§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £543,880 be granted for the said service."
(resuming): When we were interrupted I was building up this argument; that these rules were undoubtedly framed in a very hurried way, that there was too little time to take consultation with many of those whose advice I should like to have had, that it was essential from the very nature of the case that we should get the Military Service Act, 1918, into operation quickly, but that, at the same time, a large amount of evidence was put at my disposal as regards the right of the applicant and the need for the applicant and the need for the tribunal of professional advice in the conduct of the cases. I was submitting that that evidence was of a very varied character. So far as my prejudices as a member of the Bar are concerned, I have a prejudice rather in favour of professional assistance than against it. I cannot say that everybody who is a member of the Bar and even a distinguished member of the Bar has spoken with quite the same appreciation of the members of their profession as I have heard to-day from two or three members of the Bar here. There is no doubt that counsel and solicitors elucidate the cases in which they are engaged, but 1768 my correspondence shows that there are those who think that they rather entangle than elucidate the cases in which they appear. Undoubtedly in the earlier proceedings before the tribunals there was a good deal of complaint which reached us as to the manner in which certain solicitors conducted their cases, particularly in the country, which members of the tribunals thought was more calculated to enhance the reputation of the solicitor for a love of protracted fighting than for elucidating the case. There arc undoubtedly members of tribunals, and very worthy members of tribunals, who think that the less they see of counsel and solicitors the better it is for the elucidation of the case. When, we decided, as we did decide, to take away from the applicants under the new Act the right to be professionally assisted by counsel or solicitors, we provided that they would be able to employ a relative or other person to present their case.
I have known a grandmother who was a very powerful advocate. I think it is desirable that we should argue the question in a fair way. I am trying to put the side of the case that is put to me. I do not say at the moment which side I am going to take. I told the House yesterday that I would be guided by the opinions expressed by hon. Members. After all, we do leave the power to every applicant to have legal advice in drawing up his case. That is not to be despised.
I am trying to show the Committee what the applicant has. I am trying to put a side of the case which is certainly very strongly represented to me, not merely by correspondents, but by some Members of this House—namely, that the applicant has the power now to-employ professional assistance to draw up his case. He can put his written case, drawn up by a solicitor or counsel who can be employed for that purpose, before the tribunal. The right of having a professional representative was taken away from him, but so far as trade unionists, for instance, are concerned, undoubtedly under the present rule they would have power to take their secretary before the tribunal to argue their case. Employers 1769 would appear to argue their case, and an accountant could appear in difficult cases to argue their case. We undoubtedly took away the right to be professionally represented before the tribunal by a barrister or solicitor why did we do that? We did it in the honest belief that we were accelerating the procedure without taking away any of the protection which a man might legitimately demand and which he ought to have in order to bring his case before the tribunal. It was a matter that had to be decided in a hurry. I remember having to go through these Regulations— there are sixty of them—and to see how far they would, first of all, carry out the Military Service Acts, and next how they would meet all claims consistent with getting men for the Army.
I had what my right hon. Friend has often had—administrative assistance. I am quite sure that he would say, from his long public career, that administrative assistance is quite as good as legal assistance. There are sixty of these Regulations. I looked through them with a view to seeing if they carried out the Act and that they adequately protected the applicants who came before the tribunals. The real point is, which system would work most smoothly and most swiftly from the point of view of getting men, and which would work without doing any injustice to the applicant. That is a matter upon which my correspondence shows that there is a great variety of opinion. I said yesterday that I was ready to listen to the opinions of hon. Members. I want to be guided by the House in all these things. The speeches which have been made to-day by hon. Members like the Deputy-Chairman of Committees and by my hon. Friend (Mr. Albion Richardson), who have done such splendid work in connection with the Appeal Tribunals, are bound to carry weight. If they needed to be reinforced, they have been reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). It is impossible for me not to be influenced by speeches of that kind coming from those who are really experts in this matter. What is the effect of what they say? It is this, "You think that by depriving the applicants of professional assistance you are accelerating the proceedings before the tribunals. You are doing nothing of the kind. You are really 1770 taking away from us, particularly the Appeal Tribunals, the very assistance which enables us most quickly and most justly to arrive at our decisions." I have had a number of letters, especially from those who preside over Appeal Tribunals, who take that view.
I may say that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has written to me saying that he hopes we will restore the rights of the applicants to have professional assistance. He, of course, is looking after those in whom he is specially interested, namely, those engaged in agriculture. I have to weigh the evidence on behalf of the Government. Unless I hear evidence very much to the contrary of what I have heard, I am prepared to bow to the opinion of the Committee. I am very much influenced by what has just been said by the late Prime Minister. Unless I hear many opinions to the contrary to those which have been expressed, I am prepared to rescind this Regulation and to restore to those who come before the tribunals the right enjoyed by those who came before the old tribunals when they were called up under the former Military Service Act, the full right which they had to retain professional assistance. I have carefully gone into this matter. I have considered whether the right should only be given by leave of a tribunal, and I came to the conclusion that it would only waste time, because there would be two trials, first the trial whether or not leave should be given, and then a trial when, probably in most oases, leave had been given. I have also considered the matter from the point of view whether professional assistance should only be allowed in connection with Appeal Tribunals. There are many people who have told me that in their opinion that would suffice, but, after all, that would only enormously multiply the appeals. A man would say, "I cannot have professional assistance before the local tribunal, therefore I shall appeal in order that I may have professional advice." I admit quite frankly a complete surrender to the views of the Committee, if they be the views of the Committee, as I think they are. I have listened to the preponderating evidence and I would say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service, who is, perhaps, more interested in this matter than I am, because I am only the handmaid of the Minister for National Service—I say to him that I think he 1771 should restore the rights which were formerly enjoyed by the applicants before the old tribunal and give the fullest right to professional assistance to those who appear under the Military Service Act, 1918, before the tribunals. That is my considered opinion, and I need hardly say that I express the opinion of the Government in this matter.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that part of the question, may I ask what he proposes to do in regard to those cases which have to-day been decided and which have been refused legal assistance? As he has so freely met us, will he issue an Order that those cases shall be reheard?
I will deal with that. I come now to the question which has been raised whether or not the undertaking of the Government which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has been fulfilled. I gather that undertaking was that the applicant should have the same full right of appeal which was enjoyed by the representative of the Ministry of National Service. That was how I understood it.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
The Home Secretary's words were:The only object of the proposal to limit the right of appeal was to diminish that delay. I feel, however, that the force of the argument is in favour of giving the right of appeal as much to one side as the other.After the remark about paying a lawyer, he says:At the same times I must tell the Committee that we must limit the time allowed both for giving notice of an appeal and for hearing the appeal.That would surely indicate that in every other respect it was to be bilateral.
That is how I understood the pledge, and whatever may be contained in the Regulations, I am very anxious that they should conform entirely to that pledge. I think anyone who has listened to the Debate and to the extremely interesting speeches of those who preside over tribunals will agree that the whole of this matter is extraordinarily complex and difficult to understand. Even the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith), with all his legal acumen, said he was unable to understand it. I have tried to follow the Debate, and I think I understand a large portion of it. The right hon. 1772 Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) said, "I cannot expect the President of the Local Government Board to understand these things. I have been saturated with this business for two years, but I could not expect him to understand." I do not pretend to have the knowledge that my right hon. Friend has, but as he and the hon. Member (Mr. Richardson) developed their arguments into concrete cases, one, two, and three, I, at last, became aware that possibly these Regulations did not carry out to the full the pledge given by the Home Secretary, but I can assure the House that those who framed these Regulations certainly thought they did. They have not the faintest wish or desire to subtract one iota from the full rights which were recorded in accordance with the promise made to the House that the right of the applicant as regards appeal should be the same as the rights of the representative of the Ministry of National Service. The Regulations were drawn with that intention, and they were certainly passed and signed by me in the belief that they fully carried out that intention. I will not argue it in detail, but I think the principal objection would be met by this concession, which I am prepared to make, that we will allow a right of appeal against the refusal of leave to apply for renewal, and we will so alter our Regulations that it snail be made perfectly plain and clear that we allow a right of appeal against the refusal of leave to apply for renewal. The hon. Member (Mr. Richardson) said that would substantially meet the case.
That fully and fairly meets the objections we have taken, and fulfils the pleadge as many of us understood it.
I think I have crystallised our action in that respect. It would be possible for me to argue in detail the many concrete cases which have been given and elaborated by those who understand them much better than I do, but I have made a concession to my hon. Friends which they think will meet those concrete cases. I have every possible desire, and have had all along, that these Military Service Acts, unpopular and unpalatable as they must be, but necessary as they are in the condition of things in which we find ourselves, should be worked with the greatest spirit of harmony and justice to all those who come before the tribunals. I have listened to the Debate. I will review the Regula- 1773 tions in. the light of the Debate, and I will see, as far as I possibly can by any emendation of the Regulations, that the pledge of the Home Secretary is fully carried out in the amended form of the Regulations. As regards the pertinent point put by my hon. Friend just now, I will to-night put my pen to an Order rescinding the Regulation as regards professional assistance. This Debate will circulate in the Press, and the facts of it, and the decision of the Government, will be known to-morrow to all the chairmen of tribunals, whose ears are already listening to what is taking place in this House. I will proceed with the utmost expedition to inform the tribunals of the changes which are now taking place, and I will carry into execution, as far and as rapidly as I can, these concessions which have been made in deference to the opinion which has been expressed by those who are experts in this matter.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Perhaps I may be allowed, on behalf of the whole Committee, to express our sense of the fair-mindedness and candour with which the right hon. Gentleman has met us. It is not, I think, a case of surrender—I hardly even like to use the word "concession"—but a case in which we see the advantage of free and full discussion, conducted with a view to secure facility in the working of the Acts, without inflicting injustice.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am sure everyone will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his decision. I want to ask him a question on one point which was not covered by his speech—namely, that under the new Regulations, where a tribunal: has a written application for a case to be reheard on the ground of new facts, it is proposed that the tribunal shall not be able to grant that without the leave of the Director of National Service? When the Appeal Tribunal of which I am a member has read to it these applications for rehearing, we always have a representative of the Ministry of National Service present. We have his point of view put to us, and we have the views of his office before us before we come to a decision. Is not the true line to maintain that still and to allow the Civil authority to decide, after hearing the Ministry's representative? The moment a man is in the Army, nothing but the Army authority could possibly send him out of the Army, temporarily or altogether. I am most grateful for what my hon. Friend has done as 1774 regards appeals. I ask him to include that, because it really gives what is a true scientific dividing line—the Civil authority responsible before the man is in the Army, and the military authority wholly responsible the moment he joins it.
§ Sir H. NIELD
As I understood the concluding words of my right hon. Friend in explaining the position he proposed to take up, it was conditional upon the voice of the House. I understood him to say that the revocation of No. 12 was conditional upon his being bombarded with requests to withdraw it, and that he should not have a corresponding amount of artillery from the other side which would enable him to say, "I think opinion is divided; honours are easy, and we will leave things as they are." I come to join in the bombardment to ensure that this obnoxious proposal is withdrawn.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I am grateful to my Noble Friend, but still my right hon. Friend gave us the opportunity of expressing our views, showing that up to that time he had not entirely made up his mind. If there is anything which will persuade him it is the fact that his last Regulation is numbered 185. I grant they are not all living, but there are a good many of them living, and a substantial portion of them have to be regarded by the tribunals, apart from Statute and the decisions of the Central Tribunal, which are binding. So that if ever there was a case when men ought to have the opportunity of legal assistance it is in these proceedings. I think, however, it would have been far better if my right hon. Friend had entirely, revoked No. 27 instead of putting it upon the applicant to go to the local tribunal to ask for leave to appeal to be refused, and then to have to go to an Appeal Tribunal, and restored the old simple procedure and let them go straight away if so advised, and from my experience they would get in a shorter time the decision in the cases that they will get even by the proposal which is now put forward. The tribunal with which I am associated made it a practice, when about to make an order which ought to be treated as a final order, to put a reference to the Section on it and make it a final order. But as time went on and applications came up for leave to get rid of that finality, the cases proved to be so desperately hard that in 1775 eight out of every ten that leave had to be granted upon the facts then put forward, and so embarrassing was that to the work of the committee, which was done in panel before they say in public, that it was resolved among us that we would not put the Section on in future unless the case was one in which we had absolutely made up our minds that the circumstances were not likely to change and an extension be granted. They have been driven to reverse their procedure in order to save their time and to make matters run smoothly, as they have done now for some months since the alteration was made. I thank my right hon. Friend for the position he has taken up, because it has removed a source of very great grievance, but he would have been well advised if he had simply cancelled No. 27 and let the old procedure take its course.
In view of the very fair manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has met us, for which I desire to thank him, I now ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I should like to join with others in thanking the right hon. Gentleman, and I would like to urge upon him the matters which have been addressed to him by my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down. I would like to know what are the rights of applicants before tribunals in reference to medical certificates under existing conditions. A case has been put to me which seems to me a very hard one, and I would like to be in a position to explain in this case, and for the benefit of others similarly situated, what are the rights of applicants. The applicant in this case had been graded in a somewhat low grade, and he was subsequently graded by a medical board as Grade 1. His own medical man, who happened to be associated with that board, but not on that particular panel, was personally strongly of the view that the grade was wrong. The man tried to get a certificate from some other independent medical man, but that independent medical man felt himself held back by the Regulations which are now in existence from giving the certificate. I want to know what course should be adopted. I understand that a man making an application can have the right, through his own medical man, of presenting to the tribunals a 1776 certificate indicating what his position really is, so that the tribunal may be assisted by the medical man who has a real knowledge of what has taken place. Otherwise it is quite clear that the tribunal deciding the case has not the benefit of the experience and knowledge of the medical man who has had consideration of this man's case previously. If the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to give me some explanation, I shall be much obliged.
I understand from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton that the man concerned in the case he mentioned desires to bring forward for consideration a certificate from his own medical man. I presume he is going to argue that he has been put into the wrong grade. I have no doubt that if such a case came before the tribunal they would send him before a medical board to see whether or not he had been properly graded. That I understand is the procedure. If the hon. Member will send me particulars of this case I will inquire whether the answer I have given is correct—I think it is—and I will give him the full law on the subject.
§ Mr. KILEY
I should like to raise the question of applications made which arc out of date. A new application for rehearing must be lodged in a certain number of days. If it is lodged out of date the tribunal has no power to consider that case except with the sanction and approval of the National Service representative. If that sanction is withheld the tribunal has no rights at all. Therefore, I suggest that that is refusing the rights which an appellant had under the 1916–17 Acts, and a man at the present time is not receiving the same consideration that his son may have received during the earlier stages. The clerk of a tribunal must forward to the Appeal Court appeals within one day. It happens very frequently that the National Service representative is appealing against a decision given in favour of a man by the local tribunal. The clerk is, therefore, called upon to state the reason why the tribunal gave the exemption. One can understand a number of these being lodged in one day, possibly on the day when the tribunal itself is sitting. Therefore, any applications which have to be sent forward that day would invariably go forward without the reasons in the man's favour which were considered by the tribunal sufficient grounds for exemption. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might consider 1777 whether that very short time could not be lengthened to three days or five days, so as to enable a proper account to be given. It would also assist the Appeal Court, because they would have the reasons which influenced the local tribunal in coming to their decision.
I notice in the Instructions sent forth from time to time that many of them have been against the appellant, but I have not noticed that any of them have been to restrict the rights exercised by the National Service representative. I suggest that there may be a considerable amount of time saved if the right hon. Gentleman could impose some restriction upon the National Service representative's unlimited right of constant appeals. Some time ago I called attention to one case which had come under my notice where the local tribunal gave a man three months' exemption. The National Service representative took that to the Appeal Court. The man came back at the end of his time and he got a second term. It went to the Appeal Court again. The same process was repeated and the case went to the Appeal Court the third and fourth times. The man came up last year before the local tribunal for the fifth time, and the National Service representative, having failed on four consecutive times to get the man, said "I must have this man somehow. Therefore I will agree to the man having exemption from the local tribunal providing he forsakes his own business and enters service of national importance." The tribunal refused to alter their decision as the man was devoting two days per week to local hospital work, the V.A.D., and they felt that he was well occupied in looking after his own business, of which he was the head. The result was that the National Service representative lodged a fifth appeal against that man. If the new Regulations are intended to speed up the work of the tribunals, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might consider that case. There are many others I could mention. We had thirteen men all in C Class, mostly heads of businesses, to whom the tribunals granted time, and in every case the National Service representative demanded that these men should forsake their occupations as heads of businesses or skilled operators and go into other work. A great amount of time is wasted in the local tribunals and in the Appeal Tribunals in this way. If the right hon. Gentleman 1778 would look into this matter, he would save a considerable amount of time and help to speed up the work of the tribunals.
§ Sir W. BARTON
The point I wish to raise is not of such general interest as some of the others which have been raised, but it is one of real importance. I had an Amendment down in the Committee stage to the effect that we should have technical assessors for special trades in special area. That Amendment really came from the Employers' Federation and the Operatives' Union concerned in the cotton trade. They desired their representative in Parliament to give general support to the Bill with this reservation: They felt, and their representatives feel, that when you deal with men from forty-one to fifty-one years of age you of necessity come upon a considerable number of men who may be said to be key men, and on whose labour the labour of very many others depends. In a highly technical industry it would be clearly an advantage to the tribunal to be assisted by technical assessors. The idea is not to preserve men from the Army, but to reserve the right men for industry. This question cannot be called purely a trade question. Practically the whole of our industries now are concerned with work which is as much war work as anything short of the actual fighting line. Our factories are engaged in work for the clothing of our own people, for the Army and Navy and our Allies, and our former export trade has practically gone. It is of real importance, when you are taking men away, that the men who are spared should be the men who are actually necessary to successfully carry on the general operations of trade. We have had a galaxy of legal talent to-day dealing with the professional service on the tribunals. I have never listened to such an illuminating Debate. It had this advantage, that apart from the concessions obtained from the President of the Local Government Board, it put him into a yielding frame of mind, and I hope he will continue in that and will grant the concession for which we are asking, because I can assure him that we are asking for it to enable us to carry on operations of the utmost difficulty and complexity and in the sincere desire to help him in his sincere desire that the progress of the tribunals shall be as speedy as possible. We believe that the progress will be made more speedy and more successful if he grants this concession.
§ Mr. GULLAND
I desire to raise several points connected with one Department which the right hon. Gentleman has to administer in regard to the registration arising out of the Representation of the People Act. That is a very difficult and complicated piece of work which the right hon. Gentleman has to perform, and it has to be done, as he said this afternoon, at a time which is peculiarly difficult, because of the shortage in material and men. I am sure the whole Committee is very sympathetic with the right hon. Gentleman in having to do this work and to supervise it at a time when his hands are so full with other matters. I wish to make a few observations entirely in a friendly way and with a desire to help the right hon. Gentleman. It is better to bring these matters up this afternoon rather than to have a large number of oral questions on the Paper. My anxiety in this matter is to secure that as many people as possible get on the register, especially that every man and woman who is entitled to get on shall do so. What I am saying now applies to the party which I represent, and I know it applies in an equal degree to every other party in the House and in the country. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he is getting on with Form A. This is usually called the Pink Form, but in the North and other parts of the country it is the Khaki Form.
It is not easy for the ordinary householder to fill up Form A. I think there are some Members of Parliament who find it difficult, and to-day a very eminent K.C. asked me on a point on which he said he had had a variety of answers from everybody he had asked, and it seems to me if Members of Parliament and K.C.'s have difficulty the ordinary householder cannot be expected to find it easy, because the form assumes a knowledge of the Act which the ordinary man cannot possibly have. It is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman; it is the fault of the House probably for having made such a complicated Act. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, is doing his best in these forms to put the matter in as simple a manner as possible. Personally, I confess, I prefer the Scottish form, which is more general, and does not put the same conundrums to the householder, but enables him to put the names down and leave it to the registration officer to put the names under the heads of franchise which he, a more 1780 skilled person, thinks they ought to have. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the first place, if all the forms are out? I think many cases exist which have not received the forms. I should like to ask him are the forms coming back, and are they being properly filled up?
There are one or two points that my Reports show which I should like to put before the right hon. Gentleman. I find that in many tenement houses only one form is left, and therefore only one form is returned. This applies especially to half-houses where one family lives on the ground floor and the other on the first floor. One family, therefore, sends a return and the other has not the opportunity, and it looks at present as if the name of the one family will appear on the register, whereas the other family will hot appear at all. Then in many cases the householder fills up the form in regard to the Parliamentary franchise, and then he is so bewildered, or thinks he has done all that is necessary, that he does not fill up the part of the form dealing with the local government franchise. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the registration officers in such cases will regard it as their duty, if the man seems to be all right, that he should also have the local government franchise. Then in regard to women. The point arises on which I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman some time ago, that there is no distinction in Form A between married women or widows and spinsters, no distinction between Mrs. and Miss. Of course, in the case of wives it is all right, because they will be Mrs., but in other cases there is no distinction. I think it is desirable the register should be clear, so that the candidates addressing a woman should know if they are addressing Mrs. Smith or Miss Smith, and also for purposes of identification, when that particular woman comes to vote. There are many cases of mothers and daughters living together with the same name, and there should be identification, such as Mrs. or Miss, so that the returning officer, when that woman comes, should know whether she is the actual person whose name is on the register.
These points appear to me to show quite conclusively, and there are many more with which I shall not trouble the Committee, that a house-to-house canvass is absolutely necessary. I do not think you can make up a proper register unless you have a house-to-house canvass. The right 1781 hon. Gentleman has often said he thinks it is necessary, but I should like to ask him, Has he definitely instructed that there shall be a house-to-house canvass, because unless he does that I fear in many cases it will not be done? I know, and I sympathise with, the difficulty of getting a staff enough to do it. But there is no use in making a register unless it is a complete register, and you will not get a complete register without a house-to-house canvass. The right hon. Gentleman has said to-day that it may be necessary to delay the date on which the register will come into operation. I think the country at large would prefer to have the date extended for a complete register rather than try to rush an incomplete register. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way specifically to require each registration officer to carry through a house-to-house canvass. If Form A is posted back to the registration officer it is no surety that it has been filled up correctly, and, short of an interview between canvasser and householder, I do not think you can have the form filled up properly or a satisfactory register made up.
In regard to naval and military voters, on Form A, where the householder fills up for them, if proper inquiry is made as to whether the names put in there are really correct, then these names ought to go on the register. Some registration officers are in doubt as to whether they are entitled to put these names on, and they are rather taking the line that they will go by the cards that come back from the men themselves, which are issued by the naval and military authorities. There may be all sorts of difficulties arising from these cards coming back from the front. The ship on which the mail is carried may be torpedoed, and the man would lose his vote, not knowing he was losing it. There may be a hundred different accidents in these days to prevent that post-card being returned, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to state clearly to the registration officers that if they are satisfied that this man is entitled to get on as a naval or military voter he shall be put on from the information given by the householder. There is a Regulation that if there is a variation between these two returns the registration officer may make inquiries and decide in regard to the man's ship or number of his rating or difficulties of that sort. The registration officer is entitled to inquire, and it is within his 1782 right, but I want also, now that the House has given these men a vote, to see that the men are on the register.
I was very glad this afternoon to have a reply from the hon. Member on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman that his desire was that in cases of claims and objections, and so on, official forms should be used. I think it is infinitely better than that the different political parties or organisations should use unofficial forms. The House desires, and I think the country desires, that this matter of registration should be a public service, and nothing probably will help more towards that than that official forms, and official forms only, should be used in these eases of claims and objections. Of course, that involves that these forms shall be available at convenient places, so that everybody who needs to fill one up shall be able to get it. With regard to proxy votes, the right hon. Gentleman, the other day, in reply to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Colonel Sanders), said that proxy papers from Mesopotamia would take roughly six months from the time they left here to the time they came back. That is rather an important point, because I think the right hon. Gentleman rather suggested that proxy does not begin until the draft register is published. That is 15th June, and therefore it is not possible on that basis to get the card from Mesopotamia before the 15th December, while the register on the present dates is supposed to come into operation on 1st October. That obviously raises a difficulty, and what I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman is whether he could not at once in the case of these distant areas make Regulations that they shall be proxy areas. There are a number of such cases, India is one, Palestine is another, which must be proxy areas. They are pressing eases which should be dealt with at once. The other nearer areas may be for after consideration, but it is, obvious, if this matter is to take six months, these places should at once be delimited as proxy areas, and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman as to whether he could not arrange that in anticipation of their names appearing on the register, he might make arrangements for proxy papers to go to soldiers and sailors in these areas at once. If it is found that the man is not entitled to be put on the register, the proxy paper will fall. If, as in 99 per cent. of the cases, he is entitled to be put on, the paper will be valid. This, again, is only carrying out 1783 the intention of the House that these men shall have the vote which the House has agreed to give.
I should like to conclude by saying that in this matter of registration all the party agents and all the people who are interested in the question, as we all are, desire to help him in every way. We party organisations are depleted of men just as his staff is, and I can assure him that if in any way we can help we shall be only too glad to do so.
§ Colonel SANDERS
I am entirely in sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the opinion he has expressed on this subject. I feel personal sympathy with him, because he has been more trusting and guileless than I have. Perhaps he has not seen the leaflet issued by the Ocean Association, in winch they inform the Service that every man over twenty-one years of age is to have the vote, and that he will not have to make a claim or fill in any form. I am afraid that will come as a terrible shock to the President of the Local Government Board. For myself, I have never felt that this was going to be a simple affair, and I took the opportunity several times when the Bill was in progress to say that I thought the first register would be an exceedingly difficult and complicated matter to arrange, and that to look after the register would be a great deal more difficult than it ever was before. It is not a simple thing at all, and really I do not think that this pink form has made it any easier. Indeed, the pink form has got a reputation almost rivalling that of the old Form IV. in its claim to be a part of political history. I am quite sure that it was sent out with the very best intentions, but I think it must have been drawn by someone who knew so much about the subject himself that he did not perceive how difficult it was for people without expert knowledge. Another thing about these forms is that they have been left at houses without the address being put on. But the form has a place on the front page where the address is to be put in. I myself have heard of several instances— and there must be an enormous number of others—in which the householder, in the various houses where these forms have been left, has not filled in the address on page 1. The householder fills in the form itself, where there is no place to put his address. He gives his name, Thomas 1784 Brown, or whatever it may be, but with no address on it at all. Of course, that makes it difficult for the overseers, whose difficulties are not small at any time, and now they will be greater than they were before. Another thing happens: In a great many cases these forms are left at the houses and not returned at all.
Then to turn to the wording of the form itself. As I said, whoever drafted this form really gave those who have to fill it in credit for more knowledge than they can be expected to possess. There is no doubt a subtle distinction between the word "resident" and the word "occupier," but it is one of those distinctions which the ordinary lay mind cannot at all readily grasp. It is one that takes a good deal of explanation; yet here the term "resident," as the word used in Section 1 of the Instructions is "occupier," is used, and in Section 4, again, the term is used. It has been pointed out to me that the consequence of that is that lodgers do not get put down in this form, although they are residents, because of the Instruction in Section 4, that lodgers are only to be treated as occupiers when the lodgings are let to them unfurnished. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will give that point his attention, because it is causing a great deal of trouble. When a man reads this form he thinks, "I have got a lodger here; I cannot put him down as an occupier," and he does not realise that he may put him down as a resident. It is a distinction evident to the right hon. Gentleman himself, perhaps, but it is not evident to the ordinary lay mind. These are not points which I am making; they are points which come to me from various places. Another point is that a man is not to be put on for business premises. Although on the first page "land and premises" are spoken of together, and in Section 2 the "occupier is a person who pays rent in respect of premises or land, where premises or land are let," yet when we come to the actual form that has to be filled up, premises are mentioned but land is not. That has created a good deal of confusion, and the farmer who lives in one parish while his land is in another parish, and who is therefore liable to be put on for both parishes under the Bill, is not put on for the second parish under this form.
A further point that has been brought to my notice is that the form has been sent round to householders only, and con- 1785 sequently it does not get filled up in respect of the business premises qualification. The registration overseer has been instructed to send the list of householders only, and it is only for the residence qualification that the form is getting filled up. Then under Section 4 (b) of the form I am told that trouble arises in regard to the wives of soldiers who are serving. The woman is to enter herself as entitled to vote if she is a married woman over thirty years of age, living with her husband at the premises. But the soldier is abroad. He is not living with his wife at the premises, so although undoubtedly, under the Act, the wife is entitled to vote in respect of these premises, yet on the face of the form she would not enter her name there. These are some of the difficulties that have been pointed out to me in connection with this form, and I thought it only right to bring them to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. It is in no spirit of hostility that I do it. I know that he wants to get this register as perfect as he can, and undoubtedly things are not going very straight about it at present. I have had one letter from a certain part of the country, from which I will read a few extracts. The writer says:A more complete muddle in the Registration than there is it is difficult to conceive. The confirmation of the appointments of Divisional Registration Officers has not, I hear, been received, and the Overseers have had no instructions beyond the white pamphlet which they don't understand. All the forms were to be completed by 30th April—half of them have not been distributed. At one place the Overseer had 8,000 forms to deliver and collect in a fortnight, and he says he would rather go to prison than attempt it! At another the Overseer refuses to deliver the forms, and is collecting the information in a note-book and filling them up himself! At a third the Overseers are advertising for someone to tender to do the work, and not a form has been distributed.…Many labourers won't put their names to anything.That letter came to me only two or three days ago, so that in the districts to which it refers I am afraid the register will not be completed very soon. I wish to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that in country villages many labourers will not put their name to anything. I think it has been a tolerably common experience, when these forms have been sent round, that they are not filled up. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that if this thing is to be done, and done properly, it must be done by a house-to-house canvass. If that is so, and I am convinced it is so, the time will really have to be extended. I know that we all want to get 1786 this thing done properly, and if it is not possible to get it done by the 15th June, then I think that the time ought to be extended beyond that date. I do not think you will get anything like a decent register by the 15th June. I also think you will have to extend the date for claims. I do not think the objections matter so much, for there is now not so much chance of people getting on the register who have not the right to be on it. I think that the time between the 15th June and the 5th July is not long enough for claims to be sent in. I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite may say that a body with which I am connected have sent out forms in respect of special claims, but we desire to have as good a register as we can possibly obtain. The Act is not quite clear. It says that the registration officer shall, on the application of any person, supply forms of claims and notices of objection, but we have been led to understand that they have not been supplied. After all, these things have got to be done by a political agent or someone else. If the individual has to go and make his own claim in the prescribed form, and if he has to go and get the form, or write for that form, it means that in the majority of cases you will not get it done. If you want to get this done you must have your forms of claim in an office where they can be supplied. You must have them in bulk.
If the Local Government Board would supply the forms of claims, and not political agents, then there is an end of it. If they will not do that, it would be better that the agents should supply them themselves, and I think it would be rather stretching a point too far to say that such a form, if sent in, should not be valid. After all you do not want to be too minute about forms in this case. All we want is to get on the register every man who ought to be put on. You have got the help of the political agent in this matter, and really I think if you are going to get this register in anything like ship-shape, the political agent is your only chance. As things are now, in several parts of the country, the matter of registration is absolute chaos. It seems to me that the best chance of getting a decent register is to extend the time between the dates which are put down—15th June and 5th July—in which claims may be lodged. I take it that you will get about 24,000 voters in an ordinary constituency. I have consulted men likely to know, and they 1787 tell me that 1,000 claims in such a constituency would not be a large percentage, and that they would not think it at all unlikely that there would be 1,000 or more claims in a constituency of 24,000 voters. In the time between a fortnight and three weeks you will find it very difficult, if there are that number of claims which ought to be made, to get them made, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will carefully consider the question of extending the time in that respect. I do not think too much stress can be laid on the importance of getting a good register to start with. The registration work afterwards will be comparatively easy if you start with a good register. House-to-house canvassers are necessary, I think. But to get your house-to-house canvassers to do the work is, after all, a matter of time, and unless the time is extended you cannot do it.
The reason, no doubt, for expediting the time is to enable a General Election to come on. I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee, from all the information I get—and it is my misfortune to get a good deal on the subject —that to hold a General Election in time of war would be almost a physical impossibility. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough, the other day, to answer a question which I asked him about proxies. It would take six months to get proxies back from Mesopotamia, and there are other parts of the world to which proxy forms would have to go, where it would take almost as long. Then you would get other difficulties, and you would get a scarcity of everything that is wanted for electioneering. There would be scarcity of paper, and an election is an enormous consumer of paper. You would get scarcity of timber for polling booths, ballot boxes, and all that sort of thing. It all mounts up, and it is very hard to get. You would get scarcity of petrol, which is one of the most potent factors in an election, and, above all, you would get scarcity of man-power. I really do not know how, if an election were to take place while the War were still going on, you would get it conducted even with that modicum of safety to himself that a candidate generally assumes he will have. You would not get enough men who had even the most elementary knowledge of election work to ensure the safety of the candidate in the election from corrupt practices afterward. You would not be able, also, 1788 to get the, perhaps less necessary, help of canvassers, who, after all, are needed if you are going to get anything like a full poll. You might hold an election next October or November, and no doubt you might get a 55 per cent. to 60 per cent. poll, but if you got that you could not call it a proper expression of the opinion of the country. It would be a very much better thing that an election should take place a little later on, and that you should then get a satisfactory election, rather than that it should take place a little earlier and you should get an election which would really be no test of public opinion at all. For that reason, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not unduly hustle the register. I would put it even more strongly than that; I would say that he should be particularly considerate about the time for the register. I hope he will make every reasonable concession as to time, in order to try and get a really good register for the first time, rather than a slipshod one. I would like to say again, what I think cannot be too often rubbed in, that this first register is the cardinal point of the whole thing. If you get a good register to start with, your work will go easily afterwards, but if you get a bad register to start with, you will have perpetual difficulty in every registration court for years and years.
I think the Debate has been conducted, by those who have taken part in it, with one single desire, and that is to get the fullest possible register, and the fullest possible number of voters put on the register who have the right to be put there by the Representation of the People Act. That, I think, is a spirit that animates us all. We want as many people as possible to get on the next register. We say, let' em all come, even if we all go. I do not know one of us who is sufficiently a correct prophet to know how the majority of those who do come are going to order as to those who will go. Nowadays, we are so accustomed to go to bed at night as Unionists and to wake up next morning as Home Rulers; to go to bed Free Traders and wake up Tariff Reformers; or again, to go to bed as Voluntarists and wake up as Conscriptionists, that nobody does really know what is going to happen either to himself, to his Constituency, to the Government, or anybody else, within the next six months. Therefore, there was never more a time when we ought to make every effort to scrap the old system of registration, 1789 when people endeavoured to keep everyone off the register if they did not know whether they were on their side or not; and when one ought to make an effort to get as many people on the register as are entitled to vote under the Representation of the People Act. My right hon. Friend opposite, who is an expert on this question, was followed by another expert, the hon. and gallant Member for the Bridgwater Division, and I will endeavour to answer the different questions which they put to me. Complaint was made, I think by both Members, that the pink form had many imperfections. They seemed to recollect a previous one, which it required professional assistance to fill up. I quite admit that the pink form is a form rather for experts. It was drawn up by them; but, after all, if it is really complicated, it is not because of any desire on the part of experts to show their knowledge, or any other reason of that kind, but because the Act of Parliament, which abolished the old franchise, created a new franchise which for the War period at least is a singularly complicated sot of franchises to set out in a single form. To those who say "that form is very difficult, and you might have given us something simpler," I would ask them if they have ever put forward a rival form to the pink one. For my part I stand on the Pink 'Un.
Nothing Scottish is ever understood in England, not even the language. [An HON. MEMBER: "Whisky!"] I do not express my opinion as an Englishman—I think I had better not—but I do hold still that our pink form is really as good a form as could possibly be evolved under all the difficult circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman said, "How are you getting on with it? Has it been filled up to a large extent, and returned to a large extent?" There, I can only give him a very general answer, like the sort of answer which is given when you knock at the door of a house, and they tell you that things are as satisfactory as can be expected. That is the answer I must give him. We have not tested it, but these forms we believe are being returned—at all events they are being returned by post—and I think it is a fairly satisfactory return, but I join with him, and with my hon. and gallant Friend, in saying this, "You are going to have the most unsatisfactory register if you rely on 1790 the people to fill up these forms, and if you do not give them every possible assistance in filling them up." There is not the slightest doubt about that. If you want to get a proper register, you must have a house-to-house canvass. By that I do not mean a perfunctory calling at the house, and leaving a form; and a perfunctory calling at the house, and picking it up again. If you are really going to have a satisfactory register, you ought to have a body of canvassers, capable of going to a house and advising why and wherefore the form is not filled up in certain particulars, and capable of being able to a large extent to help people to fill it up. That is the critical point, the pith of the whole matter. Are you going to get that body of experts, and where are you going to get them?
I say boldly that if this House is going to stick to it that it wants this new register by 1st October, and is going to force the Government to bring out this new register by 1st October, then it is going to have an uncommonly incomplete register. Things were bad enough before the Military Service Act of 1916, but after the Military Service Act of 1918 the registration officer may rely on this, that the very men on whom they rely for this house-to-house canvass may be called up for other work of national importance. I have made some little effort to put in a plea that some of these men who are giving assistance in registration—which, after all, is work of national importance —should be left to do this work of national importance. I have even put in a plea that some of those who have been taken should be returned. I do not know whether that plea will be listened to, but of this I am certain, if we do not succeed in getting that body of men—and we are not succeeding at the present time in many cases—and if we insist on having the register by 1st October, we are going to have a very incomplete register, because the form is difficult to fill up. I quite admit it is difficult. It is only an expert adviser who can help the ordinary elector to fill it up. My hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgwater Division mentioned several cases. The question of the lodger, who really might be put on if only his landlord knew how to get him on; the question of the occupier; the question of the wife of the soldier—all these people could be put on, and ought to be put on, if only those who fill up the forms really had a little 1791 advice when they filled them up or soon after they filled them up. But they cannot get the advice just from any ordinary boy messenger who goes round to collect pink forms. It cannot be done. People say to me sometimes, "Why don't you make more use of women?" How on earth can you use a woman to go round to the crowded and congested parts of large towns? They must go by night. The only time when they would ever get any information out of the voter is between seven o'clock and half-past nine or ten at night. You really cannot ask women to go round and canvass in that sort of way. They will not do it; it is not a task which is suitable for them. We are, therefore, largely debarred from using women in big towns for canvassing purposes. Men tell the "missus" not to give information on any account; that is very often the case, and the only person who can extract information is one accustomed to dealing with the working classes under these circumstances. I have no sympathy with the labourer who takes up the line that, under no circumstances, will he put his hand to any paper; very likely he will not put his foot inside the polling booth, and, therefore, we need not trouble much about him. But I am seriously concerned at the position of the registration officers, who have extraordinary difficulties to face, inasmuch as they cannot get expert canvassers to make a proper and adequate and not merely a perfunctory house-to-house visitation.
If I were asked my opinion I should say the House cannot expect to get the register completed before December. We have been told how registration officers, when they see the pile of complicatd forms requiring to be filled up and the immense amount of information to be obtained are almost appalled by it. What, for instance, are you going to do about the naval and military voters? Are you going to trust to the postcard? That is another difficulty which has to be faced. As I have already said, we are most anxious at the Local Government Board that all naval and military voters should be put on the register. There will probably be considerable delay in the matter of these cards—in getting them filled in. We have impressed on the registration officer the importance of obtaining the fullest local information as to all naval and military voters. They are to get their numbers and description of service and so on, and all 1792 this information, having been ascertained, is to be entered in a separate list. We hope that that will be done, but who are going to do it? Has the registration officer the staff to do it? It comes back to this, Can you give us more time? That is the point. The Committee cannot expect me, as a member of the Government, to offer my opinion about it; all I can say is that you will get a most incomplete register if you force us to have it by the 1st October.
I know, that is quite true, but opinion has been expressed throughout this Debate that it should have been possible to get all this information, and I am pointing out the difficulties in the way. It is, after all, very largely a question of the prolongation of the life of Parliament. You cannot deal with this subject in a fragmentary way, the question of the register to a large extent depends on the length of the life of Parliament, and this is a matter which must be brought under the attention of the Government when it is considering the proposal to prolong that life. They will have to consider it from the point of view also whether or not it is possible to hold an election during the War. If I were asked the question, "When is an election not an election on a representative basis?" I should say it is not an election on a representative basis when it is held during a period of war. But as I have already said, we will do our best to obtain a house-to-house canvass; we will do our beet to provide assistance for those who do not know how to fill in their forms, and we will do our best to get all the information possible for the registration officer in regard to naval and military voters. I think we have shown that that is our intention in the form we sent out on the 10th April. With regard to the multiplicity of forms, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be far better to have but one set of forms for claims and objections, and that these should be supplied by the registration officer. I do not think the party organisers should have rival forms of their own, but I have no power to enforce my own desire in that regard.
As regards proxy votes, I have been asked whether we cannot issue an Order in Council appointing the area in which 1793 voters may exercise the right of proxy voting. I think the time has arrived when it would be possible to issue au Order in Council of that kind. But that does not really help the question very much, because even if you issue such an Order and fix the area in which the proxy can be used, the registration officer will still be unable to send out the proxy forms unless he knows that the particular soldier or sailor is on the register for that particular area. It may be suggested that the registration officer might send out the forms on the chance of the voter being on the register, but that would be a real waste of effort, it certainly would not be of much assistance.
It would embarrass the registration officer, who surely is sufficiently embarrassed already.
§ Mr. GULLAND
As at present proposed the proxies are to be sent out by the registration officer as soon as it has been determined that the voter's name shall be included in the register. Does that mean not until an opportunity has been given for objection, or is it only on the 1st October?
I have not gone into that point, but I will consider it. May 1 point out that a great many of these soldiers and sailors are in distant parts of the world, and it may take months to get at them. But we will do our best. There are enormous difficulties in the way of getting these men on the register in time if you are going to have an election during the War. Once the register is formed, then, of course, the voter can always get his proxy vote carried from one register to another. I hope I have covered all the ground opened up by the various speakers. Let me conclude by saying that we are most anxious at the Local Government Board to carry out the behests of this House and to give the fullest possible force to the Representation of the People Act. I, for my part, am proud of the part I had in putting it on the Statute Book. In every way we are most anxious to facilitate the work of the registration officers, but I believe the Government may well consider now whether or not it is wise to press for the completion of the register by the 1st October. The right hon. Gentleman who last held the post of Prime Minister has, of 1794 course, a special right to be consulted on the question whether it is wise to hurry up the register or whether it would not be the better course, with a view to making the register complete in every way, to postpone the date from 1st October until some later date, when we shall have at all events a much better chance of obtaining a full register of all those to whom we gave the franchise when we passed the Representation of the People Act.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir WILLOUGHBY DICKINSON
Recognising, as we all do, that the right hon. Gentleman is most anxious to do everything in his power to obtain a really complete register for the next election, whenever it may come, I think that only with the view to helping him to achieve that object is it desirable to say anything on this occasion. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is aware—at any rate that is the information which I have received—that the difficulty of filling in the pink forms is very great indeed, and in some parts of London it has been found already that such of the forms as have been sent in are almost useless. One of the oldest and most respected Members of this House actually asked me how to fill up his form, and I was able to help him, but this incident is really indicative of the difficulty which is generally experienced, and I am afraid there is no doubt that a great proportion of the forms, when they are sent in, will be found to be not only of no use but may even have a damaging effect on the register. It is absolutely essential that the pink form should be used, as we intended it to be used, merely as a basis on which the register is framed. It all depends on how the registration officer sets to work. I quite realise that these officers are faced with very great difficulty at the present moment in getting the necessary staff to carry out the work properly. There are undoubtedly cases where the work is not being well done, while in other boroughs in London it is being thoroughly done. It all depends on the ability to tackle the work of the particular officer in charge, and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot take steps to ascertain, before it is too late, how the work is being done in various places. There is a tendency on the part of certain registration officers to make too much use of information which other people are supposed to supply. An example of that is the Army card. I am 1795 told that there are registration officers who take the view that it is not their duty to put a naval or military voter on the register until they have got the information which the Array and Navy are supposed to supply. I venture to submit that that is a totally erroneous view of their duty. The intention of the Act was that the information which the Army can supply should be an assistance to the registration officer, but not in any way absolve him from the duty of going round the district to find out the names of men who habitually live in the district, and therefore have a right to be on the register. That is a point which I think the Local Government Board would do well to press upon the registration officers. I am glad to know it has been already done.
I do not know whether R.P. 12 carries out the right hon. Gentleman's desire or my desire in that respect.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
I do not carry that in my mind, but I am perfectly certain from what I hear that there are registration officers who are taking that view. There is another point, and that is the position of wives. A great many householders have not realised that their own wives, or the wives of the other tenants, are entitled to be on that paper Although women's suffrage has been passed by this House there are a great many people in this country who do not know it has been carried. I have been told of cases where registration officers state that they are going to accept only the returns from the household. In order to give women the full rights of voting it is necessary to make a house-to-house canvass, and to make a point of ascertaining what married women there are in the various houses. With regard to the suggestion the right hon. Gentleman has made as to extending the time, I suppose we have nothing to say to that in this House, but personally I should strongly urge that if it is impossible—and I recognise it is difficult—to get a proper register before the 1st October, a month's extension or so would be well worth having, and I should hope that the Government might consider that rather than accept the position that the register cannot be made perfect without such a change. I therefore hope the suggestion he has thrown out that the date shall be to a certain extent enlarged may meet with the approval of the Govern- 1796 ment, and I am pretty well certain that it will meet the approval of this House rather than that we should have a register that is incomplete.
§ Major Sir HENRY NORMAN
The right hon. Gentleman has told us in a very convincing and disquieting manner of the difficulties of forming the new register under the new Act of Parliament. It is, of course, a very much more technical business than it has ever been before, especially for the first register. There is one body of men in this country better equipped to deal with that difficult question than any other, namely, the recognised political agents of all parties. I wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman—I do not suppose he can answer the question, but perhaps he can express some opinion on it—if he thinks it would be well that a recommendation should be made that temporary military exemption should be granted to this body of men to enable them to carry out what is really a public duty, and by carrying out which they will render a service to every man and every woman qualified for the Parliamentary, and even for the local government, vote?
§ Mr. GILBERT
I wish to join with the other Members who have spoken first in complaining about the pink form which has already been referred to. I know it is difficult for the Local Government Board to have issued a form under the new Act, because that Act alters all previous registration laws, but I do venture to suggest to the President of the Local Government Board that this form which has been issued is very bad, and that it is very confusing to the people who will have to fill it up. There are one or two points which have not been mentioned, and to which I would specially like to draw the attention of the Local Government Board, if they are going to issue any further form. One is that in this particular form there is not room enough for people to enter their names or the details upon it. In paragraph 1, where the Parliamentary franchise for men is supposed to be put down, you simply leave a small space of one-five-eights of an inch depth. The ordinary household in London for men voters will probably consist of a father and one, two, or three sons, and I suggest to the Local Government Board that even if a person is able to write well and concisely there is hardly room in this particular space to put down the names of 1797 three people with their full Christian and surnames. If you go further on, to the second page, where it is a question of the local government franchise for men, the difficulty is far greater, because the line that is given to fill up the names of the males in the house who are local government electors is half an inch in depth, and it only leaves room to fill up one name. Many people, particularly in working-class districts, write very large, and probably not concisely as a finished writer might do, and it will be quite impossible for anybody to get a second name in that particular column. The same thing applies to women, and on the question of the local government vote there is only room for one name. If there happens to be a mother and one or two daughters qualified, I do not think it is possible for the ordinary person who is used to filling in forms to fill in more than one name. On paragraph 5, which is for the registration of naval or military voters and where it is required to fill up in full the names of the men over nineteen who are serving and the women over thirty who are serving various military or war services, there is allowed a column of 1 in. in depth. I suggest to the Local Government Board that you might take the average family, at any rate in London, in very many cases as a father and at least two sons, and probably one daughter, who are engaged on war work of some kind or another in the Army, the Navy, or some of the other services, and it is quite impossible to fill up on that form the names of the people who are so serving.
Other hon. Members have dealt with the complicated wording of the form, and I would like to join with them in saying that I think the Local Government Board might have issued a very much simpler form than the one which has been issued. Some questions have been asked in this House as to forms being issued by certain political associations, and I was one of those who were very anxious that there should be only one kind of form, and that other forms should not be accepted by the registration officer. I do venture to suggest to the President of the Local Government Board that if he had seen some of these forms about which questions were asked in the House he would agree that they are a great deal simpler than the form issued by the Local Government Board. Other hon. Members have mentioned that there is a great deal of difficulty in getting these forma filled up. I 1798 know of my own knowledge that in some-parts of London the authorities have had up to now less than one-fifth of the forms delivered returned to the registration officers, and of that one-fifth a great many of them are absolutely useless because they contain no information at all. Written across them are such phrases as "Get on with the War," "Mind your own business," and "We are not going to give you any information at all." That is probably explained by the fact that these forms have been delivered almost simultaneously with the passing of the Military Service Act, and, speaking as I can from the London point of view, I can say that people have got into their minds that the filling up of this form has probably something to do with the Military Service Act. They are going to take every opportunity, I am afraid in many cases, to see that they do not fill up a form of this kind or give any information at all. That is quite understandable in London, because up to now on the present form of register of the householder or occupier votes—at any rate the very, very great majority of them—people have been put on the register without having to fill up any form at all in order to get there. The householder register was prepared from the rates book, and where persons did not pay rates direct their names were prepared by the rate collectors, and put on the household or occupier register. As regards the lodger, it is true he had to sign a form in order to get on the present register, but everybody knows that in practice the lodger did not fill up the form himself. All the details in the form—which in very many cases were almost as large as this particular pink form which has been issued—were filled up by the agents, and all that the man, had to do was to sign his name on that particular form. I therefore do press on the Local Government Board that if, as they will probably have to do, they issue further forms in order to get them filled up, they should be of a different character from this particular pink form which has been issued.
I would like to tell the President of the Local Government Board, particularly so far as London is concerned, what we certainly understood when the Representation of the People Act was being passed in this House, namely, that we should have a proper house-to-house canvass. I asked the President of the Local Government Board yesterday a question 1799 as to how these forms were being delivered, and whether his attention had been drawn to the way in which they were being delivered? He answered that probably I did not know the difficulties under which the registration officers had to work. I quite appreciate the very great difficulties under which the registration officers had to work, and, although I can only speak from the London point of view, I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, so far as London is concerned, we have a number of registration officers, and each of those registration officers is doing the registration in the way he thinks best. The result of that is that we have not one unified form of working in London for making this new register. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. Pan-eras (Sir W. Dickinson) has referred to the different ways in which these different registration officers are carrying out their work. I asked a question yesterday as to whether the persons who are going round and delivering these forms in some cases only ask if one person lives in the house, and only leave one form. As those who are concerned with London well know, houses are let out in tenements, and there are often two, three, or four families in one house. In those cases you will want four forms, and not one. As I pointed out, it would be almost impossible for one family to fill in on this form the particulars, and it will be an utter impossibility to fill in the details of two, three, or four families, if there is that number in the house. In one district I know in London women have been doing this work. They have called at the house; they have obtained the name of the resident from the rate book or existing register; they have asked if Mr. A. or Mr. B. lives there; they have left a form, and have asked for it to be returned by post. I think that is a great waste of labour. It does seem to me that the simplest and most helpful plan would be that that person calling at the house should obtain the information right away. Then that information could be used by the registration officer, and could be checked and verified if he had any doubt whatever about it. I believe even up to now in some districts of London the forms have not been delivered, and in other places, I believe, they are getting verification of the people 1800 who live in the district from the food cards or the sugar cards which are registered at the town hall.
Speaking from a purely London point of view, it seems to me that all these various ways of conducting the registration are very unfortunate, and I do wish the Local Government Board had agreed with the London registration officers that they should all work on one plan. Some of the registration officers are doing this work admirably. As regards canvassing, the President of the Local Government Board, speaking just now, said, of course, the great difficulty was to obtain people who can do canvassing and obtain the right information. He said that in certain districts it was only possible to obtain information at night time. That is probably true of a great many districts in London, but I believe, under the special circumstances, a good deal of labour could be temporarily obtained to do this work, and I would ask the Local Government Board, as this is special work which may require two, three, or four months to do, they might well use the teachers in London, who are educated, who are quite used to filling up forms, and who could do this particular form of canvassing. In addition to that, you have the school officers in London, and a great army of insurance officials who are used to doing this kind of canvassing. In order to obtain a proper register, I think the registration officers want instruction from that point of view, and I believe that if they use part of the time on these particular people, and probably other people in similar employment, that would be a very great help in framing this register.
There is another point I would like to raise. The President of the Local Government Board did not make quite clear this matter of the naval and military voters. I, like the hon. Member for North St. Pancras, am under the impression that certain registration officers in London are not going to put people on the naval or military voters' list unless they get a card from the naval or military authorities themselves. In this pink form, under Clause 5, you ask the people who occupy houses to give information as to people who are serving in the Navy or Army, and I do hope some Instruction will go out to the registration officers that they are to take the information given by the occupiers, and to fill up the Local Government Board form. If this information is not to be used until it has 1801 been verified by a report from the naval or military authorities, I am afraid you are going to have great delay with that particular part of the register. I am quite certain of this, that unless things are altered very much from the way in which this canvassing has been started, at any rate, so far as London is concerned, you are not going to get anything like a perfect register in the Parliamentary constituencies. We who are connected with London hoped and believed that we were going to get a proper registration in London by what, we think, is the only way—and that is, a proper house-to-house canvass. I do hope the President of the Local Government Board will take strong steps to enforce this particular view on the whole of the registration officers in London. It may mean a little extra expense, but I think all of us are very keen, after having waited for this register the time we have, on getting, at any rate, as perfect a register as we possibly can. And I firmly believe, from my knowledge of registration work in London, that the only way we can get in London, and in probably other large towns, a proper registration is to have an efficient house-to-house canvass.
I do not want to deal with the details as other speakers have done, but I only wish to express thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply just now. Evidently he is as desirous as any of us that this register should be perfect. All parties want to get people registered, because no one knows where they are going to vote. The two points I want to raise are these. It is evident from what the President himself has said that a canvass is absolutely necessary to get anything like a perfect register. The President said he desired to have a canvass. Has he the power to make it mandatory on the local authorities, and, if so, will he do so? I hope he will give us a specific reply on that point, because it is very important indeed. With regard to the necessity of engaging experts to do this canvass, I do not think any expert knowledge is necessary beyond what could be acquired in the course of a very few days' instruction, and I think the persons most fit to make these inquiries really are women. I know in some parts women have been engaged—indeed, in the part in which I believe the greatest perfection up to now has been—women have been almost exclusively engaged in getting this information, and the necessity for canvassing at night time now 1802 is not so great as it was before. During the past few years women have been taking a far greater part in politics than before, and we know with what interest those conducting women's papers have watched this Bill passing through the House, and what pains they have taken to instruct their readers as to the details of the Bill. I believe amongst those who have taken an active part in agitating for the franchise during the last few years you could get an ample staff of skilled persons who have acquainted themselves with all the details, and who, if employed on this work in the daytime, would be able to get all the information from the wives, who are just as able to give it as the husbands, and I think the number of husbands who would refuse their wives permission to give the necessary information would probably be very few indeed. If women were employed in this work, most of it could be done in the daytime, and it would be done efficiently, especially if the women I have in mind were engaged on it. The work could then be pushed on and got through much more readily than otherwise. A canvass is essential, and I hope an assurance will be given that it will be made universal.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I have only risen to urge the President of the Local Board to earn the gratitude of the Committee a second time to-night. He has done it once by meeting the strong wishes we entertained about legal advice before the tribunals, and I hope he will earn that gratitude a second time by advising the Government, of which he is a distinguished member, fairly and squarely that an election held upon a register prepared by 1st October would be a farce. There was a time when it was regarded as a daring flight of humour to combine Monmouth and Macedon for the reason that they both began with M, and now it is proposed in all seriousness to bring Monmouth and Mesopotamia together. I happen to know both of them. I have been to the first of them recently. They are a long way apart. The idea that you can get an election on 1st October in which you are to have a fair representation of the people, when those who are shedding their blood and laying down their lives for us can only with the utmost difficulty be brought to vote, seems to me one of the most preposterous things that could enter into the mind of a moribund House of Commons. T took up the pink form. I have 1803 been long in the habit of filling up forms; indeed, it was my duty to invent them for many years of my life. Consequently I do not intend adversely to criticise this form. I do not know that the Local Government Board could have prepared a better form. I should like to see the critics turn out a better form. Nevertheless, I confess that after filling it in I put it to one side for further consideration.
That brings me to the very point which brought me to my legs. I had filled in the form so far, and until I came to the space for those ''ordinarily resident in the house" who are not there at present. Take the case of one's chauffeur. That man, in my case, as probably in others, was called to the Army directly the War broke out. Above all men I should wish to see his name entered on the form. Though he wrote to me regularly for a long time, seeing that I have not heard from him for some months, I do not know whether my friend and driver is still alive. How is he going to be put on this form? More than myself he is entitled to be there, because he, being younger, was more fortunate, and able to go into the field and fight for his country. I cannot put him on the register. I might go into any one of those 1,000 rooms occupied by the War Office and try to trace him and get information about him, and I might fail in the end. How are such men to be got on the register? What is the use of an election without them? I submit that it is the duty of the President of the Local Government Board, after the speech he made to-night, to advise the Government that there is a very strong feeling in every quarter of the House that it is impossible to hold an election that would be anything but a farce on 1st October. It is for that sole purpose of saying that that I rose. I heard with the greatest interest the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Bridgwater Division, and I agree with everything he said. Everything my agent tells me bears out what the hon. Gentleman has said. The difficulties are infinite. You must have a canvass to make anything of it. Where are you going to get your canvassers? Take the women. All, or the best of them, that would be useful in canvassing are occupied on other duties. Take the case of a neighbour of mine, an excellent woman, who lives in a lodge near to my house. She gets up at five in the morning to go to munition 1804 works at Watford, and very often walks the five miles. She works there all day, and gets home at eight at night. These are the women who ordinarily would be canvassing. How can they now? The fact is, there is nothing to be said except that the country does not want politics now. The country does not want elections. It does not want the results of elections. It does not want Bills nor Acts, least of all such as entail a further charge upon an already overcharged Exchequer. All it wants is the provision of men and money for the War. It would not for that purpose get a better House of Commons than it has now if it had an election in October—whether or not the House it has now be the best possible.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I wish to raise a question which, I think, is quite as important as those questions which we have been discussing, though it has been pushed off to a time when the House is empty, and the President of the Local Government Board is having his dinner. The question is that of the housing proposals of the Government. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Government in having adopted the principle of a Government Grant to local authorities. It is a principle which the party with which I am associated fought for in the years preceding the War against the strenuous opposition of the then President of the Local Government Board, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea. It is, of course, a matter of great satisfaction to most of us that the principle is now being adopted by, I think, the unanimous assent of the House. But though I congratulate the Government on having adopted the principle, I am afraid I cannot congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board on the method which he has adopted of giving this money. I understood from the speech which he made at Manchester some months ago that the Government intended to give a block Grant to local authorities of one-third of the capital cost of building. If the Government had done that they would have pleased and satisfied all the local authorities, who would at once have made their plans, so that when the curtain falls on this terrible War they could immediately commence their operations. As a matter of fact, however, I suppose owing to Treasury pressure, the right hon. Gentleman has adopted a plan which is not, I 1805 think, satisfactory to the larger progressive authorities, and which certainly does put a premium on delay by the smaller unprogressive authorities.
With the indulgence of the House I would like for a moment to read what the City Council of Bradford says on this subject. Its resolution reads as follows:Resolved: That a strong protest be made against the ambiguous nature of the proposals now submitted by the Government, which proposals are—It goes on to explain the proposals:No indication being given by the Government as to the basis upon which the local authorities are to fix the rentals of the properties, and it being impossible to frame any reliable estimate of the value of the properties, at the valuation period, as this must inevitably depend upon circumstances which cannot now be foreseen. Having regard to the fact that the present proposals of the Government, upon which local authorities are urged, in the national interests, to formulate housing schemes, afford absolutely no indication of the financial responsibilities ultimately to be borne by the local authority which undertakes a housing scheme, the Government be urged— (1) To fix a definite proportion of the cost of the scheme in respect of which they will make contributions either in the way of a capital sum or towards the annual charges.And it further says:It is felt that no local authority would be justified in undertaking the task on such uncertain terms as are now proposed.When I interrupted my right hon. Friend earlier in the afternoon he said that the City Council of Bradford objected to his proposal because that council put forward a demand that the State should bear the total cost. That is not borne out by this resolution. Newcastle-on Tyne has followed suit, and undoubtedly other large municipalities will take the same line. They object to this scheme on account of its indefiniteness: the in-definiteness of the loss they will have to sustain. So much, then, for the progressive parties. If there is one thing agreed upon by everybody in this country it is upon the necessity for immediate action in regard to the building of houses when the War ceases. My right hon. Friend made an eloquent reference to the subject to prove how deep and urgent was the need. I need not enforce that point. Everybody is agreed that there is really disgraceful overcrowding, and everybody knows that directly the restrictions are removed rents will soar up to double or treble their present figure. What ought to move the conscience of the people of this country more than anything else, and it certainly does 1806 mine, is the overwhelming necessity we shall be under of paying a debt of gratitude to our gallant soldiers who are now at the front. I think it is really most pathetic the manner in which all our soldiers are looking forward when they come back to finding a really happier and a better world, and it is needless to say that their dreams of happiness fix themselves upon the possession of a house and the partnership of the lady of their choice. It would be one of the basest pieces of gratitude if we adopted a scheme which does not take immediate and drastic action to build houses for our returning soldiers. I cannot let this scheme go forward without a protest because I do not think it will lead to immediate action such as my right hon. Friend suggested, for he seemed to think that you have only got to press the button and everything will go forward.
This scheme puts a premium on the delay by the local authorities because they will have to bear 25 per cent. of the loss if they build these houses now. The coat of building at the end of the War is estimated to be 60 per cent. higher than it was in 1914, and at the end of seven years time after that it is estimated that it will fall to 30 per cent. higher than 1914. In a scheme costing £160,000 at the end of the War it is estimated that the gross value of that scheme will have fallen to £130,000, in other words the local authority will be poorer by £7,500 in the value of their property. Now, is it likely that the local authority will incur the certain loss of £7.500 when by waiting it can build without any loss at all. Under these circumstances, undoubtedly it will be the object, and, in fact, it will be to the advantage of local authorities not to commence building at once under this scheme, but put it off as long as they can. Another unsatisfactory feature of this scheme is that there is no definite promise at all that the capital will be found by the Government. Let me read paragraph 5:The precise date at which the execution of any scheme approved by the Board can be commenced must depend upon circumstances which cannot at present be foreseen, and the financial position may be such that it may be necessary to give precedence to the more urgent cases, even to the exclusion for the time being of the lesser.It is quite evident that a great many schemes will not be attempted at all, but will be pushed aside, and have to wait until the more urgent are taken in hand. In fact, one cannot help feeling the whole 1807 object of the Treasury in sanctioning this scheme is to release themselves from the obligation of finding the money for as long as possible after the War, and that, to my mind, makes the scheme as an immediate scheme for the solution of the housing problem somewhat of a fraud and a sham. There is no definite date imposed upon the local authorities at all in the Bill, and there is no indication in the Local Government Board's Circular that local authorities who refuse to do their duty will be made to do it. The right hon. Gentleman in one of his speeches—I think it was at Manchester—saidLocal authorities would be obliged to push on, and if they did not push on they would have to push off.There is nothing about that in the Circular addressed to the local authorities. I am quite well aware of the advisability of carrying these local bodies with you and getting their good will, but at the same time, there are recalcitrant local authorities whom nothing will move except compulsion. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech this afternoon said that he had every reason to believe that local authorities were approving of his scheme. I read in the "Yorkshire Gazette" that the Norton Rural District Council and the Pickering Rural District Council refused even to consider the scheme, and the Pickering Rural District Council said that it was a question for after war consideration. In another part of the country the Liskeard Urban District Council postponed consideration of the housing scheme. The Saffron Walden Town Council considered the scheme, and decided that no action should be taken, and the mayor went so far as to say that it would be difficult to raise the necessary loan. What I want to know is what the Local Government Board proposes to do with urban and rural district councils like Norton, Pickering, and Liskeard? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take it lying down, and let these local authorities allow his scheme contemptuously to lie on the table, or is he going to fulfil his obligation to the returning soldiers and get a move on with these backward local authorities? I think the House will be glad to hear if the right hon. Gentleman has any policy for dealing with these local authorities.
Another unfortunate result of this scheme will be that private enterprise, and the enterprise of public utility 1808 societies, will be absolutely snuffed out like a candle. I do ask that the scheme which the Government launches should not make it perfectly impossible for public utility societies to continue their operations. We are under a deep debt of gratitude, to these societies. They have been the pioneers. We are indebted to them for the idea of the garden city, and any scheme of housing ought to rope in the activities not only of the local authorities but also of the public utility societies. How can any public utility society expect to carry on its operations when all it gets from the Government is 75 per cent. of the loss? The words fault that this scheme possesses is that it does-nothing at all to induce the local authorities to go in for schemes of town-planning and it does nothing to promote co-operation among local authorities, both rural and urban, in shouldering their common responsibility for housing the working-class population.
What is really most necessary for the housing of the people is cordial co-operation between urban and rural authorities. This scheme of the Government puts an impediment in the way because by saddling the authorities with the prospective loss, it makes them more eager to throw the responsibility for that loss upon their neighbours. For instance, there are sixty housing authorities within fifteen miles of London. There are none of them eager to have working-class housing schemes in their areas, because the cost of the education of the children resulting from those schemes would be greater than any profit that could possibly arise from housing. Therefore, in London, and in all large urban areas, it is a struggle between the central authority and the suburban authorities to evade the responsibility of housing the people. It is most unfortunate that the Government scheme will result in accentuating this tendency, causing local authorities to try and shuffle off their responsibility on to somebody else. Our sole idea in the past in town planning has been to crowd the maximum number of people on every single acre of ground, and to provide public-houses at every corner of the street. Our only hope of repairing the wrong that has been done to the working-class population of this country is to encourage schemes of housing in the healthy countryside and to provide cheap transit in order to enable the workmen to get there. Bradford has adopted a most 1809 enlightened and up-to-date scheme. It is not going to re-house its people in the slum areas in the central of the town, but it is going in for a large scheme of building, I think, seven or eight villages for housing the people, and it is going to run cheap trams out in order that the people may get there. That is a model which I hope every large urban area will follow. It is a thing which the Government ought to encourage in every possible way. Modern housing reformers with the most up-to-date ideas deprecate the pulling down and rebuilding of slum areas. They prefer that people should be housed well outside the town and that the slum areas should be gradually depopulated. It is a great misfortune that this Bill does nothing to co-ordinate the efforts of local authorities and nothing to promote the most intelligent and up-to-date schemes. I hope very much indeed, as the President of the Local Government Board has already made two graceful concessions this afternoon, that he will add yet a third, and withdraw a scheme which will only end in the greatest possible disappointment to a number of people who have an endless claim to our gratitude.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I do not believe that we could discuss any more important social problem than the one raised by these proposals, and in supporting what my hon. and gallant Friend has said by way of criticism of the action that has been taken by the Local Government Board I do it with profound regret, because no one recognises more fully than I do the interest and the sympathy and the desire of the President of the Board to deal adequately with this problem. I recognise very fully some of the excellent work that has been done by some of these Committees that have been set up. If we can get 300,000 houses built during the first year after the War, as he desires, and if those houses are going to be built on the plan of only twelve to an acre in urban areas and eight to an acre in rural areas, then anyone who knows anything about housing knows that it would begin an enormous transformation in the country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will stick to his suggestion of having no more than twelve houses to an acre in urban areas. There has been a great development in allotments in the last two or three years. Most people now have an interest in the land which they never had before, but the one regret that they have is that the allotment is often far away from their home. If in our 1810 cities we could get houses with gardens built only twleve to the acre it would mean one of the greatest transformations in the social life of England that we have seen for a very long time. Therefore I want the Under-Secretary to realise that in criticising, as we are bound to do, the form these proposals are taking, we are not criticising the intention of the President, but we do feel that forces have been allowed to prevail in the Local Government Board which are contrary to the best desires of those who are working at this question.
In connection with this matter the most important point is for us to ask this: question: Are we in earnest about this housing question, and do we mean business 1 There is no doubt, I am convinced, that there is no question in which the soldiers are more interested than this question of housing. I trust that the President will most carefully consider whether the proposals suggested in this, letter are wise. If we are going to get anything like 300,000 houses in the first year after the War, the President and the Local Government Board will want all the help they can get from all who are interested in housing. It is a deplorable thing that this suggestion, put forward in the way it has been, is considered by many of those who are keenest on housing as a suggestion which will not meet the need. The President has rightly come down on the side of saying that it is the local authorities who must provide the housing. But the local authorities will not provide the housing unless much easier terms are given than those suggested. The President talked of the State going into partnership with the local authorities. That is a perfectly right view, but he will find, I believe, that the terms of partnership suggested are not acceptable to the local authorities.
The two questions we have to ask ourselves are these: First, will the suggestions be effective in securing houses where they are most needed; and, secondly, are they such as to ensure the speedy building in the first year of the 300,000 houses which the right hon. Gentleman considers are necessary? One has only carefully to consider the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend to see that the suggested terms fail to meet these requirements. Take the question of capital. The circular, quoting the Treasury—that is rather a significant fact—indicates that 1811 their policy is to avoid finding the capital. The local authorities are to raise their own loans. If the loans are made by the State, they are to be made at the full market rate instead of the local authorities being allowed preferential rates as they have been in the past. My right hon. Friend knows very well that the local authorities will at once say they cannot find the capital. They are not going to find the capital at these very high rates. The more he looks into this question—no one, after all, is keener to get the workers properly housed than he is—he will find, in fact he knows, that if you are going to get anything like 300,000 houses provided by the local authorities in the first year after the War, the State itself will have to provide the capital. The way in which it is dealt with can be decided later on, but the State will have to provide the capital. Does the proposal secure the houses where they are most needed? The President made a rather remarkable admission in the course of his speech. He said that, in answer to the letter he had sent to the local authorities asking what accommodation they required, only two-thirds of them had replied. I should like to know who are the one-third who had not replied? The one-third who had not replied would be, of course, those who do not want to do anything, and who are not prepared to look into the facts. Yet these are the places where you need the houses most of all. Any scheme that is suggested in regard to housing must be a scheme which provides that houses shall be supplied in the districts where they are most required, and where for some time past there has been the greatest difficulty in getting the houses because of the retrograde views held by the local authorities. Again, the scheme does not recognise the ultimate responsibility of the State for seeing that the necessary houses are provided. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that, if 300,000 houses are going to be built the year after the War, the plans ought to be ready now in many cases. Unless the plans arc ready before peace is declared, you are not going to get these houses built in the districts where they are most needed. Further, in the circular no definite duty is thrown upon the local authorities. The authorities are asked rather than required to do this task. Again I say I am afraid that, un- 1812 less the definite duty is thrown upon these local authorities, the President will be disappointed in what he desires to achieve.
I want to emphasise also the point that the plan is not one which will ensure speedy building. If hon. Members will look at the letter, they will find there is no limit of time given in which local authorities must submit a scheme, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend has already pointed out, the suggestion, as it is made to the local authorities at the present time, is a suggestion which really encourages them to delay, because of the fact that, directly after the War, the expense of building is going to be so high. The President mentioned that prices are now 60 per cent. higher than they were before the War.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
If it was not mentioned by the President, the fact has been mentioned in Debate. I am not sure that it is not higher than 60 per cent. now. Sixty per cent. is a low figure. If within seven years that 60 per cent. goes down and settles at from 25 to 30 per cent. higher than the prices in pre-war time, then, under the scheme as suggested, it is now all to the pecuniary advantage of the local authorities to delay action, so that the quarter of capital lost will be substantially reduced. I hope the President will reconsider these proposals, and will try and see that the final scheme that is suggested is one which will receive the enthusiastic support of housing reformers. I believe if he is going to do that he will have to accede to the view that it is essential that the State should undertake to find the necessary capital, that the duty of building should be placed upon the local authorities, who should be absolutely required to submit their schemes within a definite time, and as the largest costs, the building costs, are going to be so much higher immediately after the War than when normal post-war conditions are reached, in the form in which he gives his assistance to the local authorities care should be taken to recognise that fact and make the conditions such that, instead of there being an inducement to delay building, there is really an inducement to begin building at once. The suggestion of the Royal Commission on housing in Scotland really points the 1813 way in which the help should be given. The Commission's recommendation is that—To enable local authorities to fulfil the statutory obligation above referred to the State should, for a period of seven years subsequent to the War, make up by way of subsidy the difference between the rentals received by local authorities from their housing schemes and the outgoings for such properties, and that at the end of the period of seven years the Government should have the houses which have been erected during that period valued, and should then pay the local authorities the whole of the capital loss— that is, the difference between the cost of the houses and the ascertained value.Finally, I am perfectly sure the scheme should be one which will enable private enterprise, and also the public utility societies, to be encouraged in the right way. We all know the intentions and desires of the President so well in this country that it seems an ungracious thing to have to criticise these proposals in the way that some of us have felt to be necessary, but I hope he will give most careful consideration to the views that have been expressed, and that he will try to meet the objections, so that in this tremendous task of providing, in the first year after the War, 300,000 houses he may have the whole-hearted support of all who are interested in housing. He knows perfectly well that the 300,000 houses are not all that are required, but that really, if you are going to get the transformation in urban and rural England that you desire, the probability is that nearly 1,000,000 houses will be required before many year.; are over. I hope I have not spoken too strongly, but there is very great uneasiness on the part of many authorities at the form the suggestion has taken, and T trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to reconsider the matter with very great care.
§ Sir J. BOYTON
The two speeches we have just heard have expressed somewhat gloomy foreboding, but still I am hopeful, because I know the amount of work which my right hon. Friend is putting into this business, and for the sake of the many Committees which are dealing with the subject I hope some measure of success will attend the efforts which he is making. I am afraid, from what he has said in the early part of the proceedings, that private enterprise will derive but very cold comfort. I am afraid there is a general feeling amongst those who have hitherto been the great providers of dwellings for the working classes, to the extent of some 95 per cent. of all the accommodation that 1814 exists, that unless they are encouraged the enterprise which they have hitherto shown will practically cease to exist. I believe private enterprise could take this job on, or at all events a large portion of it, without a subsidy if only it was advanced a much larger proportion than the ordinary mortgagee usually advances to a builder. In ordinary trading a mortgagee lends two-thirds of the value. If my right hon. Friend will consider an extension of that limit, if he would lend, say, 80 per cent. of the value, and make some financial arrangement—ask the public for a special housing loan perhaps, for which they would get a proper and fair return—he might then be able to encourage builders and the public utility societies to go on with their great work. I doubt whether the local authorities will take up the scheme to the full extent that he hopes for. Many will, no doubt, but others will fight shy of it. When the War is over and men return and seek for employment I hope they will not troop off to the big towns, but will come back to the village carpenter or builder where they have hitherto been employed and that he will be able to employ them. He cannot do it unless he receives assistance on a much wider scale than he has hitherto been able to obtain it from the private mortgagee. He may hope— perhaps he may fail in his hope—to get the money a little cheaper than he has hitherto got it from the private mortgagee. At all events, I am bold enough to state here that if the private builder could be sure of 80 per cent. being advanced to him under some repayment System which would give him a certain amount of security for the first few years against the mortgage not being called in, and if there could be some scheme of repayment by instalment after the manner of building societies, I believe it would have a very good effect. I do not suppose he would shy at 5 per cent. In more prosperous times he has borrowed at 4 per cent. If some system could be devised whereby he could have 80 per cent. advanced to him at 5 per cent. interest, it would to a very large extent help materially to make up the admitted shortage in the houses required. Again, the public utility societies might, with more liberal allowances, begin their work again. There is generally someone in the background who is liberal enough to provide the financial backing for these societies. The hon. 1815 Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) knows something about financing these undertakings, and perhaps he and his friends, and an increasing number of his friends, might be able to induce more capital to be put into these undertakings if they were sure that greater consideration would be shown in the way I have indicated. I know something of the difficulty which surrounds the subject, but I hope there will be some more hopeful outlook for private enterprise and the public utility societies than the President foreshadowed to-day.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. S. Walsh)
The Debate in respect of the housing problem has certainly taken a very interesting turn, and I do not think that anybody could complain of the spirit which has been brought to bear in the matter. The point raised by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is one worthy of a good deal of consideration. How far we can approach the public utility societies and private enterprise is certainly a very proper matter for consideration. There is a very great debt of gratitude owing by the nation to the gentlemen who in the past have been engaged in private enterprise in the building trade. They have built well over 90 per cent. of the houses erected, and although it may be said that many of those houses hardly deserved the name, there is not the slightest doubt there has been a great increase in the standard of building and a good deal of gratitude is due to the men who put honest, self-sacrificing work into their business. Nobody can deny that the public utility societies should be encouraged, but when we consider the whole subject, the magnitude of the problem, and the immense demand, the almost overwhelming demand, there will be at the conclusion of the War, we are driven to the conclusion that in the first place you must entrust the carrying out of this very urgent duty to the public authorities themselves. That does not in any way close the door upon the necessity of using the enterprise of the public utility societies and the private builders, and I can certainly say of my right hon. Friend that he less than any man I know is willing to turn his mind against that consideration and all the help that can be brought to the exigencies of the State.
1816 It had been complained that the circular issued and the terms submitted to local authorities are not such as will induce them to take this problem in hand. But I think the local authorities are not profit-making concerns. The one thing that interests them is the extent to which they are to be guaranteed against loss, and the State has come forward and said, "We-will vote powers so that as between the rents you can actually charge and the actual cost the rates to be levied need not, if we approve, exceed Id. in the £." Hon. Members must see that, after all, there is a certain local responsibility. Many of us have a good deal of experience of the conditions under which industrial areas have grown up, and it is not the fault of the State that some of these areas are simply congeries of ill-health, insanitation, overcrowding, and all the concomitants that follow. It has been in many cases the fault of the local administration, and it surely is not the right thing that the State shall be compelled to take over all the horrible legacies of the past, and that no responsibility shall be brought to bear upon the local areas. When the State does in effect say— because bringing down the meaning of the circular to its lowest denominator it means this—that of any deficiency not more than one penny rate need vest upon the shoulders of the local authority, I do not think that in the whole of my reading I know of more generous terms that have ever been offered in the history of social legislation. The Noble Lord the Member for Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) asked what would be done with recalcitrant authorities? At present there is no special power, but we are hoping very shortly that a Bill will be placed on the Statute Book which will give county councils power to act in default of local authorities that are neglectful of their obligations in this particular matter. We have always considered that you cannot ride roughshod over local authorities. They are the elected of the people, and presumably possess the confidence of the people in that area, and consistent with the proper carrying out of democratic principles—which I think hon. Members will agree should be the basis of our action—we do intend in regard to any authorities which are not willing to rise to the proper height of their obligations to put pressure upon them, so that the duties which they ought to discharge shall be carried out.
§ Mr. WALSH
Are we to assume that in this great code of local administration there is no public spirit in a local body or in a county body? My right hon. Friend suggests, what I would have been timorous of advancing, that in the future the wide electorate and an electorate of particular quality may be expected to be able to galvanise into action authorities which will be inactive. But let us see to what extent the authorities are recalcitrant. It was stated that two-thirds of them had replied to the Circular. As a matter of fact over two-thirds did—85 per cent. of the authorities who have been served with the Circular have replied notwithstanding the vast amount of work which these local governing bodies have to do to-day. Hon. Members know perfectly well the immense amount of duties which these bodies have had to undertake during the last two or three years, and it is remarkable to find that twenty-eight out of twenty-nine metropolitan boroughs, or 95 per cent., eighty-one out of eighty-two county boroughs, or 99 per cent., 213 out of 245 or 87 per cent. of the borough councils, 688 out of 800 of the urban district council?, and 526 out of 620 rural district councils replied to the Circular, while the complete average is 85 per cent. They have made this response under conditions when the pressure of public work has been greater than it has ever been in the history of the nation. These public authorities are amongst the most enlightened authorities in the world. Many names of such bodies will occur to everyone of us readily, and I venture to say that no authorities are more enlightened than certain large municipalities in the Midlands, in Lancashire, and other parts of the country, though we need not particularise. What is most remarkable of all is that we have the rural districts making an average of 81 per cent. and that the general average is as high as 85 per cent., although it must have required more thought and consideration than one might be prepared to conclude from the ten our of this Debate.
§ Mr. WALSH
The particular Circular laying down the conditions under which the Treasury was willing to meet the 1818 situation was only recently issued. But the first letter, which is the vital one, does go to show that the authorities are willing to recognise the urgent need, and they have replied in such a way as to indicate that they will perform their work in a very creditable manner. The other circular is only a few weeks old.
§ Mr. WALSH
No, but we are very hopeful that they will undertake it in a proper spirit. It has been complained that what we consider the most urgent cases are to be given precedence. Under no scheme which any man could devise could you have all the work going on concurrently, because it is a question of labour and materials and you cannot have all the men you require. Surely the most urgent cases must be dealt with first of all. I think it is a matter of exceeding credit to the local government life of Great Britain that, under conditions unprecedented in the history of the nation, our bill of health should remain as satisfactory as it has been. There is always the greatest danger in your large industrial areas where your need is most intense, and in my view it is a most proper thing that they should have precedence over the areas where the conditions are healthier and where you have green fields. Industrial areas, which are the hotbeds of fever and death, ought to have precedence as soon as the State is in a position to deal with the problem effectively.
In the course of the Debate we have been asked whether we are in earnest. I certainly think that the action taken by the Local Government Board and the cumulative pressure of the last half-score years do go to show that if the nation were ever in earnest in a matter it is earnest now on this housing question. Every social reformer, every sanitarian, every true lover of his country recognises that the housing problem is at the root of all the other social problems of the State, and that we cannot hope to have a healthy population and a citizenship fit to discharge its duties unless we really do house the people in a manner worthy of the nation. So far as I have knowledge of the Department, I may say that day by day and week by week it is giving the most complete attention to the manifold phases of this difficult problem which are so great as almost to baffle the wit of man. I think I may assure my hon. 1819 Friend that, so far as I can judge, the Department is in earnest, though I have only been there a few months, and can only speak with such knowledge as a politician can gain in a comparatively short time. I do not know that it is necessary for me to say very much on the relatively small points which have been raised during the discussion in regard to the machinery of registration, and so on. We were asked whether the Local Government Board could compel the registration officers to adopt a particular method. The registration officers are people appointed under the law with statutory obligations. and if they fail to carry out these obligations heavy penalties may be imposed upon them.
What the Local Government Board will do is to consider the whole case in order to see how far the work can be expedited and issue recommendations, so as to bring about in the shortest possible space of time the complete register which we all desire. I am in fullest agreement with my hon. Friend in recognising the overwhelming necessity of having the register as complete as human minds can make it when we do go to the poll. For it would be a real discredit; to us all if, after the immense amount of work which has been performed, both by this House and by the officials who, to my knowledge, have been working day by day and night by night for months past—if, having led the people of this country to believe that they are to have a real chance of voting on a comprehensive scale for the first time in the history of the nation, if the whole scheme were prejudiced because we were hurrying matters which required thoughtful and honest effort and deliberation. I speak only as one Member, but I hope this Parliament will insist that, now we have put our hands to the task, it shall be effectively carried through, so that the nation when it is called upon to exercise its will at the polls may be able to do so in no uncertain manner. The other points which have been raised are mainly points of machinery, and I do not think I ought to take up any more of the time of the House, because I am sure those other points have been really met in advance by the speech of my right hon. Friend. I thank the House for having given me the opportunity to clear up the points raised in discussion.
§ Mr. WING
I hope that the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down 1820 will be received as expressing the full driving power of the Local Government Department of which he is a member. I feel, however, that some remarks which he made affirm the necessity'. in regard to some of the points that have been raised, of an Order of a somewhat mandatory character, when matters do not move in a line to meet the objections which were put forward by the hon. Member for Nottingham. I think we should have something more definite with respect to the assistance or the use of private endeavour in building. Take the county of Durham, which to its credit has for some time been ahead, at least in some directions, of the Local Government Board in the desire for erecting house accommodation. In that district the large majority of houses built in recent years is the result of private enterprise, and the buildings are very creditable to the people who have undertaken them, indicating a gradual rise in the standard of excellence and of convenience. It would be a very great pity that the efforts of these people should not be encouraged. I submit that they should be encouraged on just such terms as you give to the local authorities. I should like to see public utility societies and private enterprise also encouraged in the way I suggest. I think it should not be forgotten that those who undertake the erection of these houses give a security which takes away any risk on the part of the State. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman representing the Local Government Board is altogether in the right in placing on the local authorities entire responsibility for neglected areas, for it should be recollected that in the localities the Local Government Board is regarded as being in a position of authority, and that they can insist upon more sanitary and better buildings being provided. I do not think all the responsibility should be placed upon the county council.
§ Mr. WALSH
I should be sorry if my remarks could be so understood. I did not say that all the responsibilities should be placed upon the locality. What I endeavoured to state was that at least some responsibility must be placed upon the local authorities, and there are many matters in regard to which responsibility must be local.
§ Mr. WING
I agree that there are many reforms, such as education, and sanitation, and other matters in which local authorities are responsible, but there are 1821 many subtle forces in play which prevent local authorities from carrying out what they recognise is required, and I think there should be some mandatory power on the part of the Local Government Board to say that certain things must be done, and I hope that we may rely upon the Department insisting upon houses of the right character, such as are suited to the needs of those for whom they are intended, shall be erected, and that they shall comply with the demands which make for public health. I thoroughly endorse the statement as to the high mortality amongst children, and I believe that the Local Government Board are really in earnest in the work in which they are engaged. I trust that the local authorities and the Local Government Board will be able to work in harmony, and that all the forces which can be commanded may be brought into operation, so that we may have built houses in every respect convenient, well built, and worthy of those who are to occupy them.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I think it is quite impossible to exaggerate the gravity and importance of this housing question. It was a subject of very great importance before the War, when there was a great deal of overcrowding. Since the War there has been no building, and the conditions have been very much accentuated. I think we may draw great hope from what has been said by the President of the Local Government Board and my hon. Friend, and from the great interest which they are taking, and have taken, in this question. In the course of the Debate, so far as I have been able to hear it, I think one of the most important aspects of the subject appears to have been overlooked, and I should like to have some assurance with regard to it. My hon. Friend has said that there has been lax action on the part of some of the authorities. I happen to be a member of the district council and of the county council in a colliery district, where every endeavour has been made to secure better conditions in connection with the erection of houses, but we have found again and again that whenever we endeavoured to build additional houses, the demands made upon us by the landowners from whom it was proposed to acquire land were so great that it was impossible for us to provide these houses and let them at reasonable rents, without throwing a burden upon the local rates, which the Local Government Board, at that time at any 1822 rate, would not allow us to throw upon the rates. In regard to that question, in, my view no administrative action that the right hon. Gentleman can take, or my hon. Friend can take, will get rid of our fundamentally-vicious rating system, which requires to be entirely altered before you can put the housing conditions right. I want some assurance in regard to this; I want some assurance as to whether this matter has come at all within the purview of this Department, and whether they have any plan in contemplation, for enabling the local authorities to get over these difficulties. I find from the return which has been made of the capital value of estates, that the assessment is something like£50 an acre, sometimes less, and sometimes £25 an acre. But when we desired, for the purpose of building houses to acquire land, we could never obtain it at less than£1,000 an acre. As there is to be this enormous national subsidy, and this additional subsidy from the local rates to assist in the erection of houses, surely some steps should be taken to see that the money is really expended in house building, that it does secure additional house accommodation for the people, and that it does not all merely drift into the pocket of the landlord. If you are not to build the old, hideous mining villas, which, as my right hon. Friend knows very well, are a blot, whether it be in Lancashire, Monmouthshire, or in any other mining district, and if you are going to have a garden attached to every house, you will have to build not more than ten houses to the acre. I am sure the experts of the Board will not advise more than ten.
They advise twelve in the urban districts, and not move than eight in the country districts.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
That puts my calculation out a little, but it does not affect my argument. If I assume ten houses to the acre then, if the local authority is to pay£l,000 per acre for the land, that means£100 for the site of each house. I do say that if that enormous sum is to be paid, the whole of the State subsidy will go in increased revenue to the landowner, who is rendering no service whatever in return and who will really be able to find in this new scheme afresh method of making exactions from the public. I should like some assurance that if this State subsidy is to be given, and if the local authorities 1823 are to be encouraged to impose rates in the various districts for the purpose of assisting house building, some power will be given to them to acquire the land on the basis which the owner himself would, I assume, regard as fair—that is to say, on the basis of the valuation. We have taken, or are taking at an enormous cost, a valuation of the whole of the land of the country. This has been done by State officials; presumably they were entirely impartial, and arrived at fair valuations. I suggest that some power ought to be given to the local authorities to acquire land, and that they should not be at the mere mercy of the landowner, who might, for some purposes of this own, refuse permission to build altogether, or, if he gave permission, might only give it on terms which would mean that the entire subsidy went to him, and would not be used for the purposes for which it was intended. I should like an assurance that the local authority would purchase the land on the basis of the valuation, which I think would be a fair proposal. Of course, I am not tied definitely to that. If the right hon. Gentleman could propose some better way by which land may be acquired on fair and reasonable terms, I would be content with it. But I should like some assurance that this aspect of the question—I can assure the House it is not merely theoretical, but severely practical—has been considered, and that in some way or other, when the subsidy is given, there will be some provision which will enable the local authority to obtain the land at its real value.
If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House earlier in the afternoon, when I made my original speech, he would have recognised that I dealt with that question. In the questions issued to the local authorities we particularly asked them whether they expected any difficulty in obtaining land at a fair valuation. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Town Planning Act, I think he will find that under it we have fairly adequate powers for seeing that the local authorities do obtain land at a reasonable rate, and at a fair valuation. That was the Town Planning Act of 1909, and I think that that measure had not been passed when the hon. Gentleman had his experience in local bodies.
We have found, from a much larger experience than the hon. Gentleman can have had, that the powers under that Town Planning Act have been of very effective use. If those powers are not adequate for obtaining land at a reasonable rate and at a fair valuation, for purposes which are now of national importance, there will be other ways in which we shall be able to obtain it. But, when the hon. Gentleman says that the landlords do nothing whatever for the£l,000 per acre, or whatever price they get, let me remind the House that there is a Budget, and taxation, and I wonder how much of that money goes into the landlords' pockets in these days. After all there is the Income Tax, the Supertax, and a few other little charges like that.
I must differ entirely from the hon. Gentleman. He seems to think that the landlord will get the round sum of£l,000 per acre, and that for every£l,000 per acre nothing in the way of profit or cash goes into the pocket of the State at all. I differ from him, and I am quite certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will differ from him too. But this matter of land is not of such great importance as he thinks. The price of land is a matter which really does not to any large extent affect the actual weekly rent of the house, but it is the price at which the money can be obtained to build the house. That is a far more important factor. The question of the price of the land has been grossly exaggerated in considering what economic rent is to be charged on the building to be erected on the land. Still, this great housing question is really a national problem, and it is only reasonable that the State, entering into a partnership with the local authority, should see that the local authority has got adequate power placed at its disposal by 1825 which it might be able to obtain land on which to build houses at a reasonable rate and at a fair valuation.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I want for a very few minutes to intervene between the House and the Vote in order to call the attention of the President to a matter which has become very urgent in my county of Middlesex, namely, the provision of proper tuberculosis accommodation. The problems with which the county committee have had to contend, by reason of its very large population and the number returning of soldiers who are affected by tubercule has caused them very serious difficulty with regard to their scheme, and the point to which I desire to direct his attention or that of the Parliamentary Secretary is the difficulty of obtaining the Board's sanction to proposals whereby the county will be able to pay, out of its funds—and the Insurance Commissioners will also be able to deal with cases arising within their purview, through the county committee—for cases within Poor Law institutions. At present the demand for beds for other things are such that it is impossible for the county's scheme to be properly carried out, because that accommodation cannot be provided if the cases in Poor Law institutions have to be removed from there to other institutions. The difficulty is that the Board has been unable, so far, to give its sanction to the proposals which the county of Middlesex have laid before it. I do urge upon the right hon. Gentleman, or on the Parliamentary Secretary, that this matter shall receive attention, and that whatever is necessary to enable the Board to give sanction to the scheme of the county may be done at once, so that the accommodation at present needed for these cases may be provided in institutional homes as such, and we shall be allowed to continue the cases in Poor Law institutions and still receive the proper Grant. It is impossible for us to deal with these cases under the conditions under which we are now working. I ask that this matter may be seriously considered. It may be a question for the Treasury, but I hope, at any rate, that what I have now said may be the means of relieving the county from the difficulty in which it is a present placed.
The question raised by my hon. Friend is one which affects the Treasury, I think, rather more than the Local Government Board. I will look into 1826 it very carefully and consider with the Treasury whether any action can be taken. I quite understand the difficulty under which the Middlesex County Council and the insurance committees are labouring, but I should be slow to adopt any suggestion that soldiers suffering from tuberculosis should be put into Poor Law institutions.
§ Sir H. NIELD
That is not what I was suggesting. We want to remove from the Poor Law institutions the cases of soldiers that are there and we want to keep in them the Poor Law cases, and at the same time get our proper Grant in respect of them.
Although it is a somewhat-minute point, a large question of principle is raised and that is as to how far the Treasury can make Grants in a matter of this kind. We know the strong feeling there is with regard to Grants in connection with Poor Law institutions, but T will look carefully into the matter and seek the advice of the Treasury and communicate with my hon. and learned Friend as to whether anything can be done to meet the wishes of the Middlesex County Council.
I never said anything of the kind. The hon. Gentleman is putting words into my mouth which I never uttered. I said that as compared with the price paid for money, the price paid for the land was not so heavy a burden as has been suggested.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WATT
I apologise if I have misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman. Still, he spoke as if £l,000 per acre was not a very large sum in this connection. But if four cottages are to be built. on an acre of land, and if £1,000 is paid for the site, that will represent £250 for land alone for each cottage, and I say it is absurd to pay that.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman may think, but he must not put into my mouth his views. I never suggested that four cottages only should be built on an acre of land. My suggestion was that the number should be twelve in urban districts and eight in rural districts.
§ Mr. WATT
And if it is eight in a country district it represents nearly £150 1827 per cottage per land, and that would represent a very serious item and would be responsible for a very heavy rent. The second point put by the right hon. Gentleman was that a considerable part of this£1,000 was got back by the Government from the landowner in the shape of Income Tax and other payment. I strongly disagree. The money is capital merely, and is not subject to Income Tax at all. I know what the right hon. Gentleman meant. He supposed that landlords would necessarily invest the£1,000 in some other undertaking in order to get interest and dividend, and that then the Government would get a considerable share back by way of Income Tax. All I want to do is to point out that the views put forward by the right hon. Gentleman on this matter will not hold water.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I should like to emphasise the importance of the cost of land if you are going to build houses in open order. I have had considerable experience in thus building houses, and the result works out perfectly simply. If you have ten to the acre, and if you pay£250 per acre for the land, it means£25 for the land on which each cottage stands, and that is roughly 6d. per week to be added to the rent. If you pay£1,000 per acre, then the addition to the rent is 2s. per week. Cottages built in open order, according to my experience, will stand an addition to the rent of 6d. per week for the land, as the garden is worth a good deal. But when you have to charge more than that it practically prevents building them in open order. Anything like a charge of£1,000 per acre would be fatal to building cottages in open areas.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Mon day next.