§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I do not think it would be an exaggeration if I were to describe this Bill as an important reconstruction Measure. Indeed, it is more than that. In one major respect at least it represents the culminating point in the series of electoral reforms which began with the great Reform Act of 1832. It extends the principle of universal adult suffrage for men and women alike to our local government elections, adding about 7,000,000 electors to the local government roll. It provides for the resumption of local elections. It improves the registration machinery. It further democratises the Parliamentary franchise. On each of these points it is important in relation to reconstruction. First, it introduces further improvements in the electoral machinery already provided for the forthcoming General Election. To the uninformed these changes might appear to be mere technicalities, but this is far from the case. It is, I suggest, incumbent on both the Government and Parliament to take every practicable step to make the General Election as representative as ever we can.
In a Parliamentary democracy a basic requirement is that Parliament should be vigorous, healthy and representative of popular opinion. It is from the electors themselves that the House of Commons derives its authority and vitality. The responsibility on the electors themselves is as heavy as at any time in our history. The electors must, therefore, be provided with the fullest facilities for securing a Parliament of the widest and most representative character, as reflecting the popular will and the general opinion of the nation. Parliament itself cannot be expected to be at its best unless it is elected and kept under intelligent observation by an informed, upright, lively electorate. The people, no less than Members of Parliament, perhaps even more than Members of Parliament, are essential to the 1647 success of our British democracy. The electors, too, must serve and give at an election, and not be content with demanding and taking advantages for themselves. There are dangers in cynicism and apathy. Perhaps this is particularly so at the end of a great war which has been so devastating in its impact on the life of the ordinary citizens as the present war has been, and the tendency to apathy has inevitably been accentuated by the long period which has passed since the last Parliamentary General Election and the last local government elections. Reforms of electoral machinery cannot do more than remove obstacles to the full and free expression of the will of the people, but that is not unimportant. It is, indeed, essential. However, in the last resort what matters is the intelligent interest of an informed electorate, and the quality of the political parties and the candidates put forward at Parliamentary and local government elections.
The second main purpose of the Bill is the provision for the resumption of our local government elections. Undoubtedly from the point of view of reconstruction the local authorities will be hardly less important that Parliament itself. The success of reconstruction policy in many fields will depend very largely upon the various classes of local authorities and upon the quality of local government administration. I have said, when I was more particularly identified with local government, and I still say it standing here as a Minister of the Crown, that local government, as a whole, is not a bit less important than Parliamentary government in relation to the domestic well-being of our people. The suspension of the local government elections has gone even further than in the case of the Parliamentary elections, because in the case of the local government elections casual vacancies have been legally filled by co-option on the part of the authorities themselves. Like the House of Commons, the local authorities, therefore, need to be refreshed and reinvigorated by new mandates from the electorate, and the Government have decided that though the war is not yet over it is an essential preliminary step in reconstruction to fix now the dates when the local elections shall be resumed.
A third aspect of the Bill is that it makes some permanent reforms in our 1648 electoral system on lines recommended by Mr. Speaker's Conference. It does not, however, set out to be comprehensive in this respect. Time did not permit of us dealing in this Bill with all the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference. The more urgent matters, and particularly the resumption of the local elections and the provisions relating to the electoral register, could not be held up while complicated legislation to give effect to the miscellaneous recommendations of the Speaker's Conference was being prepared, and, as I have announced, the Government, in accordance with the suggestion of the Conference itself, has referred some of the points raised for further examination by a Departmental Committee which is being presided over by Sir Cecil Carr, Mr. Speaker's Counsel.
More concretely, the three objects of the Bill, as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, are these: (1), to provide for the assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government franchises; (2), to enable local government elections to be resumed; (3) to provide for the publication of registers of electors at certain fixed dates. It is true that the Bill ranges over a wider field than this, but most of the other provisions are consequential on these three main purposes.
I confess that this has been an exceedingly difficult Bill to draft. If hon. Members have had a good deal of trouble in understanding some of its Clauses I sympathise with them, and I would say by way of comfort that to superintend the drafting of the Bill has given me more headaches than hon. Members will get from the reading of it. I have had a good deal of experience of drafting Parliamentary Bills, and this is one of the toughest I have ever handled. Indeed, I think the drafting of a Bill for the complete socialisation of a great industry would be a much more simple affair; but that does not come within the purview of the Home Office at the moment. It has been a difficult Bill to draft and it is a difficult Bill to follow in its details, but we have done the best we can. It will not be too easy to expound without giving too much detail but with the good will of the House I will do my best to explain its provisions.
The first feature to which I draw attention is the proposal to assimilate the Parliamentary and the local government fran- 1649 chises. This follows a unanimous recommendation of the Speaker's Conference and, subject to one modification, effect is being given to that recommendation. There is, at present, a distinction between the Parliamentary and the local government franchise, with the result that there is a theoretical property qualification in respect of the local government franchise, though it is of a very small order, and there is a good deal of evasion. I think it was common sense that the Speaker's Conference should declare that, having regard to the experience of Parliamentary universal suffrage, we could now move forward to complete, universal, man and woman suffrage in local government elections as well. The distinction between the two franchises had become a little unreal and increasingly difficult to defend, and the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference and provision is made accordingly in the Bill.
But we came to a point which, perhaps because it was not thought of, was apparently passed over in the Speaker's Conference. In Scotland there are two bodies of ratepayers, payers of owners' rates and payers of occupiers' rates, who both have the local government vote. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will be available to the House for these Scottish matters, having a good Scottish conscience, felt that he could not take the money of these people as ratepayers and then say that they could not vote in the elections for the local authorities, and frankly I do not think there is any answer to that point. The same point arises in England and Wales, but not quite so vigorously as in Scotland, because here only the occupier of property in more than one place has a right to vote, and, this being a Bill which bases the local government franchise on the Parliamentary franchise, which broadly speaking ensures that if a person has the Parliamentary vote he has the local government vote, we have added a provision whereby the ratepayer qua ratepayer shall have the local government vote on a separate and additional qualification. We think that that is fair and just and, coupled with the assimilation of the franchise, is not a bad arrangement for Parliament to approve. In answer to the interjection by an hon. Member opposite, the spouse in these 1650 cases will not vote. The voter will be the person who is the ratepayer.
I come now to the resumption of the local government elections. We feel that the earliest practicable date should be chosen in each case. Many towns have been damaged pretty badly. That is particularly true of London but it is also true of many places in the provinces. It is not going to be easy to get the local government elections going again and the councillors representing some wards will not have many electors to represent. We propose that the elections for county boroughs and non-county borough councils shall take place in November, 1945.
§ Mr. Morrison
It would be competent for the House to consider the point in Committee and it may well be raised. There is a great deal of opinion which would favour Spring elections but there is also a good deal of opinion against it. I have had considerable experience of London municipal elections. I know that November sounds a bad month, but it is only the polling day that falls in November: all the rest is in October, and I myself would not be disposed to alter the date. If you have the elections in the Spring there are many attractions other than electioneering, and that is a point which has to be considered. However we can discuss it in Committee and see what the general opinion is. It is proposed that county, district and parish council elections shall be held in the Spring of 1946. We could not have started them in the Spring of 1945. The legal date for county council elections will be 8th March, though that may not be the actual date, and for district and parish council elections 15th April. A point arises as to casual vacancies occurring before these dates, and it is proposed to meet it in this way. If a casual vacancy occurs more than six months before the date for the election proper, it will be filled by co-option for that limited period. If it occurs within six months of the election the existing law will apply. That is to say, the vacancy will only be filled if the number of unfilled vacancies exceeds one-third of the Councillors. In this case the difference in 1651 order to make up the two-thirds will be filled by co-option.
The next point which may be controversial in a mild way—I do not think there is anything wildly controversial about the Bill; I hope not—is how the councillors should retire. In the case of County Councils in Scotland as well as in England and Wales, of Metropolitan Borough Councils and of certain district Councils, no difficulty arises because it has been the practice that all the councillors retire triennially. A difficult problem, however, arises in the case of provincial borough councils and most district councils where the system has been that a third retire each year. If the annual thirds principle were rigidly applied, broadly speaking all the councillors would have been in office nine years by the time the election comes instead of three, and there is a case for arguing that there should be a general election for all of them over the whole field. On the other hand my impression of provincial municipal affairs, which is fortified by the views of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils Association—as I understand them—is that the principle of the third retiring is one to which the municipalities have become accustomed and to which they attach importance. It avoids sweeping changes, it serves to warn the majority if it is going wrong in the opinion of the electorate, and—to give a defence of a lower order for the system—it is a good thing to keep the party machine oiled once a year. But the principal argument is continuity in order to prevent violent and sudden changes. London has followed a different system and far be it from me to say that the great bulk of London authorities have not done well under their present system. We considered this and we looked at the other side of the problem which is the co-opted element. The Government felt, and I think the House will feel, that co-option was a necessity, but that it was not desirable, and it ought to go as soon as possible. Therefore, whilst making no reflection on the character and the integrity of co-optees, we think that they should be sent to the hustings as soon as possible, and the principle of the Bill is that all the co-optees shall retire at the first election. I do not know exactly what proportion of the councillors will be sent to the poll, 1652 but I have taken a spot check over a considerable area and I should say that it ranges between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent., so that it is probable that round about half of the Councillors will retire at the first election. I think this is a fair compromise. It upholds the principle of the third retiring and it does not infringe the principle that co-option should not continue for a moment longer than necessary.
§ Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I understand my right hon. Friend is referring to those elected in 1936. Does it also apply to those elected in that year for only one or two years who were again elected in 1937 or 1938? Will they also have to retire?
§ Mr. Morrison
That will solve itself. The third who must retire are the third who have been in the longest, that is those elected in 1936. Those elected in 1937 will retire in the next year.
§ Mr. Morrison
They will step into the shoes of the persons whose place they took. But this will not apply to the co-optee. He will be required to retire anyway. In the case of the borough elections the principle of the third retiring will be operated in the ordinary way. As to aldermen, things will proceed as before, a half retiring I think in 1945, and a further half three years thereafter. As regards councillors there were three possible courses, only a third retiring including co-optees, one-third plus the co-optees, or the whole Council. We have chosen the second course, a third retiring plus all the co-optees. There are certain Scottish Clauses, and if any points arise on them they will be dealt with by the representative of the Scottish Office Clauses 9 and 10 provide for resumption in Scotland as follows—Town Councils on the 6th November, 1945, County and District Councils on the 4th December, 1945. In the case of the Town Councils retirements will be dealt with on the same principle as in England and Wales. In the case of county and district councils the practice has been and will continue to be that the whole council will retire.
The Bill provides for the special position of aldermen and councillors who were elected before the war or may have been 1653 co-opted since, who have been ordered away from their local authority areas by the Minister of Labour or have been called up for military service or have otherwise gone away on national service.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, if they were councillors. We treat them all equally. These persons will probably have lost their qualification to stand for election next time, and we take the view that in the case of existing aldermen and councillors it will be right to preserve their qualification for the next election only. There is also a special provision for the ancient city of London, which has had more than its fair share of air raid damage. There is a persistent democracy about the set-up of London's civic affairs. I am not talking about democracy in any other sense than formal democracy. The City is almost as democratic as the Miners' Federation with its annual election of officers. The whole of the Common Council retires every twelve months—on St. Thomas's Day. No other local authority in the country has this arrangement.
As regards the Chartist principle of annual elections, the City of London had got going before the Chartist Movement was born. This meticulous formal democracy runs right through the organisation of the ancient Corporation. The number of common councillors is extraordinarily large for the area—I think 250. The wards are therefore very small, and I suspect that at present quite a number of them do not exist at all. We propose that the election of common councillors shall be postponed for a further year and shall take place on St. Thomas's Day, 1946, when we hope that some of the electors will have returned.
I come now to the register. The Bill provides for the publication of an annual register in respect of local government elections on October 15th. The qualifying date for that October 15th register will be June 30th. The Speaker's Conference recommended that parliamentary and local government elections should be held on the same register, but clearly that Conference did not contemplate a fresh ad hoc register for any casual election that might arise. We must, therefore, have a 1654 standing local government register of some sort, and in due course a standing Parliamentary register for by-elections it we can get it. Therefore, a register for local govenment elections must have a fixed period of validity and the annual register will serve for all local government elections. The publication will be on 15th October and the elections will run on in November, March and April, and the register will operate until the next annual register is published. Having regard to the recommendations of the Conference and to the desirability of using the annual register for Parliamentary elections so far as practicable, the Bill also provides for this register to be used for all Parliamentary elections initiated between 9th September, that is to say, 36 days before 15th October, which has a relationship to a provision in the Act of 1943, and 31st December of any year.
Parliamentary elections initiated between 1st January and 9th September still have to be on the register compiled under the 1943 Act. Later on it may be that we can get a regular system running through the year, but I am afraid that that is the best we can do at the present. However, there will be a special register next year. The register which we hope to publish on 7th May will be published in view of a possible Parliamentary General Election, but the date must not be taken as any official pronouncement on the part of His Majesty's Government as to when the Parliamentary General Election will take place. Hitler, of course, will have something to do with that if he is still alive. It is impracticable under present printing conditions to publish a register for the whole country within the timetable allowed by the 1943 Act if it were required for a general election before 15th October. Therefore, we are publishing this special register, and the qualifying date for the 7th May register will be 31st January. This will serve for all Parliamentary elections initiated after 31st March.
§ Mr. De Chair (Norfolk, South West)
May we assume that no General Election is, therefore, possible before that date?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, that would be wrong. An election is possible, but it would have to be held under the machinery of the 1943 Act. It would, of course, be quite wrong if the official machinery for an election were such that we could not have an election. We always 1655 ought to be able to have one if it is required.
We have made provision for a later qualifying date instead of 31st January in respect of the Service register. Clause 13 (5) provides that the Electoral Registration Regulations may fix a date not later than 31st March. This can be done in the case of Servicemen and women because there are no claims or objections to be provided for. I am sure the House will think it is right that that should be done because we want to give every facility for the Services to vote. The registration provisions contained in Part III of the Bill are lengthy and complex and I will not go into detail about them, but the above is their effect and points will no doubt arise in Committee.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
Will the Service voter be on the 7th May register, in the ordinary way, or will there be a separate register for Service voters?
§ Mr. Morrison
I think that there is a separate section of the register, but the important thing is to get them on the register.
§ Commander King-Hall
The point about which I really wanted to ask was whether there will be any security objections to allowing a man's unit to be on the register.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not sure; perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will raise that point in Committee. It is provided in Clause 14 (2) (a) that there shall be a register of civilian residents, a register of business premises voters, and a register of Service voters.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
With regard to the 15th October register, I understand that the L.C.C. elections will be in March, 1946, based on civilian qualifications on 30th June, 1945—nine months later. What facilities will be given to Servicemen?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am dealing now with the Parliamentary register, not the local government register. Whether it will be possible to do anything for overseas Service voters in local government elec- 1656 tions I am doubtful, but we can discuss that later. At the moment I am dealing with the Parliamentary register. The Government are only too anxious, as all of us of all parties are, to do what we can to give maximum opportunities to the Services to vote. In order to make the Service register as comprehensive as possible certain extra categories have been added. One consists of members of the Forces holding emergency commissions in the Indian or Burmese Forces, who but for such service would be living in this country, and officers of the Indian Army Reserve of officers and its Burmese equivalent resident in this country. White N.C.O.s and men of the Indian and Burmese Forces are already entitled to be registered as they remain members of the British Army, and we propose to cover these people in the Bill. Similar treatment for officers and men in the Colonial Forces who qualify by residence in this country is also provided for, and members of the Forces discharged abroad who took up civilian war work without returning to the United Kingdom are covered.
A specially difficult class of people whom we wanted to cover are prisoners of war. It is clear that we cannot make any arrangements about them while they are prisoners. Indeed, Nazi Germany is not exactly expert in the conduct of elections as we conduct them. We did feel, however, that as soon as possible after the release of prisoners of war we should make every endeavour to get them on the register. Everybody would wish that we should do everything we can in that respect. We have gone into this matter thoroughly, and in the confidence that the House would wish this to be done we have made certain provisions in the Bill. Clause 17 meets the point by providing that persons who have been prisoners of war and who have not previously made a Service declaration, may be registered after the qualifying date, even up to the date of the initiation of an election. I am sure that, although this will cause practical inconvenience to the hard pressed Electoral Registration Officers, they will take the view that it is in a good cause and do everything they can to help.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the effect of Clause 16? Is it to remove the business vote?
§ Mr. Morrison
The Solicitor-General will deal with that later. It will be remembered that, broadly speaking, the Speaker's Conference recommended that, while the business voter in his or her own right should be preserved, the spouse should be disfranchised, and the Government propose to carry that proposal through.
With regard to the redistribution which follows on the next General Election, after the present limited redistribution, it was provided in the 1943 Act that the periodical publication of lists of electors should take place before the setting up of the boundary commissions for the first general redistribution. As this Bill provides for the publication of registers, it is no longer necessary to follow the provisions of the 1943 Act. Consequently, under Clause 22 (2) it is provided that the general redistribution should begin to be set in motion on 15th October, 1946. What we are trying to get is the earliest date consistent with the general settling down of the population, but we really do not know when that will be. The other complication is that this general redistribution must take place between the next General Election and the one after, and we do not know how long the next Parliament will last. It may indeed be affected by the results of the first General Election. What we have provided is that the general redistribution should begin on 15th October, 1946, but that the Secretary of State may propose to Parliament that it can be on the same date in 1945 or in 1947, so that there is a spread of two years. The Secretary of State can only get that done if he gets affirmative Resolutions passed by both Houses. Therefore, the House is master of the situation all the time. This will give us some degree of elasticity which should cover all emergencies.
There is one omission from the Bill to which I should refer. I mentioned on Thursday last that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was presiding over a conference to consider the practicability of extending postal voting to members of the Forces and seamen overseas and war workers abroad over as wide a geographical area as possible, on the assumption that the system would not operate until the conclusion of hostilities in Europe, and that, if a suitable scheme was devised, it was hoped to give 1658 effect to it in this Bill. In the event of a practicable scheme being worked out in time, we will do our utmost to table the necessary Amendments to the Bill before the Committee stage, which it is hoped to take as soon as possible after the House resumes following the Christmas Recess. I trust that this procedure, which is unusual on a matter of such importance, will be found acceptable so that we can, if we are lucky, get that part of the legislation passed as soon as possible. If the provisions relating to the publication of the register on 7th May are to be carried out, it is essential that the Bill should become law early in February, and if it can be done before, so much the better. I am sure the Government can rely upon the co-operation of the House in this connection. From this point of view, it would be helpful if hon. Members who may wish to put down Amendments will take advantage of the war-time rule by doing so in good time during the recess, thereby giving us notice so that we can examine their proposals before the resumption. As soon as possible after this Bill has become law the Government will also ask Parliament to pass the Electoral Registration Regulations prescribing the necessary timetable for the publication of the 7th May register. This will be subject to an affirmative Resolution.
In conclusion, let me say that this Bill owes much to the Conference over which you, Sir, so ably and expeditiously presided. We are grateful to you and to your colleagues. It is essentially a matter upon which members from their own experience of Parliamentary, and, in many cases, local elections, can help in the Committee stage by constructive advice and suggestions. It embodies considerable improvements in the arrangements which Parliament has already made with a view to the General Election. It will, I hope, be possible to add to it a scheme for postal voting for as many as practicable of the Forces overseas, which I know the House would wish to see adopted, and which will enable Service men and women to make their maximum intelligent contribution to the General Election. The provisions for the resumption of local government elections and the merging of the franchise are, of course, of great importance. I am sorry to have been as long as I have, but this is a rather difficult Bill and I thought it my duty to explain it in 1659 detail to the House. I am grateful to hon. Members for the patience and courtesy with which they have listened.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
We are all, I think, grateful to the Home Secretary for the exposition he has given of the Bill, which deals in part with transitory matters and in part makes permanent changes of the law which resulted from that conference over which you, Mr. Speaker, presided and on which I had the privilege of serving. We were unanimous in our view that there was no longer a case for having two registers, and I think we were all in favour of the assimilation of the local government with the national, Parliamentary franchise. In considering the matter people took into account, of course, whether it would pay them or otherwise, but it does not seem to make much difference. My majority in Croydon was about 17 times as great on the Parliamentary franchise as that of all the councillors added together on the same side as myself. That was very interesting, although I do not know why we do so very much better on the Parliamentary register than we do on the local government register. The municipal candidate has a much smaller task, a ward being much easier to cover than is a Parliamentary constituency. That result has had its advantages from my point of view, because I was always able to point out to the local councillors, if ever they took a different view of matters from myself, that I was a much more representative person than they were, my majority being so much bigger. Anyhow, that is a local matter. I do not know whether the same is not also true of the constituency represented hi Parliament by the Home Secretary.
I think also there was a general view that municipal and Parliamentary electors now have the same general outlook, that it would not make any difference to the prospects of parties, and that, from the point of view of the general convenience, it would be very much better to assimilate the two registers. It was also thought to be better on grounds of principle, as the taxpayer now pays about one half of the local expenditure and the Parliamentary elector who is a ratepayer is a very large contributor to the municipal fund. He is, therefore, entitled to have 1660 his say. On grounds of principle and convenience the case for assimilation is very strong. With regard to the spouse, I felt that she was in a somewhat indefensible position.
§ Sir H. Williams
It is mainly "she" but there are a few "he's" among them. When the women's franchise was introduced, the woman got the vote very largely as the wife of her husband, as the husband was the occupier. When the business vote was introduced, the same principle was followed. The case was very strong as applied to ordinary residence but in the case where the spouse never lives in the town and has never visited the town in which the business premises are, it is indefensible that a large number of women with no direct interest in a place should suddenly appear and vote. I do not believe that the loss of votes will be very much, because a large number of these spouses did not vote. On grounds of principle and inconvenience it is right to make an end of this qualification.
On the question of one-third of the councillors retiring each year, I would like to point out that although I live in London I represent a Croydon constituency and that Croydon has the one-third principle in operation. Personally, I think London would be much better off if they also had the one-third principle operating. I have never liked the idea of the whole of the London County Council and the Metropolitan borough councils being voted for once every three years. The one-third principle has many advantages, among which is the advantage that it keeps a council in much more constant touch with the electors. It also makes the electors much more interested in the councillors.
The real trouble is the lack of public interest in local government, and that is one of the most deplorable things at the present time. I do not know whose fault it is, but I am amazed at the number of communications I get from constituents who are raising purely local government matters, about which they ought to write to their local councillors. I have already made a suggestion that local councils should stick up at the corner of every street the name of the councillor for that particular ward, so that the electors would 1661 know where to send their inquiries. It might be of some advantage in Surrey. Croydon newspapers circulate quite a lot round about the town, and it is a bit inconvenient, if one happens to be a bit noisy in this House, to find that people who think you must be their Member of Parliament write to you. Silence appears to be the only course to be pursued by a Surrey Member of Parliament who wants to avoid correspondence.
There are many parts of the Bill which are purely transitory, and which, when the law comes to be consolidated, will not appear. I hope very much that we shall have a consolidating Bill before long relating to representation of the people. It is dreadful that, in order to find out or look up something, one should have to study a dozen Acts of Parliament simultaneously. The case for consolidation is overwhelming. I always make that plea whenever I see a Bill which I cannot understand because of its innumerable references to other Acts. I am not surprised that the Home Secretary had a headache in the drafting of the Bill. We shall all have headaches in trying to read it properly. I am also not surprised that, when the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) asked the Home Secretary a question about Clause 16 the Minister gave him the wrong answer. He answered the hon. Member about Clause 2, which relates to the abolition of the spouse's qualification. Clause 16 starts off by saying:Notwithstanding anything in the Act of 1943 no business premises register shall be specially prepared for any parliamentary election initiated after the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and forty-five.The hon. Member was a little afraid that that meant that the business register was to be wiped out entirely. Of course, it does not mean that, but I quite see how an able lawyer can be deceived. It makes a layman like myself run much greater risks of deception.
I would like to draw attention to Clause 12 (1, b, iv) which seems to represent a major change in the law but to which the Home Secretary did not refer. This paragraph says:for any election initiated during the period beginning with the first day of January and ending with the ninth day of September in the year nineteen hundred and forty-six or any subsequent year"—1662 so that means for ever—a register consisting of a civilian residence register and a service register specially prepared for the election under the Act of 1943, and of the business premises register comprised in the annual register which came into force in the preceding year.It looks as though, if we had a General Election at any time between 1st January and 9th September in any year, we would have an ad hoc register for the purpose. That is a major change in the law. In other words, we are not preparing an annual register. It is going to create a delay of eight weeks between the day when it is announced that Parliament is to be dissolved and when the next election takes place. It may be a goad thing to have a much fresher register than we have had in the past, if an election takes place in a period which is quite remote from the qualifying date for an annual register, but let us realise what we are doing and that it makes a big change.
I have always felt and I have said so—my point was met to a small extent by the Act of 1943—that I did not like this country to be without a Parliament for a long time. There will be a delay of about nine weeks after a dissolution, when the country is effectively without a Parliament. I do not like that to happen, even though some of the hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite are in charge of the country while we are absent. I can imagine people even worse than them—although that is sometimes difficult to imagine. I have always thought that we could abolish the Dissolution of Parliament by having a Proclamation calling a new Parliament and letting the old Parliament sit until the new Parliament is elected. I think that is a gap in our constitutional machinery and I have pressed for remedy for it in a number of speeches in this House and elsewhere. The Dissolution is not complete, even to-day. After the Royal Proclamation dissolving Parliament, if there should be a demise of the Crown before polling day, the Election is put off for six months and the old Parliament comes back. When we dissolve Parliament we still retain Mr. Speaker, because he has certain duties to perform in connection with Private Bill legislation. Although he ceases to be a Member of Parliament he still is retained as Speaker of a Parliament that no longer exists. I do not know whether you realise, 1663 Sir, the curious position you will occupy when this Parliament is dissolved.
Suppose there had been a Dissolution of Parliament on 25th August, 1939. We should not have had the Emergency Powers Act and we could have voted no money to carry on the war. We should have had to strain the Royal Prerogative and then to pass an Act of Indemnity. It ought to be impossible for the nation to be entirely without a Parliament for any considerable period. It is true that there might be long periods when it would not matter very much whether there was a Parliament in Session or not, but we ought to have the power to have a Parliament in Session. I do not like this eight or nine weeks' period without a Parliament. It is true that under the Act of 1943 there are certain temporary modifications; the Royal Proclamation announcing the Dissolution of Parliament does not become effective until 28 days after it is made, but the words to which I have called attention,any subsequent year,are a step in the wrong direction, unless we have this other change in the constitutional machinery.
I am sorry to have drifted a little bit away from the main purpose of the Bill, but what I have said all relates to the representation of the people. The Home Secretary and his officers have done a good job in the drafting of the Bill. It is very probable that we shall discover certain matters for amendment. I do not know whether other hon. Members would think of following the course I am proposing to follow. I am asking the leaders of the different parties on the Croydon Borough Council to meet with me and the town clerk in order to study the Bill and find out the best machinery to give us the most effective representation of the people in local Government matters. It may be helpful if we approach these matters as little from the party view as possible. We want to get a good machine in order that our democracy may work well.
I am certain there will be no Division on the Bill. We may want to argue with the Home Secretary on the Committee stage, but I shall do my best to respond to his appeal that Amendments should be put down during the Recess so that his officials may have time to study them. I well 1664 know the fate of Amendments handed in at the last moment. Such an Amendment is almost invariably refused, because the officials have not had time to understand its meaning and, still more, have not had time to alter the drafting of it. Private Members may be able to draft Amendments much more intelligibly than expert draftsmen, but the expert draftsman always likes to put an Amendment into language which no one else can understand but himself.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Miss Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I do not want to go into the many complex matters raised in this Bill. Most of them were agreed to by Mr. Speaker's Conference and I think are approved by most Members of the House. There are, however, points I want to raise. I would like to ask the Government why the Act of 1943 has been superseded by Part III of this Bill. It seems to me that the effect will be to make it possible to have a General Election within a limit of 17 days from the Proclamation of the Dissolution. If I am right that would make it possible to have a snap election. I wish to express my deep disappointment that the opportunity has not been taken in this Bill to abolish plural voting, which is an anachronism, a relic of the past, and a survival of the days when the franchise was tied to property qualifications. Now that those qualifications have gone, I cannot understand how, in equity, we can allow this privilege, for it is not a right but a privilege, to persist. We shall be told, no doubt, that half a loaf is better than no bread and that we have one concession in the Bill, in that the right of the spouse to vote is abolished. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) said that in point of fact he did not think that great numbers of spouses did use their vote at any time. Therefore, in that sense, it is not a very important concession that is made in the Bill. It is possible to evade this provision, for instance, making one's wife a partner in the business. She would still be entitled in that event to have her vote, not as a spouse but as a partner in the business. Therefore, I think this concession really does not amount to much. But why should one class of citizen be allowed this special privilege? Why should one citizen be allowed to have two 1665 bites at the cherry? What is the defence? Why should they be singled out?
I have heard the argument that it is very important that the business community should be represented in this House, and should be able to speak with authority. Of course it is important—no one denies it—but when I look at the benches opposite, when they are perhaps a little more fully occupied than they are now, I do not think we need fear that the business community in this country is under represented, or is likely to be so. But hon. Gentlemen opposite speak only with authority for one side of the industry. If it is important that trade and industry should be represented with authority in this House I suggest that the privilege should be extended to the workers as well. Why not let us have a double vote for the miners, or for any other section of the workers? We should have at any rate some measure of equity if we did that. If the Home Secretary brought forward an Amendment of that kind to extend this privilege to other classes of the community, it would be quite a different matter. It is said, of course, that the business premises vote does not cover a large number of constituencies, and that in the main it is confined to perhaps only eight or ten. It is said that it is a very good thing that industry should he represented directly in this House, and that it is very much better than that industry should be represented perhaps not so openly, by methods of which this House could not approve. I think that is a blackmailing argument, and if in fact practices of that kind were to be allowed it would be a very serious matter indeed, with which the House would have to deal ruthlessly.
§ Sir H. Williams
I take it the hon. Lady would apply the same principle to trade unionists coming here to represent their members?
§ Miss Lloyd George
I suppose the hon. Member is alluding to my reference to the miners. Their representatives have a great many seats in this House, and represent a large proportion of the party above the Gangway. But the miners have only one vote. My objection here is to plural voting. If the miners were to have one vote in the mining area in which they work, and another where they live, I should object to it and say it was wrong. But so long as there are great 1666 aggregations of workers in certain areas of this country they will be represented in this House. But they have only one vote. That is the point I am making.
I have no objection at all to the registration of business premises, any more than I would object to university voters being able to vote as such if they wished to do so. Let them choose between their residence and their business, between their shop and their home. But they should not have this privilege, which is not enjoyed by the majority of citizens, of having two votes. The proposal was put before the Speaker's Conference, that the business vote should be abolished, but it was unfortunately defeated by a very large majority. There were only five who supported that proposal. I hope to put down an Amendment on this matter when the point is reached during the Committee stage, and I trust the proposal will then meet with a much more favourable and deserving fate from this House.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
I listened with great care, attention and interest to the statement of my right hon. Friend, and so strong were his arguments that I was almost in danger of fearing I had no chance even of putting the counter-argument. None the less I shall have the temerity to oppose one Clause of this Bill, that is Part I, Clause I, which deals with the very important subject of the assimilation of the local government and Parliamentary franchise. I have great diffidence, I assure the House, in saying anything in opposition to this Clause, which is the result of a recommendation of the conference presided over by Mr. Speaker himself. I will state very briefly the grounds of my opposition to it. It seems to me that the effect would be to give the local government vote to very many people who pay no local taxation, or in other words rates, and to many also who in fact have no local connection at all, and no interest in local affairs. I would only instance such persons as exist, under present conditions, in large numbers, among others evacuees, temporary war workers, even visitors, who will be returning in quite considerable numbers to the seaside towns, and who, for instance, may be there at the appropriate period.
It can be said, I know, that if a person is fit to vote in a Parliamentary election 1667 he must be fit to vote in a local government election. I suggest there is a great difference, because a voter in a Parliamentary election is, in the first place, a taxpayer, either direct or indirect. Many of them in these days, far more than was the case a short time ago, are direct taxpayers. In any case he is a taxpayer, and so he is personally concerned as to how the taxes are spent. In the second place, he is voting for a member of the national Parliament which deals with national affairs and national expenditure, and it is therefore appropriate that he should vote for a Member in that Parliament. On the other hand, the voter in a local government election, if he is neither a ratepayer nor a local resident, has no personal interest in how the rates are spent, and he has little or no interest in how local affairs are managed, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) mentioned, contributions are made from the taxes to certain local services, and some of them are considerable. It is an old and a cardinal principle of government that there should be no taxation without representation. I suggest that the converse is also true—that there should be no representation without taxation, and that this includes local taxation, in other words rates. That is a principle that ought to be adhered to in local government as well as national government. It does, therefore, seem very undesirable that large numbers of persons should be able to vote in local elections without the restraining influence of feeling that they will have to pay their share of any expenditure which is incurred by those whom they may elect.
For the same reason it is doubtful—perhaps this is a little off the point—whether compounding for rates ought to be allowed, because under that system occupiers whose rates are compounded for by the owners of their premises, and whose rates are supposed to be included in their rent, do not really feel they are paying rates at all. Many are unaware that they are paying rates, and have little or no interest in how those rates are spent. In fact, the only person who benefits by the system of compounding is the rate collector, who finds it a great deal easier to collect in bulk, so to speak, from the landlord than from a number of tenants separately.
1668 I fear that this proposal, if given effect to, may have one of two results, or possibly each of these two results in some measure. The first is that there will be a large number of voters who from sheer lack of either local feeling or financial interest will not bother to vote at all in local elections. The second is that there will be many voters who, having no financial responsibility, may be persuaded by specious promises to vote for candidates who put forward possibly very expensive though superficially attractive schemes, in order to catch the votes of persons who in any case will not have to pay the bills.
What are claimed as the advantages of this scheme? Is it the saving of trouble to those who have to prepare the voters' registers? If so, I suggest it is only necessary for the national registration officer, who I believe hands over the lists to the local registration officers who prepare the registers, to mark each person on his list on the national register as "occupier" or "ratepayer" or otherwise, in order to get over any difficulty. Or is it to ensure that Service men who belong to a locality should have the local government vote? It is, I agree, most desirable that men who are in the Services should be able to vote in their own locality where, if they are not so at the time, they are practically certain to be householders and ratepayers when they come back. Surely it is a simple matter to deal with this, because in any case Service men are noted as such on the register, and there is no earthly reason why Service men should not be an exception to the general rule that occupiers and ratepayers should be the electors in local government elections.
I do not think there has been any widespread demand for this proposal. It has had very little publicity and I believe it is little understood. If it was better understood, I believe that local feeling would be almost everywhere against it, as it is already against it in a great many cases. I hope that the Government will reconsider this matter, and consider whether so radical a change is called for in what my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon called a Bill which is transitory in its effects in many cases. It is a temporary Measure, pending the passing of a more comprehensive and more permanent Measure when the country has settled down after these wars. I hope that the Government will allow the con- 1669 tinuance of the local government register.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon also said, there is no question of party influence. He has satisfied himself, and I think he is probably perfectly right, that no party is likely to gain, one way or the other. It is a matter of what is best in the local interest. Surely it is very desirable that local elections should be voted in by local people, who have local interests and a stake, so to speak, in the locality. I hope that the local government register will be allowed to continue, and that the Government will put in Amendments at a later stage to continue a separate local government register—which could be done without excessive difficulty. That local government register ought to be, in my humble submission, a register of persons who have a stake in the locality, who are occupiers and ratepayers in the locality, with the addition, which it would be perfectly simple to make, because their names will be given for the purpose of the Parliamentary register, of all those men and women belonging to the locality who are serving in His Majesty's Forces and are away at the time. I hope that this will receive some fresh consideration from the Government, and that they have not entirely closed their mind to the possibility of making what I believe would be an improvement in this Bill, by the omission of this particular Clause.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
I welcome the proposals in the Bill, and particularly the one with which the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) disagreed—the assimilation of the franchise. On the Speaker's Conference we went into this point very fully. I would like to summarise some of the reasons why we recommended in favour of assimilation. The first is that, on inquiring of the various local authorities' associations, we found that an overwhelming majority of the members of the associations were in favour of this change. That weighed quite heavily with the Conference.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
I wonder whether those associations, which undoubtedly sent in a great many resolutions, had taken the trouble to consult their constituent members.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
Were the views of the local authority representatives, as expressed at the conference, based on the old register or on the "Temporary Provisions" register?
§ Mr. Parker
I think they were based on the general question of whether the two franchises should be assimilated. The different local authority organisations circulated the councils which are members of those associations, asking for their views on those subjects. Their views were sent in to Mr. Speaker, and we had them before us. The second reason which influenced us strongly was that at the present time a larger and larger proportion of the expenditure on local government services comes from the national Exchequer. In many cases 50 per cent., and in other cases more than 50 per cent., of the cost of such services is borne by the Exchequer. Under present Income Tax arrangements, the great mass of the population contribute to taxation, and it was felt that the great mass of the people in a locality contribute to the cost of such services; if not from the rates, then from taxation.
Another argument which weighed with at least some of us is that our present population is getting older and older. Under the present local government franchise the old, rather than the young, choose the members of local authorities. Many of us felt that it would be an advantage to have the young people not ruled out, as they are at present, from choosing the councils. Also, many of the services run by local authorities, such as swimming baths, playing fields, and even libraries and so on, are used by the young more than by the old. Many of us felt that it would be an advantage to have the young taking part in the election of councils, and sitting on councils; and that assimilation would give them an interest in local government which they do not possess at the moment, partly because they are excluded from the franchise. Those are the three main reasons which led the conference to take that line.
I welcome also the proposal for the abolition of the spouses vote, but two other proposals with regard to the franchise which were made by the Speaker's Conference have been omitted. The first relates to the university franchise. I share the view of my party that, on the 1671 whole, university seats, being a form of double voting, should be abolished; but if we are to have university representation, surely all graduates ought to have the vote. We ought not to have the anomalous position by which in some universities, such as the Scottish universities, all graduates get the vote, because they cannot get their degree unless they pay the qualifying fee, whereas other universities have a different system. In some cases graduates have to contract in to get the vote, and in others they have to contract out if they do not want to be included in the register. The Speaker's Conference recommended that all graduates should have the vote in each university, if university voting was continued, that registration should be automatic, and that no fees should be charged for registration.
May I give some figures to show the extraordinarily anomalous position at present? At the moment, in the Scottish universities, all graduates automatically get the vote. In the Scottish universities 52,981 had the vote in 1935—that was the number of graduates for those universities. But in London it was estimated that there were 72,000 graduates, and yet only 17,817 were electors—which is about one in four of the total number of graduates. That is an absurd difference. In Oxford and Cambridge at one time there was the same position as in London, and they had to contract in in order to get a vote. In both universities convocation changed the rules—about 1914 in one case, and about 1930 in the other. Now graduates get the vote at both universities unless they particularly ask for their fee to be cut down so that they may be excluded from the Register. In London they still have to contract in if they want to get the vote; most graduates at the time of taking a degree are short of money, have not got the extra pound to spare, and do not think it very important at that time; so they do not register. I would like the suggestion of the Speaker's Conference on that point to be adopted.
Another suggestion of the Speaker's Conference related to registration of electors. It was suggested by the conference that no person should be entitled to be registered for more than one residence qualification or for more than one business qualification, if such an arrangement were practicable. I would urge that 1672 that should be carried out. I suggest that it is quite practicable. In this Bill we have allowed a certain amount of discretion in the powers given to registration officers. For example, in the case of anyone who happens to have two business qualifications in different wards of the same county borough, the registration officer's job is to see that he is registered only once. The same rule applies if there are two residence qualifications. On the other hand, if one lives in a county, and has two or more than two qualifications in different parishes, it is the job of the registration officer to see that one is entered more than once. The idea presumably is that a man with similar qualifications in two different parishes can take part in the parish or district elections in both, but is supposed to use only one vote if there is a county council election. There is a certain anomaly in this. It means that if there are by-elections for any of the local authority units in a county, an elector who is registered for the same qualification more than once can take part in those by-elections, but if in a county borough there are by-elections in different wards the elector has not the opportunity of taking part, except if the by-election is in the ward where he is registered. If, already, it is possible for registration officers to see that in a county borough a person is not registered more than once, why cannot that provision be applied in the country as a whole in preparing this general register? It does not seem to be administratively impossible, and I would like to know why the suggestion of the Conference on that point is not being carried out.
With regard to the actual register—the two new registers which are to operate side by side—I thought that the point made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), about there being a gap between the ending of Parliament and the meeting of a new Parliament was very important. It is desirable to meet that point, but I would regret it if, in order to do so, the Home Secretary were to abolish the type of register that we agreed to in 1943, by which elections could be fought on an up-to-date register. I would urge the desirability of keeping some arrangement for having an up-to-date register. To give my own constituency as an illustration, at the last election it had 169,000 electors on the register. The register on which the election was 1673 fought in October, 1935, was drawn up in June, yet 15,000 people had removed from the constituency in the interval and a similar number came in; it was impossible for any party to trace them, or for those people to exercise their votes in that General Election. That sort of thing applies particularly in Outer London areas, and it may apply in other parts of the country.
It is desirable to have an up-to-date register, and only the arrangement agreed to in 1943 can supply that register. I hope that, in considering Amendments on this matter, the Government will stick to some register of that kind. National registration may have its uses after the war. We shall presumably want to keep a system of military service, and we shall also have extensive social security schemes in operation. I should have thought that the maintenance of some sort of National Registration in peace-time would be an advantage, and that it should be continued as a basis for a register. I hope that that 1943 type of register will be kept in being; otherwise, we shall have the danger of elections being fought on a register which is out of date, and which does not give a fair reflection of the feeling of the country. I would like also to support the point of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). I hope that this proposal for cutting down the seven and a half weeks' notice of an election, does not mean that we are to have an attempt next year at a rush election, without adequate notice. I think, therefore, we ought to be given some assurance to-day by the Government in their reply.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jewson (Great Yarmouth)
I did not want to go into the question of the temporary arrangements in this Bill, because they are, comparatively speaking, unimportant and seem to me to be satisfactory. But I want to say a few words arising from my own experience of this very important question of the assimilation of the two voting lists. With much that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) said on the questions of taxation and representation, I should agree. As has been pointed out by the hon. Member who has just spoken, much of the expenditure of local authorities is provided directly from taxation, and, if I am capable of judging the matter, I should have thought that this 1674 will become more and more the case, as we pass through these next 10 years or so. In my experience, I have often been astonished and very greatly concerned because, in cases where Government grants have been made to local authorities, not only the local voters and ratepayers, but actually the councillors of these authorities, seem to think that, in so far as their expenditure is covered by a Government grant, it is of no real interest or consequence.
Supposing they are spending £100,000 on education, and £50,000 is coming by way of Government grant, they think they have to look only at the expenditure of £50,000. I can assure the House that that is a view which has been very widely taken and expressed in my own experience. Of course, it is an entirely wrong view, and I think that, perhaps, the fact that in future the taxpayers, as such, are to be allowed to vote in local government elections, and that the voting will not be based merely on the ratepayer side, may do something towards curing that idea and making people understand that all expenditure, whether it comes out of the right-hand or the left-hand pocket, is expenditure just the same, and affects you personally in your pocket. Indeed, I should not be surprised if, in future years, we look back to this Bill, and to the fact that we are in future going to vote on a Parliamentary basis for local government, as the source from which will flow—what so many of us greatly desire—a complete revision of the basis of providing funds for local government. This may well be a step to that desirable position.
I think that, if we get the Parliamentary register accepted for local government, it may, quite likely, assist us to get rid of the apathy, which has been such a burden to those of us who have worked in connection with local government affairs in these past 20 years or so. I cannot help thinking that if everybody who has a vote knows that, whenever there is an election, he or she will have that vote, it will be much less difficult to arouse their interest when it comes to 1st November. For these two reasons, I am glad that the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference has been embodied in this Bill, and I shall certainly give it my support.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
We are discussing a Bill of the widest signi- 1675 ficance, affecting the lives and opinions of every citizen in this country, and that impels me to ask that we should consider the method of election of not less than 25 per cent. of all the municipal corporations, and county councils. I refer to the aldermanic system. I am told that it is untimely, and perhaps unseemly and too controversial a matter to raise at the present time. I wholly disagree with that point of view. It may be that the House will disagree with me—that is very natural. But I would ask the House to agree with me that it is, at least, relevant that we should discuss this old-established method of conducting our local affairs. It certainly is time, in my view, to ventilate it.
I have made some superficial, and, at times, rather more than superficial, study of this whole question, and I cannot find in any book that I have been able to get hold of, in our Library or elsewhere, anything that gives more than the faintest praise for this system. I am referring now to books of such authority as "Local Government in Modern England," "An Introduction to the Law of Local Government," to the admirable work by Redlitch and Hirst and to all modern, or comparatively modern, works on the subject, in none of which did I find anything but the faintest praise. Some people say, "Let sleeping systems lie," and I will agree that this is a system of very ancient lineage, and that it has the highest traditions of public service and honour. But I would ask the House whether we are justified in continuing such a system in the light of universal franchise, both Parliamentary and local, through the complete assimilation of the register. To me, it seems something more than an anomaly.
May I give, very shortly, the history of the situation? In 1835, the whole system was within an ace of being completely eliminated, but members of another place insisted on their constitutional rights to force it back upon this House and did so. That remained for more than 50 years, until, in 1888, after a very long Debate in this House on the question whether the county councils should be given the aldermanic system, and whether it should continue in the municipal corporations, there was a very close Division, and, in the 464 who recorded their votes, there was a majority 1676 of only 36 in favour of retaining the system. I think that will show that, although this is a subject that is not often discussed, it is worthy of discussion and that, if sufficient light is put upon it, we should do away with it.
There is another point, which, to me, is of great interest. In 1894, another Act was passed which established the urban and rural district and parish councils. They were set up, but no one sought to give either the urban or rural districts aldermanic rank, and I would say, as an ex-rural district councillor, that many rural districts, and certainly some of the larger urban districts, would be fully justified in claiming it, as they are just as much entitled to the aldermanic system as are some of the smaller boroughs in this country. They conduct affairs of the highest importance. I do not want to suggest that such a thing should be established in this House, but it could be done with just as much justification as it is done now in our local authorities, and we might then have the spectacle—although I think it is an unthinkable proposal—of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge) coming here without ever having to face an election.
I ask how this House can justify the continuance of this system in face of universal franchise and the enlightenment of our people on this matter of local elections. I would remind the House that the aldermen are elected for a period of six years, and that half of them retire every three years. What does it mean? That is twice the tenure of a councillor, and it means that a political or other party—and nobody can deny that they exist—if it has a majority, can, by electing one-half of the aldermen from that party, maintain itself in power for a period of years. How can we justify such a system in these days? I leave it to some others who are much more qualified than myself and who, perhaps, are even aldermen themselves, to justify a system which I think ought to be altered. I cannot myself attempt to do so, because I look upon the system as thoroughly out of date and fraught with uupleasant possibilities of log-rolling and worse. I pay my tribute, as I have said, to the traditions, honour and services of aldermen on local authorities, but I urge the Minister concerned to give this matter more than a little consideration, and I 1677 naturally reserve my right to move an Amendment on the Committee stage.
I find myself in one particular difficulty in regard to the City of London. I would not attempt to criticise the very remarkable history and services of its aldermen or of the whole City of London Corporation. I passed a remark not so long ago in this House, when the Home Secretary was here, and as a result I discovered that the right hon. Gentleman was an alderman, and was very proud of the fact. If I were an alderman, I daresay I should be proud of the fact, but I should also feel that it would be a perfectly just thing to abolish the system. I cannot help suggesting to the Home Secretary, although he is not in the House at the moment, that he would achieve some kudos if he would take the line of the gentleman walking up the steps of the scaffold who said:It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done—if he would abolish himself and, at the same time, the system which has no justification whatever in modern times.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
It is very seldom that I join issue with my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken, but I am going all out to save him from himself, and, incidentally, to save the Home Secretary as well. I cannot bear his idea of the complete abolition of the aldermanic system, which has grown up and has become an integral part in the government of this country throughout the centuries. That it should be suddenly and solemnly suggested that the system should be abolished is, if I may say so to my hon. and gallant Friend, somewhat iconoclastic. It is not a matter which I anticipated having to comment upon, or I would have prepared myself upon the subject, but I happen to have the somewhat unusual privilege, I think, of representing a constituency which contains no less than three authorities where the aldermanic system is in use, and I feel quite certain that the words used by my hon. and gallant Friend, when he suggested that they are out of date and open to allegations of log-rolling and worse, most assuredly do not apply in the instances of which I have personal knowledge.
There was one statement by the Home Secretary with which I was in entire accord. He said that this was a difficult 1678 Bill to draft. I seriously desire to call the attention of the Solicitor-General to the exceedingly bad drafting of the Bill. I have had a fairly long experience of trying to understand Bills and Acts of Parliament, not so long as that of my right hon. Friend, but still fairly comprehensive, both with regard to this century and the previous century. I can never recall having tried to peruse and understand a Bill with so little success. As I understand it, under Clause 1, the Bill purports to give the franchise to a substantial body of people for the first time and under Clause 2 it proceeds to take it away again. That is an example of drafting such as we surely would not expect to have presented to us. Another thing which I found most irritating was in Clause 5. When I started to read Clause 5 I came across the expression the "appropriate date," and, being innocent in my ignorance, I turned to the definition Clause at the end of the Bill, to find that there was nothing there about the appropriate date. Still innocent and still ignorant, I referred to the various Acts of Parliament quoted in the early part of the paragraph, to see if they contained any information about the appropriate date. They did not do so, so I struggled through the Clause until I arrived almost at the end of the Clause about two and a half pages later, when I came upon the definition of the expression. It is only one simple and small example of the excruciatingly bad drafting of the Bill.
There are two main things I want to say. One is with regard to the decision of the Government that co-opted members of the local authorities shall retire at the first opportunity. I have had some correspondence with the Home Secretary upon this point and I would like to express my personal appreciation of the fact that he has found it possible to include that provision, which I am certain is the correct one and will, I believe, meet with universal approval throughout the country. There is one other thing with regard to the extension of the local government franchise. I am not frightened of it and, in the long run, I believe it is the correct thing to do, but I do have the greatest perturbation about the enlargement of the franchise at the present time when the Parliamentary franchise itself is working upon an entirely temporary system. The old principles of Parliamentary franchise have more or less gone by the board for 1679 the time being, owing to the incidence of war, and if we allow the local government franchise to assimilate itself to the Parliamentary franchise, we may get the most extraordinary and unexpected results in local government elections.
I have in mind one possibility in my own constituency in connection with a rural district council. In that very large area there is one parish which normally caters for 50,000 holiday-makers a year. As far as I can interpret this Bill, it is likely that the local government elections will come along during the peak of the holiday season in this part of the country and in the circumstances which we may anticipate, those visitors to the area may be registered there and may very well become local electors. Therefore, we shall have the whole of our local election in this rural district area weighted—and very substantially weighted indeed—by visitors, who are temporarily resident for a matter of six, seven or eight weeks in the neighbourhood, but who, in fact, have their real interests and homes in Nottingham, Leicester and other largely urban centres. That is a very serious difficulty indeed. I will not go as far as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), who claimed, as I understood, that only ratepayers should be entitled to vote. Interest in the local authority is very much wider than the present ratepayers' interests, but I do not go as far as to believe that at the present time, under the present system of franchise we have, there may not be very great difficulties indeed until we get back to the normal Parliamentary franchise.
I would like to ask the Solicitor-General, when he replies, if he will clear up the reference made by the Home Secretary, which, quite likely, I did not correctly understand. I understood him to say that he was doubtful if anything could be done for Servicemen overseas in regard to local elections. If I was right in my understanding of his remarks, then does not that mean that, notwith-standing this enormous change in our system, and alteration in the local government franchise, we are not going to give the benefit in those local government elections to any of the ex-Servicemen overseas? That I could hardly believe to be true, and I hope my hon. and learned Friend will be able to correct me in regard, I trust, to the false impression I 1680 have received. Turning to the question of the aldermanic franchise, can my hon. and learned Friend assure me that he has taken into account one of the small but very important and vital instances of our local government in this country, and that is the ancient charter borough? I trust that in the vast and very complex arrangements contained in this Bill, my right hon. Friend has not included anything which is detrimental to the interests of those few but exceedingly successful experienced and well run organisations.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) said that he fears the assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government registers because he anticipates that people who have gone on holiday to, say, Skegness from Nottingham, are going to find themselves registered and able to vote at Skegness. I think that that arises from a misunderstanding of how the register is prepared. It is prepared from the record of the food office and unless one is staying a long time in a place one does not register at that place but obtains an emergency card. I do not think the number of people who are going to spend more than one month's holiday at a seaside or holiday resort is going to be as large as the hon. and gallant Member suggests. Most people are fortunate if they get a fortnight's holiday or even a week's holiday.
The Home Secretary in moving the Second Reading of this Bill made a very great claim for it. He said that it was a continuance of the Measures which started with the great Reform Bill of 1832, and I think there is some justification that it is a Bill which will influence and establish our electoral machinery in the next half dozen years or more, a time which for our national and local government will be very critical indeed. Therefore, because it is not in any sense a slight Measure but is a complicated Measure, we ought to make it as good a Measure as we possibly can now and not regard it as a small temporary thing.
I want to suggest some of the things which should have been put into the Bill, and, seeing that we have had an invitation from the Home Secretary to put down Amendments, I wish to give him notice that I shall at least put Amendments down 1681 to try and introduce some of these things. At this time when we are recasting the electoral system, it is indefensible that we have not come down to the position of saying, "One man or woman, one vote." We are still perpetrating the completely unjustifiable, bad and undemocratic system of giving some people because they happen to own property or who have taken a university degree and in some cases paid a guinea, two votes. I do not want to abolish the right of universities to return Members to this House or to take away the right of a person who has property to have a vote in the constituency where his property is, but the elector should have to choose which vote he is going to use. That is a very simple thing which could have been introduced into this Bill at the start. While we are recasting our electoral system, the second principle we should have tried to insert should have been to see that each vote cast in the country would have an equal influence in determining the affairs of the nation. The only way in which one can do that is by giving each vote cast in the country an approximately equal share in the voting power of the House of Commons.
I am not going to describe in any detail that well known system of proportional representation, with the single transfer of the vote, which would achieve that object. I know that many hon. Members here object to it very strongly and I am sure too that many hon. Members have not the slightest idea of how that particular system works. But while we are recasting our electoral system, now is the time to have introduced proportional representation, with the single transfer of the vote, or, as a very bad second, the provision known as the alternative vote. I would rather have that than nothing. We have all been made very much aware by this war of the great anomalies which have arisen because some constituencies are very much larger than the others and a small interim Measure has been passed to deal with that to some degree, but I am disappointed to see that the permanent Boundary Commission is not going to begin its work until the end of 1946 unless something comes along to alter that arrangement. The Boundary Commission will not have been able to do anything and its report will not have actually been carried into effect in time for the general election after 1682 the next, and I am sure that the general election after the next is really to be an important and a decisive one. We should, in a comprehensive Measure setting up this Boundary Commission, have included in the work of the Boundary Commission the review of the City of London and of university constituencies so that we could have this principle of equal representation as soon as possible for each vote in this House of Commons.
I come to the question of the electoral register. Much of the provision of this Bill is concerned with the setting up of machinery to produce this register. However, I submit that there is no necessity to maintain a register at all; I am quite convinced we could have perfectly satisfactory elections without a register. The purpose of our electoral machinery is to make it possible for every adult citizen to exercise his vote, and one could quite easily carry out an election, while national registration exists, by the adult producing his identity card, if that was suitably endorsed giving his age. This could be stamped by the polling clerk and he could then vote. That is perfectly practicable and feasible, and I believe the Vivian Committee did suggest that was the way in which an election could be carried on in war time. It may be objected, of course, that once the war is over we shall not continue to carry national registration cards in our pockets but I am quite sure that we shall all be carrying a national insurance card, and the necessary information giving one's age and residence could be included if we really wanted to set up a system which would make it possible for no one to be excluded from voting. Nevertheless, if the House takes a contrary decision and decides that we shall continue with this system of a register, I have one or two observations to make regarding the register.
The first thing I do not like about this Bill is that it gives a gap between 1st April and 30th September, 1945 and, if an election takes place in that period, it will be on the register that was prepared in May. One good thing about the recent Act passed by this House, which dealt with the principle of continuous registration, was that the register was not published until the election was initiated. That means that as many people as possible are on the register, but now we have departed from that principle and we 1683 are having a gap of five months in the middle of next year. If an election takes place in that period, it will be on the register that was prepared in May. It means that during that period, if it is so desired, an election can be pushed through; instead of taking 7½ weeks from the initiation of the election to polling day, it can go through, if necessary, in 17 days. I submit that is making it much more possible to have a "snap" and a dishonest election than the previous Act would allow. The opinion has been expressed that when this present Government dissolves and goes to the country, it will be in a spirit of friendliness and without recrimination, but I do not think that is how it will happen. I think some crisis will arise similar to, or worse than the recent crisis over Greece, which will split the Government. If that happens, there will be acrimony and recrimination and it is very likely indeed that the election will be fought as a "snap" election, with the sort of red herring we have seen in the past. It seems to me that this Bill makes that possible in the time when it is most likely to happen. I would prefer the previous arrangement whereby the election takes at least seven weeks, which I think would give a much more honest and fair view of the country's opinion.
I would like to make a few very detailed observations on the preparation of the register. I hope it will be printed and not duplicated. As far as I can ascertain, some returning officers are still thinking in terms of duplicated lists, and that is very bad for a register which has to last five months. So I think it should be printed, and I would like to see it laid down as a hard and fast rule that all electoral registers should be printed on one side only. That is a very great convenience to those who have to go out canvassing. Secondly, wherever possible, I would like to see the register arranged in street or geographical order, instead of in alphabetical order. In country districts where one cannot put it in street order, would it not be possible, on the maps which are published showing the electoral boundaries, to follow the practice of Army maps and split up the map with a grid, and then show by a reference number in the register, the voters who are in each square? I think that would be of some assistance to those who are in charge of 1684 the conduct of the election campaign, though it is not a point of very great substance.
Here we are producing a big Bill recasting our electoral scheme, but there is one problem which it is not attempting to approach at all, the problem of the non-voter. At the last election, I think approximately 20 per cent. of the electorate did not register their votes at all, and that makes this House unrepresentative. Here, I think, we should copy the experience of Australia where they have a system of compulsory attendance at the polling booths, but not compulsory voting. Surely it is not too much to ask every citizen to perform the civic act every four or five years of going to the polling booth and indicating which candidate he wishes to vote for, or registering the fact that he does not want to vote at all. Then there should be proper provision for people to register themselves, if they so desire, as conscientious objectors against voting. I believe the Australian elections have over a 99 per cent. poll, so that would be a good thing. Some very important consequences would follow this procedure. It would mean that instead of the parties vying with each other to drag the sick, the dying and the infirm to the polling booths, it would be the responsibility of the returning officer to see that such persons as could not properly be expected to go to the polling booth, would be allowed to vote in their homes or by post or be taken to the polling booth. That would get over this great and contentious question of the use of cars by the parties.
I am sorry, too, that this Bill does not deal at all with that very important and vexed question of finance at elections. There have been proposals from time to time that the amount to be spent per elector should be cut down so that it would not favour quite so much as in the past those who have great financial resources. I do not think we shall ever get a satisfactory control of election finance until the returning officer is made the collector and the distributor of all moneys, so that any money to be used in the election campaign, in any way whatsoever, is paid to that officer and he publishes a list showing where it has come from, and he will be the sole person to pay the money out. I know that would give him a bit more work but surely that would put the use of money at elections on a very much fairer and proper basis? 1685 I think there is great objection to the present system of requiring a deposit of £150 which is not returnable if insufficient votes are received. On the other hand, I agree there ought to be provision to prevent irresponsible candidates coming along and causing a lot of bother and confusion at the last minute.
§ Mr. Lawson
In answer to that interjection, I would say that Common Wealth leas never yet lost a deposit. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Liberal Nationals have."] It is very right and proper that a man who cannot get one-eighth or one-tenth of the votes should in some way or other be penalised, and I would suggest that the person who does not secure the minimum number of votes should be disqualified from standing for Parliament for a term of say five years. That would be a much fairer thing to do.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
Surely that is one of the most unreasonable suggestions the hon. Gentleman has made this afternoon. Does he honestly consider that would stop the multiplicity of candidates?
§ Mr. Lawson
I think it would stop the sort of candidate who has been seen in the past running from one by-election to another because, after all, the money penalty is quite indefensible. One man can easily find £150 and can go on losing it every three months if he so desires. The suggestion I have made would act impartially in respect of those who have means and those who have not.
I wish to make one or two observations on the question of local government elections. I agree very heartily with the hon. Member who wished to see the aldermanic principle abolished, and I will certainly support him if he brings forward an Amendment on that score. I am glad to see also that the fallacy has been demolished that those who pay rates have a greater stake in the finances of the country than those who do not. After all, the great proportion of moneys dispersed by local authorities is coming more and more from the central Government funds, and if you take the case of a family man with two children, you will find that in the last year before this war such a man with £100 income paid within 1686 one per cent. of the percentage in taxation paid by a similar man with £1,000 a year, for the man with £100 paid about 18 per cent. and the man with £1,000 a year about 19 per cent. The man with the larger income paid mostly in direct taxation and the man with the smaller income paid by indirect taxation. So the range of income which represents 99 per cent. of the population has the same proportional stake in the finances of the country, and it is a fallacy to assume that ratepayers, as such, have any more right to vote in local government elections than non-ratepayers.
I would like to see the principle of the Boundary Commission applied to local government constituencies or wards as well. I am quite sure that there are many anomalies in local government where one council represents very many more electors than another. I know that borough councils, and so on, have power to ask for a revision of ward boundaries but surely the thing to do while we are setting up a Boundary Commission is to let that Commission review all local government ward boundaries as well. That is a provision which I am sure ought to go into this Bill.
Lastly, I come to the question of the Forces registration. I, and some of my hon. Friends, have been saying to the Government on such occasions as we have been able, that the present system of registering men in the Forces is just not good enough, even assuming that you get 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of those in the Forces registered. That will not enable them to cast an effective vote, a vote that they have really had time to consider. Neither do I think that the suggestion of a postal vote will work; it is a step in the right direction but it is not the best way. It is amazing to hear the Government say that they are very anxious to use the best possible method that can be suggested for those in the Forces to cast their votes, and more or less inviting hon. Members to put down Amendments suggesting how it can be done. I cannot understand why the Government take that attitude because they have actual precedents to go on in this matter.
The Dominions have conducted elections in the field during this war in which men and women overseas have been able to vote. It has not been on the basis of preparing a register in most cases, but 1687 by using whatever method is most suitable in each area. I believe that on one occasion some New Zealanders were firing their guns against the Japanese when another soldier approached them and said to the N.C.O. in charge, "I am your relief. Each one of you has to go back in turn to cast his vote." If that has actually been done under active service conditions by Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America I am quite sure that Britain can do it too, and I suggest that the Government study what has been done by the Dominions in this matter because it is certain and obvious that the only way to get the real views of the men and women in the Forces, particularly those overseas, either for national or local government elections, is to conduct elections in the field. That is what I am asking the Government to do.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Although there are a number of points on which I would like to follow the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson), I will defer them until the Committee stage rather than take up the time of the House now. I doubt, however, whether it would be wise to make men vote compulsorily——
§ Mr. Lawson
I said that there should be compulsory attendance at the polling booth where a man could register the fact that he did not choose to vote for any of the candidates.
§ Mr. Tinker
That seems rather silly. I thought the hon. Member meant that a man must record his vote. It is even worse if he wants a man to have the opportunity of saying that he does not want to vote for any of the candidates. We ought to allow voters to have their freedom to do as they require, within the law. After all, that is what we are fighting for. This Measure we are discussing to-day is very important. When the Home Secretary mentioned 1832 I am sure that the minds of many of us went back to that period of history and compared it to the present period. I am rather sorry that we have not a better attendance for this Debate, for the main proposal of the Bill—to provide for the assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government franchise—is a big change, and I certainly welcome it. I always thought it an anomaly that if a 1688 man was entitled to a Parliamentary vote he should not automatically be entitled to a municipal vote, and vice versa.
I would like the Solicitor-General, when he replies to the Debate, to give us more information in regard to Clause 5. The Home Secretary dealt with the position of co-opted members and it seems a rather curious and one-sided position for all three to retire in one particular ward.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Is it not the present policy of the London County Council that the whole Council retires every three years?
§ Mr. Tinker
In Leigh, the town I represent, one out of three retires every year. If, say, in a certain ward there are two co-opted members and another member who was elected in 1937, and all three retire and offer themselves for re-election, it seems curious, and I would like some explanation of that. As regards the date of the election, people have said to me, "Why have it in November? Why is this month sacrosanct? "The Home Secretary ought to be able to defend it or alter it. November is probably the worst month in the year for everybody. There are foggy and cold nights, and it is difficult for politicians to get to see everybody they would like to see because it imposes such a physical strain upon them. Why not alter the date to 1st September when we are just getting away from the summer period? [An HON. MEMBER: "That is harvest time."] It may be; I had not thought of that. There may be other objections and, if so, I would like to know what they are. But in working-class neighbourhoods 1st September is the day they would like, and I intend to move an Amendment to this effect on the Committee stage in order to test the feeling of the House.
On previous occasions when I have tried to get an alteration of procedure with regard to the election of aldermen I have been told that it was not the right time, and that it could only be done when the whole question was being examined. Well, the whole question is being examined now and here is our opportunity. On a council whatever party is in power elects the aldermen. A man 1689 is established for life, as it were. Can anybody tell me in how many cases aldermen have been removed from office? They sit year after year without their capabilities being tested by public opinion. I have never heard of any justification for this procedure. In days gone by there might have been something to be said for an alderman who was well educated staying on in office in order to instruct and guide new councillors. But to-day almost everyone who seeks office is well educated, and there is no reason why the present situation should continue. I, personally, think that everybody who wants to represent the public should, from time to time, go before the public in order to try to obtain a renewal of their confidence. If an alderman possesses outstanding qualities, and is well liked, he will be returned, and he would be more confident than ever in thinking that he had been returned to office. As I have said, I welcome the Bill, and I think the Speaker's Conference has done a good day's work.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
Early this afternoon a previous speaker expounded arguments in favour of the assimilation of the local government franchise and the Parliamentary franchise—and did it very fairly—but there is one comment I would like to make upon it. I suppose that all Members will agree that the whole case for the existence of local government rests on the belief that there are some things much better done by officials under the control of local bodies than they would be done by officials under the control of a central Government. That, I take it, means that the essence of the matter is in the local knowledge of the members of local bodies. That is what gives a value to local government. They know much better, it is argued, what is wanted locally and what is possible locally in regard to many matters. It seems to me, therefore, that a similar argument can be brought forward with regard to electors. Before a man can properly exercise the right to elect members of a local body he should himself have some local knowledge, otherwise I do not see how he could claim to be qualified to exercise his right at election time. For the purpose of local government franchise it seems to me desirable that the electors should have resided for a reasonable period in the locality in which they are to exercise 1690 their franchise. If that be conceded as a reasonable argument, I should have thought that 12 months could not be held to be an unreasonably long mimimum period. I should have thought that most Members with experience of local government would agree that it is hardly possible to get any local knowledge of value by residing in an area for much less than 12 months.
I quite see the administrative advantages of having a complete assimilation of the two franchises. It makes it very easy, but I do not think that that should be the sole consideration in our minds. I should have thought it well to consider whether it would not be better in future that the residential qualification should be at least 12 months. I should have thought, in the interests of local government, that was desirable because, as I said to begin with, if there is anything in the case for local government it rests on local knowledge. To acquire local knowledge requires time. I appreciate that, from a Parliamentary point of view, it would be undesirable for a man to lose the right to vote at a Parliamentary election merely because he had moved from one part of the country to another, but I should have thought that there would be no hardship in saying that a man could not vote in the local government election in a particular district to which he had only moved a few months before and which, possibly, he might even contemplate leaving within a few months. I cannot see that such a thing would make for stability, or that there is any claim in equity for it, but I venture to suggest that is a point which might be worth consideration at a later stage of the Bill.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
As a Member of the Speaker's Conference, I supported all of the more important recommendations of that Conference, and I am very happy to find to-day that, in the main, at any rate, those recommendations are embodied in the present Bill, and that the House of Commons, in their discussion to-day, have, with few exceptions, supported the Bill.
The main point is, of course, that of the assimilation of the Parliamentary and municipal franchise, and the only serious objections to that were those by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir 1691 G. Jeffreys), who raised the matter earlier on, and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis). As far as I understand it, the hon. and gallant Member for Peters-field objected on the ground that the distinction between these two franchises ought to remain, with the qualification that the local government registers should be the same as those existed in times gone by, whereas the hon. Member for Colchester is quite willing that there should be assimilation provided there is introduced in some shape or form—he suggested two registration periods — a provision as to permanency of occupation. I want to put to both hon. Members what would be the effect, first of one, and then of the other, suggestion. The effect of the hon. and gallant Member's proposal would be that the great bulk of ex-Servicemen coming back to live in this country whose wives have been living with their fathers and mothers, or in some friends' house, would be excluded from the local government register; for they will, in all probability, be lodgers for a considerable time. He will realise that the great distinction between municipal and Parliamentary franchise has been that whereas a lodger gets the Parliamentary vote, he does not get the local authority vote.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
I think the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I went out of my way to say that Servicemen and women who are away might well be, and should be, on the local government register—on the register of the district in which they have lived before, or where their people were living at the time.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I did not misunderstand the hon. and gallant Member, but I think that he has misunderstood the objection to his argument. I am not discussing Service people away from home, but Service personnel when they come back. At that time, owing to the shortage of houses, a great many of them will be lodgers in the constituency and it is of the essence of the old system of municipal voters that the lodger does not have a vote. The effect—although I do not think it was his intention—of the hon. and gallant Member's proposal would be to disenfranchise from local government elections a very large number of returned ex-Service personnel.
1692 With regard to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Colchester, take the case of a man living in one constituency who decides, as very large numbers of people have been forced to do during the war, to leave that constituency and go to another with every intention of staying there for, probably, the rest of his life. The hon. Member said that so far as concerns the constituency into which the man has gone and into which his interests have shifted, he should not have a vote whereas, presumably, in the constituency which he has recently left he will go on being an elector. That seems to me such an absurd conclusion that I cannot imagine the House of Commons accepting it.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I quite appreciate that, but I am pointing out what an absurd result it would produce. It would mean that a man coming into a constituency would not get a vote, but would remain a voter in a place which he has left and from which, presumably, his interests have departed, and although the hon. Member says that the inconvenience would only be for a time, it would be for a continuing number of people who are continually changing their residence. With the greater mobility of labour in the days to come that will be an increasing factor, and, it seems to me, a wholly impossible one.
There are other reasons beyond those which I have given in these two cases why I think assimilation would be a great advantage, and one of them is that the distinction between lodger and tenant is a very narrow one. I believe the Solicitor-General will support me in that and, if the Lord Advocate were here I am sure he would enforce even more strongly my argument. In Scotland, where so many tenancies are single or double apartment tenancies, the distinction between lodger and tenant is so fine that it often happens that, with very little arrangements, the agents for the conflicting parties are agreeable to the inclusion of a man in the tenancy class as a local government elector instead of being in the lodger class 1693 where he would be excluded from that franchise. This provision will thus make much less difference in Scotland than it is likely to make in England. The figure has been given of 7,000,000 additional votes. I do not suppose the Solicitor-General will know the exact figure, but it will he interesting to know what proportion would be expected to come from Scotland. In Scotland, a large number of those who would be counted as lodgers in England are already counted as tenants.
I would like to say a few words about the speech of the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson), who covered everything in the Bill and almost everything outside it. He started with Proportional Representation. We knocked out that hare in the last Debate, on the previous Bill brought in by the Home Secretary. I would only remind the House that Proportional Representation was turned down by the Speaker's Conference by an overwhelming majority, and that we who studied the matter in the Conference did not arrive at the conclusion, as the hon. Member suggested, that the more you knew of Proportional Representation, the more commendable it became. The more we studied it and examined its intricacies and fallacies, the more hopeless we found it.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
On a point of Order. Is it right, Mr. Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman should tell the House what happened at the Speaker's Conference, because, if he does, I shall try to catch your eye and give the House a different version of it?
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
On that point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I was speaking only for myself, and how it appeared to me and, presumably, to my friends at the Conference. I am not revealing anything which should not be made public.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have only just taken the Chair and have not heard all that has been said. Naturally, I could not forbid it, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to disclose the actual discussions at the Speaker's Conference and that he was not going to do anything of the sort.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I fully agree with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I did not disclose anything that took place at the Conference. I only said that those who considered the question, came to the con- 1694 clusion that Proportional Representation was an impossible institution to introduce into the country as a whole.
Regarding the plural vote, I would remind the hon. Member for Skipton that on matters which were subject to party controversy at the Speaker's Conference, we came to an agreed compromise, and therefore those of us who are opposed to the plural vote accepted this compromise as an agreement on a controversial issue. The hon. Member objected to what he called "the postponement of permanent redistribution" as defined in this Bill. I would ask the hon. Member to address himself to the actual situation. During the war, and for some little time afterwards, the whole population have suffered and will suffer a migration which certainly will not stabilise itself for many months, possibly for a period of a year or 18 months. Does the hon. Member really want the permanent redistribution to be based on the abnormal conditions prevailing in such circumstances, or does he want to wait until the country has settled down a little? I think it is impossible to form a judgment of what the likely distribution of population will be in the future. It seems to me that the hon. Member has not addressed his mind to that obvious fact which was the basis of our recommendation.
He said that in his opinion it was quite unnecessary to have registration at all because polling could always be on the basis of the identity card. Of course, it would be possible to have a vote on that basis as an emergency measure, but surely the hon. Member does not imagine that that is the best system to adopt for the days to come. I will give one illustration of how it would work. In a constituency which I used to represent there are three separate divisions in the borough. In two of them the Parliamentary representation is more or less equally balanced, whereas in the third there is a considerable predominance of one of the three parties. It is of the essence of the identity card scheme that the electors can vote anywhere. The point about voting on the card is that they can vote at the place where they happen to be living at the moment. It would be very easy at Leicester for the party which has a majority in one of the three constituencies to get a couple of thousand of their surplus voters to vote where they thought they would turn the scale, and it would 1695 be very easy for such a scheme to be wangled to bring about something quite different from a proper representation of the people.
The hon. Member thought the institution of the 7th May register a bad thing. I do not know whether he has ever had the misfortune to stand at a by-election which took, not three weeks but seven. If he had, he would realise what a very miserable time candidates have under these drawn-out conditions. If we do not have the 7th May register, at any election that takes place before 9th September there will be at least seven and a half weeks between the declaration of the election and the poll. I am thankful that the Home Secretary has found it possible, first of all to bring in the annual register, which will deal with all the elections in the last quarter of the year, and, secondly, to bring in this May register which will deal with any General Election, and I think any by-election, that occurs in the second quarter of next year. I believe that, if there are likely to be General Elections in years to come, it may be quite a good plan to have a spring register every year as well as the one in the autumn.
The Home Secretary rightly said that the Speaker's Conference made only one exception to the full assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government registers and that was that the exclusion of peers should not apply to the local government elections. The Home Secretary said he was also introducing certain ratepayers who would otherwise have been excluded but, if I read the Bill correctly, there is still a third class that comes in. In the Second Schedule, paragraph 2 (2), as I read it, there are certain plural voters who come on to the municipal register as well. If I am mistaken about that, I shall be very glad to be so informed. But, if I am not, it would seem to me that we are getting a good long way from the simplicity of the system which the Speaker's Conference envisaged. If I am right in my reading of it, what will happen? Will there be a supplementary register including all those classes of persons for the purpose of keeping what will now once more be a separate municipal as well as Parliamentary register?
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) reminded the Home 1696 Secretary that in our proposals at the Speaker's Conference we suggested, if it were practicable, that no one should be registered for more than two qualifications—one residential and one business—throughout the whole country. I do not find any trace of that in the Bill. Is consideration still being given to the point with a view to its inclusion in the later proposals which will come before the House? Further, I notice that there is no mention of our proposals about the university franchise. We proposed that it was to be maintained but that present arrangements for inclusion, on the register should be altered and that all graduates, both present and future, should be automatically put on the register. I shall be glad if the Solicitor-General will tell us whether that also is being considered with a view to incorporation in some future Measure.
I should like to say a word about the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). He was of course speaking for himself and in no sense for the party. I am not speaking for the party either, though I think that in the main my views will more probably be those of the party as a whole, in so far as it is a party question at all, than those that my hon. Friend put forward. I do not take the view that it will be unfortunate if all the co-optees go at the first election. Everyone recognises that co-option has been necessary during the war, but it is not very satisfactory and the people of the country as a whole will be glad if they all have to get a popular vote if they wish to continue in local government.
I realise that November is not a very nice time for electioneering, nor perhaps for polling, but the electioneering for a November election is not done in November but in October and, though it might be possible to carry it back two or three weeks, if my hon. Friend considers his suggestion of 1st September I think he will see how impossible it is. The electioneering would have to be done in August and even on 1st September, when he wants to poll, there will be a very large number of his constituents away on holiday. It would be outrageous to fix a polling day when a considerable part of the electorate are not able to cast their votes because their holidays fall within that period. Therefore though it might be an advantage to ante-date the polling 1697 day by a week or two, any day before the middle of October, or at the earliest the first week in October, would be entirely unsuitable.
There is a point in the Bill about which I am not so happy. There were two possibilities for the permanent situation. The Home Secretary might have retained the retirement of one-third of the council every year, or he might have gone in for an election of the whole council every three years in the case of the municipal bodies, in the same way as it is for the county councils at the present time. I think the Home Secretary is right in retaining the retirement of one-third of the council every three years, but the question arises as to the transition period and the first election after the time when the councils are again subject to popular election. I think it is the view of the majority of Members who sit with me that it would have been better if the Home Secretary had arranged for what I may call a general election as the first one after the war, and that subsequently there should be the retirement of one-third of the council. If the Home Secretary asks me how I would determine which of the members chosen in that general election should retire, I would remind him that there is in the Bill a proposal relating to that, namely, that Members with the highest number of votes should sit the longest.
I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on what he said with regard to the soldiers' vote. I am sorry that the investigation has not proceeded far enough to introduce in this Bill provisions for letting soldiers vote directly instead of by proxy. I understand, however, that it is in an advanced stage, and if some scheme can be found which can be incorporated in the Bill at a later stage or if some special Bill can be introduced, I am certain that that would only be carrying out the general wish of the House. I have nothing further to do than to say I am very glad that the proposals which we under your guidance, Sir, thought fit by large majorities to recommend have found favour in the eyes of the Home Secretary and the Government, and that the Bill incorporating these and other things has found favour in the main with Members who have spoken in this Debate.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I am sure the House will 1698 agree with me that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has every reason to congratulate himself on the reception of this Bill by the House. My task is, therefore, comparatively light. I say "comparatively" because on the general question there is much agreement, but it is only comparatively light because there are numerous points on which some of my hon. Friends have asked for information. I should like to deal with the general issues which have been raised and to put clearly and, I hope, simply the Government's point of view. On the first point of assimilation, we have heard speeches from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), supported in part by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis), against our suggestion, but it hardly needs any words of mine to reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) and so many other speakers that we are dealing with the practical problems of the lodger and the grown-up son or daughter in the father's house. When we approach that point we see that the lodger or the son or daughter is contributing, probably in most cases, very directly towards the income out of which the householder pays for his house. There is very little distinction in reality. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh said, the distinction in law can very easily be got round. When we visualise the situation in the first year or 18 months after the war, we see the difficulty which we are all facing, and which we all realise, of finding shelter for everyone coming back from the war. It would certainly be a very poor situation if this country, in that time of difficulty, debarred the people who are coming back from the Services or from other war work from taking part in the local government life to which they so entitled to contribute. Therefore, I claim that the House is practically unanimously with the Government on the first point.
I want to deal in passing with a subsidiary aspect of that point put strongly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) and others, the question of visitors and whether visitors would swamp the local government elections in that part of Sussex. The visitor will be registered at the address for which he or she is registered in the national register 1699 on 31st January or 30th June. It seems difficult to imagine that a holiday visitor will have notified a change of address, as he can exist on a temporary food card from four days to six weeks. That being the position, I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester and those who have shared that fear that they are really fighting a shadow which is very insubstantial and almost transparent.
I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) with regard to the first register. It was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) and the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson). During 1945 there will be, first, the May register, and then the annual register that is made in October. I would like my hon. Friends to consider the differences between the two. Under the 1943 Act, there was a register freshly prepared on the occurrence of an election and a long interval of seven-and-a-half weeks had to be allowed for that purpose. Instead of that, we are suggesting that, in the normal course, there will be an annual register on 15th October. I hope that my hon. Friend realises that that will have effect only with regard to an election which will be initiated in the last three months of the year. In the normal year, electors will, in the first nine months of the year, come on to the register compiled on the system of continuous registration, with the consequences of that delay.
§ The Solicitor-General
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I was taking it from October. He is quite right. It goes back to 1st September, and I should have said "the last four months" and not "three months" of the year. With the principle of the annual register the first eight months are covered and not nine months as I have said. Then we have the special position of 1945, which will be a particularly difficult year, on the basis that everything goes as we hope. I would refer my hon. Friend to the very cogent remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh about the difficulties of going into an election without any registration preparations having been made. 1700 It is considered, and I hope he will agree with me, that our system and our principle for 1945 are sound.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey raised the question of plural voting, and it was referred to also by the hon. Member for Skipton. I frankly recognise that the Bill is a compromise between different views. My hon. Friend is perfectly entitled, and I should be the last to deny her the right, to condemn that side of the compromise which does not accord with the views which she advises. Apart from the general advantage of a compromise on this issue at this time, and apart from tradition and experience, I would remind her that there is something to be said for the expression of the views of certain definite, well-known business localities, and which can be expressed only if the business vote is retained to the lesser extent that it is retained in the Bill. I have always found it interesting, even from the very earliest days of my taking an interest in politics, to see how these special Divisions—the Exchange Division of Liverpool, Divisions in Manchester and in various other parts of the country—have expressed their views. It has not always been in favour of Conservatism, as my hon. Friend will remember. It is an interesting point, because there is a distinctive point of view. If there is an argument for the retention of this vote, it is expressed. I am not going into the matter in detail because I approach this problem on the basis that we have achieved a compromise, which is being carried into effect. I would not like the Debate to conclude without its being seen that there are two definite points of view. I clearly recognise that there is the other point of view, which has been forcibly expressed earlier in the Debate.
The next of the broad questions which were raised was the retention of the aldermanic system. We have had an attack from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish). He was sorry, and I am still sorrier, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was not here to hear him, in his aldermanic capacity, attack that capacity itself. Again, I was not aware of any serious complaints about this system, and I certainly have heard none in the part of the country that I know best. It assists in the continuity of our local government, which is an important factor. It gives authority to the chairmen of the 1701 most important committees of our great local authorities, and it enables us all to appreciate and understand who will take the greatest interest and the greatest share in the particular work to which they are devoting themselves. I would have thought that those were considerable advantages in addition to the fact that the system has worked without serious complaint for so long a time; but the Government will give due consideration to the other point of view. Although I cannot hold out any hopes they can, as I say, consider the matter, and devote their attention to the arguments that have been advanced.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am trying to find something in the Bill where I can challenge the system. If the Solicitor-General can tell us on what part of the Bill we can challenge this aldermanic business, I shall be very glad.
§ The Solicitor-General
I do not want to trespass on your duties, Mr. Speaker. I can only say that if my hon. Friend would have a close look at Clause 4 (2) it might help him in his nefarious purpose on the Committee stage.
I wanted to deal very shortly with the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Skipton that the provisions of the Bill constitute an attempt to delay the working of the Boundary Commission. Again I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh has disposed of that point, but I want to assure the House that there was no such intention in the drafting or the intendment of the Bill. We are very anxious that the Boundary Commission should start to operate as soon as there is a sufficient settling down in the conditions of people, and that its operations may become effective and full of meaning. For that purpose we have allowed a variation either before or after the suggested date, so that the earliest possible time which will give that effective result will be chosen, if possible.
Before I come to the specific points that my right hon. Friend put to me I want to deal very shortly with some of the other points raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). He was a little critical of Clause 5, by which all the co-opted Members, and those elected furthest back among the elected Members, will retire in the election in November, 1945, that is to say, for boroughs. I take that as an example. There are, of course, the 1702 two points of view, as has been said. In the one case there are those who want to keep up the one-third as near as possible, and the other view, which is quite widely favoured, that there should be a local general election at that point. The great advantage of the system that the Government have chosen is that it gives the chance of a wide expression of opinion. As my right hon. Friend said, it will mean that in most cases there will be an election covering half the council at that time. At the same time it maintains the continuity which is important in our provincial set-up of local authorities, and it means that a system is worked out by which the third will then go smoothly on in the future. I know that a great many people have said that through the effluxion of time the councils must be stale, and that they should all submit themselves to the electors. That is the other point of view. We have secured, as I say, that roughly half will submit themselves at once, and we think that will give the local electorate a good opportunity of expressing its views, while at the same time not throwing the local authority into a complete reversal of policy or a complete change at a very difficult time, namely in November, 1945.
§ Mr. Oldfield (Manchester, Gorton)
If there are two co-opted members for one ward do they both come off the local authority?
§ The Solicitor-General
Yes, both co-opted members. If there were three co-opted members for the ward they all come out. That was the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh made. There we had to balance the fact that in one ward all the members might have to go to the poll, and the next ward might only lose one. We felt that the advantage of allowing the electorate to pronounce on those who had been co-opted, because there has been so much said in the Press about co-option, outweighed the apparent disparity of the treatment of one ward compared with another. I hope I have expressed our point of view to my hon. Friend.
§ The Solicitor-General
Aldermen will come up for election at the first meeting, and a similar procedure mutatis mutandis 1703 will be carried through. With regard to the date, I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, because up to 1939 I had taken part in, I suppose, every municipal election campaign in Liverpool from 1923, and I never found this difficulty about getting the people to come out in the second half of October. In Liverpool—which may be different from other places—August and September are very quiet months. The holidays are spread over the whole of these two months, or certainly to the middle of September, and people only get really into their winter interests by about the middle of October. We have always found that in the second half of October one gets people to turn out, and one gets that interest shown—I am speaking of the one place I know. We could not get people to turn out for an election campaign in the second part of August, with 1st September as the voting day. Of course, we will consider, as we always would consider, the point advanced by my hon. Friend. We know that when he advances a point like that he is speaking not merely for himself but for many people who have consulted him and put the point to him. I wished to show that I have considered it, and to give him my own reaction to the matter, based on the local authority I know best.
I have dealt with the general question of aldermen earlier in my speech, and I will not repeat that. I would like to deal with the three specific points which were put to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh. The first was that the Speaker's Conference recommended that a man should be entitled to two registrations, one for residence and one for business, and my right hon. Friend wanted to know why that was not in the Bill. After consideration the Government came to the conclusion that there would be great difficulty in carrying out this proposal, as a registration officer would have no means of knowing whether the person had been registered on the business premises register in respect of another area. That was the difficulty in regard to the business premises register. On the other hand, so long as registration is based on the national registration machinery a person can only be registered once as far as the civilian residence register is concerned. It was that practical 1704 difficulty which is responsible for the nonappearance of that decision. If my right hon. Friend or any other hon. or right hon. Member can make any suggestions on that point we shall be only too glad to consider them.
My right hon. Friend's second point was that the conference had recommended a complete assimilation of parliamentary and local government registration, except for peers, and then he asked me whether we had not made a further exception. He referred to the exception mentioned by my right hon. Friend about those who had special local government qualifications, and asked if he had not made a further exception the Second Schedule, paragraph 2. I can reassure him. That paragraph merely preserves the existing law, and its retention is consequential on the decision to allow ratepayers to claim in respect of premises that do not carry the Parliamentary vote. In fact, it is a consequential provision on the second exception which my right hon. Friend mentioned, and not a further exception.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman leaves that point—perhaps I am asking something unreasonable—has he any idea of the approximate numbers that will be involved in this exception — tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or is it as many as a million?
§ The Solicitor-General
I have not got that information before me, but before the Committee stage I will see that it is obtained, and if my right hon. Friend or anyone else desires it it will be available, if it can possibly be obtained. I was about to deal with my right hon. Friend's third point, that the conference recommended certain provisions with regard to the university vote. That matter will be dealt with in subsequent legislation. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) will not ask me to pledge myself as to the exact form. That is a matter which has to be considered, but the matter will be considered in the further legislation which my right hon. Friend mentioned at the commencement of his speech.
There were two points of a more or less drafting nature which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). One 1705 was with regard to Clause 16. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry asked whether that was doing away with the business register. It is not doing away with the business register; it is only doing away with the special preparation of a buiness premises register if an election is initiated after 31st March, 1945, because by that time we shall have the May register, which will be just about in being and will cover the next few months, and from September we shall have the annual register to deal with it. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon raised the question of the provisions in Clause 12 (1, b, iv), about the election initiated during the period beginning on 1st January and ending on 9th September in 1946 or in any subsequent year. He drew attention to the fact that the business register would be comprised in the annual register which came into force in the preceding year. I think the House will bear me out, not only in the matter of construction but in the matter of general understanding, that the 1943 Act contemplated only one business premises registter in the year. It contemplated general continuous registration with regard to the civilian residents' register, and, of course, the Service register, so long as it was necessary.
I hope that I have dealt with the main points that have been raised in the Debate; and if there are any points of detail which I have not dealt with, I shall be only too pleased to let any of my hon. Friends who are interested know personally, or in any way that is convenient. I have tried to face up to the main questions which have been raised, and I feel that, after giving the best consideration which I can, I have once again to congratulate my right hon Friend, and to suggest that the House may congratulate itself on providing in a businesslike and careful manner for the problems of making our democracy work. I am sure the House would wish me to conclude by once again thanking you, Mr. Speaker, and the Conference which acted with you, for making possible this Bill and this course, which has commended itself to so many Members of the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Drewe.]
§ Committee To-morrow.