§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Peel.)342
§ LORD WEARDALE had given notice, on this Motion, to move—
§ That whereas it is an established understanding between political Parties that controversial proposals should not be made during the life of the present Parliament, it shall be an Instruction to the Committee to omit from the Bill all such of its provisions as are founded on the majority resolutions of the Speaker's Conference and not on the unanimous recommendations of that body or upon which agreement has not subsequently been achieved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I know that I may claim the indulgence of the House for a short period while I endeavour to explain briefly, but I hope clearly, the objects which have induced me to adopt the somewhat unusual course in this House of placing this Instruction upon the Order Paper. This Bill comes before us in a somewhat strange fashion, and I hope that the noble Earl opposite, the Leader of the House—who in his extremely able and lucid speech explained to us exactly what the attitude of the Government was upon it—will excuse me if I venture to repeat what he said to the House on that occasion. He said that this Bill was not a Government Bill in the ordinary sense of the term, a Bill upon which the fate of the Government depends, and he went on—
All that the present Government assumed was the responsibility of giving legislative form to the Resolutions of the Speaker's Conference, and, further, of placing a Minister in general charge of the Bill.
Well, that position seems to throw the whole responsibility upon the Speaker's Conference, and the particular question which I wish to place before the House this afternoon is one of principle.
What was the origin and genesis of this Bill? In December, 1915, it became evident that the life of the present Parliament was running out, and that unless a General Election were resorted to—and every one will understand that in the peculiar circumstances of the case a General Election was very much to be avoided, if possible—it would be necessary to apply to Parliament for a prolongation of its life; and in December, 1915, the Government of Mr. Asquith, in the person of the then Home Secretary, introduced the first Bill for the prolongation of Parliament. The Home Secretary's speech, which was, of
course, made with the whole authority of the Government at the moment, was entirely based upon the understanding which he declared existed with regard to I he very point which I am now about to raise. He quoted two statements of the Prime Minister, the first of which I will read to you—
It is our desire that no Party in any quarter of the House should gain advantage or should suffer prejudice from the suspension, for the moment, of our domestic controversies.
And the reply to that by the Leader of the Opposition was—and these are the words used almost immediately after the outbreak of the war—
I am in entire agreement. I am quite sure that it is his desire, and it is certainly our desire, that, as the result of the war, nothing shall be done in regard to any controversial matter to place any of the parties in the controversy in a worse position than they were before the war broke out.
These were the two quotations used by the responsible Minister at the time when the first Bill to prolong the life of Parliament was introduced, and he based the whole of his arguments upon them. Therefore I am here to-night, my Lords, to contend that at that time—there being no kind of protest from any quarter; not a voice was raised in contravention of that development—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Would the noble Lord excuse me? I did not quite gather the date of the quotations that he has made.
On the outbreak of the war. They are taken from the speech of Sir John Simon in introducing the Bill on December 9, 1915. Not one single protest was raised, either in the House of Commons or among the public or in the Press; and what I now maintain is this—that Parliament agreed to, or rather allowed, the prolongation of its life to be dependent upon that understanding. Its life was prolonged only subject to that understanding. It was a condition precedent to the prolongation of its life, and I maintain that it has no right, however many times its life may have been prolonged since, to disregard an undertaking 344 solemnly entered into, and upon which it at present exists. This proposition I am here to defend, and it is one which I venture to think is really indisputable. At that time there was a further declaration by Mr. Asquith which I should like to give to the House, because it is one of considerable value. It was made on February 13, 1915, and is even more emphatic—It would not only be idle but I think it would be offensive to the good sense of the nation to proceed at such a time—that is to say, at that time—with controversial legislation.That brings me to this point, that the Government very properly—I am not going to dispute their action in the matter, and I hope the Government will clearly understand that I am not in any sense making an attack upon them—disclaimed responsibility for the initiation of this Bill. They say that it is the result of the Speaker's Conference. I am therefore compelled, in the interests of my argument, to make some allusion to the origin of the Conference, its composition, and its proceedings. The Conference was not nominated by the House of Commons; it was not nominated by Parliament; it was brought into existence on the initiation, the personal initiation, of Mr. Speaker. I am not for a moment going to criticise what he did in that particular. He made, I have no doubt, the very best choice he could in the circumstances; but everybody must know that the House of Commons at that time had most of its members deeply engaged in war work of all kind—great numbers of its members were gallantly serving at the Front—and, in fact, Mr. Speaker had necessarily a very limited choice at his command. Take, this House—I am sure the noble Lords who were members of that Conference will not suspect me of any want of appreciation of their abilities or of their public position—but I say that the two noble Lords (Lord Southwark and Lord Burnham) can hardly be regarded as sufficient representation of the House of Lords in such a Conference. Therefore I maintain that by its composition alone the Speaker's Conference cannot be regarded as a divinely constituted authority whose propositions we are bound to accept without comment. On the contrary, I think we are bound to recall the fact that the Speaker's Conference was not more entitled to disregard the obligation which. Parliament had placed upon itself (not to 345 enter upon controversial matters) than the House of Commons itself.
The purpose of my Instruction, therefore, is to delete from the Bill all those provisions which were not accepted unanimously by the Speaker's Conference. The main part of the proposals of the Speaker's Conference have my unqualified assent. I certainly am one of those who welcome the very large extension of the franchise in the popular direction, the simplification of the Register, the facilities which are afforded in the case of the limitation of the period of residence, and the many other points which form the major part of the proposals of the Speaker's Conference. I desire at once to render to the Speaker's Conference my warmest thanks for the work which they accomplished in bringing about an agreement on these material points. But when we get to other matters, as will be seen from a careful perusal of the Report of the Speaker's Conference, they are embarking upon highly contentious questions. I do not pretend to any perfect knowledge, but I am given to understand that only a bare majority existed in some cases.
The two subjects which would be specially ruled out by my Instruction are woman suffrage and the alternative vote. So far as woman suffrage is concerned, an opportunity will be afforded later on in our debates for a full discussion of that most important topic. I am not going to enter now upon its merits or demerits, but what I maintain is this—that if there is any subject upon which there exists a larger real difference of opinion in this country I should be glad to know what it is. Far from taking the view that some writers in the Press and elsewhere take; that it is a chose [...]ugée, a matter already decided by public opinion; I say it has never been submitted to public opinion. It has never been placed before the country as a particular issue, and therefore I assert that it is a controversial measure of the most complex and difficult character, and that this Parliament, which so far as the House of Commons is concerned has exhausted its mandate, has no right whatever to take advantage of the strange and unhappy position in domestic concerns in which we now find ourselves and our preoccupation in a time of war to foist upon us so revolutionary a change as this without making a previous appeal to the people upon it. That is the main contention I have to place before your Lordships' House. The 346 opportunity might, perhaps, have been better taken on the Second Reading of the Bill, but there was a very general feeling in the House that the Second Reading ought to be allowed to pass unanimously, and I, for one, greatly rejoice that that course was adopted. But it did seem to me that this particular point, involving a question of principle, ought to be raised in a concrete form at the earliest possible stage; that it had little or nothing to do with the merits of the controversial matters contained in the Bill, and that it was a question which should be fully discussed by this House before we proceeded further with the Bill.
When we talk of "an understanding,' what is meant by that term? I know I shall be told that circumstances have changed, that Ministers have changed, and that undertakings which were given by one Ministry and another no longer operate. That is a very familiar and natural argument. We had an illustration given to us when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, made use of observations with regard to contentious business which showed that he shared the view that questions of controversy might reasonably be now discussed by Parliament. But I would venture to point out that that particular instance had no kind of reference to the situation. It had to deal with the Military Secrets Bill. If there is a measure which is military in its character and arises directly out of the war, it is this particular Bill. Therefore I cannot regard that as a good illustration of the new practice with regard to these contentious measures.
I am one of those who are bound to admit that the present situation, in one respect, has undergone a profound change. We are no longer living under a Parliamentary régime. We are living under a Press régime, where the Press practically governs the country, and not always the best part of the Press, to the detriment of popular and constitutional government. I am not going to make any charge against the Government; that is far from my intention. But everybody is aware that the late change of Government was not the result of Parliamentary action, but of a great Press campaign; its composition was the result of Press dictation, and, in fact, it was the creation of the Press. The Press is of great value, but it ought not to govern our Parliamentary and constitutional action. This House, it is said, has but a short 347 period of existence before it. Let that short period, at all events, be honourable to its great traditions. It is here to protect the people from haphazard and unauthorised decisions by the other branch of the Legislature. In my judgment here is a case where the House of Commons has broken faith with those who brought it into existence. It has no power, no right, no authority for the action which it took; and I maintain that in laying down the principle that controversial matters of vital importance should be entirely excluded from our present legislation you are doing nothing to thwart the real progress of a great democratic measure of electoral reform, but you are merely retarding a decision which may be entirely opposed to my own views. It is perfectly possible that in time to come the people themselves may accord the Parliamentary vote to women; but I say that that time has not yet come, that no such authority has yet been given, and it is on those grounds that I ask the House to accept this Instruction.
§ Moved to resolve, That whereas it is an established understanding between political Parties that controversial proposals should not be made during the life of the present Parliament, it shall be an Instruction to the Committee to omit from the Bill all such of its provisions as are founded on the majority resolutions of the Speaker's Conference and not on the unanimous recommendations of that body or upon which agreement has not subsequently been achieved.—(Lord Weardale.)
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, the noble Lord has addressed your Lordships with his usual facility and force, but I cannot congratulate him on having adhered very closely to the terms of the Motion which he has placed upon the Paper, and the real meaning and full application of which it will be my desire in the few observations that I have to address to your Lordships to explain to the House. The noble Lord prefaces his Motion by this preamble, "Whereas it is an established understanding between political Parties that controversial proposals should not be made during the life of the present Parliament." I hesitate to repeat, and I will not repeat at any length, the argument upon which I ventured on the occasion of the Second Reading debate upon this Bill, but I think that I showed conclusively to your Lordships then that 348 whatever was said by Mr. Asquith in the early days of the war, in the sentence quoted by the noble Lord, and again in February, 1915—a quotation which I think I myself made three weeks ago—no such understanding has been entered into either by the Coalition Government, which succeeded the Liberal Government of Mr. Asquith, or by the Government of which I happen at the moment to be the spokesman in your Lordships' House. As a matter of fact, my Lords, is it not the case that during the three years in which the war has lasted controversial legislation—that is, legislation which excites considerable difference of opinion, what the noble Lord himself describes as "contentious" legislation—has been on many occasions, and I doubt not will, if the war lasts much longer, again have to be brought before your Lordships' House?
Let me give one or two illustrations of my point. Can anything be imagined more contentious than was the Military Service Act of 1916, a measure which had acutely divided Parties, which even, when it was accepted by the Government and brought before the House of Commons, involved the resignation of at least one member of the Government, and gave rise to energetic and prolonged and heated debates in another place? Similarly, I recall in your Lordships' House that several of the Defence of the Realm Bills which have been introduced and passed into law here have raised propositions of the most contentious character.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, who has a recollection of many eloquent speeches made by himself upon the point, endorses what I state. If that was true of these Acts in themselves, even more has it been true of many of the Executive steps by Orders in Council that have been taken in consequence of those Acts. Again, in the last session of Parliament, I invite your Lordships' recollection to discussions that took place in this House on the Food Production Bill, many of the propositions in which were sharply debated by your Lordships. Finally, there is the proposal made some six months ago to refer the Irish question to a Convention which is still sitting in Dublin.
349 My Lords, if we turn from the past to the future are we quite certain that we are going to be free from contentions proposals? I believe that it is the hope of many of your Lordships—it certainly is mine—that the proceedings of the Conference presided over by Lord Bryce on the subject of House of Lords Reform may result in proposals which it will be possible to bring before Parliament. Yet who can doubt that that will be a measure of the most acutely controversial description? I know that some members of your Lordships' House—I think Lord Sydenham is one of them—is actively interested in the question of marriage reform, than which a more thorny problem cannot be imagined. I believe that he is anxious, at as early a date as he can, to call your Lordships' attention to that matter. At the present moment I may mention that there is in another place, and will at no distant date come before your Lordships, a measure called the Non-Ferrous Metal Industry Bill, which I earnestly hope you will pass into law, but which certainly raises controversial issues of a very formidable character.
Must we not, my Lords, look facts in the face? Is it not really impossible to say that—for a period of now more than three-and-a-half years, which, if the war is unduly prolonged, may mean four-and-a-half years, may conceivably even be longer—no measure, shall be introduced into either House of Parliament except that upon which all parties are entirely agreed? If any such proposition were submitted I would ask you to agree with me in saying that it would be reducing Parliament to sterility and would be abdicating what on many occasions may be the positive duty of the Government itself.
I should like to meet the noble Lord upon another ground. Even supposing that the understanding to which he refers had been entered into and even supposing that it had been repeated by the Coalition Government and again by the present Administration, it is my contention that it does not apply to the present case. What did that understanding, or pronouncement, as I prefer to call it, mean? Clearly, when it was first made by Mr. Asquith, it related to measures which divided the political Parties in this country. It meant that the majority in the House of Commons, which since the beginning of the war has been, and be it remembered 350 still remains, a Liberal majority, should not take advantage of the position which it thereby enjoyed to introduce into Parliament or to force through Parliament measures to which the Opposition were generally opposed. It was felt that in view of the loyal and patriotic support given by the Opposition to the Government at that time in the prosecution of the war, any such attempt would be illegitimate and unfair.
But, my Lords, the whole point of this Reform Bill is that, whatever may be your opinions about individual features in it, it does not divide Parties; it divides persons and opinions, but not Parties. I have made a rather careful analysis of the Divisions that have taken place in the House of Commons upon the most important stages of this Bill, and I will, with your Lordships' permission, briefly state them. On the Second Reading of the Bill there voted for the measure—Liberals 174, Labour 24, Nationalists, 21, Unionists 110. There voted against the Second Reading no Liberals, Labour men, or Nationalists, and only 42 Unionists. Then I take the case which was cited by the noble Lord as the most contentious of all the provisions of the Bill—and there I do not say that I disagree with him—namely, the question of woman suffrage. In the main division that took place on the subject in the House of Commons there voted for the proposal—Liberals 182, Labour 30, Nationalists 33, Unionists 140; there voted against it—Liberals 12, Unionists 45. On the Third Reading of the Bill no Division was even challenged in another place. Therefore, my Lords, I think that it is obvious that this Bill is not one in which the old Party divisions, to which reference was made when that undertaking was given, exist, and that it has in its passage through the other House received a greater measure of support than any Franchise Bill that has ever been introduced into the British Parliament.
I said just now that the noble Lord had hardly apprehended what the real meaning of this Motion is, and indeed he somewhat innocently indicated to your Lordships' House that the only measures that he wanted to exclude from discussion by your Lordships' House are woman suffrage and the alternative vote. But that is not his proposal on the Paper. He asks you to exclude from consideration all but the unanimous Resolutions of Mr. Speaker's 351 Conference; that is, he wants you to exclude all those Resolutions which were passed by a majority. Let me tell your Lordships what they were. You can find them in the Letter from Mr. Speaker to the Prime Minister of, I think, February, 1917. I find on looking at that Letter that a majority only pronounced in favour of some measure of female suffrage—that is, of the principle of female suffrage. Again, if such a principle were accepted, a majority only recommended the particular nature of the qualification which was afterwards introduced into the Bill. Thirdly, as to the age limit apparently there was no vote at all, but we are told in Mr. Speaker's Letter that the ages of thirty and thirty-five received most favour. Fourthly, there was only a majority for the partial removal of disqualification for receipt of Poor-law relief, which was afterwards made absolute by the House of Commons. Fifthly, there was only a majority for the alternative vote in single-Member constituencies where there are more than two candidates; and, lastly, there was only a majority for the provision about absent voters. Now, if the noble Lord's Motion is carried all of these proposals will have to be omitted from the Bill, and will, therefore, be excluded from the consideration of your Lordships during the ensuing days.
May I interrupt the noble Earl for one moment to point out to him that the last words of my Instruction deal with that particular point, for they say "or upon which agreement has not been subsequently achieved." Agreement has been achieved on every one of the points that the noble Earl has mentioned.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
That is by no means the case. It depends on what the noble Lord means by agreement. I recall the proceedings of the House of Commons, and I recall very animated discussion and very marked difference of opinion on these points. I recall in some cases substantial minorities; and if the noble Lord really takes up the position that when a minority is defeated and the majority carries the day common agreement has been achieved, that is a conclusion with which I shall confront him at later stages of this measure itself. But I will follow the point a little further. It is not clear from what the noble Lord has said whether he would also omit from our discussion—logically he ought to do 352 so—all those provisions which were not in the Report of Mr. Speaker's Conference, but which were subsequently introduced by the House of Commons, and which were often introduced there not by any means by general agreement, but by a vote in which the majority prevailed. Let me give your Lordships a list of what those measures are—or, rather, I will not give you a list of all those measures because I might be detaining you for another ten minutes on the point, which is not a very important one. But I will give you a list of the most important. They are, first, the grant of the local government vote to the wives of local government electors—which I believe gives the local government vote to something like five millions of women; secondly, the grant of the Parliamentary vote to soldiers and sailors at the age of nineteen, instead of at twenty-one; thirdly, the disqualification of the conscientious objector; fourthly, the entire removal of the disqualification for the receipt of Poor-law relief; fifthly, the introduction of proportional representation for University constituencies with two or more Members; and, lastly—a point upon which I am myself astonished that more stress has not been laid, and which I regard as one of the grave blots on the Bill—the large, unexpected, and, as I think, utterly uncalled-for, increase of the numbers of the House of Commons.
All these proposals were not in the findings of Mr. Speaker's Conference—either the unanimous findings or the majority findings of that Conference. The fact is, of course, if I may let the cat out of the bag for the noble Lord, that what he proposes to omit from the Bill are the things that he personally does not like. All these he proposes to get rid of, almost by a sweep of his arm, as unworthy of being considered by your Lordships' House. But I expect as we go on that this privilege which he seeks to claim for himself will be coupled with the liberty to introduce into the Bill anything that is not there now but which he personally thinks ought to be embodied in it. The noble Lord cannot have it both ways, and that is not quite a fair way to treat the Bill. I submit to your Lordships that what we have to deal with is the Bill in the form which it left the House of Commons and in which it has been printed for submission to yonr Lordships' House.
May I before I conclude say that though I have so far been dealing, perhaps in 353 rather a light-hearted vein, with the intervention of the noble Lord, I think the House should bear in mind that his proposal has a very much larger and more serious aspect. The fact is that, if it were carried, the noble Lord would prevent us from even discussing the questions of woman suffrage, of proportional representation, and of the alternative vote. Now, all these are not merely prominent features of the Bill; they are most momentous issues. They are the very subjects for which you have come here in such numbers. Why did your Lordships three or four weeks ago press the Government here to give you ample time to think over the Amendments that you desired to move and to form your opinions on this question? It was not that you might be brought here in the first week in January in order to deal with a skeleton Bill. It was a Bill with the flesh and blood wrapped upon it. You have come here in these numbers, and you are going to attend this week, as I hope, in order to discuss gravely and with the fulness that they demand, the very issues which the noble Lord wants not to have discussed at all.
May I even put the case rather more strongly that that? If the Motion of the noble Lord were carried, its effect could only be to declare war upon the House of Commons and to destroy this Bill this afternoon, and it would be to destroy it, not by a frontal attack—a perfectly legitimate method of warfare—but by a side issue, by a side attack. I venture to think that if such a Motion were carried I should be asking your Lordships to sit here day after day and to embark upon a consumption of time which would be both futile and indefensible. For no one desires to destroy this Bill. I recall very well that on the Second Reading two noble Lords seated on that Bench—the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin—who I think disliked the Bill in toto and would have been glad to see it relegated to some other world, themselves stated that they would take no steps on the Second Reading or in Committee which would imperil the passage of this Bill into law. I venture to think that the method which has been proposed by the noble Lord is not the most effective one in which your Lordships can either deal with the Bill as a whole or with the particular parts of it which most excite opposition. Opportunities will occur in Committee—indeed they have 354 been already adumbrated to us by the Amendment Paper—for discussing all those issues seriously, at length, and in whatever manner your Lordships may desire. I hope, therefore, you will agree with me in thinking it desirable to pass on from the Motion which the noble Lord has made, but in which I hope he will not persist, to the discussion for which we are all waiting.
§ LORD JOICEY
I think your Lordships will agree that, so far as this debate has gone, my noble friend opposite who introduced this Motion has been perfectly justified in the action he has taken. It is not necessary for me to repeat what he said with regard to the pledges which were given to the House of Commons not to introduce controversial legislation. The noble Earl, in his reply, seems to treat that pledge very cavalierly. He says that it was given to political Parties in the House of Commons. I think the pledge was distinctly given, not only to the House of Commons and to the political Parties as they are constituted, but given to the country as a whole; and I think we are responsible for seeing that the pledge is properly carried out. I cannot understand how the Government could give a pledge of that kind, involving such a serious principle, and then withdraw from it. Surely if a pledge of that nature is given the Government ought to see that is it properly carried out. The country understands perfectly well how the pledge was given, and, whatever the noble Earl may say, I am satisfied that large numbers of people in the country are very surprised that such controversial matter as this should be attempted to be carried in a measure of the great importance of the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House.
The noble Earl himself admitted that the questions which were left out of the Report of the Conference were of a most momentous character. If that is so, could there be a stronger reason for the action which has been taken by my noble friend Lord Weardale? I think not. I am fully aware that the action we propose to take is a very important one, but so far as my opinion goes I think the country as a whole would approve of that action. In my judgment, the House of Commons has exceeded its authority. It had no 355 mandate whatever for the Bill which it has passed. If there is any question which is likely to stir up controversy in the country it is the question of woman suffrage; yet by this Bill it is proposed to grant the suffrage to women whilst a great many of the electors are abroad on military service, and consequently are unable to record their votes on the matter. This question has never been properly put before the country, and there has been no serious discussion on it. There has been no decision given even by the political Parties as a whole. I know that representatives of certain organisations have approved of woman suffrage, but those representatives were not elected to deal with a political question of this kind—they were elected to deal with wages, conditions of labour, and so on; and I feel sure that the Members who have given approval to this measure have not really carried out the views of those whom they represent in Parliament.
The noble Earl (Lord Curzon) gave illustrations of controversial Acts which have, been passed through Parliament. He mentioned the Military Service Acts; but surely there is no comparison between those Acts and the measure which is now before your Lordships' House. The legislation dealing with military service was purely war legislation; and it was never intended that purely war measures should be subject to the pledge to which attention has been drawn. It would not be possible, of course, to have any measure without somebody taking objection to it; but that does not mean that every member of the House of Commons should approve of all legislation which is passed through Parliament. This question is a very serious one. At the present time the electorate has given no mandate to its representatives to deal with this matter; yet by this Bill it is proposed to add 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 electors to the Register. In my opinion Parliament has no right to pass a measure of this kind, particularly when we are engaged in the most serious war that has ever been known to history. At such a time as this it is proposed to alter the whole system of the Constitution; it is proposed to add such a number to the electorate as will completely change the character of representation in Parliament. As I cannot think that this is a right course to pursue, I am prepared to support my noble friend (Lord Weardale) if he goes to a Division.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The very searching analysis to which the proposition of my noble friend (Lord Weardale) was subjected by the noble Earl who leads the House does not leave much to be said by anybody who is not prepared on this occasion to vote with my noble friend. It seems to me that Lord Weardale has fallen into the error which was pointed out by the noble Earl opposite, and it is an error which one often comes across in political controversy—namely, of applying the same term to two essentially different things. The noble Lord used the word "controversy" in a sense in which it was not used by Mr. Asquith or by Mr. Bonar Law when they made their declarations in August, 1914, that it was agreed that controversial subjects would not be pursued in Parliament. As the noble Earl (Lord Curzon) pointed out, the application of that term was to the controversies dividing the two Parties then sitting on opposite sides of both Houses. There was no question at that time of the formation of a Coalition Ministry; and it was felt that, after the manner in which the Opposition Leaders had come forward on the very first day of the war to express their intention of supporting the then Government in the prosecution of the war, it would be entirely out of place to attempt to pursue what was then called controversial legislation. But, as the noble Earl has pointed out, in that sense this particular subject of woman suffrage—although in one meaning of the word it may be said to excite almost more controversy than any other subject—does not arouse Party controversy; and it was to Party controversy that the statements of the political leaders of that time alone applied. That, therefore, seems to remove the substance from the suggestion of my noble friend. As regards its consequence, I also find myself in agreement with the noble Earl opposite. It cannot be doubted that the carrying of this proposal of my noble friend in your Lordships' House would be the precise equivalent, in fact, of the rejection of the Bill on the Second Reading, and my noble friend might as well have then proposed that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. I trust, therefore, that the noble Lord will be content with the short debate which is all that I imagine is likely to take place upon this patricular proposal, and that he will not press it to a Division.
§ EARL LOREBURN
I would like to say one word. We have been told that there was a promise that there should not be controversial legislation, but those promises it seems to me are worth very little. You proceed to the word "controversy." What is a controversy? There are two meanings to the word "controversy." according to my noble friend. One is, a controversy as ordinarily understood in its unqualified sense in any quarter of the House in which it is expressed; the other is the qualified word in its limited and restricted sense, which means only a controversy between the distinguished gentlemen who honour the House by leading it on each side. I shall not say more, but shall proceed to a renewed study of the provincial letters of Pascal.
I was only anxious to bring this point before the House, and I do not intend to press my Instruction.
Proposed Instruction, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Motion "that the House do now resolve itself into Committee" agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL of KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Parliamentary franchises (men).
§ 1.—(1) A man shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for a constituency (other than a university constituency) if he is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity and—
- (a) has the requisite residence qualification; or
- (b) has the requisite business premises qualification.
§ (2) A man, in order to have the requisite residence qualification or business premises qualification for a constituency—
- (a) must on the last day of the qualifying period be residing in premises in the constituency, or occupying business premises in the constituency as the case may be; and
- (b) must during the whole of the qualifying period have resided in premises, or occupied business premises, as the case may be, in the constituency, or in another constituency within the same parliamentary borough or parliamentary county, or within a parliamentary borough or parliamentary county contiguous to that borough or county, or separated from that borough or county by water, not exceeding at the nearest point six miles in breadth:
- (a) a man, though he may have been residing in premises in the constituency on the last day of the qualifying period, shall not be entitled to be so registered if he commenced to reside in the constituency within thirty days before the end of the qualifying period and ceased to reside there within thirty days after the time when he so commenced to reside;
- (b) the residence in a house shall not be deemed to be interrupted for the purposes of this section by reason only of permission being given by letting or otherwise for the occupation of the house as a furnished house by some other person for a part of the qualifying period not exceeding four months in the whole; and
- (c) for the purposes of this subsection the administrative county of London shall be treated as a parliamentary borough.
§ (3) The expression "business promises" in this section means land or other premises of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds occupied for the purpose of the business, profession, or trade of the person to be registered.
§ Where business premises are in the joint occupation of two or more persons, and the aggregate yearly value of the premises is not less than the amount produced by multiplying ten pounds by the number of the joint occupiers, each of the joint occupiers shall be treated as occupying business premises of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds:
§ Provided that in a parliamentary county not more than two persons, being such joint occupiers, shall be entitled to be registered in respect of the same premises unless they are bonâ tide engaged as partners carrying on their profession, trade, or business in the premises.
§ THE EARL OF JERSEY moved to insert at the, beginning of the Clause, after the words "A man," the words "who is a British subject and has been so for not less than fifteen years." The noble Earl said: My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a few minutes in explaining the object of the Amendment which stands in my name, and the reason I venture to move it. As I have not had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House before, I ask for your indulgence during my very brief remarks. First of all, I would like to make it clear that I do not throw any doubt upon the loyalty of all naturalised aliens. We know that many of them have rendered very good service to this country, and it is for this reason that I have inserted a period of fifteen years as the time after which I would suggest that they be entitled to the franchise, and I hope that this compromise may meet the views of those who would not favour total exclusion. We have been told on several occasions lately that 359 there is a possibility of the Naturalisation Laws being revised. Until that takes place I suggest that we are wiser to deal with them as they stand, and unless some such Amendment as this is adopted it would appear that a man who has been resident in this country for only five years would on naturalisation have the privilege of taking part in the framing of our laws. I fail to see why a man who becomes naturalised for his own convenience, and who may owe allegiance elsewhere, should have any such privilege conferred upon him. It would appear to me to be quite sufficient to extend to our self-invited guests cordial hospitality without making them our rulers. I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is an easy matter to confer upon a man the name of a British subject, but that it is a very different thing to imbue him with British sympathies and instincts. It is for this reason, and because I feel that we, the people of this country, ought to be ruled by our own fellow-countrymen of British birth, that I venture to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
Page 1, line 7, after ("man") insert ("who is a British subject and has been so for not less than fifteen years").—(The Earl of Jersey.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I need hardly say that I sympathise with very much of what has fallen from the noble Earl opposite, and I should be inclined to agree myself that British citizenship has been conferred far too easily in the past, and that it is probable that at some time some change may have to be made. But I think the noble Earl opposite hardly appreciates the result of the proposal which he brings forward. He wants to create a third class of persons. Up till now there have been citizens and non-citizens, but he wants to create a sort of hybrid person, who is and is not a British citizen; because to make a man a British citizen and then not give him the franchise is to create a new class of persons, and to say in effect, "Although you are a British citizen, you are not a British citizen." It seems to me clear—and it is the view of the Government—that such a change ought to be made, if made at all, when you deal with the Naturalisation Laws, and ought not to be dealt with in a Franchise Bill. This is a measure dealing with the right of British citizens to vote, and if a man is going to be made a British 360 citizen at all he ought to be able to vote, but if he is not fit to vote then he ought not to be naturalised or have the right to vote in this country. I hope the noble Earl will be content with that explanation and will not press his Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I am rather astonished, and I think other noble Lords are, at the closing words of the noble Viscount, Lord Peel. He seems to assume that because a man is fit to become a British subject and swear allegiance to the King, he is therefore fit to dispose of all the destinies of this nation the day after he has become naturalised. The two things are quite distinct. I speak, of course, with great deference to those learned in the law, but it appears to me that whereas for the purpose of being within the law and able to plead before the Court, and for other purposes, a man might be granted the privileges of a British subject, it is an extraordinary thing to say that the German Emperor can induce 50,000 of his subjects to come over here and be naturalised, with the object of immediately exercising the vote, which is to be conferred upon them for reasons which hitherto have not obtained, and within a period which has not hitherto been the custom. I think that the experience which we have had during the war of the immunities which have been obtained by certain persons who ought not to have obtained them ought to make us very careful in granting this particular privilege to aliens who have recently become naturalised as British subjects. I hope, on the contrary, that the noble Earl, Lord Jersey, will press his Amendment to a Division, and I believe he will have the sympathy of the whole country with him.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I cannot help thinking that the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, has somewhat misapprehended the true effect of naturalisation. He suggested that it might well give an alien the right to plead before the Courts, but that it ought not to give him the right to vote. But I certainly never knew myself that an unnaturalised alien was deprived of the right to plead before the Court, or that it was conferred upon him by the act of naturalisation. In truth, as I understand it, one of the most valuable gifts which the act of naturalisation confers is exactly this right to vote. The question is whether that right ought to be taken away, and I can well understand 361 there might be good argument for saying that firmer and more stringent provision should be made to prevent a man becoming naturalised, and it might well be that longer residence should be necessary, that better certificates should be obtained, that stronger supervision should be made to secure that the lip allegiance which is assumed when a man becomes naturalised should have something more than a mere verbal meaning. All that I can understand. But I find it difficult to understand that when by the law of the country a man has in fact been naturalised, you should take away from him under a Bill of this kind what is one of the chief rights that the act of naturalisation confers.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I confess I always rather distrust an argument which relies upon the contention that this is not the proper time to do a thing, and that some other time would be the proper time to do it, because that is nearly always the way people try to prevent a change against which they have no very solid argument to place. It is said you ought to do this under the Naturalisation Law, and not under the Franchise Law. The fact is we have got the question of franchise before us, and what we have to consider is, Who is fit to exercise the franchise? That is the only question we have to consider. The fact that we may hereafter, in the dim and distant future, have to reconsider our Naturalisation Law is not a good reason why we should not deal with it now. After some experience I would venture to warn your Lordships against that particular kind of plea, which is always put forward. The noble and learned Lord who has just sat down says that to have a vote for Parliament is one of the most important things which a man gains by being naturalised. That may or may not be so, but it is not the only thing he gains. Naturalisation is of very great value to a foreigner apart altogether from the question of franchise, and he will no doubt avail himself of whatever opportunities there are of becoming naturalised, whatever the decision of your Lordships may be upon the present Amendment. Therefore we may really take this Amendment upon its merits, and I repeat the question, Is a man who has been born in Germany fit to vote for a Member of Parliament? That is really the question.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Not immediately. My noble friend with great moderation has not put the absolute proposition, but he has put a modified one. It is a great thing to take a moderate course. I confess I do not think that a man who has been born in Germany will be fit to exercise the franchise in this country immediately after he has been naturalised, and I do not believe that any of your Lordships think so either. I do not believe that the great mass of the people of the country really think so. Nothing has been a greater shock to the public opinion of this country than to realise how the old allegiance really adheres to a man after all these forms have been gone through. I have seen in this country man after man of German extraction of whom we either know or shrewdly suspect that his heart is by no means with the country of his naturalisation, and that all the time he really desires to help the enemies of this country. I think the public opinion of this country which resents that is a sound public opinion, and that it would be good if your Lordships' House, in so far as the opportunity serves, showed that you were in sympathy with it. What we desire to do is to make as good constituents as we can in the election of the representatives of the people in this country, and we do think that a man who has only just been naturalised is not a suitable man to be elected in the circumstances.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down was not quite fair to His Majesty's Government in one statement that he made. At the beginning of his remarks he argued that it was a common practice of, I suppose, all Governments, and, indeed, of all politicians—
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
To say that this is not the proper time to deal with a particular subject, but that it ought to be linked up with some legislation which might be relegated to the dim and distant future. But, my Lords, on this particular point I understand that it has been definitely stated that the Naturalisation Laws are under consideration with a view to their modification, and, as I hope myself, with a view to the definite stiffening of the process by which a foreigner 363 can become naturalised. My noble friend behind me spoke of a German becoming so soon eligible to vote for a Member of Parliament, but he forgets that the disability which he desires to place on a German will equally apply to a Belgian, or a Frenchman, or an American. Therefore, we ought to think twice before, off-hand as it were, creating this particular difficulty. Personally, I am quite content to wait until the naturalisation question, which as we all know is one of the most complicated and difficult matters with which any Government can deal, is dealt with, and it is on the assurance (which I, for one, have accepted) that a measure is under definite consideration, and, indeed, in actual process of preparation by His Majesty's Government, that I could not support my noble friend Lord Jersey, whose advent to the House I am sure we all welcome.
My Lords, I find myself in great sympathy with the opening observation of the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) as to one being constantly met with the statement that this is not the time to make any change or introduce any reform. I dare say I may hear him use that argument himself soon, and I shall remember it against him. But I am not sure that the noble Lords who have supported this Amendment entirely followed the logic of the answer given by the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill. What, after all, is naturalisation? The idea at the back of naturalisation surely is that you take a person into your State, you regard him as a fit person to become a member, so to speak, of your hearth and home, you make him one of your citizens, and you do not surely want to have a sort of half-and-half citizenship. You either want him to be a citizen, or not a citizen. It may very well be that there are classes of persons who have been admitted too easily to citizenship, and who ought not to be admitted so easily in future, but if you think of the ancient Roman world you surely want the phrase Civis Romanus sum to have its full meaning, and to mean that when a man is a British citizen he is for all purposes a British citizen, that when you have admitted him you have admitted him fully. I think you will find very great difficulties in the way if you are going to say that you admit a person as a citizen, and yet so doubt his loyalty that you do not give him a vote. Surely the proper answer then is that you 364 should not admit him at all. When you admit him, you accept him as a member of your household, as a person you expect to be loyal. I confess I am also impressed by the fact that this is a matter which could be much more fully dealt with when the whole field is surveyed. Whatever we may think about the particular instances given of Germans, however much we may all agree about that, surely the House must recognise that the number of German votes is not likely to be a determining factor in an election even if naturalised citizens are admitted to the vote; and if, in fact, in accordance with the terrible picture drawn for us of 50,000 voters, we had a German Member in the House of Commons during this war, I think he would have had a very useful education and would have been able to take back some, information to Germany which would have been of great value to us.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
I should feel inclined to support the Amendment. I, for one, do not admit that citizenship necessitates the franchise. It is a mistake, if you want to have anything like a sound Government, to grant the franchise to more than two-thirds of the population. If you do, you represent the fools and not the wise men; and the object of Government has always been, in my idea, to represent the experience and wisdom of the nation and not its folly. I call to mind a respected German citizen who was the head of a big business for twenty-five years, and then was not above putting bacteria, imported from Germany in order to start disease, into the butter supply of the Tasmanian forces. Naturally he was arrested and put in gaol. These are not the sort of people we want to govern our country, and I think that fifteen years is a very short time in which to find out whether a man is fit to have a voice in the administration of the community. I strongly support the Amendment.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I do not know, my Lords, that I should have intervened in this debate, but I observe that something has been said with regard to what naturalisation carries. I venture, with all humility, to say that I entirely disagree with the meaning given to naturalisation by the noble Earl who spoke last but one. I do not think the word carries with it all that he says; but, if it did, what is there to limit the power of this House to 365 determine in what sense the word naturalisation should be interpreted? It appears to me that the Amendment now before the House is a moderate one. I confess that I myself would have preferred an absolute prohibition, which, be it observed, existed for many years and which it is now said to be beyond the power of this House to re-enact. It was the law, as everybody must know, that if you were a foreigner, though naturalised—and that word is used in the Statute itself—nevertheless, you were prohibited from having a vote. What becomes then of the argument that you are not naturalised if you have no vote? The law was as I have stated it for a great number of years, and I think it is very unfortunate that it was repealed by the last Naturalisation Act. What I wish to protest against absolutely is the sort of interpretation which would limit the power of this House when a Bill is before it to make such an alteration as it may desire. I object to its being said that we must not use such and such words. It is the first time I have heard the suggestion made that law is not capable of being enacted by this House, or both Houses together. I shall vote for the Amendment, although I would have preferred a much more stringent one; and, when this question of naturalisation comes on to be discussed I shall certainly, so far as I can, endeavour to make it much more stringent. The old rule was that you could not renounce your country; you could not get rid of the obligations which your birthplace placed upon you. That was the old rule, and I am not aware that it has ever been repealed.
With reference to what the noble and learned Earl has said, may I point out that the old rule, that it was impossible to renounce your country, has gone. This question has been argued from the point of view of the Germans. It is a matter of prejudice to talk about Germans with reference to a question of naturalisation, and I wish to point out that we have to deal with a very complicated state of things. If we listen to the speech of the noble and learned Earl and accept the principle he laid down, then General Smuts, who now sits in the War Cabinet, would not be entitled to be a British citizen. It is now seventeen years since he became a British citizen by conquest. Then, again, there is the immense movement from the United States to Canada. The Canadians find these people most 366 valuable citizens. Will you say that a man who has gone to Canada and become a citizen there must, when he comes here, be kept in a state of suspended animation as to his citizenship? Surely it is much wiser not to use Germany as a sort of stick to beat every foreigner with.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
As the noble and learned Earl has referred to the last Naturalisation Act, for which I was responsible during its passage through the House of Commons in 1914, I feel bound to say that it made no change in the existing law as to the capacity of the individual foreigner to exercise a vote in this country. I would beg your Lordships not to embark upon the very thorny and dangerous subject of naturalisation. I know of the necessary negotiations with the Dominions. There is quite a different system of naturalisation and a different qualifying period in each of the Dominions. The Government have told us they are negotiating with the Dominions now for a revision of our Naturalisation Laws, and I think we should wait for the result of their consultations. There are many distinguished gentlemen who have gone from America to Canada and have obtained Canadian naturalisation. Until my Bill of 1914 was passed, not one of these gentlemen was able to become a British subject or to attain British naturalisation without having resided in this country for live years. If we were to impose such a limit as fifteen years, after naturalisation in this country, you would arrive at the absurdity of refusing the vote to Sir George Perley, the High Commissioner of Canada, who having been born an American citizen, was not able to obtain British naturalisation until January, 1915, after the passage of my Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess who spoke earlier in this debate said he had no sympathy with people who said that this is not the time to deal with the matter. I dare say that observation may well be applied on many occasions. Sometimes people said a question should be treated at another time really because they did not want to deal with it at all; but on the other hand, I think there are cases where, when you are dealing with a subject which has many sides and which may affect different classes of people, it is a just observation to say you should not rush into one branch of the subject and deal with it without considering the 367 matter as a whole. I think that the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill was right when he said that he thought this matter ought to be dealt with when the subject of naturalisation as a whole was being determined. The privileges that naturalisation confers have very many sides. I submit to the Committee that it would be very dangerous to take up this one subject and say that not for fifteen years shall a vote be given. Let this matter be considered as a whole and see what rights naturalisation is to confer. When the matter does come up, I hope that one of the first things that will be considered in dealing with the subject of naturalisation is whether the system should be allowed to go on by which a man can actually become naturalised as a subject of this country while not shaking off his allegiance to a foreign country. That seems to me to be an utterly unsound system, and I hope that we shall see an end to it. But we must bear in mind, when we come to deal with the subject of naturalisation as
§ a whole, including the question of when and under what circumstances naturalisation should confer the right to a vote, that we are legislating also for the subjects of countries who are now our closest allies, and it would be a very great pity if we allowed ourselves, because there are countries whose subjects it may be for many years we shall consider as unfit to take any part in governing this country, to set up anything that would bear hardly on those who have been and are giving us the most valuable assistance in the great struggle in which we are engaged. For these reasons I, for my own part, should be glad if the Committee saw its way to accept the advice tendered by my noble friend opposite, that this is not the occasion for dealing with this particular matter.
§ On Question, whether the proposed words shall be here inserted?—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 84.369
|Argyll, D.||Mayo, E.||Colchester, L.|
|Newcastle, D.||Morton, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Northesk, E.||Desborough, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Dinevor, L. [Teller.]|
|Salisbury, M.||Scarbrough, E.||Gisborough, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Selborne, E.||Harris, L.|
|Shrewsbury, E.||Hothfield, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Wharncliffe, E.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Brownlow, E.||Wicklow, E.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Leith of Fyvie, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Allendale, V.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Dartmouth, E.||Chilston, V.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Denbigh, E.||Churchill, V.||Northbourne, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Hardinge, V.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Eldon, E.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose).||Bangor, L. Bp.||Saltoun, L.|
|Grey, E.||Llandaff, L. Bp.||Savile, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Annesley, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Jersey, E. [Teller.]||Barrymore, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Basing, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Beresford of Metemmeh, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Malmesbury, E.||Carnock, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Ferrers, E.||Haldane, V.|
|Finlay, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Howe, E.||Harcourt, V.|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E. (L. President.)||Lucan, E.||Knollys, V.|
|Lytton, E.||Mersey, V.|
|Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.) (L. Privy Seal.)||Northbrook, E.||Milner, V.|
|Russell, E.||Peel, V.|
|Camden, M.||London, L. Bp.|
|Crewe, M.||Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||St. Asaph, L. Bp.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Bryce, V.||Aberconway, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Anslow, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Falmouth, V.||Ashton of Hyde, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Gladstone, V.||Avebury, L.|
|Barnard, L.||Gainford, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Hylton, L. [Teller.]||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Islington, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Boston, L.||Joicey, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Buckmaster, L.||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)||Southwark, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Kenyon, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Charnwood, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Cheylesmore, L.||Marchamley, L.||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
|Colebrooke, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Coleridge, L.||Newton, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Courtney of Penwith, L.||Parker of Waddington, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Parmoor, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Digby, L.||Penrhyn, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Plunket, L.||Treowen, L.|
|Faber, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)||Weardale, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Pontypridd, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Farrer, L.||Ranksborough, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH moved to delete from paragraph (a) of subsection (1) the words "the requisite residence qualification," and to insert "attained the age of thirty years."
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the next Amendment I know I am taking rather a large step. In 1878 when the cry of "One man, one vote" was raised by Sir George Grey, I predicted that any Government that passed universal suffrage in less than forty years would cease to be able to control the opposing portions of the community. You cannot govern by the will of the people, because the people is a herd, and you never found any herd, whether animals or anything else, that was not led to success by its leaders, or to failure by the timid members of the herd. And in mankind it is just the same. The mass of society must be led to success by its aristocracy, or to ruin by its democracy. If you follow the course of history you find that upon every occasion during the last thousand years when democracy has become the ruling power of a nation it has been followed by civil war. These things take place in cycles of 300 years. At the end of one period of 300 years you had the Wars of the Roses. You had throe transitions previous to that, autocracy, aristocratic government, and democracy. Again, after that, three transitions took place and you had the wars of Cromwell. In 1929, you will have another civil war greater than the wars of Cromwell—370
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
May I remind the noble Lord that the Amendment he is moving is whether the individual who has not attained the age of thirty shall have a right to vote?
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
For that reason I think that the greatest evil that will come about by this Bill will be the extension of the franchise; and if you are to limit the franchise, is there any better way of limiting it than by reducing the representation of the inexperienced? My idea of government was always government of the foolish by the wise, and can you call anybody wise who is not experienced? He may be clever, but the most dangerous man in the community is the clever fool. For cleverness does not make wisdom; wisdom is the result of experience. Can you expect to have large experience before a man is thirty? The Romans had a law that no man should take any public position till after he was thirty, and I think it was a very wise law. You may go back and study many of the laws of the Romans, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians, and find that they are far wiser than the laws we have to-day. If we are to limit our franchise in any way whatever, I consider that it is not wise to be governed by the opinions of boys from eighteen to thirty. I have been away from England, and as to the details of English government I am less well versed than some noble Lords, but on the principles I think I have a right to express an opinion.
Page 1, line 11, leave out ("the requisite residence qualification") and insert ("attained the age of thirty years").—(Lord Clifford of Chudleigh).
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Perhaps the noble Lord will excuse me from following him into his elaborate discourse as to the laws of the Romans, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians, and will pardon me if I just draw his attention to the effect of his Amendment on the Bill. It is very nearly a Second Reading Amendment and is destructive of the whole framework of the Bill. He wants to disfranchise every man under thirty years of age. I do not think he is likely, in this or in the other House, to get very much support for so destructive a measure. Not only will he do that, but, as I read his Amendment, he will disfranchise all those for whom very largely this Bill was instituted—that is to say, the soldiers and sailors. In addition to that, as I understand his Amendment, it alters the whole of the electoral law of this country, because he does not attach these men above thirty to any particular constituency. I leave the noble Lord to imagine what would he the result then of agents moving about these large numbers of people from one constituency to another if they are not attached to any particular constituency. I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied with his review of the general situation and will be good enough not to press his Amendment further.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY moved, after "qualification" [subsection (1) (a)], to insert "as in this Act defined." The noble Marquess said: I need not tell your Lordships that I do not bring this Amendment forward in any polemical spirit. Indeed, I feel that I owe some apology to the House for touching on a subject which ought to be dealt with by members of the House who are learned in the law. The question of residence is, I am told, of the deepest difficulty from a legal point of view, and I am sure that nothing I shall be able to say will throw much light upon it from the strictly legal point of view, although I must deal with it.
§ I bring this Amendment forward because I think it is right that your Lordships should be made aware of the number of pitfalls which lie in this word "residence," in the hope that the Government may devote their attention to the point, and, with the assistance of that great legal talent which they command, may be able to put in the necessary precautions. This question of residence has always been a 372 difficult one; in fact, it has been so difficult that in the year 1891 the Electoral Disabilities Removal Act was passed which, at any rate in one respect, did something towards removing the existing difficulties; but it is one of the most remarkable things that in the Bill now before the House this one plan upon which one might have relied to get to shore out of these difficulties is proposed to be repealed.
§ I will now call attention to some of the difficulties with which we are confronted. Let me remind the House that a franchise is no longer dependent upon ownership or occupation. That raises a presumption of "residence" where "residence" had to be used—but it is pure residence and nothing else; and no ownership or occupation leads to a right conclusion those who have to interpret what "residence" is. Then not only is it residence but it is very rigid residence, because, the Bill says, "must during the whole of the qualifying period have resided in the premises." Prima facie, as the Bill stands, partial residence is not sufficient, because it is specifically laid down that it must be the whole period of residence. Then there is another provision in the Bill which makes it rigid, because the second proviso (b) makes an exception. It says that in a particular case residence shall not be deemed to be interrupted by absence. I need not remind the House that the fact of that one exception being introduced makes what remains all the more rigid, because as the words stand upon the Paper it is laid down that the residence must be the whole of the qualifying period, and there is but one exception; therefore by the ordinary rules of interpretation there is no other exception. That shows what a tremendous definition is given to "residence" by the Bill as it stands.
§ If I tried to explain to your Lordships what the Courts have decided "residence" to be, I am afraid that I should be out of my depth. But I may say that, roughly—if noble and learned Lords will allow me to use such a phrase in connection with law—"residence" is defined to be a place to which you have the liberty and intention of returning. That has been laid down, I believe, in a series of cases by your Lordships' House sitting as a Court of Appeal, and those are cases which deal with "residence" from an electoral point of view. I think there is another series of decisions which deal with residence from a taxation 373 point of view. I will not, however, deal with that. But from an electoral point of view, that is the canon—the liberty and the intention to return. That is, or may be, your residence; and that is what was stated in the other House to be the governing quality of a "residence."
§ I would ask your Lordships to apply that. Suppose a man is engaged on a contract job. He may be an engineer or he may be a workman. He is under a contract to go to another part of England in order to carry out a particular job. He has no liberty to return; he is contracturally bound to remain on his job. Where will his residence be? Will it be in his original home, or in the place where he is working on the contract? It is not merely a question of upon which Register he shall appear, because that might be a relatively small matter. If he did not vote in London where his original home was, at any rate he would get his vote. The difficulty is greater than that, because he might move in the middle of the qualifying period from London to the place where he was working on a contract. This is not an example which I am putting for the sake of finding a case. It is happening every day now; men are moved about continually on munition work from one part of the country to another. The period of six months will be constantly broken in the way I have described. A workman lining in one constituency would be moved under contract to anoher constituency; he may be moved in the middle of the qualifying period, and he will thus lose his vote unless some further definition of "residence" is inserted in the Bill. I think I have said enough to convey to your Lordships some of the difficulties which surround the word "residence." I need not say that the idea that a man resides only in the exact place where he is found at the critical moment is not true. The question is, how far does it go
§ I come now to the substantive proposal which I have made, and there I am on even more difficult ground than the ground I have attempted to traverse so far. This proposal appears in a later part of the Amendments, but it arises on this Amendment because of the introductory words which I desire to introduce. My substantive Amendment appears on page 19 of the Marshalled List of Amendments, and is on Clause 30. I do not desire to 374 press this Amendment upon the Government if they do not approve of it. It is a highly technical matter, but I have taken the best advice possible upon it. The governing idea of the Amendment is that a man's residence must not depend upon whether he can return to it but whether he has a right of entry into it at any time. I have attempted to embody those words in the Amendment I have put on the Paper, and for the sake of the object which I have in view I venture to recommend them to your Lordships. I trust that the Government will consider the difficulties which I have pointed out with a view to amending the Bill in any way they may think proper.
Page1, line 11, after ("qualification") insert ("as in this Act defined").—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sure that the House is indebted to the noble Marquess for the very clear way in which he has dealt with a subject which has given rise to a great deal of discussion. I am of opinion, that the Amendment which is actually moved must he read in the light of the Amendment which stands on page 19 of the Paper. There the noble Marquess proposes to insert in Clause 36 a new subsection after line 34 on page 24, reading as follows: "(1) The expression 'residence qualification' means qualification by reason of a home or place of abode to which the man to be registered has a right of entry at any time in order to use it as such, and he shall, for the purposes of registration, be deemed to be continuously residing therein, and all words implying residence shall be construed accordingly." I hope to satisfy my noble friend that these words would really play havoc with the Bill, and be entirely contrary to every remedial provision which was welcomed in the Bill as redressing a state of things which was felt to be very burdensome. Then I shall offer a few observations to the Committee with a view of suggesting that really no definition is wanted, and that the subject must be dealt with as it arises from time to time; and that if we endeavour to draw up a code on the subject of residence we shall be promoting litigation and throwing great difficulty in the way of those who want to have the vote. The whole point of the Amendment on page 19 of the Paper is that, in order to get the qualification by residence (the residence qualification as 375 proposed) the voter must have some house or room to which he has always a right to go. It must be "a home or place of abode to which the man…has a right of entry at any time in order to use it as such." Does not that destroy at one fell swoop the whole framework on which we have always supposed this Bill rested? The qualification in this Bill is a residence qualification. That was to dispense with the necessity of showing that there was a right of occupation of any particular premises; and the class who are to be enfranchised and who have been recognised as worthy to be enfranchised by this Bill, are the sons, brothers, or other dependants of the voter who are living with him—the grown-up sons. Not one of them has the right to go into his father's house. He resides there by his father's permission, and he would not satisfy the test which is now proposed.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No, not the right. His father allows him to reside there, but may turn him out at any moment; and I think my noble friend will see that the spirit of this Amendment would carry us nearly back to that from which we thought—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Not the spirit of the Amendment, for I certainly do not intend to do any of those things of which the noble and learned Lord speaks. It may be that the Amendment is ill-conceived.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am speaking of the spirit in the words used, because I am certain the noble Marquess did not intend anything of the kind; but if these words or anything like them were adopted, they would point to that conclusion. You would go back to the system of household franchise from which we thought we had escaped, and you would go back to what would be still worse—namely, to a system of creating lodgers. Sham lodgers would be created inevitably by the thousands and tens of thousands in order that they might have the right to go there. I am perfectly certain that that is not what is meant by the Amendment, but it is the conclusion to which the words of the Amendment point.
376 The whole policy of the Bill is that mere residence in the constituency, even though not as a matter of right but on sufferance, shall be enough to confer the right to vote, if the residence takes place for the requisite time; and in doing that—admitting the adult sons of householders—there is no very dangerous plunge. It is not plunging into the admission to the franchise of a fresh class of voters altogether, about whom we know nothing, but of members of the same class to which the present voters belong; and we may rely upon it that they will vote very much as those of their number who happen to be householders or lodgers have voted hitherto.
Then may I point out—as the noble Marquess said that nothing of the kind was meant, I do not want to labour the point—one of the most deplorable consequences that would result from making it necessary for the claimants to the vote to show that as a matter of right during the qualifying period they were entitled to occupy certain premises. By the naval and military voters' clause—Clause 5—we entitle any sailor or soldier to get the vote if he can show that but for his going on service he would have qualified for the vote; and if the principle is once admitted that a necessary element of showing title to vote was proving a right to occupy some particular premises, a very large number of those who have been serving us in the field would be unable to satisfy that test. All these lads, who lived with their fathers before they went, had no right to occupy, and could not by any possibility satisfy the test which Clause 5 imposes upon them of showing that but for the service they would have acquired the right. For these reasons I submit that any idea of imposing a new condition of this kind must be rejected.
The noble Marquess says there ought to be some definition. I really do not think so. I have looked into the matter, and I do not think it is desirable, and in my opinion any attempt at anything of the kind would be mischievous. There are two kinds of residence. Of course there is actual residence, which consists of a man living in a place with some idea of permanence. Then there is the question of what is called constructive reisdence, for the purpose of which the existence of some right is really necessary. As regard actual residence you want nothing beyond the mere fact of residence. In fact, it has 377 been decided that residence within the constituency, even as a trespasser, would be enough if the test imposed were residence. There was a case where a man for a portion of the period resided with a relative in an almshouse, where no guests were allowed except by permission of the trustees. This man, with certain of his belongings, went to live with an aunt in an almshouse without any permission at all. Obviously he might have been turned out at any moment, but it was held that his residence there counted towards the qualifying period. That case was decided as long ago as 1877. Mr. Justice Blackburn (if I might quote these few sentences from that great lawyer) put it in this way—There is no strict or definite rule for ascertaining what is inhabitance or residence. The words have nearly the same meaning. Sleeping once or twice in a place would not constitute inhabitance. There is no precise line to be drawn. It is always, if the inhabiting is bonâ fide, a question of more or less. The question is whether there has been such a degree of inhabitance as to be in substance and in common sense a residence.I submit that that is sound sense, and that we do not want anything more than what has been said by Mr. Justice Blackburn and what is said in other cases. You would never, by any attemt at codification, get rid of the necessity of dealing with each case as it arises.
Then, of course, you have what, in the language of lawyers, is called constructive residence. That arises in this way. If a man has a house or a room which he is entitled to occupy as his own, to which he may go at any moment, his residence is not broken by his going away (it may be on a job) to another part of the country. He may stop away for a considerable time, but, particularly if his wife and family are left in the rooms during his absence, his residence is not considered as broken. It has arisen in Scotland a good deal with regard to the cases of sea captains, skippers of merchantmen who are away during a great part of the year; and considerable absence has been held not to break residence which has been started when they acquired houses to which they were entitled to go—a right which they retain even during the periods of their absence upon other business. In one case, in which a man was away for the whole of the qualifying period, it was held in the Courts in Scotland that his residence went on because he had a house and his wife and family were there, and the 378 fact that he was engaged on his avocation at sea did not prevent constructive residence.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Supposing it had been the case of a son and not a man with his own house?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Then, of course, there are considerations which must be taken into account as to the breaking of residence. I do not mean to say that any absence would interrupt the residence, because the residence goes on if substantially during that time the place where the man is permanently is within the constituency. He may be away for a time, but that does not prevent his being resident in the constituency the whole time. The cases to which I have been referring were stronger cases, where there was a right to be at a particular place.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think it would be a very great pity to introduce into this Bill that element of right which is essential in many cases for constructive residence. I think that the principles are sufficiently clear, and that we should really only be creating confusion if we attempted to introduce a new definition. It would be supposed that we were altering the law. There would be long discussions to determine whether we had altered the law or had merely provided a digest of it, and on the whole I would ask the Committee to let things rest as they are. I think that the definition on page 19 of the Paper is a very good instance of the danger of admitting such definitions. The noble Marquess said he would not feel it necessary to press the matter, but the Committee are very much indebted to him for the manner in which he laid it before us and explained the somewhat intricate grounds of the law. I hope he will be content with the conclusion which satisfied those in another place, who allowed the matter to rest as it stands.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Marquess who moved this Amendment, because in 1912 when I was responsible for introducing 379 a Franchise Bill in another place I spent weeks and months trying to secure some definition of "residence" for the particular Bill. I came to the conclusion at which the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken has arrived on behalf of the Government, that it is much wiser not to attempt any definition of residence but to leave each case to be determined upon its own merits. In 1912 several very eminent lawyers tried to frame definitions. In every case it was pointed out that the definition would not hold water. The attempt of the noble Marquess, while very ingenious, has already been proved by the noble and learned Lord to be not very satisfactory. I might go on multiplying instances, and show, not only that sons of fathers have no right to enter the premises of their fathers, but that domestic servants might be all disfranchised, and that men who had a qualification in barracks wanting to go back into barracks would have no right of entry if they were commanded by their superior officer not to return to barracks; and so on. I could multiply cases to show that the noble Marquess's object would really not be carried out by the attempt that is made to define residence, and I hope the word may be left as it is now, not absolutely defined in the law, so that each case is determined on its merits.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I do not for one moment dispute the opinion of my noble and learned friend (the Lord Chancellor) on such a question, but I would ask him to amplify his very lucid explanation on one point. He did not allude to the provision on page 2 to which my noble friend Lord Salisbury referred—namely, the very stringent provision that the residence must not have been interrupted during the whole of the qualifying period with the one exception in respect of letting as lodgings. My noble friend will remember that the noble Marquess pointed out that the insertion of that one exception might have the effect of making more rigid still the interpretation of the proviso. That is the only point I think the Lord Chancellor did not deal with, and I would ask him to inform us what his answer is to that criticism.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think the insertion of the exception would not have the effect apprehended. If a man had a residence and were away on a job 380 within the constituency, I think that would be regarded as residence. The exception is introduced for the purpose, no doubt, of guarding against the possibility of its being said, "You have given up your house for a definite period by letting it."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN moved to substitute "during the last fourteen days" for "on the last day" in the first paragraph (a) of subsection (2). The noble Earl said: Part of this clause is meant to deal with a particular sort of voter who is known as the swallow voter. He is a person who is imported into a constituency shortly before the, end of the qualifying period for the purpose of voting, and after he has obtained his qualification he is at liberty to withdraw. Neither the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill nor I wish to protect this swallow voter. We wish to put all the difficulties that we can in his way, but we propose to do it by rather different methods. If your Lordships will allow me I will explain the way in which it is proposed to do it in the Bill as contrasted with the way in which I propose to do it in the Amendment. If you will look at the first clause of the Bill you will see that a man, in order to have the requisite residence qualification or business premises qualification for a constituency, must on the last day of the qualifying period be residing in premises in the constituency, and so on. Then there is the proviso that, notwithstanding anything in this Act, "a man, though he may have been residing in premises in the constituency on the last day of the qualifying period, shall not be entitled to be so registered if he commenced to reside in the constituency within thirty days before the end of the qualifying period and erased to reside there within thirty days after the time when he so commenced to reside." Personally I have had great difficulty, like many other people, in understanding what these words mean. A man has to commence to reside within thirty days, and, if he is to have a vote and retain his right to be registered, he is not to cease to reside there within thirty days afterwards. How are you going to carry that out? Say a man enters five days before the end of the qualifying period, he is bound to remain twenty-five days after the end of the qualifying period. Are you going to watch him for the twenty-five days? It seems to me, under any circumstances, that it is a very complicated 381 and difficult way of doing what is a comparatively simple thing. What I propose is to strike out the words "on the last day" and all reference as to what is to happen after that, and to say that he is to reside for the last fourteen days of the period. It seems to me that this is a much simpler way of doing it. It might possibly be said that I am keeping some people off the Register. That is true, but only to a limited extent. It might keep off the Register persons who put their names down after the fourteen days and between the twentieth day, but the only effect it would have on these people—and it is a hardship which could only concern a very small number—is that they would have their registration postponed for six months. It is for that reason I suggest that these words should be inserted.
Page 1, line 15, leave out ("on the last day") and insert ("during the last fourteen days").—(The Earl of Camperdown.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
This is, of course, an alternative way of meeting the difficulty of the swallow voter. I want to point out to those who wish to deal with the swallow voter that the method suggested by the noble Earl is a much milder one than the Government's method. Under the method suggested by the Government a man must remain thirty days if he comes in on the last day before the qualifying period, whereas under the scheme of the noble Earl he has to come fourteen days before and only need reside for fourteen days in that particular place. It is quite obvious, therefore, that the noble Earl makes it easier for the swallow voter to move about than the Government's proposal. The question, of course, is how much is really necessary to prevent these things being done? I think probably every one will agree that this movement of voters may become far more difficult when it is done in the large constituencies which will be constituted under the Bill than it was in the old and small constituencies. I admit there is the difficulty about the Government proposal, as it stands, mentioned by the noble Earl. He rather suggests that a certain careful watch will have to be kept upon this gentleman as to whether or not he is going to leave before the end of the thirty days. I do not think that would be necessary. Obviously objection will be taken by agents and others if it is found that a man has gone before the thirty days are 382 over; and agents, no doubt, would be careful to note the dates.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not know that it would be necessary to watch them all the time. There is, I think, this objection—that a good many persons might come into residence a few days before the end of a qualifying period, and they might, for various absolutely bonâ fide reasons, wish to leave a few days after the end of the qualifying period, and before the end of the thirty days as laid down in the Bill. Thus you would be really applying to people, whom you do not wish to hit, a form of penalty, or precaution, which is necessary against the swallow voter.
Then as to the noble Earl's Amendment, it is open to the objection he stated—namely that a certain number of persons might be disqualified for a particular Register. It is clear, under the Government scheme, that a man might come into residence on the very last day of a qualifying period, and, if he remains the whole thirty days, he will get the vote. In that way the Government proposal is rather more generous than the Amendment. It is quite true to say that the proposal of the noble Earl will not disfranchise many persons for the particular Register, because the fourteen days will date from the first up to the fifteenth, which will be well after the time that people change their residence, about Christmas or the New Year, and perhaps not much damage will be done. Undoubtedly the Amendment is a neater way of dealing with the question, although it is open to the objection I have stated. As regards the precise position of the Government upon it, if it found favour and was pressed I should not be inclined to oppose it, but I do not, of course, know the general attitude of the House upon it.
I strongly support the proposal of the noble Earl. Although I gather from what the noble Viscount has said that nobody should be qualified unless he had resided in the constituency thirty days before, yet a little further on he has an Amendment to leave that clause out. It is most important that a man should reside thirty days in the new constituency before he comes on the Register; otherwise there 383 is a danger that he will come in on the last day and qualify for a vote. It may lead to a large number of swallow voters, which is the last thing the House wants to encourage. If the proposal is to do away with the thirty days, it makes some difference to my views on the matter.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not want to mislead the noble Viscount. It is perfectly clear that if the proposal of the noble Earl was carried it would be substituted for the proposal of the thirty days. The thirty days would come out. The reason that I pat down the lines of that particular matter was merely to regroup certain clauses.
§ LORD GAINFORD moved to insert in paragraph (a) of subsection (2), after the word "premises" where it secondly occurs, the words "as owner or tenant." The noble Lord said: I must apologise to your Lordships for having handed in a manuscript Amendment. The fact is that I did not know until this morning that there was in the Bill what I presume to be a small defect. Unless some qualifying words of the kind which I suggest are inserted I submit to the Government that their intention will not be carried out by the provisions of this Bill. It is not intended that the business qualification should be a very wide qualification so as to include every one who happens to occupy premises. It is not for me to attempt to define what occupation is, any more than it is for me to attempt to define what residence is but it is obvious that caretakers may often be in occupation of business premises. It also may be argued that shop assistants are frequently in occupation of business premises, and so an attempt might be made to abuse the object sought here, that only those who really carry on business or are partners in carrying on business should be secured the vote. These business qualification proposals really arise out of the, Bill of 1912. It became apparent that if only residential occupation was a qualification such business centres as the City of London and of North-West Manchester would be so denuded of electors that they would be practically disfranchised, and it was very difficult to defend a disfranchisement of that kind. Therefore by general consent of the Speaker's Conference they agreed in another place to insert the words "a business qualification" as one 384 of the qualifications for these Parliamentary electoral votes. I do not think, however, that it was intended to make it very wide, and I suggest to the Government that these words would narrow it down to those whom the Bill really is intended to cover for the business qualification.
Page 1, line 17, after ("premises") insert ("as owner or tenant").—(Lord Gainford.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Lord raises the point that unless the words "owner or tenant" are inserted a large number of persons will be enfranchised and gain a business vote who otherwise are not intended to have it. I am advised that the words are unnecessary, and that clerks in a business would not be occupying the premises. They would have no control over them, for they could be ordered out at any time by their chief; therefore they would not get the vote, as the noble Lord suggests. In those circumstances I have no doubt that he will agree that it is unwise to put in words which, however useful they may be, are really unnecessary.
§ LORD BURNHAM
I think that this would be a dangerous Amendment and quite contrary to the intentions of the Speaker's Conference. As a matter of fact, those persons to whom my noble friend alludes would be qualified as service voters under the existing franchise; and the intention of the Speaker's Conference undoubtedly was to make this as wide a qualification as possible, so that the business and trading interests of the country might have the form of special representation which is now allowed them. If words of this limiting kind are put in without any necessity, it will diminish part of the value of the compromise which was arrived at.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
I think that the noble Lord who has just spoken must be in error in saying that these people would come in under the service franchise. They are not residents and the service franchise is residence. This is a question of occupation, and it seems to me that it is necessary to define what sort of occupation it is. Otherwise you may have the office boy and all the clerks, who are only occupying during the day and are not residing, put on the Register for these business premises, which is obviously not the intention of the Government.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I hope that these words will not be inserted. I do not think that there is any real danger of the office boy being brought in in the way suggested. The words might limit the business franchise, and I agree with Lord Burnham that that ought not to be limited by putting in any words such as those suggested.
§ LORD GAINFORD
There has been such abuse in the past in people getting on the Register for ownership votes who are not entitled to them that I thought some words ought to be put in. I could give your Lordships an illustration if you will permit me. On one occasion forty-four owners of a theatre all got on the Register as occupying premises, being all entitled as owners to go and conduct the business of the theatre, and they qualified as owners. It would be equally possible for individuals to do the same sort of thing as business occupiers of premises. I think, therefore, that at any rate attention should be directed to the point. I do not press these words, but I hope that the noble Viscount will look at this matter before the Report stage, and, if he thinks some limiting words are required to carry out the intention of the Government, that he will then introduce words with that object.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to add, at the end of the first paragraph (b)of subsection (2), the words "measured in the case of tidal water from low-water mark." The noble Viscount said: This Amendment is rendered necessary in order to define "or separated from that borough or county by water, not exceeding at the nearest point six miles in breadth." The Amendment is merely for the purpose of clearly defining that those six miles are to be measured in the case of tidal water from low-water mark.
Page 2, line 9, at end insert ("measured in the case of tidal water from low-water mark").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to leave out the second paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2). The noble Viscount said: This is the first of a series of Amendments which are purely of a drafting character. There are certain provisions in Clause 1 and 386 Clause 3 of the Bill which apply both to the Parliamentary vote and to the local government vote. They are enacted twice over, so to speak, in the Bill, and the object of this Amendment is merely to move these provisions and group them in one clause—a new clause to be called Clause, 6. It is purely for the clearness of drafting, and there is no change. In consequence of the Committee having accepted the Amendment of the noble Earl, the clause will have to be moved in a slightly different form from that in which it was when I put it down.
Page 2, line 10, leave out from the beginning of line 10 to the end of line 24.—(Viscount peel.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to leave out the remainder of subsection (3) after the first paragraph ending with the word "registered." The noble Viscount said: This is part of the same thing.
Page 2, line 32, leave out from the beginning of line 32 to the end of the clause.—(Viscount peel.)
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
I will put this Amendment down only to the word "partners," in order not to shut out a subsequent Amendment to be moved by Lord Gainford, but I suggest to the noble Lord (Lord Gainford) that he should move his Amendment on the new Clause 6.
§ LORD FARRER
Before Clause 1, as amended, passes I should like to ask the Government upon what statutory or other authority rests the present disability of a Peer to vote for a Member of the House of Commons, and whether, if it is intended that Peers should have such a vote, words may be introduced, if necessary, at a later stage for the sake of informing the new registration authority in order to make this point perfectly clear. The words in question are in subsection (1), "not subject to any legal incapacity." Now if there is no statutory disability—and I have been unable to find one—it must be a question of judicial decision. I imagine that the case might again be brought into the Law Courts, and, if that is intended, would it not be better to make it clear? If not, I think it will be obvious that some very 387 curious results will follow. Peers, lunatics, and idiots will be, the only persons taxed and not represented, and every sort of confusion might arise with regard to Peeresses, supposing this part of the Bill is carried, who own no property entitling them to vote. That position would be completely anomalous.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I can answer very briefly the question of the noble Lord. I understand he wishes to know under what Statute Peers are not allowed to vote. They are not allowed to vote, not under Statute, but at Common Law. I hope that answer may satisfy the noble Lord. As to the further question, whether they ought to vote or not, he will, perhaps, excuse me for not going into that rather large question on this Clause.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ University franchise (men).
§ 2. A man shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for a university constituency if he is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity, and has received a degree (other than an honorary degree) at any university forming, or forming part of, the constituency, or in the case of the Scottish universities is qualified under section twenty-seven of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868.
§ LORD RATHMORE
I desire to submit to your Lordships an Amendment which unfortunately I have not been able to place upon the Paper. It is at the end of Clause 2, to insert "or, in the case of the University of Dublin, has obtained a scholarship or fellowship in the University, whether before or after the passing of this Act." This is not a proposal to confer the franchise on any one who has rot got it already. The franchise of scholarship in the University of Dublin has always existed from the time of the original Charter—that is, for more than 300 years. The examinations which are necessary in order to obtain a fellowship or a scholarship in that University are extremely hard, and require a great deal of preparation. I may add that not only have they these franchises gained so long ago, but they were specially confirmed in the Reform Act of 1832, and have been recognised by all the Acts which have touched upon the question at all. I have been asked to propose this Amendment on behalf of the authorities of the University, which I had the honour for a great many years to represent in 388 the House of Commons. I may add that, it was the intention of the present Members for the University of Dublin, Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Samuels, to have proposed this Amendment in the House of Commons, but in the exigencies of getting the Bill through there it was decided to postpone the, matter until it came up to your Lordships' House. Owing to the irregularity of the postal communication between Ireland and this country at the present time the letter in which I was asked to bring this forward was delayed a couple of days. Otherwise I should have put the Amendment upon the Notice Paper.
Page 3, line 10, at end insert ("or, in the case of the University of Dublin, has obtained a scholarship or fellowship in the University, whether before or after the passing of this Act").—(Lord Rathmore.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
As the noble Lord knows, I have not had very much opportunity of considering this Amendment; but it is not the intention of this Bill, as regards the Universities, to diminish any of their privileges or to reduce the area of their electoral qualifications. Indeed, the noble Lord will see from the clause that there is a special provision introduced to keep Scotland as it was. I think that in these circumstances I should be justified in accepting the Amendment, but I would like to guard myself so far by saying that I should like afterwards to consult the Home Office on the subject and go into the matter a little more fully. It is certainly a very wide qualification, persons who have "obtained a scholarship or fellowship in the University, whether before or after the passing of this Act." That is to say, persons who have obtained a scholarship apparently retain the right of voting at the University for the whole of their life, whatever their subsequent career has been. But the noble Lord assures me that this is the existing qualification, and has existed in Dublin University ever since the year 1663.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I think this is a matter of some delicacy. I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend, because obviously a person who has got a scholarship is a very meritorious person, and much more closely concerned with the University than one who has merely a degree. But one of the purposes of this Bill is to extend University representation, 389 and naturally when you do that you wish to proceed upon a general principle. I think we should all be much obliged to the Government if they would in the interval between this and the Report stage give a somewhat careful attention to the question of what the principle ought to be. If this exists in the case of the University of Dublin it does not appear why it should not extend to the possession of scholarships and fellowships in other Universities. It might be a very desirable qualification of the existing Parliamentary franchise in these Universities. I, for my part, should be quite content if the Government would undertake to look into this with some care between now and the Report stage, and then it is possible that they may be able to meet the wishes of my noble friend and also make it of a more general character.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is very desirable indeed that the Government should look into this. But I hope that the principle upon which they will seek to proceed will be that there shall be no diminution in the rights of the University of Dublin which have been recognised for many hundreds of years. There should be no attempt to disfranchise persons who have had the vote merely because there may have been some want of similarity with other Universities. The whole principle, as I understand, is that each University should continue to exercise its old privileges in electing Members as it has done heretofore. I hope when the Government look into the matter, if they find that my noble friend has merely moved that the present system should be continued, they will allow the Amendment to stand.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Local government franchise (men).
§ 3. A man shall be entitled to be registered as a local government elector for a local government electoral area if he is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity, and—
- (a) is on the last day of the qualifying period occupying jointly or severally, as owner or tenant, any land or premises in that area; and
- (b) has, during the whole of the qualifying period, so occupied any land or premises in that area, or, if that area is not an administrative, county or a county borough, in the administrative county or county borough in which the area is wholly or partly situate:
§ Provided that—
- (i) for the purposes of this section a man who himself inhabits any dwelling-house by virtue of any office, service, or employment, and the dwelling-house is not inhabited by any person under whom he serves in such office, service, or employment, shall be deemed to be a tenant;
- (ii) for the purposes of this section the word tenant shall not include a person who occupies a room or rooms as a lodger except where such room or rooms are let to him in an unfurnished state;
- (iii) a man, though he may have been occupying land or premises in the area on the last day of the qualifying period, shall not be entitled to be so registered if he commenced to occupy the land or premises within thirty days before the end of the qualifying period and ceased to occupy them within thirty days after the commencement of his occupation;
- (iv) the occupation of a house shall not be deemed to be interrupted for the purposes of this section by reason only of permission being given by letting or otherwise for the occupation of the house as a furnished house by some other person for a part of the qualifying period not exceeding four months in the whole, or by reason only of notice to quit being served and possession being demanded by the landlord of the house; and
- (v) not more than two persons shall be entitled to be registered as joint occupiers in respect of the same land or premises unless they are bonâ fide engaged as partners, carrying on their profession, trade, or business in the premises.
§ THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN moved to substitute "during the last fourteen days" for "on the last day" in paragraph (a). The noble Earl said: This clause relates to the local government franchise, and the Amendment which I propose is the same as the one which your Lordships have already accepted from me on Clause 1 with regard to the Parliamentary franchise.
Page 3, line 14, leave out ("on the last day") and insert ("during the last fourteen days").—(The Earl of Camperdown.)
Page 3, line 15, leave out ("jointly or severally").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD HARRIS moved, in paragraph (a), after the word "land," to insert "of the yearly value of not less than five pounds." The noble Lord said: Clause 3 purports to give a local government franchise, but, as a matter of fact, it will go a great deal further if the clauses giving votes to women are carried. The wife of a local government voter on a piece of land, however small, will, under the clause as it stands, get a Parliamentary vote. I am doubtful whether the Government realise what might be the result of this very liberal concession. In another part of the Bill the man is subjected to a limitation; the piece of land that he has to occupy in order to get a Parliamentary vote must be of the value of £10. Now it is proposed that his wife shall be qualified for the Parliamentary vote upon the occupation of a piece of land worth, perhaps, not more than 1s. a year. That seems absolutely inconsistent, and cannot have been intended by the Government.
§ Let your Lordships observe what are the possibilities of this extreme concession. The Bill allows a voter to qualify in the contiguous constituency to that in which he has resided for the greater part of the year. The title has been already used here of the swallow voter, and this liberal concession to which I have referred will admit of the creation of a large number of such voters. A successful effort has been made to get rid of the faggot voter, and I cannot believe that the Government will support a clause in this Bill which will allow of the creation of a large number of swallow voters.
§ Imagine two constituencies contiguous to one another. The agent of the one is A, and of the other B. Agent A knows for a certainty that he has a large preponderating majority and that he can spare 1,000 or 2,000 women voters. He arranges with agent B to take up a certain amount of land, which land is then cut up into very small parcels at a very cheap rate. Agent A then gets 1,000 or 2,000 of his male voters to take that land; and the wives of those men, if not otherwise qualified, become 392 qualified to vote in the contiguous constituency for the occupation of a really ridiculous piece of land. I submit that in order to prevent this very objectionable possibility it is necessary to insert some obstacle to it in the Bill. There is this additional anomaly that, as I have said, the husband cannot get a Parliamentary vote as the occupier of land unless that land be of the value of £10; whereas the wife, through the local government franchise, can get a Parliamentary vote for the occupation of land of the value of only 1s. If women are to have the vote they should be as far as possible put upon the same level with regard to occupation as men. I believe that in the other House the Minister in charge of the Bill promised to look into this matter.
§ The only other point in my Amendment to which I need call attention is the figure of £5. It occurred to me very late last night that it is by no means certain that I have been wise in reducing the amount from £10 to £5; and if the Government are going to look into the matter with a view of inserting some obstacle to the very objectionable possibility to which I have already referred, perhaps they would be disposed also to look into the question of the amount, and to amend my Amendment by making that amount £10 instead of £5.
Page 3, line 15, after ("land") insert ("of the yearly value of not less than live pounds").—(Lord Harris.)
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
It is possible that it may be necessary to meet the point made by the noble Lord as to the creation of bogus women voters for Parliamentary purposes through the medium of their husband's votes for local government purposes; but I hope that it will not be done by the method suggested in this Amendment. I must point out that the result of this Amendment would be to exclude a very large number of small allotment holders from the local government Register and franchise, which is one to which they are obviously entitled, and which it is desirable they should exercise. I trust, therefore, that no steps will be taken to deprive the allotment holder of his local government franchise, even if steps are taken to prevent the creation of bogus women voters through the possession of the local government franchise by the husband.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think the noble Lord has come up against a certain difficulty in the Bill. There are a good many considerations that come in. First of all, you come up against the proposals of the Speakers Conference which are followed by the Bill with regard to those occupying any land or premises in the area, and undoubtedly that is an exceedingly wide proposal. It becomes, of course, even more important when the woman vote For Parliamentary franchise is annexed or can be annexed to the local Government vote. The question of the faggot vote is to some extent diminished in importance, because now that the plural vote is so very much reduced it is not so much a question of plural faggot voting, but it is, as the noble Lord has stated, the possibility of the creation of transfers; that is to say, there might be women who have votes in a particular constituency by reason of their husbands' votes to whom it might be far more convenient to have their qualification, by reason of this local government qualification, in another constituency. If the noble Lord will allow me—there are some difficulties in the case—I will look into the matter and consider whether I can bring up some Amendment on the Report stage. I think the Government are perfectly aware of the difficulty raised by the noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I hope that whatever the noble Viscount does he will bear in mind this, that the faggot votes are very largely a thing of the past. I have had long experience of Parliamentary elections, and I have watched them for a very great many years now. I remember when faggot votes were very rife, but with the extension of the franchise the question of the faggot voters became practically unimportant, and I do not think they exist on any large scale now. If they were not important before this Bill, I do not think they are likely to increase to any great extent after this Bill becomes law.
On the understanding that the Government will look into the matter and bring up some form of Amendment I am quite willing to withdraw my Amendment; but the matter is so dangerous that unless a guarantee is given that some obstacle is going to be put in the way of this great danger, I shall be prepared to take the opinion of the House. I understood from the noble Viscount that he 394 would bring up some Amendment after going into the question with the Law Officers.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think I can undertake to try to deal with the difficulty, which is present in the minds of the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to amend paragraph (b) by leaving out "the" ["the administrative county"] and substituting "any." The noble Viscount said: This and the following two are only small drafting Amendments.
Page 3, line 20, leave out ("the") and insert ("any").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to substitute "shall if" for "and" in proviso (i).
Page 3, line 26, leave out ("and") and insert ("shall if").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved the deletion of the word "shall" towards the end of proviso (i).
Page 3, line 28, leave out ("shall").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER moved to amend proviso (i) by leaving out the words "any person under whom he serves in such office, service, or employment," and substituting the words "his employer." The noble Earl said: I must apologise for handing in this Amendment in manuscript, but the point has only lately been brought to my notice, and I think it raises a question to which I should draw your Lordships' attention. I have moved this Amendment because I do not think the words as they stand are very clear, and may give rise to a certain amount of misunderstanding. Let us take the case of a police barracks, where there is a sergeant and a constable both occupying rooms in the police barracks. Would the police constable be deprived of his vote? It might be argued that the premises were inhabited by the person under whom 395 serves. If the word were "employer" there could be no doubt about the matter. I think there are sure to be several cases of this description, and I think it is well worth the attention of the Government whether the words as they stand in the clause will not give rise to very great confusion and some doubt as to whether the constable is entitled to his vote, or should lose his vote owing to the fact that somebody else under whom he serves is residing in the house. I do not know what the definition of "under whom he serves in such office, service, or employment" may be, but I think the words might give rise to a great deal of complication. Therefore I move my Amendment, which appears to me to make the matter perfectly plain.
Page 3, line 27, after the word ("by"), leave out ("any person under whom he serves in such office, service, or employment") and insert ("his employer").—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have only just seen the Amendment which the noble Earl has handed in, but I think I understand the point with which he is dealing. As he has drawn the Amendment, however, it does perhaps raise some, other point. Would he, therefore, be inclined to withdraw it now, and we will deal with it on Report?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think it right to point out that, owing to the exigencies of time, we have been put in very great difficulty, and it has not been possible, with the greatest good will in the world, for us to go into all the intricacies of the Bill. There are certain points left over, and that accounts for the delay in handing in Amendments. It is not intended to show any disrespect to the Government, but is entirely due to the difficulty of getting them ready in time. I do not say that this Amendment covers an important point but it is a substantial one, because a man might be disfranchised, as the words now stand in the clause, whom it is not intended to disfranchise.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.396
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to leave out, at the end of proviso (i), the words "be a tenant" and to substitute "occupy the dwelling-house as a tenant." The noble Viscount said: This Amendment makes the wording consistent with the other part of the clause.
Page 3, line 29, leave out ("be") and insert ("occupy the dwelling house as").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD PARMOOR moved to leave out proviso (ii). The noble and learned Lord said: This is rather a technical point, but I think I can explain it shortly. We are dealing with the local government franchise. As a matter of fact at the present time, as regards local government franchise, excepting London, there is no franchise given on the lodger qualification, and when the Bill was introduced there was no lodger qualification as regards the local government franchise generally. There is a lodger franchise as regards the metropolis, and that I seek to retain in its present form in a subsequent Amendment. Now if you will look at the proviso which I seek to omit you will see that the lodger franchise is given to any person who occupies a room or rooms which are let to him in an unfurnished state; that is to say, if any lodger occupies a room or rooms in an unfurnished state, for which he may pay a nominal sum, he would be entitled to the local government franchise. Therefore, you are not only introducing the lodger franchise for the first time, but are doing so in a very extreme form. It means this, that any person who occupies a room or rooms in an unfurnished state at a purely nominal value is to be given this franchise. That was not in the Bill as originally introduced, and I think the mistake has arisen from applying generally the conditions which in a certain form are applicable to the metropolis. If your Lordships will look at my alternative wording you will see it is in these words—"tenant" shall in the administrative county of London, include the occupiers of lodgings of a yearly value, if let unfurnished, of not less than ten pounds in respect of each occupier. That is the existing law as regards the metropolis. Therefore, you have abrogated the existing law as regards the metropolis, and in the metropolis and elsewhere you have given the lodger franchise for an unfurnished 397 room or rooms, of no value really, or of one shilling annual value. As the noble Viscount knows very well, this provision in its present form was introduced as a late Amendment into the Bill. It was brought in in connection with the London lodger franchise, and, although it was introduced in connection with that, it is applied generally and applied under conditions to which the London lodger franchise would not be applicable. I do not wish to take up your time further except to ask the noble Viscount whether it is really the intention to give this local government franchise in this wide form and to abrogate what is the existing law as regards the metropolis.
Page 3, line 30, Leave out proviso (ii).—(Lord Parmoor.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
It does not matter. If I move the first I shall have to move words to introduce the second.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
As I understand him, the noble and learned Lord said that the lodger franchise at present applied only to London. Did he say that?
§ LORD PARMOOR
What I said was that for local government purposes, which is all we are dealing with here, there is now no lodger franchise, I think, except in the metropolis.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not think the noble and learned Lord is quite correct about that, because as parochial electors (as they are called) vote in district council and parish council elections, that brings in the lodger who is a Parliamentary voter. In fact, they vote there far more in one sense than they do in London. I may remind the noble Lord that it was only by a complete accident, a legislative accident, that the lodgers were introduced into the London County Council elections at all. That by the way. Take London first. The noble Lord seeks, I understand, to retain 398 the existing lodger vote in London. According to the provisions of the Speaker's Conference there was some doubt, I think, as to the position of the lodger. Anyhow, the view taken was that the lodger entirely disappeared. Then the matter was very much discussed in another place, and the result was a compromise. That is to say, the lodger was cut in half (as I expressed it), and the vote was confined to those persons who took unfurnished rooms, while those who took furnished rooms, being in the less important position, lost the vote. I was rather interested to hear my noble friend say you can get unfurnished rooms for a shilling a week in London.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have a pretty large knowledge of rooms all over London, and I should very much like to know where that is possible. I think the decision about unfurnished rooms really gives a substantial interest in the case of the tenants, and only brings in those who ought to be brought in. The further effect of the Amendment would be really to establish a different law for London and for the rest of the country. When this Bill is brought in for simplifying purposes and to make the same law in all parts of the country, I submit it would be unwise to have one law for London and another law for the country. I understand the result would be that in the rest of the country legal decisions would have to be taken as to whether this lodger is a tenant or whether he is not. I submit that it is far simpler to have the arrangement as it is in the Bill and to adhere to the compromise arrived at in the House of Commons. If you introduce that portion of the noble Lord's Amendment retaining the existing lodger vote in London, you then must establish this distinction between London and the rest of the country, so that you would lose a certain simplicity which you had got by this unifying Bill. I hope, therefore, my noble friend will not press the very considerable change that he wishes to make in the local government laws in regard to lodgers.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I desire to enforce the plea which the noble Viscount opposite has just made to my noble and learned friend below the gangway. So far as the London position is concerned, we 399 accept quite cordially and frankly the compromise described by my noble friend—that drawing a distinction between the unfurnished and furnished ledger. We certainly do not desire to adhere to the existing state of the law, for the reasons that my noble friend has given. I trust, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord will not press his Amendment. Quite apart from London, the Bill seems to me to have the definite advantage, as the noble Viscount has stated, that the local government franchise all over Great Britain will be brought into conformity with the London franchise and placed on a simple basis instead of on the rather complicated basis on which it now stands.
§ LORD BURNHAM
May I point out to my noble friend that the reason the Speaker's Conference arrived at this distinction was that it was felt that for the purpose of local government the voter ought to have a substantial interest, almost amounting to that of the burgess. Those who were occupying furnished lodgings were looked upon more or less as flitting voters who would not have, for that purpose, sufficient interest in the locality to make an exception in their case worth while. From what I know of London, I cannot believe that it is desirable to make the administrative county an exception to the general rule which would prevail throughout the whole country.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
May I just say a word to the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, not upon the question of lodgings, but upon the question of the wording of proviso (ii) as it stands? It is in rather a peculiar form, and my only suggestion is that, as this is a place and opportunity for making obscure matters plain, it may be as well if we put it in another form. It bears on its face the stamp and mark of a compromise. What happens in the Bill as now drawn is this. You have a provision as to a person being qualified if he is a tenant, and then you have a provision upon that saying that the tenant shall not include a certain person who occupies rooms, and then you have, in regard to that, an exception that the exclusion shall not exclude a person who occupies rooms that are unfurnished. Exactly the same thing would be effected, and I suggest the purpose would be made much plainer to people who may be 400 anxious to know what the Bill does mean, if the proviso ran in these words: "For the purposes of this section the word 'tenant' shall include only a lodger who occupies a room or rooms let to him in an unfurnished state." I would suggest that between now and the Third Reading the noble Viscount should consider this point.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The same idea has occurred to so humble a draftsman as myself, but I did not dare to make any suggestion to the authorities on the subject. Now, fortified by the noble and learned Lord, I think I may.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am not concerned with the drafting point, but after the explanation of the noble Viscount I shall not press my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to delete provisos (iii), (iv) and (v).
Page 3, line 34, leave out from the beginning of line 34 to the end of the clause.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I think the proposal made by the noble Earl is entirely a reasonable one, and will receive general favour in your Lordships' House. The question of woman suffrage, contained in Clause 4, and raised in a direct form by the Amendment of the noble Earl, is one which, I think, all members of your Lordships' House, whether they take part in the debate as listeners or as speakers, will wish to have in a compact form and on which they will desire to hear the speech of the noble Earl who inaugurates the discussion. I therefore suggest that it be taken to-morrow.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: House resumed, and to be again in Committee to-morrow.