HC Deb 07 December 1943 vol 395 cc916-32

Order for Second Reading read.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

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

This little Bill is becoming a hardy annual. It is a rather melancholy occasion for the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, as it is the fifth occasion on which we have been associated in conducting this Measure through the House. It is in common form. The first Clause postpones local elections until the end of 1944, and the second contains some machinery provisions following upon the passing of the Parliament (Elections and Meetings) Act a few weeks ago. I think the case for the Bill is as strong to-day, if not stronger than, it has been on the previous occasions. Apart from the 7,000 parish councils, there are 1,500 elected local authorities in England and Wales alone. Moreover, the local government register is not the same as the Parliamentary register. It is based upon occupation and not upon residence, and although, under the recent Act, we have provided ourselves with arrangements for making an up-to-date Parliamentary register, the register upon which local government elections would have to be held, if local government elections were to be resumed, would, be a register compiled in the year 1939. It is quite clear that the essenial key to the resumption of local government elections is the preparation of an up-to-date register. The Committee on electoral machinery, which reported earlier this year, dealt with the advantages which would flow from the assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government registers, but they carefully guarded themselves against any recommendation in favour of assimilation, and it is understood that this is one of the subjects which will be tackled by the Conference on Electoral Reform which will sit under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker. I think it is to be hoped that this matter of the local government franchise may be given some priority in the course of the Conference, because it is a pre-requisite of the resumption of local government elections that this question of the form of register should be settled.

Hon. Members in all parts of the House accept the necessity for the Bill. At the same time some of them would like to see casual vacancies on local authorities filled by election rather than co-option. Many of the objections, which I have already mentioned, to the resumption of local government elections generally apply with equal force to the holding of by-elections. The register is some four years out of date, and very large movements of population have taken place. Secondly, there would be, if by-elections were permitted, a continual stream of them taking place, and local government staffs are depleted and local government officers are engaged in most cases on important work which cannot be abandoned. Moreover, there is, of course, the point that the holding of these by-elections is not essential to the democratic local government system. In Scotland the general practice, even in peace-time, is to fill these local government vacancies by co-option, and in England and Wales appointments to the aldermanic bench are usually filled in the same way. While I appreciate the desire of hon. Members to see a revival of local government activities, I think it is clearly impossible to contemplate the resumption of these by-elections at present, but, obviously, if they were to be resumed, the House would have to make up its mind on one important matter, whether these by-elections are going to be fought on party lines or whether the party truce, which is observed in elections to Parliament, is to be observed also in local government elections.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Why do we have to make up our minds? The electoral truce in Parliamentary by-elections is not part of the law of the land. It depends on agreement between the parties. Unofficially it does not affect our minds in the least when considering the electoral register or prolonging the life of Parliament. When you are considering whether casual vacancies on local government bodies should be filled by election or by co-option, why should we bother ourselves at this stage as to whether the electoral truce is to be observed or not?

Mr. Peake

I thought it was a consideration which hon. Members might like to have present to their minds. If there is a party truce observed in local government affairs, it is clear the result would be much the same as is obtained by the method of co-option, because both of the official parties would be supporting the same candidate. On the other hand, the alternative is for by-elections to be fought on purely party lines, in which case we should have a revival of the activities of the party machine.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I must press, the right hon. Gentleman on this, because I think the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) is a sound one. Surely he is not asking us to believe that it is the considered view of the Government that there would have to be a legislative enactment to bring about the party system. If he is not, what is the purpose of his observations? Surely he is not suggesting that it is advisable by a statutory enactment to preserve the party truce.

Mr. Peake

I was not suggesting that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) has on the Order Paper a reasoned Amendment suggesting that local government by-elections might now be resumed, and I was pointing out, à propos that Amendment, that the con- sequences of it must be faced. Hon. Members who support it must make it clear, and it is their duty to make it clear, whether they suggest that these by-elections should be held with or without a party truce similar to that which is observed in filling vacancies in Parliament.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be better to give powers to have the by-elections, and then we shall decide how they are to be conducted?

Mr. Peake

To my mind, the arguments against the resumption of by-elections are very strong. I will not repeat them. They have been put forward in each of the Debates that we have had on this Bill since the war. I think that we are, to some extent, meeting the feeling which is in my hon. Friend's mind, by giving him the assurance that the preparation of an up-to-date local government register will be considered by the Conference on Electoral Reform, and no doubt the priority of it at the Conference will largely depend upon the views expressed by hon. Members in the two days' Debate upon electoral reform which is to take place early in the year. I should also like to inform hon. Members that the preparatory work in connection with the necessary legislation—for obviously legislation will be necessary—for the resumption of local government elections generally is being undertaken. It is clear, for example, that, having suspended local government elections for the last four years, everybody who sits on a local authority is a time-expired member of that body, and if we were to resume the system under which one-third of the local government bodies are elected annually, it is clear that new legislation will have to provide how that is to be achieved. The necessary legislation, which will be somewhat complicated, to enable local government elections to be resumed generally is being examined at the present time. We do not intend to be caught unprepared when peace comes, because we are as anxious as hon. Members in any part of the House that full democratic activities in relation to local government shall be resumed at the earliest practicable moment.

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

I have been requested by my hon. Friends with whom I am usually associated to say that we hope this will be the last time this Bill is presented to the House. It is with great reluctance that we consent to it on this occasion. I do not accept that the same things rule in elections in municipal affairs as in elections for Parliament. They are not always the same problems which arise. In State elections we are all concerned with the prosecution of the war. It would be a good thing if we had occasional municipal elections, if only to stimulate the preparations which are necessary for carrying forward the post-war policy about which most of us are very much concerned. The analogy of Scotland does not hold good, because some of us have elections only once in three years, and that makes a considerable difference. I gather that the question of local government registers will be given a high priority in the Speaker's Conference. I hope that we shall get an early decision and that the Government will give strong backing to the suggestion that it is high time we wiped out the two different registers. The old bogy about some people paying rates and others not has long since been exploded. If anything brings it home to us, it is the Rent Restrictions Acts and problems of tenants who do not understand why the rent has gone up when the rates have gone up and the landlord has to pay them. There should be no distinction in the registers.

I hope we may be assured that in 1945, at the latest, municipal elections will be restored. I want to emphasise that there is a strong opinion, which is not confined to only one side of the House, that this sort of thing has gone on too long. It is in line with many other things that the Government have drawn up. They delay instead of getting down to facing the things that really matter. They ought long since to have brought forward some solution of the problem. The people are living in the localities, they are paying their rates, and they have a right to express their views on any changes they may think necessary in local government. Elections would have a stimulating effect and would be one of the means of bringing pressure on the Government to be alert and quick moving in their post-war policies. They would result in local government being keyed up to carry forward the work of post-war reconstruction as and when opportunity arises.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

My right hon. Friend said that this is the fifth occasion during the war on which he has proposed this Measure. On each occasion I have opposed it, because it seems to me indefensible on the grounds which he brought forward. At a time when by-elections for Parliament are taking place over large areas of a county, it ought to be possible to hold by-elections for local authorities covering a small part of one town. The only ground my right hon. Friend could bring forward was that it was done in the last war and that whatever was done in the last war must be a right thing for this war. That was his final and overwhelming argument, and I cannot see that there is anything in it. He is in a somewhat different position to-day, because he is able to trot out the new register which is being arranged for Parliamentary elections, whereas in the past there was a very out-of-date register which was being used for the purpose of Parliamentary elections, which, he now says, is unsuitable for local elections.

I very much hope that we shall decide to have one register only in future. I cannot see any reason against it. Everyone who lives in a town has the same interest in the good government of that town. My right hon. Friend has made reference to the intensive work in the preparation of the necessary legislation for holding local elections but I should like him to go a little farther and say when it is proposed to introduce that legislation. Will it be during the present Session because we do not want a state of affairs to arise when the war having suddenly ended it would not be possible to hold any local elections for many months afterwards. I have put down an Amendment in Committee to postpone the operation of this Bill for six months only. That ought to be sufficient time to enable the Government to pass the necessary legislation and to make use of the new Register that is being prepared. As the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) said, nothing could have a more stimulating effect on local government affairs than the holding of local elections. People are thinking about the world after the war and what will be done locally. On all sorts of local issues people are feeling keenly and they no longer want to be deprived of the opportunity of governing themselves in a democratic way. I agree that earlier in the war when there was intensive bombing there was a case for this Bill or a case for giving the Minister power to abolish elections in certain scheduled areas as he might determine from time to time but throughout the course of the war I have seen no reason why in certain areas it should not have been possible to carry on local elections, certainly local by-elections in view of the fact that Parliamentary by-elections have been held, if not always with satisfaction to the Government with satisfaction to the electors who like an opportunity of expressing their views.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which unnecessarily deprives the citizens of the opportunity to fill casual vacancies on local councils—

Mr. Speaker

I did not call upon the hon. Member to move his Amendment.

Mr. Lipson

I beg pardon, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, described it as a hardy annual, and that is exactly my complaint about it. He said this was the fifth time it had been introduced. Objection has been taken to the Bill on previous occasions, and last year in particular we were promised by the Home Secretary that consideration would be given to the representations that we made, and we did hope that this year we should not be asked to renew an existing Act but would be given an amending Bill, and in particular one amended in the way that has already been indicated to enable electors to fill casual vacancies in by-elections as they have been allowed to do in Parliament. Then we get those reasons for the renewal of this existing Bill, and that represents the measure of our disappointment. It may be that those who have pressed for this Amendment have hitherto been a minority in the House, but it is, I venture to suggest, a growing minority. Democracy works in this country because respect is paid to the minority view, and we feel that in once again introducing the same Bill and using the same arguments reasonable consideration has not been given to the views of the minority. Therefore I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to give us some more firm undertaking about the filling of casual vacancies.

In effect this Bill is another nail in the coffin of local government in this country. There is nothing which is so effective in maintaining interest in local government as elections. Elections are not only occasions for controversy about local government; they are opportunities for education, and that has been denied to the people ever since the war broke out. The argument adduced by my right hon. Friend is that the register is out of date. But so is the Parliamentary register, and that has never been given as a reason why casual vacancies in this House should not be filled by elections. The argument is frequently used that this House, originally elected in 1935, does not represent the England of 1943. How much more force would that argument have if all the vacancies that had taken place here since the war broke out had been filled by the co-option of Members. I submit that an election on an out-of-date register is better than the system of co-option as it is practised at present.

My right hon. Friend must be aware that local authorities are very suspicious about the intentions of the Government with regard to their future, and in particular they are suspicious of my right hon. Friend's Ministry. They remember that it was this Ministry which set up a regional organisation, and they believe that it is the intention of some members of the Government perhaps to retain that regional organisation, not for the period of the war only, but for the peace, and to replace perhaps some of our local government organisation. They have seen the Ministry of my right hon. Friend deprive local authorities of their powers with regard to the fire service, not only for the war, but possibly for after the war. They see other Government Departments nibbling at the powers of local authorities. The Ministry of Agriculture propose to deprive them of a great many of their powers with regard to milk. The Ministry of Transport are proposing to take over more of the roads. The White Paper on education contains a proposal to take away the powers of Part III authorities. All these factors have produced a feeling of suspicion with regard to the Government's intentions. On top of that is the Government's policy not to have municipal elections even for casual vacancies. The result is that the apathy of the electorate towards municipal government is growing. Many of them are coming to be under the impression that it is not possible to hold elections for local councils and that the power which has existed for so long of councils electing councillors themselves is to be theirs always. In another way that will be weakening the interests of the ratepayers in municipal councils, and therefore it will be easier for the Government to proceed with the policy of which they are suspected. Therefore for the Government again to ask us to agree to the suspension of elections for the filling of casual vacancies is a most unsatisfactory procedure.

My right hon. Friend should not think that the system of co-option works satisfactorily. The candidates put forward when there is popular election and the candidates put forward when it is known that the nominee of a particular party will get in anyhow without a contest are of a very different kind. Does not my right hon. Friend think that the municipal electors of this country will abuse this thing? Every time there is a vacancy on a local council they will not necessarily force an election, but they may have the right, if a nominee of the party is undesirable, to put forward somebody whom they think better and in that way their interests will be secured. It may seem that I have some prejudice against party caucuses, whether of the Right or the Left, but, unsatisfactory as our registers may be, I think that you will produce a better elected representative of the people in municipal government if the machinery is used than if it is left to a small body of men in the back room of a pub or a club to decide who shall be the new councillor.

Therefore, at a time when we are fighting for the democratic form of governmwent, let us see that we preserve it in local affairs, I believe that our local government is a bulwark of our Parliamentary government and that if anybody wanted to destroy Parliamentary government in this country he would first begin by destroying our municipal local government. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Government are doing a very great disservice to the cause for which we are fighting by coming forward year after year with a Measure of this kind and giving us reasons why we should not do it. If the Government were really concerned about the future of local government, they would be willing to take the steps which I have indicated. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to give us some firmer undertaking than he has done hitherto that action will be taken on the lines which I have suggested.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I should like to put my remarks into the form of a question. Have there been any complaints to the Home Office about the method of election when there has been a vacancy? I know that councils have a right to appoint someone and that it is understood the appointment shall follow party lines, but once or twice Independents have come out, and questions have been asked whether we are following the right method. Have any complaints been made to the Home Office to straighten matters out when there has been a difference on this point upon a local council?

I cannot agree altogether with my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I agree with this Measure, because I want to prevent in war-time the waste of energy and labour that would be needed to get ready for a municipal election. One can visualise freak candidates being put forward and all the paraphernalia which would be necessary to get ready for an election, as well as the fixing-up of polling booths and getting clerks and so on. This would cause consternation among the working people, who would think it was a waste of time and material when there was nothing much to show for it. There may be something to be said about the democratic principle not being followed, but we must have in mind at this time the greatest good for the greatest number, and that is achieved by conserving the labour that would otherwise be required to carry on elections.

It may be that men who now get elected would have difficulty in winning a contest, but the time involved in conducting the election and other considerations make me come to the conclusion, that, for the time being, of the two evils we are now choosing the lesser by not having elections. That is why I have pledged myself all along. I do not want the country to think that in a time of war and of our greatest stress we were proposing to saddle ourselves and various parts of the country with all that time and labour. I think there are 1,700 municipalities. Imagine, if a quarter of them only were to poll, what time would be required. The elections would have to be carried out properly and not patched up. It is on those lines that I am willing to accept the Bill until the war is finished. I do not want us to relax now because the war is near the end, but I want us to keep full steam up until the end and until we have got victory.

When the time comes to give the vote we need not fear that our people will not realise what has happened during the war period and will not know how to vote. As I go around among the people I know they are all waiting for the opportunity and that they will know how to vote when the time comes. I say to the Government, "Carry on as you are doing until the war is finished. I think you are saving more labour by this method." Wherever I go I hear no complaints about this method being adopted, and therefore until there is some big feeling in the country against it Parliament would be badly advised to make any change.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

This question has raised very important issues indeed. I would like first of all to dissociate myself entirely from what was said by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and to associate myself with the very excellent remarks made by my hon. Friend who sits on the Bench beside me. I am sorry about the hon. Member for Leigh, because we are always very friendly, but I wish to express very strongly my dissociation from him.

Mr. Tinker

That is what Parliament is for.

Earl Winterton

Exactly. The hon. Member is really stressing my argument. It is what Parliament is for, and it is what municipal authorities are for. They do not exist merely to elect a lot of elderly gentlemen, but it is their job to have the best possible people to administer the local authorities in the best possible way. When the hon. Member contends, as he is entitled to do, that if this Bill were not brought in the machinery of local government would be upset, I can agree with him, but what a travesty of the whole proceedings! Here we are, only a handful of people in the House, proposing, for the fourth year in succession, to abolish the democratic principle in local government. Let us be fair. What was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman? The first part was sensible enough. He thought it was difficult to do this without impeding the war effort. He then went on to say that the great advantage of it, because we were all in favour of the party truce and—

Mr. Peake

I did not say anything of the kind. If the Noble Lord misrepresents me, he must allow me to interject. I said those who advocated the restoration of local government by-elections must tell us whether they wished those by-elections to be a complete farce by the operation of the party truce and agreement among the candidates or whether they wished the by-elections to be fought on party lines.

Earl Winterton

I have never heard a more ridiculous argument from any Minister, or a more ignorant one. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to say that all local government elections in England are conducted on party principles? In the South of England we have no party principles in local elections. We have very keen contests between sets of people who have different views on questions such as housing, but party principle only comes into these elections in certain parts of the country. Why should hon. Members be asked to say whether they are in favour of a continuance of the electoral truce? What has it to do with democratic government? Let us clear our minds of cant about this electoral truce. What has happened in recent elections? A candidate has been nominated, two or three independants have also stood, and then one party has announced that it is taking no part in the election. Does my right hon. Friend really think there is an electoral truce? Then how do independents, how do members of the Common Wealth Party come to be elected? What exists is not an electoral truce. There is an extremely powerful Prime Minister at the head of a Government which, on the whole, gives satisfaction to the country, and is in the process of winning the war. It has nothing to do with an electoral truce and the suggestion that we should not have local government elections because of some alleged electoral truce seems to be the height of absurdity.

However, I am prepared to support the Government. The real reason for the Bill, of course, is the difficulty about machinery. My right hon. Friend truly said you have not the machinery and that elections would be a serious drag upon the available man power. But I want, at the same time, to join with my hon. Friend on this side in the hope that this will be the last time a Measure of this kind will be brought in, and I must warn my right hon. Friend that if such a Measure is brought in again, many of us in more than one part of the House will take every action to prevent it being passed. I am going to tell my right hon. Friend something. He is far too complacent. He might have told us that in the case of many of these local authorities, a lot of old gentlemen who ought to have retired long ago, elect other old gentlemen to fill vacancies irrespective of the controversies about which the inhabitants of the district are concerned and you get instances of people who are very keen on certain questions and who do not get elected. It is an abuse and negation of the whole principle of democratic government. I hope that the Under-Secretary for Scotland when he replies will assure us that the Government intend to consider at the end of this year the whole question of whether it is possible to hold these elections and I hope that unlike my right hon. Friend he will not take the view that it is a good state of affairs that there should be this so-called truce.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I wish to say how much I sympathise with the notion that casual vacancies should be filled by election and not co-option. I do not share the view of the hon. Member opposite about sinister intentions on the part of the Government in this Measure, or on the part of my right hon. Friend's Department. I am sure they have no sinister designs against local government. Indeed, how should they? Democracy in this country is broad based upon local government—this House comes next—and that is why certain remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) rather surprised me. The Labour movement owes its rise to any sort of power it has ever had in this country, first to its insistence upon the representation of working-class interests on local authorities, and then to the example which it has shown of its capacity to administer, when it obtains power on local authorities. No one, I think, can entertain any suspicion of sinister designs against local government.

Mr. Tinker

Did I say anything different? Labour should have its turn and so should the other side. What I said was that I did not want elections to be fought during war time, on account of the controversy which would be caused.

Mr. Silverman

I never thought that my hon. Friend had any designs against local government either, but I think his enthusiasm for concentration on the war effort misled him. You cannot have local government, you cannot have democratic government, without elections. It is all very well to talk about an electoral truce. There is no truce and there will be no truce in the clash of ideas as long as there is any life in civilisation. You may agree to suspend for immediate purposes and for limited periods elections in general. We did that in this House, and we prolonged our own mandate for three years beyond its legal limit, but we never went so far, thank goodness we did not, as to say that our own casual vacancies should be filled by co-option. Where should we have been if we had? What would have been left of the democratic spirit had there been no election at all between 1939 and whenever the war may end? That is why I would like to press, as other Members have done, for an assurance, if the hon. Member is able to give one, that we shall not again be asked to pass a Bill of this kind, whether or not the war ends.

We hear a lot of talk about planning and that kind of thing. One is sometimes led to wonder what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the war shall not come to an end before their plans are ready. Listening to some people talk one is inclined to say "Thank God for Japan." I hope that in this matter, which is all we are concerned with at the moment, the Government will realise that a generation is growing up in whom the tradition of local government and the contest in local government is disappearing, and if we do destroy people's interest in local government we might just as well end our claims to leadership in the democratic field. I do not like co-option for casual vacancies. I have no interest in the matter. All my party interests are the other way. In Nelson, out of a council of 32, 29 are Labour. I have no party axe to grind in saying that vacancies should not be filled by co-option. If we are not to get an assurance that this Bill will not be presented again next year, I think I should be prepared to support the hon. Gentleman opposite in opposing it altogether, but I hope we may get some assurance of that kind.

Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)

I do not want to detain the House for more than a minute, but I would like to say that I feel the time has come when we ought to get an assurance from the Government that as soon as possible this state of affairs will be brought to an end. I know of cases where co-option of members to local authorities has given rise to very serious dissatisfaction locally, and by no means always has the rule been observed that persons of particular parties shall be nominated according to the arrangement which has been come to. Indeed I brought a certain case on this very matter a year or two back to the Home Secretary, a case which was the cause of considerable local dissatisfaction. Apart from that the whole principle of nomination in this way is wrong and undermines the democratic principle. I admit it must be done just now, at least up to now. I do not suppose there is the staff there, the machinery and so on for local elections. Therefore this is the second best. All I can say is that as this matter has come before the House now I think it is the duty of Members to say we expect the Government at the very first opportunity to put the matter right and re-establish democratic elections in our local government.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

It is quite clear from the Debate that there is common ground in this House in the desire for the restoration of local elections. I believe it is absolutely essential so soon as it is practical and possible to restore these elections, keeping in mind that we are at war just now and can give no guarantee as to what will take place between now and 12 months hence. I cannot prophesy what the position will be so far as the war is concerned, but there is no Member in this House who has a keener desire and a keener interest in the restoration of local elections, particularly in view of the fact that I believe I can claim without any hesitation to have an almost unrivalled experience in connection with local elections, starting about 34 years ago, and, I think, fighting more elections than almost anybody else in this House. I know that local elections are the very foundation on which our democratic system is built. As my right hon. Friend said in introducing the Bill, there is a keen desire to bring about, as soon as possible, the restoration of local elections. It is not correct to suggest that we are trying to abolish the rights of electors. It is true that this is the fifth time we have had to defend this Bill. I have had to defend many things at this Box, when I would have preferred to be on the other side, because I want progress; but we have to be practical and face the realities. That is all I am asking Members to do to-day. The new register will involve a lot of complications, but we are going into the complications. We are trying to be ready for the introduction of a Bill, because we shall have to deal with many complications which have been thrown up in the last four years. We are looking ahead. With regard to the filling of casual vacancies, I must say frankly, from our experience in Scotland, that I am not satisfied with the manner in which some of these vacancies have been filled; but that is one of the penalties we pay for our democratic system. We have to take the bad along with the good. An hon. Member asked whether there had been any complaints. I understand that in England there have been very few. In such cases advice has been tendered by the Home Office sometimes.

Mr. Silverman

Such advice has not always been taken.

Mr. Westwood

I am coming to that. In Scotland we have had four complaints. The advice which has been given has not always been accepted. We have sent out circulars and approached these local authorities, and in two cases they have promised that they will not make the same mistake again. We must remember the number of casual vacancies which are being filled. So far as a great number of local authorities in Scotland are concerned, there is no provision in any Act of Parliament for filling casual vacancies by by-elections: they have their powers from local Acts; so there is a problem there which would not arise under English law. I admit that there has not always been that honest attempt on the part of local representatives who have to fill the vacancies to give effect to the promises given in this House, and to the efforts made by this House and the Departments to give effect to the truce which applies. With these explanations, I trust the House will let us get this Bill unanimously. There was once a division on a similar proposal to this in connection with a similar Bill, and the Bill was carried by 220 votes to nil, nobody except the tellers going into the Lobby against it.

Mr. Silverman

When was that?

Mr. Westwood

Two years ago. I hope that if there is a division now we shall have a similar result. But, to avoid that necessity, I would say that we shall do what we can, and we hope that the necessity will not arise for us to introduce such a Bill 12 months hence. We would prefer to be in a position before then of introducing a Bill dealing with the general problem as far as local elections are concerned, and with this explanation I hope unanimously to obtain the passing of the Second Reading of this Bill.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Committee upon the next Sitting Day.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.