HC Deb 05 May 1922 vol 153 cc1713-58

Order for Second Reading read.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Not many of the provisions of the Bill are controversial. [Laughter.] If I may say so to hon. Members opposite who laugh, I think there are only two Clauses which have the slightest tinge of controversy about them. I know that Clauses 2 and 3 will not appeal to hon. Members opposite, but as regards the rest, of the Bill the Clauses are really only for the purpose of correcting anomalies and for introducing certain improvements in the Act of 1918, and subsequent Acts dealing with that Act. Clause 1 deals with quite a small point, but one which is an anomaly, arising out of the Act of 1918. Under the Act of 1918, a woman is entitled to the Parliamentary vote if her husband is entitled to the local government vote. There are cases where, owing to that entitlement, a woman has the Parliamentary vote and her husband, from whom she gets that vote, is not entitled to be a Parliamentary elector. The object of this Clause is to put that right, and to provide that where a woman has the Parliamentary vote owing to her husband having been qualified as a local government elector though not as a Parliamentary elector, he should become entitled to the Parliamentary vote.

Clause 2 deals with the further disqualification of conscientious objectors. In the principal Act of 1918 the House made a law by which conscientious objectors were to be disqualified for five years after the War. As things have turned out, that would practically only disqualify them for one General Election, and, in view of the fact that their failure to assist their country at the time of its dire peril and distress was really in the nature of a crime against the State, I consider that the disqualification should be increased for another five years so as to disqualify them for probably one or two more General Elections. This would only refer to those persons who were disqualified under the special provisions of the Act of 1918. Clause 3 deals with aliens who have become naturalised in this country. There is nothing in the Act of 1918 to prevent aliens from voting directly after naturalisation. The War showed that men had come over here from Germany and other countries and, with their tongues in their teeth, so to speak, had got British citizenship after five years' qualification. The strain of War showed that the real allegiance of those men—it was quite natural—was to their own Fatherland of Germany, or some other Continental country. That shows that it is not safe, after you have naturalised a man, to allow him to have full voting power, and stand for Parliament, until he has been, at any rate, through a probationary period. The proposal in Clause 3 is that such a man should have a five years' probationary period after he is naturalised before he is entitled to vote or stand for Parliament.

Clause 4 disqualifies people who have been sentenced to imprisonment for a period of seven days from Voting for a certain period, and also disqualifies them from standing for any public office. It is a scandal that a man who has just been convicted of breaking the laws of the country should be allowed to stand for Parliamentary or local government elections and to represent the citizens of the country. That is a matter which is not dealt with in the Act of 1918, and it is a very necessary safeguard for public life. The Clause only disqualifies a man for five years, which is not an unreasonable probationary period. If at the end of five years he has behaved himself properly during that time, he would return to full citizenship. The 5th Clause deals with a matter which has been under consideration for a long period, and I suggest that it is high time that the House came to a decision in the matter if the Government cannot make up their minds. Under the Act of 1918, there were to be two registers, an autumn register and a spring register. The cost to the country is very great, and the Geddes Committee in dealing with this matter say: We understand that if the supplementary lists of names which are prepared and posted publicly every half-year could be substituted, as an effective supplementary register, for one of the complete registers each year, a saving of £85.000 could be effected, and we suggest that necessary steps be taken by legislation or by Order in Council to give effect to this economy. In evidence before the Publication and Debates Committee, one of the witnesses for a public Department, Mr. Vivian, said that the saving would be between £135,000 and £150,000. In these days, when economy is so essential, a saving like that is worth having. Not only that, but it would greatly simplify the work in the constituencies. What happens now is that there has to be a complete re-canvass and re-printing of the lists at the six-monthly registration. Under the provision in this Bill all that would happen would be that we should abolish the spring register and have instead a supplementary register, which would consist only of the names of those people whose claims had been made and sustained before the registration officer. There is an Amendment to that effect put down for consideration in connection with the Government Bill dealing with the Representation of the People Act, but I understand it has not been put forward by the Government but by a private Member. I introduced this Bill last year, so I claim priority for the suggestion, and I think it can be brought into law by means of this Bill. Clause 6 provides that there shall be a period of 14 days between the nomination and the poll in the case of local government elections. The object is to promote economy and efficiency, and save people expense and annoyance. In a great many local government elections poor men stand for public office. Very often they are put to unnecessary expense, because they do not know whether there is going to be a contest or not. If you have a period of 14 days between the nomination and the poll, it would save a lot of people a great deal of expense, because they would, at any rate, know 14 days before the poll whether there was going to be a contest or not. I am sure I shall have the support of the Labour party in this proposal.

Clause 7 provides for a deposit by a candidate at local government elections. I am sure that that also will meet with the approval of hon. Members opposite, because we have got the principle embodied in law as regards Parliamentary elections. It has no doubt had the effect of abolishing to a certain extent freak candidates. They exist to a very large extent in local government elections, much more so than in the case of Parliamentary elections. Candidates for boards of guardians, borough councils, and urban districts councils who have not got the slightest chance of getting in, men very often who stand only for the purpose of increasing their own importance with no intention of carrying out the duties of the position, and perhaps no intention of going to the poll, should put up a small financial stake which will be returned if they succeed in getting the one-eighth of the votes, or, if that is considered a little bit large in the case of local government elections, because not so many people vote at them as at Parliamentary elections, the proportion might be altered. But unless they got some respectable fraction of the number of votes cast, then they would have to forfeit their deposit. This would save a great many unnecessary contests and would not act against bonà fide candidates in local government elections.

The object of Clause 9 is to amend the scale of election expenses. The scale of election expenses laid down in the Act of 1918 was 5d., I think, in the case of boroughs and 7d. in the case of counties. This increases that by roughly 50 per cent The first reason is because of the decreased value of money; the second is the increased cost of postage, and there are other things as well. Only this morning I read in the public Press that the City election is being hampered by the fact that the expenses have been cut down to 5d. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but I think that they will find it just as much against them as any other Member. I am not in favour of spending a penny more than is necessary at Parliamentary elections, but it is very hard to reach the large number of the electorate which we have to reach at present. With the average constituency consisting of something like 40,000 electors it is very hard to get your views known to them if you cannot have, at any rate, one or two postages to them as well as the free postage given under the Act of 1918.

Therefore I do not think that this increase in election expenses is a demand which can be regarded as extreme. We have all felt the difficulty of reaching a large electorate with the present very limited amount of expenses allowed. The increase proposed now only brings it up to the same proportion as was agreed to by the House in 1918. There are only one or two really controversial matters in the Bill, and I hope that I shall have the support of hon. Members opposite for this useful and democratic Measure.


I beg to second the Motion and I am glad to support this Bill. There are points in it which are open to argument, but, speaking generally, so far as opposition in elections is concerned it should be welcomed rather than discouraged, if it is good opposition, for opposition in these matters is at all times healthy. But all these minor points of detail are better discussed and settled in Committee. My principal object in supporting this Bill is that it will enable us to give in some way the vote and representation to those who pay rates and taxes. For many years it has been recognised in all quarters that large ratepayers, in the shape of joint stock companies and other corporations, are paying a tremendous amount of the rates and taxes of this country without the right of voting. In my own constituency I do not think I should be exaggerating in saying that half the local rates are paid by those who have no representation on the boards which spend those rates. Others will recognise the case of the Great Western Railway at Swindon who pay seven-eighths of the rates without a vote.


They have a majority on the council.


Then there is the case of the London and North Western Railway at Crewe and other places, where they are not represented unless they happen to have shareholders in those particular localities. In my own constituency certainly a very large amount, about half, of the rates is paid by those who have no representation at all and cannot vote at the local elections. In these days when joint stock companies are being extended in so many directions, it, is very important, in my opinion, that where they pay rates they should also have the right of voting at elections, which is what this House, when dealing with these questions, has always endeavoured to secure in the case of individuals who pay rates.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

It is rather ironical that at a time when the fates of nations are very uncertain, and we have industrial difficulties occupying the minds of most serious men, the time of the House should be occupied with a Bill such as this, which contains more nonsense to the square inch, probably, than any Bill that has been introduced within recent years. The Bill has not even the advantage of the curate's egg and is full of whimsical suggestions and fantastic propositions for dealing with our Constitution. The only effect of Clause I would be that the advantage which men voters have in comparison with women voters to-day—an advantage altogether unfair to the women voters—would be strengthened and that the feeling of resentment which women voters naturally have because of their political inferiority would be aggravated by the passing of this Clause. The latter part of the first Clause will have the effect of increasing the plural voters who already have too great power in the country. As to the plural voter, I associate myself with the declaration made by a distinguished scholar in this country some years ago, that if any advantage in the vote is to be given at all it should be given to the citizen who has the heaviest stake in the country. These citizens who have the heaviest stake in the country are those to whom bad law means not mortified pride and stinted luxury, but pain and want and degradation and the risk to their own lives and their children's souls. Clauses 2, 3, and 4 seek to penalise another class of the community and to impose a double penalty, first of all in robbing them of the franchise, and, secondly, in making them ineligible for membership of this House or any local governing council of the country.

The limitation of the choice of electors is a constitutional question that has been a matter of discussion in this House and the country for many generations. The question I would put to the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Second Beading of the Bill is, Why should he seek in his kindness of heart to protect the electors from themselves? If a conscientious objector should stand as a candidate for any constituency the fact that he has been a conscientious objector would probably be known to the electors, even if he did not mention it himself; and in any event it is quite likely it might occur to his opponents. If he had served a term of imprisonment it would not be necessary for him to inform the electors of his record. Most of us know that all we have done and all that we have not done is carefully before the minds of those who have to cast their votes for us. If a man has served a term of imprisonment, or if, having been a conscientious objector, the electors of a division are satisfied that his services are necessary to themselves and to the community, why should the hon. and gallant Member seek to restrict them in their right and to deprive them of their choice? As far as the conscientious objector is concerned, this Bill hits only the genuine conscientious objector, the man who because of his opinion endured imprisonment and obloquy, very often a very brave man, although I have no sympathy with his opinions. The shirker is actually given his franchise, but the genuine man, who has gone through all the suffering consequent upon the possession of unpopular opinions, is the one penalised by this Measure.

I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to consider how this Bill might work. Take the naturalised British subject. Let us suppose that a year or two ago Mr. Henry James had desired to be a Member of this House. He was a man of world-wide distinction in letters, who was naturalised during the War. His sympathies with this country were always most marked. If he had been adopted by any constituency it would have done honour to that constituency to have such a candidate, and such a man would have been welcomed in this House. But the passing of this Measure would have excluded him. It would have excluded Joseph Conrad for five years. He has added wide territories to the realms of English literature. As to imprisonment, the Bill would have the most ludicrous effect. It would exclude from Membership of this House many who have been the salt of the earth, from St. Paul down to John Burns. It would have excluded, for instance, Sir John Eliot, the greatest champion of English liberty in his time, who came from a borough included in the constituency I have the honour to represent. It would have excluded a man like John Hampden, or Sir Robert Walpole, or John Bunyan, or Daniel O'Connell, or Charles Stewart Parnell, or W. T. Stead or John Burns.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

Hear, hear! A very good list.


The result of the Bill would be, first of all, an inquiry as to those Members of this House who have served a term of imprisonment, and that would go on to further inquiries as to those Members of the House who ought to have been in prison. If we had a strict rule of justice we know that one of the first results would be that a great many of those now in gaol would come out and a great many who are now outside would immediately go in. The Bill involves further consequences. If a man who has served a period of eight days' imprisonment is ineligible for membership of this House, what of the Member who, having been elected, is put in prison after his election? If he is unfit for nomination and is therefore ineligible, surely he is unfit to continue to serve? You may possibly have a Member of this House riding a motor-car in a hurry to Westminster, and because of his excessive zeal he may exceed the speed limit, in the opinion of the constable, but not in his own opinion. It would then rest with the magistrate to decide whether he could impose a sentence of eight days' imprisonment, which would deprive the Member of his seat in this House. The Bill would give to every police court magistrate power to confer the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds upon any Member who came under his jurisdiction. Clause 5 would have the effect of creating a large number of potential plural voters. The spring register would probably contain the same names as the autumn register, and as a great many persons move from one constituency to another, their names would be on both registers, and probably they would vote in both areas. Clause 6 brings about a change for which no one has asked, except the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading; and Clause 7 would penalise the poor man by insisting upon his depositing an amount of £10 or £50. It was rather strange that the hon. and gallant Member sought to champion the claims of poor candidates later on and shed tears for them: 'I weep for you,' the walrus said, 'I deeply sympathise'; Holding his pocket handkerchief Before his streaming eyes. The hon. and gallant Member's sympathies with the poor men are a little discounted by the proposal that would make only a man in possession of £10 or £50 eligible for membership of a local council. Why should that proposal be applied to local elections? It is true that we have a provision now that did apply in 1918, but as a matter of fact a great many of those who were considered freaks at that time would now be returned. What surprises me is that these constitutionalists should be making this proposal. I thought they claimed to be followers of our greatest political philosopher who taught us more than 100 years ago that in dealing with our Constitution, we should approach it with awe and only handle it with jealous care and deliberation. Here, we are dealing with the question of the eligibility of men to be elected to this House—a matter which is discussed in the Commentaries of Blackstone and was touched upon in the Debates of 1768 and 1771, in the time of John Wilkes, and in the "Letters of Junius"—the very central feature of that controversy. The eligibility of Members of this House has been a matter of such concern that a great number of Acts of Parliament could be quoted in regard to it. I understand that at present the only persons excluded are aliens, peers, clergy, sheriffs, and judges. Even a person who is guilty of treason or felony can still be a Member of the House if he has served his term of imprisonment. That clears him, but in the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member, a man who serves the term of imprisonment imposed by the police court magistrate, must continue to bear the burden for another five years, and not merely is he not allowed to enter the House, but he is not allowed to vote for his own parish council.

The power of expulsion rests with the House at present and, even as far as lunacy is concerned, this House has always been very careful. In a work dealing with the Constitution of this country I find that in 1811 an inquiry was held into the mental condition of a Member of this House named Mr. Alcock. The entry in this book shows that in the case of Mr. Alcock his constituents-—he was one of the Members for County Wexford—petitioned the House, complaining of the insanity of their Member, depriving them of his services. He had been found a lunatic upon commission and was in confinement. A Committee was appointed which, after taking evidence and searching for precedents, reported that his case was not so hopeless as to justify the House in declaring the seat vacant. The Constitution which is being looked after by the hon. and gallant Member—and I believe he has another Bill in view—is a Constitution which should be dealt with deliberately and carefully and not dealt with by the remnant of the House of Commons which appears hero on Friday morning—the last remaining fragment of a House which has, as everyone knows, a sentence of death upon it, and which has long ago forfeited any claim to represent the people of this country. The suggestion was made that this would effect an economy. That sounded strangely from the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because our complaint is that the country should have been put to the expense of printing a Bill of this description—a Measure which must have excited the derision of the very compositors who had to set it up. The economy should have been exercised, as far as our time is concerned. I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to compare the efforts which are being made on a morning such as this with the long and deliberate dealing with our Constitution by the legislators of past years. There is as much comparison between their work and his as there is between the builders of Westminster Abbey and the children who disport themselves on the shore and build castles and walls of sand. I hope this Bill will be summarily rejected, or that before it is Bead a Second time six months hence, the hon. and gallant Member will have an opportunity of explaining it to his constituents.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I think the hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill struck the proper note in his contribution to this Debate. It was impossible to treat the Bill seriously. If it has one merit, that merit is that its meaning is so obvious that it is impossible to imagine it could receive the support of the majority of Members of this House, even on this Friday morning. The intention of the promoters of the Bill is obvious. It is a deliberate attempt, in my opinion, to undo the electoral benefits realised under the Act of 1918, and, personally, I am not greatly concerned as to whether the Bill meets its natural end to-day or is killed upstairs. It will never become an Act. I regard its discussion as a waste of Parliamentary time which might have been devoted to better purposes. I am going to speak of it in general terms because the Mover of the Amendment has covered the whole ground. In the first place, the Bill is not properly named. It is not in any sense whatever a Bill to extend the Parliamentary franchise.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

The Title of the Bill is "The Representation of the People Acts (1918 to 1921) Amendment Bill."


Yes, but the definition of the first Clause is— extension of Parliamentary franchises (men). It is nothing of the sort in the sense in which the phrase "extension of franchise" has been understood in the past. It is an attempt to revive and renew and strengthen the worst features of the electoral systems of the past. Every extension of the franchise in recent times has been in the direction of a departure from the old property qualifications in the matter of voting, and the putting of the franchise on the human basis of citizenship. This seeks to revive what I think is a most pernicious feature in our present franchise system. At this stage I should like to comment on a feature which is prominent in constituencies not very far from this House, and in which certain hon. Members who are promoting this Measure are interested. For instance, in the Parliamentary Borough of Holborn—to take a typical example—in a single ward containing 3,000 electors, I find that under the existing Act more than 30 per cent, are non-resident women electors entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections, purely on the basis of a husband's occupation of premises. This is a matter which, in my judgment, requires rectification. An examination of the premises on which they gain that qualification would remove any doubt as to the manner in which they qualify as electors or as to their entitlement to vote. The premises are often found to be single rooms, cellars, stores for the deposit of empty boxes and so forth, and those premises entitle the wife of the husband who occupies them to vote, and this produces an unhealthy influence in the political life of that constituency. This Measure is a deliberate attempt to extend that pernicious feature and create what in effect will be a certain number of pocket boroughs, which will be manipulated by those who are in agreement with the terms of the Bill. I say, as a general principle, that we shall never reach a satisfactory basis in the representation of the people until plural voting is completely abolished and until we have a system of adult suffrage under which the vote will be cast not on the basis of property, but on the basis of citizenship.

May I also, before I turn to the provisions of the Bill itself, deal with the record of those who are immediately responsible for this Measure and who are to-day showing such enthusiasm for the extension of the franchise? Two years ago the party with which I am associated introduced a Measure dealing with women's suffrage. I am certain some hon. Members will remember the part- played by some of the promoters of this Bill. Our Bill had the merit that it aimed at removing completely the existing inequalities in the matter of electoral rights between the sexes. The main provisions of this Bill must not be regarded by the House to-day as having the value attributed to it and claimed for it by its promoters. There is something more in it than appears on the surface: something more than is evident in the two speeches already made in support of it. May I put forward this further general principle on behalf of those with whom I am associated?

It is a dangerous thing to raise any obstacle of any kind, financial or electoral, in regard to political issues, national or local. Our political institutions are open to criticism, but, at any rate, in a civilised community political action, legislation in a national chamber, and administration through properly constituted local authorities, is our only safeguard against anarchy. When, as there is at the present time, unfortunately, a very small section of the community trying to persuade the citizens that political action and institutions are played out, and that there are short cuts by less desirable methods for the achievement of social reform, it is incumbent on those who seek to guard against the extension of anarchism of that sort to place no obstacle in the way of our political institutions discharging their proper function and to remove any obstacles which may exist in that direction. This Bill will be a deliberate incitement to these people, and it will be accepted by them as evidence of the fact that the House of Commons to-day is intent on preventing democracy from the free expression of political opinion. That is a criticism which might be applied to almost every Clause of this Measure.

Now I come to the provisions of the Bill itself. The Bill claims to be an extension of the Parliamentary franchise. I have, I think, already shown that it is nothing of the kind. What it will do will be to add to the voting power of the propertied classes. It will add to their privileges. The men who will qualify under Clause 1 will, in 99 cases out of a hundred, be already qualified for other constituencies, and, on that ground alone, I think we are entitled to ask for the rejection of the Bill. Then I come to the position of the conscientious objector. I am not in any sense whatever in sympathy with the position of that individual, but I do believe that all the Debate that has arisen during the War and since in regard to his position is open to the very serious suspicion as to the intentions, at any rate, of some of those who are so loud now in their denunciations of the conscientious objector. I cannot conceive anything more base than the policy of those who to-day are in full cry against the conscientious objector on grounds that cannot be otherwise described than as purely political. I speak as an ex-service man, and I say that from beginning to end the cry against the conscientious objector has been mainly political It did not have its origin in any desire to increase the forces that made for national security. Neither did it in my judgment have its origin in any desire to compel the conscientious objector to discharge his social obligations. I detest militarism as much as any man, but so long as military service is necessary I shall regard it as a social obligation from which no man should be allowed to escape unless on the ground of physical disability. All this cry against the conscientious objector in my opinion has had no military significance, and I am certain that the majority of those who are associated with me will agree that the conscientious objector had no military value, and, indeed, that whatever value of any kind he had might well have been discounted on this occasion. But this attempt to increase the penalty on the conscientious objector is simply based on political motives and should be resisted. He has already made amends for his shortcomings and I say no earthly good can come from the carrying forward to the future this principle of penalisation.

The same criticism can be brought against the attempt to disqualify naturalised British subjects. If a citizen is qualified for naturalisation he is qualified on that very ground for the exercise of all the rights and privileges of citizenship. It he is not so qualified then, in my judgment, he is not entitled to naturalisation. The present qualification, I think, meets the situation, and to make a petty offence involving imprisonment for more than seven days a reason for disqualification for the holding of any public office really is ridiculous. That alone would justify the rejection of this Bill.

I want to say one or two words with regard to Section (5), which raises a really important point. The proposal here is that there shall be one full register each autumn and only a supplementary register in the spring. Will the House realise what that means? It means that the registration officer is vested with complete power. It is within his discretion to permit names to appear on the register, and the present remedy open to electors for qualifying is entirely removed. Already there are complaints as to the difficulty, owing to the increase in the electorate, of polling the full electorate on election days. This is an absolutely impracticable proposal, in my opinion, and one which would destroy the advantage of the six months' qualification to a very great extent. Under this Clause If for any reason the registration officer fails to compile a fresh autumn or spring supplemental register for his area or any part of his area, the autumn register in force at the time when the fresh register should have come into force shall continue to operate as the register for the area or part of an area in respect of which default has been made. This is an unnecessary sub-section, because it leaves it optional for the registration officer to compile a register, or to refrain from doing so, and the net result of his failure is to destroy the benefits resulting from the biennial compilation of the register. Clause 6 is quite unnecessary, because already municipal authorities arrange for the date on which elections are held, and if there be any ground for change in the matter of the date of nomination, and the date of election, that is a matter which could be dealt with in a separate Measure amending the existing Local Government Acts. Clause 7 imposes a financial disability on candidates for local government elections which is not called for. No trouble has arisen at all under the existing Acts in this matter. The good sense of the electorates, I think, may always be relied upon to provide against freak candidates or any possible danger of this sort. The true intent of the Bill is shown, of course, in the Clause to increase the amount of money that may be spent on local and Parliamentary elections. So far as I am concerned, I look forward to the time when election expenses will be charged on the community, when individual candidates will not be called upon to foot the election bill, as they are to-day, when there will be far more drastic supervision of the money spent at election time, and I regard as dangerous this proposal to increase the power of rich candidates to corrupt and buy constituencies. That is the estimate, at any rate, which those who sit on this side of the House have of this Measure, and believing as we do that the Bill is not seriously brought forward with the idea that it will ever become law, we not only object to the waste of Parliamentary time in its discussion, but we hope the House will speedily reject it.

12 N.


One thing which has surprised me in the two very interesting and effective speeches to which we have just listened from the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill is the acrimony which they managed to infuse into their speeches. They will learn, when they listen to what I have to say, that I speak with no great partisanship on one side or the other, and with regard to many of their remarks I am in complete agreement. But one thing that surprised me specially was that both the Mover and the Seconder deprecated the time of the House being taken, and the expense incurred in printing a Bill that was not even intended to pass; but in both their speeches they entered very fully into points of the utmost importance—points about which, I say, in many respects I entertain an opinion very like their own, and I think the time of the House is not only well occupied in considering—and considering maturely and fully—but in listening to speeches so important as those to which we have listened. I am not disposed to quarrel in the same way with—in fact, I am rather disposed to thank—my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finsbury (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant) for having brought this Bill forward. They did so, I am perfectly certain the rest of the House will consider, whatever hon. Members opposite think, in a fair, temperate and moderate way, but I am bound to say, with all respect to my hon. Friends, that I do feel very considerable difficulty with regard to this Bill, and I am afraid I cannot give it my support. I fear any alliance would be rejected by hon. Members opposite, but even they must take it for what it is worth.

In the first place, I think that a Bill attempting to alter the Parliamentary franchise once more within four years of passing the most drastic Bill for the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage is somewhat premature. We cannot be pulling up the plant every year or two and looking at the roots in order to see how it is growing. We had a very great extension of the Parliamentary franchise in the year 1918, and I think it is scarcely time yet to interfere very drastically with the arrangements then made. I think it might be as well, since history travels slowly, to allow at least a decade after introducing about 8,000,000 new electors to see how it will work before you begin to pull it up by the roots. I would also deprecate that such a proposal should be brought forward by anyone but a responsible Government. The interference with Parliamentary elections by a Private Member's Bill is a dangerous, hazardous undertaking, and on that particular ground I would be inclined to look upon the Bill with a suspicion, not so acrimonious or so bitter as that of my hon. Friends opposite, but with a desire to look at both sides of the Bill very carefully.

So much for the general consideration that entered my mind when I came to consider what was my duty with regard to this Bill. But I want to say more than that. I want to see what the broad proposals of the Bill are. Now, these proposals are of two kinds. In the first place, they extend the franchise, and on the other side, they very materially limit that franchise, and limit it in some serious way. The Bill extends the franchise in the first Clause. Really, I wish my hon. and gallant Friend the Mover had rather more carefully explained paragraph (c) of Clause 1, which says that a man shall be entitled to be registered whose wife is entitled to be registered as n Parliamentary elector in respect of her husband's local government qualification. Let me notice, before I go further, the curious discrepancy between the Mover and the Seconder of the rejection of this Bill. The Mover said that this paragraph was dangerous, because it was going to lower still further the disadvantageous position in which women are placed. The Seconder, on the other hand, said this was a dangerous Clause, because it would give the man and his wife additional power. What I wish my hon. and gallant Friend would have explained was exactly how this will work. In the Act of 1918 the wife was, in certain cases, given a Parliamentary vote by virtue of taxable qualifications possessed by her husband. I always accounted that, myself, as doubtful, because I never quite understood why a person should have a sort of derivative qualification not belonging to herself but to her husband, and how the husband's right, by virtue of certain property, was to be transferred to his wife. But the new sub-section seems to increase the difficulty of the situation. I had hoped my hon. and gallant Friend would explain that. Not only is the wife to receive the Parliamentary franchise from her husband's qualifications, but, in turn again, the husband is to become qualified for a new Parliamentary vote because the wife possesses a derivative qualification from him. I feel the great difficulty in this, and I wish my hon. and gallant Friend had taken the trouble to explain more clearly what is meant by this paragraph.

Next I come to the sub-section of which the hon. Baronet the Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant) gave a very clear and extremely interesting explanation. I think, so far as justice is concerned, there is a great deal in the argument put forward that such a company, where they are heavy ratepayers, and are really now disqualified, should be represented. I do not know that I much like the machinery proposed for company representation. In the first place, I am old-fashioned enough, to look askance upon the increasing substitution of companies for the old-fashioned and much more wholesome system of private proprietorship. Those people who are associated with companies of the kind referred to endeavour to avoid, as I understand, certain very serious pecuniary obligations. They acquire certain conveniences in the management of their property, and if by reason of this they lose their Parliamentary representation the proprietors themselves are to blame. I have the greatest respect for managing directors, but as there are companies and companies, there are also managing directors and managing directors. Some of them might be such that, I suppose, we might consider their eligibility, but even so, in what respect would they represent the shareholders I They represent, as managing directors of a company, the company in a purely financial sense!

What right has the managing director of a company who has the good fortune to share the views I hold, or the misfortune, as others may judge, to hold political opinions as bigoted as my own, to consider himself as truly representing the varied political interests of the shareholders of a big company? What reason is there to suppose that there is any identity between the political opinions of a managing director and the shareholders of his company? The natural basis upon which you can say the managing director might represent the shareholders is, I suppose, the pecuniary interests of that particular company, and are these the chief things which those shareholders attend to when they are giving their Parliamentary vote? They may suppose that no political consideration and no political conviction can compare with the importance of having a thoroughly conscientious representative of their financial interests, and a thoroughly conscientious representative is one whose only interest is that financial interest upon which he and the shareholders hold an identical opinion.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with the disqualification of conscientious objectors. No one has more antipathy to conscientious objectors, no one more disapproves of their conduct or has less liking for them than I have. Somehow or other, though, one finds that as one grows older, that feeling of hostility gradually wears out, that hatred, detestation and objection to the course pursued by people of this sort grows gradually less, and the time comes when we feel inclined to say that we have had enough of the subject. At all events, there were distinct arrangements in the Act of 1918 for these persons and on this vexed question of conscientious objection. On the whole, I think we had better let byegones be byegones—that is a sound and wholesome doctrine. They have paid their penalty. A distinct limit of time for their disfranchisement was imposed. As regards a continuance of their ineligibility as electors, I am afraid my views—much as they may be condemned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finsbury (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee)—are milder than they were, and I feel that in regard to the candidature of such persons it had better be left to the constituents, who are perhaps the best judges in the matter.

We next come to the Clause which relates to the provisions as to naturalised British subjects. I have here equally very little sympathy with the naturalised subject. I prefer the attitude expressed in the ballad of Gilbert and Sullivan— In spite of all temptation, To belong to another nation, He remained an Englishman. One nation in the course of a lifetime is sufficient for most people, and we had better stick to it. At the same time, however, these naturalised subjects have, I presume, good reason for their change, and it may be that legislating on a matter of this kind, without due thought, will open up international questions of a very serious kind. If you are constantly altering the arrangements made, you ask yourselves what is the power and what is the position of a naturalised subject in this country? I have no sympathy with this kind of thing, and nothing would induce me under any circumstances to change my country or the name of my country, but there are people curiously enough constituted, if placed in circum stances sufficiently strange, as to lead them to form a different opinion. I greatly doubt whether it would be a wise thing to stir up this question again. I would like to ask hon. Members if they believe that such questions as these affect a single election in this country. If you take all these men and spread them over the whole of the constituencies, I think it will be found that the number in each would be very small.

I come to the next disqualification—that of imprisonment. I listened with great interest to the long historical list which the Mover of this rejection gave, but surely that shows that you must be very careful in laying down rules. Take that list, and I am perfectly certain you will not find half a dozen men in this House who agree in their verdict on all the names in that list. As an old man, one is apt to pride oneself on wearing the "white flower of a blameless life," and with not having been brought into contact with the criminal authorities. But our self-complacency may disappear on examination. It may only be due to my lack of physical energy, enthusiastic feeling, courage or originality. With regard to those who may come into temporary contact with prison for a period of eight days, I do not know how lapses of that sort, perhaps through loss of temper and self-control, would injure a man in his representative capacity, but it might easily leave us in possession of a limited amount of political sagacity. There will have to be some discrimination in these matters. A man may have done dishonourable things which leave a lasting stain, but such men will suffer for them and their influence will decrease, whether we give them a vote or not, but for a mere ebullition of violent temper and its exhibition in a somewhat uproarious way, I am not inclined to think that a man ought to be deprived of the franchise or the privileges of civil life.

As to Clause 5, which deals with the provisions as to registers, I am not going to occupy the time of the House discussing that matter, because there are others more competent to do it, and who can enter into the details of that proposal. With regard to the deposits by candidates at local elections, I fail to see why we should introduce this proposal. I doubt whether it is either dignified or just. It is quite true that a man who aims at the high ambition of forming a member of the great inquest of the nation, in spite of what the Mover and Seconder of this Bill has said, ought to have a deep sense of his responsibility, and he ought to be able to show, either through himself or through his supporters, that he can pledge himself that he is going to prosecute his candidature in earnest, and that it has a solid response in the portion of the country he is seeking to represent. Surely at a little local election it may be assumed that a candidate is trying to serve the community humbly and honestly to the best of his ability. It is a great advantage to get such men on the local authorities, and it would be a very hard thing to deny these men of standing the right of coming forward as candidates by any imposition of this sort.

I come to Clause 9, which further extends the power of spending money at these elections, I would remind the House that already every candidate has power to send one address to his constituents free from any postage charge. Why should it be thought necessary to send, say, half-a-dozen addresses? I should certainly never send more than one address, and I can put all I wish to say in that, and I put it in as few words as I can. I do not see why we should grant the power to deluge the constituencies with addresses or take advantage of the liberal allowance given to us by the Postmaster-General to increase this burden on the country. I do not think that election addresses sent through the post, except the one which from its singular character attracts more attention, are likely to affect very seriously the issue of an election. I have laid these general objections plainly before the House. I am quite certain of the good, and even patriotic, intention of my hon. and gallant Friend and of the hon. Baronet, but I am afraid that I cannot give them my support. I am hoping that my support, should it be given to the opponents of the Measure in the Lobby, will not be rejected by them because it comes from a tainted source.


I had desired to say one or two words concerning Clause 7 of this Bill, but previous speakers have already covered that ground, so I shall confine myself to Clause 2. The House, I think, will not hear for the first time that I myself am one of those unfortunate people who are to suffer the penalties which the hon. and gallant Member opposite seems to desire. May I say, in passing, that I am very glad indeed to acknowledge the restrained way in which the hon. and gallant Member made reference to people like myself. This House is never greater than when it listens patiently to people who put forward an unpopular point of view, and I am going to invite the indulgence of the House while I say one or two words from the specific point of view of those who happen to be conscientious objectors, of whom I am one myself. A previous speaker said that when one stood for a constituency, even if he desired in the least—it was not the case with me—to hide an incident such as this in his personal career, he could always rely upon his opponents to drag it into the light of day. I can say quite honestly, and I am sure hon. Members who visited my constituency will agree, that due care was taken in that direction. I do not say that the constituents who sent me here agreed with my particular War point of view, but I think I can fairly claim that in spite of my War career they were prepared to let by-gones be by-gones and to give me a chance to represent them in this House. In my candidature I was honoured—I say "honoured" deliberately—with the enthusiastic support of a very large number of men who themselves actually participated in the War.

It appears to me that there is a spirit being demonstrated in this Bill which is most unfortunate. I have observed in some quarters of this House quite a passion for perpetual punishment, but it is a perpetual punishment to be applied to certain people and to people holding a certain point of view. May I ask the supporters of this Bill, quite honestly, if there are not hundreds and even thousands of people of the same age, let us say, as myself, who lost not one minute of time and not one penny of money throughout the War? There are men in Government Departments—I say nothing unkind about them—who are being overlooked, I think quite rightly, in connection with this question. May I say, further, that there are men inside this House whose greatest service to the country during the War was to believe in the War for others. There are therefore two kinds of objectors. There is the objector, and there is the conscientious objector, and it appears to me that the class of people who come under the first category is very much larger indeed than the class of people who come under the second category.

I therefore gather that the objection is taken to those people who happen to be conscientious objectors. Does the hon. and gallant Member opposite never take his stand on political questions on conscientious grounds? Have there been no occasions in his life when he has acted from conscientious motives? Am I to assume that everything that he does inside this House is not dictated in the slightest degree by conscientious motives? May I remind him of an incident in the history of his own political party? Does he recall the incident of the Curragh camp in 1913? Does he recall the fact that there were officers who had already taken the military oath and had therefore given their honour to obey the command, and who quite openly declared that if they were called upon by the Government of the day to obey the order, they would abandon their commissions rather than do it? I present the hon. and gallant Member opposite with this statement. Those men were openly supported by the leader of his party of that day. I will remind him, even more particularly, of the point. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law), who was once the Leader of this House, openly declared from the platform that if Ulster would fight, then Ulster would be right.


They were given the distinct option whether they would do it or not.


I am indeed very delighted to hear that certain officers were given the right to decide whether or not, as it suited them, they would obey the law of the country. Was not that right similarly granted to conscientious objectors? Were not conscientious objectors, by specific Act of Parliament, granted the right to declare that they objected to the War on conscientious grounds? If, therefore, the hon. Member opposite is going to declare the right for officers who have taken the military oath and who believe in taking the military oath to absolve themselves from that oath occasionally, surely others who object to taking the oath at all have an equal right. If the terms of this Bill were made retrospective, I can see quite a large number of hon. and right hon. Members even on the Ministerial Bench being disfranchised. Take the Prime Minister himself. In 1900 the right hon. Gentleman was a conscientious objector to war. Indeed, he had to escape from the Town Hall of Birmingham on account of his opposition to war. If the Prime Minister of the country is allowed sometimes to be a conscientious objector to war, surely it is equally justifiable for me occasionally to take the same ground. If it be sauce for the goose, let it be sauce for the gander. Let me put this further point. The assumption is made that conscientious objectors, for some reason or other, are people of a rather undesirable character. Probably a very large proportion, if not every one, of these men have never been in a Court of Law before and never will be again. The only occasion on which they entered a Court of Law as defendants was in this case. I am not sure that every Member of this House can say that. Is it right and proper that men should suffer repeated punishments for merely taking an unpopular line concerning the greatest crisis which can arise in human affairs? You will allow men to lie, to thieve, to be guilty of the most immoral practices, and yet, if they expiate their crime by a very modest sentence of imprisonment, they may still become Members of this House. But because in a big crisis in human affairs, that is the great decision as to whether men will grant to a State the right to call upon them to take the life of their fellow men, and they declare that no State authority has that right, they are to be penalised, not merely for five years' disfranchisement, but it is to be extended to 10. I will not speak on what conscientious objectors actually suffered. It would be undignified to speak of it at all. Nor do I desire to contrast it with the experience of men who were actually in the Army. I have no sort of emnity towards the men who were in the Army. They stood for the truth as they saw it, and we tried to stand for the truth as we saw it, and after all there is a place, I hope, for fair and conscientious difference of opinion on that ground.

I want to raise another issue. The Bill involves the assertion that from now on everyone in the State must for all time agree with every war, for if you do not accept that proposition, if you do not agree with every war, whatever it may be, and whatever its origin, you must, to be consistent, mete out to these people for the future the same punishment as you are now doing. If, on the other hand, you do not accept that proposition, who is to decide as to whether this war is justifiable and that war is not? Obviously the only tribunal which can decide is the tribunal of private, judgment, or of conscience. If, therefore, we are to safeguard the right of a small minority, it may be, to oppose war at any particular time—and opposing war merely involves challenging the public policy of the day—obviously a principle such as is involved in this Clause ought not to be accepted by this Parliament. I am in no sense in agreement with the Bolshevists of Russia. I could criticise Bolshevist methods of Government and I am the only Member who came to this House in spite of an official candidate opposing me on behalf of the Bolshevists. The criticism is made of the Bolshevists that they suppress the right of private judgment inside their community. The Menshevists are not allowed to put their point of view. This is a piece of practical Bolshevism on the part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced the Bill. The world is going to be a very free world, but only for people who happen to agree with him.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

This is only a very slight extension of what the House actually passed into law in 1919 by an overwhelming majority. Therefore it cannot in any way be described as Bolshevist.


From which I gather that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's complaint of the Act of 1918 was that it was not Bolshevist enough. I want to raise the further point as to whether a constituency has the right to choose its own Member of Parliament. In my own case, I stood for Parliament in August last. If conscientious objectors were so utterly unacceptable to the people as hon. Members opposite would seem to take them to be, obviously my constituency had the power to reject me. They knew I was a conscientious objector, and if I did not say it, hon. Members opposite took care to say it for me, but as a matter of fact I said it myself. Everyone knew it. There was no news in it at all. Despite of that I was elected. Is it not a good thing, from the constitutional and from the public point of view, that men who take the most unpopular line in regard to big national issues should have a chance to be elected in order to give expression to those views?


A safety valve.


Obviously. I observe the hon. and gallant Gentleman used the expression that opposition should be welcomed rather than suppressed, and yet in this very Bill the proposal is to suppress those men who happen to be unpopular for the time being. There is a further principle involved in this Bill which I consider to be far more fundamental even than the constitutional issue. I assert, without any fear, that I will not and cannot accept the enunciation of the statement that any temporal authority has the right to interfere between me and what I regard to be moral implications upon my conduct. You have a right to call upon me to obey the laws of the country. I am not conscious that I have ever disobeyed them except on this occasion. Yet you, through the medium of the State, call upon me to abrogate the moral law and to say, "Thou shalt kill," and I absolutely deny to this House any such right. You have never received it. You never will receive it. There is a higher authority than you possess which calls upon us to honour the right of man to live, and it will never be conceded by me nor, I hope, by my fellows either. The time will come when war must be destroyed. Some regard war as being very largely the trick of the diplomat, the trade of the statesman. We always regard it as the grave of the common people, and the only way, to the mind of some of us, to destroy war is to inform the diplomats of the world that, if they will go playing with the souls and lives of men, they themselves, who make the wars, must be the first to be called upon to fight them.

There is an element of persecution in this Bill. I would ask hon. Members opposite, if persecution be right, whether every piece of persecution from the beginning of English or any other history has not been right? If persecution be right, then it was right to stone the prophets. If it be right to persecute, then it would have been right to put every Disciple on the Cross. If it be right to persecute, then every man who has stood for the advancement of human life and has suffered thereby has suffered justly. I am quite sure, however, that no hon. Member would put forward such a proposition. In conclusion I would ask the House to remember this: We grant to you the right to call upon us to obey the laws of the State—and incidentally we say we do not concede that it was we who broke the law; it was the tribunals that you set up who broke in spirit the law which you yourselves had passed. But let that pass. We hold that in the ultimate decision as regards the power of taking and giving life, no such power is given to Parliament or any State authority; the decision rests with us, and with us alone. No Member of this House can appear for us before the last Tribunal except ourselves. I must appear there myself; I must answer for my own doings; I am responsible for my own actions in life. No power of man can take from me my own responsibility. Therefore I say, in the words of Lowell— We owe allegiance to the State, but truer, deeper, more, To the consciousness which God hath set within our spirit's core; Our country claims our fealty. "We grant it so; but then, Before man made us citizens, great Nature made us men.

Lieut.-Colonel HURST

I feel that a good many of the Clauses in this Bill are undoubtedly open to criticism, and it we had to vote to-day on the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, I could not see my way to support it. But, after all, this is only a Second Reading, and it is quite possible for the Committee or for the House later to reject those portions of the Bill which do not meet with general assent. I support the Second Reading of the Bill on two grounds. The first is that I believe Clause 1 to be a very sound innovation and a very sound enfranchisement. I support it, in the second place, because of Clause 2, which deals with the very vexed question of conscientious objectors, t o which my hon. Friend has just referred. I should like to say a few words, first of all, on the provisions of the Bill with regard to limited companies. It is an old principle of our constitutional law that representation and taxation should go together. At the present time, owing to the wide extension of the franchise, we have cases where representation goes without taxation, and we have, in the case of limited companies, taxation without representation. That is an anomaly which ought to be altered. It is not merely a question of principle; it is at the same time a question of practical advantage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) objected to Clause 1 on the ground that he thought limited companies were a very bad thing. I am afraid that my right hon. Friend looks at that question too much, if I may say so with respect, from an academic and detached point of view, because the advantages of limited companies over private partnerships are well known to all who are engaged in industry or who are interested in the life of our great towns. Limited companies are there, and are likely to remain, for their advantages are well known to the business community.

At the present time it is a real handicap that these limited companies have no real, effective voice, either with regard to the paying of rates in their own districts or with regard to the paying of taxes. The future of the country, the trade of the country, depends enormously upon the success and well-being of limited companies. It is vital to limited companies, and to the enormous population who depend for their well-being upon the success of limited companies, that they should have a voice with regard to taxes and rates, and there is a great danger it present that, where these limited companies are situated in districts in which the rest of the population are uneducated or illiterate, what is called Poplar finance may run away with the administration of those districts, to the detriment, not only of the directors and shareholders of the limited companies, but of the very large class who depend for their well-being upon the success of those particular industries. That is a real danger which we have to face. It is a danger in local affairs, as we know, in those districts in which the Labour party are in power. It is a danger also in Parliamentary affairs. Who knows but that there may come a time when Labour or the "Wee Frees" may come into office, though perhaps it is not likely? [HON. MEMBERS: "They are not fit to govern!"] We are doing all we can by our educational system to make the Labour party and the "Wee Free" party fit to govern. It may be that they will be called upon to govern the country, and will embark upon the wild courses of waste and extravagance which are always associated with the tendencies of their particular parties.

It is only reasonable and just that limited companies, who are great tax payers and ratepayers, should have a voice in deciding the destinies of the country, so that they, like other great employers of labour, may have a voice as to how the country should be governed and as to the extent to which it should be taxed. The present position is anomalous, because an individual trading alone in a small office has a vote, but a business carried on in much larger premises, employing many more people and using very much more capital, has no voice at all in the question of representation. The result is very anomalous. You get districts like the City of London or the Exchange Division of Manchester, which purport to be essentially business districts, and to be the mouthpieces of the business, mercantile, and banking communities, and yet you find that a very large element of the people whom you imagine the Members for those constituencies to represent have, as a matter of fact, no vote at all in the election of their Members. That is certainly the case in the central areas of most of our great towns. The only practical difficulty which has been suggested by any speaker with regard to the application of Clause 1 is that raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities as to the suitability of a managing director having the vote, but that is a point which can easily be set right in Committee. It would be quite competent for the company in general meeting to appoint any individual at its will to represent it for the purpose of voting in Parliamentary elections. I believe that Clause 1 is a real benefit and marks a real line of development and emancipation. It is suitable that it should come from repretatives of the Conservative party, who have always taken the lead in introducing useful extensions of the franchise. Hon. Members will no doubt recollect the so-called "leap in the dark" in 1867, which was a Measure passed by a Conservative Government and which first enfranchised in mass the town population in this country.

I should like now to turn to the second question, that of the conscientious objectors, whose case has been so very ably pleaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones): and in speaking upon that subject I wish to disclaim any of the baseness which the Seconder of the Amendment has suggested underlies this proposal. I wish to disclaim any such baseness, or any imputation of hatred or of wishing to punish anyone. It is not a question of hatred; it is not a question of punishment; and, speaking of punishment, I must say that to my mind there is something very illusory in the suggestion made by the last speaker with regard to the punishments and the sufferings of the conscientious objectors during the War. Those punishments and those sufferings are not comparable for one moment to the sufferings of the men who saved this country and the cause of civilisation. We are not really discussing civil rights, but privileges, because to vote for Parliament or to sit in Parliament is a privilege, and we must discuss it on that basis. I submit that in granting these privileges this House is bound to discriminate between good citizens and bad citizens. If we have had, as we had during the War, an acid test of citizenship between those who did their duty to the State and those who did not, the State, I say, is under a duty to discriminate between the good citizen and the bad. This question has been raised lately in a Select Committee, of which I am a member, which sat to consider the question of the conscientious objectors being retained in the Civil Service. We had the whole issue fought out there, and, unfortunately, it was held by the majority of the Committee to have been prejudged by the Government action in re-instating these conscientious objectors. To my mind, it is extraordinary that over 230 conscientious objectors should still be on the permanent establishment of the Civil Service, and two of them engaged in the Admiralty, of all Departments. I think it is an amazing anomaly that at the present time, with hundreds and thousands of ex-service men unable to find employment, the State should give the privilege of State employment to conscientious objectors. It seems to me to be a moral outrage.

1.0 P.M.

We are dealing to-day with a similar privilege. The privilege in this case is not State employment, but the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament and of sitting in Parliament, and it is no defence for the conscientious objectors on that question to say, as the previous speaker said, that other persons also shirked military service during the War. We cannot get hold of all of them. There may, no doubt, be many other persons who shirked military service, but because we cannot get hold of them all it does not follow that we should not disfranchise those whom we can positively identify as persons who avoided their duty during the War. Hon. Members who support the case of the conscientious objector speak as if we were discussing the abstract rights of individuals, but there is no such thing as a right without a corresponding duty, and men who do not fulfil the duties of citizenship are not entitled to the rights of citizenship. When hon. Members really think of what happened during the War, and of the great danger which this country and the whole of the civilised world were then running, it seems to me an amazing thing that they should contemplate placing conscientious objectors on precisely the same terms as decent citizens. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] There is nothing to withdraw. I call to mind the cases of hundreds of men—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] If I have given offence to any hon. Member I withdraw, but there was no intention of giving offence. I am referring to decent-minded citizens who served the State during the War, and if there is any offence in that I withdraw. The fact remains surely that those who did their duty during the War and served the State are entitled to our regard. I call to mind the hundreds of men from my own district, and the thousands of others, who loathed military service as much as any hon. Member on those benches, but who left their families, and their homes, and their businesses, and all they held dear in life, in order to serve their country. Those men perished in their hundreds and thousands, and it seems an extraordinary thing that while those men perished we should now be giving the rights for which they laid down their lives to persons who did not perform services comparable to the services which they performed for the country during the War. It is not a question of conscientious objectors being penalised, as has been suggested, for taking an unpopular line or for exercising the right of private judgment. They are simply penalised because, in the opinion of the State, in the opinion of most unprejudiced persons, they did not fulfil their duty to the State during a crisis. In 1918 I happened to come across a very large number of conscientious objectors when I had the unpleasant duty of sitting on courts-martial. The House may remember that early in 1918 there was a special comb-out of various occupations that had previously been somewhat less liable to having their members called up for military service, and a very large number of so-called conscientious objectors were drafted into the Army. I am quite prepared to say this, of the men whom I then came across, that nearly all of them were political objectors rather than religious objectors. I remember the question being put to one of them, "What would you do if the Germans invaded this country?" and that man replied, "I should explain to them my doctrines and shake hands with them." If everybody had done that, how would we have survived in the War? [An HON. MEMBER: "There would have been no war."] There would certainly have been war. I remember another man saying the reason he objected to military service was because he was an International Socialist and did not mind who ruled in England. He believed in Lenin and Trotsky. When men were talking like that early in 1918, at the time of the great German push in France, it seems to me that we cannot forget those things, and that those men should vote at Parliamentary elections seems to me to be repugnant to one's instincts and also repugnant to the best interests of the State.

The only other Clause to which I should like to refer is the Clause with regard to freak candidates depositing money for municipal elections. I think some sort of deposit is advisable, as I have known many cases where very poor men who have been standing for municipal elections have had to go through the great trouble and expense of an election simply because some freak candidate has been put up. He has called himself, perhaps, a candidate for the unemployed and has received in the result, say, six votes, and the man who got in may have been a councillor for years, and very popular. He has, in such a case, been put to the enormous burden and expense of running an election when there has been no really effective opposition whatever. I quite agree that there are certain elements in the Bill which are open to criticism, and in some cases, perhaps, to very considerable opposition, but we have to bear in mind that there are two or three Clauses which are of very great value to the country, and for that reason I shall be very glad to support the Second Reading of the Bill.


I have sat as a member of the Committee with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Lieut.-Colonel Hurst), and I submit to him that it is unfair and taking advantage of this House to say to it, "Here is a Bill that gives me an opportunity to punish someone; because I failed upstairs, I am going to avail myself of my opportunity now." I propose now to deal with the kind of evidence we heard, on which my hon. and gallant Friend came to his conclusions and on which also the majority of the Committee came to their conclusions. Incidentally, it must be very comforting to the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), who has been in politics for a good many years, who has got such a Parliamentary record, and whose name is, at least, known to the British electors, to be lectured by the hon. Member and told that he is to be educated. So far as the Members of my own party are concerned, we are also deeply grateful to the hon. Member for his consideration. It would be a mistake to attach all the importance of this Bill to the one Clause about conscientious objectors. There are many features of the Bill equally as dangerous and equally as reactionary. Certainly it will be appreciated in all quarters that this Bill is supposed to be introduced in the interests of democracy, and the democratic method is to increase plural voting, to establish for property a greater claim for electoral power than citizenship, and to punish the conscientious objector.

I will deal first with the conscientious objector, and I will ask the House to appreciate the position of the 230 conscientious objectors in the Civil Service in the light of the evidence that was given before the Committee. It is well that the House should distinguish between these men and those people who developed a conscience during the War. I frankly admit that no sympathy of any sort or kind ought to be given to that type of person. He is not a conscientious objector. He is the type of man who ought to be punished for being a fraud and a shirker. Do not let us mix that class of person with the conscientious objector. They are of two different types. The 230 persons of whom we have heard were not in minor Civil offices but in responsible Civil Service, occupying big posts, and continuing to do their work for two years during the War. They were granted exemption, not at their own request, but by the head of their Department, because of the important nature of their work and its value to the country. The head of their Department said: "You must not go to the War. It is absolutely essential that you stay here." Then the Conscription Act was passed. These men were already exempted by the head of their Department. They could have remained quiet and have relied upon the certificate already given to them, and nobody would have been any the wiser; but they were so conscientious that they said: "Can we, take advantage of this certificate? Can we remain silent when our views are the same as those who are suffering?" They actually went before a tribunal, although they had no need to have gone before it. What happened? The tribunal gave them exemption by law, and having given them exemption actually told them to continue in the same work that they were doing. They continued to do that work, at less pay, and were treated as temporary men. These are the people whom the hon. and gallant Member desires to punish.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

The right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting me. Another speaker has done the same thing. What I have suggested in this Bill is simply to carry on what the House did in 1918, in Section 9 of the Act of that year, which is to disqualify conscientious objectors from voting, and, further, if they are disqualified from voting, they ought not to be in this House.


I do not see what my hon. and gallant Friend is quarrelling about. He desires to add to the punishment already inflicted upon these men. Is that putting it too high? He wants to double the sentence, and I ask him, does he understand the character of these people? Would he put them in the same category as the people who got jobs in munition factories and developed a conscience? Would he put them in the same category as those who got jobs in various Government Departments, such as the War Office, and were never within a hundred miles of danger or fighting?


Members of Parliament.


Yes, Members of Parliament. If the law gave these people exemption, why attempt to show ourselves vindictive by merely perpetuating the disqualification? Let us look at the Bill from another point. It has been earnestly argued that companies which provide all the wealth of the country, which provide all the taxes, should be given special consideration in regard to voting. Never mind the people who work for them; look after the poor companies. We have an illustration in the Great Western Railway Company. It is true that they pay about five-eighths of the total rates of Swindon. For some years I was a member of that corporation. The Great Western Railway Company have about 3,000 houses, of which the tenants pay the rates through the rent. Are we to say to the Great Western Company: "You pay these rates although the tenants pay you first. Let the general manager or the managing-director of the company go down to Swindon and exercise—what?"—is he to exercise one vote, or is he to exercise the equivalent of five-eighths of the votes of Swindon?

Lieut-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE



Are you going to determine the votes of the 56,000 inhabitants of Swindon by the general manager from Paddington going down to exercise the vote? How is he going to exercise it? On the Great Western Board there is a Member of the Government, the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin). [HON. MEMBERS: "He resigned!"] At any rate, prior to taking office he was a member of the Great Western Board, and when he, ceases office he will be equally welcomed back. Another right hon. Gentleman on this side of the House, the right hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. J. W. Wilson), is also a member of the Great Western Board. If this Bill is passed the Great Western Corporation must have a directors' meeting. Are the Liberal Member for the Stourbridge Division of Worcester, and the Conservative Member for another Division of Worcester, the Bewdley Division, to have a Board meeting and determine which way the general manager is to exercise his vote? That is the salvation that is to come to the railway company.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

Railways are not the only companies.


The Seconder of this Motion specially emphasised railways and laid down that they were the greatest of all taxpayers. Take the case of Don-caster. Just imagine, if this Bill becomes law, what will happen. The political views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) are perhaps different from those of the general manager of the Great Northern Railway, and we are to have a meeting of Great Northern directors to determine not only the vote of the general manager, but perhaps the date when the St. Leger is next to be run, because incidentally it happens to come under the Corporation. You can see what tremendous possibilities are opened out by this great democratic Measure. Therefore I do not regret what is called the waste of Parliamentary time, because it has at least given us an opportunity of hearing lectures of this side and a definition of democracy from that side. We will welcome the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) into the Lobby, not as tainted goods, but as one looking between two evils who can see no hope on the benches behind him. For all those reasons I hope that there will be a Division. I hope that all friends of democracy will take part in the Division, and if by any misfortune this Bill gets a Second Reading, I am sure that it will disturb nobody as to what its fate will be in the Committee stage upstairs.

Lieut.-Colonel JAMES

On reading this Bill the thing which strikes one above everything else is its partial character. If brought forward at all this Bill should have been brought forward by the Government. If the Representation of the People Act requires amendment, it is the business of the Government to bring forward a proposal. This Bill is remarkable, not only for what it contains, but for what it omits. Many Members of this House feel that the Act in question requires to be amended in regard to equal citizenship. Another section have strong views about proportional representation. Others consider that those who do not take their electoral duties seriously should be liable to punishment. Again there are all sorts of Clauses which it strikes one might with advantage be added to a punitive Measure of this kind—for the Bill is a punitive Measure in so far as it contains several penalties. For example, there is a legitimate grievance in certain constituencies where voters wishing to vote freely without let or hindrance have found themselves subjected to a form of peaceful persuasion which, I understand, has gone unpunished. That is not democracy, and is not freedom of action. For those reasons I think that the Bill if presented at all should have been presented by the Government as a whole and nor, as a small part of a very large and exceedingly important subject.

Turning to the Clauses of the Bill itself, with regard to the sub-section of the first Clause dealing with limited companies the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side Division of Manchester (Lieut.-Colonel Hurst) pleaded the cause of the limited company with considerable eloquence. If we turn to Clause 3 we get a rather interesting comparison. As was rightly remarked by a previous speaker, the, actual vote of a naturalised or even an unnaturalised alien in this connection counts for very little. It is the persuasive influence which either the limited company or the alien can exercise in a constituency which counts, and there is nothing in the Bill to prevent aliens who have no real stake in the country persuading the electorate, and using all sorts of ways to persuade them. I have seen elections where undoubtedly alien influences were very hard at work. That is all ancient history now, but in that respect alone I think that the Bill is a mistake. The mere fact of a director of a limited company being able to exercise an individual vote will not turn an election one way or another. As a director of a limited company situated in a certain area a man no doubt exercises considerable influence for good or evil, and it will be up to him to persuade the electorate to vote as he thinks right. In the old days when the ladies did not possess a vote, nobody can deny that their persuasive arguments very often operated strongly on the sterner sex, causing those who otherwise would have voted in one direction to vote in another. It is true that I myself, though married for many years, never had the opportunity for exercising a vote, though I paid taxes. I was 45 years of age before I ever had the right to vote at a Parliamentary election. With regard to the question of naturalised aliens, I think that a discrimination, such as is proposed, is not fair. There is no doubt that many of the naturalised aliens in Great Britain are men to whom Great Britain owes much. They have been very loyal citizens to the country of their adoption. Where they have not been, as during the late War, retribution has generally followed, and I think that we can trust the good sense of the British nation not to take that matter too seriously. Just as on public platforms I deplore the appeals which are sometimes made to class prejudice, so do I deplore similar appeals made to race prejudice. They do not do any good to the Empire or to us as Englishmen.

I now come to Clause 4, with regard to conscientious objectors. I have no sympathy with the conscientious objector. I did a certain amount of mud-larking in Flanders, being fired at as a very unwilling target, and I have no sympathy with the conscientious objector as such. I suggest that the conscientious objector at least had the courage of his opinions and suffered for them, whereas there were many in all sorts of places and positions who, professing that they could not be held back if it were not for a stronger power which said that they were indispensable, or that they were of greater value in some particular appointment and, therefore, could not go and do their turn like the rest, are not caught, and they are the people to whom particularly I would object. All of us know, those on the Labour Benches particularly, men who were perfectly fit and healthy and who rather loved a rough and tumble, provided there was not too much danger connected with it, and who, when the opportunity came of getting plenty of money and a soft cushy job, selected the latter rather than the painful duty of the former. There were many Labour Members whose sons went out willingly at the first call and gave up their lives, and so threw a dark veil over their fathers' lives. Some of those fathers are now childless. Such parents surely, if it came to a question of dealing with conscientious objectors, would feel that they had a much more genuine grievance than the simple elector who had lost nothing. With these parents that question can be far more easily dealt with than by an ordinary Act of Parliament.

Clause 4 lays it down that any voter or candidate for an election, who has undergone sentence of seven days' imprisonment, shall be debarred from recording his vote. If one looks back on the history of this country, one finds a number of people who, from motives of patriotism or principle, have undergone sentences of imprisonment. Whether they were right or wrong matters not. In this Bill there is no discrimination as to whether the imprisonment they suffered was due to a breach of the laws of the country or to the maintenance of some principle. By a breach of the laws, I do not mean simply exceeding the speed limit on the road, or any minor offence, but the major crimes which are laid down in the legal text books. Nowadays one hears complaints that we have our Statute Book so overloaded that a man is often a criminal without knowing it. It is just this sort of Bill that adds to the trouble. Look at the case of John Bunyan. He was sentenced to imprisonment. I do not think he was disqualified as a voter, or that he showed any lack of civic sense. For these and other reasons I regard the Bill as unsound, and I shall vote against it.

Captain LOSEBY

I am very sorry that more supporters of the Government are not here to vote against this Bill, which has been introduced by a most powerful section of the Opposition. I hope it will tend to make my friends on the other side of the House realise some of the difficulties of the Coalition. Today, at any rate, they find themselves violently opposed to that other section of the only possible alternative Government with which so recently they found themselves in the Lobby. I am opposed to this Bill on general principles. In the very early days, when I was first endeavouring to study the Government of this country, I was more impressed by the writings of Bagehot, the great constitutionalist, than by the teaching of any other constitutional writer. In his book, "The Government of England," Bagehot points out that we have not had a revolution in this country for something like 250 years. The reason is that a revolution is unnecessary, because when the bulk of the people have made up their minds in the direction of any reform, and they have been able to demonstrate that their desires are the desires of the majority, that reform can be effected without bloodshed. So long as we in this country stand by and stand up for the general principles of the Constitution, a revolution is almost an impossibility.

As was pointed out so powerfully by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), in his witty and eloquent speech, this legislation is retrograde and reactionary in its tendency and for that reason I shall vote against it. There are people going about the country preaching and gaining a large measure of support for the domination of the country by force. There are two main arguments against them. One is that in regard to the evils possible under the present system, we are doing our honest best to alleviate them. Secondly, it is not necessary to talk about force or violence. Socialism, a Soviet form of Government, or any other reform, can be brought into effect in this country when it is possible to persuade the majority of the people that such a reform would be beneficial. It is because my Friends of the Die-hard party will so persistently sit upon the safety valves that I find myself continually in opposition to them and to the type of Bill that they would introduce.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

This Bill is not introduced by any party.

Captain LOSEBY

It is introduced by two of the most powerful and eloquent Members of a party and by two Members who command universal attention in the House as representing that party. I am convinced we must take a step in a direction precisely the opposite to the one advocated by the hon. and gallant Member who introduced the Bill. I am convinced that we must give—if only on the ground of expediency—complete manhood and womanhood suffrage, and that the possession of property can no longer enter into the question of qualification or otherwise to have one's say in the government of the country. There are other rights, as sacred and as valuable as the rights represented by property alone. There are valuable citizens who, in fact, possess no tangible property. The general tendency of modern times is a right tendency and a wise tendency in view of the dangers with which we are confronted, and so I find myself opposed to almost every section of this Bill.

As to the question of plural voting, I feel that the plural voter is doomed to extinction at no very distant date. I feel very strongly on the question of the conscientious objector. I think, rightly or wrongly, that the conscientious objector should not have been recognised by the Government. He should not have been placed in the position in which he was placed. I think 90 per cent. of the people who fought in our Army were conscientious objectors. We conscientiously objected to taking another man's life, possibly more conscientiously than we objected to having our own blood taken, but the law said, "You must go; you must do your part in serving your country." Then this House and the Government, in their wisdom, decided that those holding views such as I hold were wrong, and that there was a place for the conscientious objector. We have therefore laid down a principle. We have legislated that certain people may, of right, claim exemption; that they may, f right, go before a tribunal and say that conscience does not allow them to do this or that, and when they have been upheld by the tribunal, I do not see how we can possibly agree to any suggestion of penalising them for taking advantage of the allowance which the law has made them. Had I had the honour of being in the House at that time, much as I disapprove of the conscientious objector, much as I think they were mistaken, I would have opposed any disfranchisement even over a period of years.

This question of the conscientious objector comes up over and over again, and it is a good thing to have an opportunity of discussing his position generally. There were two types of conscientious objector. There was the man who was a conscientious objector, because he had an undue regard for the necessity of keeping his own skin intact. We all have contempt for him, but there was undoubtedly a conscientious objector who was perfectly genuine and a perfectly honourable man, who really thought ho was doing the right and proper thing when he took advantage of that avenue of escape which the law allowed him. I know of one conscientious objector whose conscience would not allow him to take blood, but who, nevertheless, volunteered to serve on a mine sweeper over a period of three years of the War. For that type of conscientious objector we have a great respect. I heard, too, the other day of a conscientious objector in the Napoleonic Wars of the type which one would never wish to penalise. He was a great sturdy Yorkshireman, and he found himself serving on one of Nelson's ships. They put him in the cockpit because he could not bring himself to fight in the ordinary way and shed blood, but in the heat of battle two ships became locked together. This apparently was too much for the sturdy Yorkshireman, and he was found upon the deck picking up Frenchmen, one in the right hand and one in the left, dropping them into the sea and saying, "Friend, this is no place for thee." For that type of conscientious objector we have nothing but respect.


What about the Dunns?

Captain LOSEBY

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon!


The Dunns —the hatters.

Captain LOSEBY

If I have not made myself perfectly clear, I wish to do so. Like many other Members who have spoken against this particular Clause of the Bill, I would be very sorry if the inference were drawn that I had any countenance for 99 per cent, of conscientious objectors. I do freely agree that 1 per cent., or possibly higher, are men who have done no more than act as they believed right according to their conscience, and as they have a right to do under the law. I agree most profoundly with hon. Members who have spoken so strongly on the question of extending any further the penalty of disfranchisement, or imprisonment, or on any other ground. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) put most strongly the case against disfranchising men who have served a term of imprisonment. It has been so in the past, and it will always be so in the future, that great men, public-minded men, honourable men will find themselves in opposition to the law. Their consciences will not allow them to take a certain course; there are people who believe as, I think, a great majority of the Members of this House believe, that the law of God is higher than the law of man. It is not difficult to conceive a case where some of the most high-minded citizens may find themselves in such a position under the law, that we as human beings can only mark them out as offenders against the law, and consign them to prison. That point has been bandied about from one side of the House to the other. It has been thrown up against my friends of the Die-hard party, in connection with the Curragh incident. It is perfectly true that this was done in the days of Cromwell. It has been done over and over again. It is not for this side or that side of the House to claim a right which has been exercised throughout the history of this country on more occasions than one.

In regard to the question of naturalisation, I must say I find myself more in sympathy with the promoters of this Bill on this than upon any other point. It appears to me to be reasonable to say that when you have gone through certain formalities and after a period of years have proved that you do indeed wish to be a citizen of this country you shall exercise those rights after a reasonable period of time has elapsed. That is not a case of disfranchisement at all, and I find myself in sympathy with the movers of this Bill in regard to the old principle. I have no kind of sympathy with my Friends opposite when they say that this Bill has some kind of ulterior motive. I do not believe anything of the kind. I think that the hon. Members who are promoting it do believe that in the long run it will tend to greater efficiency and less hardship, but still I am not in agreement with them.

There is another principle which appears to me to be violated by this Bill. I am convinced that for the purpose of surmounting the general difficulties of our political situation, not only must every man and every woman, intellectually capable of exercising judgment honestly, be given the freest right to choose as their representative the man or woman they like best, whoever he or she may be, but I am also convinced that it will tend to the general happiness and better government of tins country if we can say that, however poor one may be, however humble the origin from which one comes, we as a central Government will do our utmost to give every opportunity, by free education and other means, for the fulfilment of ambitions, and will be eternally striving for the great ideal of equality of opportunity, although we know we can never achieve it. Not only must we say that, and be able to say it quite honestly, but we must also say there shall be no kind of bar to a person's ambitions in public life. Such ambitions are honourable, and we want to assist them. There should therefore be no kind of bar against such ambitions, and any difficulties of practical working should be removed. It is for that reason I find myself at one with my hon. Friends opposite, not only in opposing this Bill, but in hoping that the time will come when it will be much more possible for the poorest of the poor in this country to offer themselves as candidates for cither Parliamentary or municipal honours and when the present system of high deposits can be got rid of, seeing that it makes it extremely difficult for an independent-minded poor man to sit in open competition for the high positions in the land. I venture my humble opinion that nothing more violently opposed to the general legislation indicated by the Government has been proposed in this House for some time. The Bill is reactionary in tendency and would be retrograde in its effects. Therefore, for my part, I shall vote against it.


I rise to express my opposition to this Bill. I claim that it is an attempt to disenfranchise the poorest of the poor, and there is no class which it will more affect than the class I have the honour to represent in this House—the rural workers of this country. The Clause which makes pro- vision that on a man becoming a candidate, even for a parish council, he shall deposit with the returning officer a sum of £10 is especially objectionable. It would take a good many agricultural labourers to produce such a sum, when one remembers the homely phrase that when a labourer has 1s. in his pocket, with a knife and a bit of string, that constitutes his banking account. If this provision were carried out it would disqualify the most honest, the most intelligent and the poorest of my class, and would prevent them taking any part or any share either in local government or in Imperial government. I do not think a more serious attempt has over been made to destroy the great cause of democracy and to set up a more autocratic form of Government. It reminds one of the days before the Commonwealth, when the King claimed that he had a right to govern as he pleased. There is a saying by Burns, I believe—one of the finest democratic sayings ever used—which this Bill, if carried into law, would entirely abolish. I think it runs to the effect that "it's not the guinea stamp that makes a man, but a man's a man for all that." I do not think I have quite correctly stated it.

Captain ELLIOT

I do not think that in these nationalistic days our language should be destroyed and distorted. The proper rendering is The rank is but the guinea's stamp, The man's the gowd for a' that.


I am very much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for correcting me. This Bill would set up an autocratic Government. It would disenfranchise and disqualify the people whom I represent from taking any part in our political and municipal affairs. It is inconceivable that in the twentieth century, and in the greatest democratic age that ever existed, we should find men of intelligence in this House and outside coming along with such a retrograde Measure as this. The most objectionable Clause, to my mind, is the one which disfranchises and disqualifies people for five years for the most trivial offence. A man or a woman who has committed some trivial offence, and got eight days' imprisonment, is not to exercise the vote, or become a candidate for five years. My mind goes back to the days of my boy- hood Where would my father have been? He was sent to prison for a trivial offence, committed because there was not a bit of bread in the house. I will give a more modern instance. We have had in our agricultural districts something over 20,000 unemployed. I know what I should have done if I had been unemployed, and had nine children in the house, with no food, and I walked down the road and saw a rabbit. I should have knocked it over. For that offence I should have been disqualified for five years.


There are no rabbits in Finsbury; there are more fools than rabbits.


Can we imagine, in the twentieth century, a more iniquitous proposal? I am not justifying people breaking the law—far from it. I am a law-abiding citizen. If we have bad law, do not let us break it, but get it altered in Parliament. There are times, however, when it is almost impossible to keep the law. We had before our bench of magistrates this winter a man who had been out of work two months. He walked down the road, and, seeing a rabbit, knocked it over. The keeper saw him, and he was fined. If the fine had not been paid for him, he would have got fourteen days' hard labour, and would have been disqualified under this Bill for live years. We say that this is setting up a form of government that is autocratic, and in the age in which we live such an attempt ought never to have been made. For these reasons, I offer the most strenuous opposition, and I hope the House in no uncertain terms, when we come to the vote, will show its disapproval of such a gross attempt to set up an autocratic Government.

Notice being taken at Two of the Clock that 40 Members were, not present, the House was told by Mr. SPEAKER and, 20 Members only being present, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER retired from the Chair until Four of the Clock, when the House was again told by Mr. SPEAKER, and, 30 Members only being present, the. House, was adjourned by Mr. SPEAKER, without Question put, till Monday next.

Adjourned at Two Minutes after Four o'clock, till Monday next (8th May).