§ (1) For the purpose of postponing local elections, section two of the Parliament and Local Elections Act, 1916, shall be deemed to be incorporated in this Act, subject to the following modifications:—
§ The reference in Sub-section (1) to the Elections and Registration Act, 1915, shall include a reference to the Parliament and Local Elections Act, 1916; the first of June, nineteen 1716 hundred and eighteen, and the twentieth of May, nineteen hundred and eighteen, shall be substituted respectively for the first of June, nineteen hundred and seventeen, and the twentieth of May, nineteen hundred and seventeen; and the year nineteen hundred and eighteen shall be substituted for the year nineteen hundred and seventeen in Sub-section two of that Section.
§ (2) Section four of the Parliament and Local Elections Act, 1916, shall have effect with respect to the revision of the jurors' lists in Ireland in the present year as it had effect with respect to the revision of the jurors' lists in Ireland in the year nineteen hundred and sixteen.
§ Major NEWMAN
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "elections" ["For the purpose of postponing local elections"], to insert the words "in Great Britain."
The obvious effect of the Amendment would be to allow local elections in Ireland to take place next month. I confess that, as an Irish ratepayer, I attach a certain amount of importance to this Amendment. The Leader of the House told us yesterday that if there were any considerable opposition to this Bill to extend the life of Parliament, the Government would not proceed with it. The Committee will agree that the opposition to the prolongation of the life of Parliament has been very languid as was shown by the fact that only some fifty Members went into the Lobby against it. The Government can safely say, therefore, that the House and the country are with them in their desire to avoid a General Election at the present time, and I think what is true of a Parliamentary election is true also of local elections, so far as Great Britain is concerned. I do not think that there is any desire in Great Britain to have the local elections which are due in the course of the next few weeks. After all, the same reasons to a great extent apply to local elections as to a Parliamentary election. The majority of the electors are away, party politics at the present moment are altogether dead, and before and above all there has been a small decrease in the rates in the majority of cases in the country. The rates struck since the War have been less than the rates which prevailed before the War. Therefore, there is no great cause for the 1717 local ratepayers to grumble at their representatives or to wish for a change. I do not think that is true at any rate of the southern part of Ireland. In Ireland we still have the great majority of the electors available to give their votes either in Parliamentary or local elections, and, again, party politics in Ireland are by no means dead. We had an election not long ago in North Roscommon contested by three gentlemen, and there is another election coming along in which there are three, if not four, gentlemen standing. Therefore, so far from politics in Ireland being dead, there never was a time when they were more alive or active. It may be said that they are Parliamentary and not local politics and that what is true with regard to the election of Members of Parliament is not true with regard to the election of members of urban district or county councils. We have to remember, however, that in Ireland local affairs are very largely run, indeed almost entirely, on political lines. Therefore, that which applies in England does not apply in the same degree in Ireland.
§ Major NEWMAN
I am not at the present time discussing the question of Home Rule. The General Society of County Councils, which is a very powerful body and one of the most representative bodies in Ireland, met the other day and passed a very important resolution with regard to the proposed Home Rule settlement. Then, again, not long ago the Member for North Roscommon (Mr. Plunkett) formed the idea of getting together in Dublin a large number of delegates from the local authorities all over Ireland to discuss his policy as against the policy of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. That policy met with diverse receptions. In some cases it was adopted and delegates were appointed; in other cases the request to appoint delegates was thrown into the waste-paper basket; and in further cases no action was taken. The local authorities said that it was not their business to deal with a question of this sort. I, therefore, contend that politics in Ireland and in Great Britain are totally different. I have told the Committee that the average rate struck in Great Britain has gone down, but that has not been the case in Ireland. The rates there have gone up, in some cases excessively, and 1718 the Irish ratepayer, being a human being, in a great many cases, is kicking, and he does not see why he should be saddled with representatives whom he thinks extravagant for another full year. In Dublin the rate, I imagine, is something like 11s. in the £. It has shown a very great increase during the period of the War. It may be said that there are special reasons why the rate in Dublin has gone up so excessively, but at any rate there is an enormous amount of discontent with regard to the way in which the rates have been spent and the general extravagance of the corporation. I want to give another example nearer home, which affects me personally. I mean the rates which are at present being paid in the City of Cork. I will quote a letter which appeared in the "Irish Independent" this morning, and which puts the matter far better than I can:The corporation has now passed estimates for the present financial year, providing for the rate of 13s. 6d. in the £. This is 1s. int. over and above the highest rate ever struck in Cork or in any town or city in the United Kingdom. In 1807—that was before the Local Government (Ireland) Act was passed—the total rate in Cork was £78,930. Now that has reached the enormous total of £125,680, an increase of £46,600, Not bad for a population of 76,761, who are at present literally taxed up to the apple of the throat by our local legislators, who do not care a thraneen what the rates are, as they pay no direct taxation whatever. Before more injury is done the law which gives representation without taxation ought to be changed.Then the letter goes on to ask that there shall be a General Election and that these men shall be sent out of office. Those are two pretty strong points.
§ Major NEWMAN
Mr. J. J. Goggin, of Montone Villas, Cork. That is a letter written by a Cork ratepayer complaining bitterly of his representatives, and what is true of Cork, I imagine, is true of other parts of Ireland. If the Irish ratepayer could come to this House and make this complaint known the Government would see that whatever is true with regard to prolonging the life of Parliament, or of local bodies in England is not true with regard to prolonging the life of local bodies in Ireland. I therefore suggest that my Amendment should be adopted to give the Irish ratepayers a chance of finding new representatives next month if they care to do so. The independent Member for Westmeath (Mr. Ginnell) yesterday made an accusation that a great many members of rural district and county 1719 councils had accepted jobs through Members below the Gangway, and were, therefore, to a certain extent, paid hirelings of the Government of the day. That is a very ugly charge. I do not believe it is a true charge. If this Amendment were passed the Irish local bodies and hon. Members below the Gangway would be able to clear themselves of the accusation that has been made as to their integrity. Therefore, I beg to move the Amendment and trust I shall have the support of the Committee.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I am very surprised that my hon. and gallant Friend should move an Amendment of this kind. If it is so important, as he represents, to the Irish ratepayers that the tenure of the present holders of offices in these local bodies should not be prolonged, I am surprised that the hon. Member has received no support from a single Member sitting for an Irish constituency. I must have much more substantial evidence that it is desired that Ireland in respect of these local elections should be omitted from the Bill before I can accept such an Amendment.
§ Mr. LUNDON
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not accepted this Amendment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Newman) opposed an Amendment moved from the Irish Benches demanding a General Election for a Parliamentary contest, but he now asks that elections for public bodies throughout Ireland should be carried out. He referred to the increased rates in the city of Cork. I dare say that if he goes to the city of Belfast he will find a similar increase has taken place there.
§ Mr. LUNDON
I do not mind what the rates are, but he will find that since the beginning of the War, in every district in Ireland there has been an increase in the rates, largely caused by the increased cost of living to those employed by local bodies. The hon. and gallant Member read a letter from Mr. Goggin, of Cork. He is one of the men who support the doctrine of republicanism, of which the hon. and gallant Member is a very faithful supporter. He asks that local elections should take place all over Ireland, for what purpose? Simply because public bodies in Ireland—urban councils, county councils, and corpora- 1720 tions—have refused to associate themselves with republicanism and the cause for which Count Plunkett stands. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Germanism!") Because they refuse to associate themselves with that cause the idea is that they should go to their constituents and all be wiped out. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will not disagree when I say that he would prefer to see the supporters of Count Plunkett governing the Cork Corporation rather than the supporters of the constitutional movement.
§ Mr. LUNDON
My own idea is that the rates in Ireland, and particularly in the South of Ireland, are not high enough to suit the wishes of the hon. and gallant Member. The higher the rates go and the greater fools public bodies in Ireland make of themselves, the better he will be pleased. I am glad that this Amendment has not been accepted, not because I believe that the county and district councillors in Munster, Leinster and Con-naught, who are supporters of ours and of the constitutional movement, are not as eager to face their constituents as we are ourselves. The hon. and gallant Member said that the local bodies are being run on the lines of party politics. I should like to ask him why he applies this principle only to the three provinces? Are not local bodies in the province of Ulster also being run on the lines of party polities'! Why, if you want a washerwoman in Belfast, you have to decide first of all whether she is a Catholic or Protestant! If you take any of the cities in Ulster which are dominated by a Protestant majority, you will find that not a single Catholic is employed by the corporation in their public business. Is not that party politics? Apparently anything can be done in Ulster, but no similar action must be adopted in any of the other provinces. The hon. and gallant Member referred to his friend and colleague the Independent Member for North Westmeath (Mr. Ginnell). What a lovely pair they are I One of them has left the trenches in France and has thrown off the uniform for the purpose of coming here to blacken his own countrymen upon every available opportunity; and as for the other hon. Gentleman, whose leader, Count Plunkett, declares that this Parliament has no right to make laws for Ireland, he comes over here and accepts £400 a year out of the taxpayers' money. The hon. and gallant 1721 Gentleman apparently is prepared to substantiate what the hon. Member for North Westmeath says, namely, that Irish county councillors have accepted Government jobs, and that they are therefore in the hands of the Government. I am sure that the Chief Secretary will bear me out when I say that the members of Irish county councils are as far above bribery and corruption at the hands of this Government as either of the two Gentlemen who have charged them with it. I hope and trust that when the question comes up as to who have been applicants for Government jobs during the last fifteen or sixteen yeans that the hon. Member for Westmeath will have as clean a record as some of the members of the county councils of Ireland. It is all very well to meer at the Council of County Councils. The hon. and gallant Member said that Ulster delegates would not go into it because of party politics. Ulster delegates never entered the General Council of County Councils. Party politics were not introduced at the General Council of County Councils held last week. It is wrong for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that they have dragged party politics into their counsels. I hope that not a single Member from Ireland will support the hon. and gallant Member. We are living in a time in Ireland when the best thing to do, so far as local elections are concerned, is to follow the principle laid down in Great Britain. I would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that his proper place would be not in the House of Commons for the purpose of flinging mud at and trying to stab his own countrymen in the back, whether they come from Cork or elsewhere, but to go out with the men from Cork who are fighting in the trenches.
§ Mr. LUNDON
Some men of my family have been wounded twice and have gone back a third time. That is what you cannot say. When you can say that, it is time enough for you to reproach me for not being there myself. Your place is to be with the Munster Fusiliers if you are a Cork man, although if you led them I do not think they would get many victories.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member (Major Newman) will not withdraw this Amendment, because it is one of the things upon which I should like to vote. It is one of the most toothsome titbits introduced even from Ireland. As I listened to the hon. and gallant Member he seemed at first to propose this Amendment for the purpose of making a downright Home Rule speech and announcing his conversion to Home Rule. Afterwards I took him to be a Home Ruler for the three provinces, excluding Ulster. He urged that these elections were necessary for Dublin and Cork, but so far as Belfast was concerned he did not think an election was necessary. Apparently he wants the three provinces separated from this country. I understand that he voted for the Bill yesterday, but does not want Sinn Feiners in this House, although he wants them to be spending his rates. The hon. and gallant Member is one of two men who have told me they were Sinn Feiners. The other was shot as a rebel. How can he justify his attitude? He says the matter comes home to him in Cork because he is a Cork ratepayer, and now that the question comes home to him so closely he wants some Sinn Feiners on the Cork Council.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I think I have touched the spot. He wants the Sinn Feiners, these men who believe in republican simplicity, to be spending his rates in Cork. I would appeal to him to overcome that temptation. What do we hear more than anything in the House during the War? That both Englishmen and Irishmen were rather anxious to keep the two countries together in this great conflict. I know-that there are difficulties, but I think they should be overcome. The hon. and gallant Member wants to proclaim to the whole world that Ireland is different from this country and must be treated differently from this country even on the question of elections. I do not know why he should wish for these local elections. There is a very small poll as a rule. For the hon. and gallant Member to be so self-sacrificing that he will leave this House, which is so attractive to him, and go over to Cork, paying his fare there and back, in order to vote for a Sinn Fein candidate for the purpose of getting a penny off his rates, is an example to us of how far a man will go. I hope he will give us an 1723 opportunity of voting upon this Amendment. If nobody else will tell with him, I shall be quite willing to do so, in order to see what kind of a Lobby we get.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "first of June, nineteen hundred and eighteen and the twentieth of May, nineteen hundred and eighteen," and to insert instead thereof the words "thirtieth of November, nineteen hundred and seventeen."
My Amendment is rather a technical one, but I hope the Government will see their way to accept it, because, apparently, there has been some misconception in the mind of the Government draftsman. This is an example of the terrible difficulty in which we find ourselves put by legislation by reference. I do not think any hon. Member reading this Clause understands what is its drift, and it is impossible to understand it unless one carefully looks at the Act not of last year, but of the year before. I will state in ordinary language the effect of the Clause as it stands. An election of Parliament, if nothing else happens, will take place not later than November of this year. If it is not to take place, then this House will have to reconsider the position afresh before that date and prolong this Parliament or otherwise as it thinks fit. But this Clause deals also with local elections. It deals with any local election which takes place prior to June, 1918, and, therefore, if we pass it in this form, it may happen that we shall have an election in October or November, 1917, or earlier possibly if the War comes to an end, and notwithstanding that the county council elections which should take place in March, 1918, will be postponed until March, 1919.
I fail to see the reason for that if that is what is intended. I can quite understand the advisability of postponing the county council and other elections, as we have done hitherto, so long as this principle of postponement of Parliamentary elections holds good. Put when once we have had a Parliamentary election, as we shall if nothing else is done before November, there is no reason why you should postpone the county council elections which take place in March. 1918. The Clause applies to municipal county council, and guardians elections, and one 1724 or two others. The municipal elections will take place in the ordinary course at the beginning of November, and, therefore, if we postpone our Parliamentary election until 30th November, there would be reason for postponing the municipal electionswhich would takeplace during that period, and the Amendment that I propose would make 30th November the final date, so that the municipal elections which take place in the early part of November of this year will be postponed because, of course, we shall have postponement of the Parliamentary election; but all the local elections which take place after that—that is to say, the county council in March and the guardians later on—will not be postponed, because the circumstances, of course, will have changed. Perhaps the War will be over. At any rate, we shall have had our Parliamentary election, if it has not been postponed. It seems to me that the proper course is to leave the matter in this position, namely, that if we have to reconsider the whole question before November of this year we should naturally reconsider the question of postponing the local government elections which take place after that date. If we do not have to reconsider the matter at all, if we have a Parliamentary election, we ought to have the local government elections. At present we have postponed the elections for local government bodies for two years more than their term of office, and during that time they have had to fill vacancies, not as we do, by going to the electorate, but by the principle of co-optation, and I cannot help thinking that it would be quite improper if after the War is over perhaps, or at any rate, after we put an end to our process of continuing our existence, that process should be continued for another year until March, 1919. I cannot help thinking, looking carefully at this Clause, that it has been drafted in this way because it was drafted last year in this way. But last year the dates were not the same, and therefore the same criticism would not apply. It is only because we find ourselves now here, in April, and postponing Parliament to a date which is before the county council elections of the following March, that this Clause brings about this complication. My suggestion is that we should simplify it by simply saying that up to 30th November any election which should take place prior to that date shall not take place; and then as regards other 1725 elections later on, if we have to reconsider our position with regard to the election of Parliament we shall be able to reconsider the question as regards the municipal elections.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I should like to support the Amendment. It seems to me to be not only a technicality, but really a question of policy. As I understand it, the policy of Parliament has been to prevent local elections during the period of the War. Everyone who has anything to do with local government elections will agree that it is very desirable indeed that there should not be such elections during the War. On the other hand, it is a matter of very great doubt, to put it no higher, whether you ought not to have local elections at their ordinary time if the War is then over because a great deal will have to be done in local government after the War, as well as in Imperial government. The machinery of local government has been driven at very low speed of necessity during the War period, and matters will arise in which the conflicting issues of finance and of construction will be important and ought to be submitted to the local electorate. I think my right hon. Friend is correct in his interpretation of the Clause, and, if so, the short point is this: Do we want to say now, in April, 1917, that there shall be no elections for county councils or guardians or district councils or parish councils until March. 1919? That seems to me either to mean a somewhat pessimistic view of the length of the War or else to tie up for an unnecessarily long period the rights of electors in these matters of local government. If, on the other hand, the Government was prepared to accept the Amendment, it would rightly prevent all local government elections until the end of November, and then any fresh Act of Parliament could decide how long in next year, or, if necessary, in the following year, was the embargo still to be kept on local elections. The argument is really very simple. At this stage of the War is it quite wise to prevent all local elections for a period of two years'! I submit to the Government that that is rather an unnecessarily long period, although, like all Members of the House, I am in the strongest agreement with the idea that during the period of the War there should be no local elections. On the other hand, when the War is over, I do not think they ought to be unnecessarily postponed, and I hope the Government 1726 will see' its way either to accept this or to put in such words as will give Parliament the opportunity of fixing a further date at the end of next year, or early next year, so that we may not be more than a year ahead.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
The two hon. Members who have spoken have correctly stated the position which would be caused by the Clause as it stands, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dickinson) made a very good guess how we came to frame the Bill in this way, because, first of all, we are going back to the Parliament and Registration Bill of 1915, which ordained that all statutory elections which would take place prior to 1st June should be postponed for one year. Then we come to the Parliamentary and Local Elections Act, which again extended that period for a further year; and then comes the Bill of 1917, which is drafted on the lines of the Parliamentary and Local Elections Act of 1916 and carries all these elections still further for a period of one year. The result of it is that if the Clause is retained in its present shape, and if Parliament took no further action, county council elections would not take place until March, 1919 The right hon. Gentleman says, "After all, you are contemplating an election of Parliament in October or November." I certainly hope he is not contemplating an election in October or November. But I do not think it is the election of Parliament which actually governs the situation. What really governs the situation is, in the first place, the War, and, in the next place, the new register. I think there is a good deal in the right hon. Gentleman's argument that if a new register should come into force, say, early next year, it is rather a strong measure perhaps to say that still under these circumstances you have passed an Act of Parliament under which no elections for county councils can lake place till March, 1919—that is, for something like fifteen months after the new register has come into force. I had detected it before the Amendment was put down, and the Local Government Board considers it would be doing the right thing if the postponement of these elections were limited, as they would be under the Amendment, to elections for the municipal boroughs, borough councils, urban district councils, and so on, and that this great extension of time should not be imposed upon the electors for the county councils. I am not 1727 empowered to do anything more than to say that the Government has not had time to consider the Amendment in all its full force and consequences, but I can promise that we will consider the position which is put forward and which has my own sympathy, and perhaps in another place, if not here—there may not be a Report stage—we may be able so to amend the Bill as to prolong the life of the present councils and yet to secure that after the new register has come into force it may be possible to hold the elections for county councils long before March, 1919.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Not only county councils, but borough council elections, of course, are in November, but all the others are in March, and the same objection really applies.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
These elections take place at different times in the year, and my observations were intended to cover all elections which take place about that period.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I am very glad my right hon. Friend has received this Amendment in such a sympathetic way, but I cannot understand why he is not able to accept the Amendment right away. As he has already pointed out, it is just possible, especially if he resists this Amendment, that there will be no Report stage, and, therefore, whatever the sympathies of the Government may be, there may be no favourable opportunity for discussing the matter further. It seems to me that my right hon. Friend did not quite meet the point that was raised by the right hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson). I wish to support, as far as I can, the protest which that right hon. Gentleman made as to the method in which this Clause, and, indeed, this Bill is drafted. Time after time, when a Bill is brought before this House, protests are made against this abominable method of legislation by reference. Such protests are always favourably received in the House, and usually some occupant of the Front Bench gets up and says the Government are in entire sympathy with the protest and that they dislike the method very much. Then the matter goes through, and the next Bill which is brought before the House is, if possible, a worse offender in that respect than its predecessor. The point which the right 1728 hon. Member for St. Pancras made in this Amendment was, as I understood it, very short and very simple. It was this, that the purpose of this Bill is to postpone Parliamentary elections in this country until 30th November. Would it not be perfectly simple to frame a Clause which would say in plain, simple, understandable English that no elections, Parliamentary or local, shall be held until the 30th November. There is no occasion to have this elaborate reference to one Act after another, and to say that a certain phrase in such and such an Act shall be read as if it were quite a different phrase. Why should local elections throughout the country under any circumstances be postponed to a date further ahead than the date fixed for the postponement of Parliamentary elections? That is really the point aimed at by the Mover of the Amendment. I think the Government ought to put the Bill in such a form that whatever date they fix—and I entirely accept the date on the Bill—for the postponement of Parliamentary elections, should also be the date for the postponement of local elections, whether for county councils, borough councils, or district councils, rural or urban. I hope my right hon. Friend will obtain the power which I am sorry he does not feel himself able to exercise at the present time, and to have that point made good in the Bill. I can only express the hope, though I have not very much expectation that it will be carried out, that he will also put it in plain simple language, and get rid of these absurd references to other Acts of Parliament.
Mr. H. SAMUEL
The speech of my right hon. Friend has left the Committee in a position of some difficulty. I understood him to agree with the hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken behind him, that the Bill as it stands is wrong. If this House passes this Bill as it stands the effect apparently would be that the election for county councils will be put off all over the country to so remote a date as March, 1919. Although the War may be over long before that, and although there may be a new register in good time, as we all hope and expect will be the case, to allow elections to be held in March of next year, yet unless Parliament introduces another Bill and legislates afresh, nothing can be done to expedite the county council elections, and 1729 they will be put off until March, 1919. I do not quite understand why my right hon Friend has not been able to present to the Committee a definite view in this matter. This was not a manuscript Amendment handed in at the last moment; it has been on the Paper. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Dickinson) has rendered a great service in putting his finger upon a clear defect in the Bill, and I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board that the best course would be to accept this Amendment now, if he is unable to give the Committee any strong reasons against that, or else give the Committee a definite undertaking that the matter will be put right so far as the Government can secure it in another place. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to have all the stages of this Bill to day, so that in any case if the matter is left over to the Report stage, there will be no further opportunity for mature consideration, or for consulting the draftsmen. Therefore, I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that the matter is not left in a satisfactory position now, and that the House will feel if it lets this Bill go through in its present form it will be deliberately accepting legislation which is avowedly imperfect. I suggest that he should accept this Amendemnt now and in another place reconsider its drafting, if its terms are not quite right, or give the assurance which I have asked for.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I think it is a very reasonable request which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman. There are difficulties in accepting the Amendment as it stands, because we are not quite sure of the full effect of the Amendment. There are other reasons why I should prefer, if I possibly could, to deal with this question in another place. I admit all the criticisms as to the involved nature of this Clause. It may be decided in another place to redraft the Clause and put it in another form. Of course, we have often spent time in this House denouncing legislation by reference, and this is certainly a most involved piece of legislation by reference, and it is rather difficult to make out what it means. Therefore, I am in some hope that in another place we may make it clear. Even if that were not done, inasmuch as this Parliament will have to come for further extension of its own life, this question, which relates 1730 acutely to elections for county councils, could be dealt with then. Parliament might easily pass another Bill if circumstances were very different from what they are now, and say, "Notwithstanding the Clause in this Bill relating to county councils, the elections for county councils shall take place at an earlier period than that prescribed in this Bill." I think you have shown that we do see that it would be most inconvenient to postpone the elections for all these different local bodies until such a remote period as March, 1919, and that we are most anxious to meet the wishes of the House, and, so far as county councils are concerned, to abbreviate that period very considerably. It is only a question of how it can be done. I think it would be better if my right hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment would agree to take my assurance that we shall give the most careful consideration to the matter with a view to meeting his wishes, and to choose some form of words which will secure that elections for county councils shall take place, if it is wise they should take place, considerably earlier than March, 1919.
§ Mr. P. A. HARRIS
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. Samuel). It is a very important question of principle. The mistake has been made not by the House, but by the Government's own draftsman. I agree with what has been pointed out by the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill), that the method of legislation by reference is very objectionable. If it had not been for the energy and diligence of the right hon. Member for St. Pancras this Bill would have gone through in its present form. The flaw apparently has escaped the notice of local authorities, because they have not taken any active steps to have the matter put right. It is even more important that county councils, as soon as the War is over and as soon as peace is restored, should get into touch with the electorate than this House, because by by-elections we can find out the state of public opinion. There have been contested elections which prove at the present time that this House and the Government, as far as can be ascertained, have the confidence of the country, but the local authorities, in their present position, have no method for getting into touch with the electorate. They have the power of co-opting mem- 1731 bers, if they think fit, without contests. On the London County Council at the present time there is one vacancy for Mile End, I think, for which the county council have not even thought fit to co-opt a member. I believe the vacancy has existed for six months. One of my hon. Friends says that it has existed for twelve months. That makes the matter even worse. There is a very strong feeling outside now, owing to their increased activities in industry and trade, that a certain number of women should be on these local authorities. The local authorities are not using their power of co-option and putting women on their bodies. The London County Council have not co-opted a single woman, although there have been a great number of vacancies, and although both the Suffragists and the anti-Suffragists have accepted the principle that women should be on local authorities and take an active part in local administration, especially in regard to education.
The matter is becoming especially acute owing to the scheme which we understand is to be foreshadowed to-morrow by the President of the Board of Education. We are going to have a great reform in our education system, and we are going to run the risk that local authorities who are to have the spending of these large sums of money may not be elected till March, 1919. That, I think, would be nothing short of a scandal. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill suggests that we should trust the House of Lords. I do not understand for a moment that he is in a position to dictate what action the House of Lords shall take on this Bill. They might very well say that the House of Commons has expressed no opinion on this subject, and that, therefore, they are justified in leaving the Bill as it is, and not putting the electors to the trouble of contested elections for local authorities. The House of Lords are not so much in touch with popular opinion as this House is, and they, therefore, might possibly take that action. Under these circumstances I would press the right hon. Gentleman to accept this most reasonable Amendment.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I am glad to see the Leader of the House present. Before the right hon. Gentleman came in the right hon. Member for St. Pancras moved an Amendment, the necessity of which is admitted, with reference to local 1732 government elections. The Clause as it stands is a Chinese puzzle, and an utterly-incompetent piece of legislation. It is legislation by reference in its very worst form, and legislation drafted by some well-paid fellow who did not take the trouble to make it clear. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher), though he is not a member of the Cabinet, though he is not a member of the outer-circle Cabinet, and though he does not come anything near the ambit of the five luminaries who compose the great War Council, is in charge of this Bill connected with the life of Parliament. I suppose it is because he is a just man, and, for a Minister, rather above ordinary intelligence. He admits that the Bill as it stands is indefensible. He admits that the Amendment would do very well if it cannot be accepted now. He will not even amend it on Report; but, better still, it shall be carried to another place. We are, therefore, in the matter of elections to trust to the tender mercies of the House of Lords and not to accept an Amendment which could be dealt with now or amended on Report. Why is it? The meaning is still further to reduce the position of the House of Commons. When the right hon. Gentleman smiles in that kindly way he makes me cry. I scarcely like to attack him. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whose memory is something amazing, and who I am sure knows all the Rules upside down, knows that if the Bill passes through Committee without Amendment there is no Report stage at all, and in order to prevent a Report stage of this Bill, the Third Reading, of which he wants to take immediately, he asks the House of Commons to pass a palpable absurdity as this Bill is with the present Clause. I ask that this Amendment be accepted, even though there be a Report stage, and that the Clause, if necessary, be amended on the Report stage, and it can then be sent to the House of Lords. If the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill did not intend to disparage the dignity or power of the House of Commons, then I say that it is grossly disparaging to this House that it should be asked to pass an absurd Clause, the absurdity of which is recognised by the Minister himself, and that it should not be allowed to amend it, but should leave it to be amended by the House of Lords simply for the convenience of the Government. The Leader of 1733 the House has only been here for ten minutes and thirty seconds, but we will condone his absence if, with the great authority of the War Cabinet behind him, he allows the House of Commons not to make a fool of itself as it is doing at the present time.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I shall certainly always do my best to prevent the House of Commons from making a fool of itself, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that I can give no pledge as to particular Members. I have heard in Debate of the House of Commons not being treated with proper respect. It has become a commonplace of debate, and there is generally more authority behind it than there is in the case to which we have just listened. The hon. Member speaks as if it was an unheard of thing to ask the House of Commons to agree that an Amendment should be put in in another place. It is done constantly, and there is no kind of disrespect to the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend has already shown that he does recognise that the Bill could be improved by an Amendment. It is quite true that we do wish to avoid a Report stage so as to get the Bill to-day. It is not for the convenience of the Government only but for the convenience of the House of Commons, but in addition it is quite obvious that the wording of the Amendment must be carefully considered, and it would be very undesirable to accept an Amendment now without proper consultation as to the exact form which it should take. My right hon. Friend has given an undertaking that an Amendment will be introduced in another place, and it is obvious that an Amendment of this character would be in precisely the same position in another place as the whole Bill. Therefore, he can rely upon it being treated in the other place in precisely the same way. In view of the short time which we have to carry this Bill, and as it is a matter of convenience for the House, I hope that the reasonable course suggested by my right hon. Friend will be agreed to.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
May I point out that the case of the county councils in Scotland is somewhat different from the case of the county councils in England, and express the hope that this will be looked into when this Clause is being adjusted?
The Leader of the House has made what some, perhaps, may think a very reasonable appeal, but he was not here when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board was making his speech. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dickinson) was a very reasonable Amendment, but that before it was put down on the Paper the Parliamentary Secretary had detected the flaw in the Bill. If that is so, why does he wait until the Committee stage of the Bill without having a consultation with the draftsman, either with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment or with regard to the flaw in the Bill which he had detected before the Amendment was put down? I do not think that the Leader of the House would have been so ready in saying that there was no foundation for the charge of disrespect to the House which has been made so often if he had heard the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary, which means that Ministers, having seen the flaws in their own Bills, before they had been brought down to the House, do not take the trouble to consult their own draftsmen or to put Amendments of their own on the Paper. If that is not treating the House of Commons in an offhand and disrespectful manner, I do not know what the meaning of the words is. Though it is satisfactory to have an assurance that this flaw is, even in another place, to be amended, it is well for the Committee to realise that it would not have been amended, even though it had been detected by the Parliamentary Secretary, but for the Amendment put on the Paper by the right hon. Gentleman on the Back Benches.
§ Sir G. RADFORD
The right hon. Gentleman has made a conciliatory, plausible speech. He has acquired considerable skill in doing that particular thing, but I do not think that he has convinced the intellects of those who have heard him. The right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill told us that it is desirable to take this Bill to another place in order to consider whether it might not be improved. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not lay that flattering unction to his soul. This Bill, on account of vices in its constitution, cannot be improved. It is quite impossible. We are grateful to the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill) 1735 for denouncing the vices of legislation by reference, of which this is the most atrocious example which I think I have seen for the last ten years. Therefore, you may send it to the House of Lords, but the flaws it contains are constitutional and chronic and it cannot there be improved. The best thing we can do is to avail ourselves of the Amendment which my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras has devised, and pass that and leave the House of Lords to do what they can with it. Therefore, I hope that the plausible suggestion that has been made will not be considered by the House, but that it will persevere with this Debate and keep it up until there is an opportunity of sending a boy messenger or somebody to get the authority of—
§ Sir G. RADFORD
I do not say the draftsman. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants authority from someone. I should have thought that he would have had it himself. I am not in the secrets of the inner working of the War Cabinet, but I should have thought that he had the right to deal with this himself. Meanwhile, I may say a few words on the subject of legislation by reference. I have spoken on it before, but nothing whatever has been done. Perhaps I have not spoken strongly enough. I would suggest that if this fault occurs again perhaps it will be a good thing if the right hon. Gentleman would take into consideration whether he or his Cabinet, if he requires Cabinet authority, should sack some six or eight draftsmen, and should employ somebody who can draft a Bill by another method and take it to the House of Lords in such a form that it may be clearly understood. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Augustine's has said in the form in which it has come down to us I do not suppose that there were three Members of the House who had the slightest idea of what it meant, and it was only owing to the skill of my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras that he dropped upon this vice in the Bill. This sort of thing ought not to be. There appears to be this in it, that legislation by reference is not introduced as something inserted for the ease of draftsmanship—it is inserted in order to mislead the House of Commons. It is much easier to introduce a Bill which, by reason of its repeated references, is in such a state that 1736 nobody can understand it, than to introduce a Bill that can be understood, appreciated and denounced on its merits; and, therefore, it is much easier to put through the House of Commons a Bill which nobody understands and to give an effect to it which we only find out to our remorse later on. I could give many other reasons if I wished to occupy time, but for these reasons I hope that the House will persevere with this Amenderant, and will insist on having it accepted now, and not in the House of Lords. We are too frequently beguiled by honeyed words from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and by other Ministers who have studied that kind of art. I hope that to-day we shall no longer heed them but stick to the business in which we are engaged.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I quite appreciate the kindly way in which the Leader of the House has proposed to meet the point that I have put. It is not my fault that this matter has not been dealt with properly by the draftsman of the Bill. The Government had a Second Reading of the Bill yesterday and there was no possibility of putting down Amendments before last night. I put this Amendment down last night, and I venture to say with great respect, that the Minister in charge of the Bill ought to have seen that Amendment this morning and taken proper advice upon it and been able to come down and say whether or not it was a reasonable way to deal with the question. I have made a careful study of the matter and I believe the way that I have suggested is the best way of meeting this difficulty. I do not quite understand the difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that he wants to take all the stages to-night. I understand that we have resolved to take all the stages to-night, and one of the stages would be the Report stage, and I do not understand that there would be any difficulty on the point of pure procedure in accepting the Amendment which I have suggested, and proceeding through all the stages of the Bill to-night and then sending it to the House of Lords, and if the House of Lords wants to make further Amendments and if my Amendment is not satisfactory I see no difficulty whatever in the Government introducing Amendments in the House of Lords. I should have thought that that was the best way to deal with the matter, and I suggest for the consideration of the Government still whether they will not do so. Of course, I do not 1737 want to put the House to the trouble of a Division on this point, especially after what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I would submit that from the point of view of procedure he should accept the Amendment and then send the Bill to the House of Lords and leave the question of principle to be considered by the House of Lords. I have made my suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, and, if he cannot accept it, I must bow to the inevitable, and ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Mr. DILLON
Before there is any consideration of the question of the withdrawal of the Amendment I want to protest against the really most outrageous procedure on the part of the Government in dealing with a Bill of this kind. There is no pretence of any urgency that can justify the Government in departing from the ordinary decent procedure in order to get a Bill of this importance to-night. There is every reason why they should take the measure in the ordinary way that is followed in dealing with important business, and this is an important Bill. I am sorry to say that our procedure is rapidly drifting into such a state that measures of this kind are really being treated like a Motion to suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule, or as something of no importance at all. Here we are committing a breach of a constitutional principle which has existed for 240 years, and the Government have been invited to explain why it is necessary to take all the stages of this Bill to-night. I do not know whether the Rules permit of that, in the face of any objection by any Member of the House. I know perfectly well that if there were a Report stage it would be impossible to take all the stages to-night; yet, apparently, the Government have come to the House on an important Bill like this determined not to allow any Amendment to be considered on its merits in order that they may drive the Bill through all its stages to-night, and without attempting to give a single reason for doing so. It would be perfectly legitimate to take the Report and Third Reading to-morrow, but for some reason which they do not explain the Government are determined to take all the stages of this Bill to-night, and to achieve that object they will allow no Amendment, even where it is proved to be a necessary one, and rather than accept it they prefer to send it up to the House of Lords. I think 1738 that is unfair treatment of the House of Commons, and it is practised without any reason being given as to extreme urgency. For my part, I shall certainly object, if it is possible to do so, to all the stages of this Bill being taken to-night. I do not know whether that is in my power, but if it is I shall certainly do so.
§ Mr. S. MacNEILL
I see the Attorney-General is present, and I would like his attention for a moment in regard to the draftsmanship of this Clause, which could be rendered intelligible by an Amendment which is not to be accepted, simply for the convenience of the Government. I would ask my right hon. Friend, who has experience, and is a first-rate lawyer, whether he has ever seen such an example of a Chinese juggle as the Clause which is now under consideration. Does he understand it? I should think if the Attorney-General's devil, rightly BO called, were to put a draft of that kind before him he would consider that the chances of the draftsman becoming a puisne judge were rather dark. In respect to this legislation by reference, of which this is a horrible example, I am reminded that the late Sir Charles Dilke put down a Motion on the subject, and it is a method which is adopted simply because the draftsman does not take the trouble to put the Clause into definite English. I would ask my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General if he will endeavour to put the Leader of the House for once into a reasonable mood, in order that he may accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I think that if we went to a Division, and the House voted against the Amendment, the House of Lords would assume that my proposal had been rejected. If the right hon. Gentleman holds to his view, then my only choice is-to withdraw the Amendment, so that it may be proceeded with in another place. I have still another Amendment to follow, on similar lines, and I shall have to move it in order to get a similar assurance from my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have given my right hon. Friend the assurance that, to the best of my power, his Amendment will be introduced in another place; and as regards the last point he made, that if there is a Division and the Amendment is defeated the Government would not be 1739 under the obligation to move it in another place, that is not correct, for we will do that in any event.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I beg to move, in Subsection (I), to leave out the words "and the year nineteen hundred and eighteen shall be substituted for the year 1917 in Sub-section (2) of that Section."
I submit this Amendment in order that the House of Lords may be instructed in the method of remedying our mistakes. This is again a point of detail. Subsection (2) of Clause 2 of the Act of 1916, and subsequent Sub-sections refer to the Act of 1915. I look to the earlier Act of 1915, and I find Sub-section (3), which is referred to in the later Act, is a long Subsection, and, so far as I am able to see, the year 1916 was subsequently altered to 1917, and it is now proposed to be altered to 1918. Sub-section (3) of the Act of 1915 relates to the election of the chairman of the county councils in England and Wales other than the chairman of the London County Council, and that the election shall be on the day of the first ordinary quarterly meeting of the council after the 8th day of March in that year. As I understand, this Bill proposes, therefore, to lay down that the year of 1918 is to be the year in which this particular provision with regard to the election of chairmen of county councils is to hold good. There, again, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give the matter his attention, and undertake that the Amendment shall be considered in the House of Lords, because it seems to me perfectly clear that if the. War is concluded before the end of this year, as we all hope it may, there is no reason at all for making a special provision for the election of chairmen of county councils, which will take place in March, 1918. It is a small point, but it is one which the draftsman of the Bill ought to have seen, and which I think whoever is responsible for this Bill ought to have provided for.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir F. Smith)
The right hon. Gentleman has called attention to this point for the consideration of the Government. At the time the Bill was drafted it was thought that the termination of the War might not be reached until 1918, and there was at that time reason for putting in that date. I, however, will give the right hon. Gentle- 1740 man's Amendment full consideration, and, if it is necessary, will deal with it in another place.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I had an Amendment which would be necessary if the election took place during the War next year. It is a consequenital Amendment, but as we have this distinct understanding with the Leader of the House, I hope that the matter will be put right in another place.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment on the same understanding as applies to my previous Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 3 (Short Title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.