HL Deb 11 December 1917 vol 27 cc86-103

Brought from the Commons.


My Lords, in moving the First Reading of the Representation of the People Bill, I understand that it is the general desire of the House that I should take the rather unusual course on such an occasion of making a somewhat full statement. I believe it was agreed that this statement should be explanatory rather than defensive. I will, of course, follow the desire of the House, and I will add only so much by way of defence as is necessary to render the explanation as clear as I can make it.

This measure, if it becomes law, will be the fourth Reform Act since 1832. Between the first and the second Acts 35 years elapsed; 17 years elapsed between the second and third Acts; and from 32 to 33 years elapsed between the third and the fourth Acts. The present Bill is far more comprehensive than any of its predecessors. Closely packed as it is in five Parts and eight Schedules, it deals with franchise, with registration, and with redistribution—questions which in 1867 and in 1884 were dealt with in several separate Bills. It also comprises a vast variety of changes as regards methods of conducting elections, voting, and other matters. Further, it is a consolidating and simplifying Bill, as will be seen from the Repeal Schedule. It is a destroyer as well as a creator. It cuts great slices out of the imposing mass of our Statutes, and I believe I am right in saying that it destroys more previous Acts, or portions of Acts, than any other measure that has ever been presented to your Lordships' House.

It is notorious that Parliaments mar the work of draftsmen, but from one point of view I think it interesting to your Lordships to state that this measure may be regarded as the crowning work of a very distinguished public servant who has now been translated to another sphere, and who, like Prospero, may say— I'll break my staff,… And deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book. Before I attack the details of the Bill I should like to make one general statement. The Bill is founded, as your Lordships well know, upon the findings of the Speaker's Conference, on the theory that if a body so variously composed and so representative of different Parties could agree upon a series of propositions, such an agreement would probably commend itself to Parliament and also to the country. Speaking generally, the Government adopted and carried out in their Bill the unanimous findings of that Conference, with, of course, a very notable exception announced at an early stage—namely, proportional representation. Findings by a majority of that Conference were as a rule left open questions in another place; and any serious divergences from the Speaker's Conference, such as in the case of the Poor Law disqualification or the extension of the local government franchise to women, were inserted in the Pill only with the general assent of the other House. I introduce this specially for one purpose. This Bill is a measure of compromise, and if I may say so, it must he regarded not only as a measure of compromise but criticised as such. Compromise and logic are old opponents, and I think that their historic antagonism is well illustrated through the pages of the present Bill.

I come now to the details of the Bill. I will deal first with the franchise for men, and then with the franchise for women. The principles on which the new franchises are based are two—they are an extension and a simplification of the existing franchises. The general result of the franchise for men is that some 2,000,000 more men will be added to the Register. This must necessarily be a rough estimate, because it is not merely due to the extension of the franchise but it is the general resultant of a number of changes in the course of the Bill which I shall detail. At the present moment there are seven existing alternative franchises. All these disappear. There is, first of all, the household franchise, dating as regards boroughs from the year 1867, and as regards counties from the year 1884—the historic battleground of our fathers and grandfathers. Then there are the £10 occupiers of land and tenements; the £50 rental class, or, rather, the few survivors from the Act of 1884; the lodgers; the service voters; the ownership voters; and the University voters. I do not think that in another place many tears were shed over the disappearance of the ownership voter; but with reference at least to the 40s. freeholder, your Lordships, with your greater sense of historic tradition, may regret his disappearance. The 40s. freeholder has survived three Reform Bills, and his history strikes back through Stuarts and Tudors to the Wars of the Roses and the eighth of Henry VI.

For these seven alternative qualifications three are substituted. The first, and infinitely the most important—one might call it the dominating vote—is that of residence. This new vote will include a great many persons who would have come under previous franchises, such as householders, lodgers, service voters, and many persons who now obtain the franchise for the first time. The next vote is called, for briefness, the business vote. The qualification there is the occupation of premises of an annual value of £10 and upwards. Lastly, there is the University vote, which is enlarged to extend to all those who have taken degrees at a University, always excepting, of course, honorary degrees. Not only are these franchises different, but the period of qualification has been shortened from one year to six months. There are two periods of qualification during the year—one ending on January 15, and the other on July 15.

The next point with which I have to deal is how far, and within what limits of area, can a man change either his residence or his occupation during this qualifying period of six months and yet retain his vote. The provisions in the Bill are a compromise between those who maintain that a man should not move beyond the limits of the constituency, and those who maintain that he ought to move freely over the whole country, carrying, as it were, his vote on his back. During these six months persons—I must allude to them as "persons" because, of course, they include women as well as men, although it is an ugly word—must have been resident either in the constituency or in any constituency within the same Parliamentary borough or county or in a contiguous borough or county. "Contiguous" implies touching, but in order to meet the case of much-indented Scotland and other places where water intervenes, an intervening six miles of water is held not to break contact. Thus a very much wider definition than has hitherto obtained is given to the technical words "successive occupation." I will give an instance to make my meaning clear. A resident voter in London may move his residence quite freely during the six months in any constituency in London, London for this purpose, and for this purpose only, being treated as a single borough. He may move also, and yet keep his vote, into any county constituency in Essex or in Kent; but, of course, he could not move into a Parliamentary borough in Essex or in Kent unless that Parliamentary borough at some point or other touched the boundaries of London.

I would now like to deal with two important subsidiary points, one to the disadvantage and one to the advantage of the voter. The first one, contained in the first clause, is to this effect, that if a person comes into residence, let us say, within less than 30 days before the end of the qualifying period, he must remain at that place, either as occupier or as resident, for 30 days after the time at which he first comes into residence, even though that period overlaps the end of the qualifying period; otherwise he may lose his title to be registered. This provision was inserted in order to control the activity of persons known in Ireland as "swallow" voters, from the migratory habits of that bird, and to prevent active agents from moving groups of voters across boundaries in view of a coming General Election or a by-election. The second proviso is to the advantage of the voter—that is to say, he may let his house up to four months within the six months qualifying period and yet not lose his vote, and so also with the business vote.

With the business vote I can deal a little more briefly. I have said already that it represents a qualification of £10 a year, defined as gross valuation in a later stage of the Bill, and the premises must be occupied for the business, profession, or trade of the persons so registered. Therefore, it is a Very limited vote as compared with the general or residence vote, as I have called it.

As regards joint occupation, more than one person can be registered for the same premises if the figure of the annual value, divided by the number of occupiers, gives a quotient of £10 or more. There is no limit in the Bill to the number of joint occupiers in boroughs, but in counties the number is restricted to two for every joint occupation, unless the persons so occupying are partners bona fide carrying on business. So much for the business vote.

I pass to the University vote. Every one can be registered for a University who has taken a degree. He need not, of course, take the M.A. degree, as at present; and in Scotland he must come under the Act of 1868, which I believe included not only those who have taken a degree but also resident professors and others connected with the University. To sum up the position as regards the Parliamentary vote for men, you may say it is not manhood suffrage, although it approaches very near to it, because manhood suffrage implies a shorter qualification than six months and also a continuous Register.

I now pass to the local government franchise. The connection between the Parliamentary and the local government vote for men is a very close one. There is at present for all local government elections the £10 occupying qualification and the old burgess qualification, and in addition to that, in all elections for district and parish councils, and also for the London County Council and metropolitan boroughs, the Parliamentary voters are added; thus it becomes obvious that in proposing these changes of the Parliamentary vote it is necessary also to change the basis of the local government vote. The new local government voter must occupy land or premises in the area either jointly or severally, as owner or tenant, but a notable thing about the new vote is this—there is no monetary qualification attached. As regards successive qualification, the voter can move freely within the area, if the area is a county borough or a county; and if the unit for which he is going to vote is a smaller area than a county or county borough, he can move freely within the area of the larger unit in which the smaller unit is contained. Of course, he must be on the last day of the qualifying period in the smaller area in which he is going to vote. Of course, also, the other provisions as regards "swallow" voting apply. There is just one provision as regards qualifications for election. Now that ownership and leasehold voters have disappeared, it is necessary to enact that persons owning land or leasehold within the area should be qualified to stand as candidates for the local government authority. Let me mention two classes of voters who are included in the new local government vote. First of all, there is the old service voter, who, of course, occupies his house merely by virtue of his employment, and is not a tenant. He is now treated as a tenant, and therefore gets the local government vote. Then as regards the old lodger. The old lodger is, so to speak, cut in halves. If he inhabits unfurnished lodgings he is treated as a tenant and gets a vote, but if he occupies furnished lodgings he does not. Now, as there is no monetary qualification it becomes important to fix a limit to joint occupiers, and that is fixed at two joint occupiers, except in the case of bona fide partners.

I pass to what is by far the larger and most important provision in the Bill, and that is, of course, the franchise for women. I am not going to argue that now. There are as we know, a great many converts to franchise for women. Many have been converted by the services rendered by women during the war; and a great many others think it rather paradoxical that you should extend it so largely to women at a time when the defence of our liberties is shown so clearly to depend upon the use of force. The basis of the qualification for women is wholly different from that for men. In order to be registered as a Parliamentary voter a woman must either be the wife of a man entitled to be registered as a local government voter, or she must be entitled in her own right to be so registered. She must have no legal incapacity and must he of the mature age of thirty. Thus for the most part in these electoral matters we follow the ancient precedent of Genesis. The newly-enfranchised woman springs from the rib of electoral man. Or, again, you may say that a local government voter has this great advantage over other suitors, that he can offer as a nuptial gift not only the honourable estate of matrimony but also the Parliamentary vote. It is estimated that some six million women will be enfranchised under the Bill five millions as wives of voters, and one million in their own right. This is a far larger number of voters than in the whole history of our representative legislation has ever been added to the Register by one single Bill. As regards the University vote, a woman of thirty can be registered on the same terms as a man; and as regards the local government vote a woman can be registered on the same terms as a man. There is here no discriminating limit of age, but a great change from the provisions of the Speaker's Conference was introduced into the Bill as far as local government voters are concerned. The wives of local government voters can now, under the Bill, not only get the Parliamentary franchise, but also the local government franchise in respect of premises in which they both reside. The old rule is abrogated and they can now both be registered in respect of the same premises. One curious result of these provisions is that a single woman of twenty-one who has qualified can vote in a local government election in her own right, but if she has not got a qualification of her own and she marries at twenty-one she has to wait nine years (until she is thirty) before she can exercise the vote. So much for the woman's vote.

I now deal with another class of persons who come upon the Register—the naval and military voters. The position of naval and military voters has been very much canvassed in this House, notably by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who brought in a Bill upon the subject. You may say that a new class is created in the case of naval and military voters, and special privileges are accorded to these voters under Clause 5 of the Bill. They are entitled to be registered for any constituency where they would have been registered but for their naval or military service, and the registration officer, if he finds that a man in his area has joined either Service, must put that man on the Register, as it were, of his own right. Of course, the registration officer tries to discover whether a man who has left either for military or naval service was residing in the constituency or had business there. If he finds that he had, the man is entitled to be put on the Register as if he were still living there. Moreover, if he is not put on by the registration officer, and if he himself claims, the making of the claim is rendered very easy for him, because his statement, duly attested, is accepted unless any special evidence is brought to the contrary. This right is in addition to, and not in diminution of, the other rights he possesses under the Bill; but there is this limitation, that if he wishes himself to claim for an actual residence—that is to say, for a real and not a constructive residence under the Bill—he has then to make it quite clear that, so far as he knows, he has not been registered under the special provisions of the Bill to which I have already alluded.

Who are these naval and military voters and to whom do these provisions extend? First of all, to members of the Naval and Military Services of the Crown on full pay; and of course, one must now add the Air Service. Whenever one mentions naval and military voters one must understand that the members of the Air Service are included. It applies also to those who are doing service in connection with the war of a naval or military character for which payment is made out of money provided by Parliament, such as the mine-sweepers and others. It also applies to persons serving with the British Red Cross, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and other similar bodies. These provisions apply generally. There is, however, a special provision limited to this war in the case of young men. Members of the Naval and Military Services, if they are over nineteen years of age, are entitled to be registered as naval and military voters. The feeling is that those who have taken part in this war at the age of nineteen or twenty will have had probably an experience equal to that of most young men of twenty-one or twenty-two years of age. There is one other advantage which naval and military voters have, and it is this. If they finish their military service during any qualifying period, one month instead of six months is sufficient to put them upon the Register.

Having got them on the Register, I now come to the question as to how often they can vote—the much-discussed question of plural voting. It is clearly laid down in the Bill that a man may be placed on the Register any number of times; that is to say, wherever he is qualified either as a resident or as having an occupation vote. He cannot, however, use all these votes, and at a General Election he is allowed to vote only twice—once for his residential qualification in one constituency, and once for any other qualification. "Any other qualification" means either a University vote or an occupation vote, He cannot use both of these. He could not vote, for instance, for a University and in respect of his occupation vote, and also for his residential vote. Similarly, a woman can vote in respect of her husband's or her own local government qualification, and also as a University voter. Under one of the Schedules are set out the questions asked of a man or a woman when the vote is given. Thus plural voting is rigidly cut down to two votes. But it follows from the fact that persons can be registered in respect of all their qualifications that at a by-election they may be able to make use of votes that they could not use at a General Election. Under Clause 20 very heavy penalties are provided for people who infringe any of these provisions. Just one further point about the local government vote. A person can vote only once for a local government area, and if that area is divided into wards or other electoral divisions he can vote only in one of those wards or electoral divisions. Now as to the question of disqualification. Two disqualifications are removed, one is re-enacted, and another is added. One of the removed disqualifications is very important, first of all because it departs from the Speaker's Conference—the Poor Law disqualification. The Speaker's Conference suggested that residence in a poor house for over thirty days should disqualify a man from voting. That disqualification is entirely removed under the Bill, both for persons who are themselves in the poor-house and in respect of the maintenance of persons for whom they are responsible. But there is this limitation introduced into the definition clause, if a person is in a poor-house—and it extends to a prison or lunatic asylum as well—residence in that building shall not count as residence for the purpose of the vote. It comes to this. If persons go into a poor-house for two months during the qualifying period and have retained their home they will still be able to be registered for their home; but if the home is broken up, then they would be disqualified for that place of residence and would not get a new qualification by reason of the building of which they were inmates. The second disqualification removed is not an important one—it is for persons employed by candidates at elections. Two disqualifications are first, as to British subjects—nobody but British subjects are qualified; the other applies to a small body of persons called conscientious objectors.

Conscientious objectors are disqualified, generally, from being registered or voting during the present war and for five years after, and they include persons who have been exempted from all military service, combatant or otherwise, and those who, having been convicted for offences under the Military Law, pleaded conscientious objection, and were sentenced to imprisonment instead of detention. The class who are exempted are those who have done non-combatant service. But in addition to that they can purge themselves. They can appear within a year after the end of the war before a Central Tribunal, continued for this purpose after the, war, and if they can show that they have done service in one of the four categories set out in Clause 8 they can recover their vote. Those who, having been exempted from military service on condition of doing work of national importance, can show they have done that work to the satisfaction of the appropriate Tribunal, will be able to recover their vote. You will see that, if conscientious objectors are to be disqualified at all, their disqualification is being reduced to the smallest possible limits. There is just one more point on this matter. The wives of conscientious objectors are not, as they might otherwise be, disqualified. They are considered already to have been punished enough.

There are to be two Registers yearly; one in the spring and one in the autumn—excepting Ireland, where there is only one. The first is to be in operation from April 15 to October 15, coming into operation three months after the qualifying period instead of six months under the present law, and the second from October 15 to April 15. Thus the whole year is covered. The registration officers will be, speaking generally, the clerks of the county councils and the town clerks of the boroughs. In some cases they will be the clerks of the urban district councils, while in London the clerks of metropolitan boroughs will act. On these gentlemen and their assistants is cast the full responsibility for making up the Register, and their zeal is stimulated by a penalty of £100 if they do not do their duty. There are appeals from them on questions of law and fact to the County Courts, and, on questions of law, to the Court of Appeal, but no further. Information is sent to the registration officers by the County Court and Court of Appeal of the decisions at which they arrive. In some cases, though the old revising hamsters have been abolished, the Lord Chancellor can appoint a barrister to assist the County Court Judge. Clause 14 deals with the expenses of registration. They are borne in the first instance by the local authorities, and based on a scale settled by the Treasury. Half the cost is refunded by the Treasury, so that the cost of registration is borne in equal proportions by the State and local authorities. Thus for really the first time the State takes upon itself the duty of being responsible for placing voters on the Register. Clause 16 I need not dwell upon, as it contains questions of compensation to existing officers. Clause 17 deals with University registration, and there the duty of registering is cast on the governing bodies, who can charge up to £1 for every registered voter. I will not deal further with the details of a University vote, because I propose to introduce a Schedule later covering all these points.

I now come to the construction of the Register and the important question of the absent voters list. These rules are mostly contained in the First Schedule, and the rules there are very elaborate and, I think, very clear. There are to be separate parts of the Register for each registration unit, separate divisions of Parliamentary and local government electors, and elaborate rules are set forth, which I need not dwell upon, for electoral lists, claims, notices of objection, preparation of lists, correction of lists, and the publication of the Register. There are also set forth the application of these particular rules to Scotland and Ireland. The point I wish specially to dwell upon, because it is entirely novel in our franchise law, is the question of the absent voters list. On the absent voters list must be placed, as a right by the registration officer, all those people I have referred to as naval and military voters, and in addition any person who can satisfy the registration officer that, by reason of his employment or business he may not be able to go to the poll himself and vote at the election. If he satisfies the officer, he is then to be placed on the absent voters list. Obviously merchant seamen and other persons of that kind will be included in this list. Addresses, of course, will be kept by the registration officer, and the Admiralty and the War Office will supply such information as they can get, as prescribed by the rules, so that the ballot papers may be sent to all these gentlemen.

The next question is, when you have them on the absent voters list, how are they going to record their votes who can vote, by proxy—military and naval voters, and others such as merchant seamen, pilots, or fishermen who can satisfy the registration officer that they will be at sea during the Election? In their case physical presence—the old rule—at the polling booth will be dispensed with, and as soon as possible after nomination day the ballot paper will be sent to them. They will have to return a declaration, duly signed and witnessed, and the ballot paper filled up, before the close of the poll, and these votes will be counted like any other votes. I think it must be obvious, these votes being sent say to France, that the nine days which elapse between nomination day and the polling may not be long enough for all the voting papers to be returned, and there is a provision that by an Order in Council the counting of the votes may be postponed for eight days after the polling day. In that case any of these ballot papers received during the eight days and before the counting may be numbered among the competent votes. But this period, of course, would not be long enough to include all the naval and military voters. Take the voters who are now in Jerusalem or in Mesopotamia. They are too far distant to be able to vote in this way, and another device is resorted to—that is, vote by proxy. It will be the duty of the Home Secretary by Order in Council to prescribe what these proxy areas are to be, and those within the proxy areas will be able to vote by proxy. Schedule 3 contains an elaborate set of rules governing the vote by proxy. This is a provision that may be permanent. As a rule the life of the proxy will be during the particular qualifying period when the proxy vote was taken out, but for the temporary arrangements of the present war the proxy will last during the war and for twelve months afterwards. The persons who can be proxies are either an elector in the constituency or the husbands, wives, brothers, or sisters, if of full age, of the electors themselves. No proxy can vote for more than two absent voters unless a husband, wife, brother, or sister of the elector is concerned. The registration officer will have a special list, not only of those who can vote by proxy, but of the proxies who so vote, and these lists will be open to inspection.

One of the probable methods of voting by proxy will be as follows. The applications for proxy voting will be sent, say, to some commanding officer in India. The men will apply to him for their proxy votes, will fill them up—they will be properly attested—will state who they wish to act as proxy, will send the vote on to the registration officer, and if that officer is satisfied that it is in order, he will send the documents authorising the persons entitled to vote by proxy to the proxies concerned. That is the vote by proxy. The man, of course, cannot also vote by ballot. Thus to the old method of voting there are added two other methods one is voting by post, and the other is the method of voting by proxy. But I think your Lordships will see that by the method of extending the period of counting care has been taken to limit the use of the proxy vote to the smallest possible proportions.

I come next to the question of the method of voting at elections. Some of your Lordships will note with satisfaction, and others with regret, that the original provisions of the Kill, based on the Speaker's Conference, as regards the creation of large three or four-Member constituencies and the application to them of proportional representation by means of the single transferable, vote, dropped out of the Bill by majorities increasing in another place until they reached a majority of seventy-six. It is only in University constituencies with two or more Members that this particular experiment will be made.

As for the alternative vote, its history in another place is rather more interesting. The alternative vote is simply the application of the method of the single transferable vote to single-Member constituencies with more than two candidates. For one brief, fiftul moment an elaborate and interesting Schedule describing the way in which votes should be counted under the alternative vote was in the Bill. It was based upon the idea of an ingenious professor in Australia, Professor Nansen, but I do not think that it was very fully understood; and finally the other House, with notable modesty admitting its incapacity to deal with this problem, left the details to be decided by Order in Council. Orders in Council also settle the method for counting the transferable vote for University elections.

I can deal with the remaining methods of election far more briefly. All the polls take place on the same day, and your Lordships will notice the effect this has not only upon the people voting, but also upon the activities of proxies who may have to vote themselves as well as exercise votes for other persons. By an innovation which would have terrified our ancestors, a writ need no longer be sent by post but can actually be transmitted by the use of the electric telegraph, and twenty days must elapse after the Proclamation before the new Parliament meets. The returning officers will be the sheriffs or mayors, as the case may be, but their functions will be mainly honorary, because almost all their actual functions will be discharged by the registration officers acting as returning officers, and they will have laid upon them all the powers and liabilities which are assigned to the returning officers. Persons in the employment of returning officers—this is a small point—may have special advantages as to the place at which they may vote. Elementary schools can be used for holding public meetings if proper arrangements are made and payment is tendered for any damage done, but this particular provision applies to Great Britain and not to Ireland.

I next come to the very important question, as concerning another place, of candidates' expenses. The scales are set out in the Fourth Schedule. They are 7d. a head for each elector in a county election, and 5d. in a borough election. This would work out at about £500 in boroughs and between £600 and £700 for the counties. The candidates are also assisted, because they are allowed free postal communication of no less than 2 ozs. This 2 oz. communication must be confined to the political aspect of affairs, and an enterprising commercial man who wishes for a little advertisement is not allowed to advertise his wares in this way. Candidates on the nomination day have to deposi- a sum of £150, and unless they are fortunate enough to secure one-eighth of the votes they lose their deposit, while if they get more than one-eighth of the votes the money will be returned to them. These provisions will appear to those familiar with elections very necessary in order to limit the number of candidates. The services of a Member of Parliament are valued at £400 a year, and it is obvious that it is quite worth while some enterprising person to risk £300 or £400 at an election in order to secure £2,000 paid in instalments over a period of five years.

Clause 30 is an important one. Its object is to limit the activities of outside associations who are apt at election times to flood constituencies with their oratory and their literature, and thus to make ample reparation for the severe limits that are cast upon the expenditure of the candidates themselves. If these gentlemen come in with the assent of the candidate, then their expenditure becomes part of his expenses, and he can spend less on other things.

I should like to refer to Clause 31, under which several Acts that have been renewed from year to year are to be made permanent. Most notable among them is the Ballot Act of 1872. This Act has been renewed every year for forty-four years and after having done its long service in a temporary capacity it now at last, if your Lordships will permit, is to obtain its full position on the permanent statutory staff.

The general lines which redistribution has followed are pretty familiar to your Lordships. I think that you are aware that 70,000 inhabitants are taken as a general unit of population for each constituency, with an additional Member for the remainder that is not less than 50,000. Existing boroughs of 50,000 and upwards are also retained, and—which is interesting from an historical point of view—the old double-Member constituencies, like Brighton, for instance, are left undivided. I think it must be admitted that the Commissioners have interpreted rather liberally the rule that they should not add substantially to the numbers of Members of Parliament, because they have added 34 altogether to the existing numbers, and have increased further the rather unenviable reputation of another place as being already by far the largest representative body in the world.

But I want to call attention, and rather special attention, to one particular provision, empowering the Commissioners to depart from the strict rules and strict numbers, where they would, by following these rules, create constituencies which were inconvenient in size or in character. Under a strict system of redistribution based on numbers it is, I suppose, inevitable that the country districts should suffer in comparison with the towns; and I suppose it would be impossible to give that representation to the country districts which they would desire unless you took definitely a lower unit for country districts than for the towns, and that is a matter on which the townsmen no doubt would have a great deal to say. But owing to this particular qualifying provision your Lordships will see in the Report of the Commissioners that country constituencies have gained some twelve additional Members. Redistribution, of course, does not apply to Ireland. Ireland, I understand, is to be redistributed, but the same number of Members is to be retained, and the actual constituencies to be settled upon are to be decided by a conference meeting under the presidency of the Speaker. An agreed Bill as the result of that Conference will be introduced, and it will become law, I understand, about the same time as this Bill.

Now as to Part 5, which deals with general matters upon which I need not dwell very long. There is a new punishment for electoral offences committed outside the United Kingdom, this being rendered necessary by the large number of voters who are outside the United Kingdom. Clause 34 deals with the number of polling districts; and Clause 35 with the laving on the Table of Regulations, of which there will be a good number made under Order in Council. Clause 36 consists of definitions, including the definitions of the transferable and alternative votes. Clause 38 and Clause 39 apply the provisions of this Bill, with certain modifications, to Scotland and Ireland. I will mention only one modification referring to Scotland. There they prefer to retain their present local government franchise, which is rather wider than the franchise in this country, but, of course, as the women's vote is so closely connected with the local government vote the latter had to be modified in Scotland for the purpose of creating woman voters, otherwise there would have been one standard in Scotland and another standard in England. In Clause 41, because of the novelties and difficulties, certain powers are given by Orders in Council to extend the, time-table or the period when the new Registers come into effect, if it has been shown that the periods for hearing claims and objections and for putting people on the Register is not quite long enough.

I am afraid now, as regards the details of the Bill, I have deluged your Lordships with details. I have given perhaps enough for the First Reading of the Bill. If you will allow me I will make only one general observation and answer one question before I sit down. On the First Reading of the Bill I think I ought to do what I Can to answer the question, How is it that, in the middle of a great war, the Government have brought in so comprehensive a measure of electoral reform and enfranchisement? I believe that your Lordships and those who perhaps dissent from this action will admit that it was absolutely necessary to have some Register. We could not go on longer on the old Register. And public opinion, both here and elsewhere, was, I think, equally determined that upon that Register those who were serving their country abroad must be placed, and must have an opportunity also of voting. When these questions came to be examined it was found almost impossible to separate the different problems making up the questions that are dealt with in this Bill. Moreover, it was gravely to be considered whether it was worth while to deal as it were with half of those things to-day and reserve it for a later stage after the war to deal with the rest of the questions—to deal with them at a tim when Parliament must be fully occupied with a vast number of other questions that would necessarily engage its attention. And I think there is this further advantage, that at a time like this, when against the gigantic background of the war the ordinary peace problems take perhaps their proper and rather smaller proportions, there was a great advantage in dealing with matters of this kind, matters of political machinery which are apt to, and certainly do, engender in time of peace much heat, suspicion, and controversy. These reasons, speaking generally, may justify the introduction of the Bill. I can deal with them mere at length, if necessary, at a later stage.

I am quite certain that none of your Lordships will fall into the error committed after previous Reform Bills of underestimating the enormous changes that must result from this Bill if it passes into law, if not to-day, yet in the time to come, both as regards the policy, administration, and the composition of the House of Commons. And whatever view you take of the particular provisions of this Bill, I feel sure that on this point there will be general agreement—that, whatever the Parliament may be that springs from this Bill, it will need indeed a full measure of courage and capacity in order to cope successfully with the rebuilding of this country and with that vast and complex range of questions, industrial, financial, and social, which must necessarily raise their clamorous voices outside the gates of Parliament when this long era of devastation is over and the star of peace returns. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I need hardly say that I do not propose to examine the various subjects so skilfully dealt with by the noble Viscount in his speech on the First Reading, and still less to discuss them on their merits. I only rise because I think it is suitable that somebody from this Bench should pay a tribute to the noble Viscount for the manner in which he has discharged his task. Even when a man has been in political life for a number of years it is something of a milestone in his career when for the first time he finds himself in charge of a first-class Government Bill; more particularly may that be the case with someone like my noble friend opposite when, almost for the first time, he departs from the office of criticism which for many years and in both Houses he has exercised with great skill and capacity, not always, perhaps, with an abundance of mercy in the case of measures introduced by other Governments to which he was opposed. But we all feel, I am sure, from the manner in which the noble Viscount has made his opening statement to-day—so lucid, so complete, and yet at the same time composed as to hold the attention of the House on a multiplication of different points without wearying any of your Lordships at any moment in any degree—that when he comes to take the Bill in Committee and to consider the various criticisms and Amendments which I conceive will be put forward in your Lordships' House, he will fulfil that duty with no less capacity and with no less acceptability than he has performed his task to-day.

On Question, Bill read 1a, and to be printed.