§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Sir D. MACLEAN in the Chair.]
§ Postponed Proceeding on consideration of Clause 2 resumed.
§ Sir H. HARRIS
I was moving my Amendment when the interruption for the Motion for the Adjournment came. I will not repeat the reasons that I have given in favour of postponing the county council elections. I will only point out that no provision exists for enabling persons who are on war service to vote. In the next place, the personnel of the county councils will suffer, because it will be impossible to get business men to stand in March. If we are going to have both a Parliamentary election in January and a county council election in March, it will cause great disorganisation in national and municipal work. I hope, therefore, that the Government, either in this Bill or in some future Bill, will arrange to postpone the county council elections.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
The object of the Amendment is to extend the postponement of elections to the elections which take place on 1st March next year. My hon. Friend has explained that he speaks, as he always does most cogently, on behalf of the London County Council, and he has told us that the London County Council is unanimously of opinion that this Bill should extend to county council elections, and that we should make it obligatory upon the London County Council to continue after 1st March as it at present exists—no election for that council or any county council to take place on 1st March next. The Government had to choose a day. They came to the conclusion that it was justifiable to postpone all November elections, but it would not be justifiable at present to decide that the March elections should not take place. After all, it is a little difficult to see four months ahead, and it is not possible to say what the conditions may be eight months from now. I think, therefore, that the Government have done wisely to say that the Bill shall only operate practically on the November elections. It is possible that there may be a General Election between now and 1st March, but I do not think that anybody would argue that that ought to render it impossible to have the local elections following on 1st March.
Let me comfort my hon. Friend by saying that if the Government became aware, say, at the end of December, that the circumstances were such that it would be most undesirable to hold the elections so early as March, it would be perfectly possible for them—and the Government will certainly reconsider the position—to come down to the House and take it into their confidence. It would be quite possible for them to frame a one-Clause Bill, and at the end of December, or even in January, to ask the House to consent to it, whereby all elections for county councils, urban district councils, rural district councils, and boards of guardians, which take place in March or April, would be postponed. I think the Government have come to a wise decision not to look further ahead than four months, and to leave it to the House in December or January to say whether or not they think it necessary to postpone the elections which would take place in March or April.
§ Mr. MARTIN
Every argument except one put forward by the Mover of this Amendment on behalf of the London County Council in favour of having their elections postponed to next April twelvemonth would apply equally well to elections for Parliament. The exception was the argument that the Representation of the People Act did not give the soldiers the same power and privilege of voting at county council elections as at Parliamentary elections. The proper way to meet that argument is not to extend the time for holding county council elections, which the Government have agreed not to do at present, but to slightly amend the Representation of the People Act by giving soldiers the same opportunities for getting on the register and voting at county council elections as they have in respect to Parliamentary elections. That would place both elections on the same basis. The argument that there would not be candidates coming forward in April next will be very comforting to those who are standing. The same argument would apply also to Parliament. If there are not going to be candidates for the county council on account of the War, then for the same reason there will be no candidates for Parliament. I am one of those who do not believe that there is anything in these arguments about not having an election during the War. Excluding soldiers, the people who are going to vote at an election can easily spend fifteen or twenty minutes or even an hour casting their votes, without in any way interfering with their war work. The hon. Gentleman said that members of the county council themselves are in favour of having the election postponed. Probably hon. Members in this House might, for the same reason, be in favour of having elections postponed for a year or longer. That is not an argument at all. It is not a question of what hon. Members of this House or of the county council think; it is a question, surely, of what the people of the country want! The argument, too, was noted the other day on Second Reading that there was such an increase in the electorate! But that applies equally to the county council and other elections as to Parliamentary. Women will vote at them. I understand that the women teachers of the county council of London have a great grievance on the salary question against the council. They and their friends have votes, and they will be sure to show by them to the county 450 council that it is desirable to have enough salary to keep body and soul together while endeavouring to do their work. There has been a general election for the Dominions. There have been, I think, local elections in almost every province; in the minor ten provinces of Canada there has been a local election in every one during the War. It has caused no trouble. The Canadian people are just as much engaged in the War as are the people here. They have the same problems to meet. The circumstances there are just about the same as here. The elections here hurt nobody. This House I am addressing is moribund, without any idea of what the people really want. Instead of administering the affairs of the country in the light of present conditions we are back into 1910, nearly eight years ago——
§ Mr. MARTIN
Well, the hon. Gentleman has put these arguments forward. He said, "You could not have elections during the War, for you could not get candidates or the people to vote." I say there is nothing in that. What the people really want is a new Parliament, newly-elected bodies, so that when questions come up we do not deal with them by the ideals of eight or ten years ago, but in the light of the new ideals that have arisen during this great War.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am astonished at the line taken by the representative of the London County Council. He seemed to believe that they could very properly represent their constituents although it is many years since they were elected. I happen to sit on a body in London which contains a delegation from the London County Council. They sing a different tune there to what we have heard to-night. They pose as super-men because of their close touch with the electorate and the vast majorities they get. The President of the Local Government Board heard a little of that doctrine at the deputation this morning. But there are some also who utterly refuse to go to constituencies; who want to refrain from that great pleasure for twelve months or longer. We must not deny the London County Council the unspeakable happiness of meeting their constituents, following the view of those connected with the body to which I have referred.
§ Mr. WATT
This Amendment which has been proposed by the hon. Member for Paddington (Sir H. Harris) is that an extension of time for the election of the London County Council should be made for a year from March. The measure is that the life of this Parliament should be preserved for six months longer, and the life of local authorities generally should be preserved a year after November, while the suggestion of the hon. Member for Paddington is that the county council of London, the county councils of England, and the boards of guardians should have their lives preserved for even longer than that—for a year after March. Why the London Members should have that privilege, God only knows! They are spoilt individuals. They get far too much of their own way. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to the position he has taken up in refusing London Members. As one hon. Member has said, it is not for representative assemblies to say that their lives shall be prolonged, and that no election shall take place. This House has said that several times, and most representative assemblies have passed resolutions to that effect. But it is not for them; it is for the electors to say. They should have the opportunity of electing bodies to represent them. If they chose not to have elections in their localities they could bring that about by having only one nomination for each seat. They would never get the chance, because this institution, time after time, prolongs its own life; so does the county council, and so do the county councils all over the country. It is an unwise policy. I have held all along that this House should not have prolonged its life, but gone to the constituencies in the first instance when its career had been run, and the constituents, themselves taken up with the War in its initial stages, would, in all probability in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, have returned unopposed single members in each constituency. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has refused this demand by the London Members, and I hope all London Members will take to heart the lesson which has been given that hereafter the Government are going to put them on an equality with other Members of the House.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."452
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I beg to move to leave out this Clause. It seems to me that the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has addressed to the Committee in answer to the Amendment which has just been disposed of are conclusive in support of my proposal to leave out this Clause. We know now that it is the intention of the Government to have an election in the month of November. That is advertised in the usual channels. It is blazed abroad in the Press which is in the confidence of the Government. We know also that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board stated in the course of the Second Reading Debate that he could give the House an assurance that the register would be ready three months before the 31st of January. Consequently the new register—which, by the way, is much easier to make up for Local Government Board purposes—is bound to be ready in full time for the November elections. In these circumstances, as it is obviously not in the public interest that the town councils should continue to exercise their very important functions without any representative authority, I think that the Government are bound by their own arguments to assent to the omission of this Clause. If our town councils were simply restricted to their ordinary former duties in times of peace the situation might not be so serious, but we know that special functions have been delegated to these bodies in the course of the War—very important functions touching closely the everyday life of all our fellow subjects.
They have functions in relation to pensions and other war materials, and are entitled to elect representatives to deal with these problems. On a number of other things they are closely connected with the War, and I think it is the greatest possible anomaly that men who were elected long before the War, and who have no touch whatever with their constituents, should be able to exercise the autocratic power to which I have referred. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say now—having stated the arguments which I have just repeated in a much more forcible way than I have been able to state them—that he will assent to the logical conclusion of these arguments. In the Second Reading Debate there was only one argument which he put forward which had any apparent vadidity 453 against this proposal, and that was that while provision was made for soldiers and sailors voting in Parliamentary elections, no such provision was made in the case of local government elections. Are we to understand by the right hon. Gentleman advancing that argument that he does not intend any local elections to take place until all the men embodied in the armed forces of the Crown are demobilised? If that is so, it is an appalling prospect. The War may go on for another two years, and it may be two years more after that before these men are demobilised; so that the conclusion of this argument is that for another four years we are to have no local elections in this country. That is absurd. While it is very important that men serving in the armed forces should be entitled to the franchise in the event of an election taking place in the course of the War, the same arguments do not apply in the case of local elections. The functions of these local bodies are purely functions of local administration. They affect only the people at present residing in the locality. The soldiers and sailors are absent. They are untouched.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
They are untouched by the administration in regard to these war matters of which I am speaking. They are not affected by the rationing locally. So far as their families are concerned they are affected, but their wives have votes. The wives are on the local government register and represent the family for the purpose of local representation, so that the hon. Baronet's argument does not touch the point.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
In so far as they are property owners, I assent to that proposition; but, on the other hand, they are not being affected by the actual administration. They are not the victims of the interference of these local bodies. When the House decided not to put soldiers and sailors on the local government register it did it with its eyes open and with a meaning in view, namely, that it was sailors on the local government register within the area who are affected by the work of the council should be the people to elect. These people are on the spot, 454 and there is no valid argument why they should not be entitled to elect local bodies in whom they have confidence, who will be responsible to them, and whose views they may be able to check and control in the ordinary process of popular election. For these reasons I propose that the Clause be left out.
§ Mr. C. PRICE
I have recently received a resolution of the Trades Council of Edinburgh, which is a very representative body, representing the working classes in Edinburgh, in favour of elections in November. I believe that many other hon. Members have received similar representations in favour of the hon. Member's Amendment, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept it.
§ Mr. BOOTH
In following the calculation with regard to the period of three months, I may point out that if the register is ready three months before the end of January, that would be the 1st of November. But elections take place in the country on the 1st November—I do not know about Scotland—and if the register were only ready that day it would not give candidates much opportunity for circularising electors. I take it that, when the point was made that the register would be ready three months before January, it would be ready about the middle of October, and if it were in print the week before the 1st of November, that would be all that is required so far with regard to machinery.
On the general point I think that there is an indisposition in this country to have these local elections largely because the leading men in various parts of the country for the first time in their lives are meeting on local committees without jealousies. In the old days, if you suggested a joint committee, particularly in small towns, it would require to be made up of equal numbers of, say, Conservatives and Liberals, and if either side preponderated the arrangement would not work. Happily, during the last few years, that has been largely forgotten, and if there is a local committee for war charity purposes people are not so careful as to whether there is a majority of one, two, or three on one side or the other. Men have sunk their politics. They do not dispute about politics every morning in railway carriages or tramcars as they had been accustomed to do, and I think that they rather 455 enjoy the rest and are loth to begin to divide themselves into hostile camps for local purposes, as they want to be united for Imperial purposes. That is the result of my investigation.
No doubt such men as candidates, secretaries, and so forth, feel that if they have to divide on party lines for local elections, as they do in many cases, they would not be quite so united for charitable purposes and Imperial purposes. That is the difficulty which has weighed with me up to the present, but as the years have gone on I think that that tendency has become lessened, and it might have another effect, and a good one, if elections were to take place this November. I do not think that there would be so much party spirit as formerly. I think that that would be a gain, and on balancing those two ideas I rather incline to the conclusion that it might be a healthy thing to allow local authorities to go before the electors. The late Lord Salisbury made a great mistake in suggesting that these local elections should be all fought on party lines. Many elections—such as those for guardians—in England are not generally fought on party lines, but elections in boroughs, and in some urban districts, generally are, and I always thought that that was a mistake. If the local authorities are now compelled to go before their constituents, I think that this would be avoided to a certain extent, and that might be a healthy and desirable change.
I think that most of the same men would stand again, but would not issue party manifestoes, or show party colours, or employ party canvassers, but would rather make a point of patriotism and their knowledge and efficiency with regard to local conditions. I know that in some cases a party fight is the easiest way out. I remember a local election in which all the different denominations put up candidates—Church of England, Nonconformist, co-operators, temperance people, and so on—and the general population intervened, and said "For goodness sake, we don't know where we are!" In the larger towns I feel sure that party politics would not be the dominating influence as in the past, and that might be a welcome change; but unless we can accomplish that now. I am afraid we may revert to party differences when the War is over. There is trouble, expense and difficulty during the War, and in many cases while the War is going 456 on I know that would be disagreeable. I do not know whether those places which desire an election should have one, but at any rate we can only make such inquiries as are possible. No doubt in many cases in the country they would like to have an election. The right hon. Gentleman's Department has sent out a circular suggesting that where there was a vacancy it should be filled up by the party who supported the deceased member or the retiring member. In some cases that has been done, but not in all. In some cases very great feeling has been aroused. I know some cases where the majority have deliberately chosen the exactly opposite course. In those cases there is no doubt that a feeling of bitterness has been growing up which has led to defiance of the circular of the Local Government Board. There are advantages both ways, but where it is in doubt, I believe the safer plan is to appeal to the people.
§ Mr. FISHER
The question before us is whether we are to postpone the elections to be held in March, and we have decided not to postpone them. We have further to decide now whether to postpone the elections in November. My arguments on the Amendment of the Member for South Paddington were, I think, conclusive against it. There is no reason why the House should decide now as to postponing the elections in March, because the House would be far more cognisant later of the circumstances in which those elections would probably be held. We have to consider the elections to be held in the first week of November, and we must remember that we are not likely to reassemble until about the middle of October, and that we could not well put off to that time the question of postponing the November elections until March, because obviously those concerned would meantime be left in a state of uncertainty. Therefore it is necessary to decide this question to-night, and to put into the Bill whether or not these elections shall be postponed, and the Government have come to the conclusion that these elections should be postponed. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) says he has some evidence that the Trades Council of Edinburgh desire the elections to be held in November there, but I can assure him that all the evidence which has reached me from those who are best qualified to give a judgment on the question is to the effect that it is far better that the November elections should be 457 postponed. The Municipal Corporations Association is of that opinion, and the great volume of evidence which reaches me is also of that opinion. The argument is used, which carries great weight, that the whole machinery of local government is now being used to the very fullest extent in the very matters which have been mentioned by the Mover of the Amendment—in the matter of tribunals, in the matter of food regulations, and in many other extra duties, such as the pensions committees, which all these local bodies are performing marvellously well, and which are more in the nature of national than local duties. If the elections took place in November, all this machinery, which is of such great use to the country at the present moment, might be dislocated by some great sweep of the electorate, which might turn out of office many of those who have been doing this work and acquiring such valuable experience. The hon. Member says they are not in touch with their constituents, but I would point out to him that, as a rule, the members of the tribunals and of the food committees and the pensions committees are the oldest and most respected members of their various localities. They are men who have sat year after year on these bodies, and, therefore, I do not think the hon. Member can fairly say they are out of touch with their constituents. If the elections were held in November, there might, as I say, be a clean sweep out, and the whole machinery might be dislocated.
§ Mr. FISHER
At all events we should have one more year, and a very valuable year, of administration by these gentlemen who are so well acquainted with the work. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) used a most remarkable argument. He said, "It is true that in the elections in November the soldiers could take very little part," and therefore the elections in November would be determined mainly by the ladies whom we have just enfranchised. But he said, "What does that matter to the soldiers? The soldiers have no concern with all these questions which are going to be determined by the local bodies, and what does it matter to the soldiers as to what policy is initiated by local bodies as regards housing or matters of that kind? It is not necessary for them to have a vote or to 458 take part in any of these local elections." I think the House will come to a very different conclusion from that. I think we ought to give an opportunity to the soldiers to take some very considerable part in these elections, and to have a very big voice in the questions that are going to be determined, particularly in the question of housing.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question—whether he intends to postpone local elections until the soldiers are able to take part?
§ Mr. FISHER
What we intend by this Bill is to postpone municipal elections until the following November, and while nobody can prophesy as to when this War will come to an end, at all events we do give ourselves a far better chance of having our soldiers back again with us and of their taking part in these elections. After all, if you hold these elections next November, these men will be shut out from taking any part.
§ Mr. FISHER
That is so, of course, in many of our big towns, but in London it is not so. The Metropolitan borough councils are elected for a period of three years, and, therefore, everybody who is serving his country would be excluded from taking part in these elections for three years. For these reasons I believe the Government have come to a right conclusion. They have refused to postpone the elections that will take place in March or April, but they have decided—and I think the Committee will agree with them—to postpone the elections which would otherwise take place in November.
§ Mr. HOGGE
We have had a very remarkable speech from the President of the Local Government Board stating the reasons why he is opposed to this perfectly innocent and useful Amendment. In the first place, he deprecates the idea that the women voters of this country can express the wishes and desires of their husbands who are at the front. The right hon. Gentleman understands and appreciates the municipal problems in the country, and he knows perfectly well, and would be the first to admit it, that if anybody knows about the local rates and the local arrangements it is the wives of the men who have to pay those rates. Therefore to suggest 459 that, because the soldier and the sailor at the moment are not at home, you must not have the election, in the possible hope that in a year now the War will be over, is a policy of despair. After all, with the exception of London, so far as the rest of the country is concerned, it does not count. With the exception of London, only one-third of the local representatives in any of these councils retire in any one year. In another month we shall be at the beginning of the fourth year of the War, so that men who were members of these councils, particularly in England, in August, 1914, who were in the third year of their term of office are now completing the seventh. Surely it is a reasonable thing to suggest that after at least one-third of every borough council in England has been in office for seven years without any reference at all to the ratepayers, the time has arrived when, unless we are extraordinarily timid, we might address an appeal to the electorate. There are a great many questions which ought to be referred to the electorate at the speediest possible moment. A scandal with regard to housing has been brought before the notice of the House. Reference has been made to the fact that soldiers would not be in the country able to vote. There are, of course, some soldiers and sailors who are here and will be able to vote. They are the discharged men. Attention has been drawn to the fact that in Sheffield, which gets the credit of being a progressive community, at least two discharged soldiers with their wives and families are resident in two disused pigstyes because there is no other accommodation. It is an extraordinarily grave indictment of housing in Sheffield if it is true, and I believe it is a fact which cannot be contradicted. I shall be glad to know if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fisher) has investigated it.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
After I have given a ruling it is not competent for any hon. Member to ask for reasons for it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Is it not competent to put forward as a reason for having local elections the fact that the public has no 460 opportunity to bring its wishes to bear upon the existing council regarding such a situation as my hon. Friend has referred to?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That is a hypothetical question. I was dealing with the practical position taken up by the hon. Member who is now in possession of the Committee.
§ Mr. PRINGLE rose——
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I have already given my ruling on the matter, and I do not propose to discuss it any further.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am sorry you have so ruled, because to me it is a matter of very grave concern. I shall try to avoid incurring your displeasure further with regard to that point. The conditions which I have described, and which you say I cannot go further into, are an indication of the kind of problems that await solution when reference is made to the municipal electors. This Clause deprives them of the opportunity of considering those problems which are closest to their daily life, and it is because of that that I support this Amendment, in order to allow the municipal electors to address themselves—they have every right, and indeed every necessity, to address themselves to them. Since this War began Parliament has thrown upon the local authorities a good many further duties, one of which concerns the administration of pensions in the various localities all over the country. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board knows that these pension authorities are elected by the local governing bodies. These are known as local war pensions committees, they are elected by local councils in certain proportions, and to-day, in spite of an Act of Parliament passed by this House, which lays it down that on every local war pensions committee there shall be at least two discharged soldiers and one woman, either the widow or a dependant of a soldier or sailor who has lost his life in this War, it is now proposed that discharged men who are municipal electors shall be deprived of the right of recording their votes at the November election. 461 They will thus be deprived of the opportunity of getting that representation on the local pensions committees which it is the desire of this House they should possess. The Parliament which is prolonging its own life without any mandate, and which has imposed this legislation upon these local bodies, is now proposing to enable these municipal bodies to prolong their own lives. It is the old story of the House of Commons passing legislation and then imposing the duty of administering it upon local authorities, while at the same time denying to the electors any say as to who shall carry out these administrative duties. I can conceive only one reason why the municipal authorities should seek to prolong their existence, and that is that they have not yet got the O.B.E. or some other honour from the Government for the performance of war duties. There are 288 Members of this House who have got the honour, and I do not know how many members of bodies outside Parliament have secured it. There must be some 5,000 or 6,000 in various parts of the country. It seems to me, if you are going to perpetuate the kind of fallacy that because people are already in power, and because, therefore, my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board thinks they know all about the work they should continue to perform it lest certain things happen, you are carrying it to the extreme and even to the verge of the ridiculous. Let me recall the argument of the President of the Local Government Board. He said if there were an election these people might be swept out of office. If that did occur, would it not be proof that the public wanted to get rid of them? We are continually being reminded that in this War we are fighting the cause of democracy. Democracy may sweep these people out of office to-morrow and yet municipal government would still go on. Suppose the same wave that swept these municipal dictators out of office were also to sweep the present Government out of office, would not this country go on just as well even if my hon. and right hon. Friends no longer occupied the Front Bench? The work of government is not carried on by the representatives but by the machine created by those representatives, who are there to criticise and keep the machine up to its best and most effective form. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if he did not turn up at the 462 Local Government Board to-morrow because of the late sitting of the House, he has perfect confidence in the officials of the Local Government Board that they would carry on the work to his satisfaction when he turned up there on Friday. Therefore the argument, so frequently used by Ministers in distress when they are trying to meet sound arguments, that, if these things happened, the world would come to an end, is so much moonshine. It does not mean anything at all. It may be true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that all these bodies are working at high pressure, but the revelations of the one little Committee of this House which is looking into the question of expenditure and into the staffing of the Departments have proved over and over again that all our Government Departments are over-staffed.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
This is the second time I have directed the hon. Member's attention to the irrelevance of his remarks.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I know that you have twice said that my remarks are irrelevant, but I have been trying my level best—and I am not without experience—to keep my remarks to the point. I do not often transgress. I was showing that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Amendment would dislocate the business of the municipalities of this country through the holding of the elections, was not sound, because of the fact that the municipal departments and the local War departments were, like the national departments, over-staffed. The last point, the powerful argument which the right hon. Gentleman has kept in the background, is that the register will not be ready. That argument means that the register, which it will be impossible to use for a municipal election in November, is to be used for a national election in the same month.
§ Mr. FISHER
I do not know why my hon. Friend is saying that I said the register would not be ready for an election in November. I made no such statement, nor any other statement which could possibly be interpreted as meaning that.
§ Mr. FISHER
The statement of the hon. Member that I said the register would not be ready for an election in 463 November. I made no such statement or any other statement which could possibly be twisted or contorted into meaning that.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am sorry if, after all his efforts, my right hon. Friend will not have the register ready for an election in November. In any case, whatever the right hon. Gentleman means, the argument he has used with regard to the dislocation of the municipalities would apply equally to a national election in November. For all these reasons I beg to support the deletion of this Clause.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
Every member of the Committee will be agreed on one thing at least—that is, that where any interference with the limited life of any popularly elected body is necessary, the area of that disturbance should be limited as far as possible. I confess that personally, in view of a good deal of public discussion in recent months, I was surprised to find that municipal elections were covered by the provisions of this Bill. The general trend of expectation in the country had been that we have reached the limits of desirable interference with the municipal elections, and I am quite ignorant what set of new considerations have influenced the Goverment in departing from what I still believe has been the unmistakable trend of public opinion for some time past. One of the main grounds upon which the extension of the life of this Parliament has been advanced is that it is exceedingly undesirable that we should have any disturbance of public thought and energy in view of an impending offensive at this particular moment. Obviously, that consideration cannot apply to prospective municipal elections in November next. But far the most conclusive argument that has been used by the Government has been that if a General Election were to take place you would have to use a register which everybody knows and acknowledges is entirely unreliable as affording an index of national thought and opinions. It is clear from the admissions of the President of the Local Government Board that that most important consideration could not possibly apply to the municipal elections in November next. The President of the Local Government Board argued that many men who might otherwise be candidates are now, under the scope of the enlarged Man-Power Bill, engaged upon 464 military service. He will acknowledge—certainly the experience of the last four years has abundantly shown it—that there can be no stronger claim to electoral support on the part of any candidate, Parliamentary or municipal, than that he should be engaged on actual military service. I cannot conceive a stronger recommendation for a municipal candidate than that he should be debarred from personally conducting his own campaign by the fact that he was serving in arms in France or elsewhere.
There is this further consideration. We are all aware that under the so-called party truce any vacancies in the municipal councils that have taken place in recent months or years have been filled by co-option. This system of co-option does not pay attention to the wishes or opinions of electors in any constituency. It is a pure arrangement between the political caucuses of both sides or of the three sides. It does not follow, and, as a matter of fact, it is within the experience of all the Members of the House that in many cases vacancies have not been filled by those best qualified to fill the responsible position of municipal councillor, and I do think that it is exceedingly undesirable, in the interests of the municipal life of the country, and especially in view of the most important municipal questions that are looming up in the immediate future, that you should have persons elected who have not unmistakably the mandate of the municipal electors behind them. I do not think that the Government have made out a clear case for the inclusion of municipal elections within the scope of this Bill. I still hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the matter, and that on reconsideration he will exclude the municipal elections. I am quite confident that the evidence which he has quoted on the authority of the Council of the Municipal Corporations is not the sort of evidence that can be conclusive in an assembly of this kind. Obviously, the further removed any elected representative, whether Parliamentary or other, is from the constituency which originally elected him the greater becomes his indisposition again to face the electorate, and it is quite natural that the Council of the Municipal Corporations, representing the elected bodies, should desire to prolong their existence and to postpone the evil day when they will again have to seek a fresh mandate from the electors. It is not a 465 consideration that weighs with me in the slightest degree. It is a consideration based upon natural motives, quite human in their character and in their inspiration. In the interests of the municipal life of the country it is desirable that the municipal electors shall have the chance of saying