§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, the Bill which I present to your Lordships for Second Reading to-day is far from simple to understand, but the broad outlines of the measure will, I believe, receive the support of noble Lords. The Bill has three main objects. The first is to extend the local government franchise to cover every one in this country who possesses a Parliamentary vote; the second is to enable local elections to be resumed on certain 770 dates throughout England, Wales and Scotland; and the third is to provide for the publication of registers of electors on certain fixed dates. The House will therefore observe that the Bill is not primarily one dealing with another place or solely with machinery for use in the event of a General Election. In the sphere of local government it might perhaps be described as a further step on the path to full and complete democracy, and it should ultimately have influence upon the administration—perhaps I ought to say the better administration—of local affairs. In the sphere of central government it makes provision of a temporary nature with regard to registration, voting by post and other miscellaneous objects, all of which concern another place.
Here let me say that although I have stood at a local election on two occasions I have never stood, nor been able to stand, for a Parliamentary constituency, nor indeed have I ever been eligible to record a vote at a General Election, and therefore my knowledge of the workings of elections, and indeed to a certain extent of the workings of another place, is, I fear, very slender. In fact, I feel in some ways like the German professor lecturing on anatomy who is supposed to have said to his class: "Gentlemen, I now come to the spleen. About the functions of the spleen I know nothing. So much for the spleen." Nevertheless, I shall endeavour in the course of my remarks to explain those last three parts of the Bill, which, as I say, deal primarily with another place.
I think it would be true to say that since the Reform Act of 1832 this House has been more or less a willing partner in every measure of electoral reform, although mighty changes have occurred in our policy which have not always been carried through without a stern and even at times a bitter struggle. I think, however, that we can afford to leave those distant days to historians, for there cannot really be enemies of reform among us now. If Parliamentary and local government bodies are to be healthy and vigorous, the great mass of the people should, and indeed must, possess full powers and facilities for recording their votes. Indeed, that seems to me to be one of the bases upon which all democratic government must flourish. In the first clause of the 771 measure, therefore, we propose to extend the local government franchise to all men and women who possess the Parliamentary vote. This will add something like 7,000,000 electors to the register, and is in accord with the unanimous recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. We have, however, considered that it would not be right to deprive any person of the local government vote for an area in respect of which he is a ratepayer. Accordingly, provision is made that any person who is paying rates in respect of a property which does not entitle him to a Parliamentary vote shall be enabled to claim the local government vote for the area concerned. That is dealt with in Clause 15 (2) of the Bill. In Clause 2 we give effect to another recommendation of the Speaker's Conference by retaining the business premises qualification for the Parliamentary franchise, but abolishing the spouse's qualification, and in consequence the spouse's qualification must also be abolished in the local government area as well.
Clause 3 is of some importance to members of the Forces and to a small number of war workers who are now serving abroad. Officers who hold war-time Commissions in the Indian or Burmese Forces, and officers of the Indian Army Reserve of Officers who, apart from their war service, would be dwelling in this country, are to qualify for registration. Other ranks serving in the Indian and Burmese Forces are already qualified under the Act of 1943, and therefore do not come into account in this clause. In addition, there is a small number of members of the Forces who, I am informed, have been discharged abroad and have taken up civilian work without returning to the United Kingdom. Subsection (2) of this clause contains provisions for the making of applications by such persons for inclusion within the Service register.
I pass now to Part II of the Bill, which deals with the resumption of local elections. The nine clauses contained in this Part are probably the most complicated in the Bill. The Government are anxious—and we feel sure that the House will agree with us in our view—that local elections of all kinds should be resumed at the earliest possible date. Clause 4 deals with members of those councils who normally all retire together every third year. It provides that in those cases the period 772 between the last ordinary election and the dates which are set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) shall be treated as a period of three years, with the consequent requirement that elections of councillors to come into office on the dates mentioned in that subsection will require to be held under the procedure of the appropriate Act, which, as the House knows, is the Local Government Act of 1933. The procedure for the retirement and consequent election of aldermen is to be found in subsection (2) of Clause 4. The first half of the aldermen who are due to retire will do so at times which are set out in subsection (1), and the second half will automatically retire three years later.
The next clause, Clause 5, into which I need not delve deeply, sets out the procedure to be followed in those cases where one-third of the council retire every year. It provides that all co-opted councillors shall retire on the date when elections are resumed, together with those councillors elected in 1936 in the case of boroughs and in 1937 in the case of district councils. In subsequent years one-third of those councillors will retire automatically, and that one-third will be those longest in office, and in the case of councillors who have equal terms of office, the councillor elected on the smaller number of votes will go out before the councillor elected on the larger number of votes. There are parallel provisions to be found in Clauses 9 and 10 which deal with Scotland. Triennial elections will be resumed in December of this year. Elections for town councillors where retirement is normally by annual thirds will be resumed in November, according to the same general procedure as is proposed in the case of England and Wales.
Under Part III of the Bill a register of Parliamentary electors is to be published on May 7 with reference to the qualifying date of January 31 and it will become the May, 1945, register. This is a special register for this year only, and it is required because the existing printing positon would not at all easily permit of the production of an ad hoc register for a General Election if required this year under the Act which your Lordships passed last year. This May, 1945, register will remain effective until the publication of a register which will come into operation on October 15 annually, with reference to the quailfying 773 date of June 30. This annual register, as I understand it, will serve two purposes: it will be effective in respect of Parliamentary Elections initiated between October 1 and December 31 of the year of its publication, and it will be used for local elections throughout the whole period of the twelve months that it remains in force. That register is known as the annual register. In 1946 and subsequent years Parliamentary Elections initiated between January 1 and September 9 will be held on a register compiled ad hoc under the 1943 Act. References to that may be found in Clauses 13, 14 and 15 of the Bill.
The fourth and the last Part of the Bill to which I need draw your Lordships attention gives effect to the recommendation of a conference presided over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whereby serving voters will be enabled, if serving in certain parts of the world, to record their votes by post at a General Election. This will result in a delay of nineteen days after polling day before the counting of votes can begin, but the Government feel that your Lordships will not object to this procedure in the unusual circumstances which will probably exist at the time when the next General Election is held. Finally, I would inform the House that we should like this Bill as early as possible, so that the provisions relating to the publication of the May register can be expedited; and, subject to the agreement of your Lordships, I would ask that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken to-day week, and that we may pass the Bill through its remaining stages to-morrow week. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Eari of Munster.)
§ 2.55 P.m.
§ LORD AMMON
My Lords, may I be permitted to address a word of congratulation to the noble Earl who has introduced this very difficult Bill in such lucid terms? I think I am entitled to say that because, unlike him, I have spent over a quarter of a century in municipal government, both county and local, besides the time I spent in another place, and I find myself now classified as a voter among a certain category which out of deference 774 to us all I will not mention. There are one or two points, however, to which I want to call attention. I noticed first of all a slight difference between the noble Earl's division of the Bill into three points and that of the Home Secretary. He gave a different third point, although it did not affect his exposition of the Bill. The Home Secretary said the Bill extended the principle of universal suffrage for men and women to local government elections, it provided for the resumption of local elections, and then—a point which the noble Earl did not mention—it further democratized the Parliamentary franchise. It is true that this is another step forward in the general democratic franchise. Instead of taking the full step we like to nibble at things, when we might just as well have done the whole thing at once.
But I think I shall be right in saying that under other circumstances this Bill would have been highly controversial and there would have been a good deal more discussion both in another place and in this, were it not for the manner of its conception and its birth. That arises from the nature of the present Government and the Speaker's Conference, on which I had the honour to serve. Naturally, the decisions arrived at in order to obtain unanimity and so that we might proceed quickly are somewhat in the nature of a compromise. However, the Bill does one thing; it brings another seven million voters on to the register for local government elections. That is a tremendous step forward, and on that point alone I imagine there would have been a good deal of controversy in another place, and probably we may hear some echoes of it in this House to-day. But, after all, it was bound to come, because things have been gradually moving that way, The old division between ratepayers and those who are said not to pay rates has long since disappeared. Now, with long experience as chairman of an assessment committee in my own borough I realize more and more that landlords have been content that the tenant should pay the rates direct, and numbers of people of humble circumstances and smaller incomes have been paying their rates direct for some considerable time and had their rent correspondingly reduced. That shows that the term has been rather a misnomer when in time past we talked of those 775 people not being ratepayers. That is clear now, and this Bill brings in a large number of voters who ought to have been in all the time. They have certainly earned that reward from the service which they have given during the war and the necessity for considerable alteration in our social and economic conditions, particularly with regard to housing. The other thing is that rates are not based upon the rent paid, and never have been. The old formula laid down is that rates are based on the hypothetical rent to be paid by the hypothetical tenant. That is what all chairmen of assessment committees have had rubbed into them by their valuers. It is on that basis, and not on the basis of the actual rent paid; one cannot take any notice either of what one might call exorbitantly high rents or sympathetically low rents. Rates are based only on the general level of certain properties and the rent they are likely to demand, all being considered on an equal plane.
Another thing one is glad to note is that the elections are going to be resumed, the borough councils elections in November and the county council elections in March. That is a step that has long been overdue, and it will come in time, I hope, for the new planning in connexion with the housing and town planning schemes now in preparation. I hope, too, that it will do something to raise greater interest, in local government matters, because, after all, local government is the basis of all government, and one cannot but deplore the apathy people display when local government elections are being contested. That is the thing that comes most nearly home to them and it should help in many ways both to train potential representatives in the future and also to keep a vigilant eye on the town hall, so as to make it a real centre of municipal life and to ensure better conditions in housing and in our general corporate life.
There is one thing that I would suggest to the noble Earl should be considered before the Committee stage. I now speak for myself—I have not been able to consult my colleagues on this matter—but I think it would be a good method to be adopted generally throughout the country that one-third of the council should retire each year, instead of, as in London, particularly in the Metropolitan 776 boroughs, the whole council going out in the third year. In the provinces a third go out each year. That, I think, makes for continuity and keeps a certain amount of experience always in the council, which is very valuable. It also, I believe, keeps the electors keener and more alert. I would very much like that point to be considered. It is not a matter of very great difficulty. At the first election it would be well if all retire, but I should think it could be laid down that after that one-third of the members should retire each year.
I notice that there has been a good deal of criticism, and I thought unfair criticism, with regard to the aldermen in the boroughs. The Bill, however, is quite right with regard to that matter, and when we consider the position in municipal life which the Home Secretary occupies we can quite understand that he would look after that side of the legislation. I speak as one who, so far as the borough council is concerned, is in exactly the same position. One critic in another place said that aldermen never come before the electors. That is not accurate, because many of them are chosen from elected people, and others are also elected in their place. Apart altogether from that, however, it is a very valuable thing, as the Home Secretary indicated in his speech with regard to his own experience "over the Bridge," to be able to go outside and co-opt a certain amount of ability and experience which a council has not got among its members and which will then be used for the public service.
I became an alderman not because I wanted to be an alderman but because I was told next morning that I was an alderman. I was made an alderman because there was a certain job coming along which had to be done—namely, the quinquennial valuation—for which the council probably had not got many members who could give the time or at least whose time could be adapted to the job. So I found myself faced with a job, which would take four months, to consider some seven thousand objections that had been lodged with regard to assessments. I think that as long as that system is not carried to any absurd length, it does justify the position of aldermen. There are quite numbers of people—we have all met them—who are very able to give advice, leadership and counsel but who, for 777 many reasons, cannot face the hustings and run the gamut of ordinary elections. These people may be of very great service if they are invited to serve the community in that way. I admit that that does not apply in all cases but it does in a great many.
There are two things which one rather regrets, but out of loyalty one cannot oppose them as they were more or less agreements at the Speaker's Conference. Some of us would have liked to see some different legislation with regard both to the business vote and university vote. However, we have made partial steps in regard to one of them at least, and may make longer strides with regard to the other. I think, too, there might be some reconsideration as to the length of time between Parliaments at a General Election. Eight weeks seems to me a very long while to have a break. I think there may even be something in the point raised by one honourable member in another place—that it might be done by Proclamation and the old Parliament remain in being until the new Parliament is elected. On that matter I am not disposed to press too strongly, but I think it should be possible to have a shorter interval during which the country is without an elected Parliament. Subject to those observations, I, for one, give the Bill a very cordial welcome, and I know that in that regard I can speak on behalf of my colleagues, too. I trust the measure may be carried into law as soon as possible.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in congratulating the noble Earl who introduced the Bill on the manner in which he did it. He told us lie had never stood for Parliament, but he has now been for six years a member of what is described as "across the Bridge" by my noble friend who spoke last—the County Council. My noble friend did extremely well there, and I am very proud of him, because it was through my help that he got on the County Council and laid the foundations of his skill and ability on the Government Bench.
This Bill, luckily owing to the fact that the Speaker's Conference decided so many of these questions, is not a matter of any great controversy at the moment. The noble Lord who spoke last said it was the 778 thin end of the wedge for greater democracy. I suppose he was referring to the business vote. I remember very well that in this House—I do not know whether you would call it a privilege, but at all events I took the opportunity to put down a Motion and was successful in opposing a Bill brought in by the Labour Government to do away not only with the university vote but with the business vote as well. I am sorry to say that on this side of the House some members wished to retain the university representation but wanted to do away with the business vote. They were a very small minority, however, and the Bill was rejected by a big majority. There is one aspect of this business vote—that as regards the spouse—which may be regretted by some people, but I believe it was perfectly accidental that the spouses were ever brought in. It is because, I believe, "man" includes "woman." Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will agree with me, or will correct me if I am wrong—if he takes the trouble. That is the reason why the spouses got the vote.
I should like to refer to one point about the business vote. It will be rather difficult for some business people who now must apply to be put on the register instead of being put on it by the local authorities. I hope due publication will be given by the proper authority calling the attention of those who have business votes to the fact that they must take proper steps to ensure that they get on the register. That is a very important matter. People are very slack about these things. They are not electoral agents and some of them are not very much in touch with Party organizations. I hope the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will assure us that steps will be taken by the Home Office to call attention to this matter.
The noble Lord opposite raised a question about aldermen. I quite agree with him that it is a good thing to retain aldermen. As he rightly observed, nearly all of them have gone through an election at some time or other and they have become aldermen by promotion, having been elevated from the ranks of councillors to the aldermanic bench. On the other hand I do not agree with the noble Lord about triennial elections. He referred to the fact that he has been twenty-six years engaged in local government affairs. I can claim to have been engaged in them 779 for a longer period. I think I have been over forty years in local government and I served on the vestries before the Act turned vestries into borough councils. My experience was that hardly anybody voted then. You got most ridiculous figures at annual elections—8 per cent. or o per cent. of the voters. Now the percentage is not much to become enthusiastic about, but we do manage to get 35 to 40 per cent. of the electors to vote.
I think it would be much better if councils all over the country followed London instead of London reverting to the country system. I believe you would get much more interest taken in elections in the country if you did not have annual elections. People get thoroughly bored with annual elections. Moreover, when members are elected for three years you get a certain continuity of policy and you get old and experienced members. There is one thing about London that I have always regretted, and that is that a London elector, unless he belongs to a particular borough, cannot become an alderman of that borough. I think it would be a great improvement if a Local Government Bill was passed making it possible for any London elector to be made an alderman of any London borough. In many parts of London you have men of experience and leisure who are willing to devote time to this work, whereas in certain working-class districts it is very difficult to find men of leisure willing to undertake this work, or, if they are willing, they cannot afford the time to attend to local affairs.
One other point which I personally greatly regret is that the Government have not seen their way to alter the date for the publication of the register from October 15 to October 1. I brought in a Bill which had a rather high sounding title into your Lordships' House some years ago. It was called the Representation of the People (Registration) Bill. I introduced this Bill because there was common agreement between my Party and the Labour Party that a measure of that kind would be very useful. Mr. Morrison was strongly in favour of it and a Standing Joint Committee of the Borough Councils also were in favour of it. A conference was held at the Home Office of officials and all the agents in the country and it was agreed that it would 780 be in the interests of everybody that the date should be changed to October 1. The reason for that was that if the register came out on that date it would give people more time to know who was on the register and who was not and it would also give time for canvassing and other electoral purposes. The Bill did not pass through your Lordships' House because the Government opposed it, chiefly on the ground of the immense difficulty in regard to the contract for printing, which would have to be made by the Stationery Office, and of reasons connected with Scotland.
I suggest that the Government might accept an amendment to this Bill allowing October 15 to stand as the date for the year 1945 because it would create enormous difficulties if a change was made now, but that after 1945 the date should be changed to October 1. Everybody I know is in favour of this and I was rather astonished that the learned Solicitor-General in another place said he had had no notice of the matter. This question has been discussed for years and I sincerely trust the Government will now accept an Amendment on the lines I have suggested. I remember the time when the Home Secretary did not occupy the elevated position he does to-day, when he was very strongly in favour of this change, and I believe the noble Lord opposite agrees that such a change is desirable.
§ LORD AMMON
I meant to make that point but omitted to do so, and I am glad the noble Lord has made it.
§ LORD JESSEL
I am very glad that what I have said has been endorsed by the noble Lord. This is not a political matter and I think it would be of advantage to everybody if such a change could be made. The late Lord Snell said on a recent occasion when this matter was brought up in this House that he agreed such a change should be made.
The only other point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention occurs in Clause 5. This clause lays it down that members who have been co-opted shall retire in 1945. Many friends of mine who are interested in this matter want to know how this matter will be decided. Will it be by reference to the Local Government Act of 1933? Will these cases of retirement be governed by Section 67 of the 1933 Act or by Section 68? 781 There seems to be a difference of opinion on this but no doubt in the Committee stage the Government representative will give the considered opinion of the Home Office on this matter. It may seem a small matter but it is important in the case of people who have been co-opted to fill casual vacancies during the period when no elections have been held. On the whole I think we can be quite satisfied that this Bill should pass. I think that although the decisions of the Speaker's Conference take away something from some people and have not pleased everybody, yet on the whole they have been welcomed by all as very fair and very sound. The Government are to be congratulated on the way they have handled this matter and, subject to the suggestions I have made, I hope the Bill will be given a Second Reading.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BENNETT
My Lords, I desire to ask the indulgence of your Lordships while again I direct attention to what I conceive to be a very important matter in securing representation of the people through elections though it is not dealt with in this Bill. It would be idle to take up time in pointing out that originally when members of a clan or tribe were asked to engage in various enterprises they had to be unanimous. One man who stuck out against action which it was proposed to take was successful in preventing that action being taken. Centuries ago, as has been pointed out in a recent book, it was provided that the will of the majority should prevail and democracy is based upon the assumption that the majority rule, not the minority. That is the fundamental basis of democracy as I read the history of it. It was intended that the minority should accept the rule of the majority as the will of all and act accordingly. In the later development of our modern civilization candidates representing various phases of human thought have appeared in almost all constituencies. Sometimes you have three candidates and indeed in some parts of the Empire it is not unusual to have five or six candidates. It follows as matters now stand that the candidate who polls the largest number of votes is declared elected regardless of whether or not he represents the majority of the voters. He may in fact have only a minority of all the votes. That means, in other words, that instead of having a democratic institution 782 we have an institution in which the will of the minority governs rather than the will of the majority.
I submit that that should be remedied, that it can be remedied, and remedied as has been done in some parts of the British Empire, by providing that when several candidates come forward each voter should mark his ballot paper with the figures 1, 2, 3 or 4, as the case may be, against the names of the candidates, indicating his preference for those candidates in the order named. Those in favour of John Jones would mark 1 against his name and 2 against Peter Smith, while others would mark Peter Smith 1 and Brown 2, and so on. When the votes are counted all the 1's for each candidate are put aside, and then if you take those who indicated that the man with a large number of 1's was their second choice and put them together, you know that the man declared elected represents a majority of the people of the constituency. This has been worked satisfactorily in more than one part of the British Commonwealth, and it has been entirely satisfactory because by that process you make certain that the representative who sits in Parliament is there representing the majority of the people of the constituency.
In this country, at this time, when control is to be exercised so much and Parliament deals with problems of control, is it right that minorities should determine control? That is what will happen unless some provision is made whereby the returned representative of the people is a representative of the majority of the electors. I submit that we have now reached the point when it is very important that this matter should be dealt with, for not only is it a negation of democracy that a man with a minority of votes should represent a constituency but if it should happen that there was a majority of minority representatives in Parliament the principle upon which we base our government would perish, that is, the principle that the will of the majority should be accepted by the minority as the will of all the people. Some have suggested proportional representation, but proportional representation is a negation of democracy because it ensures representation for minorities. If you had a constituency with 20,000 electors and five candidates, 4,001 votes would elect a candidate—4,001 out of 783 20,000. That is not democracy but its very negation. It ensures the election of those who represent minority interests, which again I say with all deference is the exact opposite of the principles upon which Parliamentary institutions are founded. The history of our institutions is the history of the majority rule, and whenever minority interests are able to enforce their will on the majority you will have difficulties of the first order, difficulties which will increase as the number of candidates increases.
If the man who secures the most votes is declared elected he is, unless he has a majority of all the votes cast, only a minority representative. I know it is not very popular with political Parties at times that you should discuss the possibility of every member being representative of the majority of voters, but nevertheless the principle I submit is so sound that it cannot be lightly disregarded. We have got along on the theory that there will be two candidates. Now we frequently have many candidates and I submit that we must take steps to provide adequate machinery—it is very simple if you adopt the method I have referred to—to ensure that the nation's Parliament is a Parliament that represents the majority of the electors in the constituencies, because, especially having regard to the type of legislation that will be dealt with and must be dealt with, it is of paramount importance that provision should be made for representation of the people through what has been hitherto the guiding principle in connexion with Parliamentary institutions that the majority of the electors should express their will in Parliament and that Parliament is representative of the majority of the electors of the several constituencies. I suggest to the Government that this is a matter worthy of consideration. This method has been tried in other communities with success. It merely involves an opportunity being afforded to the elector to indicate on his ballot paper his first choice and second choice and provision being made that in the possible event of insufficient votes being cast for one man to ensure his having a majority, the votes of those who indicate him as their second choice will be added to the votes which made him first choice and so ensure that the will of the majority of the people is 784 expressed by the members who sit in Parliament.
I had occasion to consider the question of proportional representation. Under that system any candidate who secures one vote more than the number of votes which were cast, divided by the number of candidates, is elected. That in some cases means that a man who secures only 4,000 or 5,000 votes out of a total of 20,000 is elected, perhaps on the first count, because he has secured a number in excess of the quota. In practice this system develops groups. In practice it is the negation of democracy. It makes for combinations of groups to secure the enactment of legislation often opposed to the policy of the Government. Another thing is that it makes for instability of Government, as has been shown in the case of countries where it has been tried. Instead of having a real majority representing the will of the people, you have minorities representing various groups, which in the aggregate are able to create a good deal of difficulty and trouble. The basis of democracy is not that minorities should find representation in Parliament. The fundamental foundation on which democracy rests is that the majority shall rule and that a minority shall accept the will of the majority as being the will of the people. It is for that reason that I suggest that the Government might well consider the question how best to ensure that Parliament, as it will be constituted after the next Election, will represent and reflect the will and mind of the majority of the electors, and not be composed of those who represent but a minority.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, as I anticipated in the speech which I made in moving the Second Reading, your Lordships have not found this measure in any manner controversial. I am surprised therefore to hear my noble friend Viscount Bennett bring up the question whether we should institute—indeed as has been instituted in certain parts of the Empire—the single transferable vote, or the alternative vote, whichever phrase you wish to use, into the Bill at this stage. The Bill brings before Parliament the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, and I feel that if we went outside that we should be asking for a considerable amount of trouble from 785 noble Lords who would either support or reject the suggestion of the single transferable vote. In any case it was rejected by the Speaker's Conference—as my noble friend Lord Ammon well knows—by a very large majority. My noble friend will therefore forgive me if I say that I really do not think that to bring a proposal such as he has made into this small Bill would be likely to have any success either in this House or in another place. Nevertheless the noble Viscount's speech was full of interest, and it indicated to your Lordships in some detail how the single transferable vote would function if the system was instituted in this country.
My noble friend Lord Ammon, who stated that he was speaking for himself, thought that certain councillors should retire compulsorily by annual thirds. As the noble Lord is probably aware, county councillors, parish councillors and certain district councillors at the present time retire every three years. That also applies, I believe, to the Metropolitan Councils as well. On other borough councils and certain district councils they retire by annual thirds. This Bill, as I feel sure my noble friend Lord Ammon knows, does not seek to alter the existing law. All it does in the case of retirement by annual thirds is to establish the transitional machinery whereby the procedure which was current before the war can now be resumed. Indeed it is in many cases the established practice of these borough councils and certain district councils to-day. I myself would think that it was not suitable for many reasons to be applied throughout the country, but the County Councils' Association are in favour of the existing law as to the retirement of county councillors, and so far as I am aware no representation has been made by any association for the abolition of either election by annual thirds, or the other way round. Therefore I would suggest that it would be more suitable to leave the Bill as it stands.
I now want to deal with points made by my noble friend Lord Jessel. He drew attention to the fact that anybody who wishes to go on to the business register must apply. That is quite true. In peace time the business premises register was compiled as a result of a canvass undertaken on behalf of the electoral registration officer. This is not possible to-day for reasons which my noble friend 786 will fully understand. Therefore it is intended that anyone who wishes to come on to the business premises register should in fact apply to do so. After this May register is formed applications will be sent to everybody who is on the business register so that they can claim to be included in the October register. Moreover, my right honourable friend is prepared to have a Press announcement made about the May register, and to ask the Minister of Information to impress on the British Broadcasting Corporation the necessity for publishing this as well.
Next I turn to the question which my noble friend raised regarding the publication of a register on October 1 instead of October 15. I understand that October 15 has always been the date of publication of the annual register since the passing of the 1918 Act, and in this respect my noble friend will see that this present Bill merely reverts to the existing law which was in force prior to the passing of the 1943 Act. I think it only right to say that no representations in favour of an earlier date have been received from any local authority associations in England or Scotland on the ground that the publication of the register on October 15 is inconvenient for use at borough council elections, which I believe are held in November.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, it is owing to the fact that the war is going on that these things have not been received. The noble Earl will find that at the Home Office Conference before the war it was agreed by all the political Parties that the date should be changed. The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, said he had forgotten to mention it. All the Parties want it and all the agents want it; why it was not represented to the Government I cannot imagine. I suppose it was thought that after the previous representations the matter would be considered by the Speaker's Conference. The Solicitor-General said on behalf of the Government that they would pay attention to the representations and give a decision later.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I was only saying that no representations had been received by my right honourable friend from any local authority on the subject.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I know you do not, but in a subsequent Bill. There are reasons of substance why it would be very difficult to have this register published compulsorily on October 1 in place of the normal date. So far as Scotland is concerned I understand that, for reasons which I will not delay the House by going into, it is not possible to do it. It would in fact be very difficult to provide in this Bill for any alteration, because it would have to apply not only to this country but also to Scotland. What my right honourable friend is prepared to do is to give administrative instructions that whenever possible registration officers should try to publish the register in future on October 1 if the register is ready by that date. Beyond that I am not prepared to go at the present time, and I repeat that no representations have been made to my right honourable friend on the matter. Indeed, apart from the very short discussion which occurred in another place this is the first time that I have heard this suggestion raised during the discussion on this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT BENNETT
My Lords, as a matter of mere privilege I would assure the noble Earl, Lord Munster, that I was detained and only reached your Lordships' House during the course of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, otherwise I would have informed the noble Earl of my intention to make the suggestions which I did.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.