HC Deb 17 January 1945 vol 407 cc206-23
The Solicitor-General (Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 7, leave out "of seven years," and insert: beginning on the day on which the councillors elected at the ordinary election held last before the commencement of this Act came into office and. This Amendment is necessary because the reference to the period of seven years in the Clause cannot fit the case where the last ordinary elections were not held in 1939, but were held in 1938 and 1937. Therefore, we have to put in words to cover the period of more than seven years which will then be necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

The Chairman

I am calling the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes) with some hesitation. Perhaps the two Amendments in the name of the hon. and learned Member could be taken together.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I beg to move, in page 3, line 10, to leave out "March," and insert "May."

I am much obliged to you, Major Milner. I think it would be suitable to discuss these two Amendments together, and I appreciate your difficulty about this Amendment. Perhaps I owe an apology to the Committee for the fact that there is not on the Order Paper, a number of substantial consequential Amendments that would necessarily have to be inserted in the Bill in order to make effective the alteration I suggest.

Briefly, the reason for the Amendments is that the time at which local government elections are now held—as they must be held according to the Statute—are very inconvenient indeed. This is particularly true about municipal elections. I have fought many municipal elections in my time, and so have many other Members of the Committee, and when I look back over my political history, municipal elections conjure up in my mind a vista of cold, wet and foggy occasions. I shiver even to-day at the recollection of some of the open-air meetings that I addressed in the course of such municipal campaigns. November is about the worst time that could have been chosen.

It is true that the Amendment moves the date only a fortnight nearer summer, and it may well be said that it does not justify all the alterations that would be necessary and the re-arrangements that would be occasioned in order to get it advanced by a fortnight. I would be content if my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary, moved it further still. Indeed, there is an Amendment to a subsequent Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) which would advance it to 1st October and that, I suggest to the Committee, is a better date than 15th October.

After all, we are anxious to give every facility to a democracy to register its views, although we have to confess that the percentage of electors that goes to the polls in municipal elections is lamentably low. That is the experience, not only of London and the great towns, but even of a large number of smaller towns in this country, and any step we can take that will make it easier for campaigns to be conducted and will facilitate the voting by electors whose votes should be registered should surely receive the support of the Committee and of the Government. I, therefore, urge upon the Home Secretary to take the chance offered by this Bill of moving the date of municipal elections to a more convenient time.

There is also the specific Amendment, on which I am speaking now, which would alter the date of county council elections from March to May. I have not had much experience of county council elections. I have never contested one, and I have only once participated in such an election, but I feel sure that with regard to them, also, an effort should be made to find a date more helpful to electors than March. There is very little in the agricultural argument that elections should not come at harvest time, or at a period which would be inconvenient to agriculture.

Mrs. Tate (Frome)

When does the hon. and learned Gentleman have his harvest? I would ask him to try to learn a bit about the countryside.

Mr. Hughes

In any event, I would ask the Committee to find a more convenient time than March for county council elections.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)

There is on the Order Paper, Major Milner, an Amendment in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland). That Amendment deals with a proposed alteration in the date of borough council elections. As it is a similar topic to that dealt with in my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment, may I ask whether it would not be a convenient course if we were to discuss together all these Amendments which deal with alteration of dates of elections?

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

On a point of Order. I have an Amendment down on the next Clause, and I was wondering whether we could not discuss the whole question together. Then the Home Secretary could give one reply and, if it were thought desirable, the Amendments could be moved formally.

The Chairman

I am, of course, in the hands of the Committee. Is it agreed that we take the Amendments together?

Hon. Members


12.45 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

I want to support the alteration of the date of municipal elections from November to some other time. I have had experience similar to that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes). I do not know if Members on the other side do as we do, but we treat municipal elections almost like Parliamentary elections. We address meetings at street corners, often with not very big audiences. In the last week before November one is generally addressing meetings in a fog. [Interruption.] Perhaps one's ideas are not very clear, but the fog makes them still more dense. The real objection raised by the right hon. Gentleman when I last spoke about this matter, was that the change might interfere with holidays. I do not think that there should be much trouble about holidays at the end of September. The few people who go away in September are not likely to affect the election results materially. The question is, whether we get a real expression of opinion from the people and whether we are able to put our views properly to the people on a cold night in October or November. It will probably be a long time before there is any other alteration in the Franchise Acts, and it would be wise to deal with this matter now—not necessarily by a drastic alteration. I put down October, in place of November, but I am prepared to accept any change. It is true that there may not have been any strong expression of opinion from the people on this matter, but it should be remembered that the war obscures everything else in their minds at present. We in Parliament, however, are the guardians of the people's rights, and we are supposed to watch these things carefully. We may be told that there has been a Speaker's Conference, and that all the parties have given way on certain points in order to get a generally-agreed Bill, but I do not think that that ought to weigh with us on a question like this. I do not think that those Members who were on the Speaker's Conference would object to some change of this kind. However slight the alteration might be, I would gladly accept it.

Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)

I would like to support the Amendment. I have had some experience of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I think their opinion is worth consideration. I know that I shall carry my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with me that far, because he has already asked them for a statement of their opinion on this matter; and they advised him some time ago that they would prefer elections in the Spring, rather than in November. It is true that they did not take an individual vote of their constituent members, but some time ago one borough circulated all the municipal boroughs, asking their views about the proposed change. There are 420 municipal boroughs in England and Wales, of whom 292 replied to the circular, and 234 of these supported a resolution in favour of the change now suggested in this Amendment.

Mr. H. Morrison

Could my hon. Friend say whether it is part of the proposal of the Association that the county council, district council, and borough elections should all take place at the same time?

Sir A. Maitland

Quite frankly, I think that the Association of Municipal Corporations have contented themselves by stating their view with regard to their own constituent members. They would probably feel that it would be outside their jurisdiction to speak for county councils and district councils, which have other bodies to look after their interests; but the boroughs and county boroughs are largely in favour of the action suggested by my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Home Secretary will take that into consideration.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

It seems to me that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has a confidence in the stabilty of the British weather which is not justified by the facts. Good weather for campaigning is as likely in November as at any other time of the year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is a matter of experience. I ask that on this subject we should bear in mind that the fine weather is of use to those engaged on the land not only for purposes of electioneering, but also for purposes of work. It is also a question of whether in fine weather the pull of the allotment will not be at least as great as the pull of the polling booth. In these circumstances, I feel that, unless the Home Secretary can show that there is a very strong feeling for the change, there is a lot to be said for leaving things as they are.

Mr. G. Hutchinson

There appear to be two considerations which affect this matter. The first is the relative inclemency of the weather in March or November. The second is whether, if the election is held in the Spring, there may not be other distractions which will attract the electors away from the place of polling. That objection is, I understand, the objection which my right hon. Friend feels to the proposed alteration in the date. I must confess that I have no very strong feelings on this topic one way or the other. I should have thought that on those two considerations, the balance was probably in favour of holding municipal elections in the Spring rather than in the Autumn, but I see no very great advantage in shifting the election from November to the middle of October. It seems to me that if you are going to make a change in this date, which has become well established as the date when people begin to anticipate that municipal activity will intensify itself, it would be better to make a much more complete change in the date, and to hold the borough elections in the Spring. I should have thought that on balance, having regard to the views that the boroughs themselves have expressed, that probably would have been the best course to take. But I can see the substantial objections to October. If the election takes place in the middle of October the election campaign will go on for three to four weeks perhaps before the election, and, in spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has said, it will, I think, overlap with the holidays period of quite a large number of people. It would also be open to the objection that the days are longer, and people would probably be attracted by other interests. If we are to have a change I think we should have a drastic change, and hold these borough elections in the Spring.

Perhaps there is one other difficulty which might arise in the case of an October election. Twice, I think, in the last few years a Parliamentary election has taken place in October. If a Parliamentary election takes place in the Autumn at all, it is, I think, very desirable that it should be before the end of October, because the difficulties of bad weather are much greater in the case of Parliamentary elections than in the case of municipal elections. If the municipal elections were fixed for the middle of October, it would mean that Parliamentary elections in the Autumn would either clash with the municipal elections or have to go to some date in November, which would be a very inconvenient time. As I say, I have no very strong feelings one way or the other, but if we do make a change for municipal elections, I ask that it should be a complete change.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

The point I would like to put forward is based on the change of circumstances which we have witnessed over a number of years in the industrial areas. That is a point that hon. Members opposite may, unintentionally, have overlooked. The November date was fixed as far back as 1835, more than 100 years ago, and it has remained unchanged, but the conditions in the industrial areas have changed considerably. We have a tremendous number of shifts now in industry, which we did not have hitherto. Therefore, it is important to ask the Home Secretary to consider a change from November to October.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) said that, from the weather point of view, he did not think that there was any argument for changing the date. Even if his argument is sound, there is no reason why we should not make it more convenient for the electors to participate in elections during the period of lighter evenings. It is known to hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies that we have a tremendous number of intermittent shifts being worked, and it would be much better to allow people to vote when the days are longer. I ask the Home Secretary to consider the matter in the light of the various points which have been put forward. I think it will be desired to change the date from November to October. Furthermore, representations have been made over a long period by various organisations that the polling days should be changed from November even to September, but we have not gone as far as that. We ask that it should be changed from November to October, and I support the contention put forward by my hon. Friends.

Wing-Commander Grant-Ferris (St. Pancras, North)

I should like, very briefly, to support the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I do so because I myself have fought two municipal elections and have taken part in a great many others in industrial areas, and I think anyone who has done so will remember that it is only with the greatest difficulty in the world that people can be induced to come out to vote at all at that time of the year. They are rather inclined to be bored by the whole thing. You knock at a door, and a child comes to the door and says "What is it?" You say "It is about voting," and the father or mother then tells the child to say "I am not going this year." I believe May is a better date than October, and that you would then find people in a better frame of mind and more willing to come out and vote. It is our duty to do everything we can to help people to use their franchise, and, unless we have the election at a reasonable time of the year, it will be very difficult. There is also the important matter of the health of the people who do the canvassing. How many hon. Members know of people who have died from pneumonia purely as a result of going out to do what they deemed to be their duty at that very difficult time of the year? I hope the Minister will make some concession. I prefer October to no change at all, but I agree with my hon. and learned Friend oppositie that May would be better still.

Mr. Oldfield (Manchester, Gorton)

I support the remarks of many hon. Members in regard to the alteration of the date. I have had a good deal of experience in electioneering work, and I have fought elections in April and March and also in November. My experience tends to support the alteration to the month of May. I do not particularly support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in favour of October, because the city council of Manchester are almost unanimous in supporting the alteration to May. I think there is a good deal to be said for it. I know the arguments on both sides in relation to the difficulties of the voter, as mentioned by the last speaker. I feel that it can and does act both ways. If the election is in May, the bowling greens are open and the tennis courts are in full swing, and it is often difficult to get people to come off a bowling green, and, of course, you cannot catch them indoors. There is the other argument, as far as meetings are concerned, that it is easier to work up enthusiasm in May than in the month of October or in the sometimes rather bleak month of April. Therefore, I support the suggestion that some alteration be made and I should prefer the election being held in May.

Sir G. Acland-Troyte

I think that, so far, all the argument have been used in regard to borough elections, and not in regard to the county councils. There is a good deal to be argued on the question of inclement weather, especially in regard to county council elections. I think, however, on the whole, it would be better to leave the elections as they are for this reason. The county council budget is passed at the end of March, and I think it is better that it should be passed by the new county council than by the retiring council.

Mr. H. Morrison

This is a matter upon which it is very legitimate that there should be more than one opinion, and I do not deny for one moment that hon. Members who have argued for a change have made a case. But I am bound to say that, for reasons which I will indicate, I do not so far feel convinced, and the Government do not feel convinced either. I have often heard debates on this matter at conferences of a certain political party, and there have been arguments for and against. My recollection is that, in the end, such uncertainty and confusion arose about the subject that our old friend the "next business" was moved and it was decided to make no decision. I also have had experience of the conduct of municipal elections, and I have driven many people to go canvassing. I am bound to say, in response to the hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras North (Wing-Commander Grant-Ferris), who spoke about people who had died from pneumonia as a consequence of going canvassing in October, that I do not remember one case. I do not remember having killed anyone in that way, but I cannot presume that there are no such cases.

Let us consider. The 1st November is a date with a lot of history and tradition behind it. It is, of course, the case that that is the day of the election, but the actual fighting of the election takes place, broadly, throughout the month of October. Do not let us exaggerate the evils of October. October is not too bad a month. Some people even have their summer holidays in October, and cricket matches, so I am told, are held then. It is a vigorous month, one in which, it is true, the breezes begin to blow and a certain bite comes into the atmosphere, but that is conducive to mental liveliness and stimulation and to physical stimula- tion, which is not unimportant in the conduct of elections. It could be argued that, from the point of view of the physical and mental energy of the people, there is a lot to be said for October. I do not see anything in the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) about 15th October. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) that it does not seem to be worth all the bother.

When we come to May, there is this to be said. You might have a May in which things are not bright, and in which you have not got the stimulus to mental and physical energy. It might be rather an extraordinary May in which it was really warm, but I am not sure that that would be conducive to liveliness or energy. As a practical electioneerer, and I am talking about it purely in a practical sense at the moment, I personally have resisted the idea of May for the reason that was given by one hon. Member. I think that the competitive attractions, not only of allotments, but of open-air sports of one kind and another and all sorts of things that take people into pleasant pursuits, and take their minds off electioneering, might result in not getting as much interest in May as you would get in October.

The other point is: Where do we finish up in the end? The Association of Municipal Corporations, for whose views I always have a high regard—though hon. Members must not assume that they are right, because they are sometimes wrong; at least I think so, because they sometimes disagree with me—have expressed an opinion in favour of the Spring, and their opinion is certainly worth taking into account and treating with respect. If Spring is right for the borough elections, it is right for the county council elections and the district council elections. Indeed, the county council elections are already held in March in England and Wales, though, curiously, in December in Scotland. The district council elections are held either in March or April. I have a recollection that the percentage of electors voting at district councils, taking them as a whole, is no higher than that of the borough council elections in November.

Supposing we got all these elections mixed up and taking place, either on the American pattern, on the same day, or within a short space of time, again, speaking as a practical electioneerer, I would say, "No." If I were looking after London, I would not want the London County Council elections to be mixed up with the Metropolitan borough council elections, or vice versa. You might have things happening on the one council for which the other might be blamed. I think each election should be separate, with a space of time between them, so that the merits of each class of local authority can be on trial and under examination. If we adopt the spring, we are proving the case which I think the Association of Municipal Corporations implies; that is to say, either you get these elections very close together, or you are driven to have them on the same day. I think that would be a great pity. I think they ought to be separated, and that issues ought to be settled at each election on their merits, and that such a course is better for the political organisations as well.

In any case, I put this to the Committee. I have expressed the view which, on the whole, the Government take. I admit that it is arguable and that there might be some disputation about it. I think it would be a pity to seek to settle it on this Bill. This is not the sort of Bill on which this question ought to be settled, because we should be faced with a large number of consequential Amendments which might delay the passage of the Bill. It is one of those things on which it is hard to have a dogmatic opinion, but I think that, some day—I cannot promise it for this Government—a Government might set up a conference or committee, including representatives of local authorities, the party headquarters, and Members of Parliament, and have a look at this to see whether any agreement could be reached and whether it is possible to reach it by spacing out the elections in a proper way. When things are less pressing, I personally would be in favour of this subject being examined, but I think it is a doubtful point on which to take any action in this Bill. Whilst I do not wish to be unduly dogmatic about it, I think the balance is against a change at this moment, and, in all the circumstances, I hope hon. Members may see their way not to press the Amendments which are before the Committee.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

Cannot my right hon. Friend go a little further and agree now that a committee should be appointed to consider this? There is no question of principle involved; it is just a question of which date is more convenient. This raises the issue whether it is desirable to have elections on the same day or whether there should be some space of time between. I should have thought that, in view of the fact that we are to resume elections in the Autumn, and that we are increasing very considerably by this Bill the numbers of people who will vote, this is the time to take the step of appointing a committee to consider what changes should be made. I think that the Minister might say that he will give further consideration now to the point, instead of suggesting vaguely that some Government, some day might do it—which I think was rather contrary to his ordinary political philosophy. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say that he himself is prepared either to agree, or to give further consideration, to the appointment of a committee to consider the question of date.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I was thinking on my feet as I went along. I did not like to give a firm promise because, frankly, this Government have their share of committees of one sort or another. We have a very large number. We have not been unindustrious in appointing committees and I am afraid of getting too many. Therefore, I would not like to make any promise to the Committee, but I am tempted by the suggestion and I can only say that I will give the matter further consideration. I would have to consult colleagues about it. I hope that the Committee will not regard me as being committed, but I will look at the matter to see whether this is desirable.

Mr. Hughes

In view of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)

I would like to ask the Home Secretary whether he has considered, or will consider, the question of vacancies. On the top of page 4 the Bill says: If the vacancy occurs within the said six months, it shall remain unfilled until the first ordinary election required to be held under Sub-section (1). A council might, reasonably, be equally divided; one party might have a majority of one, and one seat being vacant, it could upset the balance. I was wondering whether hard cases would affect the position.

Mr. Tinker

I want to deal with the question of aldermen. If we allow the Clause to go through without some protest, it might be accepted that no one had paid any attention to the question of aldermen. The extension of the franchise means that everybody should have the right to exercise the vote. By keeping on aldermen we are putting men into positions who would never come before the electorate. The appointment of aldermen depends on the political party in power on the council. I should think that this sort of thing has been going on for 100 years and that it was brought about at the time because people who had served on councils for a long time might act as guides to younger people who were not used to municipal matters. Everybody who is elected to a council should have knowledge of municipal business and should not be dependent upon aldermen to be put into the way along which they should go. I am not going to ask for a division, or any alteration of the Clause, but I would ask the Home Secretary whether, when he is considering the various points, the position of aldermen ought not to be altered.

I have not heard of anyone being able to justify a continuance of this system of aldermen. I know of some aldermen who have done a lot of work and who do not want to have to face the electorate again, and they argue that, if they themselves are willing to carry on longer, they are justified in doing so. I have spoken to aldermen and have asked them whether they could really justify keeping their position, and they have replied that they could not. It is not a question of democratic control. How men are justified in occupying positions like that passes my comprehension, unless it is the carrying on of some old system. I want the Home Secretary or the Solicitor-General to give an explanation to-day. I want a promise that at some other time this question will be examined in the light of being considered obsolete. I am raising my voice in protest because it would not be right to let this matter go through without somebody having done it.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

I must, in view of what has just been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), say a word or two in defence of the aldermen, but I must also declare an interest, as I happen to be an alderman myself, and I believe that the Home Secretary also shares that very high honour. The position overlooked by my hon. Friend is that while in his part of the world the position of aldermen may be given for the reasons he has indicated, in other parts of the country that is not always the position. Aldermen are sometimes elected to councils in order to bring in people who can make a real contribution to the work of the council—men and women perhaps would not have the opportunity or flair that my hon. Friend has for the hustings—and in that way very valuable help is given to the work of local government. In addition to that, dare I say that the aldermen, while they play their part in instructing and helping forward the young recruits to local government, also provide a very valuable element in our local government life, namely, the element of continuity and stability which is so necessary in local government as in other things? I feel obliged to say that in view of the onslaught which my hon. Friend has made upon aldermen generally.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I hesitate to support my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) on the question of aldermen, although I believe there is something in his argument; I do not think that it is fair to generalise. For example, in certain areas changes have been made—I believe in London—on the aldermanic bench by reason of changes in the complexion and balance of political parties. I object more than anything to the antiquity of aldermen. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education is present and I believe that he would agree with me that the mortality rate on the Surrey County Council aldermanic bench is the highest in any part of the country. They are dying like flies.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Ede)

I am feeling rather ill myself.

Mr. Walkden

I hope that my right hon. Friend will go on for many years. I have served on parish councils and on urban and borough councils but not on a county council. The belief has been created that you cannot make any change on the aldermanic bench and that once a man is an alderman he is an alderman for the rest of his life. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is what generally obtains. I have experience of borough councils up and down the country and I have met these doddering old men, these old fogies, and they really take no part in public life at all. They perform no functions and give no guidance and their judgment is not worth twopence. I do not think we can generalise but we ought to get it into the minds of our young people that the power to change the aldermanic bench is entirely in their hands. If they wish to eliminate certain aldermen, they can do so. It is not an extermination process we wish them to embark upon, but if they wish to bring about a change, they can do it.

As I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, I was rather encouraged by the idea adopted by the Lord Chancellor with regard to magistrates. I believe that he has a sort of system in which he puts magistrates upon a reserved list, and disposes of them in one way or another if they do not perform their functions. I do not think that this really ought to be done by Parliament. We should focus attention on the idea that there is a possibility, even now, without further legislation, of changing the aldermanic bench. We should encourage this idea very vigorously throughout the land so as to bring about many changes. There are some young aldermen of 30 or 35 years of age who have learned very much about local government and have given guidance, and whose judgments have been taken notice of in many ways in public life. The antiquity of the aldermen is the cause of most of the trouble, and I believe that the remedy, in the main, is in in the hands of the people.

Mr. H. Morrison

With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), all we are doing in this Clause is retaining the peace-time law, except that in the period leading up to six months before the election, co-option will continue. The existing law is that vacancies within six months of an election are not filled unless it is necessary to do it in order to maintain two-thirds of the council. My hon. Friend has raised the point that the representation of a council might be equal with regard to party balance. That happens sometimes, but I do not think that this, of itself, necessarily affects the position. It may cause that situation.

Mr. Bull

Has not the right hon. Gentleman now a good opportunity to remedy that defect?

Mr. Morrison

I do not think that it is real. This might cause the situation, but the situation might also arise otherwise. I have met it sometimes after an election and have had to give advice about it. It is a nasty tangle but somehow the question of who is to have a majority on a council gets solved, sometimes by the Mayor. I do not think that it would be easy to solve it by this Bill, and I do not know what the solution is. With regard to aldermen, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for the Park division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden), have a vested interest. I am an alderman and so is my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, and in fact we seem to be well provided for in Committee to-day.

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

Do not let us have arguments ad persona.

Mr. Morrison

The hon. and learned Member cannot say anything—he has never been an alderman. I will not say whether he ought to be or not. Let me express a personal view about it, and I hope that I shall not get across my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health. My own personal view is that, if it is properly used, the aldermanic institution is valuable. If it is properly used, the institution of co-opted members on committees is valuable, within limitations. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) that in the great majority of cases the aldermanic institution is wrongly used, and it is wrongly used through some theory of democracy—a mechanical theory of democracy which is all nonsense. It is wrongly used because the councils are trying to meet, I think, the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and therefore, what they, are bound to do is to choose an existing councillor, usually the senior councillor for the ward. In time, he becomes promoted to the aldermanic bench, and that tends to make him an elderly member, as my hon. Friend says. It is an honour which comes to the senior member of the ward in time according to deaths, vacancies and so on, and once the councillor is made an alderman he tends to be an alderman for life or until the party or somebody encourages him to go off the aldermanic bench, which they do not like to do. That, of course, means that the aldermen were originally elected persons in most cases, having the sanctity of election at some time and then have remained on. In that case you have no practical value out of the aldermanic institution at all, none whatever.

1.30 p.m.

It is always difficult for me to say, "I will now tell you what the London County Council do about it," because I know my provincial friends do not always like it but, with great respect, I believe we did it the right way. The Labour Party did not invent it. I think the Conservatives did it before, and I rather think the Progressives did. We did not promote from within the Council. We deliberately went outside—thereby, of course, being alleged to be undemocratic by some people—but the institution is either for the purpose of going outside or it is not, and I think it is for that purpose. I think the credit for this is probably due to the Progressives, and when they went outside, they said to themselves, "Looking at this body of elected councillors, of what are we short?" When we came in in numbers, we also said to ourselves, and I believe the Conservatives said to themselves, "In what are we deficient? Can we improve the average quality of the elected members of the Council?"

I will tell you what we did in 1919 when we got two Labour aldermen. We were entitled to about one and two-thirds but we got two. That is another thing, by the way—that the aldermen ought to be shared between the parties on the basis of proportional election. We looked at our little Labour Party of about 17 and we said, "We are deficient in expert knowledge of finance." We knew something about finance and we would have found out more, but we needed an expert on finance. We said, "We have not got a lawyer"—that will please the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt)—"and a lawyer will be useful." We got C. J. Matthew, who, I think the hon. and learned Member will agree, was a very good lawyer. It squared the Progressives because he was a Liberal in transition to the Labour Party, and that was how we got an alderman out of the two-thirds. That is what we did then and have done since — we have brought in either specialists or as competent people as possible and thereby added to the total quality of our party on the public authority, and the others tried to do the same.

I must not go on to co-opted Members of committees but the same principle applies, except that you are training them there in public administration. That is the way that aldermen ought to be used. We always said to them, "You will have six years, and it is ten to one that at the end of the six years you will have to go off and stand for election." In nine cases out of ten they did, and it was good for them. Therefore there was no permanency about the thing at all. That is the right way to use aldermen, and therefore I oppose the abolition of aldermen. I believe this is a good invention, I think it is a good device, and I want to preserve it, but I want the local authorities to get out of this mechanical seniority business and really begin to use the alder-manic institution for the purpose for which it was created by Parliament.

I am sorry to have taken so long, but I have strong feelings about this question, and I thought it was a good opportunity to popularise and advertise my views. I always hate to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), for whose views I have great respect, but I hope he will do me the honour of considering the arguments I have put to him and see whether they might not modify the perfectly understandable views he has put before the Committee. Having thus delivered myself with fervour, eloquence and conviction, I hope the Committee will allow the Clause to go through.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.