§ (1) A person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector if he has received for thirty days or more in the aggregate during the qualifying period poor relief (other than medical relief), or other alms which by the law of Parliament disqualify persons from so being registered or voting:
§ Provided that a person shall not be disqualified under this provision by reason only that some person for whose maintenance he is responsible has been maintained in any institution for lunatics within the meaning of the Lunacy Act, 1890, or in any institution for idiots.
§ The disqualification enacted by this provision shall be in substitution for any disqualification on account of the receipt of poor relief or alms existing at the commencement of this Act, but this provision shall not affect any other statutory enactment for the time being in force giving special relief from any such disqualification.282
§ The expression "medical relief" includes all medical and surgical attendance, and all matters or things supplied by or on the recommendation of the medical officer having authority to give any such attendance and recommendation at the expense of any rate.
§ (2) Nothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided therein, confer on any person who is subject to any legal incapacity to be registered or to vote any right to be so registered or to vote.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (1).
This is the Sub-section which disqualifies any person from being registered if he has received Poor Law relief in the manner set forth in the Bill. I am glad when we come to discuss this question that we are running no risk of upsetting any decision of the Speaker's Conference since, so far as I am aware, this matter did not form part of the decisions reached by that Conference. I think we should examine this provision which has been a feature of legislation in this country for so many years. This feature or something analogous has found a place in legislation affecting Poor Law and Poor Law legislation from the earliest times. I think that with the development of social reform and the position now arrived at we ought seriously to consider whether we should disqualify from voting a man or woman simply because they have received Poor Law relief. This is a policy which has in the past been a consistent policy, but it has become modified a great deal. In the reign of Edward III. the person who received Poor Law relief was subjected to very vicious penalties. In the Poor Law legislation of the time of Elizabeth the person relieved was still penalised in a very savage way. Although we have removed a great deal of those savage features, we still retain this amazing proviso that the receipt of Poor Law relief shall disqualify the recipient from the exercise of the vote. I should, like to ask the Committee why this should be a disqualification any longer. We do not disqualify the criminal because he is a criminal, and we do not disqualify other classes of voters who are in receipt of relief of precisely the same kind in principle as Poor Law relief. We do not disqualify voters because they receive public assistance in the matter of educa- 283 tion. We do not disqualify voters because they receive public assistance in the matter of housing, or in the matter of health insurance or treatment; indeed, legislation that has been carried through Parliament in connection with the subject of health insurance was legislation which was designed and intended to remove the need for Poor Law relief in many oases, and as all these forms of public assistance which are given, and in the opinion of Parliament are properly given, to many bodies of citizens are not any disqualification from the exercise of the franchise, why should the receipt of Poor Law relief be any longer considered a disqualification? I should like to point out that the local bodies all over the country who come most intimately in touch with this problem, particularly the parish councils, are in many cases opposed to this Subsection, and have expressed their desire, by memorials to this House and in other ways, that the disqualification should be removed. I hope the Committee will see there is something very illogical and very unfair in maintaining the disqualification, in view of the fact that all the other public assistance which is properly given to so many people forms no disqualification whatever.
There is another reason why I desire to press this Amendment. Social conditions in our country have changed very rapidly in the last few years. Women occupy a place in our civic life which no one could have realised or anticipated a few years ago, and it has followed that in increasing degree women receive Poor Law relief. I think it would be very unfair to disqualify from the new franchise for women those women who have received Poor Law relief. This would be particularly so in the new social conditions that have arisen in this country owing to the War, because many old women, through no fault of their own, have to receive Poor Law relief. It should not be regarded as a stigma in a great number of these cases when women receive Poor Law relief. Parliament tried earnestly and successfully to prevent the grant of old age pensions being regarded as a stigma. The grant of old age pensions, as the Committee well knows, forms no disqualification from the exercise of the franchise. The grant of Poor Law relief in many cases is wholly analogous to the grant of old age pensions, and there is as little reason for Poor Law relief to be a disqualification from the exercise of the 284 franchise as there is for old age pensions to be a disqualification. I think this question of the new position of women and of the way in which they are affected by the operation of the existing law is very important in considering this question, and I trust the Committee will give attention to that new phase of the social problem as it exists to-day.
I have only this further to say: I propose the entire omission of the Sub-section, which again affirms this disqualification, and which, of course, is an existing disqualification. I realise that it will not be sufficient merely to omit the Sub-section, but that other words will be necessary. I have preferred, however, to simplify the matter by moving my Amendment in this form in order that the Government may consider whether or no they desire to maintain this disqualification, because it would then be for the Government, if they decided to remove it, to insert the simple, appropriate words for doing so in the form that they, or their legal advisers, prefer. I will only say on the drafting of this Clause that it is drafted in a very ambiguous form. It makes the vaguest references to the enactments which are at present in force, and when I remember how many of the enactments at present in force are being repealed wholly or in part in the Schedule, I feel that the drafting of this Clause in any case requires very considerable alteration and much more definiteness. It is not on this ground, however, that I move my Amendment. I move it in order to protest against this disqualification being any longer embodied in our legislation, and I trust that the Government will give a sympathetic consideration to the Amendment.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
On a point of Order. If this Amendment is dealt with will it prevent my moving the Amendment I have further down the Paper, removing this-disqualification?
§ The CHAIRMAN
No. I am going to-put the words in such a form as to preserve the hon. Member's Amendment which stands a little later on the Paper. Here it is a question of two different forms of arriving at the same purpose. If my view is of any value, I think the hon. Gentleman's form is the better, namely, to express in terms what the Committee intends. to do rather than to leave out the Subsection. That, however, is a point on-which I am not giving a ruling, I am only expressing an opinion. All I will say is 285 that I will put the words in such a form that if the present Amendment is withdrawn—I am not sure about negatived—it will be left open to the hon. Member to move his Amendment subsequently.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I desire to support in the very strongest words I can the principle of the Amendment. I think it is contrary to all the sound social principles that poverty should of itself be regarded as a disqualification for anything, and I must myself confess that from the point of view of the future it seems to me of the highest importance that the receipt of proper public assistance under proper conditions when it is deserved should not carry with it any stigma at all. If you are going to save that public assistance from the possibility of conveying a stigma it is essential that it should not be made a disqualification for a vote. The principle is so simple and to me so plain that I venture to say nothing more to the Committee than that. It is to me a principle of fundamental importance that it should not of itself be a disqualification. Of course, it must not be thought that the object of the Amendment is to confer the qualification on the inmate of a workhouse or anything of that sort. Nothing of that sort is meant by this Amendment. It merely means that if a person is qualified under this Bill for a vote the fact that at some time that person has received assistance from the rates as a pauper shall not disqualify him or her.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I submit that the speeches to which the House has listened are very fair samples of the manner in which social reformers disregard other people's property and the actualities of any situation. The simple question is, Is a person who is living upon the public, not paying his own way, to vote the taxes, and to decide how much money is to be raised from other people who are paying for his keep, and how that money is to be spent? I think that once you put the matter on that footing it is sufficient to dispose of the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whitehouse). He argued that it was no disgrace to be a criminal, and asked why the receipt of relief should be a disgrace. I am act sure that he was right. I am not sure that a criminal is able to vote in gaol, or that he in invited to put a cross against A or B. Nor is a person in receipt of relief disqualified unless he has received relief for thirty days or more in the 286 aggregate during the qualifying period. I fail altogether to see, therefore, the analogy which the hon. Gentleman has sought to establish. The hon. and learned Gentleman beside me (Mr. Leslie Scott) spoke as if this disqualification was perpetual. He said, I think, "has received at any time relief." For the moment, I think, he rather overlooked the particularity of the Clause, and the-way in which it is restricted to the receipt of relief for thirty days or more in the aggregate during the qualifying period. The speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whitehouse) also indicates how right those were who argued that the process of pauperising the people was likely to be increased by the passing of the-Insurance Act. It is also noteworthy that that Act has not reduced the amount spent on Poor Law relief, at any rate in the localities with which I am familiar. I am not, of course, able to speak for others, but that it has not done so in the localities with which I am familiar I can say. I have only to repeat that I think we have gone very far in the direction of letting everyone live on everybody else and of encouraging them to do so, when it is proposed that people living on the public taxes should vote as to what those taxes should be and how the money raised is to be spent.
§ 8.0 P.M.
It is not often, or perhaps it is almost never, that I am in agreement with the hon. Member who moved the omission of this Sub-section; but on this occasion I am. On the contrary, I differ most absolutely from the tone and manner of the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). The old age pensioner gets as a right 5s. a week, and that does not disqualify him for the vote; but if a person gets Poor Law relief to the extent of 5s. a week that is a right equally with the pension, and yet he is to be disqualified from the vote. Under the Insurance Act the State contributes a considerable proportion of the insurance money to a large number of people who get that as a right. They are not disqualified in any way from the vote. The hon. Member for Nottingham seems to forget that many of the most worthy persons in this country ultimately get into poor-houses. The agricultural labourer, for instance, whose wages have been in the past—I" hope they will not be in the future— so disgracefully low, finds it impossible for him to save enough money, in 287 many cases, to keep out of the workhouse. Nine out of ten people who get into the workhouse do not get there through their own fault, but simply through misfortune, very often through sickness, and again a large family may have dragged them down. To the State they had to look at that moment, and the State has put them in an institution, and when they are there they will not get the vote. They will not have the residential qualification, and yet what distinction is there between the old age pensioner who gets five shillings a week from the Exchequer and an outdoor pauper under the guardians? There is none. Both have had a right conferred upon them by the State, and you cannot distinguish them from those who have received contribution under the Insurance Act.
The House has always made the distinction up to a point, but there is no ground for distinction except the prejudice which the hon. Member for Nottingham has made about people who, he says, live upon other people. Take the agricultural labourer. He is performing valuable duties to the community. He has not been able to save up to tide over old age, and perhaps he has only been able to save a shilling or two shillings a week after keeping him. He has to go into the workhouse. I think the time has arrived when not only the Labour party, but the Radical party and a vast majority of the Conservative party, should declare against making mere poverty, whether through misfortune or not, a reason for a man's not receiving a vote. I appeal to the Committee to remove such an odious disqualification.
Mr. H. SAMUEL
I wish to put a word to the Home Secretary that we may know clearly how this question affects voters under the Poor Law disqualification. Would a person living in a workhouse be qualified or not? Would he be a resident for the purposes of this Bill 1 I am told by some that he would, while on the other hand it is pointed out that there is a difficulty as to whether he or she is a resident. Secondly, prisoners, I am told by the same authority, may be going to vote. Perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us his view on the matter. Pauperism 288 has very greatly altered in character during the last forty or fifty years. Able-bodied pauperism, even before the exceptional conditions of the War, almost ceased to exist, and persons in receipt of Poor Law relief were almost entirely disqualified, though their misfortune was owing to sickness or old age, or something of that kind. That, I think, should influence the opinion of Parliament. No very great outcry was known, probably, in those days of the Poor Law reformers of 1832. After that, the able-bodied man who refused to work, and lived upon the rates—that class almost ceased to exist. The persons who are in receipt of Poor Law relief are, generally speaking, widows left with large families to support. When I had the honour to be President of that Department we circularised Poor Law unions to ascertain whether the Poor Law-relief in such cases was generously given— not regarded as a dole, but as a means of providing for families when the mother had to have recourse to work. The mother ought not to be required to work in those circumstances; in the interests of her home she should be looking after her own children.
It is very hard when the State acts in such a way as to deprive these women of the franchise. My own view of the matter is associated with the fact that associations of Poor Law unions have lately considered circumstances arising out of the Bill. They circularised Members of the House, urging the removal of that policyin toto. And what next? The Scottish Association, representing parish councils, standing, one would suppose, for thrift, have endorsed the action of the Poor Law Association in relation to the recommendations as regards this Bill. As to the majority of the Speaker's Conference, if there be in this House any strong body of opinion which says that we are to regard this as part of the compromise arrived at by the Speaker's Conference, and that we will require the Government to stand by the arrangement, that will have to be taken into account. No such view has been expressed in any quarter. The Government would hardly be adopting the recommendation if they did not close the door to it and indicate that in their view Parliament might in these circumstances abolish the Poor Law disqualification for the Parliamentary election. I am not sure whether all these instructions carry the same weight, when we come to local government later. I am not sure whether a 289 person in receipt of Poor Law relief would make a free and independent elector for local government purposes. I have not formed any final conclusion on the point, but as far as Parliamentary elections are concerned, my only feeling is that this object should be consulted as far as possible.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I am strongly in favour of the discontinuance of the disqualification of persons in receipt of Poor Law relief. I am bound to say that I think my Amendment would have been a better way of doing it than the Amendment under consideration, but so strongly do I feel in support of the principle that I gather from what you said, Sir, that as this Amendment is under consideration I should not move my Amendment. If I have the right to speak on the Amendment I would like to say that I am on a council representing 560 boards of guardians; that is, of the Association of Poor Law Unions, and the Council passed a resolution asking me to put down an Amendment in my name. Further than that, I have a communication from the representative of the Poor Law administration in Scotland in support of that Amendment. The time has gone when the taint, as it is called, should be removed. I have had forty years' experience of Poor Law administration, and I beg to repudiate the argument of the hon. Member opposite when he contended that this would lead to improvidence.
It is painful that the people who have served the country well as regards labour should, through illness, have had to get assistance from the rates. They have been contributors to the rates themselves, but the hon. Baronet spoke just now as if they had made no financial response to the country. Their labour has been the foundation of our wealth, and they have paid rates towards other people in distress. It is only reasonable, if they are, in the opinion of the guardians, deserving and entitled to relief, that they should suffer no disqualification thereby. The guardians are not only guardians of the poor but guardians of the rates, and we are not likely to be unmindful or permit extravagance. When you have an association like the Poor Law Association, representing guardians all over the country, and representatives of the Parish Councils of Scotland in favour of the abolition of the disqualification, I think they are deserving of attention. The 290 Committee will not, I am sure, ignore all the opinions of men and women who have rendered great service to the country in the administration of the Poor Law that those under their care should be relieved of the disqualification. You have an anomaly in this respect. A man has a vote up to forty-five. He exercises the franchise. Misfortune falls upon him. He has had no opportunity, owing to the smallness of his remuneration in his younger days, to lay up for infirmity or old age, and, moreover, he has seen the breaking up of the village clubs which rendered some service at the time before the more general form of insurance became popular. The clubs had to go, and the man who had contributed to them for many years had to make provision for sickness again. If he lives till he is seventy and gets his old age pension he gets his vote again. Clearly the proposal now before us is illogical and inconsistent, and I appeal to the Government to put the matter right. The proposal which some of us are putting forward is in no way hostile to the decision of the Conference. The Bill itself provides that where a person has had relief for not more than thirty days the disqualification shall not be enforced; therefore the Government acknowledge the principle. We ask them to do away altogether with the limitation, and to give to these poor people the opportunity to take part in the government of the country.
It has been pointed out that there are many persons receiving assistance in public health institutions who are not disqualified; neither are those persons disqualified who receive help by the feeding of their children at the schools. The receipt of an old age pension does not disqualify. Surely, under these circumstances, the time has come when this stigma should be removed? It is, I know, said that there are some improvident people who might be included in this. I admit that. But there also may be those amongst every class of people enfranchised by this Bill. Consequently that is not, I submit, a justification for continuing this disqualification any longer. I am sure the removal of the disability will he appreciated by those who are concerned, and who have been driven from sheer necessity, now they are not able to maintain themselves, to come upon the rates to which they have contributed for many years. Their position is painful enough as it is without it being made more so by 291 this stigma. As a member of a board of guardians it has often gone to my heart to see those who have worked hard all their lives driven, towards the end, to ask for relief. Those under seventy are certainly quite as deserving as those above seventy. They ought not to have this insult placed upon them any longer. I appeal to the Home Secretary to meet us on this point, and, instead of making the limit thirty days, to remove it altogether. He has, if he will allow me respectfully to say so, shown the right spirit by the provision he has put into the Bill. He has conceded the principle. Let him, I ask, now give us the whole substance.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am exceedingly glad that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has said what he has said, speaking in the name of the Association of Poor Law Guardians, and also with the reference that he made to the Scottish Boards of Guardians. He reinforced the appeal made by my lion. Friend opposite in regard to this matter. I do not think that the Amendment quite meets the case. I am not quite sure that this is the proper way to do it, but I am going to add my appeal to those who have gone before, for I think it is high time that this stigma was removed—that the abolition of the pauper disqualification, for Parliamentary voting purposes, was removed altogether. For local government purposes, I quite agree, it may be different. That, as my hon. Friend opposite said, is a different consideration. It is a question whether a person who is actually in receipt of rates should be qualified to exercise the local government vote. With regard to Parliamentary voting purposes, it is perfectly true that the recommendation was made by the Speaker's Conference as to the thirty days. I would be the last person in the world—and I say it quite honestly and fairly—if I believed this matter was one on which the House felt keenly, or was one in which the Speaker's Conference had felt a deep concern, or that it would in any sense whatever affect this Bill, to be a party to wrecking the Bill, or the compromise, in order even to support the hon. Member opposite. I do not, however, think that that is at all the position in any degree whatsoever. This is a matter on which the House surely has a right to make up its mind! The Speaker's Conference considered the matter, and its recommendation was as far as it could agree to go.
292 I feel sure, however, that the members of the Speaker's Conference would have gone quite the whole length if they had felt that the House of Commons would have supported them in so doing. It is really a matter in which they made a very modest proposition, because they were afraid that they might not have the House of Commons with them. If the House of Commons says that it is anxious and willing that all this trumpery business—and, after all, it is a trumpery business— should be wiped out, and if we who support that clear-cut decision are unanimously agreed to wipe out the pauper disqualification altogether, I believe there is not a single member of the Speaker's Conference who would not hail with delight that decision. The speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down does him infinite credit. It is the boards of guardians and the local governing bodies who hitherto have been the great stumbling block in the way of this reform. When they, therefore, come in such large numbers and practically present a petition to this House to the effect that the pauper disqualification should be removed, I say that we are living in times very different to the old days, when, because a person received relief from the rates-it was thought necessary to disqualify him from performing the simple duty of voting for a Member of Parliament. It reminds one rather of the old idea of the theologians with regard to sin—that everything: that happened to a person was the result of or a punishment for sin. That idea has gone. This idea ought to go with it. It ought not to be thought that because a person is unfortunately in circumstances that require an appeal to the Poor Law that therefore he was a sinner or there was some wrong attaching to him. That is an invidious distinction which in these enlightened days is not entertained; it ought to be quite done away with altogether. I therefore join in the appeal that has been made by the hon. Members who have preceded me, that the Government should wipe out this stigma altogether, and do away with the pauper disqualification in the Bill. It has an awfully bad" name in the country, and if the Government can do what we ask I for one will be very glad.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
I desire to join in the appeal made from all quarters of the House that this pauper disqualification should be got rid of once and for all.
293 I quite agree that it may not be politic to get rid of it so far as local government elections are concerned. So far, however, as Parliamentary elections are concerned, this disqualification is an antiquated piece of legislation and ought to go. Now I would like to call the attention of the Committee to the harsh operation of the pauper disqualification in many cases. Many of us who remember the national coal strike of 1912, which lasted for three months, will recollect that many people lost their vote through absolutely no fault of their own. The coal miners came out on strike and the iron workers, who had no influence in any way on the coal miners, were compelled to lose their votes because they could not exist for the whole three months without appealing to the boards of guardians. I put a question at that time to the then Prime Minister asking him if he would take steps to prevent people being disqualified from that cause, because I knew of cases where men were deliberately starving themselves and their children so as not to be compelled to lose their vote. I would appeal to the Government to consider in a sympathetic way the removal of this disqualification. There have been sundry Amendments to this Bill accepted by the Government, and I think I am correct in saying that they have all been in a narrowing sense—that is, a narrowing of the democratic principle of the Bill, if I may say so without offence— and if they accept this Amendment, or the Amendment of my hon. Friend later on the Paper, they will do something to restore the balance.
§ Mr. WING
I should like to join with the other hon. Members in asking the Government to accede to what is really a general desire. There is no one better acquainted with the merits of the case than the right hon. Member at the Local Government Board who is now in charge of the Bill. The workhouses are no longer the workhouses as understood in other times. They really have become very largely, shall I say, infirmaries for the aged poor, and have become very much more humanised institutions. I would not like to do anything to endanger this Bill. I have supported the Government right through, and if this proposal were in any way undermining the compromise under which this Bill was drawn up I would be the last to urge it, but I feel that we are urging a matter in harmony with the opinion of that Conference. Whilst it has 294 been stated that there might be some objection, so far as local government is concerned, in the sense that rates come in, I hope my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill, if he cannot accept this Amendment, will in some way, at any rate, provide means whereby the pauper disqualification shall be removed, so that this Bill will find a happy echo in many a poor man's breast when he knows that what he has suffered will not be suffered by his fellow-workers, and that he will live to see the time when this is wiped off the Statute Book, and that the man who takes a deep interest in national politics shall not, through circumstances of misfortune, be deprived of what he regards as of great value—namely, the vote. I do hope, after the expression of the feeling of the Committee, the Government will concede this small reform.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I have been very much struck by the tone and tendency of this Debate, and by no speeches more than that delivered by the hon. Member for Stockport, the Leader of the Labour party, who was a member of the Speaker's Conference. I think the whole Committee must recognise the extreme difficulty of the Government in going beyond the lines laid down by the Speaker's Conference, but when we are told by the Leader of the Labour party that the Speaker's Conference came to this very limited decision because they were afraid that the House of Commons would not support them if they made any more extensive recommendation, then I think that must weigh very much; and I think that anybody who has listened to this Debate, or who reads it, will bear me out in saying that there is almost a complete concensus of opinion that the Speaker's Conference had really not reached the high-water mark which the House would desire in dealing with this matter. This question of the disqualification of people who have received Poor Law relief has been discussed for many years, and has been the subject of much debate. The general law is governed by the Reform Act of 1832, Section 36, under which no person shall be entitled to be registered as a voter who shall during the qualifying period have received parochial relief, or otherwise be disqualified. The year 1832 is a long time back. No doubt there was a desire to encourage thrift in every direction, and to encourage the sturdy independence of our people, 295 but we have travelled a very long way from that time, and that law itself has been considerably eaten into, because I have been reminded by several speakers in this Debate that we have had the Medical Belief Disqualification (Removal) Act, which provides that the receipt by any person, or by any member of his family, of medical or surgical assistance at the expense of the poor rate should not deprive him of his vote. That law applied to applicants for old age pensions. Then we had the Act which prescribes that no disqualification shall attach, so far as voting is concerned, because a man's children have to be fed by the Education Department.
We all know to what an enormous extent now public assistance is given in a great variety of quarters, and it leaves us in this position, that the only public assistance which disqualifies a man from exercising his vote is that form which is derived from the Poor Law. This subject was much debated by the Poor Law Commission something like nine years ago. The Majority and the Minority Reports were in favour of some modification in this law, which pressed so hardly upon many poor and deserving people. I think the Report of the majority of that Commission did not go further than to say that they would recommend that nobody should be disqualified who had had relief for less than three months of the period of qualification. The Minority Report was in favour of sweeping away the whole of this disqualification. I have listened very carefully to this Debate, and I do not think I am going beyond what the Speaker's Conference would really have desired, or what the House would desire, particularly after the speech made by my right hon. Friend who not long ago was President of the Local Government Board, when I say that the Government are prepared if they are supported by the House, to go considerably further than the recommendations made by the Speaker's Conference. In casting about as to what form that advance should take, I may say that I do not think it possible for us to accept the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse), because it is not in a form which we could accept, and it would necessitate other words being put in to enable everyone to know exactly what the law was after we have made the changes we propose to make. We are 296 desirous to make the law perfectly plain as regards the franchise, and we do not want to have any more legislation by reference if we can possibly avoid it.
The Amendment which seems to fulfil the general purpose which T have in mind, and which I think the Committee has in mind, is the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for the Tavistock Division (Sir J. Spear), and which also stands in the name of the hon. Member for the Dartford Division of Kent (Mr. Rowlands). That Amendment appears to me, with some qualifications, to meet the main purpose which the Government, with the full assent of the House, desire to carry out. I wish to say how much I have been impressed with certain statements which have been made by the hon. Member for the Tavistock Division, who stated, speaking with, great authority as chairman of the Poor Law Associations, they had come to the conclusion that this punishment of disqualification of a voter because he has had Poor Law relief is really valueless as a deterrent to the kind of man we want to deter from coming on the Poor Law. During my term of office I have had other evidence to the same effect supplied by those who are most active in the administration of the Poor Law, many of whom have written me, or have seen me, and have told me that they no longer believe that this punishment or disqualification of men because they have at one time had recourse to the Poor Law is of any value as a deterrent for the kind of people they desire to punish, while at the same time it inflicts a very great hardship on many men who, often for only a very short time, have had to have recourse to the Poor Law, and who are consequently punished with the awful punishment to them of losing their independence and their power of voting for those who make the laws of the country. I think there is a real distinction to be drawn between the Parliamentary vote and the local government vote, and I do not feel able to go further here than to remove this disqualification in the case of a Parliamentary elector. T, therefore, suggest that the original Amendment might be withdrawn, and then I would accept the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Members for the Tavistock Division of Devonshire and the Dartford Division of Kent in this form:To leave out from the first 'be ' to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert the words "disqualified from being 297 registered or from voting as a Parliamentary elector by reason that he or some person for whose maintenance he is responsible has received poor relief or other aims.'By stopping there I avoid the necessity of putting in the whole of Sub-section (1) and of putting in the definition of medical relief. Those words I think practically cover all that we really ought to cover. I wish to make one further remark. I told the Home Secretary before he left the House what I was proposing to do, and he agrees with it, but he wishes to make this one suggestion: He thinks that anyone who is actually resident in a Poor Law institution should not have the franchise conferred on him, and later on he will propose himself or will accept an Amendment by which inmates of prisons, Poor Law institutions, and lunatic asylums shall not be qualified to vote.
§ Mr. FISHER
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will put that question when we come to that Amendment. I am now telling the Committee what words I propose to accept. We are really sweeping away the whole of the disqualification for Poor Law relief unless a person is actually an inmate of a workhouse. I apply that only to the Parliamentary elector and not to the local government elector. I have to consider this matter very carefully. I see other members of the Speaker's Conference present, and I have to be extremely careful as to how far I go in altering the Resolution of the Speaker's Conference, up or down or one way or the other. I feel that I cannot, being in charge of the Bill and speaking for the Government, undertake to make any great alteration of this kind, and this is a very considerable alteration, unless I feel that I have practically the consent of the House to do so. I think in this case I have that consent, and I am prepared to accept the Amendment in the form which I have suggested.
First of all, I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said, for I am sure his proposal will be welcome to the whole Committee. I am glad he has made the limitation with regard to prisons and residents in workhouses because I think there would be some objection to those people coming 298 out in a body to vote. There is another point I should like to put, and perhaps the Solicitor-General in view of the form in which the Secretary to the Local Government Board proposes to insert this Amendment will explain. He proposes, I think rightly, to draw a distinction between elections for local governing bodies and for Parliament, but the effect of that with regard to the women's franchise will be that the widow of whom I spoke previously will not have a vote for Parliament unless special provision is made to save her vote, because a woman is only qualified if her husband is dead—and in this case he is an occupier for local government purposes. If she is receiving for her children Poor Law relief that woman to whom we desire to give the Parliamentary franchise will not get it. I hope my right hon. Friend will give that point his particular attention to see that she shall be qualified for the Parliamentary franchise in spite of the general provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I do not rise to express, any dissatisfaction with what my right hon. Friend has done, but I must express some surprise and say that I feel some amount of apprehension on behalf of my right hon. Friend himself. What has he done? At a time when the House might have been counted out—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—my right hon. Friend has not merely undertaken, as we have heard in connection with some other matters., to give consideration to this question on the Report stage, which is about as far as we have ever succeeded, but he has actually accepted an Amendment which sweeps away a principle which has been embodied in our franchise laws, as he himself told us, since 1832. An old Friend below me says, "A jolly good job, too." (Cheers.) I am not expressing any dissent whatever from that cheer. As far as I have ever had an opinion on the subject, it has been in favour of abolishing the Poor Law disqualification. I wonder, however, whether the unanimity with which the very small and select group of members in the House at this moment appear to greet this change will be absolutely reflected throughout the length and breadth of the land to-morrow. It may or it may not be, but I am a little apprehensive for my right hon. Friend seeing how very small the House was in which he made this enormous change. What will happen to my right 299 hon. Friend supposing, when it gets to be known in the Library and m the smoking rooms what he has done, there are still some Members who retain some part of the old Liberal tradition? I wonder what will be the fats of my right lion. Friend? This disqualification, which, as my right hon. Friend told the House, was put in in 1832, was the very life-blood of the old Liberal doctrine. For years and years, all the time the Liberal party was the predominant power in the State, there were two great Statutes which expressed their political philosophy, namely, the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Poor Law Bill of 1834. In both those Statutes this cruel disqualification, as it has been called to-day, and I am not inclined to dissent from that view, was enacted, find it was in the political philosophy of that party and has been sustained until practically the present day.
My hon. Friend for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) expressed his gratification and surprise that an hon. Friend behind me (Sir J. Spear), representing the boards of guardians, should have come forward in favour of this Amendment. I do not think that he should have expressed surprise. If my hon. Friend had made a study, for example, of such a work as Mackay's "History of the Poor Law," he would have known that for years and years boards of guardians were seeking to gain more elasticity in the administration of the Poor Law and that they were being constantly gingered and spurred and curbed by Liberal Ministers at the Local Government Board, and that doctrine, which hon. Members with such unanimity have denounced this evening, "that poverty is a crime, and that you must do everything you possibly can to deter men from sinking into poverty and must drive them into thrift," is embodied time after time in famour Orders and memoranda sent down from Liberal Ministers at the Local Government Board to the various boards of guardians. Therefore, my only apprehension is that there may be some remnant of that Liberal doctrine left in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not worry about it!"] I am so afraid when it comes to be known what he has done in an expansive moment whilst there was practically nobody here—[HON. MEMBEBS: "No!"]—a select body, no doubt—I am so afraid when it comes to be known by that body of opinion outside, which is no doubt expressed by such a good old con- 300 servative organ of Liberalism as the "Daily News," my right hon. Friend will be denounced as taking advantage of a slack time in Parliament to bring in an old Tory doctrine. Hon. Members cannot deny—I am certain my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir J. Simon) will not deny—that from 1832 onwards, certainly for three-quarters of a century, and by no one more than by Mr. Disraeli, that Liberal doctrine was denounced. Now my right hon. Friend is following in Mr. Disraeli's footsteps, and I am very much afraid now that he is in a Coalition Government, sitting beside Liberal Ministers, it will be said that he has taken advantage of his position. All I can tell my right hon. Friend is that when he comes to be denounced for doing it I will promise him my support.
§ Colonel YATE
We were all very much impressed by the speech made by my hon. Friend beside me (Sir J. Spear), and we all acknowledge the hardships that may occur under the Poor Laws, but I must say that I, for one, felt glad that the Speaker's Conference had put a limitation in their recommendations, and I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman, when he announced that he was going to accept the Amendment, state that he too would put in a limitation cutting out from the franchise the permanent residents of workhouses. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend if he could not also cut out the occupants of our casual wards—the habitual vagrants. As far as I can see, they will be given the franchise. I have always all my life thought that when the State gives the franchise to its citizens there is a corresponding obligation on the part of the citizens to do something for the State. If a man pays Income Tax, of course he is entitled to a vote. If he pays rates he is entitled to a vote. In fact, if he does anything for the good of the State, like a soldier or a sailor who risks life or limb for the State, he is entitled to the vote. But I do not think a man is entitled to vote who is a burden to the State. A permanent resident in a workhouse is a burden to the State. So is the vagrant. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will maintain the limitations he has indicated, and that the State will not grant the franchise, which is the highest thing it can grant, to people who are a permanent burden upon it.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the very 301 kind speech he has made in favour of the great principle that has been advocated here to-night. Of course, we accept with gratitude the very large portion of the policy of this Amendment which he has adopted. I do not know that we all go quite so far as he does in leaving out the local government elector, although we all realise that there is a difference between the position of a Parliamentary elector and that of an elector for local government purposes. I suppose it might be asserted that if these persons had the vote in a local government election they might be considered as of some interest to the candidates putting up for boards of guardians and bodies of that description. So far as the principle of removing this disability from the Parliamentary elector is concerned, there will be no difference of opinion in the country at the present time. Hon Members have received from almost all the authorities in their constituencies an endorsement of that principle. We have moved a long way since 1834. When I was listening to the speech of the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. E. McNeill), the only thing I regretted was that there had not been a Tory majority in this House since 1834 to sweep off the Statute Book the obnoxious principles held by the Liberal party. If ray memory is not at fault, it was in the period after the 80 elections that the Poor Law Medical Relief Bill was passed, which went on the lines upon which we are proceeding to-night. I admit it was only a small step in that direction, but it was passed—I do not in any way wish to introduce party politics into the question —during a Liberal Administration. However, what we want to do to-night is not to go back into past history, but to recognise that the old conditions of life and the old outlook on life have changed entirely now, and that we have to thank the 'Government for having accepted a principle we all endorse in the direction of removing the recipient of Poor Law relief from any stigma.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I desire to associate myself with everything that was said by the hon. Member for the Tavistock Division (Sir J. Spear), and also to congratulate the Government upon the step they have taken. In the course of the -Debate several individual cases have been put forward, which were considered to be hard cases, in regard to men having been 302 deprived of their votes. There are two cases which have not yet been mentioned to the Committee and I should like to bring them forward. First, there is the case of the soldier and sailor. It may be said that the soldier or sailor will never come upon the parish for relief. I am very much afraid that in years to come you will find that some of the men who have fought in this War will, for some reason or other, be under the necessity of applying to the parish for relief. No member of this Committee would like to see that man deprived of his vote. There is another case—that of the man who has not received a pension, but who has been invalided out of the Army suffering from some disability judged to be not attributable to or aggravated by his service. I feel certain that a large number of such men will, sooner or later, have to apply to the parish for relief. It would be, I will not say a crime, but a most unpopular thing in the country if any of these men were deprived of the Parliamentary vote. Another point which I would ask the Committee to bear in mind, although it is hardly necessary for me to make it in view of the line the Government have taken, is that during this War many persons have suffered considerably, although they have not exactly taken part in it—mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and other people of a certain age. They have suffered materially owing to their sons or those who supported them being taken to fight at the front. What will happen after the War? A lot of these men have been killed. The class I have mentioned could hardly be described as being dependant upon these men, but they, no doubt, at no great distance of time, will have to come upon the parish for relief. No Member of this Committee would desire to see the dependants of any man who has fought for his country in this War disqualified because they had to come upon the parish for relief. These particular points apparently escaped the notice of some hon. Members who have spoken. I thought I might make them, so that the country, whom my hon. Friend (Mr. R. McNeill) thinks may consider the Government to have gone too far, may read not only what other hon. Members have said, but the points I have ventured to make to-night. Then there will be no discordant voice in the country, and every person, whether 303 Conservative or Liberal, or whatever his politics may be, will agree with the line taken by the Government.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I desire to say one word of thanks to my right hon. Friend for the way he has met us. He need not fear what the people will think of the action the Government have taken in this matter. It is another evidence of the broad-minded spirit which he shows in all matters of local government, and which I have seen displayed by him for many years, not only when in office, but when he has been a private Member. I am sure this step will gladden the hearts of those who have to prepare the register for elections. It will very much simplify their work. The right hon. Gentleman will never regret the action he has taken. It will be appreciated by all right-minded men, not excluding my hon. Friend the Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill).
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
As I understand the concession the Government have made, I believe it will meet Scottish opinion in the matter. In Scotland we do not send able-bodied men to the Poor-house. We are in the habit of providing for them by a system of out-door relief. I have very often felt that it is very unfortunate that some of these men—most respectable, decent people, who are getting that relief through no fault of their own—should be disqualified from the franchise in the way they have been. It is a very different thing to disqualify men who are living in the Poorhouse, particularly for the local government qualification. It is rather an absurdity that a man who is living on the rates should have a voice in the way they are spent. I understand that is being dealt with by the Government, and therefore that objection does not arise. But those who receive out-door relief are often deserving cases, and I am very glad the Government has made the concession.
I do not like this matter to be decided without expressing gratitude, as representing a very poor and distressed part of London, to the right hon. Gentleman for the concession he has made. The hon. Member (Mr. McNeill). with the light and airy grace which is always associated with him, has allowed his imagination to establish the Poor Law disqualification as an eternal Liberal principle. He forgets that the Act in 304 which it was embodied is eighty-five years, old, that Liberalism makes progress, and that ideas do enlarge as society develops, and we within our own ranks have protested and girded against this thing for many years past. He also forgets that the concession, though made by a Tory Minister, is made by a Minister in a Coalition Government, presumably with the consent and assent of his colleagues, many of whom are Liberals, and that there is no need whatever to make a party cry of this because it is going to be carried into effect with the unanimous, consent of the House and the country. I thank the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, and to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having, accepted its principle and for having responded so fully to what has proved the: unanimous feeling of the Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I beg to move to leave out all the words after the word "be" ["A person shall not be"], to the end of Sub-section (1), and to insert instead, thereof the words "disqualified from, being registered or from voting as a Parliamentary elector by reason that he or some person for whoso maintenance he is responsible has received poor relief or other alms."
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
On a point of Order. As I understand the Amendment, it will alter the whole structure of the first Subsection. I have an Amendment which will come in at the beginning of line 23, and I want to know whether you can put this Amendment in such a way as to preserve my right to move it?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Not without some difficulty, but while the discussion is going on I will see whether I can devise some way of preserving the Amendment. I cannot do so by saving words. The Sub-section must go, but there are one or two other Amendments— for instance, the question of the disqualification of a person who has been an: inmate of a prison—and the best plan would be for this subject to be disposed of first, and then I think it would be open to the hon. Member (Mr. McNeill) to-move his Amendment dealing with the-j conscientious objector as a new Sub-section, after we have dealt with one or 305 two other Amendments which are cognate to the subject we are now dealing with.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I should like to know whether it would be possible for me to preserve my rights among some other Amendments dealing with the same subject, though not precisely in the same way?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I should propose to take the hon. Member's Amendment first. It stands first on the Paper.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I entirely sympathise with the object of the Committee. In fact, at the Conference, I made the same proposal to abolish all the disqualifications, not only from paupers but also from peers, but in neither case did I entirely get the approval of the Conference. But in leaving out these words the right hon. Gentleman leaves out a proposal to remove the disqualification to a certain extent in respect of the local government vote. I do not know what he intends to do, but the proposal of the Conference was that both as regards Parliamentary and local government electors this disqualification should not be done away with altogether, but should be limited. If we leave out the words- as proposed we leave out all reference to the local government vote, and that immediately raises the question of the position, of the woman Parliamentary voter. Quite apart from' the question of the woman Parliamentary voter, I should strongly object to restoring the old pauper disqualification for the local government vote. That would be a retrograde step from the proposals made by the Conference. I shall certainly move, when these words are put as words to stand part of the Clause, to insert the words "or local government" between the words "Parliamentary" and "electors," so as to restore this Amendment to the shape in which it was originally proposed.
§ Mr. FISHER
The Speaker's Conference did not touch the local government elector. Resolution 35, which was passed by a majority, is to the effect that the Conference was of opinion that no person who had received poor relief, other than medical relief, within thirty days of the qualifying period should be disqualified from being registered as a Parliamentary elector. There is no reference to the 306 local government vote. If the right hon. Gentleman seeks now to disturb the arrangement which was come to, we shall open up the whole question again. As regards the other point of the woman elector, I have already said that requires consideration, and at the proper time I will see, with the Home Secretary, that that has the consideration of the Government.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I have an Amendment on the subject of aliens voting. Shall I be able to move that at a later stage, in a slightly different form?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It does not arise here. It comes up as an Amendment to an Amendment of the Home Secretary at a later stage.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to insert the words: "A person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector if within the qualifying period such person has been an inmate, alter conviction, of any prison, or an inmate of any lunatic asylum or Poor Law institution, other than for medical relief, except as a member of the staff of such asylum or institution."
There appears to be an oversight in the drafting of the Bill. It clearly cannot be intended that a person who is under treatment for insanity shall be registered as a voter, nor can it be intended that the person who is in prison for an offence against the law should be registered as a voter and allowed to vote. I have drawn this Amendment as a safeguard against any proposal of that kind which may hereafter arise. I do not think that anyone will argue that the inmate of a Poor Law institution whilst an inmate should be registered as a voter. The last words of my Amendment are intended to safeguard the staff who would otherwise be qualified, and certainly should not lose their vote, because they are performing public work caring for lunatics or insane people or in charge of persons who are inmates of Poor Law institutions. I will not labour the matter, although I am quite prepared to advance adequate and very strong reasons why an Amendment of this character should be inserted in the Bill.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Perhaps the hon. Member, in view of the alteration which has been made with regard to Poor Law inmates, will agree to my putting the Amendment in this form: "A person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector if within the qualifying period such person has been an inmate, after conviction, of any prison, or an inmate of any lunatic asylum, except as a member of the staff of such asylum."
§ Mr. FISHER
I cannot accept the Amendment in the form in which it stands. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is anxious to put in words to ensure that inmates of lunatic asylums and prisons shall be disqualified from the franchise. If the hon. Member will be satisfied with that assurance he may rely upon it that some words will be put down by my right hon. Friend.
§ Colonel GRETTON
In view of the Assurance given in regard to the Government, I will not pursue this matter, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
With regard to the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. E. McNeill) which deals with conscientious objectors, I should like to point out that an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs and myself was put down some time before that Amendment, and it was in the right place. Now I understand that the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member, which was in the wrong place, is to be moved. I should like to know if an Amendment which was in the wrong place before is now to have priority over one which was in the right place originally?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Owing to the action of the Committee, the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. R. McNeill) is now in the right place.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to insert the words: "A person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote at a Parliamentary or local government election if he has been exempted on the ground of conscientious objection to 308 military service from any form of military service for which, but for such objection, he would have been liable."
I see some hon. Members have put down an Amendment to my Amendment. There is nothing in that Amendment which, so far as I am concerned, I should not be willing to accept. I am glad to see that those three hon. Members (Mr. Denman, Mr. Frederick Whyte, and Commander Wedgwood) have included in their disqualification the conscientious objector to combatant service, which is the same as in my Amendment, and I, therefore, can claim the support of those hon. Members. I do not make any sort of charge or insinuation as regards, first of all, the physical courage of conscientious objectors. I do not do so for two very good reasons. First, because I do not think any of us have any evidence which would justify any such charge, and, secondly, and still more strongly, I think such a charge or such an insinuation could only be made by a man who has himself shared in the horrors and perils of this War. Certainly a man like myself, who for other reasons has not been able to do that, could not make any such insinuation against the physical courage of the conscientious objector. I do not make any charge or insinuation against the sincerity of these men because I am not in a position to do so. I have very little doubt that a great many of them are sincere, and I have very little doubt that a large number of them are insincere. But in that respect one cannot divide the sheep from the goats. However, I do not base my case upon any suggestion that these men are not sincere. What I say is that though sincerity is a quality which I respect, it is not by itself sufficient to entitle a man to respect. After all, sincerity may only entitle a man not to respect, but to compassion. A lunatic may be sincere; an inebriate may be sincere; a criminal may be sincere. Although sincerity is undoubtedly an essential of the character which deserves respect, it is only one, and when we consider the conduct of the man whom we call a conscientious objector it is not sufficient to feel satisfied, even if we can feel satisfied, that his conscience is a sincere conscience. I think that the man is responsible not only for his conscience being sincere, but for its being reasonable.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. Member has touched on a difficult question, but a very obvious one with which I shall have to deal. After all, when we say "reasonable" we all claim, and science claims for us, that reasonableness is the distinguishing mark and characteristic mark of the human race among creation. I do not know whether it is a boast which is an undue boast for humanity, but we do boast that the distinguishing characteristic of ourselves is not sincerity or any other quality, but reasonableness or wisdom. The question which I want Members of the Committee to ask themselves is, is the conscience of the conscientious objector not merely a sincere conscience but a reasonable one?
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. Member for East Mayo asks who is to judge. What is the test of reasonableness? We all speak of people being reasonable or unreasonable. My own belief is that in ultimate analysis the only possible test of reasonableness is what is accepted as such by the consensus of opinion or conviction among contemporary men of the same state of civilisation.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not know whether hon. Members will or will not be good enough to enable me to put my argument. They will afterwards have the opportunity of showing how unreasonable it is, but I should not shrink in the slightest degree, if this were the occasion and there were time, from the challenge of the hon. Member for East Mayo. I am quite willing to meet him on that ground. But I do not think that anybody will seriously deny that there is no other test. It may be a bad one or an imperfect one, but "there is no conceivable test, and cannot be, of whether a thing is reasonable or not, except what is universally accepted. What does an axiom mean? It means a proposition which we cannot conceive anybody disagreeing with. If we get a person who does sincerely disagree with what we call axioms, what do we do? For the sake of convenience we put him into a lunatic asylum. We cannot prove these propositions. The more you get away from propositions of that sort down in the 310 scale from the axiomatic point you are dealing all the time with propositions which attract a greater or a lesser degree of consensus of belief and conviction. I cannot myself understand how you could ever arrive at any other test. Hon. Members know that. In other places and on other occasions one might be led into very interesting and very intricate discussions involving even perhaps the whole question of the inherent basis of morals and all sorts of things. But I am not in the least afraid that any hon. Member will seriously or successfully controvert the proposition, which I think is important in connection with the Amendment Which I move, that in a workaday world the only test of reasonableness is whether the proposition is or is not accepted with practical universality.
I want to bring that idea a step down in my argument, and I do not want to do any injustice to the mental attitude of the conscientious objector. My belief is that the attitude of the conscientious objector may be put in the form of a syllogism. I will imagine that in doing so he thinks something of this sort. He would say, first of all, "Murder is always morally wrong." Then he would say, "Killing in battle is a form of murder," and then he would arrive at the conclusion that "therefore killing in battle is morally wrong," and he would consider that there was what Kant called a categorical imperative binding upon his conscience, to abstain from anything which would so become morally wrong. The fallacy of that argument comes in at this point. While I believe that the consensus of conviction will be found accepting the major premise of that argument that murder is always morally wrong, the consensus of conviction, not with such complete unanimity, but at all events with a very near approach to unanimity, denies entirely the proposition that killing in battle is a form of murder and consequently the conclusion, if I am correctly imagining the course of reasoning in the mind of the conscientious objector, at which he arrived, is an unreasonable one; and to say that he is not at liberty to take part in any circumstances in killing in battle is an unreasonable frame of mind or conscience, because it rests upon an argument which is not accepted by the common reason of contemporary mankind, but is rejected. If that is so, and I think it is so, I think it shows that the conscience of what we call the conscientious objector, 311 however sincere it may be, is, for the reason which I have given, not a reasonable one.
But I can imagine some person saying, "even supposing that is so, even supposing for the sake of argument we allow that kind of reasoning, is it not open to the individual to dissent from the conclusion of the great mass of reasonable mankind. Is he not entitled, however unreasonable it may appear to be according to your definition, to have a line of thought of his own?" The answer to that is, I think, that the individual is of course entitled to hold any opinion he likes, any conviction he likes, and he is entitled also to act upon it, subject to one qualification. There are other exceptions, besides killing in battle, to the proposition that killing is murder. Our law, and I suppose our morals also, accept the idea, and the phrase is known to our law, of justifiable homicide. A man according to our law may take the life of a fellow man in defence of his own. A woman may take the life of a fellow man in defence of her chastity. If these conscientious objectors choose to say, "You cannot make us do what your law and your morals may allow to us, and we would rather suffer death or dishonour than take the life of man, and we are entitled to do so." But why? They are entitled to do so because their action in that case affects no one, injures no one but themselves. Substantially speaking they will be justified in abstaining from taking life under those circumstances, because it is their own concern. But in the case of the conscientious objectors, which we are considering, it is exactly the opposite. The action they take does not injure themselves; in so far as one can see the immediate effect of it is to benefit themselves. They benefit themselves, but they injure everybody else. They benefit themselves by escaping from the burden, or escaping from the obligation, and they injure other people, because the inhabitants are bearing their common burden, and anyone who stands away necessarily imposes a greater burden upon those who are left. They injure the whole community in which they live; they even endanger the State of which they form a part, or, if they do not endanger it, the only reason is because they are not numerous enough to be a serious danger. They are comparatively few.
I think the fact that they have been allowed the exemption which they have 312 enjoyed shows that while there has been very great tolerance, an amazing display of tolerance in this country, still it has been accompanied with a slight touch of contempt. If they had been numerous enough to make their action really a serious danger, in the national emergency which we have been going through, their conduct would have imposed a very difficult decision upon the Government and the majority of the State. The result of their action appears to be one of two things: Either the whole community, as expressed through the usual channels, is hopelessly in error over the rights and wrongs of this great struggle, or, on the other hand, the community is right and justified, and this notion of the conscientious objector, therefore, has been in essence anarchic and practically subversive of the State. If we are to accept the old maxim and the old tag, that the safety of the State is the supreme law, then if that is still a valid maxim for all of us, these men, sincere as they may be, and perhaps because they are sincere, have taken action which is the most dangerously criminal with which any State could be confronted in a time when its very existence is at stake. Another matter which must be considered, when moral value and conduct is at stake, is that their attitude, however conscientious, is selfishness and self-righteousness raised to the maximum degree. There may be combined with great piety and great beauty of character intense selfishness in a man's efforts to save his own soul, and he does not think how it will affect other people.
Let me ask the Committee for a moment to consider—that being, in my opinion, the aspect of their conduct and their conscience—what it means in the eyes of their fellow countrymen. We have at the present time a combination of the most democratic and ethical-minded peoples on the earth, all in complete agreement upon a matter which is a, moral purpose, in complete agreement that unless these peoples withstand Germany and fight Germany to defeat her, the only alternative to that is the loss of all the highest ideals of humanity and of civilisation. That has been expressed time after time by the most representative minds in all the nations of the West. Then against that universal conviction of all these combined peoples we have a small handful of men setting up a little circumscribed, ignorant, uninstructed, dogmatism of their own, many of these men being, so far as we can judge 313 from what we have heard in the House and what we read in the papers, almost half crazy, and, so far as I can remember, not one of them a man who has had any past record established to claim to be accepted as either a leader of thought or a guide of conduct in this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the hon. Member for Blackburn?"] Possibly the hon. Member for Blackburn does not think that he is a leader of thought and a guide of conduct, though he may have friends who think that. I am speaking of the general opinion of the country at large, and I am sure the hon. Member for Blackburn will not think that I am trying to be in any way offensive to him or to depreciate him in any way if I say that he is not yet recognised as either a leader of thought or a guide of conduct These men, in their own eyes apparently, think that their morality is on so lofty a plane, as so much more highly refined than the morality of their fellow men, that they would soil their souls by condescending to take any part in the stupendous efforts of self-sacrifice in which not only the rest of their own country, but the whole of the rest of Europe is engaged.
During this War these men have claimed a position of privilege. They have claimed to be treated as exceptional people, and that claim, as I said just now, by an extraordinary and memorable display of national forebearance, has been granted. The personal prejudice of these men, though perhaps I should not say personal prejudice, and I will call it the dictates of conscience, has enabled these men by the allowance of Parliament and the country to shelter themselves from the toil and the peril and the sacrifice which has been accepted by other people. These men continue, and this is a point which is, I think, material to the Amendment, and will continue until the War is over to enjoy in their own persons the liberties and the immunities that have been preserved to them by the efforts of other people. In other words, these men are content, and are being allowed and will be allowed till the War is over to enjoy the sweets of life out of the blood of their fellow-creatures. They are allowed and will be allowed to go on in this country battening upon the sorrows and sacrifices of the men of their country. Then the question comes: Are they to be allowed to exercise the franchise after the War is over? In other words, are they, when this peril is over and when the Army returns 314 and peace is restored, to enjoy all the rights and privileges of the State which they would not lift a hand to preserve? When the ship was in danger these men would not soil their hands by taking a turn at the pumps. Are these men to be allowed not only to have enjoyed immunity from the work we are engaged in, but also to be allowed to share both the honours and the promotions with the men who have brought the ship into port? To do so would an outrage upon all the enlightened conscience of the nation as a whole.
I hope that no one will make the reply to this case that after all these men are only taking advantage of a position which is allowed to them by law. I was talking on this subject to someone the other day, who made the suggestion to me that because these men were taking advantage of a position conceded to them by Parliament and, therefore, law, it would be either improper or unfair to deprive them of the franchise. But the privileged position of these men was given to them for a particular purpose on their own initiative and on their own insistence. It was a concession which no other nation, so far as I know, has given, at all events with the degree of liberality with which it has been given here. It was a concession given on their demand which they could not fairly claim, and I do not think the nation would have thought they would have had any grievance if it had been denied to them. It was by their own desire and on their own demand that while the War was going on they were treated as exceptional people. That gives them no title after the War is over to be treated as unexceptional people. On the contrary they have insisted on being exceptions during the War and let us insist on their being exceptions after the War. There is nothing unreasonable in that. We are not taking away any right which has been already conceded by Parliament. It is quite true that they have been allowed to exempt themselves from service and escape the obligation. But is there anything unreasonable in Parliament and the nation saying to those men, "As a matter of concession to your demand we have allowed you to stand out of the fighting and when the fighting is over we will see that you stand out of the voting"? Why should we not demand that one should be the corollary, as I think it is, of the other?
315 The Amendment which I am moving, and which I hope will receive much support in the House and Lobby, is one which I know is very largely and strongly supported outside the walls of Parliament. I have endeavoured to put my case without saying anything unnecesarily offensive to any Member in this House who either shares or represents the opinions of these men. I do not know whether I have altogether succeeded, as it is not always a very easy thing to do when you have strong opinions and feelings strongly opposed to those of others. I can only say if I have hurt the feelings of any hon. Member I had not intended to do so, and I apologise for it. But I do earnestly press upon the Committee that this is a principle which at this tremendous juncture of our national history is demanded, and I think rightly demanded, by all the best elements in our nation. I believe it would cause dangerous resentment in public opinion if it were found that Parliament did not fully represent the country in this respect. It would be very easy to draw a picture of the feelings of persons of various classes in this country who have borne the brunt of the conflict, and who have seen their nearest and dearest go and who have made that sacrifice willingly, and it would not be hard to picture the imagination and the feeling of those people when they see other people's sons and other people's brothers and other people's husbands who shelter themselves in, comparatively speaking, soft employment by the mere device of going before a tribunal and talking about their consciences in language which other people with just as sensitive consciences as they would shrink from putting forward as a reason for escaping from the duties that they owed to their country. I do not want to draw pictures of that sort, but I do earnestly request hon. Members not to look upon this Amendment as a piece of mere intolerance or prejudice. I have endeavoured to put it on a broader ground than that, and I believe that when a Division is called it will be found to have a very large measure of support in this House, representative of a far larger support in the country outside.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I follow my hon. Friend for once, because I should be very sorry indeed if this Debate partook in any degree whatever of u, partisan contro- 316 versy. As, therefore, in almost all political matters I am entirely in agreement with him, I wanted to be the first to oppose him on this occasion, so that whatever other disagreeable feature may intrude upon our discussion we may not mix up an issue which I believe is of very profound moral and religious significance with our ordinary partisan controversy. It would be impossible to exceed in moderation of tone the speech of my hon. Friend. There is nothing in it, so far as tone goes, to which any human being could take exception. I am sure that that speech represented a very strong and deep conviction, and that he was not acting in any degree whatever from any base motive of playing to a public outside, or from any of the other motives less creditable than those which ought to actuate, but which do sometimes actuate, members-of this House. Unfortunately, I think both from a lower and a higher point of view my hon. Friend's argument is defective. First of all, I think he very much underrated the force of the consideration; that what he is really proposing is to impose a retrospective penalty upon persons who have done nothing worse than, avail themselves of an exemption which Parliament themselves afforded them. Personally, I think Parliament did right; but whether Parliament did right or wrong, it is at any rate bound in honour by what it did. To go to people first of all and say, "If you allege a conscientious objection, and the tribunals we have appointed find you are sincere, you shall be exempted," and then to turn round on them after they have done what Parliament has offered and allowed them to do, and say "You have done this thing, you are the basest of mankind, and unfit for the franchise"—to do that without warning them beforehand would seem to me to transgress all the principles of legislation and national justice. My hon. Friend, in an extraordinarily interesting speech, tried to lay down—if I may say so, a very courageous enterprise—a basis on which the State ought to deal with questions of opinion, and he certainly laid down a basis which would have justified the persecution of the Christians in the first days of Christianity, and still more clearly of the Protestants of Holland. There were phrases in his speech which might have come without the alteration of a syllable from any distinguished prelate or judge in the reign of Richard II about Wycliffe and his followers. There is nothing, I 317 think, which he says about conscientious objectors which such a man would not have said with equal sincerity, ann even greater passion. Nothing is more foolish than to underrate the virtue of persecutors. They are very sincere people. They thought, and quite correctly, that the institution which was to them much more valuable than life itself was threatened by those they persecuted. They thought, and often quite correctly, that the persons they were persecuting were a small minority, ignorant and defiled by many faults and infirmities. The error they fell into is much more obvious than the one often imputed to arrogance. The error they fell into was in assuming that human beings have the right to impose opinions upon one another. I am following my hon. Friend on that ground, although I do not think it is necessary to traverse it for the purpose of this discussion. I am quite satisfied that the State can only act wisely in respect to opinions by not going into the reasonableness of any opinion whatever, but allowing liberty of opinion, because in the end it is in the interest of truth that liberty of opinion should be allowed. I am quite as certain as my hon. Friend that the conscientious objectors are wrong, but I am also quite certain that, shall we say, Presbyterians are wrong. It is a question of opinion.
§ Lord H. CECIL
As a matter of fact there are a great many, controversies turning on ecclesiastical questions which are to me, and I believe to the ultimate well-being of the nation, quite as important. I gather that my hon. Friend does not agree with me.
§ Lord H. CECIL
So quickly does intolerance grow on the human mind that my hon. Friend, who is intolerant towards conscientious objectors, is now intolerant towards me.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
So long as my Noble Friend's opinions affect only himself I have not the smallest objection, nor do I in the least care what they are; but once, not the opinions, the actions of conscientious objectors injure the State, then I think it is time to take notice of them.
§ Lord H. CECIL
It is exactly the same thing, but I am sorry to have got into controversy with my hon. Friend, for I was most anxious to avoid anything of that kind. I feel, however, that I should be doing wrong if I did not say that the-reason I care about this and regard it as important does not arise simply out of my respect for the religious convictions of other people, but out of my own religious convictions. It certainly seems tome to be part of the Christian religion to-say that if a person sincerely thinks a thing wrong, then to him it is wrong. That, seems to be to be very plainly taught in St. Paul's. Epistles, and to be quite an indispensable part of Christian belief. If that is so, though I deplore quite as much as my hon. Friend that conscientious, objectors should fall into the serious error they do, I think being in that error they would actually be doing a wicked thing if they fought in war. I want them not to fight in war, as I think it would be wickedness, because, holding their opinions, that they should fight in, war. I do not want that my world, which I honour as much as any man, should be stained by the wickedness of forcing people to do what it is wrongful for them to do, or punishing them for what is wrongful in that sense. That proposition is, I think, very little understood and appreciated. If people believe what their are doing is wrong, they are doing wrong. We recognise that about a great many people who are more conspicuously recognised than conscientious objectors. We hold it about Mahomedan subjects in India. Their religion is foolish, and, in. some respects, positively childish, but we-respect them for practising it, because-they have the right to do so. If a Mahomedan does things which are wrong it is for him to be wrong, 'because he believes them to be wrong. It would be shameful to force any conscientious objectors to do what they think would be-wrong, because it would be wrong for them. So I dissent from this Amendment because I think the conscientious objector, holding things he thinks right is only doing right, and that is what I wish to point out in their refusal to go to war. I quite agree that they hold mistaken opinions, but the whole of our life is saturated with respect for sacred things. The hon. Member says that the census of opinion of the world is against them. So it is against other things on which we differ. You cannot fall back on the proposition that 319 general consent justifies you. There would be no need of poor, petty persecutions if you could tolerate the opinions of people who have the right to follow their opinions. No more, indeed, is the impost of disability on people who are only doing what their sincere opinion requires of them, when the policy of the country is tolerating the opinion, and when it is part of our common religion that people should act in accordance with them.
But I go further. I think there is behind the movement a most dangerous and pernicious movement which I am not here to protest against, because I think it is what is covered by the Amendment. It lies behind it, and I do not deny there is a strong body of opinion behind it. I think a great many people have ceased to care about religion and care more profoundly about their country. They are already embarked upon the path down which Germany has gone. My hon. Friend said that the safety for the public is the supreme law. It is profoundly untrue. If the safety of the public is the supreme law, the sinking of the "Lusitania" was right, and the bombing of towns and the killing of children would be right. The safety of the public is not the supreme law. The Divine will is the supreme law, and it is because the conscientious objector is mistakingly and perversely holding to the idea that he is wrong. To the credit of the country it is required of us being conscientious men in favour of Christianity that we should respect that conviction and support them in what they do. I know many persons claiming to be conscientious objectors mix up with their objection a great many things which I detest heartily. Many are rebels, not merely conscientious objectors. There are some, it is not necessary to go back for a long time, but there is a batch of conscientious objectors about whom I hear people say, "What is the clear opinion of those who have looked upon them as plain simple people clinging to their religious convictions?" My hon. Friend would deprive them of their personal rights because they hold an opinion which is unsound, but he wishes to make the national founder of supreme creation increase the contempt of whatever appeals to the highest sense. I would rather on the contrary he recognised as a valuable part of national life those conscientious people, not indeed in the correctness of 320 their judgment, but the earnestness with which they carry it out, which is an example to all. It is quite true they are mistaken, but being mistaken they can voluntarily be reserved to the standard for use. I wish we could all say the same, I wish the country was attended with like particular devotion to the cause in which they believe. If it were so the whole international life would be invigorated, and it would unfold a people who would be less intolerant in discussing these schemes. The franchise is given to all and sundry, persons convicted of crime who have been imprisoned for rebellion even during the course of the War, a rebellion against the authority of the British Crown. If the people I have been speaking about are not fit for the franchise, one knows not what they are fit for. Let us not give to the world the impression that what we care about is only the condition of the State, when we have at the back of our minds the sense of something higher than the good of the State to which people may appeal. Better that we should look to where the embodiment of all righteous action is than to pass on the way where we have seen Germans go before. I feel very strongly that in the years that are coming there will be two great principles leading the world. There will be the people who think of the country and of the State and all the great appeal that it makes to them; and there will be the people who say, "There is something higher and more universal, and that is to be found in the religion we profess." I am quite certain that there is no one who is saturated with devotion to that ideal and conception who will have any doubt whatever as to what is their duty towards the conscientious objectors. The mere fact that they appeal to a religious standard at once ensures our sympathy, and I very earnestly hope, not for the sake alone of the conscientious objectors, but for the sake of the honour and credit of this House, for the sake of the country of which we are citizens—because I would rather die than see it abandoned—the faith which I hold so dear—that this Amendment will be rejected in the Division to be taken now and for ever. I earnestly hope that we will adhere to the old doctrine that, much as we love our country, we love something better, and that when an appeal is made to that our answer is clear, firm, and without hesitation.
§ Captain GWYNN
I do not know that in the ten years I have been in this House I have ever heard a speech which so much moved me as has the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University. Perhaps one may be allowed to say, as speaking from another country, that that is the kind of speech which makes one realise the inherent greatness of England. England is a country which has always kept before herself the cult of, freedom, and I do not think the spirit of freedom could be better spoken to than in the speech to which we have just listened. I agree with the Noble Lord in his opposition to this Amendment, but I do not know that I could give exactly the same reasons. Substantially, however, I think they are the same. I agree with him that these are people who are not a blight upon the community; they may very probably prove to be, in my opinion, the very salt of the community. I am speaking now as one who has seen war. I think that everybody who has seen war has one governing desire, and that is to see war abolished from the world. I am not at all sure that these people, whom we propose to reject as the outcasts of the State, may not be the best people to help in the fight to make an end of war. There is one thing that nobody can deny them—I am speaking now, as the Noble Lord spoke, of the real conscientious objector, let us put the other people aside—and that is courage, the most difficult form of courage in the world, the courage of the individual against the crowd. That is a courage which every State would do well to protect and guard. That is the courage which, above all other, makes for freedom. It is for that that I desire to see these men electors, and that I vote for giving them votes—just exactly as I would give votes to the soldiers—because they are the people who have shown not merely physical courage, but because they have made civic responsibility their plea. They have shown a spirit of initiative. These people, in refusing to act, must have taken action which must have been extremely difficult to take, and when we are told that the good of the nation is to be somehow impaired by allowing these men a voice in our national councils, I ask myself, What is "the good of the nation"? Are you going to advance the real interests of this country, or of any country, by stamping out such people from among your full citizens? Progress, as far as I can understand, comes not with the 322 crowd, but with individuals. Freedom in the last resort is won by individuals working against the crowd, and these are the people who make for freedom. It is in the interests of freedom during a war that is fought, at all events professedly, for freedom that I resist this attempt to limit what is the exercise of their legal freedom, and what is, I think with the Noble Lord, the exercise of higher morals.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to add the words "or who, having joined the Forces, has been sentenced by court-martial for refusal to obey orders, and who alleged conscientious objection to military service as a reason for such refusal."
I am very sorry to find myself differing from my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University and the hon. Member who has just spoken. My whole objection to my hon. Friend's Amendment is that it does not go far enough. I have no intention to deal with the ethics of the question and, as it is very late, probably the less I say on the subject the better. The Noble Lord based a very large part of his speech on the fact that the men with whom the Amendment deals were only taking advantage of their legal privileges. But what does the Noble Lord make of the 3,000 men who were not exempted by the tribunals, but were found not to be honest conscientious objectors, and who, having been taken into the Army, have refused, on the ground of conscientious objection, to do anything of any sort or kind, who have refused to put on their uniforms or attend drills, and have been sentenced by court-martial to various terms of imprisonment? They do not come within the particular exemption. I suppose I am the only Member of this House at the present moment who has seen a great many of these men. Those I am particularly speaking of now are the men my Amendment will deal with—I mean the men convicted by court-martial, whose cases were subsequently reviewed by the Central Tribunal, of which I am a member, many hundreds of whom it was my duty to see. I have no hesitation in saying—and I admit it quite frankly—that many of these men are quite honest and sincere. We had not very much time to go through the cases, for we had to deal with a very large number of them. The total number dealt with, according to the latest figures, was 2,865, which was a very large number for 323 a tribunal heavily, burdened and who, I venture to say, most carefully and conscientiously considered every appeal case summoned before them.
I am sure everyone will admit that the Central Tribunal did everything they could to see that the Act was fairly administered. The Wormwood Scrubs cases were in a different position, and the same amount of time could not possibly be given to these cases because they were so numerous, and the Government thought, instead of making these men serve their term of imprisonment, they should be given the alternative of doing national service of another kind altogether under tile civil control of the Home Office, where they would be useful, at all events, and not confined, as they had been for a certain number of months, in Wormwood Scrubs. I could not help feeling that many of these men were not in the least honest, and a very large number of them were political objectors, extreme Socialists, and many of them denied not only any obligation to military service, but any right on the part of the State to ask from them any kind of service whatever; and although they were determined to have all the privileges the State could confer, they would not do a hand's turn in the way of civil service, and between forty and fifty of them absolutely refused to do the work offered them, and when they got into the hands of the Home Office Committee they refused to work, and were then sent back to the Army. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. E. McNeil!) quoted certain cases. After all we have been told that the franchise is not a right, but a privilege, and I want to know why a man who refuses his duty to the State should have this privilege. I cannot see any logic in the argument at all. These men not only will not fight, but they will not do ordinary work simply because the State asks them to do it. There are some I should like to deal with less severely, but I do not see how it is possible to make any distinction, and I hope the Committee will accept the addition to the Amendment of my hon. Friend which I have moved.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The Amendment which has just been Moved by the hon. Baronet meets a difficulty which I think must occur to anyone who has studied the original Amendment, but to my mind it does not meet the real difficulty, and, 324 indeed, rather exposes the difficulty that is inherent in any proposal of this sort. If you take the original Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman behind me, and if you add to it what is now proposed, I find this is what is suggested: If you have a man, who, taking advantage of the provision Parliament has put in the Military Service Act, professes to have a conscientious objection, hypocritically pretends to that conscientious opinion for the false and mean reason that he does not desire to give his military duty, and if he is detected by the tribunal which judges his case as being a hypocrite, he is to have the vote. He has been sent to the front and is a soldier, and he therefore is to have the vote; indeed, he is to have that special kind of vote which in a previous Clause it was proposed to give to all those who serve at the front, and, according to some, he is to have the vote although he may only be nineteen years of age. That is the position of the man who hypocritically attempts to get this protection and is detected and told to do his duty like other citizens. Does anybody really and seriously propose that a man detected in the meanest possible attempt to exploit for his personal protection a section of an Act of Parliament designed for genuine people is to be put in that position, and yet those who have gone before the tribunal which is deputed by Parliament to judge of the genuineness of their case and have satisfied that tribunal are to be put in a worse position? I do not believe it can be the desire of the House of Commons that the convicted hypocrit should be dealt with in that way, and that the person who satisfies the test of the tribunal should be dealt with in quite a different fashion.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
The man who goes to the front does his duty and if he does his duty I will leave him alone. I am talking about the man who went there and would not do his duty.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The position is quite plain. The view which we may ultimately form as to the proper way to deal with the case is another matter, but I have correctly analysed it. I say that if a man comes forward and takes advantage so far as he can of the Act of Parliament and is detected as the swindler he is then he is to be given the soldiers vote.
§ Sir J. SIMON
That is a consideration which the Committee no doubt in due time will weigh, but for the moment I am not open to the correction which the hon. Baronet rose to give me. I am quite correctly analysing the situation, and I am pointing out that you are proposing in this Amendment to put the penalty upon the man who, claiming the right which the Act of Parliament gives him, shows that he is really entitled to that protection, while you are not imposing the disability on the man who claims to enjoy this privilege and is detected as fraudulent in attempting to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are there any?"] There are many people who come forward and claim to be conscientious objectors but who in the judgment of the tribunal do not make out their case. For my part, I think, if the Act of Parliament says that this very difficult question is to be determined by a tribunal, it must be determined by that tribunal.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
Will you put down an Amendment to meet the case of the particular men to whom you refer?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am pointing out, and I think the Committee will see that it is quite a reasonable thing to do, that, as a matter of fact, if you desire to visit this penalty on persons who claim the privilege of this Section, you are not addressing yourself to the really unworthy person. I want hon. Members to consider that, because, just as I desire to see what is fair done about this, so I know that they also desire it should be done. I have a second consideration which I wish to put forward, which is really fundamental here. Let us make no mistake about it. This may be in certain quarters a very popular proposal, but we here in the House of Commons have to think of something else besides that. We have to think whether or not this proposal is one which really advances the principles by which this country desires to be governed, or whether, on the contrary, it is really a backward step. Let me remind the Committee how the matter has hitherto stood. There are people in this country called Quakers. I believe it is common for some who do not sympathise in the least with the opinions of Quakers as such to profess, no doubt most sincerely, great respect for their opinions. Under the Militia Ballot Act Quakers have always been entitled to an exemption from service. They have always had it. They 326 have had it, indeed, on very much easier terms than the terms of the Military Service Act, because all they had to do was to make a declaration before a magistrate and they got it. Nobody hitherto in our institutions has suggested, since first the Quakers got political and public rights, that they should be deprived of their rights because they took advantage of that. [An HON. MEMBER: "They were not fighting the Germans then!"] The people they were fighting at the time of the Militia Ballot Act were not indeed Germans, but they were very deadly enemies. The need of this country, in the view of our forefathers, was extreme at the time in question. I do most earnestly ask the Committee to put aside impulse for the moment and consider what we are really doing. Are we really contributing towards the advance of our institutions if we say, "We care not what was the protection offered in the times of our forefathers, to Quakers; we propose to reverse that in this Bill"?
§ Mr. McNEILL
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman leading us wrong? He is now speaking of the exemption from, military service that was given to the Quakers. We are discussing the question of the franchise. They are two very different things.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I may not have made my words plain to the hon. Gentleman, but I think he will see that what I am saying is historically accurate. I am pointing out that there has been historically for a great many years in this country a privilege conferred upon Quakers not to be taken under the Militia Ballot.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am pointing out that since that provision was introduced we have had, time and again, Franchise Bills introduced in this House and that more than once we have been involved in very serious wars, including the Napoleonic Wars, but nobody hitherto has thought that our institutions should be so framed that persons who took advantage, on conscientious grounds, of that exemption, should be deprived of the vote. The hon. Gentleman may not think that argument important, but as it stands that argument is perfectly right. It was pointed out by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). Any attempt to repeat his argument is bound to prejudice it in repeating it. I think 327 it will be the common opinion of everybody who heard that argument that it could not have been put with greater persuasiveness. I feel bound to put this consideration. We shall make a very grave mistake, even in this time of trial, if we reverse the good principle that people are to have their votes, if they are qualified, without reference to their opinions. [Interruption.] It is very easy to laugh, but it is a very serious matter. No one is more conscious than I am that persons who take this point of view are open to reproach, but one has to put the view as well as one can. Once you lay it down that some people are to be deprived of their votes because of the opinions they express and act upon you are taking a backward step in our institutions, the seriousness of which can hardly be measured. It is quite plainly a principle which is not of general application and acceptance. If you were to deprive them of their votes because the opinions which they hold are, as it seems to me, unreasonable and illogical opinions, there are a good many Members of the House who would have no votes at all. We should be disfranchising our own. The only principle upon which a State that is really pursuing a course of liberty can safely go is that you are not going to make the right to exercise the vote depend upon the holding or the expression of any opinion whatever. There is no other method by which you can really secure liberty of opinion. I perfectly recognise the force of argument that here you have people who for good reasons or for bad—I have the very fervent opinion of their logic; if their logic was good it would carry them very much farther—refuse to lend a hand in carrying out the overwhelming and impervious will of the majority and a will, as I believe, based on on perfectly good and overwhelming arguments; but, all the same, let us remember that that is not a good ground on which, apart from the Military Service Act, you could refuse the vote. I think you could not refuse the vote even if a man announced his determination to fight even against the will of the majority. I think it would be a most gross abuse of the powers of Parliament if, because Parliament held such opinions so strongly and fervently that they are prepared to take up arms against the will of their own people on grounds of conscience, we attempted to 328 impose the slightest penalty upon them. I most sincerely urge, not taking the short view, but taking what I think the long view of what is the real interest and the real destiny of our country, that, deeply though many of us resent the utter want of logic on the part of the conscientious objector—I have never said a single word in his favour, and I do not in the least sympathise with his point of view—we should not allow that very natural feeling which finds expression outside and inside the House to lead us to do a grave and serious wrong to the essential tradition of liberty in the country in which we live. It would be a very evil day for the history of freedom of opinion in this country if we ever penalised any opinion, however absurd, in the matter of voting. It would be a double disadvantage when you are dealing with a case of this sort, as the hon. Baronet's figures show, perfectly trumpery in point of numbers, a case in which Parliament explicitly assured these people that they had a right to appeal and get a certain concession given them. To say to these people, "You are entirely illogical. You are in many respects utterly wrong; none the less we do far more injury to our own institutions by imposing this penalty upon you than any advantage we could confer upon those institutions by concurring in this temporary and very natural hostile opinion against you."
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
The Committee has listened to the right hon. Gentleman with that patience and courtesy which has characterised the attention which has been given to every speech on each side. I think upon this most controversial subject the Committee is to be congratulated upon the fact that it has been discussed without heat, and that each hon. Member who has contributed to the Debate has endeavoured to bring forward his point of view without any undue heat. I profoundly differ from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon). I think I approach this subject from a different point of view than many members. It is within the knowledge of hon. Members that I have from time to time defended the conscientious objector. I have in this House, and in other places, defended these men because, and only because, Parliament has given to them exemption under the Military Service Acts, and because I believe that when Parliament has extended to them that exemption, certain military 329 authorities and numerous tribunals have endeavoured to take the law into their own hands and have endeavoured to override the expressed wishes of Parliament by ignoring the legitimate claims which have been put forward by these men. I call them legitimate claims not because I agree with them, but because they are claims which they have made under a Statute passed by Parliament. Though I have profoundly disagreed with these men I believe that the vast majority of those who called themselves conscientious objectors and have appealed to the tribunals are perfectly sincere and honest, and I think that in the vast majority of cases where the tribunals have decided upon their cases those tribunals have been wrong; that they have been influenced by prejudice, and that they have not been properly and judicially administering the Act of Parliament. If I am right in that, and I profoundly believe I am right, there is a most dangerous and most unwarranted interference with the rights of the citizen as approved by this House. It is one thing to sympathise with these men under those circumstances, but it is a different thing to say to the men who have appealed to the tribunals over and over again on the ground of their conscientious objections and their refusal to take up arms or even to assist their country in its dire peril, "You shall have the full rights of citizenship and you shall have the same rights as your brother, it may be, who has risked his life on the battlefields of France or Flanders." The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the person who has hypocritically appealed to the tribunals. What does it matter? Whether he has appealed honestly or hypocritically he ought not to have the vote. I care not whether he is a honest or a dishonest conscientious objector. You can search the records of every tribunal—they are obtainable at the call of the President of the Local Government Board whenever he asked for them— and whenever you find in black and white the claim of any person that he is a conscientious objector—whether the tribunal agrees or whether it does not—if that claim is supported by that person's own evidence that he holds such views in his conscience as prohibit him from taking up arms on behalf of his country, I say that man, though I respect him, is self-convicted and ought not to have the responsibilities of citizenship at this time.
I do not want to search these registers, or trace the man, either into the Army 330 or the prison. I am satisfied to have his own appeal in writing, supported by his own evidence, in which he says to the tribunal, to his fellow-citizens, "I have no responsibilities of citizenship." The majority of them say that one country is to them the same as another country, and when they are asked, as so many of them are properly asked by members of the tribunals, what they would do if the German's landed, they almost invariably answer that they would not care so long as the War is ended, that one country to them is as good as another, and that they would serve under the Germans in this country as happily as they would under the British flag. I respect these men for their honesty and sincerity and courage, but if you once believe that that is their attitude how can you say that such men should have the same responsibility of citizenship and the same rights as the man who has gone through the whole of this bloody War and shouldered arms over and over again? I trust sincerely that the Committee will adopt this Amendment. I believe that the Amendment of my hon. Friend to the Amendment is a very proper extension to make, and I do not think that the Amendment goes far enough, because I think not only does it exclude from the franchise those who are dealt with by the hon. Member for St. Augustines (Mr. McNeill), but it also excludes every conscientious objector who has not, in fact, taken up arms for his country. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon) has raised what, if it had come from anybody else, I should have called a pettifogging point. Surely with his great ability he sees the difference between the man who has claimed and has purged his claim by fighting for his country, and the man who has not? Does he see no difference between the man who has advanced this claim and has not succeeded before the tribunal, and has gone to prison, or into the service of labour, and the man who has purged himself on the battlefield? I would refuse the vote to every person, whether he has honestly or hypocritically claimed to be excluded as a conscientious objector from the responsibilities of citizenship, and I would give the vote to any such who have purged that claim by fighting for their country in her hour of peril.
I hope that the House will not be too much moved by the very moving appeal 331 of my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University. For once in my life I cannot follow his arguments. I always admire them and frequently I understand them, but to-night he is beyond me. We have never questioned the sincerity of the opinions of these men. But that is not the question. It is simply the question of deciding in this House that the man who has refused to fight for his country, for whatsoever reason, is a man who, for the rest of his life, shall have that freedom of opinion which this House gave him when it excluded him from liability to military service, but that he shall not have the ordinary responsibilities of voting. My Noble Friend gave the instance of the enfranchised Mahomedan continuing to vote, but if the Mahomedan has refused to fight for the country—
§ Mr. SMITH
That is a sort of observation that has grown a little old, and let me say that the hon. Member who interrupts does not advance this Debate nor his own opinion by remarks of that kind. I shall answer to my own conscience. I beg the House to look at this question in the only possible way in which I believe it can be approached. It is not desired to interfere with the opinions of anybody, but I think it is essential that the House should decide whether any person who in effect says that his country is not worth anything to him, and that he is equally satisfied to live under the flag of any other country, is to be allowed to vote —a monstrous claim to make. At the same time, I wish to repeat that I have never questioned, and cannot question, the sincerity of the men who hold these views. I believe the vast majority of them are perfectly sincere. I earnestly support both the Amendment and the Amendment to the Amendment, and I hope the House will not give to these men those rights of citizenship which they have enjoyed up to now.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think that all my feelings and all my prejudices would be in favour of an Amendment of this kind, and I differ profoundly from some of the reasons given against it by my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. I know something of the 332 conscientious objector, and I have seen more of him, perhaps, than many Members of this House. As regards the objector on religious grounds, I state frankly that though I say nothing against him, I do not understand him. I do not understand how a man, when his country and his people are subjected to murderous attacks, thinks that it is his duty to stand by and Set the attacks proceed rather than defend the lives and liberties of himself and his family and his country. I do not understand him, and I think I shall never understand him. As regards the objector on other grounds, sometimes referred to as moral grounds, sometimes I think more correctly as political grounds, I say frankly that I have the greatest possible antipathy for him; I differ from him in every possible way, and I cannot see how anybody in this House, so long as society subsists and must be held together, can defend his view. I differ from and, indeed, resent the attempt to compare the conduct of such a man with the conduct of a man who, rightly or wrongly, is willing to give his life in resistance to a law which he does not feel to be just. I have stated frankly and fully the view which I take of the conduct of these men—and, indeed, there are other reasons why my prejulices are all in favour of this Amendment. I think the line which the Government took yesterday showed that they recognise there is some force in the plea that the man who is fit to fight is fit to vote, and perhaps that does involve the view that the man who is not willing to fight is not fit to vote. We recognise the feeling inside and outside this House in favour of this Amendment, but those considerations, strongly as they move me, should not by themselves, perhaps not at all, guide our decision in this matter. It is, I think, the duty of the Government so far as they can to advise the House as to what in their view is the right decision to take on this amendment. The first consideration, it appears to me, is this, to remember exactly where we stand. We are endeavouring to pass through the House a great Bill which is founded upon agreement, and which could not be passed through this House except by the substantial agreement of all parties. Would it be right to introduce into the Bill that which, as this Debate has already shown, and as we 333 know from other sources, must be an extremely contentious provision? Can we, as trustees for the Bill, if I may use the expression, imperil the prospects of this Bill by introducing into it a provision of this kind? It is, of course, a proposal of great importance, but after all, it affects in its original form only some few hundreds of votes, and in its amended form some few thousands. Speaking from the practical point of view, it has but small importance compared with the very wide issues which are involved by the passage of this Bill. I feel myself that the Government would be going beyond the commission entrusted to them and to the House, whatever were the personal feelings of their Members, if they took the risk of imperilling the whole prospects of this Bill, by accepting a provision of this kind. We have had proposed to us the other course of leaving this matter to the House. I never think that the most courageous course to take, and after all what one does and has to consider is this. Supposing we took that course and supposing the House. as it might, adopted the Amendment—[An HON. MEMBER: "It would!"]—what would be the effect of that Amendment on the Bill which we are trying to pass through the House and on the great reform which we are proposing to the House and to the country.
I think, therefore, though the decision has been to us a subject of some consideration, that we ought to express our opinion to the House on the Amendment. My first reason is then, as I said, that I doubt whether this Bill is the place where an Amendment of this kind ought to find its place. This is an enfranchising Bill, and the proposal is to disfranchise persons who have taken a certain line. I doubt whether we have the right to ask the House to accept this Amendment; but apart from these considerations, I think we ought to take a rather wider line. Can we properly pass this Amendment? I know, as we all know, that at bottom our countrymen are just people, and desire to do justice. Let us consider the position. A very short time ago—within the last two years, certainly—Parliament passed an Act which allows a man to claim exemption from military service on the ground of conscientious objection to military service. If it had been desired to impose a penalty upon him in consequence of that claim that was the time, that Bill was the place, where such a provision ought to 334 have been inserted. For myself, I was never in agreement with that proposal. If any claim to conscientious objection was to be admitted my view has always been that it should be confined to men who had shown by their previous position and adherence to a religious community that they had a religious objection to service. That is, and always has been, my view of the case, but that was not the view taken by Parliament in passing the Bill. I think Parliament might well have said, "If you make this claim to exemption you shall also lose your right to vote."
§ Mr. McNEILL
Does my right hon. Friend seriously suggest that a Clause of that sort disfranchising the conscientious objectors could in any circumstances have been combined with the Military Service Act?
§ Sir G. CAVE
Indeed, I do; but at all events what seems to me to be justice is this: If you were going to impose this disability in consequence of that claim, you should have said so, and said so in the Statute at the time. It seems to me doubtful justice first to permit the claim to be made to exemption, to permit the Statute to be made, and then when the man has made use of the right you have given to him to claim exemption, to say to him, "Now we are going to impose a penalty upon you for exercising your statutory right." I think, when one thinks it over, that does not appear to be an action which would appeal to the sense of justice of my hon. Friend or other Members of the House.
Let us take another consideration. Some of these men are Quakers or Christadelphians, and others have a religious objection to performing what would seem to be their duty to the country. Many of these men while refusing combatant service have done very valuable non-combatant service to this country. They have done service not only to the civil community, but to the Army. Some of them have risked their lives; some have undergone very grave danger indeed; some have lost their lives—
§ Sir G. CAVE
I had in my mind Quakers. I am speaking of men who have been exempted from military service. Some of them have risked their lives in this War; some of them, who have been treated as conscientious objectors 335 either by tribunals or by the Central Tribunal to which reference has been made, have in time come to see that they were wrong and have volunteered for service in the Army.
I know several such cases. This Amendment would deprive them of the vote because they had come within its terms. There was a case the other day at Dartmoor. There was some slight mutiny there, and the man who was the leader of it immediately afterwards saw that he was wrong, joined the Service, and is now in the Army. Another man who was a conscientious objector was killed the other day in the Service. I only mention these to show that there are brave conscientious objectors. There are many I feel only antipathy and contempt for, but for others I do not. There are those whose conduct has shown that they have the feelings of Englishmen, and have done their duty in other ways than by fighting. I think if you put them all in the one mould you may, while doing justice to some, do the greatest injustice to others.
I do not think that the House would like to feel in future years that religious men who mistakenly, most mistakenly I think, took this line seriously and conscientiously, were for that reason deprived of the franchise. Some of these were sent to prison for refusing to perform their military duties. They have been condemned and have paid the penalty for their offence. They have been convicted and sent to prison, and it is a matter of doubt whether, the penalty imposed by law having been suffered, after the offence has been committed and the sentence pronounced, we should add another penalty to that which the law imposed. I cannot help feeling some doubt whether that would be a fair line to take.
I do not think we ought to indulge our prejudices in this matter. There are people who cry out about the conscientious objector, but among those I should like to disfranchise are some older men who, although Englishmen in name, have done their best against the interests of this country, who have joined with others in giving help to our bitter enemies. By this Amendment these men suffer. Are those men to escape? There are many pacifists that I should like to exclude, not only from the vote, but from this House, and so 336 put an end to their power for mischief. Indeed, if I went into the whole category of the people I should like to deprive of the vote this Amendment would assume very large proportions. I look upon the vote not as a matter of favour, but as a matter of right. While I recognise the strong arguments in favour of this Amendment I do not think that the House would quite do itself justice if it adopted the proposal put forward. So far as I have the power, so far as the Government has the power, to influence the vote of the House we think that the House will be best consulting its own dignity and the interests of justice by declining to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I was very glad to hear the Home Secretary express the opinion he did in regard to this Amendment. I feel that the House, in regard to this matter, is very largely upon its trial, and on the question of the franchise altogether. I have listened throughout to this Debate. My own opinion in regard to the conscientious objectors has never been concealed. I have no sympathy with them. I do not believe in them. In my judgment I do not think the conscientious objector is on the right side. But I believe the Government, on this occasion, has taken the right view. Having taken that view, I hope my hon. Friend opposite will withdraw his Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] Yes, I hope he will. It is within his province to do so. [An HON. MEMBER: "YOU ask him?"] I am going to do so. For this reason: I believe it will be very much to his credit and to the dignity and honour of the House of Commons if the Amendment is withdrawn, and no vote is taken, and we are absolutely unanimous. It is the option of hon. Members to have their own opinion, and to be conscientious objectors against the Government. But if the test as to whether a Member has to have the vote or not is whether he has or has not actually fought for his country, then there are not many Members here at present who are entitled to a vote.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Then the question of age is to settle the vote and not the question of whether or not a man cannot fight? The House will occupy a most undignified position if it is going to disfranchise younger men of military age because they 337 have declined to fight and not disfranchise those men who are over military age who have not volunteered for service. I am reminded, of course, that Major Redmond, who has died for his own country as well as this, was over military age. But is it really that military service is the only way in which one does assist his country in a great war? And is it not true, as the right hon. Member for Walthamstow said, that these conscientious objectors, after all, are exceedingly illogical? They do not, and they cannot, so long as they are members of a civilised country, get out of assisting their country to some degree, at any rate. There is only one direction in which they have refused to assist their country, and that is as regards military service. Is military service to be the only ground on which men are to be entitled to a vote? I think this House will not, and does not, take that point of view, and in consideration of that fact alone, I think this Amendment ought to fall to the ground. The Quaker, in taking objection to military service, took the logical view, in the old days, that he would not appeal for the protection of the law in the Courts of the land. If he was deprived of appealing to the Courts for protection, that is one thing, but to prevent him from having a vote is another, and I venture to appeal to the House of Commons—this old institution which has been the Mother of Parliaments and the protector of freedom—to reject this Amendment. I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] —so that we may be absolutely unanimous.
§ Colonel YATE
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary told us a minute or two ago that he considered a vote to be not a matter of favour but a matter of right. I must say in this I entirely disagree with him. I consider that a vote is a privilege, and it is the greatest privilege a State can confer on its citizens. If the State confers that privilege there is a corresponding obligation on the part of the citizen to do his duty by the State, and it is because the conscientious objectors are not doing their duty by the State that this Amendment has been moved, and I hope it will be taken to a Division and carried. We have heard various accounts of Quakers, who a hundred years ago were a well-known body and had a distinctive dress and speech. But to-day they have no such distinctive marks, and we must remember that no Quaker nation could to- 338 day exist by itself, but only in the midst of some more virile people who agree to defend them and their property which they will not defend themselves. You invite Quakers to come and live among you and say to them, "We will protect you," but that does not give to them the corresponding privilege given to the citizens of the protecting State. For these reasons I think it is necessary that this Amendment should be pressed to a Division, and I hope it will be carried.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Unlike other hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate, I believe that most of the conscientious objectors are honest people, and I feel the greatest sympathy for them. I think I am prouder of my country than I was before, because it has produced people who have sufficient conscientious scruples to enable them to face a long term of imprisonment rather than upset their consciences. It is something to be proud of even to produce martyrs of this sort as well as martyrs on the battle field. In the time of Queen Mary I am not aware that the Catholics deprived the Protestants of votes, nor in the time of Queen Elizabeth did the Protestants deprive the Catholics of votes. [An HON. MEMBER: "They took their lives!"] I know they took their lives, and it is a method which is not wholly unknown at the present time. Observe that these two original religious factions believed that the other faction, was driving the nation to hell and the devil, and when we are told that the conscientious objector is handing us over to the German Emperor perhaps the motives for depriving them of votes in the 16th century were as good as the motives of hon. Members of the Conservative interest who are now trying to deprive these men of their votes. All those with any respect for the continuance of the traditions of British history will vote this Amendment down with abhorrence. It is contrary to the traditions and principles which have made us a great nation, and I for one shall join in the appeal made by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) to the hon. Member opposite, not to put us to the disgrace of showing anybody in the Division Lobby in favour of disfranchising people for their opinions. But there is something besides the mere justice or injustice of disfranchising people for their opinions, and it is that representative government is on its trial at the present time. Suppose you do deprive 339 these people of their votes, do you thereby deprive them of their interest in politics or even of their effective action in politics? Most of these conscientious objectors are Socialists and anarchists, and even if you do deprive them of their votes do you think that you deprive them of their influence upon the affairs of this country? Everyone knows that at the present time at the back of our minds there is a fear, not of the votes at an election, but of the direct action and two rival forms of government, and if you perpetrate this injustice of depriving these few Socialists and anarchists of their votes and drive them into direct action you make them a much more dangerous element than any incidental vote would ever make them. I ask hon. Members to remember that at the present time this country is not in an extremely peaceful and settled state. Affairs are boiling underneath, and you do not want to give up Parliamentary institutions such as we are enjoying at the present time, based upon an equal franchise and the belief in justice, for the direct action not of the majority, but of a minority armed by force with a sense of rankling injustice, which is far more dangerous than the result of a casual election.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I wish to ask the Home Secretary a question. He knows that I am supporting the Bill. If this Amendment is put to the vote and carried, are we to understand that the Government drop the Bill and regard us as having wrecked it? If his answer is "Yes," I shall vote with him. If it is "No," I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ Major HUNT
I agree with the Home Secretary when he says that he would like to give some punishment to the pacifists in this House and out of it, as well as to the conscientious objectors. Personally, I should send them all to Germany and let the German Emperor deal with them. Then they would know something about it. An hon. Gentleman behind me said that the conscientious objectors had already been punished once by having been sent to prison. No doubt that is true and they deserved it, but in all probability they had a very much better time in prison than the men in the trenches, so that after all they deserve a little more punishment. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) appealed to the Divine Law. We are told to 340 "Render unto Caesar the things that are Cæsar's," and I think that would apply to a man in defending his country. The man who gets all the advantages of a country ought to give his services to that country. I do not think, therefore, that there is very much in the Noble Lord's theory of Divine Law. People who refuse to risk their lives, and who have done nothing in order to preserve the lives and liberties of their wives and children and the liberty of the land which gave them birth are not justified in claiming the advantages gained for them by the sacrifices of their fellow countrymen. That surely is ordinary common sense. These people have no right to claim any share in governing the country which they refuse to defend. They ought to go to a country where the Government believes in the theory that force has no remedy, where outsiders, black, yellow, or any other colour, can come in from anywhere and outrage women and murder children without protest. These men, unless the Amendment is passed, will have been able to have stayed at home during the War, and to have acquired the qualification for a vote whilst hundreds of thousands of men who have faced all the hardships and dangers of the War will not have the vote at all. If anybody says, as an hon. and gallant Gentleman did say to me yesterday, that under Clause 5 soldiers and sailors are given votes because they are soldiers and sailors, then the Home Secretary made it quite clear yesterday that the conscientious objectors will get votes under this Bill, and that an enormous number of soldiers and sailors will not.
§ Major HUNT
Let me read from the OFFICIAL REPORT what the right hon. Gentleman said:The franchise is not given tin any sense as a reward for public service.… Our object is that no one who is otherwise entitled to vote shall lose his vote, or the opportunity of exercising it merely because he is in the service of the Crown in one capacity or another— that is, that a soldier merely because he is a soldier, and is abroad or is away from home, shall not for that reason lose his vote. That is the whole meaning of the Clause and the object which we have in view."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June. 1917, col. 64.]After that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to tell me that he means that by this Bill soldiers and sailors shall get votes only because they are soldiers and sailors and have served in the War. In any case does the Government think that when the soldiers and sailors come home after this 341 War they are going to stand by and do nothing when they see men who refused to fight for their country going gaily to the polling booth to take their share in governing the country they refused to defend, while they themselves, many of them wounded and maimed in serving their country, are allowed no part in deciding its destiny? That is what is going to be put to you when yon go to the country unless you pass this Amendment, to prevent people from having a vote to decide. the destiny of the country, who have refused to defend that country in the time of its direst peril. I sincerely hope that for a good many reasons this Amendment will be carried.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I believe the Committee will allow a minute or two to one who has passed his life among Hindus and Mahomedans to repudiate the reference made by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) to those who form the greatest number of the Empire. For the Noble Lord to compare the conscientious, objectors, a handful of cranks who have little sympathy in and none without the House, with the Hindus, to the number of some 300,000,000, and to the Mahomedans to j the number of some 70,000,000, and speak j of their religions as childish and absurd, I seems to me a piece of arrogance which calls for some repudiation from one who has lived amongst those classes. I should have been not only wanting in moral courage, but a mean fellow if I had not got up to resent what he has said on the subject.
§ It is not thus that the Hindus and the Mahomedans speak of the Christians. I protest against the description which the Noble Lord applied, which will be repeated in the newspapers in our Eastern Possessions and will not be regarded as a good return for the loyal and honourable manner in which they have supported the country in the crisis of its fate. I deeply regret that I have not time to indulge in theology like the Noble Lord. He spoke of the Divine will. I do not know who is the interpreter of the Divine will. Heaven forbid that I should presume to interpret it, but I remember that in the Old Testament it is said, "Who is the Lord God? It is the God of battles"; and there is a famous text in the New Testament which says, "I come not to bring peace but a sword."
§ Sir J. D. REES
I was unwilling to let this pass, and with the remark that I whole-heartedly support this Amendment I have done my duty.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not know if it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I accept the Amendment to my Amendment so that it may all be put in one.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.
§ Question put, "That those words, as amended, be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 71; Noes, 141.343
|Division No. 62.]||AYES.||[11.45 p.m.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J. (K'ton)||Rawson, Colonel Richard H.|
|Barnett, Captain R. W.||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.)||Hendry, Denis S.||Rutherford, Sir J. (Lance., Darwen)|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T.||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Hickman, Colonel Thomas E.||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Bird, Alfred||Hope, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Midlothian)||Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur|
|Blair, Reginald||Home, Edgar||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue||Hunt, Major Rowland||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Boyton, James||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Brookes, Warwick||Johnston, Sir Christopher||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald)|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Kerry, Earl of||Sykes, Col. Sir A. J. (Ches., Kn'ford)|
|Bryce, John Annan||Kinloch-Cooke, sir Clement||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Butcher, John George||Knight, Captain Eric Ayshford||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Carnegie, Lieut.-Colonel D. G.||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Tickler, T. G.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Meux, Hon. Sir Hedworth||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Meysey-Thompson, Colonel E. C.||Weigall, Lt.-Col. Wm. E. G. A.|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Newman, John R. P.||Wilson, Captain Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Newton, Major Harry Kottingham||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Denison-Pender, J. C.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Dixon, Charles Harvey||Orde-Powlett, Hon. w. G. A.||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Fell, Arthur||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Perkins, Walter Frank||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Peto, Basil Edward||R. McNeill and Sir George Younger.|
|Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Philipps, Captain Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Hackett, John||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Adamson, William||Hall, D. B (Isle of Wight)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Pratt, J. W.|
|Anderson, W. C.||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Haslam, Lewis||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Hewart, Sir Gordon||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arton)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Higham, John Sharp||Rendall, Atheistan|
|Barton, Sir William||Hill, Sir James||Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham)|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Hinds, John||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H.||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Holt, Richard Durning||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Bliss, Joseph||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Robinson, Sidney|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Rowlands, James|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Bull, Sir William James||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Royds, Edmund|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Cator, John||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Jowett, Frederick William||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Joyce, Michael||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Clough, William||Kenyon, Barnet||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||King, Joseph||Snowden, Philip|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Sir A. H. (Asht'n-u-Lyne)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Larmor, Sir J.||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Sutton, John E.|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Tootill, Robert|
|Devlin, Joseph||M'Cullum, Sir John M.||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||Macdonald, J Ramsay (Leicester)||Walsh, J. (Cork, South)|
|Dillon, John||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Donald||Wardle, George J.|
|Doris, William||Maden, Sir John Henry||Watt, Henry A.|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Wedgwood, Lt.-Commander Josiah|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Marshall, Arthur Harold||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Morrell, Philip||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N. W.)|
|Gelder, Sir William Alfred||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Williams, Penny (Middlesbrough)|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Nolan, Joseph||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worse., N.)|
|Gilbert, J. D.||Nuttall, Harry||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Goldsmith, Frank||O'Neill, Capt. Hon. H. (Antrim, Mid)||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Greig, Colonel J. W.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Parker, James (Halifax)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Captain|
|Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Parrott, Sir James Edward||F. Guest and Mr. J. Hope.|
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Sir G. Cave]—put, and agreed to.
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words "A person qualified to vote under Section 5 of this Act shall not be entitled to vote if he has been convicted by court-martial on active service of an offence under Sections 4, 7, 12, 16 or 18 of the Army Act."
The Sections of the Army Act which are specified in this Amendment may not be familiar to all members of the Committee, and I should like to draw attention to their provisions. Section 4 of the Army Act creates a series of offences against military law, which are of a very serious character. They may be summarised as follows: Shamefully giving up a garrison to the enemy, or shamefully giving up a garrison post or guard, or inducing any other persons to abandon or deliver up a garrison, and so forth; shamefully casting away arms, treacherously holding correspondence with or giving intelligence to the enemy, or assisting the enemy, 344 or voluntarily serving with the enemy, and so on; misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice—these are military offences under Section 4 of the Army Act. Then we come to Section 7 of the Act, which makes mutiny a very serious military offence. I have selected Sections 4, 7 and 12, the latter dealing with desertion as an extremely serious military offence. I also mention Section 16, which makes scandalous conduct unbecoming the character of an officer an offence, and Section 18, Sub-section (2), which deals with a man who maliciously maims himself with the object of avoiding service. I do not suggest that the exact words which I have proposed are the words which I ask the Committee to accept, but I do say that I am raising in this Amendment a substantial point, in view of the fact that Clause 5 has been very rightly passed. At the present moment a man who has been con- 345 victed of felony is disqualified for the vote so long as he remains in prison, or until he has been pardoned. No doubt the Committee will consider that a perfectly right disqualification; but it may be asked, Why do you suggest that men who, in the Army, have committed certain military offences should be disqualified for the vote any more now than in times past? It may be said that we have always been subject to wars, that we have conducted various wars, and that in those wars the offences of mutiny, desertion, cowardice, and so on, have been committed, and would anyone suggest that a man should lose his vote on that account. My point, of course, is obvious, and it is that this Bill adopts a principle of the franchise which has not been adopted in any legislation which this House has passed before, and under Clause 5 we are at any rate giving to the soldiers, not to put it higher, facilities for exercising the vote which they could never possess except by the passage of this Bill. In view of what the Home Secretary said yesterday, we are going to create a special franchise for soldiers who are not twenty-one years of age, and it is only reasonable that those who prove to be thoroughly bad soldiers should be disqualified from exercising the vote. Clause 18 has a very distinct bearing on this Amendment. That is the Clause which deals with absent voters. Unless there is a disqualification in the way I suggest you may get a really extraordinary state of affairs. It may happen that a man is undergoing a term of penal servitude or imprisonment with hard labour for a military offence and yet by virtue of the fact that he is a soldier and votes as an absent voter he may be able to exercise the franchise while actually in prison. That creates a position which I am sure was not contemplated or desired by those who framed this Clause. It may be said that the man who is undergoing penal servitude for a military offence will not get the military vote because at that moment he is not on full pay. I do not know whether that is so or not, and I would ask the Home Secretary to say, as I think the position ought to be made clear in this respect. If the man who is undergoing imprisonment for a military offence is not on full pay and thereby does not come within the provisions of Clause 5, where are you to draw the line? Is the soldier who is undergoing field punishment of 90 346 or 28 days, or whatever it is, on full pay or not? If not I do not suggest that he should be disqualified because of field punishment, but I do suggest that the soldier undergoing penal servitude and in prison for certain offences should be disqualified unless he is already disqualified by not being on full pay.
Then, take this other position which may arise. There may be an officer who has been tried by court-martial for one of the offences I have specified. He may have been dismissed the Service. An officer who is dismissed the Service now, as we all know, is subject to being called up under the Military Service Acts. I do say that an officer who has been dismissed the Service for any of the offences which I have mentioned should be disqualified from voting when he is subsequently serving as an ordinary soldier under the Military Service Acts within the provisions of Clause 5. I do not suggest that you should go beyond Clause 5. I do not suggest that a man should for ever be disqualified because while he was a soldier he committed these military offences, but I do say most strongly that, as you have enfranchised soldiers as such, or given them facilities for voting as such, it should be made clear in this Act exactly what the position is, and that they should be subject to disqualification for offences which in the case of soldiers are just as large and as far-reaching offences against the State and the country as the offence of a man who in civil life has possibly committed a felony.
I suggest that this is an Amendment which would undoubtedly be welcomed by the Army. A man who has gone through his military service, who has a clean record, and has served his country with a clean sheet—when I say a clean sheet I mean with only minor offences—does not, I am sure, wish to see the man convicted of desertion, cowardice, or any of the other offences I have mentioned, on exactly the same footing as himself with regard to his vote. I say that this is a substantial point, and I hope the Government will give it every consideration, not only on its merits themselves, but because I feel perfectly certain that it is a point which would undoubtedly have the support of the Army as well as, I think, the support of all those who wish to make this Bill as good a measure in all respects as it is possible to make it.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I would at once say that there is a great deal more to be said for the Amendment in the form in which the the hon. and gallant Gentleman has moved it, namely, as an exception to the qualification under Clause 5, than there would have been if he had moved it as a general disqualification. At the same time, I venture to think that this is not the way to deal with these offences. The hon. and gallant Gentleman proposes that anyone guilty of these offences, such as cowardice in the face of the enemy and the other offences mentioned, should for ever be disqualified from having a vote.
Possibly my Amendment may be wrongly drawn, but it is not my intention. I put in specifically the words "those entitled to vote under the provisions of Clause 5" because, as I understand it, these msn, as soon as they cease to be soldiers and become civilians, are no longer under the provisions of Clause 5 and would no longer be subject to the disabilities under their military service.
§ Sir G. CAVE
They would be for ever disqualified from exercising the special privileges given them by Clause 5. I do not think this is the place for that disqualification. If this consequence is to follow on these offences it ought to appear in a Bill dealing with those offences. I do not think it right that when you have inflicted punishment for an offence a man should,ex post facto, by a subsequent Act have inflicted upon him a further punishment. I think that is the right course to follow. We propose to insert words by which any man sent to prison during part of the qualifying period shall not have the right to vote. As regards men convicted I do not believe they receive their full pay, at all events they do not get it. I hope the Amendment will not be pressed now. I do not think it is the right way to do it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Major HUNT
I beg to move, at the end, to add the wordsA person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector who is on the list of persons who have been interned or made subject to control by order of the military authorities or of the Home Office under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Acts.There cannot be anything that need be said on this Amendment, and I 348 conclude the Home Secretary will accept it. A man or woman who has been put under supervision by the police is probably an enemy or a traitor, and is surely not a person who should have power to enable him or her to influence the policy of the country. I cannot believe that the Home Secretary would wink at that sort of person, and I fancy it must have been accidentally left out of the Bill, because as you were obliged to shut them up or tie them by the leg somewhere or other during the war. Certainly it is not safe to loose them in peace.
§ Sir G. CAVE
These persons have not been tried or convicted of any offence. They are persona who, for the safety of the realm, have been put under care in time of war, not because they have committed an offence, but because it is thought they might possibly indulge in some mischief. They ought, as the hon. Member says, to be "tied by the leg" for the safety of the realm, but not to lose the vote.
§ Major HUNT
Is it only a precaution to be interned, not a penalty? I should certainly consider it a penalty to be interned. However, I feel sufficiently on this matter that I certainly shall ask the Committee to divide.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Major HUNT
On a point of Order. Are you justified, when a Member challenges a Division, in ignoring that challenge?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, in Subsection (2) at the beginning, to insert the words "A person shall not be entitled to be registered or to vote as a Parliamentary or local government elector if he is not a British subject and."
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "subject," to insert the words "or has ceased to be a British subject."
349 During this War it has been brought very prominently to notice that there has been great laxity in our interpretation of the law as to what is a British subject. A very large number of persons here claimed to be British subjects who are certainly not British subjects, either in their actions or feelings. A very large number of them have done no service to the State. The fact of the matter is our naturalisation laws are in a most tangled and unsatisfactory condition. Many persons who are not and cannot, under these laws, be British subjects, are classed as such. I would propose the very simple test of the birth certificate. Any person who has been born a British subject shall, by that fact, be accepted as a British subject, and be capable of exercising the franchise. It may be said that some persons will, or may, be disfranchised by the acceptance of this Amendment. That does not seem to me to be a very serious consideration. After all, the franchise is a privilege and a right conferred upon Britons for the political governance of their State, and anyone not of British birth who is not admitted to the franchise has really no very great grievance, especially if it is unfortunately found that he is one of that class of persons who have not proved themselves trustworthy subjects of the Crown, for the purpose of exercising the franchise, and so taking part in the government of the country. This Amendment is not intended to infringe the right of anyone who claims to reside in the country, or to be naturalised. But there is a point at which we ought to draw the line, and declare that persons of alien enemy birth should not be allowed to take part in Parliamentary elections. I trust the Government will accept this Amendment, or accept an Amendment which, in principle, will make clear this ambiguous and difficult matter. It may be that there is no time at present to reform the naturalisation laws, but something in the matter under review should be done to satisfy people outside this House. The Government, apparently, have made no serious attempt to fulfil their promise. Therefore I propose that on this occasion, at any rate, we take a clear and definite step, and I ask the Government to accept the Amendment.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not propose to shelter myself behind any statement that we are going to deal at another time with 350 the naturalisation laws. I told the hon. and gallant Member the position and he did not believe me.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I was not in any way questioning the good faith of my right hon. Friend. I carefully said that people outside this House held those views, and I thought we might take steps, at any rate, to show that something might be done in the direction so much wished outside.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Let us deal with the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment The effect of the Amendment would be to disfranchise naturalised persons and such persons as an American woman married to a Britisher. As regards the person naturalised, there is a scrap of paper which says he has the privileges of a British subject unless it is shown by some action that he is not worthy of them. As regards the wife of a British subject, she has become a British subject, and I do not think the Committee would desire to deprive her of her rights.
§ Mr. HOLT
Supposing this Amendment were passed, what on earth would be the meaning of naturalisation? It means nothing whatever unless it means that the person naturalised has the full rights of citizenship, including, particularly, taking part in the government of the State, because any foreigner who chooses to come to this country has all the rights of a British subject except that of taking part in the government. An Amendment such as this in substance would mean that a person could not become naturalised, because naturalisation would have no meaning. I am very much surprised at the hon. and gallant Member proposing an Amendment so absurd.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I really cannot understand the heat with which the right hon. Gentleman received my proposal. He is quite as well aware as I am that the position is not satisfactory as it stands, and he argued perhaps a little ad captandum on the point. We want some more definite test of what is a British subject. I will ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, but I think something ought to be done on the Report stage to make this matter more clear and definite and to put it in a more satisfactory position.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment agreed to.351
§ Further Amendment made: In Sub-section (2), after the word "rote" ["to be registered or to vote any"], insert the words "either as a Parliamentary or local government elector."—[Sir G. Cave.]
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.352
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow (Wednesday).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after Half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Twenty-six Minutes after Twelve o'clock