§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
It was my desire that this Bill should be introduced without any preliminary statement, because I felt that it would be more convenient both for the purpose of explaining and of criticising so highly technical a measure if hon. Members had the text of it in their hands. But the Leader of the Opposition, in the exercise of his undoubted right, has claimed that a preliminary statement should be made. In asking leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law of registration mainly of Parliamentary voters—but of course the Bill applies to other voters as well—I think it is right to recall the attention of the House to what the present system is—what are its defects, and what are the proposals the Government make for the amendment of those defects. Registration is not franchise. It is simply the official declaration, or perhaps I may call it the legal certificate, of the right to exercise the franchise, and that the conditions which the Legislature has prescribed before that right is admitted have been fulfilled. Our franchise to-day for the election of Members of Parliament, putting aside all minor franchises, practically rests on three grounds: A man is entitled to vote either in respect of property that he owns or of property that he occupies, or of his residence in a house or in a lodging. It is not necessary for the purposes of this Debate that I should trouble the House with a precise statement as to the limits of these three franchises; but it is necessary to hear in mind the ownership franchise, the occupation franchise, and the residential franchise, in order to follow me in my explanation of the conditions which the law requires before anyone can be registered in respect of either of these franchises. So far as ownership is concerned, I can state them in one sentence. Owners who have not acquired their qualification by descent, or succession, or marriage, must have been in possession of their qualification 1878 for a period of not less than six months in the case of freeholds, and of not less than 12 months in the case of leaseholds, both of these periods expiring on July 15. The House will, therefore, see that there is a qualifying period in the case of the ownership franchise. The occupation franchise is technically different from the household franchise, being a survival of the Reform Act franchise of 1832. The occupation franchise requires a twelve months' occupation, ending also on the 15th July, and it has a further qualification, namely, that the assessed taxes due in respect of the qualifying premises before the 5th of the preceding January shall have been paid before the 20th of the following July. These are the two main conditions referring to the owner-ship and occupation franchises. Then we come to the third and most important so far as number is concerned, aye, and so far as peace and order is concerned—the residential franchise, that incorporates nearly the whole of the electorate. An occupier, in order to be entitled to vote, must have possessed his qualification for 12 months before July 15. He must have been rated, or be "deemed to have been rated," for the poor rate in respect of his qualifying premises for 12 months before July 15, and all poor rates due in respect of such premises before January 5 must have been paid before July 20. The other franchise is the lodger franchise; and a person, in order to be registered as a lodger, must for 12 months before July 15 have occupied his lodging, and he must claim annually. These are the conditions which the Legislature has imposed before a man, who is entitled to the franchise either by virtue of ownership or occupation, has his name placed upon the roll. The present system of registration is this: The clerk of the County Council in a county, or the town clerk in a borough, early in the Spring sent a precept to the overseers of every parish, as the officers responsible for the collection of the poor rate, instructing them to make out the list of electors. In many parishes—I think I may say in half the parishes of England and Wales—there is an officer called the assistant-overseer, a paid officer, and, of course, the duty is done by him. When they have received this precept the over- 1879 seers are bound to publish and serve various notices, which are detailed in the Order in Council which forms the Code of our registration system, in order to ascertain the names of the voters. The various processes having been concluded, the lists of those entitled to vote have to be published on August 1. Then every elector whose name is not on the list, and whose name ought to be there, can send in his claim to the overseer; and any objection to any name in the list can be made by any elector also on the list sending notice of his objection both to the overseer and to the person objected to. The next stage of the procedure is the holding of the Court of the revising barrister, by whom these various questions are decided. He adjudicates on the claims and on the objections; he makes up the lists of voters, and signs them. They are then formed into Registers by the clerk of the County Council in a county, or the town clerk in a borough, and are forwarded by them to the returning officers of County or Town Council elections. This proceeding lasts, practically, into October. The register comes into force for Parliamentary purposes and for County Council elections on January 1; but it comes into force for municipal purposes on November 1. I will now explain to the House the machinery we propose to adopt, and I will ask the House to consider what are the objections, in the first place, to the conditions of the rating requirements, and then the objections in regard to the machinery. It is rather a technical question; but I intend to ask the House to make substantial enactments with reference both to rating and the payment of rates, and it is necessary, therefore, I should explain the present anomalous state of the law. The requirements that persons should be rated for the qualifying premises was enacted in 1832 and 1867, and in this latter year the great conflict with reference to the compound householder was raised. The Act of 1867 has now been rendered nugatory so far as rating is concerned, for in 1869 a Bill was brought in by the then President of the Poor Law Board, by which it was provided that the name of the occupier should be entered in the rate book, even if the owner was liable for and paid the rate; and even if the name of the occupier was not on the rate book, 1880 he was nevertheless to be entitled to vote. The paper barrier of a rating qualification, which was set up in 1832 and 1867, was swept away in 1869, and finally abolished in 1884. Still the antiquated and complicated machinery in reference to the payment of rates continued. The requirement of the payment of rates was enacted in 1832, and again in 1867, but by the Act of 1869 the omnipotence of Parliament decreed that the payment of the rates by the owner should be deemed payment by the occupier. The payment of assessed taxes was provided for only by the Reform Act of 1832, it being enacted that the voter in respect of £10 premises must pay all the assessed taxes payable by him with respect to those premises. The only assessed tax now payable is the House Tax. By recent enactment the payment of that is only due on houses, as distinct from shops and other business premises, of £20 annual valuation and upwards. But the sole occupier of such a house acquires the household franchise under the Act of 1867, which does not require the payment of assessed taxes. Consequently, the only two cases where assessed taxes have to be paid to gain the franchise are (1) that of two or more joint occupiers of a dwelling house of £20 and upwards; (2) that of an occupier but not an inhabitant for 12 months of a £20 house. These are the objections to the conditions of rating. Now, what are the objections to the length of the qualifying period? The House will remember that a man must have been in occupation and 12 months, expiring on the 15th of July. The objection to that is obvious, that the occupier could not practically get his vote until the lapse, on the average, of two years after he has gone into occupation of the premises. I will put a case with which I am familiar. A large section of the Nonconformists—the Wesleyan Methodists—in the country change their ministers every three years. The change takes place in the month of September, and this anomalous state of things arises: that a Methodist minister entering into possession of his qualifying premises, on September 20, 1890, when July, 1891, came had not been in possession 12 months, and therefore could make no claim to be put on the register till after July 15, 1892, although he had been in 1881 possession from the preceding September 12 months; and as the 1892 register did not come into force until January 1, 1893, he could not have voted at the General Election which took place in July, 1892. These cases are numbered not only by hundreds but by thousands. It is only the man who commences his tenancy on July 15 who is able to avail himself of the minimum 12 months' qualification. Practically, however, there is a minimum of 18 months and a maximum of two years and three months before a qualified householder is able to exercise the franchise. Such a state of things ought not to exist. There is another objection to this qualifying period. If a voter changes his residence from one electoral area to another, he has to go all through the process again, as his vote depends on the register of the district into which he a moves. The same thing applies in the case of lodgers. The moment there is any break in the continuity of the qualification, time whole disappears. Then another objection is that If an elector in one area changes his residence to another he cannot transfer his vote to the second area. I will now allude to some of the objections that are entertained to the existing machinery. The first objection is the lists is imposed upon the overseers—that the main part of the duty of preparing officials not in all cases the fittest persons to fulfil such functions. They are unpaid, they change office periodically, and have not, therefore, the advantage of cumulative experience nor of the motive of remuneration. I do not cast any reflection upon these gentlemen, but I think that to cast the duty of making out the Voters' Lists upon them is absurd, and, to use a common expression, it is played out. My next objection is that the lists are so inaccurate that many persons have to claim, while others are subjected to objections, the bulk of which are purely technical. The consequence of the imperfections in the lists is that, in order to correct them, we must endure a costly and vexatious system of claims and objections, followed by attendance in the Revising Barrister's Court. To a certain class of voter this may be unimportant, but there is a mass of artizans and labourers to whom such a loss of time must be a severe pecuniary fine. There is another objection of, perhaps, even greater force—that in our 1882 present system the accuracy of the register depends mainly on the activity of election agents. This is objectionable in principle and mischievous in practice. Political organisations are formed for the purpose of discharging this duty, which ought to be discharged by the public; the result is, that extensive political machinery is set in motion with the object of striking off the register assumed political opponents and putting on assumed supporters. It is found worth while to scatter objections broadcast upon the calculation that a certain percentage of voters who are objected to would be disinclined to sustain their right, and so at a comparatively small expense a great political advantage may often be gained. The power of revising barristers to award costs when objections fail is insufficiently exercised. There are other objections also to the present system. For instance, it is impossible to discriminate between money spent in registration and money which, under the pretext of attending to registration, is practically employed to corrupt a constituency. The system imposes a very heavy tax upon candidates and Members. I do not think we should fine candidates before they are elected, and Members after their election, by compelling them to subscribe to Party Associations, which, as we know, are conducted for the purpose of performing what is really a public duty. The subject has been discussed frequently since 1868, when a Committee was appointed to consider it; and since the election of the present Parliament last July two important Bodies, representing both sides of political thought, have expressed their views upon it. The Trades Union Congress in Glasgow last autumn agreed that legislation should be promoted for reducing the qualifying period to three months, and that there should be registration Officers responsible for the placing of qualified persons on the register. Then there was a great gathering of the Conservative Party in Birmingham, at which it was pointed out very forcibly that a revision of the Registration Laws was urgently called for, and that all those to whom the State had given the right to vote should be able to obtain the opportunity of exercising that right with as little difficulty as possible. Well, Sir, I think there are many on this side of the House who 1883 believe, with the great Conservative Party, that the present machinery of registration demands amendment. It becomes the duty of the Government to propose remedies for the existing defects of the law. I have been asked by many to bring in a Bill to codify or consolidate the Registration Laws; but there are at least 100 Acts of Parliament relating to the subject, and to attempt consolidation would have the effect of postponing reform. Then it has been suggested that I should introduce a measure dealing with the plural, or multiple, vote; but that has really nothing to do with registration, and will be dealt with separately. I have also been asked to include in the Bill clauses for the improvement of the method of holding elections; but this is not an election Bill, and, however great an improvement it may be to arrange that all elections should take place on the same day, the subject cannot find a place in the present measure, which is confined simply and solely to the reform of registration. The Committee of 1868 recommended—and pressed very strongly—the adoption of the Scotch system, which is certainly far better than that in force here. It is not possible, however, to adapt to the case of England without alteration the whole method of Scotch registration. The Government propose to effect changes in the law both with respect to the conditions precedent to registration and with respect to the machinery of registration. They propose to abolish the conditions with reference to rating, to repeal the legal provisions requiring either the payment of assessed rates or poor rates. The present conditions with reference to rating press very hardly upon the Service voters enfranchised in 1884. A landlord can, in fact, prevent his servants from voting by not paying his rates before July 20. That we consider indefensible, and it is a condition of things that ought not to be allowed. I may say in one sentence that the Government propose to abolish this serious defect as to rating. The next difficulty is with regard to the period of qualification. In this connection I wish to refer to some remarks made by the late Prime Minister on the first night of the Session. Lord Salisbury said—Some residence, I do not say how much, is absolutely necessary in order to prevent that 1884 which is a rapidly growing evil, the evil of personation. It is only because people are, known by their neighbours that it is possible to guard against the danger of personation.What I desire, Sir, to point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite is that Lord Salisbury's defence of the qualifying period is a defence of it as machinery rather than a defence of its principle. I do not see that any long period of time is necessary. Our plan is that the householder is to have a vote. Why should it be necessary for him to be a householder of 18 months' or two years' standing? You might as well say that he shall be a married man with a family. Guided by the practical experience of those who are best acquainted with the question, the Government have come to the conclusion that the period of qualification should be reduced to one uniform period of three months ending on the 24th June. We propose to reduce the qualification for all electors of whatever description, because we consider it quite time that all differences should be put an end to. Having practically got rid of the question of paying the rates, we propose one qualifying period of three months, ending on the 24th June in each year, which will remove all the difficulties arising under existing enactments, which refer to "the 15th day of July or before the 15th day of July." Then we propose, with reference to this qualifying period, that successive and different qualifications in the same electoral area shall be sufficient. By this means an elector is made eligible if he occupies different premises, partly as occupier and partly as lodger, or if he occupies the different premises partly as householder and partly as lodger, or if he has occupied the same premises on those terms, not an infrequent case. We do not propose to deal with successive occupation when the elector removes during the three months from one area to another. That may have been necessary with a 12 months' or 18 months' qualifying period, but the necessity is obviated, it appears to me, with the period of three mouths. I will point out to the House that if we allow successive occupiers in different electoral areas, it may result in electoral gerrymandering. To allow an elector to remove from one lodging into another in a different area a week before the 24th June would be very undesirable. 1885 Then the Government propose to abolish the obligation of lodgers to send in a claim in order to be put on the register. The practice which has hitherto prevailed has been to put a great many obstacles in the way of people exercising the franchise after they have been given the franchise. The lodger franchise is no doubt a novel franchise, and the law is not so generous in respect to the facilities for lodgers as it is to householders. It compels the lodger not only to send in his claim, but to renew it once every year. The Government, however, consider the same inquiry should be made in respect to the lodger as is made at the present time with regard to householders. When a man is entitled to be put on the register he shall be put on, even if he does not send in a claim. Overseers at present are bound to ascertain from the landlords, and the landlords are bound to tell them, under a penalty, the name of the occupier of the houses which are let to other persons. There seems to us no reason why this obligation should not extend to persons entitled to vote as lodgers. The Government proposes that the separate list for lodgers shall cease, and that they shall be included under the head of Inhabiting Occupiers. I now come to the question of machinery, and I will state very briefly what is proposed. The Government proposes that in future the registration of electors in all its stages shall be entrusted to a new class of officials, to be called the Superintendent and District Registrars of Electors. We propose that a Superintendent Registrar shall be appointed for every Parliamentary area, and upon this Superintendent Registrar will devolve the duties of the Clerk of the Peace and the Town Clerk under our existing system. We propose that the District Registrars shall take the place of Overseers. The notices which are now given by the Overseers in all the lists which they prepare are in future to be given and prepared by the District Registrar. We provide that all Overseers, Assistant Overseers, Vestry Clerks, rate collectors, and other Local Authorities will be required to give such aid and information and produce such rate and other books to the Registrar as may be prescribed or reasonably required. Any failure in this respect is to be visited by a penalty. In the preparation of these lists the Go- 1886 vernment do not propose a new army of officials, but they contemplate and indicate the desirability and wisdom of employing the local officials, who at present are competent to exercise these duties when the Local Authorities think fit to employ them. The desire of the Government is that those officials who at present occupy positions such as Vestry Clerks, Assistant Overseers, and Registrars of Births and Deaths shall be eligible.
§ Mr. H. H. FOWLER
I will come to that presently. When the District Registrar has prepared these lists of voters, the Government propose that the lists should be sent by him to the Superintendent Registrar of the area, and upon the Superintendent Registrar will devolve the duty of correcting all misdescription, all omission, and all technical error in these lists. He will deal with all claims and objections, whether formal or informal, and will make such corrections as he thinks necessary. As the House well knows, nine-tenths of the inaccuracies are due purely to mistake, and the Registrar will practically be able to deal with every question except questions of law. It is not proposed that the Superintendent should hold a Court. He is to be an administrator; and if anyone is aggrieved by his action, that person will have the right to appeal to the Revising Barrister. The Revising Barrister's Court, in fact, will become a Court of Appeal for questions of right of franchise and questions of a legal character, and not for dealing with those endless and technical and clerical errors with which so much of the time of the Revising Barristers is taken up at present. The Superintendent Registrar will publish a list of all claims and objections, and a statement showing the manner in which he has dealt with them. We give the Revising Barrister power to register every claimant or person objected to when he is satisfied that such person is entitled to be registered. It is frequently the case that bonâ fide electors are dis-franchised on account of some technical error, and in order to prevent this in future, we give the amplest judicial discretion to the Revising Barrister. We also make another provision, to which 1887 some objection may be taken, but which I am prepared to defend in Committee—namely, that in the event of an appeal against the insertion or retention of any name in the Register being dismissed, the Revising Barrister will be obliged to award costs. We think that where a man is obliged to come into Court to defend his right to vote, and succeeds in establishing that right, he should have fair costs allowed him. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Gorst) has asked me with whom the appointments of the Registrars will rest. I have received a great many suggestions on that point. I should deprecate their being placed in the hands of any Department of the Government. The amount of patronage that would involve—although, perhaps, it would not be very large in amount—would affect a numerous body of persons, and the exercise of such patronage would lay the Government open to the charge of being influenced by political motives. As the Town Councils are the representatives of the people in the boroughs, and the County Councils are the representatives of the people in the counties, we think the appointments should be left in the hands of the Town Councils and the County Councils, and that the Registrars should be responsible to those Bodies for the discharge of their duties. The appointments will be for no fixed period, but we give the amplest powers in case of misfeasance, and we abolish all right to compensation in the event of abolition of office. We are trying to destroy the hydra of the continual claims for compensation which have to be faced whenever men are removed from office. We prohibit the Superintendent Registrars from acting as agents of the candidates, or of any Political Association or Party. We provide that the whole system of registration shall be accelerated, so that the Parliamentary Register shall come into force on the 1st of November, when the Municipal Register comes into operation. We see no reason for the present difference between the two periods, and I hope that the provision we have made is a step towards the day when we shall have one register for all election purposes, whether for Members of Parliament, Town or County Councils, Boards of Guardians, or anything else. We provide that if any 1888 Registrar wilfully fails to register the name of any person, or is guilty of any neglect, or misfeasance, he shall be liable to a considerable penalty. In London we treat every division of a Parliamentary borough as a separate electoral area. I have only one other point to deal with, and it has reference to removals. I have pointed out to the House the injustice that is felt by those electors who remove from one area to another, and, in consequence, either lose their votes, or are compelled, at considerable cost, to travel some distance in order to record them.
§ MR. POWELL J. WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but will he kindly say who will provide the pay of the registrars?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Certainly; it will come out of the general fund either of the county or the town. It will practically be the same fund as that out of which the expense of registration is provided at present. I think I shall be able in Committee to show the House that which they are perhaps not aware of at present—namely, the enormous cost of our present system of registration. I do not think there will be any material increase of such cost.
§ *MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that all the Superintendent Registrars of London are to be appointed by the London County Council?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my statement, which is a very technical one and a very wearisome one to myself, and I have no doubt to the House, I will endeavour to reply before the Debate closes to any questions. It only disturbs the continuity of a statement to be subjected to interjectional cross-examination. The first proposal that was made to us with reference to the question of removals was, that we should have two revisions in one year. That is a proposal which is at first sight a taking one, but we have to look at it from the practical point of view. The present revision lasts nearly six months. It commences in April and is not completed until October. Although we may commence in May the registration will not be in force until November, and if you have two revisions in one year you will be revising practically all the year 1889 round. Even in America, where they have the widest and broadest franchise, they only make up the electoral rolls once a year. At all events, our opinion is that two revisions a year, bearing in mind the fact that we have provided only a three months' qualification, and having regard to cases of removals, could not be carried out, and that there will be no great injustice or hardship in confining the revision to once a year. We admit, however, that there would be a great grievance in the case of removals, and we provide that, where a householder is registered in one Parliamentary area and moves into another, and has completed a residence of three months, ending on the 25th of December, he shall be transferred to the register of the area to which he has removed. Machinery is provided by which he will be struck off the old register before he is placed on the new one—"that he shall be off with the old love before he is on with the new." This will remove the danger of people voting in more places than one. Although this provision will be a very difficult one to work, we think that, on the whole, it provides a fair remedy for the evil. There is but one other detail for me to mention, and that is that the Bill provides that, as far as possible, all lists shall be in strict order. The principle on which the Bill is based is that every voter is entitled, with as little trouble as possible, to be put in a proper legal position to vote. In the Report of the Committee, which was presided over by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt) in 1868 occurs the following sentence:—The registration of voters is the business of the State, and ought to be placed as far as possible beyond the influences alike of the ignorance or apathy of the citizens and the interested action of political agents.This is the principle which the Government are endeavouring to carry out. As I have just said, in times gone by there seems to have been some disinclination to open the door of the franchise as wide as possible. Historically I am not surprised at it. The Act of 1832 produced a very great change in the Constitution, and I think it is impossible to deny that the policy of the Reform Act, whilst extending the franchise, was to render its acquisition not an easy matter. For a long period of years Parliament held to the doctrine which, I 1890 think, was first propounded by Sir Robert Peel under very different circumstances—namely, that it was a duty to register, and that the battle of the Constitution was to be fought in the Registration Courts. We have now gone beyond that. The battle of the Constitution is nowadays to be fought not in the Registration Courts, but by means of argument and by appeals to the reason and wisdom of the electors. Battles in the Registration Courts are battles of pettifogging details and technicalities, and the sooner the registration is reduced to a machine for carrying out a public duty the better. Public opinion of the present day is more enlightened, more independent, and more effective than at any former period. There is a vast machinery now at work, the object of which is to ensure that everyone who ought to contribute to national or local burdens shall be compelled so to contribute. That is not left to any optional organisation, and I think that the same principle ought to apply to registration, so that every person who is entitled to a voice in the government of the country shall be able to exercise that voice with as little difficulty as possible. Capable citizens ought not to be rendered incapable by a mistake in their names or qualifications, or because they from time to time change their residences. Well, Sir, we submit this measure to the fair judgment of the House in the hope that it will be amended as far as is desirable or necessary in Committee and carried with as little delay as possible, so that we may accomplish a much-needed amendment of the law on the subject of registration.
Motion made, and Question proposed,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to Enable Persons to be Registered for the Purpose of Parliamentary, County, and Municipal Elections with more speed and accuracy."—(Mr. Henry H. Fowler.)
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I am reminded that I have made one mistake. alluded to the Committee stage. Our intention is, if the House approves, that this Bill shall be referred to a Grand Committee representing all sections of opinion in this House. I think the Bill will have a much more thorough discussion before a Grand Committee than it could otherwise obtain. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] At all events, that is 1891 for the determination of the House and not for the Government.
§ *MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, he was not at all surprised that Her Majesty's Government were giving the House another species of Reform Bill under the guise of a Registration Bill. Hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side, as well as on the Ministerial side of the House acknowledged that the qualifying term, which, under present circumstances, might practically be 2½ years, was somewhat too long. At the same time, he thought the term proposed by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, three months—was a great deal too short. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that he was not going to permit what he described as "gerrymandering" in allowing people to have the right of the franchise from one end of England to the other. The risk, however, of reducing the qualifying term to three mouths would be very great, especially in London and in large areas of Lancashire. In London at the present time the changes were as great as 25 or 30 per cent. in a year, and under the Bill now proposed they might be increased to 40 or 50 per cent. in a year. The Bill would really give the voting power in populous areas not to the residents, not to those who had a stake in the various districts, but purely and simply to the migratory population. In many places the electoral power was very evenly balanced. At the election before the last his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Addison) was actually elected by the vote of the Mayor, and there were other constituencies where the Parties were very evenly balanced. In such constituencies what was to prevent a man starting some bogus work and importing into the division a large number of workmen in order to turn the scale at the election? There would also be a very grave and serious danger of personation under the Bill. Even in small local areas in the country men did not become known to their neighbours in three months, and if that was the case in small localities it was ten times more so in a place like London. If the term were as short as three months the risk of personation would be very great, and there would be considerable danger of 1892 sham and bogus representation. He was quite ready to admit that the period of qualification at present was too long. His own view was that a man ought to be qualified after one year's residence in a constituency. In regard to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman as to successive occupations, he (Mr. Webster) had been pleased to notice that the right hon. Gentleman had not ventured to make the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), which was to the effect that if a man had spent, say, two and a half months in one part of the United Kingdom and only a fortnight in the constituency he should become a qualified elector. He (Mr. Webster) agreed with the President of the Local Government Board that that would have opened the door to a vast amount of fraud. It had been a principle acknowledged in this country ever since the Reform Act of 1832 that payment of rates and taxation should be the qualification for an elector. Representation and taxation had always gone together for men voting for this Assembly, and he saw no reason why that principle should be abandoned. No doubt there were anomalies in the law at present, but they must not forget that in the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1885, that principle was recognised. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to say to people who had comparatively no stake in the country that they should decide who were to be the Parliamentary Representatives. If this was carried out, he expected that in some future Parliament hon. Gentlemen would rise in their places, and instead of confining themselves to moving reductions to the Estimates, would complain that they were too low, and propose additions to them. He believed the proposal to do away with the principle by which those who paid the taxes should have the main say in the expenditure was a bad principle. There were some proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board that he could not help agreeing with. It was to be regretted that so many people were dragged into the Registration Courts and required to defend their votes from merely technical objections. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman that he proposed to do away with that system 1893 to a certain extent; but as to the proposal for the appointment of Electoral Superintendents, he did not know how it would work. He could not say whether it would be satisfactory to leave the appointments to the Municipalities and the County Councils in the country; bat, so far as London was concerned, the subject required the most careful consideration. The right hon. Gentleman's proposal would have the effect of placing a great deal too much patronage in the hands of the London County Council. He cared not whether the majority in this Governing Body were Liberal or Radical, or whether at some future date it might become Conservative; but he certainly thought that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to put too much patronage into its hands. No doubt the gentlemen on the County Council would exercise their privilege in an honourable way, and endeavour to select unbiased men to act as Electoral Superintendents; but, at the same time, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that hitherto in making appointments, especially as regards the Aldermen they elected to their body, the County Council had selected men of the same political faith as the majority on the Council. In this way they would always be open to suspicion in their exercise of patronage. Everyone knew that the London County Council, though elected to discharge local functions, had spent a vast amount of time in considering questions that more nearly appertained to the House of Commons. He thought, therefore, that it was very undesirable that this Body shall be entrusted with the duty of appointing over 60 Electoral Superintendents. These officials world not only have the power of Overseers, aided by Vestry Clerks, to prepare the lists of voters, but they would have the appointment of the officials, who would have to find out who were the qualified electors. They would have a great deal of local political power and patronage in their hand —a great deal more than it would he well for them to possess. Pending the time that the present or some future Government established District Councils, it would be wise to give the power of appointing the Electoral Superintendents temporarily to a Committee of Judges or some thoroughly extra parte authority, who would deal with the question in a 1894 fair manner. When the Bill went into Committee, he should venture to move some Amendments. But neither he nor any of those with whom he acted intended to oppose the Bill simply because it had been brought in by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. They would support such portions of it as they thought desirable; but, for his part, he should oppose doing away with taxation and representation and the short qualifying term which it was proposed to enact.
*MR. T. H. BOLTON (St.Pancras, N.)
said, he did not propose to follow his hon. Colleague through his discursive speech. He begged, however, to express on behalf of most of the London Liberal Members their unqualified satisfaction at the Bill the Government were asking leave to introduce. Some of them desired to see other changes introduced into the law; but he believed that the whole of them would be united in supporting the Bill as a sensible and practical measure for dealing with the present difficulties of registration. He did not at all agree with his hon. Colleague in his anxiety with regard to the absence of the principle of representation and taxation in the Bill. Representation and taxation, as a matter of fact, had nothing at all to do with the matter. Rating was foisted on the Parliamentary qualification nominally with a view to securing responsible people on the register, but really as a practical disqualification of certain classes of people. The time had come when he thought they should get rid of disqualifications of this character. The absurd disfranchisements resulting from the rating conditions were so apparent that the wonder was the country had been content to endure them so long. They disqualified a man, who might be an honourable and respectable citizen, and who paid rates in his rent, because his landlord did not choose to forward the rates by a particular time. A most absurd and unjust proceeding, punishing one man for another's faith. He was glad to see that the Government had abolished rating in connection with registration. The three months' qualification was one which would, he believed, commend itself to sensible men on both sides of the House. In connection with the other provisions of the Bill, they would ensure most people who ought to be on the register being there, and would keep off 1895 persons who might otherwise get on through gerrymandering or shifting from one constituency to another. As to successive occupation, or transfer of voters from one qualifying place to another, he thought there might be some difficulty in carrying on such a system as between one constituency and another, but in the same constituency successive occupation was perfectly practicable and perfectly reasonable. Successive occupation between lodgers and householders was an absolute necessity if men were to be treated fairly and properly in connection with the franchise. He knew a case of two houses that were let out in rooms. They were owned by the same man. The owner lived in one house and took in lodgers, and he let the other house in tenements. He chose to transfer his residence from one house to the other, and thereby dis-franchised the whole lot because he transferred the lodgers into tenement occupiers, and the tenement occupiers into lodgers. They all hail to wait nearly two years before they could get on to the register again. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, he supposed, would be only too glad to see such an injustice as this put an end to. With regard to the officials who had hitherto attended to registration, he thought there had been a good deal of unfair and undeserved criticism as to the way in which they had done their duty. For his own part, he believed that the Overseers had discharged their duty honestly and fairly well. If they had not put on the register all the people entitled to be on it their excuse was that in consequence of their not having efficient machinery they could not make up a perfect register; besides, they were disinclined to incur the necessary expense without the authority of the Legislature. While it was their duty to put the tenement occupiers on the register, it was not their duty to find out and put on the lodgers, and if they had gone to expense in the matter, the probability was that their expenses would have been disallowed. Under the circumstances, he was not inclined to speak harshly of the way in which the Overseers had done their duty. The time had arrived when it was desirable that there should be a more efficient system of registration. He did not 1896 know a more important and responsible duty than the preparation of the register. Surely it was desirable that they should have registration officers appointed with sufficient power and with adequate funds for the purpose of carrying out the duty. As to the appointment of the officers in London, some hon. Gentlemen opposite viewed with suspicion the putting of the patronage into the hands of the London County Council, as it happened that that Council was at present mainly composed of gentlemen with whom hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House had not much sympathy. While he was not a slavish admirer of the London County Council, he would say for them that whenever they had to make appointments they selected the best men they could find regardless of their political proclivities. For instance, they had had lately to appoint a Coroner; and instead of choosing a prominent politician of their own way of thinking, they selected a man who had nothing whatever to do with politics, but whose recommendation was his fitness for the office. He did not think that it was necessary to have a Superintendent electoral officer for each electoral division. It would be sufficient to have one for each borough in London, and he could be the Vestry Clerk of the parish, or of the largest parish in the borough, taking the position by virtue of his office. The district officers might be appointed by and responsible to him. By this means the difficulty complained of would be got over. This, however, was a matter of detail which could be dealt with in Committee. He trusted the Electoral Superintendents would hold their office during good behaviour, and only be liable to be removed for neglect of duty or excess of duty, or improper conduct. As to their remuneration, he would have liked to hear from the right hon. Gentleman how he proposed to remunerate them—whether by fixed salary or by fees, and from what particular fund? He had risen, however, for the purpose of expressing his entire sympathy with the effort made by the Government to deal with the question. He believed the Government had dealt with it in a comprehensive and practical spirit, and he hoped the measure would receive the unanimous support of the House.
§ *SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had referred to what had passed at a meeting at which he (Sir A. Rollit) had been present, and he felt it almost a duty to say in his place in the House what he had said on the occasion of the Conservative Conference at Sheffield in moving the resolution in favour of a reform of the law of registration. The right hon. Gentleman was merely asking for leave to bring in a Bill; therefore this was not a time to criticise in minute detail the provisions of the measure; but the right hon. Gentleman had shown not only that there were real grievances to be redressed, but that he had prepared a remedy which would meet them practically and moderately, and one which ought to commend itself in general principles to both sides of the House. The subject was essentially one of a non-Party character. There was a division of opinion on the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), but the majority in favour of it had been very large, and composed of all Parties, whereas the small minority seemed to consist almost entirely of one section. Numerous Bills on this subject had been introduced by Members of all Parties. The hon. Member for Somerset and himself had introduced a Bill embodying many points of the present scheme, and dealing with them on a very similar principle. Public opinion in the country was strongly in favour of a reform in this direction. There was no question which appealed to the Constituencies more thoroughly than questions of registration reform, and both Parties had passed resolutions in favour of taking some such step as that to which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had referred as having been suggested at the Conservative Conference at Sheffield. At present they were living under a system of household suffrage; and if they ever had to discuss—as they might have to do—the question of household suffrage, which was the suffrage of citizenship, as opposed to manhood suffrage, it became most important to see that those who had the right to exercise the franchise had no obstacle whatever placed in their way, but that, on the contrary, household suffrage was strengthened and made 1898 in its practical application as inclusive as it possibly could be. The principle was conceded, and all differences, it seemed to him, were comparatively minute. He was sorry the President of the Local Grovernment Board had not seen his way to propose some codification of the law. He knew nothing so intricate, voluminous, and intermixed as the law of registration; and inasmuch as it dealt with the greatest of our public rights, it seemed to him that it should be made as simple as it could be. He had heard it said that a Roman Emperor hung up his laws at a great height so that they could not be read by the people, and so that he might punish the people for disobeying them; but we in this country were more ingenious, because we buried our law in piles of volumes as Statutes and cases, so that it was unintelligible to the people. He should have been glad if some means had been devised to make this law accessible to the people so as to give them greater interest in it and a greater knowledge of their rights. He concurred in the view of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and hoped the time was not far distant when we should have but one register. He believed that the burgess roll in boroughs and the lists in counties would be sufficient. The use of one register would prevent the anomalies that now existed; but whether they got a simple law, or one register or not, he thought they must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having devised a plan to remove many of the anomalies and technicalities with which the present law abounded. No one could have had experience of the Registration Courts without feeling that a strong sentiment of political disgust was occasioned by a large number of people being brought up to endeavour to sustain their votes, those votes being probably ultimately rejected, and a large expenditure of time and trouble and money being involved through operations of this description. Mistakes might be made by accident in the statement of qualification, and for an error of that kind a man should not be refused the vote, as at present, owing to some absence of power to amend that column. He, therefore, hoped that in that respect the widest latitude would be given to the Revising Barrister so that he might do substantial justice. With regard to the term of residence, no 1899 one could defend for one moment the anomaly under which a man might live for two years in a district without obtaining a vote, while another man might obtain the franchise in one year. Those things were not understood by the mass of voters, who knew little of electoral law, and it produced in their minds a feeling of inequality which it was most desirable to remove. He was sorry, perhaps, for the moment that the test of rating was proposed to be repealed, because he thought it was the best evidence of a householder's occupation; but, after all, the great principle of the franchise, in the boroughs at any rate, was inhabitancy or occupancy, and, that being fulfilled, every other consideration was comparatively unimportant. Residence was a good check on personation and a good proof of bonâ fide occupancy; but, after all, permanent residence was in one sense immaterial. A man need not reside in the house, though technically a resident, for the whole period. He might be absent during the whole period, but have the intention of returning. Therefore, residence from that point of view was a secondary consideration. The great principle was that a man should be a householder, performing the duties and obligations of citizenship, and that being fulfilled everything else was a minor consideration. He was inclined to think that the length of the term of residence proposed was too short, and that a modified period of six months would be more generally acceptable, but on this point he reserved his opinion for the present. He was glad that the anomalies of successive occupation were about to be removed. He had never been able to understand why a householder should have the benefit of successive occupation, while the lodger was deprived of it. He wished to point out on this question of successive occupation that as the right hon. Gentleman did not propose to allow successive occupation in cases of removal from one area into another, the division of the present large areas into small ones would result in the existing anomaly being aggravated rather than removed. Another point of great importance was that the obligation of the lodger to make his claim every year was about to be removed. The terrors of the lodger franchise were so great as to deter people from making claims. Lodgers had to 1900 claim annually; they had to state matters of detail such as who was the landlord—or the landlady—and the amount of rent paid; and indeed, the obstacles in the way of establishing the claim were such as to very materially limit the lodger franchise. He hoped some improvement would be made in the existing law with regard to the lodger qualification. No topic occupied so much of the time of the Revision Courts as the conflict as to the value of the rooms in respect to which a lodger claimed, and as to the separateness of his occupancy, &c. In his opinion, a much better principle than the existing one in such cases would be to take the rating of the house, and let each house carry, according to its rating, a certain number of lodgers. He had only to say, in conclusion, that he thought the system of having a public official charged with the duty of securing the franchise to every man who has a right to it in law was one which could not be resisted for one single moment. The combative legal system imported from the English Law Courts into the Revision Courts, by which a man's right to the franchise had to be defended by one party and resisted by another, had led to the loss of the right to vote where it existed in many cases, and to the assumption of that right where it did not exist in many other cases. Some objections might be raised to a public official dealing with a matter like the franchise, but to his mind the proposed system was far better than the present one, under which Political Parties dealt with a man's right to the vote as a Party matter. He was sure the Political Parties would welcome the change, for a strong distaste of the work of registration was general. He knew of nothing which alienated men more from political life than to have, after the General Election, to take up the political drudgery—for it was nothing more—of revision. In work of that description much political energy was dissipated which would be much better spent in the political teaching and instruction if the people. He believed that Superior tendents of Registration such as the right hon. Gentleman proposed in his Bill already existed in Scotland and worked well; and that being so, they should no hesitate to avail themselves of a system 1901 which had been proved to produce good results in another country. There were points of detail in the proposed Bill upon which differences would arise; but, taking it as a whole, he believed the right hon. Gentleman had put forward a scheme of moderate, practical, and progressive reform which he hoped would in all its essential features take its place on the Statute Book of the country.
§ *MR. JAMES STANSFELD (Halifax)
Mr. Speaker, there was a proposition stated in the opening of the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board with which I am in entire agreement, and which I think will also have the accord of the House generally. He asked why it should be necessary for a Government with a majority in this House to ask for leave to introduce a measure. I do not see why the Government should not be entitled, as private Members are entitled, to introduce Bills, and why we should not save time by postponing to the Second Reading the discussion which now takes place on the First Reading. But my right hon. Friend added words with which I do not agree. He apologised to the House for being compelled to take up their time with a wearisome speech on an uninteresting subject. I am certain that I express the unanimous feeling of the House when I say that I have never heard an explanatory speech more practical and more easily intelligible than that of my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend said that this is a Registration Bill, and not a Franchise Bill. I am not going to take exception to that statement, except to this extent: that I think it must be admitted—at any rate, I have always felt it—that you cannot simplify registration without touching the franchise, though you might deal with the franchise with the sole object of improving the registration. For instance, my right hon. Friend, in speaking of the defects of the present law, referred to the necessity of payment of rates and assessed taxes. But that is a portion of the qualification which confers the franchise under the existing law. He also referred to the length of occupancy and successive occupation, which also affect the exercise of the franchise at the present moment. My right hon. Friend was right in telling the House that the object of his Bill was to deal with the system of registration; but, 1902 as I have tried to demonstrate, you cannot simplify registration without in some respects touching the franchise itself. Many Members of this House, who were Members of the last Parliament also, know that this is a subject of which I possess some little knowledge. Well, I have not lost my knowledge or my interest in it, and I wish to say that I not only welcome the speech of my right hon. Friend, but I welcome also his measure as a sound liberal, and not an immoderate, measure of reform. I desire to compare the proposals of my right hon. Friend with the proposals contained in the Registration Bill which I introduced in the last Parliament. I should like to say first that, in the preparation of the Bill which I brought forward in the last Parliament, as the spokesman of the Opposition at the time, I received the valuable assistance of many hon. Friends, including the help of the right hon. Gentleman himself, so that that measure was the most practical contribution we could make on this question of registration reform at that time. Under these circumstances, it affords me great satisfaction to find how small is the difference between our proposals and the proposals of the Government to-day. This Bill abolishes the necessity of payment of rates and assessed taxes. The Bill which I introduced and carried through the Second Reading by a large majority also abolished that necessity. My Bill reduced the period of qualification from 12 and six months to three months. There is an identical reform in this Bill. My Bill provided for successive occupation, both in cases of removal within the electoral area, and in cases of removal from one electoral area to another. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend is not wise in removing this latter reform from his Bill. I know it was open to the danger of abuse, and I am not disposed to quarrel with the judgment that the Government have arrived at. With regard to the lodgers, my Bill proposed a very similar arrangement to that put forward in this Bill. There is, therefore, practical identity between the two measures in questions of reform; but when we come to the question of the machinery there is a clear distinction, and I am not sure that it is not in favour of the present measure. The Bill which I introduced started with the Overseer as the 1903 possessor of the rate books, and having the requisite knowledge, and appointed a Superintendent Registrar, as in this Bill, who would make the Overseers his servants, and oblige them to perform their duties in a more accurate and reliable manner than they have done under the present system. My right hon. Friend in his Bill starts not with the Overseer, but with the Superintendent Registrar, and then there are District Registrars who are to be sub-officers of the Superintendent Registrar. The conception of my right hon. Friend appears to be to take the construction of the voters' lists out of the hands of the Overseers and place it in the hands of the District Registrars under the superintendence of the Superintendent Registrar. That is a different point of view from that in my Bill, but I do not know how far it will work out differently in practice. My right hon. Friend referred to the question of expense. I think the House will feel a desire to know at the earliest opportunity what is the estimated expense of my right hon. Friend's arrangements as compared with the estimated expense of the proposals embodied in my Bill, but I do not know that the estimate of this system will be more expensive than the other. Informing a system, voluntarily as well as official, expenditure should be taken into account. I quite agree with the view, that the work of registration should he a burden on the public. One consequence of the proposed change in the system of registration will be, undoubtedly, a very large reduction in the expenditure of political agents and Registration Associations on whom the present system imposes a heavy burden, besides acting unfairly in giving an advantage to the wealthy man as compared with the poor man, who is entitled to the vote, but who, without money or without time, is unable to establish his claim. The principle is a sound one, and to secure the vote to every man entitled to it is a matter of public duty. I may say that on the whole it appears to me that the Bill is admirably conceived and admirably propounded. There will be differences, of course, but I hope our discussions on the Bill will continue to be conducted, as they have been conducted to-day, and that we shall be able without any undue delay to deal with 1904 the details in Committee and to carry the measure forward to a successful conclusion.
§ *MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to think it was absolutely unnecessary that the introduction of this Bill should be prefaced by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. But if any justification were wanted for the demand we made on this side of the House to hear from the right hon. Gentleman an exposition of the Bill when it came to be introduced, it is found in the fact that though he stated the facts as concisely as he stated them clearly, it required an hour to explain the measure. So far from any time having been lost by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the statement he has put before us as to the objects of the Government and the remedies they desire to apply to the present system of registration, will very much simplify our task when we come to examine the provisions of the Bill. I will not attempt to go at any length into the details of the Bill; we must wait until we see it in print; but I should like at once to express my concurrence, and I believe I may say the concurrence of gentlemen who sit near me, with some of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman as to the necessity for a reform in the system of registration. We on this side of the House, as well as those on the other side of the House, have felt that reform is not only wanted, but wanted at an early date. We certainly think that those voters who are declared by Parliament to be qualified to vote should be put on the register without any unreasonable delay, and that they should not be taken off the register for the trifling causes for which many are now deprived by the franchise; but, at the same time, every precaution should be taken for the purpose of preventing personation. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the present system of registration does not meet our requirements in this matter; but it is also true that a system of personation prevails to a considerable extent, and I am afraid to an increasing extent, in this country. The House should, therefore, examine the Bill to see how far it fulfils every one of those 1905 requirements; whether it enables voters to get the vote, whether it prevents them being struck off for trifling objections, and also whether it prevents the prevalent system of personation. The right hon. Gentleman has said that really what he proposes to deal with in the present Bill is not the franchise, but registration. He has proposed various remedies which, he says, will meet the existing system of registration. I ask how are we going to deal with this Bill when it is introduced? I would refer to a precedent fresh in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman—the Registration (Occupation of Voters) Bill, introduced after the last Reform Bill. With the assent of both sides of the House, that Bill was sent upstairs to a Select Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman and myself had the honour of being Members of that Committee. The Bill Was examined with the greatest care, and we called three witnesses one an expert in county registration, one skilled in borough registration, and a Revising Barrister. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the hearing of those witnesses threw light upon the many details of the Bill, and as a result we were able to present the Bill in a form that made its passage much easier and more speedy. Unfortunately, judging from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, he is not going to follow that precedent, but that the Government desire to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee. The right hon. Gentleman says very properly, however, that that will be a matter for the House to decide; and when the time comes we shall object to the proposal, as we think it is not one of those Bills that ought to be sent to a Grand Committee. I now come to some of the suggested remedies of the right hon. Gentleman, but I will not deal with them in the same order. I will touch, first, the question of lodgers. In the case of lodgers he proposes to get rid of all applications, leaving it to a proper authority to take care that they should be put upon the register. I doubt whether any proper authority can investigate who are entitled to be put on the register as lodgers. For my part, I think the more sensible proposal would be to require the lodger to claim, in the first instance, as he does now, and then a careful investigation could be made as to whether he is entitled, and after that, 1906 whilst retaining the same qualification, there would be no necessity for reclaiming the vote year by year; that would be a fair compromise, would be a security against some possible evils, and would enable lodgers to be kept on the register much easier than under the present system. Then I come to the question which, after all, is one of franchise, though the right hon. Gentleman said he desired to keep franchise out of this question. When the right hon. Gentleman came to the present system of rating which he desires to abolish, he was going into the question of franchise. For my part, I doubt whether it is wise to give up the principle of rating. You have to go through the whole course of making, up the rate book in any case, and I think it is highly desirable to keep up a book which, after all, is not alone for Parliamentary and municipal franchise, and which is much less liable to manipulation than any register that might otherwise be prepared. The term of residence the right hon. Gentleman proposes is one of three months, and he proposes to make that a term of residence in the case of all franchises. Much as I desire to shorten the present term, I think a term of three months is too short. I quite agree with what fell from my hon. Friend below the Gangway on that subject, that it would be better to have some intermediate term—say six months, which would gain all the objects the right hon. Gentleman is aiming at, and against which no substantial objection would be raised. Then I come to the question of successive occupation. Our main desire in this matter is that the constituency as a, whole should be composed of bonâ fide residents; we do not want real bonâ fide residents to be swamped by temporary residents who have invaded a constituency. That every one would condemn, and I was heartily glad to learn the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to follow successive occupation from one constituency to another, and in that determination I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and the Government Will receive very great support from this side of the House. But when we deal with the question of removals, I do not think I can go with the right hon. Gentleman, and I doubt whether any machinery can 1907 be devised to carry out removals from one constituency to another in the manner he advocates without introducing other dangers against which there ought to be some safeguard. I have dealt with those special points the right hon. Gentleman raised, and I think I have fully explained to the House the desire which we have in the matter, a desire to assist the Government in making reasonable amendments in the law of registration. And I will go further; for thought I think the scheme proposed by the right hon. Gentleman in some respects is open to objection, it will be an improvement upon the present system, though I am by no means sure the proposal of the Government is the best scheme. For myself, I would throw out a suggestion which I hope the Government will consider, whether it be in Committee of the Whole House or whether in Committee upstairs, and my suggestion would rather be this: Whether you could not fix a qualifying date in the first instance? then you should make out a list of the residents in the constituency at that qualifying date, and that afterwards no one should vote who had not retained that qualification unbroken from the qualifying date to the time of the election. However, I feel that I cannot fully appreciate the proposed alterations without seeing them; and when the time comes, we may have an opportunity of making the suggestion I have thrown out, and I shall he very glad to hear whether it commends itself to the approval of the Government. Now I come to what, after all, is one of the main changes, and that is, the appointment of a public official to carry out the registration; but before speaking of that, I should like to say a word for the Overseer, who will be swept away. I agree with the hon. Member behind me, that the Overseers have done good work in their day, and I am by no means sure that in many of the country districts you would get better work than has been done by the Overseers, much maligned though they have been. We have every reason to be grateful to the Overseers for the manner in which they have done the work, even if it be proposed entirely to entrust this work to someone else. I am not opposed to registration by a public officer; that may be a provision that may be proper; but when he goes on to say that all the registration officers are to be 1908 appointed by the County Council or the Town Council, that opens up a question of very great difficulty. Everyone can, see that it might lead not to the danger of jobbery itself, but to what is as bad—the suspicion of jobbery; and I am bound to confess there are some Bodies to whom I should be exceedingly reluctant to entrust this power. I am not going to say a word by way of attack upon the London County Council, who claim to carry out the wishes of the majority of the ratepayers in the distribution of their offices. They carry out the principle of the spoils to the victors. ["No, no!"] In any case, if they do not, there is a suspicion abroad that that has been their object; and whether it be the London County Council or any other County Council or Town Council, very great safeguards will be required before we entrust to them the right of appointing an enormous number of officials. Then what is to be the cost? The right hon. Gentleman does not suggest it can be reduced, and it is obvious to me that it cannot be reduced. You are going to establish an expensive system of officials all over the country—all of them will be paid, I presume; you are going to keep up the Revising Barristers, who will cost the country, as at present, a large sum, and you are not going to get rid of the Party machinery because you are going to have a field for the Revising Barrister, and each Party will naturally expect that the officials of their own side will appear to defend the votes that are the subject of appeal before the Revising Barrister. Therefore, it appears to me, the probability is that, in the first place, you will not diminish the expenditure; secondly, you will largely increase the expenditure by the appointment of official Registrars; and, what is worst of all, you are going to require that this large item of expenditure be met out of the rates. To that proposition we shall offer the strongest possible objection. The right hon. Gentleman himself has said that to put voters on the register is the duty of the State; but there is no reason why one description of property should pay the whole burden, therefore we shall oppose any attempt to put any expense whatever on the rates for the purpose of performing what, after all, is the object and duty of the State. I do 1909 not wish to speak of this Bill adversely, but I have offered suggestions upon points that require amendment, and, so far as the introduction of the Bill is concerned, we are not desirous of putting any difficulty in the way of the Government and the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
The Bill of my right hon. Friend has had a very friendly greeting, and I have no words to utter except those of joy in welcoming it, though there are one or two matters I would like to refer to. As to the length of occupation before the elector is entitled to vote, every man should be permitted to vote as quickly as he can, and the only danger you have to deal with is the invasion of the constituencies by electors who cannot be identified with the constituency. Now, Sir, as I understand, the right hon. Gentleman's proposition, the minimum time within which a voter can be entitled to vote, is eight months, or rather a fraction over seven months, because there is to be three months before the 25th June, and then the register does not come into operation until the 1st November. If a man comes into occupation on the 26th June he will not be entitled to vote for 20 months. In times of great excitement there is grave danger of particular constituencies being invaded. Under this Bill, for instance, the constituency of Midlothian in 1880 would have been in great danger, and I am, therefore, somewhat alarmed by the proposition of my right hon. Friend. If I understand him rightly, a person, during the winter-time having a vote in another electoral area, could, by coming into a particular area, utilise his previous occupation, and gain a voting qualification by a three months' residence in the particular area; therefore how could you minimise invasion if you allow successive occupation? Supposing an election was coming on in which the greatest possible interest was taken; the parties were very equal, and 50 votes would turn the election, 50 strangers might be brought in, and, while the real occupants must have eight months' qualification, the invading stranger only requires three months. Of course, to-night we cannot discuss this question, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he can insist upon the successive occupation, and whether he 1910 considers it a protection against invasion? Then, as to the abolition of rating, a great deal has been said in favour of the abolition of rating which never was really the qualification, but merely the evidence of it; the real qualification was the occupation of the house, which meant ownership or ratal. If a man was in arrears with his rates you disqualified him; but if he were in arrear with his rent, which was the real qualification, you did not. The rating qualification has already been abolished in the Service franchise, and in the case of small tenements—in both cases the rates not being paid by the voter. That is in favour of the abolition of rating, but then this difficulty will arise: If you are going to abolish rating, you will open the door to a greater number of false claims being made, because no man takes upon himself the burdens of rates in order to get a vote. But then if you have not got to pay rates, any man's name may go upon the register, if some body says he is the real occupier. It is to be feared there would be a great many claims made by people who are nominally the payers of rent and not the actual occupier. That, however, is a matter that can better be discussed in Committee. The other principal subject is the appointment of the public officer. I think the House will agree, as a whole, it is well to have a central officer for the purpose of controlling the register. If you abolish the rating qualification the reason for the Overseer having charge of the register is gone, and there is no reason why he should be further continued. In dealing with such an amount of patronage you have to consider whether the Overseer shall remain. I am rather inclined to think he ought to go, but we must reserve our opinion as to the method of appointing the public officer. No one would wish to see the patronage in the hands of the Government. We should wish, as far as possible, to see the patronage in the hands of an Elective Body subject to the control of their constituents. I think there is a great distinction between the patronage being in the hands of an Electoral Body in a locality where public opinion can be rapidly brought to bear, and patronage in the hands of the London County Council, which administers over an area where public opinion cannot so well be brought to bear. You could not bring the public opinion of Islington to 1911 bear upon an election at Kensington. I am not going to dwell upon that to-night, as the proper time will be in Committee. But may I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to let this Bill come before this house to be dealt with in Committee? As it is a question of general interest almost amounting to a political reform, you ought not to deprive the House of the right of dealing with this subject. There are some kinds of Bills so complicated that you cannot deal with them in the House; but this is a general Bill, on a subject with which all Members are presumed to be acquainted. In 1883 my right hon. Friend near me brought in a Bankruptcy Bill, and I introduced the Corrupt Practices Bill. The House could not have dealt with the Bankruptcy Bill, which was a complicated and difficult subject, and it was referred to a Grand Committee; but what would have been said if you had sent the Corrupt Practices Bill to a Grand Committee? You would have deprived the House of dealing with a subject of general interest. Another practical reason for dealing with the present Bill in the House is that many Members are prevented from attending Grand Committees by business or professional engagements. We might go through the Bill in great detail on Report, but that would not be a wise thing to do. I am sure there will be no undue discussion in Committee, and I would therefore suggest that the Bill, which I think ought to pass, should go into Committee of the Whole House.
§ *MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
thought the Debate had justified the view that it was of the greatest importance to discuss these questions on the primary stage. He thought they were all agreed that the question or the Registration Laws was one that required investigation and alteration, and he also agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that many or the anomalies he had pointed out were not creditable to their laws, and should be amended; but they must also remember that the object of registration was also of a local nature, and that it was of great importance to retain the local idea of registration. But they could not retain that idea if they were going to sweep on to the register, in the fashion proposed, thousands of accidental residents. He objected to a three 1912 months' period, and he thought when it came to be discussed in the House the arguments against it would be found conclusive. They could not retain the idea of local representation with such a system as that proposed, but what was worse was the changing from one district to another, and it appeared to him that it would lead to every conceivable gerrymandering. At Cirencester, for instance, it would have been possible under the Bill for a number of persons to have changed their residence within the last few months and have become voters in the division. ["No, no!"] There was no question about it, because it had been known for more than three months that the result would be a very narrow one. It often happened that in one division there was a large majority, whilst in another there was a very small one. In his own district he had the good fortune to secure a large majority, but his neighbour had a small one, and 40 or 50 electors would have turned the scale; and under this scheme it would have been possible to have transferred sufficient votes to have done so, thus upsetting the whole system or representative government. This was not a supposititious case. The transfer could be made under this scheme, and thus frustrate the whole registration system. He should like to emphasise the point to which the late Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) referred—namely, that the Bill would do away with Party Registration Agents in the view of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board or Trade (Mr. H. H. Fowler). He could not see how that could be the case. If there was going to be some heavy penalty imposed if anyone eligible was not put on the register, they were embarking on a very difficult task; and if there was not a serious penalty, it would be necessary, as in the past, for each Party to look after the registration. If the London Registration were going to be handed over to the London County Council he should resist that to the uttermost. If the County Council should appoint an agent without the approval of the Patty Organisation, they would have to look after him and although he might take no part whatever, the chances were that his previous history and opinions—whether Liberal or Conservative—would be 1913 known. Therefore, it seemed to him obvious that they would still require all the trouble and expense of the Registration Agent in spite of this Bill having become law. There were many other points. Some said that it was the duty of the people to vote, that to vote was a sacred duty which ought to be attended to. No doubt that was so; but, on the other hand, they were so multiplying elections that a great number of people who were not on the register now, were not there because they did not care to be on. There was great indifference on the subject, and they were making elections so common that people were beginning to be bored with them. Last year they had a School Board election, the County Council election, the Guardians' election, and the Parliamentary election, and it was getting much more difficult to get many people to take any interest in the matter. The very fact that they were making these elections more common, and at the same time taking the responsibility from the people they wished on the register, would, in his opinion, cause greater apathy from year to year. With regard to the period of qualification, there was, he thought, some misapprehension on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. As he understood it, the minimum time before anyone could be on the register and able to vote was seven months, and the maximum qualification 16 months; i.e., if a person became a resident on the 25th March he would be able to be on the register on 1st November following; but if he became it resident in the previous July—having, therefore, resided for a year and three months — he would have a qualification of something like 16 months. He thought there was a great deal to be said for making the period six months and not three, and be certainly hoped the House would agree on that point. The essential point was whether the register consisted of the real bonâ fide inhabitants of the district, and he thought six months' residence, which meant nearly a year, before the person was on the register was not an unreasonable time.
§ MR. J. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, he hoped the general chorus of approval that had attended the introduction of this Bill would be maintained when they came to the Second 1914 Reading, and he almost hoped, from the nature of the discussion, that the Second Reading, might be passed over with a very short discussion. All the points that had been raised were clearly points for Committee. They had been indicated as such by those who had touched upon them, and the passage of the Bill might be largely expedited if those points were raised in the same spirit as they had been to-day. So far as the general scope and aspect of the Bill was concerned, he had not had an opportunity of consulting with those London Members with whom he was accustomed to act; but he felt certain that he could say On their behalf that the measure was one which they cordially accepted, because it embodied really the two Bills which they had introduced in the last Parliament year after year on the subject. The right hon. Member for Bury bad very ably summarised the main points of the Bill, and he had omitted only one of great importance. Those main points were the shortening of the period of residence, the appointment of all officer who was to be responsible for registration, and the assimilation of the lodger to the occupier franchise. The point with respect to the assimilation of the lodger and the occupier franchise was one which so seriously affected London that they who represented London constituencies could not help putting it in the very forefront of their consideration. But of the various strictures that had been passed on the Bill, so far as he could understand, the principal one was the objection to the three months' residence. He sincerely hoped the Government would stand firm upon the question of three months. There was a very great difference between six months and three months with regard to the amount of disfranchisement that took place, and he trusted, therefore, the Government would stand firm. Some criticism had been passed upon the proposal to enable a transference to take place from one constituency to another. Whatever method they might adopt of transference of voters under certain circumstances, that transference would always be a very difficult matter to deal with. It was a matter much, more difficult to deal with in detail than any other portion of this Bill. A point with respect to London had been raised 1915 by an hon. Member opposite—namely, that it was undesirable to restrict the successive occupation to the individual constituencies of London. He entirely disagreed with that stricture. An opportunity for gerrymandering would be afforded if they allowed the transference by successive occupation to take place from one Loudon constituency to another, and therefore he welcomed the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who, in introducing the Bill, had pointed out that for the purposes of the Bill the separate constituencies of London would be regarded as practically separate boroughs. A suggestion had been thrown out by a right hon. Gentleman to-night, which was of so bizarre a kind that it could scarcely be taken into consideration by the House. He proposed that, a registration should take place of all persons who were in occupation upon a certain given day, and that then those only should be allowed to vote at an election who had remained in continuous occupation up to the election. But it scarcely needed to be pointed out that that practically amounted to the compilation of the register on the day of the election. With respect to the opposition to the London County Council on the other side of the House, really it was almost unnecessary to enter into that question now, as there were so many hon. Members on the other side to whom the London County Council was like a red rag to a bull. But he would only correct one mis-statement. The hon. Member for St. Pancras had said that the London County Council had placed members of the majority of the Council in the position of Chairman of every Committee. Now, it is an entire mistake. Many of the most honoured and respected Chairmen of the London County Council Committees belonged to the minority, and were recognised as most influential members. Then there was the question of the expenses of registration. Notice was almost given from the other side of the House that they would oppose the placing of any expense connected with registration upon the rates, but the expenses connected with registration at present fell upon the rates, and he could not see that there was any necessity for a great change in this matter. As he understood, the total cost of registration, as it 1916 fell upon the Public Bodies in England, did not differ much from £300,000 a year, and, as he took it, the amount of expense that would be added to that by this Bill would be only a small portion of the general expenditure. Take London, for instance. In London the cost of registration to Public Bodies was £32,000 a year, and of that it was certain that no less a sum than one-third (£10,000) might undoubtedly be saved if the printing of the registers was carried on upon a reasonable basis. If that could be saved in London, he had every confidence that a large sum might be saved elsewhere. No doubt some Party organisation must still be continued, but no one could look at the provisions of this Bill and see the numbers which would be put upon the register without admitting that a very large amount of the Party work would henceforth be done away with. The number of electors which such a provision as this Bill might reasonably be expected to add to the constituencies of London would be something not fan short of from 25 to 30 per cent., and he believed the cost of putting a voter upon the register would be diminished under the new circumstances instead of being increased. He most heartily hoped the Bill would be proceeded with early, as it was a matter of the deepest importance to this country.
Several hon. Members having risen in their places to continue the Debate, Mr. WALTER M'LAREN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. W. H. FISHER (Fulham),
who expressed surprise that an hon. Member should have attempted to closure the Debate at that hour of the evening. The hon. Member might have observed that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House were desirious of being very concise in their remarks. He did not intend to traverse the ground taken by other speakers, but he believed that this discussion would facilitate the passing of the Bill. He only intended to emphasise one point that, had been raised, and to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question on his own account. He agreed 1917 with the right hon. Gentleman in most of the remedies he proposed for the grievances the electors suffered from, but, of course, he did not agree with the three months' qualification. One of the points which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury brought before the House was that the constituencies might be invaded by aliens destitute of any local qualification or interest. There might be what he might call a natural importation. For instance, when certain works were being carried on, they might have a large body of navvies imported into a district, but he desired as much as possible to reserve the local qualification for electors, and he must say he thought it would he very hard upon a rural constituency which took a different view of matters from an urban constituency, if it should be swamped by voters from an urban constituency, who had no permanent residence in it, but whose residence there was perhaps just that period which would qualify them for voting at a by-election. He thought that was a reasonable objection to the three months' qualification. Then, again, there was the danger of an artificial importation into the constituencies. In some cases they had months of warning, that a by-election was about to take place; and undoubtedly if the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion was carried out, it would be perfectly possible for some hundreds of persons who were qualified in another constituency to go down to a constituency for the express purpose of altering the balance. He wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill a question in connection with the appointment of the Superintendent of Registrars. He did not suppose that the hon. Member for Shoreditch would think he would be altogether satisfied if the Superintendent of Registrars at Fulham were appointed by the County Council, although he had never been a bitter opponent or a very hostile critic of the County Council. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that a Superintendent of Registrars could not hold the position of an agent, and could not himself be a candidate either for Parliamentary or municipal honours; but what he wanted to know was, was the office to be subject to any disabilities? Could he resign his office and become a candidate? He did not think such an officer 1918 ought to be allowed to become a candidate for Parliament except within a reasonable number of years after his resignation of office. Subject to the question of the three months' qualification and one or two other points, he would be most happy to give his general support to the Bill.
§ *SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, that as one of the Members who during the last, few years had brought in a Bill on this subject, he would like to say a few words upon it. Over and over again he had heard complaints from lodger voters in London that it was practically impossible to obtain access to the register without incurring the greatest loss of time, which meant loss of occupation and income. Therefore, any change which was made towards facilitating the access of the lodger to the register was eminently desirable. He understood that in future lodgers would not have to claim in order to be placed on the register—that they would be placed on it in the same way as the occupier. He, for his part, could not see that there would be any real difficulty in providing a proper supervision so as to prevent the names of false lodgers appearing. He should like to refer to the service franchise. The service franchise was a question or great difficulty in many constituencies, and as a matter of fact it was well-known in most cases that the service was manufactured or was a pretence. He had known some sons to be put down as servants of their father because they could not be put upon the Register in any other way. It was a hardship that a son living with his father, and who was quite capable of acting as a good citizen, should be obliged to resort to this device in order to get on the Register, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether in some way it was not possible to treat sons residing with their fathers in a more liberal manner in the service franchise. As regarded the registration itself, he had often thought it an absurdity that there should be more than one register for so many different elections they had to go through, such as the Parliamentary, Municipal, and School Boards. There should be one Register for all these elections, and there should also be one Registration Officer, independent of candidates and electors. Upon that point there seemed to be a 1919 unanimity of opinion, but with regard to method of appointment there seemed to be a difference of opinion. He had never expressed any want of confidence in the London County Conned, but it did strike him that after all the London County Council had big matters to look after, and could not therefore know local feeling as well as the locality itself. In local feeling he thought there would be found the proper safeguard with regard to the method in which the Registration Officer carried on his duties, and he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the authority which should appoint the Registration Officer was not the County Council but the Parish Councils which were about to be created. He believed in the Parish Council would be found sufficient local knowledge to control the method in which Registration Officer performed his duty. As to the period which should qualify for registration they had now a period of 12 months, which in most cases came to nearly two years, or even more. That was too long a period, and he had made humble attempts to get it shortened. But it was impossible for a private Member to carry a measure on so important a matter, and therefore he was glad the right hon. Gentleman had undertaken this duty. With regard to the period of three months, objection only was taken because of the possibility of the invasion or a constituency. It was proposed by the Bill that there should be only one registration every year. He once suggested before, and he would throw out the suggestion now, that it might be worth while for the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether there should not be two registrations every year and a six months' qualification, which would thus enable any difficulty to be got over? In any case, he was glad the long-suffering electors would have the chance of getting on the register without the difficulties they at present experienced. He had noticed, when he attended the Registration Courts, that the agents on both sides raised all kinds of technical objections. He had also on more than one occasion heard Revising Barrister say he was constrained by the Act of Parliament to strike men fully qualified off the register. He contended that that ought not to be possible. The proper method would be, that the 1920 Revising Barrister in such cases should have power to alter the register.
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID
was very glad to hear it, because he knew from personal experience that this subject caused the greatest irritation and injustice. He thought it was desirable not to have much discussion upon the Second Reading, but this was a question that would depend entirely on the tribunal to which the right hon. Gentleman referred the Bill. If he sent it to a Grand Committee, it would be impossible to avoid long discussions, not only on the Second Reading, but also in Committee of that House. He would, therefore, support the suggestion that had been made, to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, where there were few Members, and where it would be prepared for consideration by the Committee of the whole House. That seemed to him the proper course to pursue, and if the right hon. Gentleman would agree to it, it would greatly facilitate the passage of the Bill.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said, generally speaking, he considered the Government must be congratulated upon the introduction of this Registration Reform Bill, and as criticism had been directed from both sides of the House as to the short period of qualification, it was only right he should give his opinion upon this, and one or two other points that had been mentioned. If there was any fault to be found with the Bill, he found fault with it in the direction that the period of qualification was too long; that it was not sufficiently democratic and advanced; that it was not based upon adult suffrage; that registration agents had not been entirely abolished; that one register had not been definitely decided upon, and that canvassing had not been made illegal. But they must be satisfied with what they could get from all Governments, and he would accept the instalment embodied in the Bill with the greatest possible pleasure. He would not have risen to have spoken on the Bill except for the remark of the right hon. And learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), and as he (Mr. Burns) happened to belong to the body adversely, unjustly, and inaccurately criticized by hon. Members on that side of the House, he ventured to reply to the right hon. Member for Bury's 1921 criticism with regard to the Superintendents of Registration not being placed under the control of the County Councils. The right hon. Gentleman said very truly that, whenever it was possible, the Superintendents of Registration in every constituency should he placed under the Elective Body, as by that means public criticism would he focussed and concentrated upon the appointments, and corruption and maladministration would he avoided. He agreed entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's re-Marks upon that point and it was because the London County Council was certainly the most directly elected popular Body in London, that he trusted the Government, as a vital principle, would insist upon those Registration Officers being under the jurisdiction of the London County Council, at least until the new District or Parish Councils were created. Who was to elect these Superintendent Registrars? In London they had to chose as between the London County Council and the City Corporation or the existing vestries. Certainly not even hon. Members on that (the opposite) side of the House would suggest that in the matter of securing the voting power for 4,000,000 of people the City Corporation, with practically 100,000 of a population, should take Precedence of the London County Council that had 4,000,000 of people under its jurisdiction; consequently the City Corporation could not claim the right to elect those men. Certainly they could not allow the Registrars to be elected by the existing vestries on a fancy franchise—property qualification—and not the best form of honest government as he was sorry to say prevailed in too many districts, and until the new District Councils were created he saw no reason why the London County Council should not have the appointment of the registrars and the management of the elections in the same way as Provincial Corporations managed their own elections through their clerks. Until they got District Councils London, there was a strong probability that, if the County Council had the election Or these superintendents what would happen would be what happened in the case of all other appointments—namely, that they would appoint local men, apart from political predilections, on their own merits and qualifications 1922 alone for the post. He came now to another point which had been made by the hon. Member for East. St. Pancras (Mr. R. G. Webster). In one of the most unfair criticisms of any public Body which he had ever heard, that hon. Member made remarks which he (Mr. Burns) must traverse al a little length. The hon. Member said he objected to the County Council having anything to do with the registration officers of London, on the ground that the majority always elected men of their own political persuasion. Now, he happened to be a humble member of the hardworking, energetic, and, he ventured to say, one of the most uncorruptible Bodies in the world, and he had frequently voted for officers on their merits, and afterwards found out accidentally that they were of totally different political and social opinions to himself. It was necessary he should say that the hon. Member's statement was not true, because the Chairman of the Theatres Committee (Mr. Fardell) was a Conservative; the Chairman of the Building Committee (Dr. Longstaff) was a Conservative; the Chairnman of the Parks Committee (Mr. Fletcher) was also a Conservative; the Chairman of the Housing Committee (Mr. Beechcroft) was also a Conservative and he was elected as all Alderman; and altogether the Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of the London County Council—
§ *MR. R.G. WEBSTER (interposing)
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but all I said was, that in the appointment of London Aldermen they appointed them entirely from one side, and that was the Liberal side.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said, that was not true, as Mr. Beechcroft, who was Chairman of the Housing Committee, was a Conservative in politics, and a member of the last Council is one of the gentlemen that the Progressive majority elected with others as all Alderman at the last election. Of course, it was not to be expected that hon. Members, who shared that apathy and indifference to London government that another hon. Member said was characteristic of the rich and well-to-do classes in London, should take the trouble to inquire into the character, the policy, and the work of the Body that they so unfavourably criticised. He could only say he trusted that, so far as London was concerned, 1923 the Government would look upon the appointment of Superintendent Registrars for all registration purposes as a vital principle not to be vitiated in any way by unfair criticism of the representative Body in London, the County Council. If hon. Members liked to dissociate themselves from that Body because they happened to differ with it, on behalf of the London County Council be should have much pleasure in disavowing all connection with hon. Members so unfair and so inaccurate as to misrepresent a Body which ought to have placed in its power those privileges and functions which, in connection with elections, were given to provincial Corporations, and which London ought to exercise through its County Council, a Body which, whatever its faults might be, had worked hard in the interests of its constituents and this great Empire.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
I only rise to say a few words. I must at the outset congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on his admirable Bill and the speech he made in introducing it. The reason why I principally support this Bill and its application to Ireland is that it will make a great reduction in the burdens which rest upon the people. Not only will it make savings in the pockets of the ratepayers, but also in the pockets of the candidates and in the funds of Party Associations. These savings might be calculated by tens of thousands of pounds. In Ireland we require this Bill quite as much as in England, and I gather from the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman on another occasion, that it is the intention Of the Irish Government to apply it to our country. I heard with some interest what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to lodgers; and the hon. Baronet who represents the St. Pancras Division (Sir Julian Goldsmid) made a statement with regard to England which we cannot make with regard to Ireland. He said that some means should be devised of placing lodgers upon the list without making bogus claims. If he would be good enough to take a decision given in Ireland with regard to lodgers in a case in the City of Derry, he would find that we do not labour under any disability in that respect, because a divinity student named McVicker, who resided in Belfast, and attended the college there, 1924 was enabled to get upon the register because his father was able to swear that he was paying him for his rooms in Derry, and that they were kept separate and apart for him, no other member of the family being allowed to use them. One other observation I have to make as to the necessity of simplifying the means of objection. The hon. Member for South Tyrone is fond of boasting that he is the representative of the tenant farmers of Ulster. I can safely say that he is the representative of the bogus votes that were put upon the register despite the strong protest of the Court of Appeal. The majority which sent him to this House is 370, and last year the Court of Appeal had before them this fact, that close upon 400 votes were returned upon the list because the objector had omitted from his objection the statement that he was now upon the register for the County of Tyrone. The Revising Barrister refused to amend the objection, and within the course of two months that Revising Barrister was made a County Court Judge by the late Government. On the whole, Mr. Justice Shaw now sits as County Court Judge, and enjoys £1,200 a year because he returned the Member for South Tyrone. There is no country which requires this Bill more than Ireland, and I sincerely trust to have from this Government a definite statement upon that point. No doubt there is a difficulty in applying the law, because you have County Councils in England and we have not got them in Ireland. The Conservative Members think they suffer from a plethora of elections in this country. We suffer under no such disability. We have no County Councils, no School Boards, and really our voters do not think it a hardship once in seven years to be called upon to cast their votes for a Member of Parliament. Having no County Councils in Ireland deprives us of machinery the right hon. Gentleman has to his hands in England. I do not say that the machinery to be created should be the Poor Law or the Clerk of the Peace. That is a matter for the Government to consider, and I am quite sure when they do consider it they will hit upon the cheapest and most economical system, and one which will give the ratepayers the greatest advantage to be derived from this improved system.
*MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
There was one announcement which has just been made that came upon the House with some sense of novelty, and that was that this measure should extend to Ireland. I listened to the able statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and I failed to hear any reference to Ireland in his speech announcing the policy of the Government. Do I understand this measure is to extend to Ireland, or not?
*MR. JAMES LOWTHER
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is in possession of information of that kind.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
What I founded myself on was the statement that, these principles would be made of universal application.
*MR. JAMES LOWTHER
But I think if the hon. and learned Gentleman casts his eye lower down the Notice Paper to-night he will see that a measure is to be introduced dealing with a kindred subject in respect to Scotland, and if universality of application is one of the merits of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill it seems somewhat, inconsistent that a measure dealing with Scotland should stand in the name of one of his Colleagues in the Government to be immediately submitted to this House. On a former occasion, when a Bill partaking largely of the character of the present measure was before the last House of Commons, I felt it my duty to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months. That Motion, or at any rate the discussion consequent thereon, has, I ant glad to find, had one very beneficial result—namely, as far as I can gather from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, the Bill he now proposes omits certain provisions which were extremely objectionable in the measure of last year. That measure, which was introduced in a very able speech of the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) dived, I thought somewhat dangerously, into the question of coat bilious occupation, and I certainly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) on having managed to steer clear, to a large extent at any rate, of the pitfalls which surrounded the previous measure in that regard. With regard to the extent to which the right 1926 hon. Gentleman carries that principle in the present measure I would like to say a word. Our representative system is founded upon what is known as the local principle. That may or may not be the soundest basis upon which the principle of representation should be framed, but it has always been the principle supported by Parliament, and I very much question whet her Parliament would be lightly induced to part from it. We have known many propositions made to this House for altering that system of local representation. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt recollects the proposal brought forward by Mr. John Stuart Mill in favour of the system of personal representation. I confess when I heard some of the arguments which have been advanced to-night in favour of comprehensive changes in our existing registration system I felt we must be losing sight of the fact that Parliament has always declined to vary that local representation and to endorse mere personal representation. This Bill, as I understand it, although it steers clear of that continuous occupation included in former measures, provides that a person who is duly qualified by residence to vote in respect of his qualification in one given locality is ipso facto entitled to record Ids vote where-ever he happens to be. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but some of those who followed him indicated that such was the case. Now, on the contrary, I say that a vote is conferred upon a person in respect of a local qualification, and until he identifies himself with some other locality by a sufficiently long term to enable him to be put on the register as a member of that other local community, he ought not to be foisted as a voter out a community with which he has no local connection. I think the right hon. Gentleman endorses that as being involved in the principle of local representation. Of course, if we adopt the principle of personal representation, it would not matter where the person resided at the time the election took place, and if he voted in respect of individual capacity and not in respect of local connection, he ought to have a vote in the nearest polling booth to the place where he happened to be residing. I am glad to find that we may entirely get rid of the theory that Her Majesty's sub- 1927 jects are to be entitled to vote wherever they happen to be, with or without reference to the localities to which the votes belong. That brings me to the vital question of the period of residence. Three months is a probationary period not long enough to identify a person who claims to vote in a locality in which he has resided for only that term. I am glad that countenance has not been given in the Bill to the theory that the Queen's subjects should be at liberty to vote wherever they may happen to be at a given moment. But, Sir, the period of residence given in the Bill is certainly not long enough. The right hon. Gentleman and the Government have erred in making the period so short. A good deal may be said against 12 months, but the error is as great in making it three. Six mouths ought to be the irreducible and. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will yield tot he suggestion that six should be included in the Bill as a minimum. The right hon. Gentleman told us he would entrust the preparation of the new register to an official who would be paid out of local rates. Well, I do not think any attempt should be made to add to local burdens, and I am sure the House will not wish to add to them at this juncture. I am of opinion that that portion of the Bill will be resisted from mote than one quarter of the House. The right hon. Gentleman cannot be justified in proposing to east the expenditure in this twitter on the owners of real estate alone. The preparation of the Voters' Lists is a national duty, and should not be accepted by the House as local in its application. Then a point was made with regard to the extent to which this measure would apply. Well, Sir, I have always protested against the fragmentary and piecemeal character of legislation relating to the representation of the people in this House. An hon. Member has told us that this measure must add some 25 or 30 per cent. to the electorate of the Kingdom, which shows that it is a very comprehensive measure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. V. Harcourt), who nods approval of that, has also a Bill of his own dealing with the representation of the people, and surely there is reason to complain that such measures should be brought in this fragmentary way, and by different Ministers sitting on the same Bench. My point is that the whole subject should 1928 be dealt with in a thoroughly comprehensive measure. That is the practice of Parliament, and I think the House will agree with me that time—the time of hon. Members and of the Government—can be economised if these Bills were merged and one scheme submitted to us. There is one other matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. It is that he should take into account the case of that class of persons who are not of the class of servants, but who live in premises in the discharge of their work. These premises the fully rated; where they are so rutted the persons occupying them are entitled to consideration. I shall not detain the House more than a moment longer, but I should like to say that I agree wit h and endorse what has been said as to the London County Council having the nomination of persons for the preparation of the lists. I think there will be complete want of confidence in any proposal that gives this power to that body. The County Council has displayed a marked bias. It has shown a partisan character, and we cannot accept it as a competent body to discharge the duties cast upon it by the machinery of your Bill. If time right hon. Gentleman does not want to prejudice the chances of the Bill he will take my advice and dissociate the initiative in such appointments from any connection with partisan bodies. I hope his draft of the Bill is not altogether final on several of the questions involved, and I trust any practical suggestion that may be made will be entertained by him, and that a fair opportunity will be given to the House at large for discussion on the later stages of the measure.
§ *MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
I do not intend to discuss a Bill which does not apply to Ireland. I merely rise in order to enter my protest against some observations of the hon. and learned Member for North Louth respecting one of the County Court Judges of Ireland. I speak as a member of the Irish Bar, and as one acquainted with the gentleman referred to. I can safely say that there is no foundation for the suggestion that the late Government gave him his promotion in return for services rendered in connection with the registration of voters. This gentleman (Mr. Shaw) occupied a high position in his profession. His appointment to a County 1929 Court Judgeship was universally recognised as a good appointment on the merits. I regret that any suggestion to the contrary has been made, and I cannot allow any such statement to pass uncontradicted.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
We propose to take the Second Reading of the Bill on Monday. All the questions asked to-night will be answered to-morrow morning, when hon. Gentlemen see the Bill. It is now, as a matter of fact, in the printers' Lands, and I only await the permission of the House to introduce it, so that you may have copies of it as early as possible. I trust the House will now grant me leave to bring in the measure. I have to thank the House for the gracious hearing it gave to my explanation of the Bill. I am glad to have heard the criticisms passed, and I have no doubt they will prove of advantage to us in the further consideration of the measure. With reference to Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has under consideration certain clauses framed with the intention of extending some portions of the Bill to that country—without having a separate Bill, as will be necessary in the case of Scotland. I now ask for leave to introduce the Bill.
§ Question put, awl agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Henry H. Fowler, Mr. Secretary Asquith, and Sir Walter Foster.
§ Bill presented, awl read the first time. [Bill 215.]