from a Bill of this character. That such a proposition should be forced into this Bill seems to me a highly regrettable circumstance.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I did not put my name down to this Amendment without full consideration, and certainly I did not do it in any spirit of antagonism to the Government. I wish to make an appeal to those Members of the Government who belong to my own party. I need not describe the Plural Voting Bill; the real point in order now is whether that Bill shall be kept alive. The merits of the Bill have been stated by the Government. The Colonial Secretary said:—This Plural Voting Bill is a purely partisan measure.He made that statement in the presence of the Prime Minister. Therefore I take it that that is the description of the Bill officially given by the Coalition Government. If that be so, was the Colonial Secretary correct in his further references to this matter? He said it was possible that there might be a further issue upon it, but that the Prime Minister could command a majority and carry the Bill. If that point is good, I submit that it is a reason for not retaining this Sub-section in the Bill. Who wants a party fight during the War or immediately after? I 72 say quite plainly that on the formation of this National Government I determined that never again during this Parliament under any circumstances whatever would I give a party vote. I assure my Friends on the other side of the House that if through some division in the Government during the War, or immediately after the termination of the War, during the life of this Parliament, there is an attempt to vote them down by a pure party majority, there are a number of Members sitting on this side who will do their best to see that justice is done. I consider that the support given both to the late Liberal Government and also to the present Government, and the attitude of the Conservative party over this very Bill have been such as entitle them to some fair treatment at our hands. I cannot conceive that if the position had been reversed the Conservative party would have voted down on a party issue a Liberal minority in this House during a great War. The Colonial Secretary made a further important statement. He said:—I recognise that that (the course proposed) gives an advantage to those in favour of the Bill.He repeated that further, and said:—I admit it gives an advantage, but I can see of no other way of arriving at anything that did not mean a quarrel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December. 1915, col. 1972, Vol. LXXVI.]Even after five years and eight months of this Parliament we may need still further postponement to avoid an election. Are we to have this question brought up again at the end of next Session? [An HON. MFMBER: "No!"] If Parliament goes on for another Session, is this bone of contention in 1917 to be flung upon the House again? I appeal to the Government whether it is not better to drop this Sub-section now rather than be compelled to do it, as I feel sure they will. I speak as a man sitting on the Back Benches. What are we trying to do during the War? We are trying to unite with Members of this House, and we do not want questions raised which will divide us. Things are too serious. I submit that, ill-advised as it would be for a party fight upon the Plural Voting Bill during the War, it would almost be criminal to do it immediately after the War. Immediately after the War the country will be in such an impoverished state, and undergoing such a time of stress, that we ought then to keep party fights away from the floor of this House and unite to protect our trade and to unite our Empire! Of all the times when party fights should be absent, 73 and that party cries should not be raised, I suggest it should be when this House is attempting, on behalf of the nation, to recover the position which has been impaired by an exhausting war. I really cannot see why the Government persists in maintaining this Sub-section. Everyone knows they cannot pass the Plural Voting Bill in this Parliament. Why, then, raise false hopes in the country? Some of our most ardent workers—as is well known to hon. Members of the party which formerly sat opposite—our canvassers, and our machinerymen, if I may so call them, attach great importance to this Bill. They will take the passing of this Sub-section as an indication that they are to have the Bill during this Parliament. They cannot get it during this Parliament. There really is no hope whatever of that. Under those circumstances, why should we delude them, especially when the price to be paid for this delusion is an attempted Division in this House?
I would remind the Government of the position that many of us are in in regard to our opponents in the constituencies. We have appeared on the same platform at recruiting and patriotic meetings with men we have fought. We have assured our constituents that from now until the end of this great conflict we will know no politics. Upon that footing some of our opponents have stayed their hand. They have accepted it as genuine when we said we were not party politicians until this great conflict with Germany was over. How can any Member who in his own constituency has taken up that attitude with his opponent, or his prospective opponent, who has joined in the fight with him, with leading members of the opposite organisation upon the platform—how can he come to this House and give a vote for a party measure? It cannot possibly be justified. It will only lead to a great deal of confusion in the country. Why should this be? Have the Government really thought of the other side of it? Do they suppose that at their bidding they can separate and divide us again into two camps. I say that the party system is not in such favour, either in the country or this House, as to allow them to accomplish that purpose. This Sub-section keeps the party system alive. We do not want it kept alive at this time. This Sub-section of the Coalition Government is not a Subsection of what I wish to see, namely, a National Government. If the Members who now constitute the Cabinet had com- 74 bined together to try to forget from which party they came, and solely to conduct the campaign against Germany, I do not think they would have produced this Subsection. But so long as there is present in their mind a balancing of the positions, the looking forward to a subsequent conflict, and a determination that they will call us to arms at some time under the party banner—so long, I say, as those ideas prevail—and they do—in the Government—I am not surprised at this.
I have made my protest upon this occasion. I put my Amendment down upon the Paper without consultation with any other Member in the House, but I did consult with a number of Liberal candidates. It may be that at this time Liberal candidates are more in touch with the constituencies than those who are compelled to give daily attendance here. At the request of a considerable number of adopted Liberal candidates all over the country, I placed my name to my Amendment. I make this appeal to members of my own party who have done me the honour to listen to my speech. I want even to assume that we have the right to impose this Sub-section upon the House. Assume that—though I do not agree that we are entitled to pass it in this Parliament—as a matter of abstract politics, and of the counting of heads, is this the time to assert our right in view of the patriotic attitude of the Opposition? Surely something is due to them? Why should we, by a mere majority in an extended Parliament, extended for the sole purpose of the national fight against Germany, claim the right to use that party advantage? I do not know how many members of my own party I can speak for on this occasion. I speak for myself, and I know for some others. But I venture to say that both inside and outside this House there will be found a larger number of Liberals than some of the partisans think who will take the course I am suggesting. I do not yield to any man here in my zest for a party fight—at the right time! Where is the Member of the House who has given more votes than I have for the Government, who has attended more hours here than I have, or who, at his own expense, have gone to more by-elections when a party fight was on? But then this is a very different period. Some of us were the keenest party fighters at the right time, and we loved the game. It is therefore the more encumbent upon us than for others of our party that in this great time of crisis we should say 75 to those whom we have fought and opposed: "We will join with you upon equal terms, and we will never be a party to take any advantage of you while the War lasts."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
I am sure that my hon. Friend who has just spoken, though I do not take his point of view, not do I think it well-founded in fact, will accept it when I say that I appreciate the spirit which has moved him to make his speech. That speech, along with others, puts a point of view with the spirit of which one can sympathise. I hope, therefore, he will not think that because I take a different view that it is from any want of respect for the claims he has put forward to speak with sincerity and absence of party feeling. But the truth is that this Clause was inserted in this Bill by the Government, not with the object of raising controversy, but with the object of postponing controversy. It is very easy for hasty logicians to say that if you make any such provision in this Bill you are raising a controversy. I will ask them to consider this: It is sometimes possible, by merely sitting still and allowing the time to go by, to do injury to one set of people and gain an advantage for yourselves. I do not believe that patriotic Members of this House, in whatever quarter they sit, ever desired to allow the time to go by merely in order to gain an advantage for themselves. Therefore, I am surprised that there are Members of this House who do not see that that would be the effect of leaving out this Clause. I feel quite certain that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, and others who have spoken so strongly as they did, are quite unconscious of the fact that they would be merely giving an advantage to themselves. What we ought to do is to try and preserve the balance that neither party gains an advantage, and that no side suffers any prejudice. If anybody suggests any better way of doing it than those words his suggestion shall be considered. But it is no good pretending that you are securing that result for those who in times of peace" have opposed this particular measure to insist that the way to avoid all party advantage is at this moment to sit still and do nothing. Some things die by time, and the man who sits by and sees a thing die, simply because the time is passing, is not entitled to say that he is doing this because his patriotism does not prompt him to 76 raise a party controversy. That is the plain fact of this. It does surprise me very much that experienced Members of Parliament who have discussed this subject for years should not realise that these are the elements of the case. For the rest I should regret very much if any attempt was made to carry the Bill in time War, and I hope most heartily, that by maintaining existing conditions, it will be possible to keep this out of the controversy and out of Parliamentary discussion till the War is at an end. There is no reason why we should not see that a proper provision is made, but it is ridiculous to state that simply by leaving the matter on one side you are thereby doing what you seek—what we are all seeking to do—namely, avoid the possibility of prejudice or advantage to any set of men.
There is one other observation I should like to make—for this is not the occasion for making a long speech on this particular topic, which has been discussed for many years, and was discussed on the Second Reading of the Bill. There are hon. Members who say that, after all, this particular Bill only touches one aspect of a whole series of difficulties and problems in connection with the Franchise. That is quite true. What better opportunity, then, can there be than the opportunity which is provided by the Government, which represents all the British parties, during the latter part of the life of Parliament, under the changing conditions, such as there must be when this War is over? What better opportunity can there be to see whether by some conference or plan we may be able to solve more than one of these controversial subjects? We are not desirous of using this opportunity to keep alive party prejudice. We would be to blame if we did not do all we can to take advantage of this opportunity to solve more than one of those controversial subjects. Take Redistribution, if you are going to deal with that, what are the conditions in which it has to be dealt with? It has to be dealt with towards the close of a life of Parliament; it has to be dealt with at a time when the leaders of the different parties are disposed to act in concert and agreement, and there is a third condition still more difficult, which exists at this moment. If you are going to devise a scheme of Redistribution you ought to devise it at a time when the party managers and the party agents would have great difficulty in knowing 77 what is the effect of changed boundaries on party prospects. The object some of us have very deeply at heart is far from wishing to revive the party fight, but is to see whether we cannot in the time that is left to us, by common counsel suggest the solution in some form or other of various difficulties. Be that as it may, it would be plainly wrong—and I am entitled to say that this is the view held by colleagues of my own in the Government, who do not share my views in respect to this particular party measure—simply to allow the time to elapse, and for one set of people or one point of view to gain an advantage at the expense of the other. We are here proposing not to revive or to insist upon controversy in the midst of war, but to maintain the position which can quite well be maintained by a Clause such as this in order that we may the better solve in the future the matters to which I have referred.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman commenced his observations by telling this House that this, at all events, was not a time or an occasion for long speeches. I am bound to say, in a very long experience of this House, I do not ever remember an occasion upon which a Minister anxious to get on with business gave a more direct invitation to Members to indulge in controversial speeches. If that is his notion of getting on with business, I can only say I venture very respectfully to differ from him altogether. I regretted the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on other grounds as much as I welcomed the speech of the hon. Member who preceded him, and who, I think, appealed to all sections of the House by the general tone and attitude of his speech, not because it was disposing of a question, or an attempt to dispose of a question, which is unfavourably regarded on this side of the House, but because of the general views which he pronounced with regard to the position and the attitude of the House of Commons as far as possible at a time like this to preserve unity and avoid controversial affairs. What does the right hon. Gentleman say? He thinks the position ought to be maintained. Why maintained? What is the position of the Plural Voting Bill at this moment? The Plural Voting Bill is absolutely dead. This is nothing but an attempt to revive a question of controversy. He hoped, he said, that the controversy might have been 78 postponed. There was the simplest way in the world of postponing it, and the only ground on which it has been possible to raise a controversy on this question at all has been the attitude of those members of the Government who were, I suppose, determined if they could to obtain a party advantage on this occasion. I said what I wanted to say on this subject the other night. I made my protest then. I think it was wrong. I think it is wrong still. I do not wish to have anything further to say on controversial matters, and, indeed, I was only led to rise and say what I have said by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which, I hope, will not be imitated by other Members on that side of the House. Then, I think, we may dispose of this matter with very little more delay.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I hope I may not be so incautious as to incur the blame of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken if I venture for a minute to identify myself with the line of thought and with the conclusion of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, because, while I know very well how many things there are in peace time in which I am unable to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, he is one of many right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen who sit on that side of the House with whom one works with the greatest cordiality in time of war. May I respectfully point out to him, and to Members of the Committee who are supporting this Amendment, that we who are glad to have this Sub-section in the Bill are glad to have it there because we believe that it will help, and not hinder, united action on this and on other matters when the War comes to an end? It may be right or wrong, but I hope we may have, at any rate, the charitable judgment of our Friends who disagree with us on the subject-matter in the objects which we have in supporting this. We remember what the Prime Minister said when the War began, that, as far as possible, no party should be benefited or injured during the period of the War by deliberate action in this House. What is the position of the Plural Voting Bill? It has passed this House twice and is waiting the third opportunity of passing. Had the occurrence of the War put an end to that without this Sub-section, then one school of thought in this House would thereby have been damnified and injured, and I am certain that that which, I trust, we all want—a 79 wide, generous, and impartial settlement of the whole electoral problem when peace comes—can only be advanced, and not hindered, if this Sub-section is passed this afternoon.
I cannot, of course, claim, like my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), to have consulted any given number of candidates of any alleged party in any parts of the country, but one has had the usual opportunities of discussing this subject, and I assure him I entirely concur with his general attitude on the situation in which we are. I say that if we are to be able to state in the country that the Prime Minister's pledge has been thoroughly and fairly carried out, that the measures which some support and some oppose have neither been put back nor put forward by the War, but are kept in the place in which they were when the War broke out, then we are on the very best platform from which to cultivate the attitude of united action in all matters which affect this country during war. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is no time for prolonged Debate, and I am quite sure he does not hope to convert those who do not share his opinion on this point, any more than we hope to convince him. But, as we cannot agree on the particular point, surely we can believe in the honesty and bona fides of our opponents, and decide this question, if it becomes necessary in a Division, on the assumption that those who vote against it are no more or no less concerned for national unity than those who support it. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last of the very striking words used by the Colonial Secretary in that memorable speech, that this arrangement was his own particular suggestion or invention? I can imagine times and seasons in which one does not always agree with the Colonial Secretary, but I think we can all pay him deserved tribute for his skill in contriving this suggestion, and for the admirable way in which he supported it. When I know in a matter of this kind I am supporting the Colonial Secretary and the Home Secretary at the same time, whatever else can be said of one's action, it cannot be called partisan when one is supporting in the same sentence and the same vote two eminent men who never agreed until the War broke out, and I hope will never disagree while the War lasts.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
I rise to say that I feel very much with my hon. Friend behind me who moved this Amendment with regard to the impropriety of the introduction of this Sub-section at all. It seems to me to be entirely alien to the true purpose of this Bill, and I am very sorry it was ever introduced. The defence which my right hon. Friend opposite has made appears to me very much to aggravate matters. If what my right hon. Friend said had any meaning it was this: That this Sub-section was introduced for the purpose of keeping alive a weapon which might be used. I am perfectly certain my right hon. Friend does not seriously look forward to running a measure like the Plural Voting Bill through Parliament as soon as the War is over. It is incredible that such a purpose should be contemplated, and what he seemed to imply under that head is inconsistent with the hope he expressed that a general settlement might be arrived at with regard to the general question affecting electoral reform. If there is to be such a settlement, it must be by common consent, and it is not by holding such a weapon over the heads of the Unionist party that common and cordial consent will be achieved. While I feel very strongly on the matter, at the same time may I express a hope, personally, that my hon. Friend will not think it necessary to proceed to a Division? I say that for this reason: bad as I think the Clause was, we have arrived at a sort of compromise—not a very logical compromise, but still a compromise—which, I think, renders the Clause at present powerless for mischief. I desire only to say that I trust it is not to be taken as a precedent for another Bill of this kind. The present Bill with this Clause in it was introduced under very-special circumstances. We all listened with admiration to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, in which he explained the ground on which his name appeared at the back of such a Bill as this; and, while we do not mean to vote against it now under the very special circumstances, it must be understood that those circumstances are very special, and I am sure the whole House trusts that no such Clause will ever appear in any future Bill.
§ Mr. PETO
I have listened with admiration to the lucid speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities (Sir R. Finlay). Towards the Home Secretary he displayed 81 extraordinary charity, because he said he felt confident the right hon. Gentleman could not really contemplate pushing through a measure for dealing with plural voting immediately the War was over. But I listened to the Home Secretary with great care, and found that he made two references. He said that the object of this Sub-section was to postpone a controversy, and later he said he wanted to leave the Plural Voting Bill out of controversy until the War is at an end. If he did not mean to introduce it immediately the War was at an end, what is the object of having this Sub-section in the Bill at all? The Home Secretary said there are some things that die by time. Surely everything dies—it is past hope and past praying for. Therefore, the only assumption we can make from that remark of the Home Secretary is that he feels that, if he cannot pass this Plural Voting Bill with the remainder of a Party in a majority in a Parliament that is artificially prolonged beyond the term for which it was elected, he will have no hope whatever of passing that measure. I think a greater condemnation of the proposal to keep it alive in the present Parliament we could not have. I cannot follow the Home Secretary in all he said about Redistribution, for I am quite sure I should be immediately ruled out of order, as there is no possible connection between any scheme of Redistribution, or the other large general scheme upon which he and the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) hoped to have the general consensus of opinion, and the question of keeping alive this particular Bill. My object in rising was to point out one consideration, which was apparently not present in the mind of any hon. Member who spoke on the Second Reading. The whole basis of the Parliament Act Bills was that they were to pass three times in three successive Sessions.
§ Mr. PETO
Unless another Parliament was elected which still gave them a majority in favour of the same Bill. That does not alter my point at all. But if you extend the Parliament beyond five years—and this consideration is particularly in my mind in view of what the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment said when he particularly deprecated it being taken as a precedent for further extension, resurrection, or revival of this particular piece of old Party controversy—if, as I say, you extend the Parliament first to five years 82 and eight months, then to six years and six months, and so forth, and all the time count all those Sessions by which you extend it as if they never existed at all, what becomes of the argument used by the Prime Minister so forcibly in his speech on Tuesday last? The right hon. Gentleman said:—I was responsible as Prime Minister for the proposal to shorten the duration of Parliament from seven years to five, mainly because I have become more and more convinced, during now a long political life, that it is of the highest importance to the best and permanent interests of the nation that the House of Commons should be, as far as it can be made, a reflection of national opinion, and that it should not outlive its mandate and distort instead of reflecting the judgment which it is here to register aad record. That is a very good and sound doctrine as applicable to normal political conditions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1915, col. 1983, Vol. LXXVI.]If it is applicable to anything, it is applicable to the Plural Voting Bill Therefore I say on the widest ground, and the whole basis on which this Parliament was elected, you have no right whatever in the sixth or the seventh year of a five-year Parliament to bring in a Party measure for which you have not the slightest justification for saying there is any majority in the country. On those grounds I support the hon. Baronet's proposal. I do not think this proposal ought to have been introduced in the Bill, and I regard it as indecent to try and preserve this unsavoury relic of past controversy. I certainly hope it will not be regarded as a precedent because we do not go to a Division, and I trust that will not be taken to mean that we have either approved or agreed to the arrangement made in this matter.
I do not think it makes much difference whether Sub-section (2) remains in the Bill or not for one simple reason, and that is I believe that the country has determined at a very early date to turn this Government out. I do not think the opportunity will ever arise under which that Section could possibly be of any utility. There is one thing clear, and it is that those who are Members of the Government to-day will have to give it up. It is not a question of who is going to take their place, but the simple mandate is going to be that they should resign.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not intend to divide upon this Amendment, but I shall not withdraw it, and I am going to leave it to the Committee to negative. I am not at all convinced by the speech of the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman has great powers of logic, and if he had a good cause I feel he would convince me, 83 and it is only because his Clause is bad, and not his logic, that he has failed to convince me. The right hon. Gentleman is labouring under a very great delusion when he thinks that if the War had not taken place the Plural Voting Bill would have had any chance of success, because the Government would have been out long ago. The Bill was dead before the War. What took place when the War broke out? Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman what sacrifices the Unionist party made at the outbreak of war to maintain his Government in power, which would not have been in power but for that, in order that the War might be prosecuted, and not that the Plural Voting Bill might be kept alive. That is why we did forego all the duties of an Opposition. Not only did we take no advantage of the mistakes, and they were many, of the Government, but we actually said when there was a by-election that we would support the Liberal candidate if he was in possession at the time. Prior to the War the Liberal party had been losing largely in the constitutencies. What would the position have been if we had gone down to those constituencies and disclosed the mistakes which the Government had made? Would there have been any chance at all for a measure of this kind, including a Plural Voting Bill? This measure is simply to avoid a General Election during the present crisis, and it ought to have been confined to that. I will not now divide the House, but I will not withdraw my Amendment, and I will leave it to be negatived. I should like to emphasise what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities (Sir R. Finlay), that we cannot allow a Clause of this kind to be introduced in any further Bill for the prolongation of Parliament, and if it is introduced we shall fight it with the utmost of our power.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think the hon. Member who has just spoken and the right hon. and learned Member for the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews are both under a mispprehension regarding the necessity of such a Clause in any Bill. The Clause, as it is drawn, renders such a course unnecessary. What is now clear is that the Plural Voting Bill is really dead. It has been called a bone of contention, but a more appropriate term would be a corpse of contention.
§ Amendment negatived.84
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
My object in rising is to make it quite clear that the extension to eight months is not in any sense or form a bargain which has been arranged. It must not be said hereafter that a bargain has been made that an election shall take place within eight months of the extension. This House is all-powerful. What this House has done this House can undo, and if the exigencies of the War or of this House demand it, what the Government will have to do before the end of this period expires will be to bring in another Bill to extend the period. That is what I want to make clear. There is no bargain made about eight months. If the right hon. Gentleman will assure me on this point I shall be much obliged.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
In reply to what has been said, I think it will be perfectly easy to introduce another repealing Clause.
§ Sir J. SIMON
What the hon. Member for Sheffield has said is quite true. Parliament retains its own legislative power, and I do not think anybody should be regarded as being barred hereafter if, for good reason, it is thought necessary to propose further legislation on this subject.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Before we add this Clause to the Bill, may I ask that the Home Secretary shall give us the weight of his advice on the point which has been raised as to introducing a repealing Clause? Supposing it is necessary to bring in a Bill in six or seven months' time, will this Section stand or will it have to be negatived?
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Surely the decision come to this afternoon is that the duration of Parliament applies to the whole of this Bill. The hon. Baronet opposite wants to have everything both ways. What has been suggested has been very unfair to those of us who object to the alterations made in this Bill from its original conception. We do not want to be tied down to what is opposed to our view of what is right, any more than we should be tied down to what the hon. Baronet thinks is right.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If I do want to have my own way, I am not at all likely to get it. I am not asking for my own way, nor am I wishing to tie anybody down. I was 85 asking the Home Secretary to give me the benefit of his opinion upon a question which may be right or wrong, and I was not discussing its merits. I was merely asking if in six months' time it is necessary to renew this Bill, will a Clause be necessary allowing the Plural Voting Bill to be introduced or not?
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I think this is a very important matter. A good many of us understood that by this Bill the Government were getting a vote in time on account, and that the matter would have to be brought up as a whole at the end of the eight months, which is the period now being inserted. If what has been said is right, then the position would be that, although the Government would have to come and ask Parliament again for a further period for the life of Parliament, if the interpretation suggested is true it means the question of whether the Plural Voting Bill can be passed in any Session of this Parliament, however long that may be from the present time is settled. If the Plural Voting Bill can be passed in any Session, then Sub-section (2) lasts, whatever happens at the end of eight months, and the Government have as part of a bargain prolonged the life of the Plural Voting Bill to the end of any Session of this Parliament, although they have only eight months for this Parliament to survive. If that be so, I consider that Clause 1 and Clause 2 are on a very different basis indeed, and what is called compromise means that one side of the House has got what it wants during the period of the life of this Parliament, and it would be unnecessary then to ask for further powers. Most of us understand that further powers should be required, both as to the life of Parliament and the life of the Plural Voting Bill. If a permanant life has been given to the Plural Voting Bill, then there has been a wide divergence, and an important point has been overlooked.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I really do not think a discussion is necessary on this point, because the language of the Bill is perfectly clear, and it surprises me that hon. Members, and hon. and learned Members, think that on this occasion they can discuss the question, "Can this Parliament tie the hands of a subsequent Parliament as to what it is going to do?" It cannot, and it has never been able to do that. This Bill says that it is necessary from time to time to propose a further extension of the life of Parliament beyond what is now 86 proposed. That is the time when a provision could be introduced to prevent the operation of Sub-section (2), or to modify it or to leave it as it stands. That, of course, is perfectly plain on the face of the Bill. The words are not in the least obscure, and I do hope that we shall not spend much time discussing them.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has dealt quite fairly with the Committee.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The question is, Will this matter require to be dealt with by inserting some Clause, or some hon. Member proposing to insert a Clause to repeal the Sub-section?
§ Sir J. SIMON
It is so simple that it answers itself. I do not claim any more authority to deal with the question than my hon. and learned Friend. It is quite plain that the Sub-section as it stands applies during the continuance of the present Parliament, and consequently, if Parliament is further continued, the Sub-section will apply; but whether it will be necessary to insert a Clause repealing it or not depends upon what Parliament may desire to do. It may desire to repeal it, or modify it, or leave it as it is. All that is perfectly plain on the face of it.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I am rather surprised at certain statements being made against this question being dealt with on the ground that it is controversial. Hon. Members on the other side of the House who have come back from the trenches have told us of the great democracy out there as though they were really the first to discover the genuine worth of the British working man; but, at the same time, when we seek to establish that every man shall have one vote and that nobody shall have more than one vote in order to make good that democracy, and so that when the men in the trenches come home to the first election they shall not find that while the man who has fought has only one vote the man who has stayed at home drawing rents has twenty votes, we are told that it is raising a difficult controversy which should not at this time be dealt with. The way to solve that part of the question is for hon. Members on the other side of the House to recognise that this is a matter not of party advantage, but of principle, and to drop the controversy.
I should like to ask the Home Secretary whether, during this extended period, it is the intention of the Government to restore to the Members of his House their rights to introduce legislation?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That concerns the Standing Orders and Sessional Orders of the House, and has nothing whatever to do with this Bill.
May I respect fully submit to you that I asked the question because, whether I voted for giving this eight months' extension or not, would largely depend on whether the Government were going to restore to private Members their privileges—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That does not arise out of the Bill.
Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.