HL Deb 18 January 1916 vol 20 cc931-47

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Amendment of Parliament Act in connection with the present Parliament.

1.—(1) Section seven of the Parliament Act, 1911, shall, in its application to the present Parliament, have effect as if five years and eight months were substituted for five years.

(2) Section two of the Parliament Act, 1911, shall, in relation to any public Bill passed by the House of Commons after the passing of this Act and during the continuance of the present Parliament, have effect as if the session ended in September nineteen hundred and fourteen, and the session in which the Bill is so passed were successive sessions.


My Lords, on the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill I ventured to trouble your Lordships with some observations upon subsection (2) of the first clause, which subsection I now move to omit from the Bill. As your Lordships are aware, this subsection prolongs the life of the Plural Voting Bill for the eight months for which the existence of the present Parliament is by this Bill extended, and also I think, though I am not quite certain, during any further extension of the life of this Parliament which may subsequently be passed into law. I drew attention on the Second Reading to what seemed to me the dangers of that position, and I asked my noble friend Lord Lansdowne to give your Lordships his opinion on the position and prospects of the Plural Voting Bill assuming this subsection to become law. I also suggested that there was to my mind some danger, if the war happily were to end during the coming summer—say, a couple of months before the eight months expired for which this Parliament is to be extended—that the intervening time might be utilised by the present Prime Minister and his Liberal colleagues to pass the Plural Voting Bill through the House of Commons and to place it upon the Statute Book against any opposition from your Lordships' House.

My noble friend Lord Lansdowne was good enough to give me a very frank and straightforward answer. He told your Lordships that whatever chance the Plural Voting Bill had he was inclined to believe that the war and the formation of the Coalition Government had effectually disposed of it, and that we might safely assume that nothing would be heard of the Bill while the war goes on or while the Coalition Government still exists; and my noble friend added incidentally that the mere conclusion of an armistice would not, in his opinion, mean the end of the war. That, so far as it went, was extremely satisfactory to me. Then the noble Marquess proceeded to deal with the possibility of the present Prime Minister and his Liberal colleagues, if the war ended during the summer, utilising the remaining time, of course without the assent of his present Unionist colleagues who would then have resigned, to pass the Plural Voting Bill into law. My noble friend asked on that point whether any one believed, if the war came to an end this summer, that it would be possible for the Coalition Government to disappear and a new Liberal Government to be formed to carry through such a contentious measure as the Plural Voting Bill; and he almost, I think, ridiculed my apprehensions on that subject.

I may be open to that reply. But at any rate my credulity, if it be so, as to what might, I do not say probably, but what might possibly be done, is shared by my noble friend's Liberal colleagues in the Cabinet, because if there was no possibility that such a thing could be done what in the world could have been their object in putting this subsection into the Bill and forcing it, as I think it must have been forced, upon their Unionist colleagues? If what I apprehended could not, as my noble friend thinks, possibly take place, then it is perfectly clear that the subsection is meaningless and never ought to have been put into the Bill. That is the present position. I do not wish to press the matter too far, because I am afraid that none of us can feel any confidence that the war will end during the eight months for which this Bill prolongs the life of the present Parliament. But at any rate I endeavoured to do what I thought was my duty in calling attention to the possibility, and I am glad that I did so because it extracted from my noble friend Lord Lansdowne an answer which to a great extent might, tend to allay apprehensions of the kind.

My noble friend did not, however, explain how he would prevent what I feared happening if it should be attempted by the Prime Minister and his Liberal colleagues. He said— If it were to come to pass that we found ourselves face to face with an attempt to jockey Parliament…into giving what might seem to us improper facilities for the passing of the Plural Voting Bill, we who are the Unionist wing of the Cabinet would certainly not have parted with our discretion or our right to deal with the circumstances in whatever manner might seem to us to be necessary. He did not tell us how they would deal with it and I do not think he could, because it is obvious that then, as now, there might be circumstances existing which would be of so much greater importance to the country than the Plural Voting Bill that it would be impossible for the Unionist members of the Cabinet to resign, and they would be placed in the dilemma of either giving up their places and their work at a time when their services would be most valuable to the country or assenting to a measure which they, in common with myself, have consistently opposed through the many years that it has been before Parliament, and which they intend still to oppose, as I understand, if it is ever brought forward again. Therefore I have placed this Amendment on the Paper for the omission of the subsection in order to make my protest against what I think is a mistake on the part of my leaders in giving their assent to this subsection—a mistake which I am afraid will weaken their position with regard to this matter on a subsequent occasion. But I feel that your Lordships may well hesitate to throw an apple of Party discord into the arena of the House of Commons at a time when a subject infinitely greater in importance and infinitely more pressing is engaging their attention and that of the country. Therefore as far as my personal wishes are concerned I should be content that my Amendment should remain as a protest and be negatived, and I should not put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division upon it if that should be the feeling of your Lordships' House.

There is, however, one thing which I should like to add. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne alluded to the application of this subsection to a possible extension of the life of the present Parliament beyond the eight months which this Bill provides. That further extension is, of course, possible, but I hope it is not very probable. I think there is something to be said even at the present time against the extension of the life of the present Parliament, and there may be a great deal more to be said eight months hence against any proposal of the kind. No one can tell what the circumstances of the war may be or what there may be in the conduct of the Government or in those circumstances which might require an appeal to the country in order to support them in the proper conduct of the war. Therefore I am quite sure that my noble friend will not for a moment consider that the question of any future extension of the life of the present Parliament is in any way prejudged by the provisions of this Bill. And I think from what he said that. I may assume that the application of this subsection to any future Act of the kind is also not prejudged, because he told us that— It does not seem to me to follow that because we are willing to give a reprieve to the Plural Voting Bill in the month of January, we should necessarily be ready to grant a further reprieve to it in the month of July or August. I think that was a very satisfactory statement from my noble friend. Personally, I should carry it a little further. I do not think the life of that measure ought to be prolonged, and for this reason. It seems to have been omitted from consideration by some of those who have dealt with this matter that it was not due to the war that the Plural Voting Bill was not in a position to be passed into law in 1914. It was due to the action of its authors. The authors of the Plural Voting Bill, the late Government, introduced that measure in 1912 as a Franchise and Registration Bill dealing with several other matters besides plural voting. When it got to the Committee stage in the House of Commons Amendments were made, were supported at any rate, by members of the Cabinet, for the extension of the franchise to women; and that question and other important questions which were raised or were about to be raised on the Bill led the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule that the Bill, if those Amendments were carried, would be so altered that it would be practically a new Bill and could not be proceeded with. Therefore the Bill had to be withdrawn, and lost that session; and it is due to that, and not to the war, that the Plural Voting Bill is in its present position. I hope that when this matter comes again before my noble friend and his colleagues it will be considered, as I am sure it will be, in the spirit of the speech which the noble Marquess addressed to your Lordships on the Second Reading, and that he will remember not only the strong objection of his Party to this measure but, also the objection which I think all must feel to such a Parliamentary outrage as the passing of the Plural Voting Bill would be, after all that has happened in the last two years, by the means which I had in view as being possible, if not probable, in the future. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, leave out subsection (2).—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)


My Lords, in the speech which the noble Earl delivered on the Second Reading of this Bill he told us that he would feel it his duty again to raise the matter on the Committee stage, and the remarks to which we have just listened are therefore the fulfilment of the undertaking which he gave on his own behalf on that occasion; though I am glad to know, from what he said in one sentence, that he regards his speech more in the nature of a protest than anything else, and that he does not carry his hostility to the point of intending to ask your Lordships to divide on his Amendment. The noble Earl admitted that the situation, and indeed his own views on the situation, had been materially altered by the speech which was delivered by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne on the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill. He spoke of that speech as having been satisfactory in the assurances that it contained and as having allayed some of the apprehensions that he had felt. Nevertheless he renewed those apprehensions to some extent in the remarks to which we have just listened, and coupled with them two or three further questions to which I will, with your Lordships' permission, endeavour to reply.

I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything about the merits or otherwise of the Plural Voting Bill in itself. In all probability my views entirely coincide with those of the noble Earl. In almost the concluding sentence of his speech he spoke of the Party to which we both belong as entertaining strong objections to this measure. That is mild language compared with that which I should have been tempted to apply to the Bill had I been speaking of it myself. I take it that most of our Party regard the Plural Voting Bill not only as acutely controversial but as a measure of a very partisan character indeed—I think that was the phrase applied to it by Mr. Bonar Law in another place only a few weeks ago; and, whatever the objects or motives with which it may have been introduced and pressed by the late Government, we at any rate regard it as likely, indeed as certain, to operate very prejudicially against the interests of the Party of which we are members. It is for these reasons that the Bill has always been stoutly resisted, and I believe will continue, should it, re-emerge, to be stoutly resisted, by the members of the Unionist Party.

In these circumstances the noble Earl very naturally asked, "How comes it, then, that a reference to this measure, to which we so strongly object, is admitted in this Bill?" I think he said, What in the world is the object of its being so admitted unless it is intended to confer some advantage upon the other wing of the Government to which we now belong? I think it is possible to give an answer to that question which shall be both clear and sufficient. I have stated in a sentence or two what is the view that the Unionist Party have always entertained, and I believe still entertain, about the Plural Voting Bill. But we also have to look to the point of view from which it is regared by the other wing of the present Coalition Government. I suppose that they would say that they had carried this Bill through all its stages in the House of Commons in two successive years, in 1913 and 1914; they would say that at the out break of the war they still possessed, and I suppose that if you were to count up heads on Party lines they still possess, a large Liberal majority in the House of Commons; and they would add that when the war broke out and even when the Coalition Government was formed they still possessed a chance—remote and almost infinitesimal, as we might regard it to have been—of securing the passage of the Bill in the duration of the present Parliament. Holding these views they undoubtedly thought that their interests would be prejudiced by the complete disappearance of that chance and by the elimination of all reference to the measure in this Bill.

It was in these circumstances, my Lords—I do not think I am divulging any secret—that the matter was referred to a Committee of the Cabinet, upon which both sides were, as far as I remember, quite evenly represented. The result of the proceedings of that Committee was a suggestion of which the subsection with which the noble Earl is now dealing is a reduced and modified form. As such it was accepted by the Government as a whole. It was regarded by all of us at the Council Table as a compromise, as part of a bargain not unfair to either Party, which, having been entered into, ought to be loyally adhered to. The noble Earl with his great experience of Cabinet government will himself be the first to acknowledge that the faithful observance of compromises or contracts of this description is a condition of the successful and harmonious carrying on of any government; and if that be so of any government, how much more so is it in the ca-se of a Coalition Government in which the various Parties are fused in a great national interest?

Passing to the point which was raised by the noble Earl as to the actual degree of danger that may still exist, if the Bill be passed in its present form, of this subsection becoming operative in the near future, I would state the case even more strongly than did my noble friend Lord Lansdowne the other day. What are the conditions that would have to be realised if under the terms of this Bill what used to be called the Plural Voting Bill is to have a chance of passing into law? In the first place, the war will have to terminate within eight months from now; secondly, in the interval between the termination of the war and the expiration of these eight months the Coalition Government must have broken up and resolved itself into its original elements—because the contingency which the noble Earl contemplated of a Coalition Government continuing to exist after the war had come to an end and of the Unionist members of the Coalition acquiescing in the resuscitation of this measure and in its passage over the heads of your Lordships House is one which, with all respect to the noble Earl, I decline for a moment to contemplate as within the bounds of possibility; thirdly, a new Liberal Government will have had to be formed and to take office, with a House of Commons presumably once again divided on the old Party lines; and, fourthly, such a Liberal Government must be prepared in the conditions I have described, with the echoes of the war still ringing in its ears and with all the ties of co-operation during these months of the greatest agony and stress that this country has ever known still unforgotten, to don the old Party colours and once again resume the sterile controversies of the past; and not only that, but it must find a House of Commons prepared to acquiesce in that procedure. I venture to say that each one of the contingencies that I have described is in itself so unlikely as to be almost incredible, and that the combination of all four is so incredible as to be absolutely impossible.


Then you might agree to my proposal.


As I have explained, the reason why we cannot agree to the noble Earl's proposal is that we could only do so by the violation of an agreement entered into with our colleagues in the present Administration. The noble Earl went beyond that to discuss what might happen at the expiration of the eight months for which the duration of the present Parliament is under this Bill to be prolonged, and he seemed to contemplate a condition of affairs in which eight months from now, the war not having terminated—and few of us think that it can terminate within that period—the Government might introduce a measure for a further extension of the term of this Parliament, and that somehow or other we might find ourselves in a position in which this subsection would in itself be revived and would continue to operate under the then new conditions. I do not think that that is at all a correct anticipation of the future. It is certainly not how I for my part, or I believe any of my colleagues, read the terms of the compromise or agreement, or whatever you like to call it, into which we entered. We shall be at the termination of the eight months, should it be found necessary further to prolong the life of this Parliament, absolutely free and with our hands untied in the matter.

The noble Earl asked, first, whether the question of a further extension of the life of the present Parliament would be at all prejudged by what we are doing now; and, secondly, whether the revival of a subsection of this description relating to the Plural Voting Bill would be at all prejudged. I have no hesitation in giving him a negative reply to both of those questions. We regard our hands—indeed, this is pretty much what the noble Marquess himself said the other day—as absolutely free in the matter. Our attitude will have to be determined when that period arises by the circumstances of the case; and, as the noble Earl pointed out very forcibly, who can tell what they may be? The whole situation may be different both as regards the war and as regards the continued life of this Parliament. I need not go into that now. But so far as the noble Earl asked for definite assurances on certain questions, I have done my best to give them. I admit that I have had nothing new to add to what was said the other day by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, but I hope that I have given your Lordships some ground for believing that the action of those members of the Government who have hitherto belonged to the Unionist Party has been based upon grounds both of practical expediency and of political honour, from which we cannot in the circumstances recede.


My Lords, as I took a great deal of interest in the passage of the Parliament Act five years ago, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to add a word or two to the observations which have been made this afternoon. I entirely agree with my noble friend who has just sat down that lie and his Unionist colleagues are absolutely bound by any pledge into which they may have entered in the Cabinet. The noble Earl gave us an interesting account of the meeting of the Cabinet at which this compromise had been arranged. I think, however, that the noble Earl was a little unfortunate in that the defence of the Liberal position in regard to the Plural Voting Bill should have fallen to him rather than to one of his Liberal colleagues on the Front Bench opposite. If he will allow me to say so, I do not think that his defence was as cogent as many of the things I have heard fall from his lips.

On the merits, the position taken up by my noble friend Earl St. Aldwyn seems to me absolutely conclusive. What was really contemplated in the Parliament Act by the majority of both Houses was that where a Bill evidently represented the opinion of a House of Commons which had the full confidence of the electorate, then it ought to be passed over the heads of your Lordships' House. That was the essence of the Parliament Act, looking at it as fairly as possible. What ground have we for thinking that the present House of Commons in respect to the Plural Voting Bill enjoys the full confidence of the electorate? It is evident that there is no such assurance whatever; and the very precautions which were inserted in the Parliament Act to make that sure are being swept away by the present proposal. The idea—a very absurd idea, for which none of us on this side of the House were responsible—was that for a certain number of years after a General Election the House of Commons might be held to have the full confidence of the electorate, and, after consideration, the Government of that day arrived at the conclusion that the period was five years.

It was conceded that in normal times, with an ordinary House of Commons and ordinary Parliament, there would be no assurance after the end of five years that the House of Commons enjoyed the full confidence of the electorate. Now it is proposed that this process should be permitted after the period of five years has elapsed, and that the House of Commons should, if the occasion arose, be able to override the views of your Lordships' House even though ex concessis it no longer enjoyed the full confidence of the electorate. If this precaution was necessary in a normal Parliament, how much more is it necessary now? Can any one pretend for a moment that the present House of Commons enjoys the confidence, or even, may I say, the respect, of the country? If that be so, upon what possible ground can the precautions which Parliament itself inserted be swept away on the present occasion? One of the conditions inserted then, and it was pleaded as of great importance, was that there would be able to be careful consideration of the Bill by public opinion in the country during its successive passages through Parliament. Do your Lordships think that the public are even inclined to consider, or have the opportunity of considering, carefully the merits of the Plural Voting Bill in the present immense crisis? Of course, no one would pay any attention to it.

My noble friend has moved an Amendment to delete this subsection from the Bill, but he has very properly told the House that he does not propose to press the Amendment. I think he is quite right, and for this reason. If he pressed the Amendment it might end in the breakdown of this Bill, and if the Bill broke down there would have to be a Dissolution before the end of this month. I do not think that public opinion or your Lordships' House desires to have a Dissolution before the end of this month. That being so, it would be unwise to insert an Amendment of which the future history would be that we should have to take it out again on a subsequent stage. Painful experience has convinced me that the process of the Lords putting in Amendments which they afterwards take out under pressure is neither dignified nor useful. Moreover, there is a Bill pending in the other House of Parliament which it is of the utmost importance should be passed into law. I confess I was very glad that my noble friend went on to say that he was not at all certain that at a later time—say, at the date of the expiry of the effect of this Bill—it might not be right to have a Dissolution of Parliament. I think your Lordships and the country should by no means commit yourselves to the proposition that a Dissolution might not be the proper remedy if the war were not carried on with the vigour and success which we have a right to expect. There are circumstances which have led us to doubt whether the war is being carried on with sufficient vigour and success, and if that condition continued then it might be right to go to the country and ask them to decide whether they approved. But for the moment I do not think there can be two opinions in your Lordships' House that a General Election would be inopportune. Therefore I am glad that my noble friend has both brought forward this Amendment and signified that he does not intend to press it to a Division.


My Lords, there was one observation made by the noble Marquess who has just sat down upon which I should like to say a word. He said that if this Amendment were pressed there was a chance of the Bill being dropped in the other House. If so, then it is obvious that one section of the Coalition Government must attach far more importance to this subsection than do the noble Lords who have already spoken on the Government side. The main object of the Bill is to extend the life of the present Parliament by eight months, and if because the Bill contains also a small subsection for continuing the Plural Voting Bill it is to be dropped if that subsection is deleted, then it is quite clear, as I say, that great importance is attached to this particular subsection by the Liberal wing of the Coalition Government.

In one portion of his speech the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal projected himself, as it were, into the mental position of his opponents, and told us what their feelings were about the position of the Plural Voting Bill; but when he began to argue as to the small likelihood there was of this measure actually coming into force, he was not then giving us a correct mental picture of the views of the Liberal members of the Coalition Government. It is remarkable that on this occasion as well as on the Second Reading the views of the Government as to this particular subsection should have been presented by noble Lords who are members of the Unionist Party. I think it is rather marked that on both occasions leading representatives of the other Party are absent from the House. It would have been much more satisfactory, if I may say so, had this statement been made, at least on one occasion, by a representative of the other Wing of the Coalition Government.

The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal has stated his position. He has said that he finds himself bound by political honour to support this subsection, and he has shown that in his opinion nothing is likely to come of it. What I want to know is, Do the other members of the Coalition Government attach so little importance to it? If so, why allow to appear on the Bill this blot? During a great war nobody wants a purely Party matter to appear in any Bill placed on the Statute Book. I think the inference is irresistible that if this is placed on the Statute Book there must be some very strong reason behind it. Therefore although the noble Earl may persuade us that it does not matter—and I hope it does not—I cannot help thinking that the other wing of the Coalition Government attach far more importance to this subsection. It would have been more satisfactory had they stated that in their opinion nothing was going to come of it.


My Lords, I may perhaps be allowed to say a word in regard to the point touched by my noble friend who has just sat down. He commented upon the fact that on this and on the previous occasion the defence of this Bill had been entrusted to two Unionist members of the Coalition Government. My noble friend must not discover in that circumstance any indication of a cleavage in the ranks of the Cabinet or of any deep-laid plans. On the former occasion my noble friend the noble Marquess who leads the House had been very much occupied with work in and out of this House, and he asked me, I think not unnaturally, to take charge of the Bill. Lord Crewe would have been here to-night, and would have dealt with the Amendment moved by the noble Earl but he is, unfortunately, confined to his room by indisposition, and in those circumstances he invited my noble friend Lord Curzon to answer the speech of the noble Earl opposite.

Lord Salisbury—and let me say how glad we are to see my noble friend back in his place in this House after a long period of useful military service—made some observations with regard to the Parliament Act and to the treatment of this Bill in connection with it. His remarks were, as they always are, interesting and to the point. But upon the present occasion, if he will forgive me for saying so, we are not considering the merits of the Parliament Act or indeed anything except the one question, whether your Lordships' House desire to wreck a compromise reached not without difficulty by the two wings of the Coalition Government, and to wreck it with the result of precipitating a General Election which both my noble friends opposite agree in deprecating at the present time. I will not pursue that subject further, particularly because my noble friend opposite (Lord St. Aldwyn) was good enough to say that, far from taking exception to what I had said upon this subject the other evening, he was inclined to regard a large part of my remarks, at all events, as satisfactory to himself. I will only say to-night that I adhere to every word of what I said upon that occasion.

My noble friend was, I think, rather pleased with one argument which he used, and which I admit is a tempting one in the present case. He said, "Your subsection is either meaningless or dangerous. If it means nothing, why put it into the Bill; if it means something, there is a pitfall of which we are apprehensive." Would my noble friend forgive me for saying that in matters of this kind one may sometimes be a little too logical? A friend of mine the other day quoted to me a saying—I do not know from where he got it—to this effect, that "When things cannot be cured or endured, you must pretend" and in politics we very often have to pretend a little. I think in this case the position is a quite simple one, and perhaps not so illogical as my noble friend supposes. The Plural Voting Bill had a chance before the war— what my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury would perhaps call "a sort of a chance." We thought it a very bad chance indeed, but the friends of the Plural Voting Bill desired to keep their chance alive. Under this arrangement they get a chance—I think it is a very bad chance, quite as bad as the chance they had before. Well, my Lords, there is the arrangement. Up to a certain point it contents both sides, and I think your Lordships will be wise if you do not attempt to disturb it; indeed that is, I understand, the intention of my noble friend on the Front Bench opposite.

Then there is the point as to what might happen in the event of an attempt being made to obtain a further extension of life for the Plural Voting Bill. As my noble friend challenged me again on that point, I can only repeat what I said the other evening and what was said with emphasis by my noble friend Lord Curzon, that should an attempt be made hereafter to obtain a further reprieve for the Plural Voting Bill fresh legislation would be necessary, and that in that event we retain to ourselves to the fullest extent our freedom to act as the circumstances may seem to us to require. I feel quite sure that my noble friend need have no uneasiness as to the manner in which we should—to repeat the language I used the other evening—meet an attempt to give a fresh reprieve in the month of July or August to the reprieve which the Plural Voting Bill now gets in the month of January.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Suspension of registration machinery.

2.—(1) The parliamentary and local government register of electors and any register based on the same in force at the passing of this Act, shall remain in force until Parliament provides for the substitution of any special registers or otherwise directs; and the words "but in no case after the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixteen," in section three of the Elections and Registration Act, 1915, are hereby repealed.

(2) Until Parliament provides for the preparation of special registers or otherwise directs, no steps shall be taken in connection with the preparation of a new parliamentary or local government register of electors or any new register based on the same, subject to any directions of the Local Government Board to the contrary as respects information of deaths or any other statistical information, and, subject to any such directions, the provisions of the Acts relating to registration of electors, so far as respects the preparation of new registers, shall not be carried into effect:

Provided always that where an assessor in Scotland is appointed under the Lands Valuation Act, 1854, and subsequent enactments and where as part of his duties the registers of electors are made up by him, nothing in this Act shall be construed as affecting the power of the appointing local authority to pay him any annual salary or emoluments under the terms of his appointment as assessor to which he would be entitled if this Act had not been passed, but such payments shall be taken into account in dealing with any claim for payment in connection with the preparation of any special registers required by Parliament in place of the ordinary registers.

(3) In the application Of this section to Scotland, "the Secretary for Scotland" shall be substituted for "the Local Government Board," and "the County Council and Municipal Registers" shall be substituted for "the Local Government Register of Electors."

In the application of this section to Ireland, "the Local Government Board for Ireland" shall be substituted for "the Local Government Board."


On Clause 2 I should like to ask a question of my noble friend opposite on the matter of registration. The effect of this clause is to keep alive the existing Register which is now a year and a-half old, and nothing, is said as to when the new special Register is to be made which we understand it is the intention of the Government to have prepared under a fresh Act. Let me point out with every week that passes the Register that was settled in July, 1914, is becoming more and more out of date. Thousands and thousands of voters who ought to be off that Register are still on it, and as many who ought to be on it are off it. Quite apart from the question of the absence of voters on military or naval service or otherwise owing to the war, the position is that for the future so far as this Bill and previous legislation go there will only be a Register which becomes more imperfect every day and which is quite unsuitable not only for a General Election but for any particular election. Sir John Simon, in another place, stated that this matter was engaging the urgent attention of the Government, and I think the noble Marquess who leads the House gave us hopes of a Bill before very long to frame this new special Register. What I would ask is, When is it likely that we shall see that Bill? I hope that we may be told that it will certainly be passed in the session of 1916. If it is not, you will practically be making it impossible for Parliament to be dissolved because there will be no Register upon which a General Election can be taken. I do not think anybody can say that such a position could be otherwise than most unsatisfactory, and I hope we may have some assurance from His Majesty's Government upon the matter.


None of your Lordships will differ from my noble friend when he says that the present Register is becoming more obsolete with every month that passes. It is quite clear that the question of the revision of the Register is one which will not brook of delay. If my noble friend at the next stage of the Bill will question me again about the point which he has raised, I shall be able to tell him how we stand with regard to the Register.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, and to be read 3a on Tuesday next.