HC Deb 16 March 1943 vol 387 cc1003-10

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County of Chester (Eddisbury Division), in the room of Richard John Russell, Esquire, deceased."—[Mr. Beechman.]

Sir Richard Acland

I rise to oppose this Motion. I am aware that such a Motion has never been opposed before but, so far as I can find out, there has never before been any reason to oppose it. There is a reason now. I oppose this Writ on the ground that the Register in Eddisbury, as in all other constituencies, is not in a fit condition to have a by-election contested on that Register. I should be happy if you, Sir, would allow me, in place of a straight negative, to move an Amendment providing that this Writ shall be moved on this day one month, so that in the intervening period the Government may take such steps as can be taken to bring that Register into such a condition that the electorate can record their votes in an orderly and proper manner, and that all citizens over the age of 21 who have lived in the Division for six months, and those now serving in the Armed Forces who live in that area and are now stationed in this country, can vote.

At the beginning of this war the major political parties patched up a political truce. I never agreed with that truce. I thought it a typically silly, panicky war measure, taken by people who did not understand that when you are fighting for democracy it is best to give democracy its head, because it pays a dividend in the war effort to do so. However, in the first two years I had to confess that the various by-election results showed that the overwhelming mass of the people of this country did not share my view. It was quite clear when independent candidates of one sort or another presented themselves at various by-elections that the people of this country took an absolutely contemptuous view of their efforts. About a year ago things began to change, although at that time people were saying that the war was going badly and that that was the reason for the success of independent candidates. Now things are very different. It is perfectly clear from recent by-elections that the people have rejected the truce which the parties patched up between themselves. For that reason, I address to the Government an appeal to reason. Will they provide that the people shall have a proper opportunity of voting?

I confess that people who agree with me politically are not altogether disinterested in this matter, but I am sure that if members of the Government are fair-minded men, they will not desire to preserve an arrangement which does not give the electorate an opportunity of indicating its choice. We are interested because it is the young and the members of the Forces and those who by their very nature have to be moved here and there because they are important people and are wanted in different places, who cannot vote, because the Register is out of date. It is those who have been mentally and physically dead for at least three years who stay in one place, and thus can vote. Consequently, the results of these by-elections are distorted, to the disadvantage of our candidates and to the advantage of candidates belonging to other parties. But suppose we leave that out of account. Do we in this matter consider the rights of individual citizens, or do we regard those citizens as so much vote-fodder? If you regard them as vote-fodder, yon can say, "The Register is three years out of date, but what does it matter? Some can vote. That is good enough for us." If you look upon this as a matter of individual rights, you must give the people the opportunity to vote.

I will not go into detail about how it may be done, but if you can register people for chocolates, if you can register them for fire-watching, you can certainly register them for democracy—not all over the country, but in the constituencies as by-elections come up. There are scores of ways of doing it. You can give people a chance to register right up to polling day. Your A.R.P. service, which is standing there, has all the information to draw up a Register for you in one week. This can easily be clone if the Government have a mind to do it. I ask the Government the straight question: Have you the mind to do it or not? I do not ask detailed questions now. If anybody, on behalf of the Government, would say that they would like to discuss this matter seriously, with a view to putting it right, my opposition would be immediately withdrawn, and this by-election could proceed without opposition on my part on the old basis, however unsatisfactory that basis may be. I simply want to know whether the Government are going to treat the matter seriously or not, or whether we are to go on with this farce.

Mr. Speaker

Do I understand that the hon. Member wants to move an Amendment?

Sir R. Acland

If you would allow me to move an Amendment, I should be glad to do so.

Mr. Speaker

The appropriate Amendment would be, in line 1, after "do," to insert "not before the 16th April."

Sir R. Acland

I beg to move, in line 1, after "do," to insert "not before the 16th April."

Mr. McGovern

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am happy to do so, because I believe that democracy is not functioning in a proper manner in this country and that there is a conspiracy on the part of the three major political parties to prevent democracy expressing its will.

Mr. A. Bevan

Are we having any guidance from the Government on this matter?

Mr. Shinwell

I do not lend myself to what has been said about conspiracies and the like, but a valid point has been put to the Government. If there is any objection to the Register, obviously that is a matter of substance; and surely the Government would wish to give a reply?

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

We have had no notice that this matter was to be raised. It is obviously extremely inconvenient to have it raised in this manner, without due notice. The hon. Member knows that there has been a report on the whole question of the Register, which is now under consideration by the Government. I cannot take the matter any further than that.

Mr. Shinwell

May I make a suggestion I hope a quite helpful suggestion—to the Government? My right hon. Friend is quite right. He has received no notice and is obviously at a disadvantage. Can this question of a Writ be postponed until the next Sitting Day, so that the Government may look into the matter and give an answer?

Mr. Bevan

Writs have been delayed for the convenience of the party machine. Is it, therefore, improper to ask for a slight delay for the House of Commons and the Government to consider this matter? There have been instances. There was an instance a little while ago where a Writ was abominably delayed in order that a certain person could sit in this House. It is therefore quite reasonable that we should now ask the Government to withdraw their Motion until the next or the following Sitting Day, until they have had a chance of making a reasoned reply to the Amendment which has been moved or of accepting the Amendment. This is certainly the only opportunity an hon. Member could have of raising this matter in the exercise of his just rights in the House, and I think the Government would be meeting the wishes of the country as a whole if they gave the matter their serious consideration.

Mr. Attlee

In reply to that question, obviously the hon. Member is wrong in thinking that this matter of the Register could not be raised, because it has been raised before. As I understand, there is no particular point with regard to the Eddisbury seat. The matter might have been raised in reference to any by-election, and it clearly would be wrong to refuse to grant this Writ, because it is a matter in which you cannot go into in one day and get it fully answered. I have explained to the House already that the matter has been reported upon by a Committee and that their findings are having the consideration of the Government. As this matter is being looked at, it is quite wrong to withhold the Writ when all arrangements have been made, and there is really no purpose in withholding it.

Mr. Stephen

The answer of the Deputy-Prime Minister is very unsatisfactory. The whole position will be left absolutely indefinite by his vague reference to the report of this Committee. Could not the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that a definite statement will be made by the Government on this matter? Members everywhere are certainly concerned about the way in which this out-of-date Register is getting worse and worse. Younger people are being denied their democratic right of coming on to the register, and the Deputy-Prime Minister could surely give us a more definite answer than that which he has given us at the present time and say that a statement will be made by the Government, possibly within the next fortnight, and then Members would have some assurance that the Government are really going to deal with this matter and are fully seized of its importance.

Mr. Stokes

If the Deputy-Prime Minister is going to reply again, may I put this point to him and to the House? It is some months ago now since the Committee examining the problem reported to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Since that time the Secretary of State, repeatedly pressed in this House to say what has been done about it, keeps putting us off and saying that the matter has been considered, which is the Government way of never coming to a decision. It seems entirely unsatisfactory that when a specific point is put on a specific Register we should have an unsatisfactory reply. For my part, if my hon. Friend decides to divide the House on this occasion, I shall certainly support him.

Sir R. Acland

The Deputy-Prime Minister complains of having had no notice. More than a year ago I pointed out to the House, although no one took any notice at the time, that I opposed the whole policy of the Government, and is the Opposition expected to give notice of everything it intends to do everyday? It is asked why I did not bring the matter up sooner. It is for the very good reason that this is the first occasion on which I can say with complete confidence that we have proof that the people are behind us.

Mr. Speaker

I would remind the hon. Member that he is not allowed to speak twice.

Mr. Shinwell

May I put another question? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is only a question. I have not addressed the House, and I merely wish to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the House does not want to divide on this matter and does not want to cause any embarrassment to the Government on an issue of this kind. Is there any serious difficulty in postponing this matter so that the Government may look at it, give a considered reply to the House and no doubt satisfy everybody?

Mr. Attlee

I thought that I had already replied to that question. There is no great difficulty, obviously, in withholding the Writ for another day, but there is no point whatever in it. In reply to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), I would say that the reply has been given quite definitely that a statement will be made when the Government have examined this report, but the House will realise that the Government have some other matters that have to be considered beside this one.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Can we be told how much money will be involved and what waste in literature there will be if this proposal is agreed to?

Mr. Bevan

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the unfortunate effect on the reputation of Parliament if the Government defend their majority by denying to the people the right of voting?

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

Division No. 8. AYES.
Bevan, A. Horabin, T. L. Stephen, C.
Bowles, F. G. McGovern, J. Wilson, C. H.
Cocks, F. S. Maxton, J.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Granville, E. L. Shinwell, E. Sir Richard Acland and Mr. Stokes.
Adams, D. (Consett) Gridley, Sir A. B. Rickards, G. W.
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Ridley, G.
Albery, Sir Irving Grigg, Rt. Hon. Sir P. J. (Cardiff, E.) Rothschild, J. A. de
Ammon, C. G. Grimston, R. V. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A. Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Heilgers, Major F. F. A. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N. E.) Schuster, Sir G. E.
Barnes, A. J. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Selley, H. R.
Baxter, A. Beverley Hewlett, T. H. Sexton, T. M.
Beamish, Roar-Admiral T. P. Hill, Prof. A. V. Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)
Beattie, F. (Cathcart) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Shute, Col. Sir J. J.
Beaumont, Maj. Hn. R. E. B. (P'tsm'h) Hopkinson, A. Simmonds, O. E.
Beechman, N. A. Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Beit, Sir A. L. Howitt, Dr. A. B. Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Bennett, Sir P. F. B. (Edgbaston) Hume, Sir G. H. Smithers, Sir W.
Blair, Sir R. Hurd, Sir P. A. Snadden, W. McN.
Boothby, R. J. G. James, Admiral Sir W. (Ports'th, N.) Southby, Comdr. Sir A. R. J.
Bossom, A. C. Jewson, P. W. Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Boulton, W. W. John, W. Storey, S.
Bower, Norman (Harrow) Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. (St'l'g & C'km'n) Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray & Nairn)
Bracken, Rt. Hon. B. Jones, L. (Swansea, W.) Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Keir, Mrs. Cazalet Sutcliffe, H.
Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R. Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Tate, Mavis C.
Brooke, H. (Lewisham) Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's.) Taylor, Major C. S. (Eastbourne)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'd'ton, S.)
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Lawson, J. J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Burden, T. W. Leonard, W. Thomas, I. (Keighley)
Burton, Col. H. W. Levy, T. Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)
Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley) Lloyd, G. W. (Ladywood) Thorne, W.
Cary, R. A. Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Thorneycroft, Major G. E. P. (Stafford)
Castlereagh, Viscount Loftus, P. C. Tomlinson, G.
Churchill, Rt. Hn. Winston S. (Epping) Lucas, Major Sir J. M. Touche, G. C.
Cobb, Captain E. C. Lyle, Sir C. E. Leonard Tufnell, Lieut.-Comr, R. L.
Colegate, W. A. Lyons, Major A. M. Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Colman, N. C. D. McCallum, Major D. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) McCorquodale, Malcolm S. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Daggar, G. Macdonald, Captain Peter (I. of W.) Waterhouse, Capt. C.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Mack, J. D. Watkins, F. C.
Davison, Sir W. H. McNeil, H. Watson, W. McL.
De la Bère, R. Mathers, G. Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. H. (Richmond)
Danville, Alfred Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Dobbie, W. Molson, A. H. E. Wells, Sir S. Richard
Doland, G. F. Montague, F. White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)
Donner, Squadron-Leader P. W. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wilkinson, Ellen
Ede, J. C. Murray, J. D. (Spennymoor) Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham) Willink, H. U.
Edwards, Walter J. (Whitechapel) Palmer, G. E. H. Windsor, W.
Emmott, G. E. G. C. Peat, C. U. Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Perkins, W. R. D. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir K. (Woolwich, W.)
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Petherick, Major M. Wootton-Davies, J. H.
Foot, D. M Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. York, Major C.
Frankel, D. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Pilkington, Captain R. A. Woodburn, A.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Purbrick, R. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Galbraith, Comdr. T. D. Pym, L. R.
Gammans, Capt. L. D. Radford, E. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'broke) Raikes, Flight-Lieut. H. V. A. M. Mr. J. P. L. Thomas and
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Rankin, Sir R. Captain McEwen.
Grenfell, D. R. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)

Main Question, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve

The House divided: Ayes, 12; Noes, 178.

in this present Parliament for the County of Chester (Eddisbury Division), in the room of Richard John Russell, Esquire, deceased,"

put, and agreed to.