HC Deb 07 June 1917 vol 94 cc483-9

A man shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector for a university constituency if he has received a degree (other than an honorary degree) at any university forming, or forming part of, the constituency.

Amendment made: After the word "he" insert the words "is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity and."—[Sir G. Cave.]


I beg to move, after the word "degree" ["an honorary degree"], to insert the words "or holds for the time being a principal or professor's chair."

The object of this Amendment is to secure that those who hold important offices in a university on the teaching staff shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector. There is a more general Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir H. Craik), but that only covers the case of Scottish universities. The old universities of England are able to look after themselves, but my proposal specially concerns the younger universities, which it is proposed to enlarge. In the latter universities the great majority of the teaching staff are not graduates at the particular university where they teach, and I think it is desirable and certainly consonant with similar universities in Scotland that the teaching staff should be enfranchised. The principals and professors of these universities have as intimate a relation to the universities as the graduates, and that intimate relationship is likely to be of a much longer and more constant character. It seems to me to be only reasonable that they should have a share in the representation of the universities, and they should be entitled just as much as the graduates, who come and go, to a vote on precisely the same conditions. This proposal seems to me to be consonant with our experience in similar universities, and I appeal to the Home Secretary to accept this Amendment.


I would like to take this opportunity, in order to save time, of explaining my view in regard to the Amendment standing in my name.


That Amendment applies only to the Scottish Universities.


I am aware of that, but I think it will shorten Debate if I explain my position now. I can quite understand why the proposal of the Bill is made—it, is made in accordance with what we call the sacrosanct decision of the Speaker's Conference. I think that even the members of that Conference will admit that they hardly had the whole of the circumstances under consideration when they made the proposal that the obtaining of a degree should be the qualification. There is no difficulty in the case of the English Universities. You can obtain a degree by examination, but it is necessary to pay large additional fees to get a nominal advance without passing any further examinations. I am certain the English Universities would have been only too glad to correct that. It is no doubt to correct that and to remove that anomaly that the Speaker's Conference has made this serious and very good proposal, but I want to point out this difficulty: It does not apply to the universities which I represent or to the younger universities in England. A graduate of these universities, the moment he becomes so, is qualified as an elector, and he has to pay no further fees. In addition to that the Scottish universities constituency, as fixed by the Act of 1868, embraces a very large number of additional electors, not only the professors and principals, about whom I am not so anxious, but persons like the Lord Rector and Chancellors. I have as my Constituents—I regret that I am not able to count them among my supporters—the late Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith), the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Birrell), the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Churchill), and under the proposal of this Bill they would all be disfranchised.


I see the hon. Member's point now. It is separate from and a much larger point than the one now raised, and I propose to call his Amendment when this one is disposed of.


I thought it would save time and trouble if I explained it now.


I waited to see if that were the case, but I think the better way would be to dispose of this first and then take the hon. Member's point.


I do not think I can recommend the Home Secretary to adopt the Amendment. From the few remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir H. Craik), it will be seen that the conditions of representation in the universities of Scotland are different from what they are in some of the universities of Great Britain. The conditions of representation in the universities of Great Britain vary among themselves, and I do not think, therefore, that tiny general proposal such as that contained in the Amendment would have the approval of all the different universities in the United Kingdom. Each must be considered on its own merits. There is only one condition that is common nearly to them all, and that is the condition which is contained in the Report of the Speaker's Conference, namely, that every graduate should be placed on the list of voters. Even that condition does not at present exist in the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, or London. That itself will be an addition to the existing state of things. I am not proposing to add to the difficulties which university representation may present by including among those to whom the vote shall be given persons who for the time being act as principals or hold a professor's chair. To begin with, I do not know what my hon. Friend includes in the word "principal." Does he mean the Principal of the university or of any one of the constituent colleges of the university? In the case of the constituent colleges of the university which I represent they are not all called "principal." There is a "rector," a "provost," and various other titles. Therefore one would not know what was meant exactly by the proposal of the hon. Member. On the whole, I am inclined to suggest that this proposal, while it would add considerably to the number of electors in some of our universities, ought not to be accepted by the Committee I should say that the only persons who, under the category of graduates, will not receive a vote in the university which I represent, would be about half a dozen and no more. The question of honorary degrees does not arise in connection with my university, because the only two personages in the kingdom who hold the honorary degree of the University of London are His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen. There, again, there is a great difference. For these reasons I cannot support the Amendment.


It would be quite impossible for us, after what has been said, to do anything in the way of accepting the Amendment which has been made, not only on the ground of what has been said, but also on the further ground that the basis of Mr. Speaker's Conference with regard to the electoral qualification in regard to university representation was quite clear and unambiguous. That is with regard to this Amendment, but when we come to the next Amendment there is a special case with regard to the Scottish universities, and I shall have something to say on that.


I do not wish, to press the Amendment, but the Speaker's Conference is being pushed to a farcical extent if a matter of this kind cannot be put forward.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, "or, in the case of the Scottish universities, is qualified, under Section 27 of The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868."

Under the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868, the constituency for Scottish Universities were carefully drawn after great consideration. I am certain I should meet with complete assent in Scotland in saying that that has been a completely popular constituency, and that that it has met with no criticism whatever. It is entirely free from the criticisms to which English Universities have been subjected because of the fact that they do not give the vote to all the graduates, but only to those who pay all the additional fees necessary for passing the M.A. degree, a fee which is not accompanied by any additional intellectual test. That has not prevailed in Scotland. Every man when he gets the first degree he can obtain becomes ipso facto a voter in the constituency. Besides that, there are very important elements brought in which are absolutely healthy. Among the governing bodies, the university courts as they are called, there is a large municipal element taken from the great cities. In my own universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen we have in our university courts a considerable element of municipal representation. These governors of the universities acquire, by holding that position, a vote as constituents of the universities. That is a most popular, most liberal, and most useful practice. It has welded together the Scottish universities in their popular aspect with the municipal life of the cities to which they belong. That has been an ancient tradition in those universities, and as their Member I am certain that I am expressing their views when I say that the universities welcome that, and would be extremely sorry to see the lord provosts and the other municipal representatives disfranchised by this Clause. Men drawn from the highest ranks, whose names are well known as household words, retained their votes under the Act of 1868. As I said before, I am not advocating this proposal in any selfish or party spirit. I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, and the late Chief Secretary for Ireland recorded, with exceeding regularity, their votes against me, and I should be very sorry if their names were struck off the list and they were lost to my Constituency. Those qualifications were given by a very prudently drawn Clause in the Representation of the People Act, 1868. The Speaker's Conference did not intend to destroy or interfere with the very carefully considered and most welcome arrangement for these Scottish universities.


We should be willing to accept this Amendment, not because it departs from the Speaker's Conference, but because it gives effect to it. The preservation of Clause 27 should merely have the effect, therefore, of putting the Scottish Universities in substantially, although not technically, in this respect, in the same position as the English Universities.


We want, as far as possible, to assist legislation by reference in this Bill. Could the Lord Advocate undertake, on the Report stage, to put in the actual words?


We will certainly consider that.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words: "Provided that no man shall be entitled under this Clause to be registered in respect of more than one University."

A little time ago expression was given from both sides of the House that, in the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson), a man should receive only one polling card in respect of any qualification. I do not suggest that the Amendment I am proposing affects a considerable number of persons, but if it is a fact that a substantial number will be entitled to a vote under this University Clause who hold degrees which are not honorary degrees for more than one University, the effect of this Amendment will simply be to provide that they must choose under which University they will he registered.


Of course, no man can vote for more than one University.


I do not think it is desirable that we should proceed with this matter at this hour of the night.

It being Eleven of the clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.