§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The provisions of this Bill are designed to give effect to an arrangement agreed to by the main political parties, and already, I believe, accepted in principle by this House, that elections to local government bodies should be suspended for the period of the war. The Bill now before the House does not give full effect to that purpose. It provides only that elections should be suspended until the end of 1940. But the intention is, as I have said, that there should be a suspension of normal electoral activity until the war is over. It was felt, however, to be desirable to proceed by stages so that Parliament should have the matter under the closest control. The date will be advanced from time to time by further legislation as circumstances may require. That is the course followed in the last war, when in corresponding circumstances a similar arrangement was made.
It is hardly necessary to emphasise the difficulties and disadvantages of holding local elections during a period of war. In the first place, the holding of elections imposes a great deal of work on local officials who are at present engrossed in the performance of urgent duties connected with the war, and must necessarily occupy the time of candidates for election who may themselves be engaged on military or civil duties connected with the war. Secondly, it is necessary, in existing circumstances, to avoid as far as possible the assembly of people at election meetings or for the purpose of polling. The difficulties of travelling, especially after dark, must be taken into consideration. Many of the buildings which would normally be used as polling stations have been diverted to other purposes, and the provision of air-raid shelter in buildings temporarily used for the purpose of elections might be impossible. I do not think I need elaborate such points. The desire 724 to banish needless controversy from our public life has been dominant in the introduction of the Bill, and is, I suggest, a sufficient argument in itself.
I propose, therefore, without further introduction, to proceed briefly to describe the main provisions of the Bill. As I have already said, the Bill proposes to suspend the holding of all local elections in Great Britain, and it is understood that a similar course will be proposed in Northern Ireland. As borough elections are normally held in England and Wales on 1st November and town council elections in Scotland on the first Tuesday in November, it is essential that legislative action should be taken without delay. As a consequence of the postponement of elections, the Bill proposes, in Clause 1, that the term of office of existing aldermen, councillors, and elective auditors in England and Wales should be continued for as long as the Act is in force, and also makes provision for the filling by co-option of vacancies caused by resignation or death, so as to obviate recourse to the normal method of election. These provisions are applied, with the necessary modifications, to Scotland, by Clause 8.
Owing to the emergency created by the war, delay has in some cases occurred in the preparation of the register of electors, which, by existing law, is required to be completed and published by 15th October. The Bill proposes, in Clause 2, to extend this period by a month, so as to permit the register to be published by 15th November, and to continue the old register in force until that date. The new register will remain in force until 15th October following the expiry of the Act. For the time being the register has, in large measure, lost its significance for electoral purposes, but it is still of importance as the foundation of the jurors' lists. The war has prevented, in some cases, the performance of statutory duties in connection with the preparation of the register. It is necessary therefore to provide exemption from the consequences of this failure for the persons liable to perform these duties, and to relieve them from these duties while the Act remains in force. This is provided by Clause 3. The Bill contains a special provision for the City of London in Clause 4, and in Clause 5, for boroughs which have been recently incorporated.
725 By Clause 6 the normal statutory machinery for the alteration of local government areas is suspended. This provision is to some extent consequential on the main provisions of the Bill suspending local elections, since an alteration in local government boundaries may often require adjustments in the local electoral areas or in the constitution of the local authorities concerned, and effect cannot properly be given to such adjustments in the absence of elections. A more important consideration in favour of the provision is the substantial saving in the work, and consequent economy, which it will effect on the part of local authorities and the Government Departments concerned, on matters which can well be postponed until normal conditions are restored; such alterations often involve the holding of one or more local inquiries.
I have no desire to weary the House with a long speech; and as the main provisions of the Bill have as, I believe, already been accepted, I hope the House may be content with the brief explanation of them that I have given.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
On all sides of the House the difficulties of local elections will, I think, be fully realised. Under war conditions and the circumstances described by the right hon. Gentleman, and especially in black-out conditions, even if elections were held there is no proof that they would in any way reflect the opinion of the people. It is understandable, therefore, following a precedent established somewhat later in the last war, that local elections should be, for the moment, postponed. I say this with some reluctance as a strong party politician who never believed in the nonsense about getting the best men on the local authorities. In my experience, where we have not a Labour majority, the best men are not on the authority. I can see no future for local elections except on a political basis, but I accept, as I have been willing to accept the suspension of by-elections during the conduct of the war by my party, an arrangement which has been agreed to by the chief political parties in this House.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not say something about Clause 2 which is of vital importance and relates to a matter which is of considerable significance. Clause 2 deals with the postponement of preparation of the registers 726 of electors and jurors books. As hon. Members are aware, the register serves a double purpose. It can be used in regard to Parliamentary electors as well as those for local elections. This question, which will no doubt be raised again, is of the greatest importance. The circumstances in IQI8 were entirely different. A predecessor of yours in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, had to deal with a large number of questions, but nevertheless hon. Members were able to take in their stride subsequently the question of the creation of a register of electors when an election did subsequently occur.
What Government will be in office when hostilities close we cannot foresee. There may have been a prolongation of the life of the present somewhat tired Parliament. Should the war continue well into next year and a General Election become impracticable, it may be that the Government will ask for a prolongation of their life. It is not a prospect which we on these benches would regard with enthusiasm, but it may well happen, whatever our views may be, that with a majority in this House it will be possible to secure a prolongation of the life of this Parliament. It is clear to my hon. Friends and myself, and I think to the majority of Members in this House, that whatever the nature of the Government which has conducted the war and brought it, as I believe it will do so, to the conclusion of a successful armistice, there must be as soon as possible thereafter a General Election. It is of vital importance for the future of the world that when the thunder of war has died away, and when we with other nations have to face the gigantic task of making peace permanent, the voice of the men and women in their daily avocations or actively serving the national cause at home or abroad should be heard as to the kind of peace which must be made.
It has been a matter of deep regret to Members on this side, and, I think, to Members on the other side of the House, that out of the last war we did not get a peace which would have prevented the present tragedy. Therefore, at the earliest practical moment when hostilities have been ended and an armistice agreed there must be a General Election so that the voice of Britain can be heard. Whatever the machinery which may be employed—and I do not wish to discuss this question on Clause 2—as to which I assume we 727 shall be fully consulted, as we have been on the principles of this Bill, the desire of the British electorate will be to declare its mind on how such another tragedy as this can be for ever prevented. Therefore, I confess to very considerable disappointment that when the Second Reading of a Bill dealing with the register of electors is being pressed the Home Secretary has not gone into this matter.
This Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman has explained, will continue in operation until the end of next year. Supposing war were to end on the fateful day on which it ended on the last Great War, nth November, of next year, there would be no register prepared until 31st October of the following year. This country would not wait until then for a General Election. It would be a crime to try to postpone it, and yet there is no machinery in the Bill to provide, somehow or another, that the citizens of this country should, as early as possible, be entitled to express their voice. Who will declare the General Election next time no one knows, but it is perfectly clear that British public opinion will demand an early election after the fighting has ceased, and some machinery must, therefore, be devised. I am prepared to consult with the right hon. Gentleman as to the machinery. I do not tie myself to the particular kind, but some effective machinery must be devised so that when the war is ended it will be possible for the Government then in office to go to the country on a General Election. That General Election will be on one issue. It will not be on the mistakes of the war, nor will it be a repetition of speeches which I have made in this House about the misdeeds of this Government during the war. The whole purpose of that election will be to deal with peace ends, and the people have a right to express their opinion. Therefore, before this Second Reading Debate is finished, I hope that we may have some definite pledge from His Majesty's Government that, however the arrangements may be made, some effective machinery shall be devised so that Britain's contribution to peace can be made at the earliest possible moment after the gunfire has died away.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
There are, I think, many people in this House who have misgivings 728 about the presentation of this Bill, and I am going to put forward certain reasons why the Measure should not be proceeded with, at any rate, in its present form. I regret that the Bill was not issued until Friday, as it was, therefore, impossible for hon. Members to see the terms of the Bill and to put down an Amendment to the Second Reading if they had thought fit to do so. If I had had an opportunity, the sort of Amendment that I should like to have moved, provided that it had been in order, would have been something on these lines: "That this House declines to consent to the Second Reading of a Measure, which unnecessarily restricts by law those democratic liberties for the preservation of which the present war is being waged."
We appreciate that all members of elected bodies including Members of Parliament, approach any question of the postponement of elections with a certain bias in its favour, because they are naturally inclined to think that no persons could be more fitted to represent a certain constituency or a locality than they themselves, but we must look at the matter from a broader point of view than that; we must view the matter from the point of view of the broad principles of democracy and the rights of the electors. In a struggle of this kind, so far as we safely can—and that is the governing consideration—we should do everything possible to keep democratic institutions functioning in this country. I venture to say that the weekly Debates in this House are a wonderful demonstration of what a free country can do in the height of a war. They are showing to the world that we can say all sorts of things about the Government, make all sorts of criticisms about the war and those few hon. Members who are opposed to it can speak against it, and the whole effect is only to strengthen and unify the national effort that is being made. There is a very different position in France where, I believe, their Parliament is hardly meeting at all; indeed a painful impression has been made by reason of the fact that, I believe, certain Members have been imprisoned. I have to-day asked the Secretary of State for the Dominions to be good enough to ascertain if there is any movement of this kind in the Dominions. I am not aware that there is; in fact, I believe that a general election is to take place in 729 the Province of Quebec. And why should not there be? I can see no objection to that.
We have, it is perfectly true, come to an understanding between the three major parties with regard to the fighting of by-elections. That is the way to do it—by agreement among the parties concerned. But that has not prevented the holding of a contested by-election in Clackmannan, and I venture to suggest that the holding of that by-election and the result have been wholly satisfactory from a national point of view. It has given people an opportunity of showing what they think, and of indicating, by an overwhelming majority, that they are in favour of the prosecution of this war to a successful conclusion; and it has shown that those who conscientiously take another view are in a very small minority. I want to put this practical point to the Home Secretary, that there is really no necessity at this stage for this Measure. Contests could, in the main, be avoided, I believe, by local arrangements; and where there is a strong local opinion, in connection with A.R.P., the provision of shelters and matters of that kind, it is only right that in those cases, which would be isolated ones, an opportunity should be given for this feeling to express itself.
In the last war, for more than a year no legislation was necessary, and contests were avoided by the good will of all the persons concerned. I believe that that will be the case again. I am going to quote from the Debates that took place in 1915 on this subject, because I believe that they are very relevant to the situation now. On the Committee stage, which I understand is to be taken to-morrow, I propose to move an Amendment to provide that His Majesty, by Order-in-Council, shall be authorised to postpone elections when he considers it necessary to do so. I do not think that at present the necessity has arisen, but it might be found that there were a certain number of contests taking place which were undesirable because of the difficulties that the Home Secretary has pointed out, and it might be that over certain areas there were raids which made the situation impossible from an election point of view. I suggest that the Government should take power, in circumstances of that kind or other cir- 730 cumstances of a wider nature, to postpone the elections when they thought fit; but it is not right to take such very drastic steps now without due cause. Possibly it would be desirable for an Order-in-Council of that kind to be brought before Parliament—that is quite the usual thing. But even if that were not done, it would be a much milder and more satisfactory method than this. This question came up during the last war in July, 1915, nearly a year after the war started. The President of the Local Government Board, Mr. Long, said on 23rd July, in the course of his speech:It is quite possible that had there been no legislation there would have been no elections, because public opinion unquestionably points in that direction. But we all know that a minority may for some reasons of their own be able to upset the general conclusion which has been arrived at informally."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1915; cols. 1834–5, Vol. 73.]Then Mr. Pringle, an active member of the Liberal party, made comments on these lines:Last year there was no statutory postponement, yet the good sense and good feeling which prevailed almost everywhere prevented these local contests from being held, and it was only in a few cases where some local question required to be settled that any election took place.Surely that was extraordinarily to the point—And I really do not see why the people of any municipality should be deprived of their right of turning out their representatives this year, where they think that they are not acting in accordance with the public interests. I can understand perfectly well the point of view of the existing councils. The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that the existing councils do not want to have elections. Of course, naturally, they desire to continue by Statute and have another year, and be saved the necessity of submitting themselves to the judgment of the electors. But questions may arise in any locality as to whether local schemes should be continued or not, and under this Bill the local authority can do what it likes, subject to some supervision by the Local Government Board, altogether unchecked by public opinion, because they are under no necessity of consulting the localities."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1915; col. 1842, Vol. 73.]It seems to me that those words are very much to the point in this discussion. I submit that this Measure, though well-intentioned, and no doubt introduced because it is following a precedent of the last war, is, at any rate, premature, and is misconceived. We have been reading 731 the slogan that the Ministry of Information has scattered in such a widespread fashion throughout the country:Freedom is in peril; defend it with all your might.It is because I believe that in some measure freedom is in peril from this Bill that I am opposing it now.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I find myself in very close sympathy with the view which has just been expressed, and I would reinforce that view by examining the Bill from the Scottish angle. It seems to me that from that angle the case for postponing a Measure of this kind becomes even stronger. I do not propose myself to go into the Lobby against this Bill, because one does not desire at this time to cause undue division of opinion; but I would impress upon my right hon. Friend that this Bill is not popular in Scotland. I have found no enthusiasm for it anywhere, and I have found a great many people who are opposed to it. It may be that others have had a different experience, but that is the view I have formed of public opinion at least in the East of Scotland.
The Bill, which applies to all kinds of elections in England, is restricted to one kind in Scotland, the town council election. I represent a constituency which has several small burghs. The Lord Advocate is here, and he knows the geography of it very well. I do not know how many small burghs there are in Scotland, but there are a great number. There an election normally takes place once a year, if there is a demand for it, but in a great many areas there is no need for an election. Some person retires; another person offers himself, he is duly nominated and elected without any contest. So, in practice, in the small burghs in Scotland at any rate, and not infrequently in the large burghs and cities, these annual elections really take the form of what we would call by-elections. They are not general elections in the sense of all the people on a council coming out at once.
This Bill restricts not only local general elections, but also local by-elections. We do not apply that restriction to ourselves here; we do not prevent a by-election contest for a Parliamentary seat. As we saw in Scotland the other day, it is per- 732 fectly legitimate for an independent candidate to stand against a Government or Opposition candidate. We proceed in Parliamentary elections by means of an understanding between the three main parties; there is no law about it, and there is no "Thou shalt not contest a seat." Why should we apply to local authority elections what we refuse to apply to ourselves? I see neither logic nor justice in such differentiation. As the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said, the problems with which local elections are concerned are very important ones. There is not a local authority in Scotland to-day which is not being pressed by its ratepayers, sometimes violently, about its deeds or misdeeds with regard to A.R.P. and a hundred and one matters. That pressure may well increase. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the Bill was designed to banish controversy during the war, which up to a point is admirable, but it may also succeed in destroying interest during the war in local government. I have very great doubts whether we do wisely in pushing forward a compulsory Measure of this kind.
If the Bill goes through, as I suppose it will, a number of relatively small points arise, but which nevertheless are of considerable importance to Scotland. For example, if the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate will turn to Clause 8 he will find there the application of the Act to Scotland. The Act is to apply only to town councils, whereas in England it will apply to all kinds of councils, and it would be well, whatever the Minister replies to explain to the country why there is this distinction between conditions in Scotland and in England. Most of us, I imagine, know why it is, but a great many people have asked me for an explanation, and I do not think that whoever replies will be wasting time by a simple clearing up of that point.
The next matter to which I draw attention is paragraph (b) of Clause 8:nothing in Section one of this Act shall operate to continue any councillor in the office of bailie or judge of police…Does that include provosts? If so, why is the word "provost" omitted? I imagine it is intended to be included, and perhaps we shall be told that that is so. The next paragraph deals with the boundaries. It says: 733where the boundaries of any burgh have been altered by any Act or Order passed or made before the commencement of this Act, and no election of councillors has been held subsequently to such alteration, the Secretary of State may by Order provide for the apportionment of the existing councillors among the wards of such burgh.I do not know what are the facts of the case in Scotland. If there were one or two cases of large new areas being added to burghs, or considerable areas being taken off burghs, I would find it difficult to justify the refusal of the Secretary of State either to add to the town council one or more new councillors, or to subtract from the council one or more councillors. One knows in one's own part of the world that burghs are constantly extending their limits, and it may well be that in certain areas the extension has been so large as to involve an area and a population which by all the rules ought to obtain representation by the addition of a councillor. Perhaps we can have some assurance upon that point.
There remain two still smaller matters which are of very keen interest to local councils. Is it intended that magistrates should retain office as a result of this Measure, even when the term of their normal office is due to expire? I expect not. A provost or bailie of any council may find his term of office automatically ending this November, and I take it that this Bill does not mean that he automatically continues in office. [Interruption.] It means that he continues as a councillor, which is a different thing. I want to know whether he continues in the office of bailie or provost?
I should like an assurance upon one further matter. I do not think that there is any doubt about it myself, but some people do appear to think so. Here is the case. Take a town council where one or two new members have to be co-opted. The same town council has also to elect a provost and two or three new bailies. At what point does the election of these magistrates take place? This question has been put to me very seriously over the week-end. I should say that it should take place after the co-option of the new members; it must necessarily be so if it is to be fair; but there seem to be doubts about it. It would be useful if my right hon. Friend could make clear that in such a case the first duty of the council is to co-opt its new members and bring them in; after 734 that, and only after that, it should proceed to the election of magistrates. These are detail points which, perhaps, should be raised in Committee, but they cause interest and I have been asked by a good many ratepayers to make them here.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and particularly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, not to rush away with this Bill just because something like this was done before. I wish that the Government had acted always on what had been done in the last war. We should not then have had the fish scheme, the livestock scheme and a good many other blunders.
That may well be, but in this case I suggest that we are following the example too closely. I assert that there could quite well be an arrangement between the parties in all local authority districts in Scotland so that in practice there would be very few contested elections; and that where contested elections. did take place it would be right and proper that they should do so because some matter of vital importance to the locality was at stake.
I do not approach this Bill with any enthusiasm; I am uneasy about it. I would be glad if some amendment such as. was suggested by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton or something like it could be adopted in order that the prohibition of elections might take a less strigent form and that it might be left for the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Home Secretary to use his judgment where that was called for in any particular locality.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Duncan
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) will forgive me I know for not following him into the details of Scottish government, although I might in parentheses remind him of the old Scottish saying:Aince a bailie, aye a bailie.The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) seems to be unhappy about this Bill. He bases his opposition to it mainly on what happened in the last war, and he read out passages from speeches in debates on the similar Bill 735 in the last war. He seems to me to be the one remaining die-hard in this House in saying that, because it was done in the last war, it should be done now. That is not at all a good argument in the different circumstances.
§ Mr. Duncan
Let us see what the different circumstances really are. When the hon. Member goes home after dark he cannot see anything because of the black-out—entirely different circumstances from the last war. The danger of air raids, particularly in places like London and other big evacuation centres, makes it most undesirable to have crowds at election meetings. It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that we could stop one by Order-in-Council in the middle of an election. I hesitate to think what the local government arrangements are in Wolverhampton, if that is the sort of thing he really suggests as practicable. In London our local elections are treated very seriously. Candidates are selected months ahead.
§ Mr. Duncan
I agree, and I wish more voted. The point that I was making was that candidates are selected months ahead. The matter is taken extremely seriously. In the case of the London County Council vast arrangements have to be made. The right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) could tell the hon. Member of the enormous arrangements that have to be made in connection with the London County Council election. I, therefore, disagree entirely with the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Mander
I take it that the hon. Member wishes to be logical. Exactly the same arguments that he is putting forward now would apply to any contest, including a Parliamentary election.
§ Mr. Duncan
If vacancies were not to be filled the alternative would be to leave the seat vacant till the end of the war. I should prefer to have a by-election. This Bill provides for the casual filling of vacancies.
§ Mr. Mander
If the hon. Member will study the Bill carefully he will see that no by-elections are permitted.
§ Mr. Duncan
If the hon. Member will read the proviso in Clause 1 he will see that it says:Provided that the foregoing provisions shall not prevent the vacation of the office of an alderman, councillor or elective auditor otherwise than by effluxion of time.Therefore, it does provide for the casual filling of vacancies otherwise than by the effluxion of time.
§ Mr. Foot
Will the hon. Member look at paragraph (b.)In the case of a councillor, by the council among the members of which the vacancy has so occurred.That rules out any kind of by-election for a local government body. The argument which my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton has put forward, and which the hon. Member does not seem to have grasped, is that if the principle is wrong in Parliamentary elections it is also wrong in local government elections.
§ Mr. Duncan
I do not think that in any way affects my general argument. The conditions are quite different from what they were in the last war. The present Bill is necessary. There is one thing that I should like to impress upon my right hon. Friend the Minister, and that is that at the end of the war, when elections are allowed to be held again, it will be absolutely necessary to have an up-to-date register. Even to-day when elections are held perhaps once a year or less frequently the electoral roll in London is almost out of date in one year. In my constituency one-fifth of the electorate move. I do not say that they move out of the constituency, but, from the point of view of the electoral roll, one-fifth of the total electorate move. Therefore, if the war goes on for three years, as the Government apparently contemplate, the electoral roll will be hopelessly out of date for fighting an election then. Therefore, I would impress upon my right hon. Friend the urgent necessity of having a new and up-to-date register before the next election takes place. I should like to endorse what the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that some undertaking should be given that that will be considered in good time.
737 There is one further thing that will be necessary before the next general election, based on the existing or a future up-to-date roll of electors, and that is a redistribution of seats. That may be rather difficult to do, but some of the constituencies to-day are getting wholly out of hand. There are seats in and around London—
§ Mr. Duncan
I merely mentioned that as something which will be necessary in the future. On the whole, I think this is a necessary Bill. I am sorry that it has to be passed, but it is war time, and we must put up with these limitations on our freedom in the interests of the country.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I very much regret the necessity of bringing this Bill before the House. It seems to me that in these days the Government in almost every direction are doing what they can to restrict our liberties one by one. There is hardly any department of life in which there are not restrictions. There are the black-out restrictions, the restrictions in the train services and so forth, which, however necessary in the first instance—and the Government were perfectly right in introducing them—have for the moment lost that necessity. In the event of certain contingencies those restrictions could be brought into force with great expedition, but I think it is definitely unnecessary and undesirable to maintain them in their present severity.
In regard to the matter dealt with by this Bill, it seems to me that the Government are trying to make present conditions more or less permanent. The Bill is supposed to be for the duration of the war, but its effect is surely in some respects likely to remain for a much longer period. The Government appear to me to be proposing to put the democracy for which we are fighting into cold storage. It may be said that we all wish to avoid controversy at this critical time in the history of the nation on all national issues, but controversy on national issues does not arise or very rarely arises in the case of local elections. By this Bill, as one hon. Member suggested, we are likely to abolish interest in local government, particularly when we remember the steps that the Govern- 738 ment have already taken in that direction. At the present time we have regional commissioners covering the country. In large towns we have emergency committees which in many respects are doing away with the work and activities of almost all the committees of some of the councils. I do not think that can be said of my own city of Leeds, but certainly very great powers are being given to ad hoc authorities of one sort or another which are not under any direct form of democratic control. It is a matter of great regret to me that the Government should go so far as they have done in that direction.
It may be that a Bill of this sort is necessary, but I should have preferred some form of local option. In some parts of Scotland, particularly round about Edinburgh as we have heard to-day, there may be difficulties at the present time, but in other parts of Scotland and in the north and north-west of England it would be surely possible without any real difficulty or danger to hold local elections. Therefore, I should have preferred some form of local option introduced in the Bill. Although the Bill is to be in force until 31st December, 1940, in the case of aldermen, as I understand it from the last paragraph in the Bill, aldermen who are normally elected for a period of six years will be elected to fill vacancies this November, and will sit for the usual six years under this Bill, or it may be for three years until the next ordinary time of election. The Bill does not make this clear. After the war the ordinary elections of councillors will be resumed while the aldermen elected by this unsatisfactory method will I take it sit for a period of six or three years.
Surely, at the end of the war, there should be something in the nature of a general election in the case of local authorities. That is the sensible thing to do, in order that local councils may be constituted on an up-to-date register, and in accordance with the wishes of the then electors. Can it be right to elect aldermen now to sit for five or six years? The provision may, as I have reason to know, have a very serious effect on the constitution of some local councils. The aldermen are elected by the council as a whole. Usually it is by agreement, and they are elected in proportion to the number of members of the various parties on the council. Is it not possible to permit, 739 by agreement, local councils to elect aldermen when they have to be elected in accordance with their party strength? For example, in Leeds one party has sufficient councillors to enable it to demand two additional aldermen, should the election of aldermen take place in the ordinary way. Under the Bill will it be possible for them to have this opportunity, or will they have to be content with the number of aldermen they have at present? Will it be the case that parties next November will be able to elect aldermen in proportion to their strength, by agreement as they have done in the past, or will it be merely a matter of filling up vacancies in respect of the parties as at present constituted?
This is a restrictive Measure, and I do hope we shall have as few as possible of such Measures. Far too many restrictions have been imposed already. The Government should do everything possible to avoid disturbing the normal functions of local authorities, and, indeed, of individuals and should do everything to enable business to be carried on, and municipal functions to be exercised in the ordinary way. The Bill, however, has the approval of my party and I shall not vote against it, but I hope that the Government will pay some attention to the remarks which have been made and modify it in the respects indicated.
§ 5.4 P.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) says that the Bill is putting democracy into cold storage. On the contrary, democracy does not stop at municipal elections. We are witnessing democracy in action from one end of the country to the other and the particular section of democracy to which this Bill refers is a particular but not an essential part of the democratic system. My object in rising is to ask whether it is really necessary to have the tremendous standstill orders which are embodied in Clause 6. It is a very severe test on local authorities to request that no effect shall be given to an Order which has been passed relating either to boundaries or constitution. Could not these Orders be allowed to go forward in cases where agreement has been reached and in regard to which there is no controversy? It would not over-balance local authorities very much, and it seems rather hard to 740 pass these standstill Orders in relation to alterations of boundaries, which, in 99 cases out of 100, have been agreed upon between the parties. It will make local government more difficult if all these changes are to wait until the end of the war.
As an amateur in these matters I anticipate some difficulty in the actual working of Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 in regard to the register, in relation to Clause 6 which deals with the standstill orders in regard to changes in boundaries. It is clearly necessary that before a new register is prepared all these changes will have to be made. Could not the Government, by a modification of the Bill allow alterations of boundaries, which have been agreed upon between the parties, to go through, if there is no serious objection on the part of any interests concerned? It is not in one case out of 10 that there has been any official opposition. I am anxious that there should be no let or hindrance to the normal flow and development of local government, and that is more important than to maintain a precise balance of the parties which might be slightly altered by a change of boundaries during the next few months. I have sat on many Private Bill Committees and I know that when proposals to change boundaries arise they are, as a rule, agreed upon before the Bill has left the Committee, and when this is the case it seems rather a pity that there should be this standstill Order. I hope the Government will be able to modify the Bill, and that in cases where there is agreement of both parties will allow changes which have already been the subject of an Order-in-Council or a Private Bill Committee.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
I listened to the statement made by the Home Secretary in presenting this Bill, and I say that if Members of the House would only apply their reasoning powers to the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman, the Bill would have a very rough passage indeed; it would not be accepted at all by reasonable men and women. The right hon. Gentleman gave a few excuses for the presentation of the Bill. His speech was mainly based on the assumption that the House would say, "Heil, Anderson," and the Bill would have a safe passage. I am entitled to ask that the right hon. Gentleman should at least 741 play at democracy and give substantial reasons for advancing a Bill of this description in a so-called democratic country. We are told to-day, as we have been told for some time past, that this war is for freedom and democracy. What that means, I do not know, but at any rate, that is the phrase used. Yet, stage by stage, as the war goes on, we are emulating all that has been done on the Continent, with a view to completing in this country the black-out even of our political institutions.
The Home Secretary said that in a late period of the last war a Measure of this description was passed. He then said that the work of officials is very heavy indeed, and that that work should not be interrupted by political work of this kind. I believe rather in the saving of life on the home front than in the destruction of life on foreign fields, and I believe there is enough to be done even during a period of war to justify us in defending controversy and giving to the electors an opportunity of passing their judgment on the acts of those who are in high places. I am aware that the Bill will be popular among councillors, and I am aware that a similar Bill would be extremely popular among a large percentage of Members of Parliament. But it is not our duty to consider the elected persons. They did not win freedom for the people. It is their duty to defend and enlarge the freedom of our citizens, and not hand away that for which they never made sacrifices.
Therefore, speaking from the standpoint of the ordinary citizen, I question the Nazi domination that there is in the House at the present moment; I question the assumption in statements to the effect that through the ordinary channels there has been discussion and agreement. Who are the people who sit on the Front benches temporarily as time-servers in this House and the country that they should come along and pledge the word of democracy that this and that shall not take place? Surely, it is not the decision of any working-class conference in this country to suspend elections; surely, it is not the decision of any representative body of electors in the country to eliminate elections during the war. I say that there is no argument that can be adduced for this Bill which has any really substantial backing in the country. The Bill is an invasion of the rights of the citizens 742 of Britain, and it should not be tolerated in this House by the representatives of the public.
The Home Secretary said that we must try to eliminate controversy. Is not that what Hitler has done? He has eliminated controversy. That may be good, or it may be bad, but it is something with which I fundamentally disagree. No Bill passed in this House by an overwhelming majority of the three orthodox parties will eliminate controversy in this country. The controversy is there. It is in the field, the mine, the factory, and the workshop; it is in the public assistance queue, the meeting place, the train, and the coffee room. In every place where men and women congregate there is that eternal discussion that is essential if we are to defend our liberties, extend democracy and give to the people the right of critical analysis of the acts of those who are in high places. After all, it is the rising barometer which indicates where the people stand in relation to the lives, well-being and health of themselves and their families. It is true that we have controversy. There was an election only the other day in Clackmannan, but there again, in the Parliamentary field it was looked upon almost as sacrilege for any man to dare to challenge the right of the three orthodox parties to dispose of their lives and their well being without the electors being consulted. It is true that there was what might be termed a negligible minority of the people which went to the poll, about one-third of the people, and that about 1,050 voted for immediate peace. In six months' time, that 1,050 may be 5,000 or 10,000, according to the developments that take place in the country. How are you to judge that rising feeling of antagonism of those who are our masters and not our servants, who have the right to determine our conduct and the line that we take in this House?
We are told that the schools are used for other work at present. I should like to say that it is high time that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health or the Home Secretary in England, were beginning to see that the schools are put to their proper use for the education of the children. These schools should be opened at the earliest moment, so that we shall not have a complete blackout in education also for the next two or three years, if the war lasts that time. There are some controversies 743 going on at the present time. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in common with his colleague in England—for everything that is done in England of a reactionary character must be followed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, in a Hitler-like manner—sent out to the local authorities in Scotland a circular telling them to stop the building of houses during the period of the war and saying that no new commitments should take place. Are people living ten, nine, eight in a single room to have no expression in the city of Glasgow against the collaboration of the local authority and the national executive in stopping house building? How are you going to judge the antagonism of the people if there are not to be elections?
The arguments that can be used for the elimination of municipal elections could be used to a greater extent for the elimination of elections on a national scale, and for having a complete stoppage of all electoral activity in this country during the war. And if we did this for one, two or three years, there might be a large number of people who might say, "Why should we ever return to elections?" The Nazi commissars in the House would be quite pleased to hold up their hands and say, "Heil Churchill," or whoever should be in power at that time, and to say that elections should be eliminated and that commissar No. 1 for Clackmannan should be extended to the whole political field in order to fill the new British Reichstag. I should like to say one or two things about the Opposition. They were returned to this House to defend the liberties of the people and one by one, in collaboration with the ruling classes whom they were sent to attack, to condemn and to overthrow, they are joining in this merry game of hide and seek in the Parliamentary arena, whittling away every vestige of freedom and democracy that we have in this country. You find their strings being extended everywhere—from the trade unions to the Premier's room and the Foreign Office, from that Front Bench to the Ministry of War. Throughout every Department, the strings are moved from that bench, and then we get the new Nazified Britain during the period of this war, at a time when we are told we ought to be defending freedom and democracy.
In the last war, I remember complimenting the late Mr. W. M. R. Pringle, 744 who was then my Member, as the representative for North-West Lanark. I commented then to a Labour party member that we had sent a Labour party to Parliament to defend our personal and national heritage of freedom, but we were dependent on men like Pringle, who occupied the Liberal benches, to defend our freedom, while the Labour Members were filching it away and getting positions of any petty kind that they could get, during that war. It is just as if the ruling class of this country, when it had prepared for war by the creation of a great Navy, were to hand away that Navy during a time of war, when a Labour party, which is sent to this House to defend the liberties of the subject, hands those liberties away to the ruling class. The Labour party are defending capitalist interests in this war—not working-class rights and privileges. Therefore, they are failing completely in their duty to the nation and to the men who, in the past, fought and died and were imprisoned and banished to secure us the right of representation.
The enemy is the enemy at home and not the enemy abroad. The enemy of the German working-class is to be found inside Germany. The enemy of the British working-class is to be found inside Britain. It is our duty to conduct the war on the whole front and at local elections to eliminate the things that ought to be eliminated. We want the elimination of the means test. We want a radical drive for housing and better health services and better education. Local elections provide the means for the people to show their discontent or disgust at the poll, and this Measure is thoroughly reactionary. Twenty years ago I would not have believed that I would have lived to stand in the British House of Commons and see a Labour party agreeing to a Measure of this kind for the defence of the ruling class during a period of war. I do not believe that this Bill has the consent of the electorate because we are taking from them their right to vote at the polls. It may be popular with elected persons throughout the country, but it is fundamentally wrong. I oppose it becuase it deprives the electors of the right which they ought to have to condemn either public representatives or the Government. That right is a safeguard which ought to be retained, unless you 745 want to drive the people and their discontent into channels of insurrection. In so far as the Bill deprives the workers of the right to express their opinion, whether during war or during peace, I protest against it, and I will, if possible, go into the Division Lobby against what] regard as a thoroughly bad proposal.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
It may be convenient if I intervene now to answer one or two specific points about the Scottish application of the Bill. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) asked why the Bill was restricted to town councils in Scotland. The position is that no election of county or district councillors falls under the existing law to be held in Scotland until December, 1941. It has been decided, for the reasons stated by the Home Secretary, that the Bill should be short-dated and that its provisions should be reconsidered at the end of the period indicated if the circumstances warrant it. With regard to the argument of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that the Bill is in itself undesirable, I do not propose to enter into matters of controversy at this stage, but the Home Secretary has indicated the wish of the Government to keep these proposals on a short rein and to reconsider them at a comparatively early date. The time has been chosen by agreement and will expire before there are any Scottish county council elections.
The Bill, therefore, deals only with those Scottish elections which will be affected by it, namely the town council elections. The town councillors at present in office will continue to hold office until the next election and if vacancies occur by death or resignation, the town council will fill these by co-option. In the case of the county councils, they can, under existing law, fill vacancies by co-option. With regard to bailies and judges of police, these are appointed by the town councils from among their own members. At the normal retiring date they will go out of office, but they will continue to be town councillors, and the town council can reappoint them if the council so desires. The position of provosts and honorary treasurers is similar. As long as no elections are involved there seems no reason why changes in such offices should 746 not be made by the town council in the ordinary way. The hon. Member raised another point about electoral boundaries.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
My right hon. Friend will recollect that I asked him to clear up this difficulty. Suppose the case of a town council where two members retire and two persons are co-opted. Does he not agree that the co-option should take place first and that the council should then elect the bailies and provosts?
§ Mr. Colville
I will look into that point which, I think, is rather one for Committee. The hon. Member also asked about the boundaries of electoral districts. There is only one case at present of importance and that is the case of Stirling. What we had in mind in that case where the boundaries are already altered, or are about to be altered, was that there should be no more councillors for the time being and that dispositions should be made in order that councillors might represent the new area involved. Any other point that may arise can, I think, be dealt with in Committee. I know the very sincere point of view which is held by the hon. Member for Shettleston, but I am bound to say that I equally strongly hold the view that at the present time a Bill of this kind is necessary. Nor do I agree with the hon. Member that this is an unpopular Measure in Scotland. I have taken such soundings as I could, and I would say that a majority of opinion in Scotland recognises that in war time this is a desirable and necessary Measure.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
A number of the members of a council in my division have asked me to raise some points on this Bill. Clause 1, Sub-section (b,) provides that when a vacancy occurs it shall be filledin the case of a councillor by the council among the members of which the vacancy has so occurred.Does that mean that the vacancy is to be filled by the party or group to which the retiring member belongs or by the whole council? It is an important point. There might be a narrow majority on a council and the majority party might appoint their nominees to fill all the vacancies. On the other hand, there might be a very large majority and the minority might be still further reduced in representation which would be very undesirable. If the Bill does not make it 747 clear that a vacancy should be filled by the party or group to which the retiring councillor belonged all sorts of abuses may arise.
I would like also to stress the point made by the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition about the termination of the Bill. I do not see why it should not end this year instead of 1940, because if the war goes on for some time it would be possible to continue the Act by the Expiring Laws Continuance Act instead of submitting ourselves to having no elections for some considerable time after the end of the war should it end sooner than the Bill anticipates. With regard to the suspension of the register, arrangements have been made between the three political parties for a political truce. The truce can be denounced by any of the parties if they so wish during the war, and all of us, particularly on these benches, think that is very right and desirable. We cannot see what sort of issues may arise during the war and naturally we have retained our freedom to fight elections if we wish to do so. Unless provisions are made to see that the register is kept up to date—although I recognise the difficulty arising from evacuation—unless we can have a register of some kind, the right to denounce the truce at any time is largely illusory. Suppose the war goes on for two or three years and the register gets out of date, it would not be possible to have a fair and proper expression of opinion by elections. In an area like my constituency which is of enormous size, it would be difficult to fight a fair election if we had not a register drawn up a fairly short time before the election took place. I hope the Home Secretary will consider these points.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey
I am afraid that more than one Member of the House will feel that the principal merit of this Bill is in Clause 10, which limits its operation to the end of next year. All of us admit the practical difficulties in the way of local elections in many cases at the present moment, especially in the evacuation areas. We believe that in almost every case the difficulty will be met by voluntary agreement between the different parties. In the rare cases where there has 748 not been voluntary agreement it is prob ably desirable that the machinery of elections should be used. Such cases would be very few, but it is important that the safety valve should be preserved. Everybody, whatever they feel about that point, will agree that it would be deplorable if this suspension of local elections continued for a long period, for it would mean the deadening of public interest in the machinery of local life, which is of such immense importance if we are to have the spread of good citizenship.
I am surprised that the Government have not allowed to other great cities, county boroughs and other local authorities the option which they give to the Common Council of the City of London in Clause 4, under which the City of London alone has the right to decide whether or not it will come under this Bill. Surely such a protection is needed in other districts, and I assume that the only reason for this provision is the ancient privilege of the City which probably gave it this special piece of preeminence in a previous Act and the desire of the Government to maintain this privilege. Why should they not, desiring to be a democratic Government, extend this privilege to other local authorities and allow them to decide whether it is necessary to take advantage of the powers of this Bill?
I should like to add my voice to that of other Members on both sides who have begged the Government to make this Bill the occasion of a pledge to the House and the country that, if the taking of the register is suspended, we shall not have a general election on a stale register immediately after the conclusion of the war. That is not too much to ask the Government. The request has been made to them from all sides of the House. I hope that the occasion of a new register will be made the opportunity for a better electoral system, both nationally and municipally. The difficulty, which has been alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), and at least one other Member, with regard to the appointment of aldermen might be met if the Government would introduce the principle of proportional representation into the local and national governmental machinery. Under this Bill it should be possible for the Home Office to send the suggestion to 749 local councils that where an alderman has to be elected the machinery of the single transferable vote should be applied. That is the solution of the difficulty referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds, which may occur in other cases, too. We want to see this Bill made the occasion in the future of an even more democratic system of local government than we have to-day, which will ensure that there is a fuller opportunity for every citizen to take an intelligent part in the local government of his city.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am certain that if the pretensions that have been made in connection with the war had any basis it would have been impossible to introduce such a Bill as this. One has only to look at it to realise that it is a thoroughly antidemocratic proposal. If anyone had any doubts about that, the fact that it received a blessing in the name of democracy from the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) should be enough to condemn it and to expose its real character. I have never known the hon. Member for Hitchin support anything that was not essential Fascist in character. What is behind this proposal to have no local elections? It is not simply a matter of stopping voting at a particular moment because there is so much work to be done in other directions. If there is a local election it is not just the voting day that matters. The voting day is not so important as the opportunity provided by the campaign, which is carried on for some weeks beforehand, to prepare the electors for voting by discussing with them matters which are of the utmost importance to them and, therefore, to the country.
What is the use of the Prime Minister telling us there is to be a new world—he forgot to mention homes for heroes—if we are not to be operating right now the machinery that is going to make the new world? The new world will not come out of the clouds. Practical steps have to be taken to make a new world, and those who are all in favour of a new world—not in phrases but in actual fact —must be prepared to discuss with the people, especially in connection with local affairs, the changes which have to be made. Immediately after the Prime Minister had promised the new world the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol 750 (Sir S. Cripps) made a speech in which he dealt with the necessity of advancing social progress, and an hon. Member on the Tory benches at once got up and said that he had no right to introduce such topics at a time like this. To introduce them now would split the national unity. So national unity has to be maintained on the basis of no attempt to solve the problems of poverty and hardship which confront the mass of the people. Local elections are to be stopped in the name of unity, because if we had them questions which affect the life and well-being of the people would have to be discussed. We can have national unity as long as we leave the other side in full control of privilege, wealth and power.
Should we not have local elections in Glasgow, in order to discuss the responsibility for the terrible scandals associated with evacuation? Is it not necessary to have local elections in order to get on to the councils those who will fight to put an end to the conditions which made those scandals possible? Members have told us about the children who were sent to the country districts—about the lice, the skin diseases, the filth, and the rest of it. Is it not necessary that we should discuss those things for weeks and months, and have elections, to enable people who would put a stop to that sort of thing to get on to the council? When Members told us about the condition of the evacuees they did not tell us that for generations Glasgow was under the rule of the wealthy, the privileged and the powerful, who are the people who now want to stop the elections.
At the end of Questions to-day the Under-Secretary of State for India read an answer in which it was stated that the Viceroy of India was making certain proposals, which we should get later in a White Paper, in reply to a demand made to him by the Indian National Congress. That Congress is demanding democratic institutions in India. At the very time when India is asking for democratic institutions we are discussing a Bill to close down one of our own democratic institutions. If we take away the elections we take away the discussions that lead up to the elections, and when the discussions are done away with there is very little left. I have already heard of one council which is so affected by this idea that democracy is a dangerous thing in times like this that it has suggested there should 751 not even be council meetings. I suppose the idea is that the time taken up by council meetings might be used in filling sandbags. On that council the proposal has been made, which is in line with the idea behind this Bill, that there should be a council meeting only once in three months, and that in the interim the provost and the town clerk should be responsible for the direction of all business through the committees. I have had considerable experience of that particular town clerk. He knows everything that is to be known about Fascist methods and has all the desire in the world to see them employed. If he could do so, he would have a meeting of the council only once a year, just to hear a report, and then send the councillors home again. That sort of thing could quite easily go on.
I suggest if we cannot prevent this Bill from going through that, at any rate we should introduce a provision which would allow a ward in a city to demand, through certain organisations, or as the outcome of a plebiscite, that there should be an election in that particular ward if not in the whole area. There might be on the council a representative who had become completely corrupt, and yet he is to stay there even though the mass of the people in the ward want to get rid of him. That is an utterly impossible position. In the case of national elections the electorate are not to be tied down. Any who desire to put up candidates may do so, and in course of time there will probably be many candidates coming forward, despite the agreements made between the political parties. If that is the case why are elections in the localities regarded as being so dangerous? The local authorities are of the utmost importance in directing the welfare of the people, and if we take away the opportunities for discussing the many questions which arise—the scandals of evacuation, the scandals of the slums and the need for accelerating house building—we shall produce a situation which can be a source of serious difficulty if not of serious trouble. Therefore, I suggest that, at any rate, arrangements should be introduced to allow any town, or any ward in a town, after a plebiscite which shows a certain percentage in favour of it, to determine that a municipal election shall take place.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I do not think my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has any cause to complain of the reception given to this Bill in various quarters of the House.
§ Mr. Peake
One or two people are against it, but as it is the subject of a general agreement which has been arrived at between the political parties, I do not think there will be many who will go into the Lobby against it. The Deputy Leader of "the Opposition was anxious that a general election should follow as quickly as possible upon the termination of the war. I may point out that this Bill does not prolong the life of the present Parliament. If it is necessary to do that separate legislation will be required. The life of this Parliament will normally expire in November of next year. All that the Bill does, as far as Parliamentary elections are concerned, is to do away with the necessity of preparing a new register next year. We are completing the register which would have been normally issued on 15th October this year. As that register will be completed, it would in any event have remained in force and would have been the register on which a Parliamentary election would have been fought up to and including 15th October next year.
The House will, therefore, observe that the only effect of this Bill upon a Parliamentary election is that, if a Parliamentary election should fall between 15th October next year and the middle of November, it would apart from other provision by the House, be fought upon a register which was one year out of date. On the assumption that the life of Parliament is to be prolonged, there will of course be new legislation, and in that legislation we can make what provision we please for a new register being prepared before a new election is conducted, and it is obvious that something on similar lines to what was done at the end of the last war will have to be done again. Some provision will no doubt have to be made for those who are serving in His Majesty's Forces to take part in the election. [Interruption.] I really cannot forecast the precise circumstances which will exist when the war concludes, and 753 I would prefer not to go into any detail on that matter. What I am pointing out is that the House will have to legislate again upon the matter if any prolongation of the life of the existing Parliament takes place beyond November of next year.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Gallacher) both thought that the Bill was unnecessary and that local agreements could be made under which elections would be avoided during the war. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton went on to quote a very apposite passage from a speech of the late Mr. Walter Long, as he then was, who introduced a corresponding Bill to this in 1915. What was found in 1915 to occur was that such a gentleman's agreement, although no doubt intended to be honoured generally, was, in fact, broken away from in certain quarters, and the disease had a tendency to become general.
§ Mr. Mander
On what does the hon. Gentleman base that? There is nothing in the speech that I read out, and nothing in the speech at all as far as I can see, to suggest anything of the kind. What I read out was:But we all know that a minority may, for some reasons of their own, be able to upset the general conclusion which has been arrived at informally.There is nothing to suggest that the minority will upset it, and, in fact, Mr. Pringle's speech shows later on that there was a general agreement to avoid elections altogether. On what does the hon. Gentleman base his statement?
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member has made it quite clear that Mr. Long apprehended that a general agreement of that sort would not be found sufficient to avoid local elections taking place and of course, if the hon. Member is right in saying that such an agreement would be generally kept, there would be no local elections during the war, which is exactly the position which is arrived at if this Bill becomes law. I, therefore, cannot see that he is contending for democratic principles when he himself suggests as the basis of his argument that no local elections should or would take place during the continuance of the war. But he went on to say that, in case such elections were 754 threatened, power might be given to the Home Secretary, as I understood it, to act in particular cases with a view to preventing elections taking place. Any power of that sort would place upon the Home Secretary a most unpleasant task, in the discharge of which he would be continually open to charges of bias and prejudice. I am sure the whole House will agree that a selective power of discrimination against an election in this borough or in that would place a quite impossible duty upon the Home Secretary.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) and the hon. Member for the combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) raised the question of the election of aldermen. This question of aldermen gave us considerable difficulty in drafting the Bill, but we finally came to the conclusion—I think it is the right conclusion—that, if you are going to stop elections for the council, it is right and proper to stop elections for the aldermanic bench as well, because the election of aldermen is a procedure which follows upon the election of the new council and, until you know what the political complexion of the council is going to be, you obviously cannot accurately forecast the correct complexion for the aldermen; and it seemed to us that, if you are going to provide for a standstill, the standstill should be as complete as possible.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-East Leeds suggested that at the conclusion of the war there should be, if possible, some form of general election for local authorities. Of course the effect of the proviso to Clause 10 is that when this Bill comes to an end on 30th December, 1940, those councillors and aldermen who have been retained in their positions by virtue only of this Bill will remain in office until the due dates of the following local elections. The result of that, of course, will be that you will have not only those who normally fall to retire according to the working of the ordinary rota in the following municipal election, but you will also have these aldermen and councillors whose term of service has expired, and whom for this purpose I may describe as ticket-of-leave men. They also will go out of office, and the ensuing election will obviously be one for a considerable proportion of the whole council. If the war lasts for more than three years the whole 755 of the council will fall to be elected at the ensuing local election.
§ Major Milner
Normally, aldermanic elections are held every three years. Assuming that their period of office is continued in accordance with the proviso to Clause 10, I take it that they will sit for a minimum period of three years; that is to say, their term of office will carry on until the next election of aldermen normally takes place.
§ Mr. Peake
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for raising that point. This is a complicated matter which depends upon whether the next election for the aldermen is fixed by Statute or by some resolution of the local authority concerned. I will look into the point and deal with it on the Committee stage. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) queried the necessity for Clause 6, which prevents adjustments of local boundaries becoming operative during the war. I assure him that the Clause is a very necessary part of the Bill, not only because the adjustment of local boundaries involves the election of councillors and so forth, but because it places upon local officials a large burden of work which is necessitated by the transfer of executive and administrative functions from one local authority to another. For that reason alone it would be very difficult to carry out such a transfer while the war is proceeding.
A point on Clause (1, b) was raised by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) who asked whether, under the procedure laid down for co-option, a councillor would be co-opted by the council itself or by those members of the council belonging to the same political party as himself. The answer is that co-option will be by the council. It is, of course, expected, where a vacancy has occurred through the death or resignation of a councillor, that the vacancy will be filled from persons of the same political complexion as the deceased or retiring councillor.
§ Mr. Parker
Will that be a matter for local arrangement between the parties, or one to be nationally arranged?
§ Mr. Mander
Why is it possible for Parliamentary by-elections to be entirely unrestricted by law, but municipal by-elections must be prevented by law? Will the hon. Member be good enough to deal with that point, because I am unable to follow the reasoning?
§ Mr. Peake
I thought that I had already dealt with that point, because the hon. Member and myself had some little dispute as to the interpretation of Mr. Walter Long's remarks upon the matter in 1915. It is within the general sense of the House that the Bill is necessary, if local elections are to be avoided during the war. It is, of course, a matter for general regret that that is the case, but it is inevitable in present circumstances. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that we had no mandate for the Bill; but we all have a mandate to come here and exercise our common sense to the best of our ability.
§ Mr. McGovern
That is not what I tried to say. The point I thought I made was that the Labour party, who claim to attach importance to mandates, had no mandate for supporting the Bill.
§ Mr. Peake
I cannot enter into a quarrel between the hon. Member and the Labour party, but I can observe that there is a general mandate on all Members of this House to come here and use their common sense in such matters. I am sure that we are doing the right thing, in accordance with that mandate, in saying that during the war—on account, if you like, of the black-out alone—we cannot allow local elections to take place. The Bill is strictly limited in point of time. If any extension of it is necessitated the House will have a further full opportunity of discussing the matter.
§ Mr. Harvey
Why, if the optional right is given to the City of London of coming under the Bill or not, as the Common Council desire, should not it be given to other local authorities?
§ Mr. Peake
There are two or three things which distinguish the City of London from other parts of the country. In the first place, the method of election of common-councilmen, as they are called, is totally different from any system of election adopted elsewhere in the country. 757 In the second place, common-councilmen are not, as a rule, keen party politicians. I am told that they have a tendency to belong to the same political party. In the third place, the City is extremely jealous of its very ancient privilege, and if that privilege were to be generally extended it would no longer remain a privilege.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
One point arises out of what the hon. Gentleman said about the appointment of new members in the case of death or resignation. A great amount of difficulty and trouble may arise in many parts of the country, and we may have majorities on councils taking advantage of the position to elect and pack the councils. There might be a number of resignations of members of their own parties. This is very similar to the cases which have occurred recently where majority parties have determined that all aldermen should be members of the majority party. The result might lead to a great amount of dissatisfaction. I wonder whether the Minister has borne the point in mind.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I ought to remind the House that there is yet a Committee stage to come on this Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I did not direct my remarks to the hon. Gentleman, but to the House generally. If the hon. Gentleman desires to speak he is perfectly at liberty to do so.
§ Mr. Muff
I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman a question, if I can do so. He has touched on the question of the triennial aldermanic elections, and I want to point out that these aldermen are not elected for three years, but are automatically elected for six years. I want to ask him how he proposes to deal with that matter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Apart from the fact that the hon. Member fell foul of me just now, the hon. Member ought to know that the Minister has not got a right to speak again except with the leave of the House.
§ Hon. Members: No!
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 222; Noes, 0.759
|Division No. 305.]||AYES.||[6.12 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Christie, J. A.||Fildes, Sir H.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Furness, S. N.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Cluse, W. S.||Gardner, B. W.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Garro Jones, G. M.|
|Arnery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Collindridge, F.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Gledhill, G.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Gower, Sir R. V.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Courlhope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Grenfell, D. R.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Crowder. J. F. E.||Griffith, F. Kingstey (M'ddl'sbro, W.)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Culverwell, C. T.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Daggar, G.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Davidson, Viscountess||Grimston, R. V.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Dobbie, W.||Halt G. H. (Aberdare)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)|
|Benson, G.||Duncan. J. A. L.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Harris, Sir P. A.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Edwards, Sir C (Bedwellty)||Hayday, A.|
|Brooklebank, Sir Edmund||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Ellis. Sir G.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Brown. Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)|
|Burke, W. A.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Hcare Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Hopkln, D.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.)||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hunter, T.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Isaacs, G. A.||Muff, G.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Jagger, J.||Munro, P.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Nail, Sir J.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Naylor, T. E.||Sutcliffe. H.|
|Jenkins. Sir W. (Neath)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Jennings, R.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Joel, D. J. B.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|John, W.||Oliver, G. H.||Thurtle, E.|
|Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Tinker, J. J.|
|Kimball, L.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Kirby, B. V.||Paling, W.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Palmer. G. E. H.||Touche, G. C.|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Parker, J.||Train, Sir J.|
|Lathan, G.||Parkinson, J. A.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Leach, W.||Peaks. O.||Viant, S. P.|
|Lee, F.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Price, M. P.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Leslie, J. R.||Pym, L. R.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Little, Sir E. Graham-||Ramsay, Captain A. H M.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Walerhouse, Captain C.|
|Logan, D. G.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Remer, J. R.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|McCorauodale, M. S.||Ridley, G.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Riley, B.||White, Sir R. D. (Fareham)|
|MacDonald. Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Salt, E. W.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Mainwaring. W. H.||Samuel, M. R. A.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Wilmot, John|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Schuster, Sir G. E.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C)|
|Mathers, G.||Shinwell, E.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Sinclair, Rt Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Mayhew Lt.-Col. J.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Milner, Major J.||Smith, T (Normanton)|
|Montague, F.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Moore, Lieut. Col. Sir T. C. R.||Storey, S.||Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and|
|Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Stephen and Mr. McGovern.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.]