§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Voting age]:
LORD SOMERS moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 8, leave out ("eighteen") and insert ("twenty")
§ The noble Lord said: A short time ago my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor moved and carried an Amendment on the subject of raising the age of free marriage from 18 to 20, and I am hoping to achieve the same result as regards voting. This, I feel, is a sufficiently important issue to ask your Lordships to divide. I should like to point out that which I think is fairly obvious: that all the other Amendments standing in my name on the Marshalled List are consequential to this Amendment, so this is the only one upon which I shall be speaking.
§ An odd type of national madness seems to have swept over the country with regard to this question of youth. One hears from every quarter the cry, "Youth, youth! We must have more young people, young ideas. The young people are the people to do it", and so forth. I am rot denying that youth has many excellent qualities, but it does not have them all. It has perhaps the quality of a sense of adventure. I do not think that that has been squashed out 214 of the youthful mind, even in this Welfare State. It has initiative; it has fresh ideas. Perhaps it is not so bound by tradition as we who are older. But it does lack very much other qualities, such as experience, wisdom from having lived in the world for some time and seen how it works, and various other qualities of that sort.
§ Voting is a very serious matter. It is not just a game, as some people would like to look upon it. It is the choice of one Party or one group of people who are going to be in charge of the government of our country for good or for bad. That is a question which demands a very great inside knowledge if people are going to vote with any kind of knowledge on the subject. If democratic election, which we all pride ourselves on as one of our great traditions, is to mean anything at all, we must first make certain that the electors know something of what they are voting about, arid this knowledge can be gained only by living in the world for a certain number of years and seeing what the problems are; seeing both sides, both pro and con.
§ Many people say, of course—as I said in the debate on my noble friend Lord Brooke's Amendment—that the young people of to-day are more mature. I do not think that that is true. I think that possibly it is true of them physically, but it certainly is not true mentally. Mental maturity can come only from experience. Recently we have seen some of the efforts of those who are 18 and over at the London School of Economics. I wonder how many of your Lordships would feel that they would be suitable electors for the Government of our country. I certainly do not. I do not think that they are more mature mentally. They are far more ready to voice their opinions; they are far more ready to question the wisdom of those who are older and wiser than they are. But that does not mean that they are more mature. It means simply that they have greater freedom and that discipline is a little less stern. Perhaps that is all to the good; on the other hand, I think it can be misleading.
§ I feel that, if we are to lower the age of voting at all, twenty is certainly as far as we should go: because voting, as I say, is definitely a matter which is going to affect the welfare of our entire country. It is an unfortunate fact 215 that probably about 75 per cent. of the electorate do not realise very much about what they are voting for; but that cannot be helped: it is just a feature of our democratic system. But it means that we must try to see that not more ignorance is introduced into the electorate but less.
Incidentally, I have the support of the County Councils Association for this Amendment. I should like to quote just a few words, before I sit down, from a letter which I had from them. The Secretary writes:
I write to say that the Association wholeheartedly support these Amendments, which would be entirely in line with the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference on the Reform of Electoral Law. The Government's reasoning for the reduction of the voting age to 18 is evidently based on the premise that, as the Latey Committee recommended the reduction in the age of majority to 18, it would be a neater arrangement for the voting age to be 18 also.
Another example of bringing everything into line, which is the fashion nowadays. The letter goes on:
The Association see no necessary connection between the two different considerations applying, for example, to the ability to vote in local or Parliamentary elections and the ability, say, to make a valid hire-purchase agreement.
That seems to me pretty clear reasoning, and I sincerely hope that I shall have the support of your Lordships when I ask the House to divide. I beg to move.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Somers. Like many of your Lordships I, too, have children. I have discussed this question of voting age with them. They are just passing the teenage stage, and none of them has the slightest interest in this. There has not been a single case in the country where a single banner has been carried saying "For heaven's sake! give us the vote at eighteen". Everything else—"Have some pot"; or things like that; but nothing about voting. There is no demand in the country as a whole for this utterly unnecessary legislation. My noble friend Lord Somers has already given the other reasons, with which I quite agree. I think this is an important point, and I shall support him in the Lobby.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
The noble Earl is arguing that because no young people have been going about the streets carrying banners saying "Give us the vote", that is a conclusive reason for acting in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, would want us to. The reverse of that argument, surely, is that if young people go about the streets carrying banners which make all kinds of wild and reckless demands, that is a reason for surrendering to those demands, when in fact we know full well that many of them are quite stupid.
As one who is perhaps thinking of approaching early middle age, I should like to put the other point of view. The greatest problem confronting our country at the moment is, I believe, the great chasm, the great gap that exists between the two generations. The young generation feel that the old generation has made a mess of things. The old generation, my generation, has had two wars; we have had something approaching a revolution in this country in the 'twenties. We have had millions of unemployed, and although things are better to-day the young people look at us and ask, "What have you done to bring about the perfect world that we want?" Unless we grasp the opportunity now presented to us of trying to close this gap which exists between the two generations, we shall be storing up great trouble for the next ten or twenty years.
I think it is recognised as a fact (and the noble Lord, Lord Somers, agreed) that in many ways these young people of 18 are mature. They are mature physically—some of us "old fogeys" might be inclined to say that they are too mature physically—at the age of 18; they are mature mentally, despite the minority of young, wild hot-heads in the universities; they are mature industrially and financially. They are earning good wages, in the majority of cases they are paying for their own keep, and they are holding down jobs in the great motor factories which would normally be jobs held by grown-up men or women.
What frightens me in this country, as one who is now 70, is that there is a sort of "no-man's-land" in which they are required to live. They themselves know that they are "grown up", they have left school and have taken on adult 217 responsibilities; but we of the older generation are refusing to say to them, "Yes, we recognise your adult status." They know full well that they are no longer children: they do not act as children when they get instruction from fathers and mothers; they act as adults. They do not act as children when they go out into the world to earn their living. I think that one of the reasons for so much unrest among university and college students to-day is that they recognise their adult station and have not been given the rights attaching to it.
So where do they turn? They are saying, "The political Parties have no use for us; therefore, we have no use for the political Parties." They are taking to anarchy instead of to constitutional political activity. But the wild, hotheaded students are in a minority. The majority of students in our educational institutions to-day are serious-minded young men and women, who wish to pursue the search for truth and knowledge for its own sake and who are responsible enough to say that they want to qualify for good, national, useful employment when they grow up. The wild ones who can be quoted are in a minority.
Look at some of our 18-year-old men and women. They are serving in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and they are holding down adult jobs in industry. Many of them are married, perhaps with young families, carrying out all the responsible duties associated with that dignified office. We see them in the youth sections of our political Parties. Is the noble Lord, Lord Somers, saying that all these fine young men and women in the Young Conservatives' Associations are reckless, irresponsible people who are not qualified to exercise the vote? They have had years of tuition in how to exercise the vote, though I have heard it said that the object of the Young Conservatives is to cater more for the social and marriage bureau branches of their activities rather than for serious politics. I know that in the youth sections of my own Party many serious-minded young people are grasping out eagerly for the right to exercise their full citizenship, yet we are saying, "We will not give you that right." I say that we should give these young people the responsibility 218 they deserve, and they, in turn, will act responsibly towards us and our country.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
I am not able to support my noble friend Lord Somers and I mostly agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland. As a very recent soldier, I can tell the Committee that 18-year-olds have had high positions of power and financial power. Young men of 18 command tanks costing £200,000. They are old enough to be killed, old enough to breed, and I think they should be old enough to vote—but I do not think that necessarily means they are going to use that vote. Many of them are as frustrated as I am with the present Party political set-up. They find the matter difficult, and I doubt whether they will find it any easier if they have the right to vote, but I hope they will. I cannot help feeling that youth of that age are always against the present. I think that noble Lords opposite will find this out when my friends of 18 get the vote, but next year I suppose it might go against noble Lords on this side.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
If this Amendment goes to a Division I shall not vote, because I do not think it is of great importance. I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Somers, but if one is now going to make the age of majority 18, then it is very difficult to argue that people of 18 should not have the vote. Personally, I think that nobody under the age of 25 should have the vote—perhaps that nobody should have the vote. It requires very great knowledge of the facts to choose one's administrators, and it is difficult for the average person to have the time to study the facts. I am being rather facetious, but I agree to a certain extent with what was said by my noble friend Lord Monckton. Of course, it is very good if you can drive a tank, but it is really no argument for saying that you are capable of choosing your administrators wisely. I will not pursue that argument; but may I say, in order to cheer up the 18-year-olds, that there is no fool like an old fool, but an old fool is probably less dangerous than a young fool.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
I very much support what was said by my noble friend 219 Lord Monckton. My agreement with him arises from something I experienced during the war. In the late autumn of 1944 when I was wounded, I came home to find myself in a hospital bed next to a very young man who had been a platoon commander in the paratroops at Arnhem and had been shot through the lung. Shortly after I arrived in the hospital, some people came round on behalf of the Registrar, and this young man said, "I'm afraid I'm no good to you—I am under age." It struck me as being iniquitous that the lives of 32 men should be entrusted to this young man and yet that he should be denied the privilege of voting in an election.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
I should like to express warm support for what my noble friend Lord Leatherland has said on this point, but there is one matter, which I should like to take up. He referred to the generation gap, a matter about which we are always hearing as being at the root of all our problems in relation to young people to-day. I think that this is relevant to the question which we are debating. I had imagined that there was always a generation gap. I should like to put the thought to your Lordships that the difficulties which exist between the generations may be, not that the generation gap is greater than it was, but that it is far less than it was, and indeed has almost disappeared. I say this because, on the one hand, parents to-day tend to marry at a younger age, and their children get a far better education, in many cases continuing on to the university, than their parents received. Therefore in many cases one has the situation that a son or daughter is reading for a B.A. or B.Sc. at university and the parents themselves left school at 14 or 15. That eliminates the generation gap. It makes the child more intelligent than the parent and therefore less likely to respect what the parent expects him to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Somers, suggested that it was very doubtful that young people were more mature nowadays than they were 10, 15, or an unspecified number of years ago. I feel no doubt whatever that they are more mature mentally now than they were before. I do not see how anyone can doubt this when they think of the vastly improved 220 educational facilities which are now, thank God! available to everyone in this country. The noble Lord almost challenged other noble Lords to say whether they would like to see students at the London School of Economics voting at a General Election. I certainly think they should have the vote. Those who are causing trouble represent a bare minority, but those who are active politically are showing that they have carefully studied, and are actively interested in and committed to, political thoughts and principles. I suggest that they are far better qualified to vote than a great many of the middle-aged bourgeoisie who never give a thought to politics at all.
§ LORD BURNHAM
The artilleryman who wants to hit a target and finds that the range is too long employs a system of bracketing. He makes an abrupt shortening and then he splits the difference. But in this case we cannot do that. It may be that 18 is the right age, but if—and I believe there is a good case for saying so—we find that it is too immature an age, we can never take the vote away. For that reason, I am inclined to favour the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Somers; to take the matter slowly and move first to 20, and then to consider the matter in about five years or so.
§ LORD HUNT
I have very little to add to the discussion that has already taken place on this subject. I should just like to say, from my experience of working with young people over the past 12 years or so, that I think we have heard too much of this argument about students, a very small minority of whom have drawn attention to the student population as a whole. It is very important to remember what a small minority students represent in this country, and that the great majority of young people of 18 have been out in the world for two or three years, and have been working, experiencing life and gaining experience. From my own experience of meeting and talking to young people who are not students, I believe that, by and large, they are extremely intelligent, interested and competent to use the vote. I do not think it follows by any means that all of them will use the vote, but I see no justification whatever for denying it to them.
§ LORD TREFGARNE
As one of the younger Members of your Lordships' 221 House, perhaps I may venture one or two words. I was 21 some five or six years ago, and I certainly do not consider that I should have been competent to exercise the right which I might then have acquired, had I not been a Peer, to vote in an election. Further, I do not remember being conscious of a search after truth and knowledge when I was at school, as the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, suggested. Sex and beer were far more in my line. In those circumstances, I think we ought to accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and, in the first instance at least, reduce the age only to 20.
§ LORD FEVERSHAM
I feel that I ought to say a word, if for no other reason than that I am even younger than the noble Lord who has just sat down. I have to disagree both with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Somers. There is not very much that I can add to what has already been said, but I feel that the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in regard to his remarks about the London School of Economics, is very much in line with the saying that children should be seen and not heard. He seems to think that young people make more noise nowadays than they used to do, and that the trouble at the London School of Economics was due to the fact that there was less discipline and more freedom. I think I agree with the noble Lord who said that young people make more noise now because they are better educated and are capable of making more noise.
There is one point which has not been touched on by other speakers, but which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. He said that the voting age was being lowered in line with the recommendation made in the Latey Report. On balance, I feel that it is more important that young people should have the responsibility of voting than that they should take on the responsibilities of marrying without the present requirement of permission, which was one of the major recommendations in that Report.
Lastly, I agree with another speaker who said that young people were going to have great difficulty if they got the vote. I could not agree with him more; 222 I think they are going to have the very greatest difficulty. I certainly should not like to make a choice between voting for either the Socialists or the Conservatives.
§ LORD SILKIN
want to say just one word on this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, really bases his case on the lack of wisdom, experience, knowledge of life and so on. That is a perfectly intelligible criterion for giving the vote, and I understand that. But if that is to be the criterion, which it is not to-day, then there is a good case for having a universal test, as the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, rather jocularly suggested, which I think could be quite well advocated. Let us have this test of wisdom, knowledge, experience of life and so on as the qualification for voting, but do not let it apply just to one section of the community. To-day, the basis of voting is that you are a human being, civilised and having responsibilities, and those responsibilities have been increased recently so that they are attained at the age of eighteen. I submit, therefore, that that is the logical age at which young people should have the vote.
Leave apart altogether the point about lack of wisdom. As noble Lords opposite will say if they lose the next Election, and as we shall say if we lose it, there are so many people who do not have the wisdom or the understanding or the knowledge of the world or of political life and so on, but who, nevertheless, are accepted as legitimate voters. Therefore, the question or twenty as against eighteen does not really arise. People of eighteen are as much citizens, and have as much at stake in the future of this country, as people of twenty. Therefore, I submit that the Government are doing the right thing in making the age eighteen.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
May I, as a very old Member, appeal to my noble friend not to press this Amendment? If he feels that he must press it, then I appeal to the House to reject it and to give the vote at eighteen as the Bill proposes. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, it is not at all a question of whether we know enough to vote. I do not know who would pass an examination of qualification to vote. Of course, there can be no question of such 223 an examination, and in the political circumstances of to-day I do not know who would sit it or what they would vote about. To my mind, the unanswerable argument was that used by the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, about the boy who had commanded a platoon at eighteen. If he was fit to command a platoon at eighteen—and I had exactly the same experience as a soldier in the First World War—then he should have a right to vote. So I beg the House to reject this Amendment if it is pressed.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
One argument that is always put forward in this type of debate—it has been mentioned again to-day by my noble friend Lord Swinton, although it was originally raised by my noble friend Lord Monckton of Brenchley and repeated by my noble friend Lord St. Helens—is the argument to the effect that if a young man is considered fit to command a tank or a platoon in airborne or other operations, he is therefore fit to vote. But there is one distinction that ought not to be overlooked here—and I am sure my noble friend Lord Monckton of Brenchley will not overlook it—which is that he is entitled to command a tank or a platoon only because he has been very highly trained for the purpose.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
I think it could be said that this debate, while it has not surprised me, would astonish people outside who have an extraordinary idea of your Lordships' House, and a wholly inaccurate one. I found it exceedingly refreshing right from the word "go". The noble Lord, Lord Somers, announced with refreshing candour when introducing his Amendment that he was impervious to argument, because he was going to divide the House anyway. There was no nonsense from him about having an open mind, and waiting to hear the argument!
Then it seemed to be a catching disease. The noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, said that he had consulted his children, and he had been tremendously impressed by the fact that there was not a single banner that he had seen crying out, "Votes at 18". I take comfort from that, because for months now I have been hoping that these people carrying banners represented the small minority, and that the people 224 who were not there carrying banners represented the sober and sensible majority—and I think that that is so in this case. Then, of course, we had conflicting views from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, and at the other end of the scale of ages from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. Lord Trefgarne refreshingly told us that six or seven years ago he had neither the desire nor the qualifications, the ability, to vote. This may have been true. I would not have said it myself, but it may well have been true. But we are not proposing that people should be obliged to vote. There is no clause in the Bill requiring people to vote if they think they are unfit to do so.
I think this is one of the most important parts of the Bill that we are considering to-day; and, indeed, the Commons thought so, because they took a great deal of time on it. They took a whole day in Committee—and that was after, prior to the Bill, they had had a debate on electoral law and occupied much of the day on it. After all that they decided at the Committee stage by a majority of 275 to 121 in favour of the voting age being reduced to 18. I know —it was said on Second Reading—that this is thought to be a very good thing for the Conservatives. It may well be. I say that it is right for the country, and right for the young people, whoever may in the short-term gain some Party political advantage from it.
The noble Lord, Lord Somers, said quite rightly that voting is not a game. But neither is war; neither is marriage; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said on Second Reading, it is far more lastingly serious to make a wrong marriage than to cast a wrong vote. At 18, all these young people are eligible to go to war and eligible to marry—and indeed they are marrying in increasing numbers. The Government's decision that 18 is the appropriate age rests first of all on the fact that many, indeed most, of the obligations of adult status arise at 18, and that young people now mature at an earlier age—and that is clear from the statistics given in the Latey Committee Report, Appendix 8, which says:The figures for husbands and wives married between 1921 and 1964 who were aged between 16 and 21 years show the clear 225 trend in recent years towards younger marriages. Whereas in England and Wales 4.8 per cent. of the men married in 1921 were under 21, by 1965 this figure had increased to 152 per cent. For women the percentage of brides under 21 was 14.9 per cent. in 1921, and had risen to 40.9 per cent"—that is two out of five—in 1965.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Although these figures are of course correct, is it not a fact that the younger the age at which people, boys and girls, marry, the greater the divorce rate?
§ LORD STONHAM
I suppose that, on the theory that the greater the quantity the greater the possibility of break-up, what the noble Earl says is right; but certainly these figures, and those I am now about to quote, prove that in vastly greater numbers people are marrying and accepting these responsibilities.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is the responsibility of marriage, but at the moment we are discussing the possibly lesser responsibility of casting a vote. The Latey Committee also pointed out that the number of men marrying under 21 in 1921 was 15,422, and in 1965 56,408. The numbers of women marrying in those years under the age of 21 were, respectively, 47,832 and 151,896—an enormous increase. I argue that if they are fit to assume the responsibilities of marriage—and no one would say that we should pass a law to say that they are not—they are fit to vote. Also in favour of the age of 18 there are the arguments, which the Latey Report sots out, of an undeniably greater increase in maturity, and that the vast majority of people are in fact running their own lives, making their own decisions and behaving as responsible adults by the time they are 18.
The noble Lord, Lord Somers, spoke about an odd type of national madness which has swept over the country. It seems to sweep over the country periodically, because I remember that Pitt the younger was Prime Minister at 24—possibly, if there had been votes at 18 at that time, at universities, he would not have been. But the Party opposite thought it right to entrust him not merely with the vote but also with the Premiership at the age of 24. So it is not only now that we are thinking of 226 entrusting young people with additional responsibilities. I say that there is no doubt that young people are ready to accept the responsibilities of the society in which we live. Only this week, on its front page the Daily Mail carried a report of a survey which showed that two out of three of our teenagers think it a good idea to do a period of social work after leaving school. It showed that they had a definite concern to do something for the community in which they live to help the aged and disabled.
I think the decisive thing is that we should give them responsibility because, as the Latey Committee said, we feel extremely strongly that to keep responsibility from those who are ready and able to take it on is much more to make them irresponsible than to help them. Consider the situation about which we are concerned. Next week the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, is to initiate a debate on violence, about which there is increasing concern, and here our thoughts turn in part to young people—and the figures show this. If we are going to ensure, in so far as we can, that young people take their full part to-day, we must make it possible for them to do so. We say the future is theirs, but if they are going to shape the future they have to play a part in it to-day, and a full part. I think that that argument ought to be conclusive; that we ought to agree that it is right to give young people the vote at 18. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Somers, changes his mind, having heard the argument, and decides not to divide the House, I hope that your Lordships will go into the Lobby with me against this Amendment.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I confess that I have not been wholly convinced by any of the speeches to which I have listened in this short but, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, indicated, somewhat remarkable debate. The truth surely is that there is no absolute right in this matter. It is impossible to produce logical proof that the correct minimum age for voting should be 25 or 21, or 20, 18 or 16. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, said perfectly truthfully that there were large numbers of people of 18 or 19 who were much better qualified to cast a sensible vote than many people of middle age; but he would be the first 227 to accept that that is no more an argument that 18 should be the minimum age than that 55 should be the minimum age. I have a feeling that there may be a number of noble Lords who feel, like myself, that it is impossible to prove this matter one way or the other.
Much the most menacing suggestion which has arisen from this debate is the idea of an intelligence test to qualify one for voting at elections. I have been thinking that over. It occurs to me that, on a Dissolution, all the Members of the outgoing House of Commons would clearly have to submit themselves to such a test, but your Lordships would not. I think that if an intelligence test came in it would be far better if Members of your Lordships' House did not claim the right to vote at elections, in view of what that would entail. I am sorry that I cannot support my noble friend Lord Somers, who made reference to my Amendment which was carried on another Bill regarding the age of marriage. As has been pointed out, marriage has, or should have, a permanence which does not apply to voting. It is easy to change your vote next time; nobody will know. But in this country, fortunately—at present at any rate—you cannot change wives in a similar private and arbitrary way. Therefore, I do not feel bound by my vote on that former Bill to vote in a similar way on this occasion.
What influences me particularly, and what leads me to the conclusion that in my personal case the right course is to abstain, is this. I indicated in that earlier debate that I thought 20 was generally a more suitable age than 18 for serious matters such as marriage. That was a Bill which was started in this House. This is a Bill which has already been debated in another place. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, a full day was devoted to debating the particular Amendment relating to the voting age. In the Division in another place there was an unusual amount of cross-voting. The Conservative Party was certainly divided as between 18 and 21; and at least two former members of the present Government voted against the Government and in favour of 20 and not 18. I take all that to mean that in another place responsible and thoughtful votes were cast. I have always felt that if we 228 pass an Amendment contrary to what has already been decided in another place we are doing so with the primary object of giving the House of Commons a further opportunity of considering the matter in case it might change its mind I cannot conceive that, if this Amendment were carried, there would be the slightest chance of another place changing its mind—in view not only of the voting figures which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham quoted, but also of the character of the voting which took place. It was far from being on rigid Party lines.
For all those reasons I think that it would be a mistake to refer this matter back for another place to think again about it. I am quite sure that my noble friends, individually, will do exactly what they think fit on this matter, but I express the personal view that it would be regrettable if this Amendment were carried and the matter sent back for further consideration below.
§ LORD SOMERS
In view of what has been said by my noble friend, and also in view of what appears to be the general opinion of the House, I shall not press this Amendment to a Division. But I should like to say before withdrawing it that I am not one of those who is totally ignorant of the character of young people. Every Wednesday I teach 20 of them of student age individually, and I have the greatest admiration for them. They are all extremely alive and capable people in their own line. But as to national knowledge they are totally lacking; they are far too busy with their own work to worry about that. But for the reasons that my noble friend has given I can see that it would be unwise to try to carry this Amendment, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
§ 4.16 p.m.
LORD WADE moved Amendment No. 2:
After Clause 3 insert the following new clause:
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name. I believe it is rather less controversial than the Amendment which we have just debated. It is designed to deal with the case of persons capable of exercising the right to vote but who are at the material time when the register is being compiled patients in an establishment maintained wholly or mainly for the treatment of those suffering from some form of mental illness. I am referring to those known as informal patients. This point was raised in the other place in an Amendment moved by Mr. Lubbock on September 11, 1968. I think it became apparent that there was an anomaly arising out of the provisions of Section 4(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1949. Perhaps I should say that I am aware that there was an Amendment to that section made by the Mental Health Act 1959; but I do not think that it materially affects what I have to say.
I am not sure whether there is a statutory definition of "informal patient", but I understand that a recent Home Office memorandum for the guidance of electoral registration officers states:
Informal patients in mental hospitals as well as patients in ordinary hospitals will be entitled to be registered from their normal place of residence.
That is to say, if a patient is in an institution for treatment and has a home to which he or she could return—and being an informal patient implies, of course, that he or she could return home voluntarily—such a patient can be registered at that place of residence. Section 4(3) to which I referred provides that a person who is a patient at such an institution as I have described shall not for the purposes of registration be treated as a resident at that institution, summarising, I think, the meaning of the clause.
§ When one comes to look at the statistics one finds that there are a considerable number who, although fit to vote, have not a residence to which they could return at the material date when the register is being compiled. To put it briefly, the effect is that a person resident, say, in a psychiatric hospital is not entitled to use the address of the hospital for the purpose of being registered as a voter. I think it is generally agreed that patients with some form of mental illness 230 should be treated as being as normal as possible and curable, rather than as abnormal—that is the whole trend of treatment. Therefore it seems to me that some procedure should be found for enabling these informal patients to be registered for the purpose of voting.
§ The subject is one in which the National Association for Mental Health is interested, and representations on this subject have been made, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will be well aware. May I summarise the anomaly? There may be two people in adjacent beds or rooms, one entitled to vote and the other not. It is not a question of the ability to get to the polling booth, as there is the procedure for the postal vote, but one may have no right to a postal vote because at the material date he or she had not another residence, a home, at which that name could be registered. As I have said, the whole attitude to mental illness has changed and I think that is all to the good. It is regarded as a form of ill-health like other kinds of illness, and I should have thought some step could be taken to rectify this small anomaly.
§ I know that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, is aware of the position. I have had the privilege of looking at some of the correspondence, including a letter from the noble Lord to Mr. Lubbock on December 30 last. As I understand it, there was a promise to give further consideration to this matter when the Bill came to this House; not perhaps a promise to provide the solution for which I am asking, but there certainly was, I think, an undertaking to look into it. The Amendment which I have tabled may not be entirely adequate, but I hope that it will suffice for the purpose of raising the matter and enabling the Government to express their view. I think that the objective is clear: that a patient in these circumstances should be registered and therefore have the opportunity to vote. If that is so, I hope that a way can be found. I beg to move.
After Clause 3 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Wade.)
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
As the noble Lord, Lord Wade, made clear, the effect of his Amendment would be to enable patients 231 in psychiatric hospitals both for mental illness and for subnormality to be registered as electors in respect of the address of the psychiatric hospital; and as I think he is possibly aware—he to some extent foreshadowed it in what he said—it would also enable persons detained in legal custody in any place to be registered in the place of their custody. This would give rise to practical difficulties, as I believe the noble Lord understands, notwithstanding the provisions in Clause 4 of this Bill. So to that extent the Amendment would be unsatisfactory, but I propose to discuss just the principle of what the noble Lord has in mind.
I think that all of us would wish to provide that patients, mentally ill persons, should not be deprived of a vote if it were possible to make an arrangement whereby they could exercise the franchise. I must confess, therefore, that when I came to consider this subject I started with a bias towards giving such people a vote from the hospitals; and, of course, that bias was increased, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has said, my honourable friend Mr. Merlyn Rees said in another place that we would give further consideration to the problem. So I started out to try to find a way to do that, and not to try to find a way not to do it. But I am sorry to have to tell your Lordships that, after very careful consideration of all the angles, I have reached the conclusion that it would be better for all concerned to leave this part of the Bill as it is.
In saying this, I speak with some personal knowledge. For the years 1950–54 I was responsible for some 17,000 people in hospitals for the mentally ill and mentally subnormal in the West Country—17,000 beds. More recently, until I came to the Home Office, I was president of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, which works with the mental hospitals for the rehabilitation of the mentally ill in the community. From this experience I can say with certainty that since the 1959 Health Act the overwhelming majority of new admissions are short-stay and informal; almost a complete change from the pre-1959 position. Indeed, according to one estimate, 90 per cent. of patients admitted to mental hospitals leave within a year, and many of them very much sooner. Some of 232 them, unhappily, are in and out of hospital two or three times in a single year, and the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association came into being to try to alter this state of affirs.
These patients would include nearly all those mentally capable of voting. The noble Lord will appreciate that there are some patients in these hospitals who are not capable of voting and indeed would not be permitted to vote by law. And to a very large extent they would be on the register at their homes. The long-stay patients include many certified before 1959 and a very high proportion of those whose mental condition would disqualify them from voting. In practice, therefore, the proportion of mental hospital patients who would be effectively enfranchised under new arrangements which might be made possible by the noble Lord's proposal would be relatively small.
Naturally, it could very properly be argued—and I would argue—that nevertheless, even though the number may not be large, they should not be denied the opportunity to record their vote. But we have to weigh this against the very considerable burden it would place on the hospital staffs, and the fact that the introduction of election literature, and probably personal canvassing in mental hospitals, might in some cases have unfortunate consequences. As the noble Lord may be aware, there are in some places what amounts to almost a concentration of mental hospitals. For example, in the Epsom area there are four psychiatric hospitals with nearly 6,000 patients between them. If we had registration at hospitals, whether or not public opinion locally would be hostile, there would in any case be very real problems in some areas, particularly in local government elections.
In England and Wales we have 60 of these hospitals with more than 850 beds. They are large communities, and in one hospital there are 2,000 beds. Two of these very large ones are near to Epsom, at Coulsdon and Banstead. So there are very real problems, and, as it were, inflicting an election on and leaving candidates free to carry out the purposes of an election in and around mental hospitals could have unfortunate consequences.
233 I am speaking for the Government, but I am also speaking from experience and from my heart. I should have liked to find a way to do this, but though I express these views with reluctance I feel that they are right. They are shared by the Scottish Home and Health Department and by the Department of Health and Social Security, whose Joint Minister of State, my honourable friend Mr. David Ennals, has also given personal consideration to the subject. Therefore I must advise your Lordships to reject the Amendment.
Nevertheless, I am able to say something which I think will help to meet the position. First, the Speaker's Conference, though recommending no change in the law in this matter, did recommend a change in the wording of the registration canvass form (Form A) reminding householders that they could enter as resident at home people temporarily away from home in hospital, including informal patients in mental hospitals. That change has been made. Secondly, the Department of Health and Social Security are currently considering how they, for their part, can most appropriately and effectively remind patients in psychiatric hospitals of their potential registration and voting rights. In this way, if we take special steps, it should be possible to ensure that all patients capable of voting can be enfranchised; and this without subjecting mentally ill patients and hospital staffs to the pressures of an election.
I am sure the noble Lord will be disappointed that I have not been able to go all the way with him, but I know that he will accept that I have done the best I could, because I have been in sympathy with his object all along. I really feel that in view of what I have said almost no one who could exercise a vote will not be enfranchised. In these circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD WADE
May I ask the noble Lord one question? He referred to people temporarily away from home, and I understand that there are a number of informal patients who for various reasons at the time of registration have no home. I am surprised at their number. Do I understand that even in these cases there will still be no procedure for 234 registration? So far as the difficulties in the electoral process are concerned, there are already cases of informal patients registered at some other address who presumably can have postal votes, so to that extent electioneering takes place. Surely it is only a question of extending this to those who at the material time happen not to have another address.
§ LORD STONHAM
In the case of homeless people the matter is difficult, because it is no use pretending that a mental hospital in which they are informal temporary patients is a home, since, of course, they can leave it when they like. However, what might be a possibility is that a good many of them, when they come out of hospital, go to hostels or other places where lodgings have been found for them and it would be possible to enter such people if these were in fact their homes on leaving hospital. Beyond that I can see no way of registering a person who has no home and no fixed abode, any more than we can register a tramp or a hobo who is tramping the roads.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 [Disfranchisement of offenders in prison etc.]:
§ The noble Lord said: This is little more than a drafting Amendment. Its purpose is to remedy an omission from Clause 4, which disfranchises a convicted offender while serving his sentence in prison. Paragraph (a) of subsection (2) defines the persons to whom the clause applies. When this paragraph was first drafted no mention was made of persons sentenced by a naval commanding officer under Section 49 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957. It was thought that these offenders were sentenced to short terms of detention, which they would not serve in prisons in this country. We find that 235 this is not so and that the practice is for them to be sent home to serve their sentences in civilian prisons. It is right therefore, in our view, that they should be subject to the same conditions as other prisoners.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 5 to 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Limit on, and declaration and publication of, election expenses]:
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 6, line 32, leave out second ("a") and insert—
("the ordinary election of councillors of the Greater London Council in the relevant year of election and any subsequent election of such councillors, £400 together with an additional 1s. 0d. for every six entries in the register of electors (as first published) and for any less number of entries above a multiple of six:
(c) for a candidate at any other")
§ The noble Lord said: In this Amendment we are dealing with the same subject matter as Amendment No. 5 which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and it may be for the convenience of the Committee for the two Amendments to be discussed together. It may perhaps expedite your Lordships' proceedings if I say that I have had an opportunity of examining Amendment No. 5, and so far as I can see its effect would be precisely the same as the effect of my own Amendment. That being so, if the noble Lord tells us—and I assume that he will—that the Government accept Amendment No. 5, I shall ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ I think that I ought to tell your Lordships a little of what these two Amendments are about. As your Lordships are probably aware, the election expenses at the election of councillors for the Greater London Council are calculated on the basis of a lump sum for every candidate in an electoral division together with a sum calculated in relation to the numbers of electors. Hitherto it has been the practice for each electoral division in the old L.C.C. and in their successors to be contested by three or five candidates, and in the calculation of permitted expenses 236 each received a lump sum. In future that arrangement will be changed. There will be only one candidate in each electoral division.
§ As the Bill is drafted the candidates in the G.L.C. elections would receive only a single lump sum and not the aggregate of three or five lump sums which would have been received when there were three or five candidates contesting that electoral division. The result of this is that the permitted expenses would fall far below the figure which could be accepted as the reasonable cost of contesting an election. Accordingly, in my Amendment I have suggested that the permitted expenses should be calculated on the basis of a lump sum of £400 together with an additional shilling for every six electors. The noble Lord, in his Amendment, suggests £200 with an additional shilling for every four entries in the register. In the calculation which has been made for me the results of those two formulas would be almost precisely the same. The difference in permitted expenses would be something less than £10. That being so, if the Government are going to accept Amendment No. 5, as I assume they will, I shall ask the leave of your Lordships to withdraw my Amendment. I beg to move.
§ LORD STONHAM
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, for suggesting this procedure, because although we are debating his Amendment, I think we might discuss my Amendment with it. The noble Lord might then be disposed to withdraw his Amendment, subject to certain conditions which I do not find too onerous. The purpose of my Amendment is to provide a higher maximum for candidates' expenses at Greater London Council elections than that at present provided for in Clause 8(1)(b). When the single-member electoral areas, based on new Parliamentary constituencies, have been determined, the average electorates of those electorate areas would be about 62,000, including persons of 18 years. On the basis of the provision made by the clause as it stands at present, the permitted maximum of a candidate's expenses would be about £550. On the other hand, the permitted maximum for a candidate contesting the same area at a Parliamentary election would be about £1,150; and he would be allowed free postage of his election 237 address, whereas the local government candidate would not.
Some G.L.C. elections are contested with quite as much vigour as Parliamentary elections, and candidates would be too restricted by the amount allowed by the clause as it stands at present. It can also be argued (I do not believe this myself) that candidates at G.L.C. elections might resort to devices in order to keep within the legal maximum proposed by the Bill. There is thus a strong case for a higher maximum to G.L.C. elections. For an average-sized electoral area the amount which, as a maximum, could be produced by the Government Amendment would be £975. The Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, for the same electoral area, an average of 62,000, would produce £917. My figure is not only a round sum, but is a larger one, so I hope the noble Lord will think it is a little improvement.
On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, raised this question, and I said that I should be prepared to consider an Amendment sympathetically. I have gone one better and put down an Amendment myself, and I am sure the noble Lord will not object. There is not much difference between the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and myself, but the drafting of his Amendment is not very satisfactory, because it refers to "the relevant year of election", which is defined only in Section 9(1) of the London Government Act 1963, of pleasant memories. It is preferable, as the Government Amendment does, to refer to paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 of the London Government Act 1963, which specifically provides in due course for G.L.C. elections to be held on the basis of single-member electoral areas. So there is no difference between us about what is desirable. I think it is right, proper and just that we should make this adjustment. I hope I have convinced your Lordships that it would be right for the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, to withdraw his Amendment, and for my Amendment then to be put to the Committee.
I am obliged to the noble Lord. Perhaps before I withdraw my Amendment I might say that the sum calculated under my formula, assuming an electorate of 50,000, was £816, and that under the noble Lord's formula, 238 £825. There is not much difference between the two. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 6, line 32, after ("election") insert:
("(i)at an election to the Greater London Council (other than an election to which paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the London Government Act 1963 does not apply to determine the electoral areas), £200 together with an additional 1s. 0d. for every four entries in the register of electors to be used at the election (as first published) and for any less number of entries above a multiple of four; and
(ii) at any other local government election,").—(Lord Stonham.)
My Lords, before we agree to this Amendment, I should like to ask the noble Lord one question. As we are discussing the expenses of these gentlemen on the Greater London Council, have we any assurance that what is now proposed meets their wishes?
§ LORD STONHAM
Of course we are aware of their wishes, and we are meeting them, except, to be 100 per cent. frank, that they would have preferred that the basic fee should be £250 instead of £200. That, I believe, is the only difference between what they would like and what is provided in the Amendment. But the noble Viscount will no doubt think about that difference between now arid the Report stage.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 6, line 40, at end insert—
("(1A) Where at an election a poll is countermanded or abandoned by reason of the death of a candidate, the maximum amount of election expenses shall, for any of the other candidates who then remain validly nominated, be doubled; but the maximum amount shall not be affected for any candidate by the change in the timing of the election or of any step in the proceedings thereat.")
§ The noble Lord said: With your Lordships' permission, it may be convenient to take this Amendment and Amendment No. 7 together. Clause 13 239 of the Bill makes provision for the procedure to be followed if a candidate at a Parliamentary or local election dies during the course of the poll. At present, the law provides for the procedure to be followed if a candidate dies before a poll has commenced, and this procedure is, of course, consolidated in Clause 13. We have made, as it were, an addition to the Bill.
§ The Bill is, however, silent on the question of the election expenses of surviving candidates when one of them dies in the midst of an election. Under existing law, the new candidate would start with a clean slate, but the candidates already nominated would not. They would be able to spend only such balance, if any, as was left over and above what they had spent up to the date of the abandoned poll; and if one of the candidates died very shortly before polling day, the other candidates might well have spent close to the maximum for an abortive election and have little left for, as it were, the second election or the replacement election.
§ On the Report stage in another place, in dealing with an Amendment designed to allow a surviving candidate to incur additional election expenses, my honourable friend Mr. Merlyn Rees agreed to consider the point, with reference, in particular, to the precise amount of additional expenses to be allowed. The two Amendments that I am now proposing honour Mr. Rees's undertaking.
Your Lordships will note these points. First, a surviving candidate will be able to incur additional expenses up to the full amount of his original entitlement. Secondly, for the purpose of calculating the maximum for the entire proceedings the change of the timing of the election would make no difference. For example, if there has been a change of register between the abandoned poll and the further election, the limit of additional expenses, like the original limit, will be based on the earlier register. This is the effect of the final words of the new subsection (1A):
… but the maximum amount shall not be affected for any candidate by the change in the timing of the election or of any step in the proceedings thereat".
§ Amendment No. 7—on page 7, line 2—applies the provision for additional 240 expenses at a further election to surviving candidates at a ward election in the City of London which has been abandoned under Clause 13. Expenses of candidates at ward elections in the City are dealt with separately in subsection (2) of Clause 8; and the separate provision made by the Amendment is accordingly necessary. I beg to move.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I think your Lordships generally will welcome this couple of Amendments. As the noble Lord said, the matter was raised in another place. I am inclined to think it has never received adequate consideration during the passage of previous Representation of the People Bills. It seems perfectly clear that if an election is called off owing to the death of a candidate actually on polling day or on the eve of the poll, the full, normal expenditure will have already been incurred by each candidate. As the election is then postponed, it is absolutely necessary to make proper provision for duplicate election expenses by the surviving candidates if they are continuing to stand, as they will be. I cannot see any objection to the course proposed by the Government. I should like to express appreciation of the generous way in which the Government have taken up the point that was raised in another place and have fully met it.
§ LORD STONHAM
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I am quite sure he has read the debate in another place. I believe it was there suggested by the noble Lord's honourable friend Mr. Richard Sharples that the amount might be something between one-third and one-half. But, in thinking about it, we foresaw the possibility, as I said earlier, that virtually the whole of the candidate's allowance might have already been spent when the tragic event happened; and therefore we thought that it would be right to allow this new maximum. I am very glad that in a few words the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has expressed his concurrence.
§ LORD ILFORD
The noble Lord has certainly dealt very generously with the expenses of the surviving candidates, if I may call them that. Not all of their expenses will have been thrown away, although no doubt in most cases a very large part of them will have been thrown 241 away. At any rate, the noble Lord has suggested that the expenditure should be doubled, and I do not propose to quarrel with that.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 7, line 2, at end insert ("; but the provision made for doubling the maximum amount of election expenses in the event of the death of a candidate shall apply to the maximum amount under this subsection.").—(Lord Stonham.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [Broadcasting during elections]:
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD STONHAM
Clause 9 deals with broadcasting. Your Lordships will recall that on Second Reading I said that we had already met the views of the broadcasting authorities to some extent, but there wereother points on which we were still examining their suggestions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23/1/69; col. 1035.]This is a very difficult and complex matter. Our examination has included discussions and correspondence with senior officers of the British Broadcasting Corporation and of the Independent Television Authority and we have paid most careful heed to what they had to say. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has, however, concluded that changes to meet the views expressed by the broadcasting authorities are not called for and, even if they were, could not be cast in the form of an Amendment or Amendments which would hold water.
Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the objects of Clause 9 of the Bill. These are—in accordance with the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference—to remove political broadcasting from the field of election expenses, to put the broadcasting authorities on the same footing as newspapers and periodicals and to limit exploitation by candidates of the media of broadcasting and television for electoral purposes. With the two first of these no one will, I am sure, quarrel. 242 I will accordingly concentrate on the third object, which is covered by subsection (1) of Clause 9.
The purpose of subsection (1) is in general to prevent any candidate or potential candidate from exploiting to his own electoral advantage—eventual or immediate—a specialised and highly influential medium which, if not a monopoly, does not at any rate offer the wide range afforded by the Press. The particular purpose of subsection (1) is to prevent a candidate from obtaining an unfair electoral advantage by broadcasting his views as a candidate at a particular Parliamentary or local government election in the absence, or without the consent, of the other candidates. The anxieties expressed by the broadcasting authorities about subsection (1) in its present form are twofold; first, that the prohibition in the subsection may be so wide as to inhibit the straight reporting of news; secondly, that the prohibition is without an anterior time limit—one does not know how long before an election it should start. Both of these points, of course, are highly relevant to the general and particular objectives of the subsection. The possible forms that what I might call a constituency broadcast can take range in a wide spectrum from a formal studio discussion, at one end, to a fleeting glimpse on television of a street corner meeting, at the other. Between these two extremes there are forms of broadcasting that make the formulation of a precise clause difficult and, despite our best efforts, we have found no formulation that will hit the target more accurately and will also work satisfactorily.
For a candidate or potential candidate to be guilty of an illegal practice, the following prerequisites are now necessary in the subsection as it stands. This is what would have to happen in subsection (1) as it now stands without alteration; and we do not propose to alter it. First, the broadcast must be about the constituency. Secondly, it must be for the purpose of promoting or procuring the candidate's election. Thirdly, the candidate must "take part" in it—a phrase intended to indicate an active participation. And finally, the candidate must consent to the broadcast being made. All those factors must be present for the candidate to be committing an illegal practice.
243 Our view, confirmed by the further thought we have given to the matter—it is certainly my view, after a lot of thought—is that this formulation, if less precise than the broadcasting authorities would wish, would give the courts a good indication of the circumstances in which constituency broadcasts are prohibited; and in particular we do not think that it inhibits the mere reporting of new events.
As I have said, the other anxiety of the broadcasting authorities is over the lack of an anterior time limit—when does one start? In this the subsection follows the law relating to election expenses, and for the same very good reason. True, the broadcasting authorities are already and at all times under a general duty of impartiality. But this is a general duty, and they are not obliged to match one view about a constituency with an opposing view about the same constituency. Unilateral electioneering could be a potent advantage to a candidate months ahead of an election. Some candidates are adopted a long time before an election; others are not. It would be unfair —and doubtless the Speaker's Conference had this in mind—if a candidate already adopted for a constituency were allowed to broadcast now about that constituency to promote his election there, without competition. The broadcasting services ought not to be used to give anyone a personal electoral advantage at any time; and that will be the effect of subsection (1) in its present form. Alhtough there are arguments the other way, we think on balance that the absence of an anterior time limit is right in principle. It is for these reasons that the Government, after giving careful attention to the views of the broadcasting authorities, have decided to table no Amendment to Clause 9, and to leave it to your Lordships' House in the form in which it left another place.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
The noble Lord speaking for the Government has indicated the difficulties in drafting this clause, and I know that consultations have taken place with representatives of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Nevertheless, ambiguities remain, and there is anxiety that this clause would be difficult to interpret in practice. I am sure the noble 244 Lord would agree that every effort should be made to achieve as much certainty as possible in order to avoid difficulties and confusion arising in the future. If any further representations are made between now and Report stage, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to see whether a final effort can be made to get his clause into a more clear-cut form than it is now.
§ LORD STONHAM
Of course I will look at anything that is put forward, but I am bound to say that we have looked at this carefully, to the extent at least of putting up a possible solution, which frankly, if there was confusion (and I do not accept that there was or would be confusion), would certainly dispel any confusion that exists. If it is possible to remove any dubiety I shall be glad to look at whatever the noble Lord would care to table at Report stage, or to have a discussion about.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Election agents, and polling agents]:
§ 5.2 p.m.
LORD STONHAM moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 9, line 17, leave out from ("in") to second ("or") in line 18 and insert ("the constituency or one of the constituencies in which the area is comprised")
The noble Lord said: This is a drafting Amendment. The words in the Amendment replace the words
a parliamentary constituency comprising the area or any part of it
which are at present included in Clause 11(3) of the Bill as part of the requirements relating to the situation of the office of an election agent for a local government election. In particular, the word "parliamentary" is omitted: "constituency" on its own is sufficient in view of Section 4 of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 which is as follows:
In this Act, and, except where the context otherwise requires, in any other Act passed after the Representation of the People Act, 1948, the expression 'constituency' means an area having separate representation in the House of Commons.
The additional words in the Amendment have been added in the interest of clarity. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Countermanded or abandonment of poll on death of candidate]:
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
I propose to call Amendment No. 10 because Amendments 10 and 9 are printed in the wrong order on the Marshalled List.
LORD STONHAM moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 11, line 6, leave out from ("the") to end of line and insert ("necessary modification").
§ The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the Lord Chairman for pointing out that these Amendments are in the wrong order. Amendment No. 10 comes first, but it does rot make a great deal of difference because I would be grateful for your Lordships' permission to deal with the two Amendments together. Amendment No. 10, which I now beg to move, and Amendment No. 9 are drafting Amendments to correct an error in the clause as drafted. The modification mentioned in Clause 13(1)(a)(ii) does not spring from Clause 13(1)(a)(i), but from the opening words of Clause 13(1)(a); namely, the date on which the writ is to be deemed to have been received. The Amendment corrects this error by generalising the reference to the modification required.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 11, line 13, leave out from ("apply") to end of line 14.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 14 agreed to.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved Amendment No. 11:246
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
Place of work qualification in local government
. A person shall be qualified for election to and membership of a local authority provided that throughout the twelve months preceding the last day for nomination of candidates for the relevant election he shall have had a principal place of work within the area of the authority.
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move this new clause, which I hope may find widespread support in all quarters of your Lordships' House, considering the attention that was paid to the point by almost every noble Lord who spoke on it in the Second Reading debate. The idea underlying this Amendment was supported not only by a number of my noble friends but also by the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, Lord Jacques and Lord Royle, who I see has Amendments of his own bearing on the same subject which he may possibly wish to discuss with this Amendment. Another supporter of this idea was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. So it is qiute clear that the purpose and idea have all-Party and non-Party support.
§ At the outset I should like to say that what I am proposing here is distinct from any Amendment or new clause moved in another place. If I may respectfully say so, in the other place there was a somewhat confused debate relating to these matters, partly due to the fact that a number of other Amendments were discussed with the Amendments which were actually moved. Therefore what I have tried to do in this new clause is to disentangle a rather complex matter and to isolate one new proposal which I ask your Lordships to support.
In another place the Government argued stubbornly against the non-resident qualification for voting and also against the property qualification for membership of a local authority. I would point out to them that this new clause does not propose to bring back either of those matters to which they have declared their opposition. I do not for one moment claim that the drafting of my new clause is right. It is drafted as it is because I have derived it directly from a recommendation of the Maud Committee on the Management of Local Government. In paragraph 425 of their Report the Committee said:
We recommend that there be an additional alternative qualification for election to a local
authority, namely that the person should have had a principal place of work within the area of the authority during the whole of the 12 months preceding the election.
It will be noted that the wording of my new clause is related very closely to what the Maud Committee recommended, but when it is written into the Bill, as I greatly hope it will be, I shall not be in the least surprised if the expert draftsmen say that the wording needs improvement. My concern was to put a perfectly clear issue before your Lordships' House.
§ At the present time, under the law as it stands, very considerable numbers of people are entitled to stand for election to all kinds of local authorities, and to serve as members of those local authorities when elected, though they are not resident within the area of the local authority. It may be that under the existing law, which this Bill would propose to alter, they obtained a vote through what is called in statutory language a nonresident qualification—more commonly known as the business vote. It may be that they have no vote but that they are entitled to serve on the local authority by reason of the property qualification under the 1933 Local Government Act, another qualification which Clause 15 of this Bill would abolish. However they have become qualified, the fact is that after 1970, if this Bill goes through without the new clause which I am suggesting, they will no longer be qualified. I submit that this will be a serious loss to local government.
§ I know that there are people who argue that these non-resident councillors or aldermen are keeping other people out—indeed, the Government sought to argue that at one point during the Second Reading debate. It seemed to me to have little greater value as an argument than if one argued that the Prime Minister, who is not resident in the Huyton constituency, was keeping out some resident of Huyton from the privilege of representing Huyton. I know that there is not an exact parallel between local government and Parliamentary elections here, but the fact remains, and it is undeniable, that considerable numbers of people, most of whom originally lived in the area concerned but who, through one cause or another, have subsequently moved their homes outside the area but still work in the area, are at present 248 doing invaluable work on local authorities and will no longer be qualified unless this new clause is accepted.
§ So far as I know, it is common ground, certainly among the main political Parties, that at the present time it is by no means easy to find well-qualified candidates for local government. I admit that my local government experience has been almost entirely in London. But when I was Leader of the Opposition on the London County Council I think I enjoyed the personal friendship of my opposite number there, the predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, and I do not think I am disclosing any secrets when I say that both Sir Isaac Hayward and I were mutually aware that it was none too easy to get good enough candidates for the London County Council. I should be surprised if the noble Lord, Lord Fiske (if he takes part in this debate), said that he had found it a very much easier task than his predecessors. This is a sad state of affairs, but it has to be recognised. The Maud Committee recognised it and acted, I should have thought, logically in proposing that the area of eligibility for membership of a local authority should be not restricted but widened; and hence they made this new proposal.
§ The new proposal means that eligibility for being elected to and sitting on a local authority will be extended to everybody who works in the area. Whether they are occupiers of premises, in the technical sense; whether they are owners of property, does not matter at all. That is not the test. Broadly speaking, if my new clause is added to the Bill, those who will be entitled to serve on the local authority will be all those who live in the local authority area and all those who have worked for the preceding twelve months in the area. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Royle, proposes a qualifying period of three years' work rather than one year's work. I do not think that is a point of principle between us; it is a minor point of difference, and the exact period might well be discussed further.
§ May I give your Lordships some examples of what the provision in the Bill will mean in loss of experience? There are over 80 present members of London borough councils who will be disqualified at the next election if the Bill goes through unamended, and these will not be by any means all one Party. I am told 249 that there are 14 members of the Nottingham City Council who will lose their qualification, 18 members of the Manchester City Council and 24 members of the Birmingham City Council, and, I repeat, they are not all of one Party only. My submission is that at the present time it would be a grave mistake to discard these people. If there were evidence that plenty of others were coming up to take their places, that it would be easy to fill the vacancies with well-qualified people, my argument might fall to the ground. But, believe me, experience of post-war years has not shown that that situation exists, at any rate in the big cities.
§ Frequently the reason why these people will in future be disqualified will be, as I have explained, that they have moved a little outside the city boundary. That seems to me another reason for not making the drastic change that the Bill would make at the present time by disqualifying these people. We are awaiting the report of the Royal Commission. I have no idea what the Royal Commission will recommend, but most people seem to think that it will make for larger local authorities rather than smaller ones. You therefore might find that a present-day councillor or alderman will find himself disqualified after 1970 because he lives just outside the borough boundary, and then will regain his qualification if other recommendations in the Royal Commission are implemented by Parliament. It seems to me that that would be a quite absurd waste of talent.
§ There may be in some quarters an idea that all these people are old gentlemen, or maybe old ladies, whom local authorities could well do without and thereby reduce their average age. I have a letter here from a man who is under 35. He does not sit on the council of a great city authority, but as a young man he did what we should all give him honour for: he stood for election to the small municipal borough in which he lived, and he became, before the age of 35, mayor of the borough. All credit to him. His family has now grown and he could no longer go on living in the little house he was living in within the borough, and in order to find the somewhat larger type of house he wanted for his growing family he had to go and live just outside the borough boundary. 250 Naturally, it is going to be a most bitter disappointment to a man like that if he finds himself excluded from the council where he has hitherto served. It is all very well for the Government to say he can sit on the council of the area in which he lives. That is not so easy. If a man is commuting to and from a big city it is most unlikely that he will be able, at the end of his day's work, to get back to his home and go to a local council meeting in his home area, whereas he could do that in the city.
§ Again, in the type of case that I have mentioned, a small municipal borough, the man might find that his rural district council meets at a town much further away from his home than the municipal borough where, because all his work and his interest is there, he has hitherto served on the council. I find it quite difficult to see any effective argument against the proposal which I am putting forward which, I must stress again, makes no difference to voting; it does not add a single name to the electoral register.
§ So far as I can see, the only argument that was adduced by the Government against this proposal (in so far as it was discussed at all in another place) was a statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland that it would "swamp the thing". I really cannot believe that that is a realistic argument. I cannot believe that, in circumstances when it is notoriously difficult to find people of sufficient quality to serve on the council, it will "swamp the thing" if one authorises those who work in a town and have their interests there, to serve on that council even though they may live outside. I say "have their interests" in the town, because nobody would dream of standing for a council if they did not have an interest in the place. Some people have argued as though this really determines who will be on the council; but of course that is determined by those who make the selections and the nominations, and then by the electors who cast their votes. Nobody, however keen he is on getting on a council, will be enabled to force his way in by this new way. He will have to get the support of the resident electors.
§ I hope that I have succeeded in disentangling the complexities of this matter and, in view of the widespread support 251 that it received before, I greatly hope that the Government may be convinced that, entirely consistently with their own principles, this change is something which they can accept. I beg to move.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
May I ask the noble Lord one question before he sits down? Is there a statutory definition of "a principal place of work"? I think this is an extremely important matter. I think it should be made clear. For example, will this cover a works manager, a foreman or any other employee of a limited company who works there, and has worked there for a twelve months period? I think it is most important that we should know if that is so under the noble Lord's clause.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
The answer to the last question of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is that undoubtedly that it would be so, that people of that character would be included. As to his first question, I do not think there is a statutory definition of "a principal place of work"; but it seemed to me better to put the principle of this question before your Lordships in the words of the Maud Committee recommendation, so that if the Maud Committee recommendation was acceptable in principle at a later stage the drafting could be made correct.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD ROYLE
I wonder whether it would be convenient to the Committee to discuss the Amendments that I have on the Marshalled List on Clause 15 with the present new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor? It seems to me that if that were done we might save quite a lot of time. In due course, as a result of what happens to the suggested new clause, I could consider whether I should propose my own Amendments on Clause 15. I hope that your Lordships will agree to that course.
§ LORD SILKIN
If my noble friend will forgive me, perhaps I might intervene to say that I hope we are not going to confuse the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, put a relatively simple point before the Committee and speaking for myself, I should much prefer that simple 252 point to be discussed and settled before we discuss a wider subject; otherwise, we are going to run the same risk that was run in another place, of getting a confused discussion and not really getting a proper decision.
§ LORD ROYLE
I agree that what I have suggested in the way of amendment is probably wider than the present new clause suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. All I had in mind was that the time of the Committee might be saved. But I have no strong feelings about it at all. If the Committee feel that because my Amendments to Clause 15 are wider than the present principle, then obviously I should be perfectly happy to judge accordingly when the time comes to move my Amendments. If this were the general feeling of the Committee (and the response to my noble friend Lord Silkin, would indicate that this is so) I will propose my Amendments later.
Perhaps I may be permitted—it may well save a lot of words from me later on—to say that in principle there is nothing between me and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I expressed myself on this question at some length during the Second Reading debate; therefore it is not necessary to go to much greater length. All I would say about the present new clause and my support of it, is that in no circumstances does the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, suggest, nor would I have suggested, that we should retain what we have always known as the "property qualification" This was my problem all the way through. In no circumstances would I be on my feet supporting the retention of the property qualification. This is a completely different suggestion from that of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to the effect that in place of the property and non-residential qualifications we should have a qualification based purely and simply on a person's work in a particular local authority area.
For the life of me, I cannot feel that there is any real objection at all to this taking place, because of the arguments which have already been used. In the course of the Second Reading debate on the Bill, I gave what to me was an outstanding example. Since many noble Lords were not present on that occasion, or perhaps have had no opportunity of 253 reading the debate, perhaps I may be allowed to repeat that outstanding illustration. My late noble friend Lord Cohen of Brighton, lived on a road which divided the boroughs of Brighton and Hove. Had he lived on the right-hand side of the road he would have lived in Brighton. But he lived on the left-hand side of the road, in Hove. If, at that time, the law had been what the Government now propose the man who rendered probably more public service to Brighton than any man in history would have been prevented from doing local authority work in the town of Brighton. I do not think there could be a better example. But it can be multiplied many hundreds of times.
§ LORD STONHAM
If I may interrupt my noble friend, our late noble friend Lord Cohen of Brighton did not qualify as a member of the Brighton Corporation because Brighton was his principal place of work. There was no such qualification there.
§ LORD STONHAM
My noble friend misunderstands me. There was no such qualification then, and our late noble friend did not qualify on those grounds; he qualified on other grounds.
§ LORD ROYLE
Lord Cohen sat on the Brighton Council all those years in the main on a property qualification. I am trying now, and I know the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is trying, to replace that property qualification by a working qualification. I am saying that in those circumstances the late Lord Cohen, if he were alive to-day, would not be able to give the Brighton Corporation the great services that he was capable of rendering if the Government's present proposition came into effect. I think this is perfectly clear.
The other argument I want to use, and I think it is the strongest argument of all—the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has touched upon it—is the question of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Authorities. We are all waiting for that Report, and have been waiting very 254 anxiously and patiently for it for some years, but we understand that it is nearing completion and that we shall have it in a reasonably short time from now. My concern is that we ought to wait for that Report before any steps are taken to change the type of people who can vote and be represented on a local authority.
There may be big amalgamations—we do not know. I think the general tendency is that there will be. On Second Reading I quoted the case of the part of the country that I knew best, the Manchester conurbation where eight or nine authorities have a common boundary with the City of Manchester. It may well be a recommendation of the Royal Commission that the City of Manchester should be constituted along the lines of the Greater London Council. Every day thousands upon thousands of people pour from these smaller authorities into Manchester where their greatest interest exists. I want to stress that fact. Many thousands of people regard the local authority of the place where they work as of greater interest to them than the local authority where they live, and I am anxious that this feeling should be preserved.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has pointed out the difficulty which would arise if there was interim legislation before legislation arising from the Royal Commission Report. Have we to say to a councillor whose term is up this coming May: "You cannot vote or sit, and you must go out. But if it happens that there are boundary changes in the future, you can do so in two or three years' time from now." In that event, a good and experienced member of the council is prevented from sitting on that council for that particular period.
I would point out to my noble friend Lord Stonham that there is no provision in the Bill to wipe out what I believe is a worse situation; that is, the man who has two homes in two different authorities being able to exercise his vote, and sit as a representative on both of them. The Government have taken no steps to wipe out what I believe is an anomaly, and I believe that they are taking steps now which will be much worse than the present situation. We want to take steps now which will be much better than the Government are suggesting, which do not 255 wipe out the dual voting and the representation in two other local authorities. A man can have a vote and be a representative in two separate authorities—which may be many miles apart—because of his two homes. But if it so happens that his work is in an authority a mile away, according to the Government he cannot vote on the right of his having his work there. I believe this is a great anomaly. While my first intention was to speak on the other aspects of my Amendment, I hope your Lordships may feel that I have stuck to the principle which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, enunciated, and on which I want to give him all the support I possibly can.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I hope that my noble friend Lord Stonham will not accept this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that the Government did not get a great deal of support on the Second Reading. Most of that was due to the fact that many of those who were supporting the Government kept quiet while, quite naturally, the critics made their voice heard.
What is the purpose of local government? Local government exists to provide services, a standard of services; to provide schools, parks, open spaces, swimming baths; and to make the refuse collection—except in Lambeth at the moment. Is my noble friend Lord Royle really saying that a man is more concerned about the standard of education under another authority than of the authority of the area in which he lives and where his children are going to school? If so, all I have to say is that he is a funny sort of father. I had local government associations in London before I got married and went out into Hertfordshire. At present my local government services are in Hertfordshire. However, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, was quite right in that, so far as the Labour side of the London County Council was concerned, we had very influential members of the Council who lived even in my own town of Welwyn Garden City. They ignored Hertfordshire County Council and the local council in Welwyn Garden City. I think that people ought to take an interest in the place where they live.
256 One of the complaints I have had against some industrialists is that, while they are prepared to have their works in an area, and to draw benefits from the works and the workpeople of that area, they go outside to reside in the glorious countryside many miles away—and this is facilitated to-day because of the motor car and improved transport. Now it is said that we should perpetuate the system in which these people can still influence the standard of service where they do not live, yet be able to ignore making a contribution in the area where they do live. Reference has been made to the late Lord Cohen of Brighton. I should be the first to agree that he made a tremendous contribution to Brighton. However, if he had made the same effort in Hove, he might have done the same for Hove; and Hove might have gained from it.
Equally true, I think, is the fact that the qualification of residence, to deal with the standard of services in the area where one lives, is the correct basis for representation on a local authority. I know that my noble friend Lord Royle quoted the late Lord Cohen. Isolated cases, particular cases, do not make good law, but one thinks of a really big works. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, referred to the City of Birmingham, where there are the tremendously big Austin works, with thousands of men working there. Every one of those thousands of men, although perhaps they live over in Worcestershire or in the other surrounding areas and not in Birmingham at all, can come and take part in the standard of service for the City of Birmingham. Really, the people who ought to be deciding what standard of service there is in any particular area should be the people who live there and make their contribution by living there.
§ LORD CLITHEROE
I do not intend to keep the Committee more than a minute or two. May I just say two things? First, I disagree with the noble Lord who has just sat down. Where people spend their working lives is very important to them, and it is quite reasonable that they should take an interest in its local government. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, put the case so well that I am not going to put it again. I rise to say a word on behalf of the City of 257 Westminster, of which I have the honour to be High Steward. I am authorised to tell the Committee that it is the unanimous view of the City Council, composed of a Conservative majority and a Labour Opposition, that a clause on these lines should be added to the Bill. I believe this to be the view of nearly every important corporation in the Kingdom, and I am sure that the Government would be wise to make this very modest concession to such strongly expressed views.
§ LORD COTTESLOE
This is a constructive Amendment and I very much hope that the Government will see their way to accept it. There is no doubt whatever that it embodies a valid principle, that a man is entitled to a say in the local administration of the place in which he works and spends almost certainly the greater part of his waking hours. I have no intention of repeating at length the objections which I raised to Clause 15 on Second Reading. The content of that clause I believe to be misguided on both its heads; and the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to justify them did no justice either to his own straightforward common sense or to the intelligence of your Lordships in this Committee.
But if the content of that clause is objectionable, what to my mind is far more objectionable is the way in which it was brought into the Bill, without any discussion by the Speaker's Conference or the Home Secretary's Advisory Committee, or any mention whatever, even in the Government White Paper on electoral reform. I suppose that most of your Lordships would agree that it is utterly unjustifiable that a change, and a very important change, in the electoral law should be brought about in such a way, but after what Lord Stonham said on Second Reading, I recognise that it would be unrealistic to expect that the Government will do what they certainly ought to do and that is to drop Clause 15. In those circumstances I hope profoundly that they will agree to accept this Amendment on three grounds: it embodies a recommendation of a strong non-political Committee; it will mitigate the most objectionable features of Clause 15; and, most important of all, it will certainly make for better local government, 258 which is a purpose that we all wish to achieve, whatever our political differences.
§ LORD FISKE
I do not think that I would have intervened in this debate if the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, had not specifically referred to me and the work which we shared at one part of our lives on the old London County Council, work which I had to carry on on the Greater London Council—after, be it remembered, London alone had had its Royal Commission. It is interesting briefly to consider what happens as the result of a Royal Commission and to show what will happen in the rest of the country if in fact the London pattern is at all followed.
In London I did not have the problems mentioned by Lord Brooke of having a great shortage of people to choose from. I had a great plethora of people, for the simple reason that the Royal Commission by its recommendations had eliminated two local government members out of every three. So the competition from extremely good people to serve on local authorities was very keen in the circumstances of reorganisation. If we relate this to reorganisation itself, it does not seem to me that it is unreasonable, on a body like the Greater London Council, to expect the members to live somewhere between Barnet and Bromley or between Uxbridge and Hornchurch. It seems to me, in all conscience, a large enough area of the country for people to be able to find a home in which to live and therefore to be able to serve as residents.
When one comes to the smaller units of government, to the boroughs, there was a problem which, I think, has largely disappeared. I do not think that the old Borough of Holborn, for example, could have manned its council if it had not taken people from outside. The old Borough of Holborn was a small area which ran from the Strand to the Euston Road and from, I suppose, Gower Street to Farringdon Street, a tiny area of London given over largely to the university, largely to the professions and largely to commerce and to warehousing In an area such as that, probably the residents could not produce a council. But what has happened now? The Borough of Holborn was absorbed into the Borough of Camden, and the Borough of 259 Camden runs from the Strand to the northern outposts of Hampstead and from the Edgware Road I do not know how far East, but certainly as far as the Gray's Inn Road. That is an enormous area in which it is not unreasonable to expect that your local councillors should live. Therefore. I should like to see this rule of residence adhered to.
I have another reason which I want to put because I have had the opportunity at various times of studying this matter. I think that we are entitled to ask ourselves what are the main interests of those people who serve on local councils as the result of a business interest. In saying this, I am in no way attempting to decry the very fine work which has been done in areas which I know well by people who have not lived in the area, but I am generalising and am talking about the main body of nonresident councillors. I would say that their main interest is the keeping down of the rate. This in itself is a laudable exercise, but the level of the rate must always be related to the services provided. That is another reason which is very strong in my mind why I should like to see local councils governed by residents of the area in which they live.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I should like to intervene for a moment or two as, hitherto, no Scottish voice has been raised in the course of this discussion, though I had a short "innings during the debate on Second Reading. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Fiske. My experience, unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—was somewhat different from his. It seemed to me that every councillor on the authority on which I served was most anxious to keep the rates at as low a level as possible in relation to the efficient service to the public: and it did not depend on whether he lived within the city or outwith it. I cannot understand why Her Majesty's Government should have acted as they have in this Bill in this particular connection. Would the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, tell the Committee, when he comes to reply, whether the Government received representations from the local authorities or from the local authority associations? Did they, as a result of these representations, 260 consider that they were going to get better and more efficient local government by excluding the persons who presently serve on local authorities but who live outwith the boundaries of the local authority? I can only say, again from my experience, that some of the most able and highly respected members of the Corporation of Glasgow, when I had the privilege of serving on it, lived outwith the boundaries; and that applied to both sides of the Council, whether Labour or Progressive.
What the Government are really saying to us is that a man who sleeps outwith the boundaries of a city must be able to give better service to the community where he sleeps than he can give to the city where he works, and that does not seem to me to be a logical conclusion to arrive at. Surely to goodness a man who spends his whole working day in a city has very deeply at heart everything in regard to the goodness of the government of that city, because he is not speaking only for himself! If he is an employer of labour he is also speaking for the men who work with him. I presume that such a man will be included under the terms of the clause which my noble friend has set before the Committee, and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the clause when he comes to reply.
One other subject which was mentioned both by my noble friend Lord Brooke and by the noble Lord who has just spoken is the question of finding suitable people to fill the vacancies on a council. I assure the Committee again, as I tried to do on Second Reading, that there is very great difficulty in finding the type of man that people would like to see on the city councils—and I say that speaking not only as a Conservative: I say that on the authority of two Lord Provosts of Glasgow, both of whom were Socialists, and who felt deeply the difficulty of finding adequate candidates to fill positions which were vacant. In all the circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord and Her Majesty's Government may really consider this matter again and allow these men, who serve so well and do so much, to continue to serve the communities in which they work.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
speak as a Member of your Lordships' House who was a member of the Maud 261 Committee, under the noble Lord, Lord Redckliffe-Maud, who is busy reorganising local government elsewhere to-day. Therefore, I should like to say in about one minute that I strongly support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, who, in his most convincing speech, quoted the recommendation from the Maud Committee. As he quite rightly pointed out, it could probably not be included in an Act of Parliament as it was drafted in the Maud Committee's Report, but it is nevertheless a principle on which other noble Lords have spoken to-day and which ought to have the consideration of Her Majesty's Government.
I was very much impressed by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Royle, who said that it is people who work in an area who are to be allowed to stand for election; not people who have property there and who would probably hardly ever go there, which is obviously wrong. There is not so much difficulty in getting candidates as some noble Lords make out, but that is not an argument with which I am too concerned. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, if people who work in an area are allowed to stand for the council, there is nothing to prevent a local boy who lives there from standing, and the electors can choose whom they want to win—the man who lives there or the man who works there. It is entirely for them.
Therefore, I urge that this matter should be looked at again by Her Majesty's Government. We all know the difficulties when points are raised in your Lordships' House, but I think this matter could be looked at again. I hope that it will not be necessary to take this to a Division, and that the Government will say that they will look at it again. But if there is a Division, I am bound to say that I feel a strong urge to support the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor.
§ LORD AIREDALE
Nothing has so far been said from these Benches, but I shall be very brief. I should like to say a word in support of this Amendment. I should like to take the example of Mr. X, whom everyone would say was an admirably qualified person to serve on a local council somewhere. Mr. X says, "I live 25 miles away from my place of work, and in the place where I live they hold the council meetings in the afternoons. 262 I would not be able to serve on the council there, because it would take me away from my place of work for too long. But I am available to serve on the council in the place where I work, if I am wanted there."
As the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, has pointed out, the ultimate decision lies, quite properly, with the local electors. They are perfectly entitled to say, "We do not want Mr. X on our council because he does not live here." On the other hand, surely they ought to be entitled to say, "We want Mr. X. He works here and we know him very well. He is a most admirable prospective councillor and we should like to have him on our council."
If this Amendment is accepted, Mr. X will be able to serve on the council of the place where he works. If it is not accepted Mr. X will not be available to serve on any council anywhere, and that will be a great loss. Everybody agrees about that. So I hope that this Amendment will be accepted.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
I very much appreciated the line of approach of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, who indicated that this Amendment was entirely different from the present residential and property qualifications. But as I see it it is just another way of substituting a different qualification. The last speaker referred to a Mr. X, who is so interested in the place where he works. He could not serve on the council where he lives, but is very interested in the area where he works. But why does he not go to live in the area in which he is interested? Surely this is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and others who ask why such a person should be debarred from serving in the area in which he previously lived, and probably made his wealth. Why does he not continue to live in that area, if he is so interested in it?
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
It may be that for his children's sake he must live outside in the country air, rather than in the city.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
I appreciate the point which the noble Baroness makes. But what is the object of local government? Surely the object, as my noble friend Lord Lindgren rightly pointed out, is to give service to the 263 inhabitants of the area. The paramount interest of a person will be in the provision of services where he resides, unless, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, the main interest of many who are serving in local government is in keeping down the rates, and putting that above the giving of service to the residents, which I strongly suspect is the thought behind this Amendment.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
Is the noble Lord making that suggestion from his own personal experience of people who have served on local authorities?
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
Yes; after some 18 years' experience in local government in a rural district, in a county and so on. I have a very wide experience indeed and a most intimate knowledge of city and borough administration. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and others have said that there is a scarcity of candidates for local government, and I know there is some difficulty But I also know there are very few ward elections, urban elections or even rural district council elections which are not contested. That indicates that there really is interest among people living within an area in having the privilege to serve on their council.
There is no question, in my opinion, of finding qualified people. Naturally a person becomes much more qualified when he has had experience; but there are quite a lot of people prepared to render service who are ignorant or inefficient to commence with but who are quite willing to learn, and it is only by experience of service that ultimately the best-qualified person reveals himself. It is not a question of who is a qualified person. Who is the person who will decide who is a qualified person? The people who will decide who is the best qualified are the voters in any given ward, rural or urban district or county, and in the light of their experience they will give their decision as and when the next election arises. So this talk of qualification is, I think, quite frankly, a lot of "eyewash". Experience and the strength of our democracy will indicate qualifications or otherwise, because if a person is not meeting his responsibilities in local government the electors will have the opportunity to express their opinion about him at the next election.
264 I was surprised at Lord Brooke's reference to London, Birmingham and Nottingham. If those people who do not live within the area of London, Nottingham or Birmingham go out of local government—and remember that he was talking about the present time—does he think that local government in Birmingham, Nottingham or London will fall down? Surely there are sufficient people residing in those areas who are capable of giving service and ultimately proving their efficiency, as and when they have the opportunity so to do.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
As the noble Lord put a question to me, may I put a question to him? May I ask why those people are not coming forward now? Because it is common knowledge that there is a shortage of well-qualified candidates offering themselves for election to the councils.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
I have admitted that there are some difficulties, but I answered that question a little earlier when I said that when the elections come round there are people prepared to stand for election and there are contests. There is more than one person coming forward for one seat, so that indicates the interest is there. As to whether those people are qualified at the inception or not, who are we to judge? Only time and experience will give them the necessary qualifications. I have repeated that on more than one occasion, and surely that is the essence of good democracy.
It has been mentioned that the Royal Commission on Local Government is still sitting. It is not often I disagree with my noble friend Lord Royle, but I disagree with him on this point. We are aware that this Royal Commission is sitting. It has been sitting now for—how many years? It is two or three years, I believe. It will be some time before it issues its Report, and when it does, what will happen? Will that Report be adopted overnight? We all know that a tremendous amount of discussion will have to take place between all the various interests concerned before the Government can make up their mind. Then, when ultimately the Government (whoever they may be) do make up their mind, there will be all the ramifications of putting the programme across. In 265 my opinion there cannot be any change in local government structure short of five years after the Royal Commission issues its findings. When we have this Bill before us, why should we wait all that time before we make changes?
I sincerely hope that my noble friend will reject this Amendment; I sincerely hope that we shall go into the Lobby; and I sincerely hope that common sense will prevail, that the services of the people living in any given local government area will be the deciding factor and that they will be ruled by their own residents and not by someone from outside.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
May I talk about common sense for a moment? Common sense surely dictates that you adopt the system best calculated to produce the best councillors, and the wider your sphere of selection then obviously the more opportunity there is for men of talent to come forward. Clause 15 definitely narrows this sphere. Personally, I have always thought it far more important for a councillor to represent the area in which he works, where his income comes from. I should like to remind your Lordships of the slogan, "No taxation without representation". That holds good here, surely. Where you sleep is really of little importance.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
I suppose that I have spent as great a number of years in local government as almost anybody in this Committee, and I am therefore very much interested in this particular question. I have read every word of what has been said, not only in this House but in the other place, on this particular subject. I have given anxious thought to the matter, and I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I must support the Amendment. I say "reluctantly" because it is no pleasure for me to disagree with members of my own Party with whom I have worked for so many years. Although I have occasionally expressed views which are not in harmony with theirs, I have seldom voted on the other side. But on this occasion, if the Amendment is pressed, as I imagine it will be, I propose to vote for it.
266 Now there are one or two fundamental misapprehensions about this. For instance, the noble Lord who spoke so vehemently and referred to all those who disagree with him as talking nonsense imagines that this applies only to employers. But this Amendment applies to workpeople as much as to employers. I should not like to say that there are as many workpeople living outside the area in which they are working as there are employers, but there are a very large number of people who are employed in works of one kind or another—in banks or in offices, or actually in factories—who are compelled to live outside the area in which they are working. For instance, there has been a tremendous amount of rehousing, as I well know, and a good deal of that rehousing has taken place outside the area concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, well knows of the large number of London County Council housing estates that have been established, and living on those housing estates are people who formerly lived in London and who work in London. So it is quite wrong to assume that this Amendment is being moved in the interests of one particular section of the community.
It is asked: Why do they not go and live in the area in which they are working? It is not always possible. Surely the noble Lord and those who support him know very well the difficulty of even getting accommodation, or of getting it at a price that people can afford to pay. There is still a shortage of accommodation, and people cannot always go and live where they want to live.
It is assumed, I think quite wrongly, that living in a particular area gives one a greater qualification for serving on the local authority than working in the area. Why should one make that assumption? Surely a person working in an area, and spending the greater part of his conscious life there, has as great an interest in it as the person who merely goes home to sleep there. Furthermore, in many cases, the person who is living in an area finds it quite impossible to take part in public life in that area.
Let me quote one case which comes immediately to mind. It is that of one of my own employees. Because of the health of his wife he has been ordered to live at the seaside. It takes him 1½ to 1¾, hours to get to the 267 office and he does not get home until about 7 p.m. I cannot tell him, despite his wife's health, to go to live in Westminster or anywhere else in London He lives where he does because he is compelled to do so. He could not possibly take part in the public life there; but he is prepared to take part in the public life of the area in which he is working.
The person who is working in an area is concerned with a great many of the social services in that area. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, mentioned refuse collection. We are very interested in refuse collection. Quite a lot of refuse is created in places where people work; and we are very keen that it should be properly disposed of. Then the workers often spend their lunch-time in some of the open spaces: some of them have their lunch there. They are very anxious that proper open spaces should be provided for them in the areas in which they work. And there are many other social services of that kind with which they are very much concerned. So I would submit that people who work in an area, whether they be employers or employed, have as great an interest in that area—and very often a greater interest—as in the area in which they live.
I cannot see the reason for disenfranchising people (and I speak of "disenfranchising" in the sense of debarring them from rendering public service) who are willing to give service, who are capable of giving it but who are not able to render it in the area in which they live. After all, as has been said on a number of occasions, it is for the electors to decide. No doubt a case will be made: What is this person's interest in this particular local authority? He does not live there; his children do not go to school there; he has no particular concern with this area. All that is a matter for the electors properly to take into consideration; and if they feel that the case is strong then they will not elect him.
I feel that this is a matter which ought to be reconsidered by the Government. I do not regard it as a purely Party matter. One can be a very loyal member of the Labour Party yet hold differing views on this subject. I think that the general sense of the debate so far has been that this is a proper Amendment, and I would plead with the Government to give it 268 another thought. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has said it is not a perfect Amendment. If I were speaking against it I could pick a great many holes in it: it is imprecise in a number of ways; it has other defects. But that is not the issue at the moment. Without the advantage of Parliamentary draftsmen, none of us is able to put forward a watertight Amendment; but this one is put forward with the view of testing the Committee on the principle incorporated in it. I hope that the Government will give an undertaking that they will be prepared to think again.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
I should like to support this new clause. When I read the Bill I could not help wondering what were the pros and cons of Clause 15. Could it be better councillors? It is true that all over the country (though I do not speak for London) it is always a problem to find enough top-grade men for local government. There is a shortage of good councillors from the middle management of industry, people who are now very often unable to qualify and whose services are denied to local government; yet the industries in which they work contribute a great amount to the rates on which the prosperity of the town depends.
The Maud Committee recommended a wider choice; but Clause 15 will reduce the choice. Will it produce better local government? Local government is getting more and more complex. I should have thought that there was a greater need for more talent and therefore, again, a far wider range of people to choose from. Would a closer representation of the people who live there guard against representatives getting out of touch with the electors? This is surely for the electors to decide, without being dictated to by this Bill. If Clause 15 is an attempt to modernise local government and to increase its efficiency, then taking the best brains from local government surely will not help. Is there a danger of local government being controlled by outsiders? This is not true. Taking the case of Birmingham, there are only 24 out of 156 councillors involved who would be out of the Council; in Liverpool there are only 8 out of 160. and in Manchester 18 out of 152. While, being men of ability, they may contribute much, there is no question of their controlling the councils from without.
269 Furthermore, those people who work in the city are totally involved with the day-to-day life of the running of the city. Could it be said that the towns are better off without the professional and business men? I find from my research—and no doubt I shall be "shot down"—that in Scotland there has not been a businessman's vote; and I am told that economic realism has been forfeit to political dogma there to a great extent; and that through things like cheap council rents the rates in 1966 had to be increased, on average, by 90 per cent. I believe that many retailers and wholesale distributors in Scottish towns have been forced out, leaving higher rates for those who have been left and a spiral of financial difficulties. Whether one can draw any conclusion from that or not I do not know. I should not like to draw any; but certainly Scotland sets no example.
If there is some vague moral appeal for Clause 15 (which I believe was put forward in another place) my reply is that there can be nothing moral about denying a wide choice for the electors, nothing moral about denying two votes to a man who pays rates, works and lives in two authorities' areas. It is an utter misuse of the word "moral". "One man, one vote" is utterly irrelevant unless he is voting for one Government. However, it is utterly immoral to tax without representation. This goes back to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. The Earl of Camden, in 1765, said in the House of Lords that taxation and representation were inseparably united, and failure to give representation resulted in the American and French Revolutions.
§ LORD STONHAM
Well, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that what is advocated here is representation without taxation, not taxation without representation.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
I will go on to the next point. There is another important point. I believe that it is Socialist policy that it is not desirable to have communities separated too much; that all the communities should get together as much as possible within a town. If people 270 living outside could be on the councils of towns, surely this would provide a link between those who live outside and those who live in the towns. They would get to know the others' problems. Denying them the right to be on the council must surely be of no advantage.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My noble friend Lord Silkin said that those who come to work in an area and those who live in it have an equal interest in that locality. I am sure that is absolutely correct, but I suggest that on the whole their interests are different, although they may be equal. The noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, mentioned the City of Westminster. I happen to live and work in the City of Westminster so I am detached about this question. But one knows from experience that every day thousands of people come from great distances to work in Westminster. They come from Brighton and even further. How can they have quite the same interest as those who live in Westminster?
Those who live in Westminster are interested mainly in the schools and the old people's homes and in welfare work, and whether there is sufficient parking facilities for their cars, and so on. Those who commute there are more interested in parking facilities for commuters, in the restaurants and in other facilities. I do not suppose that they are very interested if the City Council buys a new Rolls-Royce for £10,000; but I am interested, because I have to help to pay for it. So I should not have thought that this was a valid argument.
There has been the other argument that there is difficulty in recruiting councillors. This was brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and others, but I think it may have been exaggerated. If one looks at the companion volume to the Maud Report, which was the Management of Local Government inquiry carried out by the Government Social Survey and which was published at the same time as the Maud Report, one finds some very interesting figures. For example, table 1.46 shows that 94 per cent. of aldermen and councillors are resident in the area and only 3 per cent. are nonresident. Tables 2.4 and 2.6 show the different reasons why councillors were first brought into touch with the council 271 and then stood for election as councillors. Of all those reasons, the lowest figure is for those who "joined through work". It is only 2 per cent. What is interesting, too, is that the percentage is the same for both male and female and for all age groups except those over 65, where the percentage figure rises to only 3 per cent. I think that those who argue for this Amendment, and against what the Government are insisting, that the sole qualification for being a councillor should be residential, will find that rejection of the Amendment will not have the result they fear.
I think that the Maud Committee were absolutely right in their summary of conclusions in paragraph 3, when they said that mobility is sometimes said to deter people from becoming councillors but even among the most mobile groups—that is, professional people and the young—a majority have remained in their town of residence for the past ten years. There are many in these groups who could participate in local government if they wished to do so. In other words, if the Government stand firm and base the sole qualification on residence, as I hope they will, it will give a chance for people living in an area and paying taxes there to become councillors. I am sure that such people will prove to he as distinguished and public-spirited as those whom they replace.
§ LORD STONHAM
We have had a very interesting debate. It was particularly interesting to me because I cannot remember any debate when I heard so many speeches which contained so many arguments completely irrelevant to the subject under discussion. I thought that my noble friend Lord Fiske, who is experienced in local government, made a speech which, in its scope and magnitude, was unanswerable. He left me with almost nothing to say. In fact, he completely devastated whatever case there was for this Amendment. But since that speech was made about an hour ago, and, it has been followed by innumerable "red herrings", it might be as well if I said what the Government think about this Amendment.
First of all, Lord Brooke's Amendment, that a principal place of work should he a qualification for candidature for a local authority though not conferring a right to vote, would provide a qualification 272 which has never applied to local government before. It would be a completely new departure. The noble Lord has not sought to reinstate the property qualification and at least that is something for which to be grateful. However, it seems that, following the conclusion that the property qualification to be a candidate for local government is no longer tenable in 1969, something else had to be thought of to meet the position.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned that at the next election there would be 18 members of Manchester Council and 24 members of Birmingham Council who would lose their qualification to stand. They lose their qualification because of other provisions in the Bill of which, so far as I am aware, all your Lordships approve; and therefore what is now proposed is something which would see that these people did not lose their qualifications. I do not accept that all those members of Manchester Council or Birmingham Council have their principal place of work in Manchester or Birmingham. A number of them have no principal place of work at all, because they do no work. It will not affect them. My noble friend Lord Royle argued strongly and emotionally that we are right to abolish the property qualification, a qualification which, as he admitted, enabled our late noble friend Lord Cohen of Brighton to do great work for the Corporation of Brighton. In effect, he argued that because we were destroying the property qualification we should have this place of work qualification, otherwise people like Lord Cohen of Brighton would not be able to do their public work in a particular place. I find these arguments quite extraordinary, from whatever source they come, irrespective of whether they come from behind me or from in front of me.
Then there was the remarkable short speech by the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, who gave us in solemn tones the unanimous resolution of the Westminster City Council approving the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and of what it stood for. But for the intervention of my noble friend Lord Silkin, we should be discussing the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Royle as well. I wonder whether the Westminster City Council 273 would be just as pleased with that, because my noble friend proposes that place of work should be a qualification for not only candidature but also for voting. What would be the position of the City of Westminster then? What is the principal place of work? What, indeed, is work? Does it cover Mrs. Mop's three days a week, three hours in the morning—the only work she does—and presumably at her principal place of work? I am seriously asked not to consider the wording of this Amendment but the principle of it; to decide whether we can embrace it and then put it right afterwards. I really cannot consider that as a serious proposition.
§ LORD STONHAM
Because the Amendment is too imprecise in what it means. The question was asked from the Liberal Benches of what certain things mean, and there was no answer. The point I was making was about voting and how absurd that would be with particular reference to Westminster Corporation. Think of all the enlightened civil servants who work in Westminster, their principal place of work. If they have a vote as well, as my noble friend Lord Royle wishes, think of the effect of their vote on the political complexion of Westminster City Council. It scarcely bears thinking of.
§ LORD STONHAM
I acknowledge that I have strayed somewhat, as has every other noble Lord in this debate, from the strict path of rectitude, but it was something I could not really resist.
§ LORD ROYLE
Will my noble friend permit me to intervene? I hope he realises that I was very sacrificial in not moving my Amendment at that point, and I think it is a bit too much for him to indulge in these remarks at this moment.
§ LORD STONHAM
I listened with interest to my noble friend for every one of his 25 minutes and I do not think he sacrificed very much. If he reads his speech to-morrow, he will realise that he said everything that could be said about his Amendment. It is undisputed that 274 what is proposed here would provide a qualification which had never been in local government before, and it would be a totally unacceptable principle. Later this evening the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will be moving another Amendment, designed to provide that a non-resident property owner or tenant should have a vote and the right to stand as a candidate. One of the arguments in favour of that is, "no taxation without representation", and I have no doubt that this argument will be put forward. That is a principle which has some merit but, as I told the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, this proposal unashamedly makes provision for representation without taxation. I am not going into all the arguments about who pays for which services, but that is what we are asked to approve: because some people who have given distinguished and long service in local authorities who do not live in the local authority areas will no longer be able to do so because of the removal of the property qualification, therefore we must invent a new qualification.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked whether we had consulted the local authorities about this. The Report of the Maud Committee as a whole is still' being considered by the Government, but we have consulted the local authorities associations about the Maud Committee proposals, including this one, and the opinions of the local authorities associations we have received so far are against this proposal. I think that this is not surprising, because this proposal would mean that a man who worked in a town could be a member of the borough local authority, and if he lived in an adjoining rural area he could also be a member of the rural local authority by reason of his residential qualification.
We would get some strange situations. I started my political career in the borough of Taunton. If this Amendment were accepted, it would mean that a man would have the right to stand as a candidate in Taunton and if he lived a mile, or only half a mile, up the road, he would be able to stand for the Taunton Rural District Council. The meeting place of the Rural District Council in Taunton is only half a mile from the Corporation's headquarters. And Taunton is an example of what is very general 275 throughout the country. When we start looking at this proposal, we find that the results of it would not only be undemocratic but would become ridiculous. A man in Taunton could also have two chances of being a candidate for the Somerset County Council. If he was not supported by his political Party in the borough of Taunton, he could have another go in the rural area.
Then—and this point has hardly been touched on at all—in many areas the town, borough or urban district draws a great many, perhaps more than 50 per cent., of its employees from the surrounding residential and rural areas, and despite the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, there would be a real danger of the council being swamped from outside, if everybody going into town to work could stand as a candidate. It is possible that the majority of a council, or even its entire membership, could be composed of non-residents, whose main interest would be in the working conditions and not in the residential conditions of the area. My noble friend Lord Silkin made a joke about the emptying of dustbins, and I agree that that is one of the few things where they would have an interest comparable to that of the residents in the life or the community.
If this Amendment were accepted, there could be a position in which the council elected could be wholly unrepresentative of the true interests of the inhabitants. For example, before I came to your Lordships' House, I was representative in another place of two London boroughs, Shoreditch and Finsbury, which were in one Parliamentary constituency. The daytime population of Finsbury was nearly five times as large as the resident population. The interests of those who only work there—and I knew them and met them in my daily avocation—were in things such as transport conditions, parking, recreation grounds. As my noble friend Lord Silkin said, we had a fight about Finsbury Square for City workers. The interests also included the availability of restaurants and canteen facilities; whereas the main interests of the true inhabitants were housing, social services, clubs for old people, meals on wheels, swimming baths, libraries, schools and recreational facilities. They were the interests of 276 of a true community, the people who live there; not the people who just arrive at nine o'clock in the morning and leave at five o'clock, or even those who do a bit of overtime and leave later. It is the people who live there who form the real community. It is for reasons such as those I have mentioned that the Government believe that residence should be the sole qualification for standing for a local authority.
We are proposing, apparently with the agreement of your Lordships, to get rid of all property qualifications for candidature, and we are certainly not in favour of introducing at the same time a fresh non-resident qualification based on employment. We regard it as vital that people serving as councillors in an area should be men and women actually living in it, sending their children to its schools and churches and using the same services. It may be that after the reorganisation (it has been suggested in the debate) many of the people would qualify and may find themselves in a larger unit which also contains their place of work. That will be all well and good when that stage is reached. But when we have the opportunity that we have now in a Representation of the People Bill (we have not had one for twenty years), we take the view that we should stand by our principle that residence should be the sole and sufficient qualification for election. A lot has been said about the difficulty of finding sufficient local authority candidates of adequate calibre. This, I think, is the biggest non-starter of all.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
With great respect to the noble Lord, perhaps it is the fault of the Conservative Party, but all I can say is that, operating in a county borough in the Provinces, we find it is very difficult.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is fair enough. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, agrees with every word that I have said so far. It is said that there is this difficulty of finding sufficient local candidates of adequate calibre. It has been argued that this Amendment would increase the overall number of good candidates. It will do nothing of the kind. Overall, it will not produce a single extra candidate. What it will do will be to increase the competition for 277 candidatures in urban areas, which are already the local authority areas where there is the greatest competition for seats. The Maud Committee say this. The Maud Committee, in referring to the difficulty of getting enough suitable candidates, say that the difficulty is less in the urban areas. It is the urban areas, in the main, where people go into work. These are the areas where it is said we should let them be candidates. What we should do by this Amendment, if it were accepted, would be to improve the candidature position in the areas where it is easiest and make it intensely more difficult in the rural areas where it is at present hardest.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
It is exactly the contrary in Scotland. You can get plenty of candidates in the rural areas and it is very difficult to get them in the city areas.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
I wish to reiterate the same point. As it did not seem to go home, I should just like to say to the noble Lord that the point I was trying to make just now was precisely the opposite.
§ LORD STONHAM
If the noble Lord has the experience that it is so much easier to find candidates in rural areas, it must be over a limited field. The noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, the President of the Rural District Councils Association, is here, and I know he will agree with me that in elections for rural district councillors the proportion of uncontested seats is far higher than in any other form of local authority election. That is the fact. It may not be the same in Scotland—I cannot say about that—but certainly in England and Wales this is the fact. It is also the fact that most opportunities for employment are in urban areas—of course they are. Therefore it must increase the number of candidates in urban areas; and if it increases them there, it decreases them in rural and residential areas.
I hope from what I have said that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, will agree that by his proposal, if it were accepted, we should be saddled with conditions which would be less than democratic, certainly less than the proposals in the Bill, and 278 would provide not more satisfactory, but overall less satisfactory, local government. I hope that in these circumstances the noble Lord will withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD CLITHEROE
Before the noble Lord sits down I should like to ask him one question. I did not quite hear what he said about the reply given by the London Boroughs' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations.
§ LORD STONHAM
I did not refer to either of those organisations. I was answering the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who asked me what the local authorities thought about this proposal. I said that such replies as we have received about this proposal of the Maud Committee from the local authority organisations were unfavourable to it.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
Would the noble Lord be so kind as to tell me whether in fact the local authority associations of Scotland were consulted?
§ LORD STONHAM
I have not that information but so far as the Maud Committee proposals are concerned the noble Lord can be quite certain that any separate local authority associations in Scotland would be consulted.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
Generally, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and I are rather polite to one another across the Floor of the House, and sometimes we even congratulate one another on each other's speeches. I will do my best not to be rude to the noble Lord, but I really cannot congratulate him on the arguments that he has adduced to-day against this new clause. I will not go through them all, but I will single out some of them. He first of all informed your Lordships that the matter had been settled by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, which he described as "unanswerable". Let me answer it straight away. The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, explained how a new situation had arisen in London since the old Loudon County Council area had been enlarged into the Greater London Council area as a result of the Royal Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, maintained that this demolished the case for the new clause. I was under the impression that 279 we were waiting for Royal Commission Reports for the whole of England, Scotland and Wales outside London; and a great part of my case is that, even if what the Government propose to do were right in the absolute, it is completely wrong in the timing. We have not got—and we certainly shall not get until the forthcoming Report of the Royal Commission has led to legislation, even if we get it then—the same situation in the rest of the country which the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, described as such a great improvement in the case of Greater London.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, went on, as I understood him, to allege that something new had had to be thought of, presumably by me, to meet a new situation. Well, it seems to me not really a bad qualification to be ready to think up something new to meet a new situation. But let me say, if I have not emphasised it sufficiently before, that it was not I who thought this up: it was the Maud Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, poured utter scorn on our introducing now a completely new qualification into the sphere of local government. This, it must be remembered, comes from a Government who claim to be progressive and reformist: that you can damn a proposal on the ground that it is completely new. Has one ever heard of such rubbish?
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Lord is speaking with somewhat less than his usual fairness. I simply pointed out that this was an entirely new proposal. I condemned it, indeed I think I slaughtered it, on other grounds.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I had not finished with the noble Lord. He went on to say later in his speech that a local council which might be elected if this new clause was adopted might be wholly unrepresentative of the interests of the residents. Now this is a strange situation. It will have been elected exclusively by the residents. I should have thought that it was really rather insulting to the process of democracy for him to insinuate that the residents would be completely ignorant as to who could best represent them. They would have had ample opportunity to decide. If they belonged to political organisations, and if political organisations are active in 280 their local government, they will have had full opportunity to consider various possible candidates and to select one or more of them. Then the whole electorate, which will in future consist exclusively of residents, will have had full opportunity by secret ballot to decide whom they would best like to represent them. How can that produce a council that is wholly unrepresentative of the interests of the residents?
The noble Lord sought to make fun of my noble friend Lord Gisborough about "no taxation without representation". The important point here is that the electors are the people who are paying the taxes, or rather the rates; and I submit that they should not be unduly restricted in the people whom they elect to represent them. And if they have already found by experience that certain men and women are very good at the job, it seems peculiarly hard that Parliament should step in and say, "No; those people from henceforth must be excluded".
I will speak very shortly, but may I just remind your Lordships again of what the Maud Committee said. It is completely contrary to statements which have been made by individual noble Lords opposite—and of course their opinions must be respected. On the other hand, I submit to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that the conclusions of the Maud Committee should also be respected. This was a body of 18 persons set up by the present Government, who arrived at complete unanimity on this point. I am now going to read out what they said:Many people may have just as much interest in the area in which they work as in the area in which they live and this should be recognised. The effect of the law is to exclude some people who might be valuable candidates for election to local authorities particularly in urban areas".My new clause is based on those conclusions of the Maud Committee. I do not think that the drafting of the new clause is as desperately had as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, sought to suggest; but I explained precisely why I moved it in these terms, and I am quite certain that if the draftsman subsequently found flaws in it they could be corrected.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, adduced as, I think it was, his last and conclusive argument the statement that 281 the local authority associations were against this proposal. I have a letter signed by the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations dated January 21, 1969—that is a fortnight ago. Referring to the Maud Committee's recommendation that those with a principal place of work in the area of an authority should be eligible to stand, the letter states:The Association feels it unfortunate that local government should be deprived of the possibility of seeking the widest field from which its representatives may be drawn; and hopes that the matter can still be the subject of debate and that further thoughts on the Government's part will yet prevail".That is, of course, after the proceedings in another place. I have a still more recent letter signed by the Secretary of the County Council's Association, the other of the principal local authority associations in England and Wales. This
was written on January 29, after the new clause we are now debating had been tabled. The letter refers particularly to
the new clause (Place of work qualification in local government) which you"—
that is, myself—
seek to have inserted in Clause 14. I write to inform you of the Association's support for your amendment".
That is my last word. This clause has the written support of both the main local authority associations of England and Wales. I hope that your Lordships will convince the Government in the Lobby that this new clause should be added to the Bill.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 97; Not-Contents, 40.283
|Airedale, L.||Dundonald, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Polwarth, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Falmouth, V.||Portsmouth, Bp.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Ferrers, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gainsborough, E.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Audley, Bs.||Gisborough, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Royle, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Gray, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Belstead, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Hawke, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Henley, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Boston, L.||Hertford, M.||Sandford, L.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Silkin, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Ilford, L.||Sinclair of Cleeve, L.|
|Byers, L.||Jacques, L.||Somers, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Stamp, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Lambert, V.||Strang, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Lansdowne, M.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Mancroft, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mersey, V.||Wade, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Digby, L.||Monson, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Moyne, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Addison, V.||Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Fiske, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Carron, L.||Francis-Williams, L.|
|Birk, Bs.||Champion, L.||Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Bowles, L.||Collison, L.||Garnsworthy, L.|
|Brown, L.||Crook, L.||Hall, V.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Delacourt-Smith, L.||Hilton of Upton, L.|
|Burden, L.||Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Latham, L.||Phillips, Bs. [Teller.]||Shepherd, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Popplewell, L.||Snow, L.|
|Lindgren, L.||Raglan, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|McLeavy, L.||St. Davids, V.||Stonham, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Serota, Bs. [Teller.]||Strabolgi, L.|
|Moyle, L.||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Williamson, L.|
Moved, accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 15 [Non-resident and property qualifications in local government]:
§ 7.7 p.m.
LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 12, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("the") in line 23.
§ The noble Lord said: I hope it will be for the convenience of your Lordships to take with this Amendment also Amendments 14 and 15. We now come to a consideration of Clause 15, and of course we will bear in mind that the new clause immediately preceding it has now been added to the Bill. The effect of these three Amendments—if indeed they are correctly drafted—is to retain the nonresident qualification for voting at local government elections, which of course carries with it a qualification to be elected to, and to serve on, the local authority. I would point out to your Lordships that the Amendments do not seek to defeat the intention of the clause at it stands in respect of the property qualification. I am not proposing to delete from the Bill the abolition of the property qualification for election to, or membership of, a local authority.
§ The important difference between this trio of Amendments and the new clause which we have been discussing hitherto is that here we are for the first time dealing with qualifications for voting. As I was at pains to point out in the debate on the new clause, the carrying of that new clause does not add a single person to the register of electors. It is true that if the latter part of the Amendment to Clause 15, put down by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, were to be discussed and accepted, that would increase the number of electors, but I understand the noble Lord is not moving his Amendment.
§ So here we are discussing the qualifications for voting. I should be the first to say that the non-resident qualification for voting is not altogether logical. I 284 am referring now to the law as it stands in the Representation of the People Act. The non-resident qualification secures a vote at local government elections for anybody who occupies, either as tenant or owner, premises of a certain minimum character in the area. Under this Act it has been the law in local government elections for many years that, for example, partners in firms are able to claim a local government vote, but directors of public companies cannot claim a vote under this qualification nor can anybody else concerned with a limited company. One may ask—and I am putting the case against myself now, so as to make the situation clear—why partners in firms should have a vote while limited companies do not. In fact this has been the law for a considerable time, and though it would be more logical to grant this non-resident qualification vote to directors of limited companies also, that has never been done.
§ We are therefore left with a proposal by the Government to abolish a vote which has, I would say, principally advantaged shopkeepers and partners in private firms; but if the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, indicates that there are a considerable number of other categories of people who are affected I will certainly accept that from him. I always think of it as solicitors and accountants and shopkeepers who are particularly entitled to take advantage of this nonresident qualification, commonly called the business vote.
§ I agree with the system of one man, one vote, and indeed that principle is maintained by the non-resident qualification nobody can have two votes in the same area. If he has the business vote he cannot exercise a residential vote at an election of the same local authority; and I am sure that is right. There can be no objection if he exercises two votes at local government elections, because, even if those elections happen to take place on the same day, they must be for different local authorities; and he is probably a ratepayer in both. He is certainly a business ratepayer in one, 285 and may be a residential ratepayer in the other; but in the great majority of cases he will be a ratepayer in both.
§ This non-resident qualification for voting has been of particular importance to local government in the country as a whole, because until now it is only through this non-resident qualification vote that these large numbers of valuable members of local authorities, around whose future our last debate revolved, were qualified to stand for the council and sit on it. They got their qualification for membership via their qualification to vote. Now the situation has been changed by the passing of the new clause a minute or two ago. It is important, even though the qualification for membership has been changed by that new clause, to examine the effect of the abolition of the non-residential qualification on voting, and that is what I particularly want to do in this debate.
§ Clause 15, if it goes through unamended, will exclude from the registers of electors entitled to vote at local government elections some 150,000 people in England and Wales as a whole. That is a very small percentage of the whole. I am speaking only of England and Wales, and I think it is of the order of one halt of 1 per cent. I certainly would not argue that the reduction of the total size of the electorate by that amount was going to make any fundamental difference to the good health of local government throughout England and Wales. But what I suggest your Lordships need to address your minds to is the radical, almost devastating, effect this is going to have in certain places, because of course that small percentage reduction is not spread evenly over the country as a whole. It is principally in wards of large cities that the abolition of the non-resident qualification to vote would be likely to cause a substantial reduction in the electorate. According to my information, in the Ladywood ward of Birmingham the electorate would fall by about 8½ per cent. In the Central Ward of Liverpool the electorate would be cut by just on 20 per cent. In the St. Peter's Ward of Manchester it would be cut by no less than 44 per cent. These are cases taken from outside Greater London. There are similar cases in Greater London. There are two wards in the City of Westminster where the electorate would be cut by 286 about 30 per cent. There is one ward in Camden where it would be cut by 30 per cent., and one ward where it would be cut by 12½ per cent. And there would be others where it would be cut by amounts ranging from 5 per cent. to 10 per cent.
§ I want to ask the Government whether they have given serious attention to the effect this will have on the democratic structure. Quite clearly, if you disfranchise 44 per cent. of the electors in a ward the remaining 56 per cent. are going to be grossly over-represented on the local authority in relation to the other wards. I have seen no sign that the Government have given any attention to this. That is my first purpose, to ask what the Government propose to do about that if the clause goes through unamended.
§ My second purpose—and here, of course, we come to the question of principle—is to demolish the argument that the business premises vote means any departure from the principle of one man, one vote. It does not. It is common sense to regard each local authority as a separate entity, and that is done by the law as it stands. It is ridiculous, in my submission, to say that because a man has a vote in one local authority he cannot vote at the elections for another local authority where he also has an interest.
§ My Lords, in view of the prolonged debate which we have just had on the new clause, I will not develop the argument here further. I hope that I have made clear the fundamental distinction there is between this set of Amendments to Clause 15 and the new clause to which your Lordships have already agreed, and I invite the Government to withdraw any suggestion that the non-resident vote in local government infringes the principle of one man one vote. I also ask them how they are going to defend the gross over-representation which will occur in certain wards if this clause goes through unamended and there is this dramatic reduction of the electorate in those wards. I beg to move.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for suggesting that we should deal with these three Amendments in one discussion, since they hang together. If these Amendments 287 were accepted it would mean that the non-resident owner-occupier or the nonresident tenant occupier of property would have both a vote and the right to stand in a local government election, but the non-occupying owner of property, as now provided in the Bill, would not by reason of his ownership of property, have the right to stand as a candidate. To this extent, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, at least by implication, has conceded the validity of the argument I advanced on Second Reading against the qualification merely through ownership of property. Nevertheless, I think that his proposals are the reverse of democracy as I understand it, and would create a number of new anomalies.
The Government are firmly convinced (this is the basic principle underlying Clause 15) that true democracy consists of, and insists that, the right to vote and the right to stand as a candidate at a local government election for a particular local authority should be based on residence in the area of that local authority, and that mere occupation without residence is not sufficient. If a person does not live in the area of a local authority it is probably because he does not wish to do so. There may be all sorts of reasons for that. In our earlier discussion one noble Baroness said that it is because he wants his children to live in more lively surroundings and to get more fresh air. That is quite understandable—fine. My noble friend Lord Silkin mentioned an employee of his who, for health reasons, had to live at the seaside. There are all sorts of reasons of that kind why people do not live near their work.
§ LORD SILKIN
I also mentioned the large numbers of cases of people who have actually been deprived of their homes and rehoused outside on new council estates.
§ LORD STONHAM
It is the case that some people would sooner live in a slum than in a new house. But this matter concerns the general interest of the community at large, and the local authority 288 decides whether slum property should be pulled down. If as a result of that decision people have to move to another area, certainly in my experience—and it is a considerable experience dealing with these matters as a Member of another place—the great majority of people are most anxious to make that kind of move, out of a slum into a decent dwelling.
But whatever are the reasons, it a person does not live in the area of a local authority it is probably because, on balance, he does not wish to live there. Perhaps because of circumstances or his own preference, or because of the particular circumstances of his family, he desires to live somewhere else. The reason why he wishes to live somewhere else is because his main interest in community life (which means his main interest in the effects of local government) lie elsewhere; they lie in the area in which he lives and where, for that reason, he will have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate. It is all very well to quote some hard cases but this is the generality, the overwhelming majority. I say that if he is the occupier of a lockup shop, or a professional man with an office (and these are the only classes of people for whom, in his Amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is demanding these rights), his interests, in the case of a proprietor or tenant of a lock-up shop in the area where his shop is, end when he turns the key in the door and he goes home, and his true local authority interests begin only when he gets home.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, quoted examples which I know he will agree were exceptional, of areas where an exceptionally high percentage of the present electorate were non-resident. He used an extraordinary expression. He said that this meant that there was gross over-representation compared with other boroughs.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. There will be great over-representation of the surviving electorate in those wards, compared with the representation on the same council of the electors in other wards which have not been reduced in number in a similar way.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is what I thought the noble Lord meant. But I 289 do not regard that as "gross overrepresentation". In both cases it is 100 per cent. residential representation. Under the Bill as it stands at present they would all be residents. So in both cases it is 100 per cent. residential representation.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I am sorry if I have still not made myself clear. While I was Home Secretary I had to deal with the fixing of new ward boundaries in order to try to get reasonable uniformity of representation throughout a city. This was necessary because of departures of population from central areas, and so on. What I am seeking to point out is that the Government are, by legislation, proposing a drastic reduction of the electorate in some central wards, whereas the electorate in other wards will be hardly affected. Therefore unfairness in representation will be created as between one ward and another.
§ LORD STONHAM
I fully understood the noble Lord right from the very beginning. This is not a difference of understanding; it is a difference of principle. The Government say that residence should be the qualification for voting and for standing as a candidate. The noble Lord disagrees with that. He wants to make one kind of exception, and one only, for a non-resident vote and a non-resident candidature (I am leaving out for the moment the discussion we had on the new clause); and that class is the non-resident occupying tenant or the non-resident occupying owner. I think the noble Lord said 44 per cent. If in one place 44 per cent. of the present electorate are non-resident occupying tenants or owners, then I say that the area is not properly represented, because it is not represented adequately by residents; and if that 44 per cent. do not have a vote—as under this Bill they will not by reason of being occupying tenants—then all right; they can have a vote, and they can stand for the council in their own areas.
The noble Lord asked me, on the abolition of the non-resident franchise and the effect of it, what was the Government's policy. Ladywood is very much a case in point. I think the Parliamentary electorate at Ladywood is only 25,000—it is exceptionally small—and the noble Lord said, I think, that in that area 8½ 290 per cent. of the people would by this provision be disenfranchised. This is something I would accept with equanimity. The remedy would be to re-draw the ward boundaries, and the noble Lord, with his vast experience of this, knows that that is precisely what will happen. The local authorities will make proposals to the Home Secretary and they will go through the procedure, the kind of procedure which I have on my desk almost every day of the week, and that is what will happen. So, except that we are fundamentally apart in principle on this matter, I think that what the noble Lord has said about these distortions in particular places are arguments not for but against his Amendment.
I would ask your Lordships to consider what I regard as the anomalies and injustices which the noble Lord's proposal would create if it were accepted. I am sure the noble Lord will agree there are three classes of non-resident person who are interested in the occupation of property. One is the occupying owner or tenant who would be enfranchised by this Amendment, if it were accepted. Secondly, there are the officers or members of a company or public body who would not be enfranchised by this Amendment. They would not get the vote; they would not have the right to stand as candidates. Yet rates have to be paid for the premises in respect of both types, and the interests of a director of a company or a public body in the area in which he works (and I think the noble Lord said this in our earlier discussion) are, so far as they exist, as great as those of the self-employed tenant of a shop.
There is a third class of interested occupant, and that is the worker, the employee in all these premises, but wile lives outside the area of the local authority. Such people also have the same interest as the self-employed tenant, because their livelihood is also gained in the area; yet the Amendment would not give them the vote. I know the noble Lord is thinking that if the new clause which the Committee has just passed stands they will at least be able to stand as a candidate, but he must agree that that is another anomaly. That is, they are sort of "half-men". They could stand as candidates but would not have a vote, whereas, the small proprietor who keeps a café and 291 just locks the door would have a vote and could stand as a candidate. The woman who serves behind the counter could not. This is the kind of anomaly which the noble Lord's Amendment would create.
I submit that it would be quite wrong to create these injustices, and to do so largely on the slogan of "No taxation without representation". All the three classes of person I have mentioned have representation in the areas where they pay the rates for the houses in which they live. I think the Bill must surely be right in insisting on residence as the qualification, and in treating all three classes of worker alike.
The other major argument advanced in favour of this Amendment is that it will enable a number of good and experienced members of local authorities to continue to serve on those authorities, even if they reside outside the area. I accept that this would be true of some of them. But they can, of course, seek election to the local authority in whose area they do reside, and doubtless they will do a good job there. We do not for a moment accept that Clause 15, as it stands, would have the effect that there would not be enough capable people willing to serve. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, quite correctly quoted the figure of about 150,000 people who are registered for the non-resident franchise. That compares with more than 35 million local government electors represented by virtue of residence. Thirty-five million compared with 150,000. That means that for every one non-resident vote there are 230 people with a resident vote. Is it seriously to be argued that local authority government, even in some of these special places which the noble Lord mentions, will collapse, or even be seriously impaired, if one man out of every 230 is left out? Surely someone equally good can be found among the 230.
On Second Reading I mentioned that some of these long serving non-resident councillors might be preventing the emergence of eminently suitable local and perhaps younger people. That suggestion did not meet with much approval. I was challenged on it, but I maintain that it is true. Most of us have been through the political mill and we know what happens. The political Parties and ratepayers' 292 associations are understandably loth to discontinue support for people who have given them long service, even though the main interest of those people now—and it is true: I have seen it and regretted it so often—is to serve on the council, and they have little or no experience of what living in the borough is really like. As I say, the noble Lord's Amendment seeks, although in a slightly different form, to perpetuate an anachronism. That is something your Lordships have shown an increasing unwillingness to do. I feel very strongly about this matter. I think it is right, and I hope your Lordships will agree with me, that the only fair and democratic basis for the local government franchise is residence. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that and will agree to withdraw his Amendment.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
The noble Lord really cannot have it both ways. On this occasion he is criticising me for seeking to preserve what exists; a few minutes ago on my new clause he was belabouring me because I was proposing something new. The noble Lord has had a hard day to-day, I know. To this trio of Amendments he has given a reply, part of which was based on the supposition that the previous new clause had not been added to the Bill. But it has been added to the Bill, and that will in fact bring into eligibility for membership of the council a considerable number, maybe almost all—I do not know—of those who would otherwise be rendered ineligible by Clause 15, if my Amendments were not accepted. He had started his reply to me by producing a number of arguments to convince me that the non-resident qualification for voting was not wholly logical. I had in fact stated that, in terms, at the beginning of my speech, so I needed no convincing of it.
I am not going to press this Amendment to-night. I do not know whether that surprises the Government, but I have come to that conclusion for three reasons which I shall explain: first, if we had not got the non-resident qualification now I doubt whether we should invent it, because, as the noble Lord and I are in agreement, it is not wholly logical in its present operation. Secondly, when 293 I asked him what the Government proposed to do about the anomalous situation that would be created in some wards, he gave me at last the answer which I was expecting and hoping to receive at the beginning; namely, that there would be a strong case for re-warding. I think I am entitled to ask that if a local authority makes re-warding proposals at an early date arising out of the fact that the electorate of certain wards will be considerably reduced by this Bill, the Government should assist that local authority in getting the re-warding carried through in time for the next register of electors which will reflect the changes made in this Bill.
§ LORD STONHAM
I can promise the utmost good will on this particular point, but, as the noble Lord is fully aware, when these proposals are made, if they are not contested or opposed they will go through quickly. If they are contested, the Home Secretary may well have to appoint a commission of inquiry, and only then can t decision be made. But, subject to that, we will do our utmost to assist.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I appreciate what the noble Lord says. I understand exactly what must happen when there are objections, but I think that he and I are at one in our knowledge that his Department can expedite matters, and that, I hope, will be done. Otherwise, clearly, on the first register of electors after Clause 15 has taken effect, there would be some wards which would have suffered a drastic reduction of their electors. I am not arguing whether or not that is justifiable, but it would be a fact, and would be something which anybody who was considering the warding of a borough would have to take into account.
The conclusive reason why I am not proposing to press these Amendments is this. As I said earlier in our discussions, I always think that the principal occasion when it is right for your Lordships' House to take action which may be contrary to a decision previously taken in another place is when there seems to your Lordships a very strong case for asking that further consideration should be given to the matter, after an interval of thought, in another place. I have read all the 294 debates in another place and it has become crystal clear to me that this question of the non-resident voting qualification is one on which the Government stand stubbornly firm. Therefore I do not think that there is the slightest chance that the Government would be persuaded to alter their view, even if we were to proceed to carry these Amendments in your Lordships' House. I felt quite differently about pressing the new clause, because that did not seem to me to be in any way in conflict with the main principles of the Government's declared thinking on the Bill as a whole; but I frankly believe that it would be a waste of time if we were to send this Bill back to another place with these three Amendments made in it. With that as my principal reason, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ Clauses 16 and 17 agreed to.
§ Clause 18 [Timing of elections, and of steps at elections]:
§ 7.46 p.m.
LORD STONHAM moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 14, line 14, after ("means") insert ("any bank holiday not included in the Christmas break or the Easter break and")
§ The noble Lord said: I should like to take with Amendment No. 17, Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 20, which relate to the same point. Their purpose is to prevent the timetable at General Elections being held up for more than one day by reason of bank holidays peculiar to Scotland (other than New Year's Day) or to Northern Ireland.
§ Clause 18 amends the somewhat cumbrous provisions of the existing law for the computation of time for election purposes by introducing in subsections (2), (3) and (4) the concept of a "Christmas break", "Easter break" and "bank holiday break". A "bank holiday break" will normally consist of three days; that is to say, the week-day before the bank holiday, the bank holiday itself and the week-day after the bank holiday. This will work very well so far as concerns bank holidays in England and Wales, where bank holidays are by custom and use treated as general 295 holidays. In Scotland, however, and to a lesser degree in Northern Ireland, bank holidays (other than New Year's Day in Scotland) tend to be little more than days on which the banks are closed. In so far as bank holidays in Scotland and Northern Ireland are common with those in England and Wales, this does not matter, but there are certain bank holidays peculiar to Scotland and Northern Ireland which are not common with those in England and Wales. These are in Scotland (or will be from 1971) the first Monday in May and the first Monday in August; and in Northern Ireland March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) and July 12. It would be awkward if a General Election timetable in which one of those days fell had to be extended by three days throughout the United Kingdom instead of the one day which (particularly having regard to Scotland) is all that is necessary.
§ The Amendments to Clause 18 redefine a "bank holiday break" accordingly and the proviso to be inserted at page 14, line 16, specifically applies the full bank holiday break only to New Year's Day and bank holidays in England and Wales. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that the Amendments have been discussed and agreed with the Scottish Home and Health Department and with the Ministry of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland, and we have secured Ministerial approval. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 15, leave out ("a") and insert ("that").—(Lord Stonham.)
§ LORD STONHAM: I beg to move Amendment No. 19.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 14, line 16, at end insert—
("Provided that so much of this paragraph as includes in a bank holiday break a period before and after a bank holiday shall not apply to bank holidays, other than New Year's Day, which are not bank holidays in England and Wales.").—(Lord Stonham.)
Page 14, line 21, after ("(2)") insert ("and shall not include the proviso").—(Lord Stonham.)
§ Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ LORD BESWICK
We have made quite good progress on this Bill this evening, and I hope it will be agreeable to resume the House at this point. Again, if it is acceptable to other noble Lords. I hope it will be possible for us to continue with the Schedules on Tuesday, when we can probably finish the Bill.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
That is quite acceptable to me, and I think we should be able to finish the Bill. But I hope that the Bill will not be put down as the last business on that day, because there is miscellaneous business which might drag on for some time, and this Bill is probably rather more important than that.
§ LORD BESWICK
I hesitate to put all Scottish business down under the heading of "miscellaneous", but I accept what the noble Lord said, and I hope it will be possible to have the Bill down as, at any rate, the second item of business on Tuesday. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ House resumed.