§ A man shall be entitled to be registered as a local government elector for a local government electoral area if he is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity, and—
- (a) is on the last day of the qualifying period occupying jointly or severally, as owner or tenant, any land or premises in that area; and
- (b) has, during the whole of the qualifying period, so occupied any land or premises in that area, or, if that area is not an administrative county or a county borough, in the administrative county or county borough in which the area is wholly or partly situate:
- (i) for the purposes of this Section the word tenant shall not include a person who occupies a room or rooms as a lodger except where such room or rooms are let to him in an unfurnished state;
- (ii) a man, though he may have been occupying land or premises in the area on the last day of the qualifying period, shall not be entitled to be so registered if, on objection being made to his registration, it is
672 shown that he commenced to occupy the land or premises within thirty days before the end of the qualifying period and ceased to occupy them. within thirty days after the commencement of his occupation; and
- (iii) the occupation of a house shall not be deemed to be interrupted for the purposes of this Section by reason only of permission being given by letting or otherwise for the occupation of the house as a furnished house by some other person for a part of the qualifying period not exceeding three months in the whole.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, in paragraph (a), after the word "land"["any land or premises"], to insert the words "of the yearly value of not less than five pounds."
The present value for the land qualification is £10. The Bill as it stands proposes no value whatever. I think that I am correct in saying that this matter was raised in the Committee stage, and the Government was impressed by an argument then used. They felt it necessary to put some value on land, because the land qualification, without some limitation in value, would be an impossible thing. If this Bill stands without a provision of the kind I 673 now propose, a square yard of land, the right to set up a stall, the right to set up a hoarding with a foundation, would be a land qualification. That obviously is absurd; it cannot be intended. I could carry this point very much further, but I will not do so. At any rate, it cannot be intended that the land qualification shall not be a real qualification, but that it shall be a substantial piece of land, with premises attached. The matter really goes a good deal further. Unless some value is placed on the land there would be an unlimited inducement to make fagot votes, but nobody wants to do that because the local government voter becomes a Parliamentary elector also. But for a resident in a neighbouring constituency it would be possible to acquire some nominal piece of land just over the border, and thus obtain the local government vote for himself and the Parliamentary vote for his wife. That cannot be right or intended. There is no doubt that the Clause as it stands is very dangerous and is an invitation to make fagot votes. My proposal in no way interferes with residential qualifications. It is manifestly impossible to leave the Bill in the state in which it now stands.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
I beg to second the Amendment. In the Committee stage the Government promised to look into this matter, and I hope they will agree to some Amendments to meet our views. It is absurd to have no value at all.
This matter was raised in the Committee stage, and it was pointed out that if there was no value it would be quite possible to establish a great number of fagot votes by purchasing pieces of land or taking possession or occupation of pieces of land of really nominal value. The Government promised consideration to the question as to whether or not they should attach some value to the land which would give qualification for a vote. They came to the conclusion that they would be bound by the decision of the Speaker's Conference. In paragraph (31) (a) it is recommended by the ConferenceIn substitution for all existing franchises for Local .Government purposes every person who for a period of six months immediately preceding the 15th day of January and the 15th day of July in any year has occupied as owner or tenant any land or premises in a Local Government area in England and Wales shall be entitled to be registered and to vote as a Local Government elector in that area.The Conference attached no value to the premises and indicated nothing in the way of any restriction upon the amount of 674 land or the nature of the land or premises or the value of the land or premises, but simply said that any person who during the occupying period had occupied as owner or tenant any land or premises in the local government area should be entitled to be put on the local government register. This matter also affects the question of woman suffrage. Although I am very far indeed from saying that this will not give any opportunity to create fagot votes, I am very far from saying that, and there is a real danger of it, when we have to choose what course we will take as to whether we shall be influenced by the fear of the creation of fagot votes or more influenced by the rule of conduct laid down by the Home Secretary that when in doubt we should follow the Speaker's Conference. We have come to the conclusion in this case, as in so many others, that on the whole we had better adhere to the Speaker's Conference recommendation. But the Government are alive, to the importance of checking as far as possible fagot votes, and by an Amendment which will come later on we ensure that no more than two joint occupiers, unless they are bonâ fide partners, shall be entitled. So far we have met the case of the fagot voter, and we should like to meet it a little more if we saw any means of doing so without running counter to the very deliberate opinions of the Speaker's Conference. Having that in our minds, we are bound to ask the House to follow that advice and to adhere to the rule laid down that there shall be no value placed on the land in respect of which you may be able to obtain effective qualification.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
It is all very well to talk about the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference on this point, but how does the House know whether the Conference had this particular point properly before it? Many things have emerged, some of great importance, in the conduct of this Bill in which we were in a position of complete obscurity as to whether or not they were considered before the Conference came to certain conclusions. This is a case in which the right hon. Gentleman tells the House deliberately and distinctly that here is an opportunity for creating faggot votes and yet that we are not at liberty to deal with the matter and adopt safeguards. That is a perfectly absurd and monstrous position. We ought to be quite entitled to do so. We do not know, and no one apparently 675 can tell us, whether this matter was considered fully by the Conference. We have the present qualification of £10, and there are proposals to duplicate this husband and wife qualification. It may be a certain safeguard to limit the joint occupation to two people, but, on the other hand, it may be possible to break up the holding into small pieces. I do think it is a serious thing deliberately to pass a Clause of this kind with the full knowledge of what it may lead to.
§ Mr. PETO
In view of what has been said, may I say what my memory is as to what happened at the Conference upstairs on this particular point? So far as my memory goes, the particular point whether it was essential to put in some small annual value was mentioned, but it was not considered in any way a vital point, and I think that it was one of those little details which we purposely left in a somewhat vague condition, or, at any rate, as to which we did not enter into the most minute detail. The words quoted by the President of the Local Government Board clearly indicate that it is left an open point, and the Conference does not say that it should be land of any value or a nominal value, but simply says" any land or premises." Of course, that could be interpreted to be land of the value of 2d. or of a practically negligible value. Certainly, from my recollection of our discussions upstairs, it was never intended that the land should have no value whatever. I cannot see myself why the Government in this matter should be so meticulous in their adherence to and interpretation of the recommendation of the Conference. I should have thought that the question was one absolutely open to the judgment of the House and the consideration of the Government.
I do hope that the Government will stick to the position they have taken up. The Conference deliberately adopted residence and occupancy, unqualified, as the basis of the franchise, and they deliberately excluded all other kinds of qualifications. The setting up even of a low value would bear hardly on large numbers of persons who occupy very small plots of land, and probably thousands of allotment holders would be deprived of votes if this limit of £5 were fixed. In that way a great injustice would be inflicted upon them. I quite agree that there is some danger of 676 fagot votes. I believe that the danger is very largely exaggerated. But would it not be possible to put in a provision that the claimant should have to prove bonâ fide tenancy to any plot of land? I am not a lawyer, and do not know how these things are done, but that seems to me to be a way to provide against bogus claims.
§ Sir W. BEALE
I should agree both with the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) and the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) if I thought for a moment that there was any real danger of fagot votes being created by this Clause. I have been advised that owner or occupier means only occupying owner. If it were the fact that a man could have the vote without actually occupying, then there might be the danger of creating fagot votes. If he is to have a vote as owner without being an occupier, I should say there is some danger of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend. But my own view is that the vote can only be given to the occupying owner.
The words used are, "occupying jointly or severally as owner" and the qualification is given to the owner not as owner but as occupying owner. In my previous remarks I said there was some danger of the creation of fagot votes, but it is not a very great danger, and on the whole I think we had better adhere to the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference.
§ Colonel YATE
I am speaking of the case of a man who has purchased a piece of land which he intends to be used as a grave. Will you give him a vote as the owner of that land?
My hon. and gallant Friend had better put that question to the Law Officers of the Crown.
§ Colonel YATE
I understand that this Bill does not provide against that, and there is a danger of the creation of fagot votes.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, after paragraph (b), to insert the words "the occupier of lodgings within the area of the yearly value, if let unfurnished, of not less than ten pounds."
677 This Amendment raises a rather difficult point. The Clause as it stands fixes no value whatever, and my proviso is intended to prevent fagot votes being instituted, especially in the case of the woman's vote. Nothing could be easier than to establish a lodger vote for local government purposes which would carry with it the wife's vote for Parliamentary elections. It is quite clear there ought to be some definite limit laid down in the Bill with regard to the premises to be occupied by the lodger. I think here we have a serious flaw in the Bill, and I, therefore, move this Amendment.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I beg to second the Amendment.
As a general rule, when a man takes furnished lodgings he takes rooms more valuable than if he took unfurnished lodgings. It does seem necessary to protect against the creation of fagot votes by insisting on a yearly value. As to the right of a grave owner to a vote, he has only to sow cabbages on the top of the .grave and call it a garden to entitle himself to a vote, and, therefore, I think the jeers which greeted the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Yate) when he put his question were hardly justified.
Mr. Speaker's Conference recommended that the qualifications should be given to the owner or tenant. The lodger of course would be the tenant. The question was debated at considerable length in Committee, and a compromise was arrived at which suggested that the lodger should be strictly confined to one who took unfurnished lodgings, and nothing was said at Mr. Speaker's Conference as to the value of the lodgings. The qualification was to apply to unfurnished lodgings only. The Committee came to the conclusion that the unfurnished lodger should be entitled to the qualification without any value being attached to the unfurnished room. My hon. and gallant Friend now suggests that the room should be of the value of at least £10 a year, and we have to decide whether or not any value should be attached. In Committee it was agreed that mere occupancy of unfurnished lodgings should entitle the lodger to the Local Government franchise. There was nothing in the outcome of Mr. Speaker's Conference which suggested that any limitation of value should be attached, and in view of that fact the Government do not propose to accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. T. WILSON
I beg to move, at the end of paragraph (b), to insert the words:For the purposes of this Section a man who himself inhabits any dwelling-house by virtue of any office, service, or employment, and the dwelling-house is not inhabited by any person under whom he serves in such office, service, or employment, shall be deemed to be a tenant.I hope the Government will accept this Amendment for these reasons. A considerable number of people are living in houses the occupancy of which is treated as part of their wages, and to all intents and purposes they are just as much entitled to the Local Government vote as ordinary tenants of houses under a landlord. A considerable number of people are interested in this matter. An Amendment was moved previously this afternoon to give a man who already had a vote another vote. I was opposed to that. But in this instance we have men and women employed as caretakers at clubs and other institutions who, we submit, are fully entitled to the franchise. The party with which I am associated does not see why these people, who are to all intents and purposes, in the position of tenants of dwelling-houses, should be deprived of the local government vote. In connection with this, we have had representations from different parts of the country, and we are convinced that there is a real hardship here. I appeal to the Government to carefully consider the Amendment we have put down. We feel sure they do not want to do an injustice to anyone. If they are qualified to have a franchise they should have it, and the fact that the house is included in the salary, or wages paid to the occupant, places him in the same position as any other tenant. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there are schools all over the country where houses are provided for the caretaker. In clubs of all kinds the caretaker lives on the premises and occupies rooms which, if rented, would bring in quite as much as a cottage. We have golf clubs where the caretaker is living on premises which, compared with those occupied by the ordinary working man, are simply palatial. Under this Bill these people will be deprived of the Local Government vote. I ask the Government to give this matter 679 most serious consideration. The Amendment would enfranchise a fairly large number of people who, to all intents and purposes, are equally interested with their fellow-citizens in securing good local government, and therefore I hope the Amendment will be accepted.
This question also was raised in Committee, and at the time my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary could not see his way to accept it. But it is sometimes possible on reconsideration to give approval where, in the first place, it seemed impossible to do so. The hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) has made out a very good case for giving the franchise to this particular class of person. They are school caretakers, or people who live in golf clubs or other clubs, or on the premises of philanthropic institutions, and their occupancy is considered in their wages. This class has no other chance of ever getting on the register; they have no other residence, they have no occupation outside, and they are not rich people, and therefore, unless the franchise is given to them in this way, they cannot get it at all. Yet they have exactly the same interest in good local government as any of their fellow-workers who have the franchise either as tenants or lodgers. I think, therefore, we all want this. As I have said more than once, this is not a disfranchising but an enfranchising measure to put as many on the register as are qualified—as many solid men, with solid interests, who are interested in the good government of the country and the local administration of the country—as we possibly can. If, therefore, the House is with me, I shall certainly accept the Amendment.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I will not delay the House, but I desire to say that this is extending to England the privilege which obtains in Scotland. I think the hon. Gentleman has been justified in moving his Amendment, and I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has accepted it.
§ Colonel SANDERS
Before this Amendment is accepted I would like to point out that I think it ought to read, "For the purposes of this Section a man who himself inhabits any dwelling-house by virtue of any office, service, or employment, and 680 which dwelling-house," etc., etc. I think the word "which" should replace the word "the."
I think the language of my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment is perfectly intelligible. I am not going to say it is quite the very best, but I think if the House will leave it to the draftsman and the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill they will see that we carry out the intention of my hon. Friend, although I think his words fully cover the case and indicate what is the law we desire to pass.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Ought not the Amendment to come in after the words "Provided that"? The Amendment has been moved to insert the words at the end of paragraph (b). It appears to me that the Amendment would really come in much better after the words "Provided that."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Then I will put the Amendment in this form: "After the words 'Provided that,' insert 'for the purposes of this Section a man who himself inhabits any dwelling-house by virtue of any office, service, or employment, and the dwelling-house is not inhabited by any person under whom he serves in such office, service, or employment, shall be deemed to be a tenant.'"
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I beg to move, in paragraph (i.), after the word "word"["the word tenant"], to insert the words "owner shall not include any person who does not himself occupy the qualifying premises, and the word."
The object of this amendment is to make paragraph (a) perfectly clear. It is thought by some of us who are interested in local government—particularly in London—that Clause 3 (a), as drafted, may mean that the owner can obtain a municipal vote for the same premises as the tenant. I do not think that is the intention of the Bill, and my object is to make it perfectly clear that the owner does not include the person who does not occupy the qualifying premises.
I do not think this Amendment is needed in the very least. 681 The owner, in order to obtain the local government franchise, must be the occupying owner.
§ Mr. GILBERT
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made: Paragraph (ii.), leave out the words "on objection being made to his registration, it is shown that."
§ Paragraph (ii.), at end, leave out the word"and."—[Mr. Hayes ,Fisher.]
Mr. H. SAMUEL
Is not the Amendment of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Butcher), who is absent from the House, in paragraph (iii.), to leave out the word "three"["not exceeding three months"], and to insert instead thereof the word "four," consequential?
I had hoped that my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butcher) would be here to move that Amendment, because this makes the law similar as regards local government to the law we have already passed and made applicable to Parliamentary government. That is to say, that the qualifying period is not broken by the fact that the resident lets his house for four months instead of the three months that we agreed to on the Committee stage. We have already accepted an Amendment to that at an earlier period.
§ Further Amendments made: In paragraph iii. leave out the word "three" ["not exceeding three months"], and insert instead thereof the word "four."
After paragraph iii., insert the words,
(iv.) Not more than two persons shall be entitled to be registered as joint occupiers in respect of the same land or premises unless they are bonâ, fide engaged as partners, carrying on their profession, trade, or business in the premises."—[Mr. Hayes Fisher.]
§ Mr. BOLAND
I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to add the words,(iv.) The service of a notice to quit upon a tenant followed by a demand of possession shall not be deemed for the purposes of this Act to have the effect of determining the tenancy so long as such occupier remains in the actual occupation of the premises.682 The object of this Amendment is to prevent the prejudicial effect of the mere notice to quit, and also to prevent the destruction of votes by a great number of notices being issued in a wholesale way. At present, as I understand, under the law, if a notice to quit is given and a demand for possession is thereupon served upon the tenant, and if then the tenant does not leave but remains in possession, the landlord agreeing to his remaining there, the effect is that the vote has gone. I do not imagine that that is the object of this Bill. It should, on the contrary, really aim at preventing anything in the nature of a general disfranchisement. Nevertheless, a man would lose the vote in this case, because, although he was there the actual tenancy would determine in law, and he would be in the eyes of the law a trespasser. That is a very great hardship, and I submit that if the words I propose are carried it would do away with that hardship.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
In that case would not the man still be on the register? Is there any necessity for this Amendment at all?
§ Mr. BOLAND
I do not speak with very much knowledge on these registration matters, but my hon. Friend who is associated with me in moving this Amendment (Mr. Muldoon) is very well qualified on registration matters, and he advises that it is very necessary to have these words inserted.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
This is an Amendment which will have, I think, very little practical operation, and such practical operation as it might have would be limited, so far as any cases can be foreseen, to Ireland. There are no doubt circumstances in Ireland where this action by a landlord towards a tenant should not have the effect of determining the occupation of the premises, and although it is difficult to see how we are to prevent the occurrence of such incidents as he has in view I am advised that there are no substantial reasons why the mere occurrence of a notice which may have been given with regard to rent in arrears, and a demand not followed by proceedings, should lead to a vote not being given and to the determination of the tenancy. I am not sure that the language proposed is the best for the purpose, and I suggest to the 683 hon. Member that he would secure his object if he added to the existing paragraph (iii.) the wordsor by reason only of a notice to quit being served and possession being demanded by the landlord of the house.If the hon. Gentleman will move his Amendment in that form, I will not resist it.
§ Mr. BOLAND
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say whether the voter would be in any way disqualified. If he thinks the substance of my Sub-section is carried out in better form by the words he suggests I shall, of course, bow to his great knowledge in these matters and be very glad to accept them.
§ Mr. BOLAND
Then I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, and to accept the words of the Chief Secretary.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In paragraph (iii.), after the word "whole"["months in the whole"], insert the words "or by reason only of a notice to quit being served, and possession being demanded by the landlord of the house."—[Mr. Boland.]