§ Every person registered for military training under this Act shall, notwithstanding that he is under twenty-one years of age, be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector and to vote at parliamentary elections in all respects as if he had attained the age of twenty-one.—[Mr. Benn.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The purpose of this new Clause is so obvious that it is not necessary for me to discuss it. Clearly, if we are to have this new conception of a citizen at the age of 20, and if the obligation to serve is to be laid upon a young man at the age of 20, we cannot take him as a citizen for the purposes of service and deprive him of the rights of a citizen for the purposes of voting. That being so, the purpose of the new Clause is self-evident, and therefore, I do not propose to say anything more about it, but to wait to hear whether any objections are raised by the Minister. If they are, then my hon. Friends and I will take an opportunity of trying to answer those objections.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Lunn
I support the new Clause. I am entirely opposed to this Bill, but if anything can be done to make conditions 1227 better for those who are to be conscripted under the Bill, I shall support it. This is a new Clause that is likely to be acceptable to the Government, and I cannot see any objection to it. In the Representation of the People Act, 1918, Section 5, Sub-section (4) provided that a male naval or military voter of 19 years of age who served in or in connection with the war should be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector. I remember how that provision was applied. I remember that in my division, in 1918, there was a larger percentage of voters who were absent than voters who were living in the constituency at the time. The provision was taken full advantage of by the men who were serving. As the provision at that time applied to men of 19 years of age, there is no reason why it should not apply to those who are 20 in the present case. Those who will undertake the responsibilities of citizenship when they are conscripted ought, if there is any election, to have a say as to who shall be their representatives. If they can change the Government, good luck to them. If they do get the vote, I hope they will be wise enough to do that; at any rate, we shall give them an opportunity of doing so if the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment, as I hope they will be.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
There is on the Order Paper a little later on a new Clause in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends who take very much the same view. I should have liked to have seen the exclusion of conscientious objectors, as in 1916, as an essential part of any legislation which gives the vote to those who serve. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I do not propose to take up the time of the Committee to explain what seems to me to be a self-evident fact. There are many hon. Members on this side of the Committee who thought it right, when the Bill was introduced, that we should give the right to vote to those men who are old enough to serve their country and are willing to do so. There would be no difficulty in working this provision in the Army. There would be no difficulty in providing for absentee voters, and I have every reason to believe that the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) is right when he says that it was very largely taken advantage of. In 1228 the Army, a man has not to walk five miles to vote or even to try to find a car to take him; the ballot box is in the barracks at a convenient point. There are no such facilities for voting in civil life as there are in the Army. I think the Clause moved by the right hon. Gentleman is a reasonable one, although naturally I would have preferred my own; and I hope the Government will accept it.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I should like to support the new Clause, which I prefer to that in the name of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), since this new Clause contains the word "shall" instead of the word "may." In the Committee upstairs this morning, we discussed for three hours whether a provision should be permissive or mandatory. In this particular instance, I think it ought to be mandatory. If ever there was a case of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children, it is in the introduction of this Bill. I would suggest that the only people who are entitled to be called up are those who have had a say in what Government there should be during the last 20 years. The people who have made a mess of things are the people who ought to be called upon to clean up the mess. Therefore, I think the young men of 20 are entitled to ask that the sins of their fathers shall not be visited upon them. At any rate, the new Clause means that if we are to call upon these young men to undertake service which is regarded as being so essential that it must be made compulsory, then they are entitled to have a say as to who shall represent them in the House of Commons, and to have all the advantages, if they can be called advantages, of citizenship when they are called up in this way.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
There is one point which is causing some confusion to some hon. Members on this side of the Committee. The new Clause contains the phrase "registered for military training." Does this mean that a young man who goes for six months' training becomes automatically a voter, and that another young man, a trade unionist indispensable in his work, remains disenfranchised; or do hon. Members opposite want to confer certain distinctions of citizenship upon trained military men and not upon trade unionists? Or does it really mean 1229 that the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting the lowering of the voting age to 20, for that is what the change would amount to?
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
As I understand the matter, the young men would be regisstered in both the cases to which the hon. Member referred. Probably, we shall have a reply on that point from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. I support the new Clause, which certainly is a far better one than that in the name of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). Apparently, the hon. Member does not want conscientious objectors to have any rights at all.
§ Mr. Williams
Last night, when the Minister of Labour was speaking about the protection of civil rights, I interjected a question as to whether it would be possible for the Government to give an undertaking that political rights should come within the category of civil rights. I received no reply. I wonder whether the Minister who is to reply to this Debate will accept this Clause as an indication that the Government are prepared to give complete civil rights to these young men, and to give them the opportunity to decide for themselves the type of Government that there shall be in this country so that they may be able to direct the foreign policy for which they are expected to fight. If these young men are considered fit and proper persons to fight for their country, they should be considered fit and proper persons to have the intelligence to decide the kind of policy for which they should fight. Against that, I should think there would be no objection from any hon. Member.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Acland
I hope the Government will be disposed to look favourably on the principle contained in this Clause. It is a small honour for the men, and I do not know that it would be very much valued. The difficulty about elections in these days is that so many people are hardly to be induced to vote at all, on one side or the other, and to add to their numbers slightly would do a little good. It would have this great advantage from the point of view of the Chancellor of 1230 the Exchequer, that it would cost nothing, among the many other proposals, which might cost more, that could be urged on behalf of the people who are to be taken up under this Bill. I think the Government on the whole have been doing their best, subject to the feelings which they know that many of us have about the principle, to make the way in which the principle is to be applied as reasonable and, one might say, as friendly and convenient as possible. This is a little recognition of the claim that a man who comes up under the Bill should get on the voters' register automatically, which is what the principle of the Clause says. I think it will do a little bit of good, and I cannot conceive how it could do a single particle of harm.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Sir Irving Albery
I understand that a young man can, under this Bill, be called up for training in certain circumstances before the age of 20. Therefore, I take it that if this new Clause were accepted, we should get younger men, perhaps those of 18, having the right to vote. I cannot see that the mere fact of a young man being called up for military training should of necessity immediately confer upon him the right to vote. I am sure that by the time his education has been completed by the military training he will receive he will be more fit to vote than he was before, and as the usual time would be at about the age of 20—
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that some of these youths in colleges and universities who are about 26 years old cannot have a vote as well until they have finished their education?
§ Sir I. Albery
I never suggested anything of the kind; I merely said that this particular form of military training is, to my mind, an additional education as far as it goes, which will fit such as respond to it to fulfil the function of voting, and as the ordinary time for being called up will be about 20 years of age, and they will get the vote any way when they are 21, although it may sound unsympathetic, I do not think there is much in the proposal.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
As I understand it, the only reason for the Clause is not 1231 because young men of 20 should be entitled to say whether or not they should be called upon actually to fight, but because they should have the right to choose, or vote for, their representatives in this House in case the country should be involved in war. I do not see that there is anything in this Bill that gives that excuse at all. Under the Bill, as I see it, the young man is being trained against an emergency which may never occur; he is being trained to fit himself for an emergency in which he would have to serve, in case it did occur, whether this Bill was passed or not. Therefore, I do not see that there is really any excuse for introducing this Clause purely because this Bill is going to be passed into law.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan
As far as I am able to understand it, this Bill will not last merely for a month or a year. It would appear to me that its termination cannot come under three years, and as far as I am able to view things, I think it is here for an indefinite period. The principle that we are adopting here to-day is that we are at the genesis of a new orientation in regard to the question of the life of the young men of this country, and we are bringing them into a new category of life entirely. Before, we had a voluntary system, but this is not a voluntary system, and of sheer necessity, on account of age, these young men will come under the military system as conscripts. I look upon this as a very serious matter. I regard a young man who is now taking his place in the country as beginning to realise that at least he is playing a part in the affairs of the land. It may be that some may not be able to understand that responsibility, but I think the greatest factor in any man's life, even at the age of 20, is the thought that he may be able to realise that he is a factor in this land of ours.
Because of that, I do not want him to be an automaton. I want him to realise that when he comes into the affairs of this nation, he is playing his proper part and is having a voice in the affairs of the land. If he is asked to give his life for his country, he has a right to say who, in the destiny of this land, shall go. I think it is fair to say that if the price is that he must fight and give his life for his land, 1232 he should have the power of being able to say under whose direction and under what particular Government it shall be. We then raise the status of a man to the realisation that he is alive, because there are many people who, even when they get to old age, have not realised the fact that they are alive. It is because I want the youth of the land to realise, at a very early age, what part they are playing in the affairs of the nation that I am anxious that all parties, whether Labour or Tory, shall be able to exercise the voice and the power of youth in making this country take its proper place among the nations of the world. I am convinced that if, at the age of 20, we get the young recruit in as a conscript, with all the privileges and disabilities of which we have heard, he will be a worthy citizen and found worthy of the vote. I therefore support this Clause.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if, after the speeches which we have heard from all quarters, I were to state the view of the Government on this proposed new Clause, and possibly also to explain to the Committee what the Clause actually does, because the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), who introduced it, was content to state it as a self-evident proposition and did not really give any detailed explanation to the Committee of the effects of the Clause. This, of course, is not a general proposition that we should reduce the age for voting at Parliamentary elections. If it were, it would, I conceive, be out of order on this Bill and would have to be the subject of a special Bill dealing with electoral reform. Since, I believe, the year 1694 the minimum age for exercising the Parliamentary vote has been 21, with one solitary exception, and that was under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, under which that age was reduced to 19 in respect of men who had served in the War. I will read the words of Section 5 (4) of that Act:A male naval or military voter who has served or hereafter serves in or in connection with the present War shall be entitled to be registered … at the age of 19 years.That was a totally different proposition from the proposal in this Clause, which is that a man who is registered under Clause 1 of this Bill for military training 1233 shall be entitled to be put upon the Parliamentary register. The Committee will observe the difference between the two propositions. In the War the vote was given in respect of past military service; here it is proposed that it should be given in respect of a liability only to some future training; and it is a wholly different proposition, because many people who will come within the mischief, if it may be so called, of Clause 1 of the Bill, that is to say, people who have to be registered for military service, will not in fact undertake any military training. They may come within Clause 4 of the Bill, which provides for medical examination, under which they may be disqualified from undertaking military training; they may come within Clause 3 as conscientious objectors; and they may also fall within one of the exceptions under Clause 2 of the Bill, that is to say, men who have already enlisted in some branch of His Majesty's Forces.
There is a second objection, and one, I think, of a conclusive character, to this proposal, and that is that it differentiates between the man who is drawn into military training under some degree of compulsion under this Bill, and a man who has volunteered of his own free will, either by joining the Regular Army, the Navy, or the Air Force, or has joined some branch of the Territorial Army; and I think that if there were no other objection to this Clause, that would be conclusive. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Clause gave us a panegyric on the voluntary system the other day, in his speech on the Second Reading, and I should have thought that he would have been the last person who would give a right in respect of the Parliamentary vote to men who are subject to some measure of compulsion and deny it to those who have come forward for voluntary service under the age of 21.
§ Mr. Buchanan
We do not deny it. What happens is that under this Bill the only way in which we can move to give these people a vote is to give it to those who are covered by the Bill. What would happen would be that within 24 hours of this Clause being accepted, the House of Commons would pass the same for every other man in the Army.
§ Mr. Peake
Then we should be going back to the general proposition that the voting age should be lowered, not only 1234 for men, but for women who are engaged in any form of national service.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), I do not think he will find much support in any part of the Committee for the suggestion that we should disqualify the conscientious objector from exercising the Parliamentary vote. It is a proposition to which the Government cannot accede. My hon. Friend also desired to make sure that nobody who would, otherwise, be entitled to exercise a Parliamentary vote, shall be prevented by anything in this Bill from exercising it. There will, of course, be men serving under this Bill who will have qualified by attaining the age of 21, at some period of their service, to exercise a Parliamentary vote. I assure the Committee that the ordinary provisions as to naval and military voters being put on the absent voters list will cover the position of men who are subject to the provisions of the Bill.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
Of course there are difficulties in this proposal. Difficulties are inherent in this sort of legislation, but they are not of our making. It may be said, "What about the women?" Of course, that is a difficulty. It may be said, "What about the volunteers?" Of course, that is a difficulty. But it is not we who are making this basic alteration in the system of our society. It is true that I made a speech opposing this Bill and upholding the voluntary system. We have opposed this Measure, but we have been beaten and now something is being imposed upon these boys without their consent. The Under-Secretary for the Home Office very ably and efficiently made a logical case against us. But I ask the Committee to observe the case against the Government. The boy of 20 can say to the Government, "You have altered the whole system. You have compelled me to go into the Army. I was not consulted. I had no voice in the matter, and I have been compelled to give up my trade in order to go into the Army."
Some hon. Members talk as though all these boys were at schools and universities, but the letters which hon. Members are receiving every day show that many of these boys take an important part in the domestic economy of their homes, and in the support of their parents. I had 1235 a letter from one boy who is affected, and who had just opened a little shop, and there are innumerable cases of that kind. I can tell the Government that the unemployment insurance grievances are nothing compared with the grievances which will arise under this Bill. Then, in addition, the Government propose to tell these boys who believe that they are suffering under an injustice, "You are to have no voice in these matters." They are being forced into the Service, but not one of them will have a vote in returning a Member here, or have a say as to the conditions under which he shall serve. Therefore, I say that while there are difficulties, and while a case has been very ably put against the new Clause, there is an even stronger case against the proposition that these boys should be forced into the Army and deprived of their rights as citizens. That is far more serious than any debating case that can be made against our proposal.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I am sure the Committee has been disappointed by the statement of the Under-Secretary. His arguments were puerile and will not bear examination. Reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) to the precedent which the Under-Secretary also quoted. The Under-Secretary said that in that case the vote had been given for past services and mainly to those who had joined voluntarily. In this case we are taking an unprecedented step. For the first time in our history we have determined that, in peace time, young men of 20 are to be compulsorily taken into the Army. This is the most important thing that can happen in the lives of most of these young men. I disagree with the view that in the previous case the vote was given for past services, but leaving that question for the moment, I ask the Committee to consider, how much more important it is that these young men, who are being compulsorily taken into the Army, shall have some say as to what the conditions of their future service will be. Undoubtedly the future service which they will be called upon to render to the country, will be largely determined by those who occupy the benches opposite. You are taking liberty away from these young men. At least, they should have a say as to who is to legislate for them, 1236 since on the legislation and the policy of the Government may depend the question of whether they will be called upon to serve in war.
Hon. Members speak of differentiations. Our electoral law still has a number of differentiations. What about the property vote which gives a man two votes, or the university vote? Our electoral legislation teemed with differentiations. As time went on, and more people became qualified, these inequalities were more or less ironed out, but some differentiations still exist and the wealthy and propertied people are not prepared to give up those differentiations which are their own privileges. No real argument has been advanced against the Clause, and in view of the fact that we are conscripting these young men for the service of the country, the least we can do is to give them the vote at 20, so that they may have some say, at all events, in the determination of their future.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
We have been told that the number liable to be called up each year under this Bill will be something like 300,000. We may ask ourselves: What serious effect will it have on the country if 300,000 men who are called upon to undergo special training to fit themselves for citizenship are given the vote a year earlier than would otherwise be the case? No one can suggest that that can have any serious or harmful effect upon the political decisions reached at any Election. The argument has been used that we should continue, as we have done since 1694, to regard 21 as the age at which the vote ought to be given. But the circumstances have changed. This Bill gives a special significance to the age of 20 and I support the proposal that these young men should be given the vote.
I do not think that we are merely conferring a favour upon them. I regard the vote, not only as a privilege but as an obligation. Under this Bill, we are giving them the special obligation to undergo military training, and I would like to extend their obligation into another department of citizenship by giving them the opportunity of having a say in the political disposition of the nation. We were told that a conclusive objection to this proposal is that serving men who have volunteered would not get the vote until they were 21. But were we deterred 1237 from giving marriage allowances to men of 20, because we were not giving them to men of a similar age already serving? No, but we did the obvious, fair and reasonable thing and said, "We shall give marriage allowances to the men at 20 under this Measure and the men who have volunteered shall also get them." No supporter of this proposal will put any difficulty in the way of the Government extending the right to vote to those of 20 years of age who are already serving.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is now going rather outside the bounds of order. The question of a general extension of the franchise is not before us.
§ Mr. Buchanan
May I submit that the Under-Secretary, on behalf of the Government, used the argument that other men already serving would not, under this proposition, get the vote. Surely the hon. Member is now entitled to argue that if this concession is made, the Government can take steps to apply it to the others, without necessarily arguing a case for a general extension of the franchise. Is he not entitled to use the argument that if this new Clause is passed, others will be brought in as well? As the hon. Member pointed out, we have already decided that marriage allowances should be given to these men, and that steps should be taken to give marriage allowances to the others as well.
There can be no question about making use of the statement regarding marriage allowances in this connection, but the question of the franchise as a whole does not arise on this new Clause.
§ Mr. Lipson
I accept your Ruling, Colonel Clifton Brown, but I hope I have been able to get in enough to make my point clear. I have only one observation to add. We have heard a great deal about the psychological effect of this Bill. I ask the Committee to consider the psychological effect on the country, if it is suggested that, on the one hand these men are fit to accept the obligation of military training, while, on the other hand, we do not consider them fit to accept the full responsibilities of citizenship. I ask the Committee to realise all the implications of the Bill and to accept the proposed new Clause.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
I am sure that the Undersecretary did not desire to mislead the Committee when he referred to the Section of the Act of 1918, but I must call attention to the fact that it refers to any male naval or military voterwho has served or hereafter serves.
§ Mr. McEntee
I think, nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman did give the impression to the Committee that only those who had served were entitled to the vote under that Section, and I merely point out that it applies also to those who might hereafter serve. At a meeting last week-end I heard the statement made from the platform that the Government deliberately called up these young men of 20 to 21 because they had no votes, and no right to say by votes what they thought of the Government's decision. That statement was received with very hearty applause and, rightly or wrongly, the people at that meeting were convinced that it was a deliberate act of the Government to select for calling-up men who had not the vote and who could not, therefore, effectively voice their criticism of the Bill. When I saw this new Clause I thought "Here is an opportunity for the Government to prove that they have confidence in their own Bill." If they have not got the confidence of the young people who are being called up for military training and who may have to serve in war, here is a chance for them to gain that confidence. I must express amazement at the Under-Secretary's announcement of the Government's intention to refuse these young men the right to vote. In the last War young men of 19 were permitted to vote. If that was a right course to pursue, what reason can be given now why young men of 20 should not be permitted to vote? Surely, if they are old enough to serve their country by offering their lives, if that be necessary, they are old enough to express their opinion by their votes on any matter which may arise in connection with the war, if one comes, or in connection with the government of the country.
I was sorry to hear the Undersecretary throw some doubt on the bona-fides of these young men. He said that 1239 they had been conscripted, forced into the Army, or some such words. He was making a comparison between them and the volunteers. There is nothing to prevent the Government, on the Report stage, if they so desire, introducing an Amendment which would extend the vote to the volunteers. If that cannot be done on this Bill, there are other ways in which it can be done. The hon. Member seemed to suggest that we on these benches were responsible for keeping the volunteers out of the right to have a vote. We do not wish to keep them out of that right. We are prevented from giving it to them under this Bill, but there is nothing to prevent the Government from giving it to them, if they so desire. If they are prepared to extend the vote to the volunteers, by all means let them do so, and no one on these benches will vote against such an Amendment.
I would ask the Government to reconsider this matter. It could not do them very much harm to grant these young men of 20 the right to vote, even if they voted against the Government. I wish they would do so, but I do not suppose that all of them would do that, Even if they did vote against the Government, the Government's majority is sufficiently big to be able to face it. The Government cannot expect us to do any-think else but use it as an argument in the country if they are so mean as to prevent these young men, whose lives they are conscripting, from expressing their own opinions by the franchise.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Captain Sir William Brass
After listening to the remarks of hon. Members opposite I would ask whether it is not a fact that the real difficulty that we have to face is whether, in fact, the young man who serves his country in war shall or shall not be regarded as a fit person to have a vote. It is true that in the last War young men of 19 got the franchise, and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether, in order to satisfy the opinion of the Committee, he would give an undertaking that in the sad event of a war arising these young men, who are to be conscripted at the age of 20, should be brought within the Act of 1918, under which those who served in the last War were able to exercise the vote at 19, and that these young men of 20 would be put in the same position.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
There is no difference of opinion on this side of the Committee as to how we ought to treat this Clause. There is difference of opinion on the Government benches, but it is only proper, courteous and chivalrous for me to compliment the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) on the very candid and honest way in which he has pictured how this question will be viewed in the country, if it goes forward that the Government would not accept the Clause to give the franchise to these young men who are to be conscripted for military service. I can very well visualise that when the: newspapers state that these militiamen or conscripts have been refused the right to vote, there will be a complete revulsion of feeling against the action of the Government.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I am unaware of the general rule in most countries, but I can tell the hon. Member from personal investigation that in one conscript country, namely, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the vote is allowed to conscripts at 18 years of age. It is particularly unfortunate that the Minister speaking for the Government should have put forward the point of view which he expressed. The Under-Secretary, like myself, has been connected with the mining industry, and he fully realises that in that occupation people become manly often because of the conditions they have to undergo. We visualise in our Clause that when our young people get into the Army and come closely into touch with the war machine, if they were allowed opportunities of voting they might, perhaps, deal with that war machine better than it is dealt with to-day. How can hon. Members opposite conscientiously deprive a man of the right to vote on the causes of war when they compel him to be interested in these matters?
When the argument is used that Territorial and Regular soldiers of this age have not the opportunity of voting, my reply is that that can be speedily rectified. Because hon. Members realised that they could not continue to deprive the married soldier of 20 of the marriage allowance, they brought forward a proposal that the marriage allowance should be applied not 1241 only to the conscripts but to the Regulars as well. I do not believe that there would be any repercussions on the part of other people demanding votes. When young men of 19 were permitted to have the vote in the last War that did not result in a wholesale application for franchise by other members of the community who were not in war service. Therefore, there is nothing to be troubled about on that score. If the Government decide to vote against this Amendment it will mean that lots of good actions that perhaps they have performed will be completely nullified by depriving the young men of the vote. I suggest that they should reconsider their attitude and permit the right of the franchise to be granted.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
On the Speaker's Conference—there are not many members of that Conference left—this question of the franchise arose in very different circumstances. I would remind the Committee that the argument which ran through that Conference was that the great mass of the youth of the country at that time were at the seat of war and had been undergoing the pressure and agony of war, and it was, therefore, felt that in their special case the vote should be granted. That is very different from the granting of a peace-time privilege to that section of the community which would come under this Act. Obviously, that would be a discrimination against the people of that age who were not able to join the Militia owing to health, conscientious grounds or otherwise, and who would be eliminated from the vote. I hope that, on reflection, the Committee will agree that if henceforth—the idea rather appeals to me—the man who serves his country should receive an electoral privilege, this is not the occasion for giving it. We ought to have special legislation in order to grant it to all the Forces of the Crown.
If we do that, and grant the vote to the man who is trained to defend himself and his country, we cannot deny the privilege to Territorials of 19 or 18. We cannot with any logical reasoning deny the same privilege to them. If that be true, what about the nurses who are volunteering in hundreds of thousands as mobile nurses to go overseas? We are opening up a tremendous vista of electoral enlargement. If we mean it—and it certainly appeals to me—then it ought to be done 1242 by special legislation. If I oppose the Clause because the present moment is not suitable, I would support a Measure if it were brought in for general electoral reform on these grounds, when Parliament has time. I differ from the suggestion made that these young electors would vote against the Government. I am inclined to think that these hundreds of thousands of young men, after they have been in training and in comradeship, would be likely, as in the past, to vote for the Conservative Party.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
I think hon. Members opposite approach this problem from the wrong standpoint. Despite the precedent of 1918, I do not think it can be reasonably maintained that the vote should be regarded as a present for somebody, or as a reward given to somebody for services rendered. It must rather be regarded as a duty placed upon the citizen of a democratic country to take his part in the general machinery of the policy of the Government, and it seems to me that the only consideration that should affect the Committee in deciding at what age a person should exercise the franchise, should be the consideration as to what is the age at which he is likely to exercise the franchise wisely. If that be so, it is evident that there is nothing in this Bill that will make these youths more or less fitted to exercise the franchise.
On general grounds, it would be most unwise if we were to start giving special rights with regard to the franchise to limited classes because of duties they have performed or of obligations that Parliament has laid upon them. It would not be a very long step from that to saying that if a man pays taxation of over a certain amount he ought to have a larger say in the government of the country. If we act upon the principle that a vote is not a duty placed upon a man but a reward for something he does or a compensation for some obligation that is laid upon him, we shall get on very dangerous ground. Therefore, I hope the Clause will not be accepted.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan
On a point of Order. I do not know whether you have any power, Colonel Clifton Brown, to deal with the matter which I am about to raise. Under a Guillotine Motion I have always 1243 understood that Government supporters should speak only when they are critical of the Government, or when they have a constituency point of view to put, or to ask a question. May I ask, if that be not the case, whether it would mean that on one Amendment the Government could really prevent the Opposition from having any discussion on the other Amendments? Have you any power as Chairman to give guidance in this matter?
§ Sir Adam Maitland
On a point of Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has always observed that principle? The hon. Member has enunciated a principle upon which the Guillotine should work, and I want to ask him—
§ address a question to another hon. Member on a point of Order.
§ Sir A. Maitland
I want to ask whether it is permissible for an hon. Member who was a Member on the Government side in 1929–31 to raise such a question when on almost every occasion he violated the principle he is now enunciating?
It has always been the custom that Members, no matter on what side of the House they sit, are entitled to express their views. I would not care to depart from that. I do suggest, however, seeing that there are several more new Clauses, that hon. Members might now come to a decision on this new Clause.
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 140; Noes, 241.