§ The qualifying period shall be a period of six months ending either on the fifteenth day of January, or the fifteenth day of July, including in each case the fifteenth day:
§ Provided that in the application of this Section to a person who has been serving as a member of the naval or military forces of the Crown at any time during the qualifying period, one month shall be substituted for six months.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
I beg to move to leave out the word "six" ["period of six months "] and to insert instead thereof the word "three."
I do not think this Amendment requires many words to recommend it to the House, because its effect will be to shorten the qualification, and enable persons who will be entitled to vote to have their qualification earlier. It would, if adopted, undoubtedly add, especially in boroughs, a large number of persons who otherwise would not be in a position to vote. As the House is aware, under present conditions, no one is entitled to vote unless he has been in occupation any time between eighteen months and two and a half years. Under this Bill the qualification period is put at six months, 228 and a person might be six months, nine months, or fifteen months before he would be in a position to exercise the right to vote. My Amendment would enable a man, if an election took place in six months, to vote, and under the circumstances I am sure I shall obtain the support of representatives of labour, and those who usually sit around me, for the alteration I propose. If you take the constituency of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board (Fulham), the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that at least 1,000 men come in and go out every three months, and my Amendment would place upon the register 1,000 men who otherwise would not be on the register if the Bill passed as it stands. I think I might almost claim the support of the right hon. Gentleman, who I am sure wishes that a larger number of men should be qualified to vote for him than in the past. Therefore, without wasting the time of the Committee, I submit my Amendment, as we all desire to see the Bill passed quickly, and in the best possible way.
§ Mr. J. W. WILSON
I would ask the hon. Member not to press this Amendment. It is one of those proposals which it is easy to move, and anyone of us could submit a similar Amendment and obtain a certain amount, of popularity for having endeavoured to broaden the franchise. But I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that this Amendment would interfere with one of the fundamental points agreed upon by the Speaker's Conference, and I submit that the great bulk of private Members in this House do not desire to interfere with the compromise on which we understood this Bill was introduced, and on which the Government have a right to rely. It is perfectly easy for an hon. Member to get up and advocate a broadening of the basis of the Bill, but I do hope that the House as a whole will at any rate loyally and honestly see that the Bill is passed in such a way as will carry out the avowed intentions of the Conference. There are many points on which Members would like to see their wishes carried out, but they have to consider this Bill as a whole, and the circumstances which attend its production in this House. There is a large number of Members of this House who wish to support the Bill as a whole, and who ought not to have put to 229 them the question whether or not they will have a three months' or a six months' qualification—six months being one of the fundamental recommendations of the Commission.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
I hope the advice given by my right hon. Friend will be followed by the Committee. After all, there has been a great amount of controversy in times past as to what would be the very best period for the qualification of a voter. I do not think there is a man in the House who will disagree with the proposal in the Bill. At present the period of qualification is twelve months, but on some occasions it is eighteen months and even more than two years before an occupier is able to get on the register. Whatever period of qualification we take it would involve a conflict of opinion, and if any Government had brought any Bill suggesting three months' qualification I am sure there would have been a very stiff fight over it. Probably it would have taken months before the question would have been decided, and perhaps it would not have been decided at all, Governments coming and going before any agreement could be arrived at. The Speaker's Conference discussed this question at very great length, and came to the conclusion that for a compromise they might fix on a six months' qualification. All were agreed about that six months' qualification, and, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, it was one of the fundamental points decided by the Speaker's Conference. It is really, therefore, unfair on the part of any Member to ask the House to divide on a question of this kind. The compromise of six months is infinitely preferable to the present period of qualification, and it will add hundreds of thousands of men who would not obtain the right to vote under the present qualification.
I agree with my hon. Friend that I represent a constituency, which he at one time also represented, where there are many removals, and that if a three months' qualification were adopted, it would put a great many more men on the franchise than would be the case under the six months' qualification. But on that basis you might go on and propose a one month qualification in place of a three months' qualification as putting more men on the register. We could go 230 on bidding against one another in that way; but I would point out that this is one of those compromises which is generally accepted, and which was accepted by the Speaker's Conference unanimously. If in a few years we are to alter the six months to three months, we should probably then have to go in for a continuous register—not two registers in one year, but a system of continuous registration. It may be said for that proposal that it would admit a great many more men to the franchise after a short period of qualification. But while there may be a good deal to be said for it, there is a good deal to be said against it. The proposition before the House is a six months' qualification, and that was unanimously agreed to by the Conference, and I hope that no Member of the House will be against that compromise. Unfortunately, under the present system many hundreds of thousands of men cannot get their votes until after a long period of qualification, and I think the Committee will be acting wisely if it accepted the advice of my right hon. Friend, and I trust that the advice will be taken by my hon. Friend also, and that he will not put the House to the trouble of a Division, but allow this compromise to stand.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The Amendment of my hon. Friend is in itself a good Amendment, but we are told by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wilson) and by the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr. Hayes Fisher) that we should not pass it, because this period was agreed on by the Speaker's Conference. I want to know who made the members of the Speaker's Conference princes and judges over the Members of this House who were elected by constituencies to express their opinions upon matters of great importance, and amongst those matters are these now before us which are of the very greatest importance. Members are urged to accept an arrangement because it was a compromise. Why should they accept it because it was a compromise.
§ Sir J. D. REES
That is exactly what I object to. Why should matters that have convulsed the House and the country for generations be put before the House in a cut-and-dried manner as if this Bill was a jig saw, and that if any one par- 231 ticular piece went out it would destroy the whole scheme. That may be so. I do not know. Why is the fact that it is a compromise to have any weight whatsoever with Members of this House? Each matter is balanced against another, and deals with something on which any individual Member or party in the House may have the strongest possible opinion. That has already happened with regard to other matters. Here we have it as a doctrine put in its most naked narrow terms, that because this is agreed upon by a certain number of gentlemen, never elected by any constituency, therefore when it comes before the Members of this House, who were elected by constituencies, pressure is to be put upon us to accept that which Members may not think good, or may think bad, simply because the matter came before a body, the conclusions of which have no binding authority.
§ Sir G. TOULMIN
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member in order in talking about the Conference in this way? Is not the question before the Committee whether the period should be three months or six months?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the point was put as to a compromise, and the hon. Member is entitled to state his opposition to that argument.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I come straight to the point of whether it should be three or six months. I admit that the six months is part of the Bill of which I approve. I believe six months is a great improvement upon a year, and the good, if it be good, is twice as good, when it is three months instead of six. Therefore I think my hon. Friend's Amendment improves upon the period provided in the Bill, only portions of which appear to be good to many Members, of whom I am one. It only shows the prejudiced attitude of many Members of this House, when my hon. Friend opposite, who generally is a fair-minded man, actually objects to another hon. Member protesting against the arguments put before the House in regard to the Amendment. I think the argument with which this Amendment was opposed was really one which ought not to be addressed to the House. If my hon. Friend goes to a Division I shall support him.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment. 232 It is quite true that in accepting six months as the period there was accompanying that very important provisions regarding successive residence and dealing with removals. Therefore I really believe that the great drawbacks in that respect which have hitherto existed will no longer exist even in populous places in this country.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I think I had a perfect right to propose the Amendment, and I did not waste any of the time of the House in doing so. I have supported the Bill throughout. I recognise the point about successive occupation which has been made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Dickinson). I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Major HUNT
I beg to move, after the word "who" ["who has been serving "], to insert the words "is or".
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
A man who is serving is dealt with by Clause 5, and in that case serving for one month in any one place will enable him to get on the register for that place. This Clause is intended to meet the case of a man who has ceased to serve. The idea is that if a man leaves the Army or the Navy to go home, he may do so in the middle of the qualifying period, and we desire that nevertheless he shall get on to the register. If this Amendment is disposed of, I propose to insert the words "and has ceased so to serve."
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendment made: After the word "period" ["qualifying period "], insert the words "and has ceased so to serve." —[Sir G. Cave.]
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
In the unavoidable absence of my hon. Friend (Sir C. Kin-loch-Cooke), who had given notice of this Amendment, I beg to move to leave out the words "one month," and insert instead thereof the words "such service." The service, I think, ought to be sufficient qualification without any residential condition. It does not seem to me, therefore, necessary to have any limitation such as is provided in the Bill.
§ Sir G. CAVE
If you put in these words there would be a difficulty as to the place for which the man would be entitled to vote.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I do not think the words "one month" have any application to any particular place, and, if that is so, what becomes of the criticism of the Amendment?
§ Mr. MACMASTER
The difficulty entirely arises from a condition of residence instead of giving the vote to the man because of his occupation as a soldier. It would be far better to adhere to the original idea of qualifying a man by reason of his occupation as a soldier or sailor than to insert a month's qualification. A residence of that length would not give the man any great knowledge of a particular locality.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
We give the soldier or the sailor the vote on a particular qualification, and we come face to face with the question of a large number of poisons who are being discharged now and as to how we are going to prevent them being disfranchised. The ordinary civilian has to have a six months' residential qualification, but in this case we desire to have as short a residential qualification as possible. I think there must be some qualification, and we propose to give the man the vote after a residence of one month. I do not see how you can give any shorter qualification.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
It occurs to me the intention of that Clause is quite clear, and that is to give the man who has served as a soldier a shorter qualifying period than is given in the case of the ordinary civilian. I do not think that it is the intention of the Home Secretary to perpetuate that advantage, but as the Clause stands I think any man who has been a soldier would be entitled at any time to come up and say, "I have served as a soldier. Therefore, I am entitled to the one month's qualification instead of the six months'." I am sure that is not the intention of the Clause, but may it not be its accidental application? Perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us in what way this qualification is limited to a man who has left the Service recently?
§ Sir G. CAVE
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the proviso he will see that it says:Provided that in the application of this Section to a person who has been serving as a member of the naval or military forces of the Crown at any time during the qualifying period.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
I quite agree. I did not see that. It means, I presume, during the qualifying period of six months and not of one month?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutland (Colonel Gretton)—at the end of the Clause to add the words "and in the application of this Section to any person compelled to leave his residence or business premises on account of actual or prospective naval or military operations any period of time during the qualifying period shall be substituted for six months."
People have been, as we know, ordered out of their houses at very short notice by the naval and military authorities. On the East Coast particularly they have had to leave, and that may go on for a very considerable period. This Amendment provides for that, and as there are a great many of these cases I think the East Coast Members will support it. A great many people may be affected by it.
§ Mr. FISHER
I hope that my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. We are all in sympathy with those who at the present time, living on the East Coast, find themselves constantly bombarded and constantly under the awful and terrible influence of air raids. Many of them, if they have young children, cannot stand the coast any longer, and even if they have been informed that they must send away their wives and children, probably they themselves will go as well. After all, it would be exceedingly difficult under this Amendment for any registration officer to say who has been actually compelled to leave his place of residence because it was subject to bombardment or air raid, or anything of 235 that kind. It is a matter that would be extraordinarily difficult of interpretation. My hon. Friend says that some men are compelled to leave their residences by reason of some order from the Army Council; that their houses are actualy taken. Yes, but there are a good many other people in other parts of the country whose houses are commandeered by the military, not because of air raids or of any danger. Their houses are taken and their residence is broken. I think it would be quite impossible to put anything of that kind into any Act of Parliament, and I believe it would be absolutely impracticable from the point of view of the registration officer and of the law. After all, I do not think there are going to be many who will lose their qualification by reason of the fact that they are driven out of their houses either because they are ordered by the military or because they are no longer able to live in their houses owing to a natural dread and fear of what may happen to themselves and their children if they stay there. There may be a few cases, but after all, the mere interruption of the period of residence will probably not be sufficient to lose them their qualification so far as residence is concerned.
I do not think we have any reason to anticipate that many men will be deprived of the franchise either by reason of the fact that their houses are commandeered for national purposes, or because they have to leave such places as Ramsgate or any of the towns on the East Coast on account of their being subject to air raids, bombardment, or anything of that kind. These words will be absolutely impossible and impractical to interpret, and having given very careful consideration to this case as to whether we could meet the cases of hardship likely to arise, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot find a form of words that would cover the cases of real hardship and enable the registration officer to draw the distinction accurately between those who are compelled to leave and those who leave voluntarily. I trust my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment to a Division, but that he will be satisfied with my assurance that we have given every possible consideration to this case, and that we are unable to frame any form of words that would meet what I think will be the very few cases of special hardship that may arise.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am afraid I have not been impressed by the arguments of my right hon. Friend who has just spoken. As I followed them, they were these: There are cases of hardship, or there may be cases of hardship.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There may be cases of hardship; they are not likely to be very many; and it is rather difficult, to frame any form of words that would meet the eases of hardship, because it would be very difficult for the registration officer to find out whether any particular person had been compelled to leave or whether he was leaving his house of his own accord. That was the right hon. Gentleman's position as I understood it; but it seems to me that that is not a very logical position. I cannot see the difficulty myself of the registration officer finding out that a person has been compelled to leave by the military or naval authorities, or by other persons acting under some Order in Council. There have been very arbitrary enactments made by Order in Council, and some very arbitrary proceedings have been taken. One occurs to my mind at the present moment. There were a considerable number of people, I think forty or fifty residents, in Belgrave Road all turned out of their houses by the military authorities in order that those houses should be used as lodgings for soldiers returning from the front. They were all turned out, their furniture was removed, or they were ordered to remove it, and they had to find another residence. As a matter of fact, those houses have never been used for soldiers, and accommodation was found elsewhere. Have these people been deprived of their vote or not? It depends entirely, I think, on where they went; but the point I wish to make is this: One of these people had no difficulty in proving to the registration officer that he had been compelled to leave his house, and, so far as I can see, this particular case, or a similar case, with which the Amendment is concerned, is one of the simplest that can possibly be imagined. All the person claiming the vote would have to do would be to go to the registration officer and inform him that he has been compelled to leave his house or premises by the authority of the Crown, and the regis- 237 tration officer could surely easily find out whether that was a correct or an incorrect statement.
I should have said that there are many conundrums in this Bill which will be put to the registration officer far more difficult to elucidate than this particular question; and it does seem to me that the form of words moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) is a simple form of words which meets the case extremely well. I do not see any difficulty, and this simple form of words, easily understood by the people, might well be put in this Bill. It must be remembered that we are dealing at the present time with a very extraordinary state of affairs. We are enacting under this Bill certain provisions which will give people the right to vote at the next General Election, when, we are told, very important subjects connected with the reconstruction of the country after the War will arise. If that is so, I think it is very necessary to enact that no one should be deprived of their vote unnecessarily. This will never arise after this War. We are not likely, at any rate in the lives of anyone in this House, to be in a similar position again, and therefore this provision is not going to entail hardship on the registration officer for more than the next year or so. I will not specify any actual time, because I do not know how long the War is going to last. I think that this is a very reasonable Amendment. My right hon. Friend has admitted that there are cases of hardship which ought to be met, and that he docs not know how to meet them.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
But everybody who is entitled to a vote is entitled to be allowed to exercise it and to be put on the register to enable him to do so. That is one of the objects of the Bill—that the register should be simplified and that we should put everybody on we possibly can. If, therefore, my hon. Friend goes to a Division. I shall certainly support him.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
If the individual has been compelled by circumstances over which he has no control to leave his business premises or residence, surely he should not be prejudiced by that fact. If the military interests of the country compel a man to leave his business premises or residence it is not a voluntary act but an involuntary act, and he certainly should not be penalised on account of it.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
I do not think I could support the words moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) as they stand because, I think, the view taken by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board is a just one. If you take the words "on account of actual or prospective naval or military operation," anything might be "actual" and still more anything might be "prospective." I would suggest words which might get over the difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman admits a hardship which may very seldom occur, and I would suggest that the words of the proposed Amendment "on account of actual or prospective naval or military operations" should be left out, and that the words "by order of the competent military authority" should be inserted in their place. That would reduce the number of cases in which this would take place to actualities, it would enable the registration officer to have some ground to go upon, and it would bet a clear indication of what had actually taken place and not what might prospectively take place. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept those words I would commend them to the attention of the Government in the hope that the Committee would accept them.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RENDALL
I think it would be quite impossible to carry out the suggestion of my hon. Friend. These attempts are often made, but it is found that before anything can be done the military have taken possession of the houses themselves. He wishes to meet the position as to the result of actually commandeering by the military authorities.
§ Mr. GILBERT
The question I raise is with regard to London. Members are aware that a week or so ago we had an air raid, and a number of business premises were demolished, and I should be glad if the, Secretary to the Local Government Board would have inquiry made into the position of some of these people.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I really do not think there is very much in these points. The Debate turns on circumstances which are of a special character. Persons may be compelled to leave their homes by order of the military authority, but the persons so compelled to leave are sometimes suspected as to whether they are desirable persons. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] Take the wider sense. What 239 happens to a person if he is turned out of his house? He does not lose his residence. The mere fact that he leaves it for a short time for temporary purposes will not cause him to lose his vote. Take the other case of a man who has moved elsewhere. Up to six months this fortunate man, because he may have had to leave house after house, will have half a dozen votes.
§ Sir G. CAVE
No; he may only be able to have one, but I cite the case as showing how the Amendment in his case will work. It may be a point which the hon. Member would like to consider further.
§ Colonel GRETTON
In this part of the Bill there is a qualification for persons to have a vote in certain constituencies, although they may have resided in other constituencies. If that qualification is done away with it may not be set up again, because it may be done away with by the circumstances of the War. Then it might have another effect on the woman's qualification, unless some means were made for the protection of the women's vote. In these Amendments we look with great deference to the Government. We feel inclined to take a wider view than the Government seem disposed to consider. Owing to disturbances of people in moving about by the action of the military and by the Orders and operations of the Minister of Munitions there ought to have been a special provision. They have taken business premises all over the country and I am sure that should be considered, especially the hardship of losing provincial qualification when they are put into other places after gaining their qualifying period. These people have been removed owing to circumstances arising out of the War and have been moved from their old associations. I hope a form of words may be devised to meet their case.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I support the Amendment. In the period of time in regard to it would it not be possible with respect to one constituency to take some action? Surely the resources of the draftsman in the Home Office would be equal to relieving the Amendment of that objection. As regards the area of military operations, this Clause is meant to save the vote of some person evicted from their house or 240 premises. What appears to be the answer to a person whose house has been taken for active military operations I have named? I had to work my way amongst the debris in the City to a house that was once in Fenchurch Street. What happens to that man, the occupier, who suffers by the operation of the law? I understand the President of the Local Government Board argued there would be few cases only and it was not necessary to deal with them. We all know the old adage that hard cases make bad law. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that hard cases require no law. If there is not legislation the people in civil life are entitled to more consideration than they have had. The hon. Member for Bristol said that anything might be done with respect to naval or military operations. I may reply, well there is not. There are active naval and military operations by which a person who has suffered may suffer more than the loss of the vote. I submit that it is a part of the Government's duty to provide a remedy for such a purpose, but, above all, not to leave them outside the law, because they must accept as a compromise any provision that is made for dealing with their case.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Home Secretary said that if people were turned out of their houses they were undesirable people.
§ Sir G CAVE
No, indeed I did not. I said there might be a possibility of undesirable people being moved, and I said that the words of the hon. Member for Bristol would cover this.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am speaking of people who have been turned out of their houses by the Minister of Munitions or some other Government body. While I was sitting down a certain instance occurred to me. There was a former Minister of Education who, when ho returned home, found the military in possession. He had had no warning of any sort, and had no idea that this was going to be done. Then the tenant of Montagu House was turned out, and as far as I know he has not received a single farthing for that magnificent house which has been taken over for Government purposes. Then take the case of the Hotel Cecil; the resident manager there would have his vote as a resident. I gee the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. W. H. Dickinson) does not agree, but there can be no doubt about it. He would have had a vote, but he has been turned out by the 241 Government, and has not had a single farthing given him. Therefore I say these things require some consideration, and some words should be put in the Bill to meet them. There are any number of cases where people of all sorts have, through no fault of their own, had to move out under the Defence of the Realm, but under those circumstances they ought not to lose their vote.
§ >Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.