HC Deb 26 November 1917 vol 99 cc1779-85

In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires,—

(1) The expression "constituency" means any county, borough, or combination of places, or university or combination of universities, returning a member to serve in Parliament; and, where a county or borough is divided for the purpose of Parliamentary elections, means a division of the county or borough so divided:

(4) The expression "university constituency" means a constituency consisting of a university or a combination of universities; and the expression "university election" means an election of a member or members of Parliament for a university constituency:

(6) The expression "alternative vote" means a vote—

  1. (a) capable of being given so as to indicate the voter's preference for the candidates in order; and
  2. (b) capable of being transferred to a subsequent choice in case no one 1780 candidate has a clear majority of the total number of votes counted at any count:

(7) The yearly value of premises shall be taken to be the rateable value where those premises are separately assessed to rates, and in any other case shall be deemed to be the amount which would in the opinion of the registration officer be the rateable value, if they were separately assessed:

(8) The expression "prescribed" means prescribed by His Majesty by Order in Council.

Any Order in Council under the Act may be revoked or varied as occasion requires by any subsequent Order in Council.

Amendments made: At the end of Sub-section (1), insert the words, and elections for any such division shall be held in the same manner and subject to the same provisions as those of undivided counties or boroughs.

At the end of Sub-section (4), insert the words, and this Act in its application to university elections shall be read with the substitution of 'voting paper' for 'ballot paper' and with such other modifications as are necessary to adapt it to the special circumstances of these elections."—[Mr. Hayes Fisher.]


I beg to move, after Sub-section (4), to insert, (5) A person who is an inmate or a patient in any prison, lunatic asylum, workhouse, poorhouse, or any other similar institution shall not by reason thereof be treated as resident therein for any purpose of this House.


Does this provision apply to keepers, nurses and other people who actually do not reside in lunatic asylum institutions or is it to be applicable only to those of unsound mind.


I am told it only applies to those confined in the institution, and not to the nurses and attendants.


The right hon. Gentleman said. "I am told." Is he quite certain. It is an important point.

10.0 P.M.


I should not like to say definitely, without consulting my right hon. Friend or one of the Law Officers of the Crown, but I give it as my own opinion, for what it is worth. If on inquiry we find it is not clear, it will be perfectly easy to make it clear in another place.

Colonel YATE

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether "any other similar institution" would cover the case of a British subject confined in an internment camp? Would such a place come under the head "other similar institution"?


I should say that would be so,

Amendment agreed to


I beg to move, after Sub-section (6), to insert, (7) For the purpose of registration a person's age shall be taken to be that person's age on the last day of the qualifying period. That is the law now, but it depends on a decision in a particular case. It is thought better to actually put it into the Bill and thus make the law perfectly clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Colonel YATE

I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to add the words "The expression 'naval and military' shall for the purposes of this Act include the Air Service."


I beg to second the Amendment.


We are all prepared to give complete recognition to the Air Service, but this is not the place in which to do it. There are various places where it will have to be inserted, and I should like to have time to go through the Bill and see where it may be necessary to put the words in. I can give a promise that these words, or some equivalent term, shall be put in, as we fully accept the spirit of the Amendment.

Colonel YATE

In view of that statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (7), to leave out the words "rateable value," and to insert instead thereof the words "gross estimated value."

This Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) will, I hope, be favourably considered by the Government. The object is to substitute "gross estimated rental" for "rateable value." Rateable value, of course, is smaller than gross estimated rental, so that what is really being done by the Bill as it stands is to make the qualification for the vote not £10 but something higher than £10. That is clearly against the Report of Mr. Speaker's Conference, because that document said that the vote should be acquired by anyone occupying for the purposes of his business, profession, or trade any premises of the clear yearly value of not less than £10. The Clause as it stands clearly does not carry out that Resolution of the Conference, because the qualification required will be one of considerably more than £10. The effect of the Bill as it stands is to increase the qualification recommended by the Speaker's Conference and to increase it from £10 to £12, or slightly more. The Clause as it stands at present would prevent many people who at present possess the business vote from having it in future, and it clearly cannot be reconciled, as I have stated, with the Resolution of the Speaker's Conference. I believe that in Scotland the actual rental is taken, and it seems an absurd anomaly that a man should have a vote for a qualification of £10 in Scotland and that when he comes to England he requires very nearly £12 for a vote which is supposed to be on the same qualification.


I desire to second this Amendment. I brought it up in Committee, and the only point I omitted to state then was that this Amendment maintains the existing law. That, I think, is an important consideration. The Speaker's Conference talks about a yearly value of £10. It surely is not suggested by anybody at this late stage of the proceedings that the memorandum of the Speaker's Conference is to be accepted as if it were an Act of Parliament. It is very obvious in more places than one that it is not intended, with regard to local government franchise for instance, to leave things as they were. No recommendation was made, and therefore it must be assumed that the Speaker's Conference was satisfid with the position. That has been altered since, but it is absurd to suggest, as I think was suggested when I moved this proposal in Committee, that the meaning of these words is not the meaning that the ordinary man would apply to them. In Scotland we have a £10 rental which will qualify. In England, owing to the difference of the system, you require a £12 qualification. No one can contend that the Speaker's Conference suggested that there should be a difference of that kind in the two countries. They submitted the colloquial words which are held to apply, namely, the rent a man pays for his premises in the one case, and the rate at which he is assessed in the other. The fact that it is continuing the existing law, the fact that the Bill makes a distinction between England and Scotland because of these words being in the Bill and not those that are now being proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend is a very strong argument why the Government should accept and support this Amendment.


I want to be quite clear about this. There are two places in the Bill where an annual value occurs. There is the annual value of the premises which are going to entitle the man to a business vote and the annual value of the lodging which in Scotland is going to entitle the local government elector to the local government vote. I am not quite sure whether in each of these two instances this Amendment does not operate in a different direction. It will make it easier for a business voter to get his business vote, but it will make it more difficult for a lodger in Sotland to get his local government vote. I may be wrong, but I want the right hon. Gentleman before he accepts this Amendment to consider how far defining annual value in this particular way in every case in the Bill is going to affect the municipal vote, particularly in Scotland, because there is no doubt that if we make the value of the lodging higher than was intended a great number of persons, especially women, will fail to get that particular franchise. I really am asking a question, and perhaps some hon. Member who supports this Amendment will make the point clear.


I desire to call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Scotland to this particular Amendment. I hope it has had his attention before, and that there is nothing in this Amendment which will have the effect of disfranchising in Scotland any of the electors under this Act. As he knows, the rateable value is frequently, if not always, under the rental value in Scotland, and if you omit the expression "rateable value" and sub- stitute the "gross estimated rental" value you may in some instances disfranchise some people in Scotland. I hope that point is under my right hon. Friend's consideration, and that he will not advise the acceptance of any Amendment which will have the effect of disfranchising any people in Scotland.


The Conference desired that everyone should have a vote if they were in occupation of premises that were of the clear annual value of £10. What we have to decide is what is a clear annual value of £10; is it best interpreted by the words "rateable value" or by the words "gross estimated rental"? After all, and I say it again to the House, so far as I can gather we want to go on the generous side. If it can be proved that by taking the words "rateable value" you will prevent a number of persons occupying business premises getting their vote, and if there is a doubt as to what interpretation is to be put on clear annual value, I think you ought to take the more generous and liberal interpretation and adopt such a definition that will include rather more than less in the number of those who will be able to obtain the franchise. I think there is a good deal to be said for the arguments of my hon. Friends. I think there is no objection taken to them in this House, and I believe we shall best be interpreting the letter and spirit of the Conference if we accept the Amendment and take the words "gross estimated rental" instead of the words "rateable value." The hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson) was afraid that if we applied this definition of the annual value generally we should be in some measure disfranchising the voters in Scotland. I have made inquiries as to that, and I am told that while this Amendment, if accepted, will probably enlarge slightly the number of persons who will be entitled to the occupation franchise in England, it will have no disfranchising effect whatever on any portion of the Scottish electors.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: At the end of Sub-section (7) insert the words "(8) The expression 'afloat' in connection with naval and military voters shall be interpreted in accordance with rules made for the purpose by the Admiralty."—[Mr. Fisher.]