HC Deb 28 January 1918 vol 101 cc1393-7

This Act may be cited as the National Registration (Amendment) Act, 1918, and shall be construed and have effect as if it were part of the principal Act, and that Act and this Act may be cited together as the National Registration Acts, 1915 and 1918.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, "This Act shall come into operation on the twenty-first day after the passing thereof."

I have already explained to the House that the Government have received a communication from the Stationery Office and the Post Office expressing their doubt as to whether they can, immediately on the passing of this Act, provide us with the necessary forms to enable them to be distributed at the principal post offices. We are, therefore, moving this Amendment in order to secure that the Act shall not come into operation until twenty-one days after its departure from both Houses of Parliament and receiving the assent of the Crown. This will give the Stationery Office and the Post Office time for the work they have to perform.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I have no intention of delaying the Third Reading of this Bill, but there are one or two things which I will say within the briefest possible space of time. I opposed this Bill on the Second Reading upon principle. I opposed it in Committee because the machinery set up to carry it out was, in my opinion, preposterous and because it would introduce an entirely new spirit which I call the Prussian spirit into our system of civil government. The President of the Local Government Board, I admit, has listened, frequently with great patience, to the various Amendments suggested on the Committee and Report stages with a view of mitigating some of the novel provisions which this measure contained. Some of the most objectionable proposals we succeeded in inducing the right hon. Gentleman to mitigate. For instance the extra- ordinary proposal which gave police officers without special authority the right to accost women between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five at any time or any place and require them to give an account of themselves, that provision has disappeared. With regard to a number of other provisions the Bill still remains as offensive in its amended form as it was upon its introduction.

This Bill makes a new series of crimes for very trivial offences, and it places upon young people from the age of fifteen and old people up to sixty-five the duty of seeing that they are registered, and it makes it in the case of persons over eighteen an offence punishable by very heavy penalties if they fail to get themselves registered. For the first time in our history it makes it an offence for any person between the age of fifteen and sixty-five to change his employment or profession or occupation without registering the change with the local registration authority. It also, for the first time in our history, makes it an offence to change one's residence without notifying the change to the appropriate registration authority. These provisions are to be carried out not only by the infliction of heavy penalties which may be continuing penalties, but also under the supervision of the police in regard to matters from which they have hitherto been excluded. It is true that this special provision of the Bill no longer refers to women, but police supervision is reserved over all male persons between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five, and all male citizens between those ages will be subject on any occasion and at any hour to be accosted by any police officer that he may meet. I do not believe, especially in the present state of public opinion, that it will ever be possible to apply the amazing provisions of this amazing Bill, and I believe many of its provisions will remain a dead letter.

The fact that the Government will be compelled not to observe many of these provisions is no justification why it should be passed. I believe the object the Government had in view in bringing in this Bill could have been obtained in a much more efficient way by more simple machinery, without introducing these unique and very amazing provisions. There may be some people in this country who still nurse the delusion that we are at present ruled by a Government which still retains some Liberal elements, and some men who believe in the liberty of the individual, and who are true to the Liberal traditions. if there are any such persons, and I am beginning to doubt whether they exist, the provisions of this Bill will, I think, finally undeceive them. This is a Bill which could never have been produced had it not been for the time of excitement, passion, anxiety, and sorrow under which the lives of so many people in the country have to be passed. It is only possible to get such a Bill through the House in times such as these. I regret that the Bill has been introduced, and I regret its passage to-night. More than that I believe the Government themselves will in a very short time equally regret that it has been passed into law.


I should not have thought it necessary to intervene on the Third Reading but for some remarks which were made on the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, who with others suggested that it was necessary in some way for the purpose of carrying on the War, and that those of us who have been engaged in criticising this measure and endeavouring to get it amended—I am glad to say in some cases with success—have been careless as to the situation of the country and have not behaved in a patriotic manner. Generally. I am myself quite indifferent to this sort of taunts, and I am prepared to justify my position at the right time before my Constituents. I protest against the monstrous assumption that this Bill is in some way necessary at the present time for the successful carrying on of the War. We all admit the critical situation of the country, but how is this Bill going to improve it? It is going to take a lot of officials, cost a lot of time and money, and this will only produce an incomplete and misleading register of people, most of whom cannot possibly be used in any way for military service. I agree that if you had a small and simple measure for registering young men as they came along at the age of seventeen when they would he required under the Military Service Acts, if it was done by official persons in a proper way, whatever your views may be as to the merits of Conscription, you would say, "So long as we have Conscription that is a necessary and reasonable measure," and I should not have opposed it, because I should have said it was necessary to carry out the Military Service Acts. You are dealing with young boys of fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, long before they will be required for military service, and with discharged soldiers and sailors who will not be required under the present conditions of the country, and you are going to impose a lot of penalties on all sorts of persons for failing to carry out their obligations under this Bill.

It is an attempt to make an elaborate register on the cheap. The right course was to get it done by official persons in an official way. The way it is being pro- posed is by putting a lot of penalties upon people for failing to register, and in that way trying to compel them by statutory threats to get the forms and fill them up. You will never make a complete or even satisfactory register in that way. You are only adopting the corbée system which made the French monarchy hated and despised, and which makes private persons do what public officials ought to undertake. If the right hon. Gentleman had met us as he might have done as regards the machinery, I should have had nothing more to say, but he has still left two blemishes of the gravest kind in the Bill. First of all, he leaves it still open to any policeman to stop and accost any person in the street, demanding their registration form or particulars of their name, address, occupation, etc. That is a most offensive, objectionable, and tyrannical provision. There are still left in the Bill penalties upon discharged soldiers and sailors who have already done their service. If it was for their benefit to he registered, it ought to have been a voluntary registration. If the discharged soldiers and sailors were convinced that it was for their benefit they would have registered themselves voluntarily. This is a tyrannical and a futile measure, and although in the present state of the House it does not look as if there would be any satisfaction in putting the House to a Division—


I am going to divide the House.


Then I shall support my hon. Friend. I make this final protest against what I believe to be a bad Bill in order that when this Bill comes to be administered those who have to put it into force will be very careful and will take steps to see that all its most objectionable features are not carried into effect.