§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading continued.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, if we may now return to the Representation of the People Bill, it will be noted that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, is carrying both drugs and votes to-day on his broad back—I hesitate to say, "in his pocket", because that might have sinister meanings. He has already established over these last two or three years, if I may say so, a considerable reputation in your Lordships' House for piloting a number of important Bills 1046 through to the Statute Book. To-day he is widening his range still further by extending it to a Representation of the People Bill.
He cannot have dealt with this subject before because, as he said, this is the first Bill of this character for twenty years. It is the first Bill of this character, and I venture to guess that it is a so the first Bill presented to your Lordships' House which includes the word "teenage". I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Conesford will approve of that when we come to the Committee stage, but clearly we are now getting a little more up to date on the Statute Book. May I say, in the same spirit, how delighted I am that the noble Lord, Lord Royle, is proposing to celebrate his birthday by taking part in our debates to-day.
This Bill amends the law governing elections to another place, and also to local councils. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, stressed that we have a special entitlement to examine it because we all may have the right to a vote in the next Parliamentary elections. Who knows? I hope that I shall carry him with me in saying that those are not the only grounds for our entitlement. It is a direct concern of your Lordships' House, because both Houses together make up Parliament. Not only that, but elections, whether national or local, affect the government and administration of the country, and your Lordships, by virtue of being Members of Parliament, have a very special interest in its good government.
The noble Lord referred to the extent to which this Bill implemented the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. He said that it took up 60 of them out of 71. I trust he will agree that among the 11 which were rejected were some of the most important. In his speech he seemed to me not to grant sufficient weight to the fact that the advice of an all-Party Speaker's Conference is traditionally designed as a safeguard against the rules of the election fight being changed at the will of one political Party only—that is, the Party that happens to have a majority in another place at a certain time. Accordingly, the present Government have only themselves; to blame if a penetrating inquisition is made into those cases where they have ridden roughshod over all-Party agreement in the Speaker's Conference.
1047 The first major issue is in Clause 1, the voting age. Here the Speaker's Conference agreed by 24 votes to one that it should be reduced to 20 from 21—or, more accurately, from 21 years and 4 months, because I believe that it now is impossible for anybody actually to cast a vote until he or she has reached the age of 21 and 4 months. Indeed, as the noble Lord rightly said, in many instances it is later than that, because the time after one's 21st birthday when one actually acquires the right to vote depends on the place of one's birthday in the calendar.
The Government have rejected this all-Party decision of the Speaker's Conference, and have announced that in their view the age should be 18. I am inclined to think that this is because this Government are absolutely hypnotised by the Majority Report of the Latey Committee. Of course, as the noble Lord rightly said, the Latey Committee did not in fact have this subject within their terms of reference. They were invited to examine all manner of other things, but not the voting age. I really do not think that the Latey Report itself can in any sense be urged in support of a decision to make the voting age 18. The Majority Report of the Committee said, in paragraph 25:But it does not seem to us that changes in the civic field are at all likely to follow changes in the private field even if we wished that they should. It is a very different thing to cope adequately with one's own personal and private affairs and to measure up to public and civic responsibilities. … We do not accept that the civic and the private field either would or should necessarily go together.Therefore in so far as the Government's case for fixing the voting age at eighteen rests on the Majority Report of the Latey Committee, it falls down.
I appreciate, however, that the noble Lord explained that that was only the part of the case. The other part—and maybe the greater part—was the new assessment of the place and the part which younger people should be taking in society, what with their own earlier physical maturity and the advantage that they have nowadays, through television and otherwise, of acquainting themselves more easily with what is going on all over the world.
The Government are so keen to give maximum powers to boys and girls from 1048 their 18th birthday onwards that they now intend that they should have the vote. The debates on this subject in another place, which are well worth reading, showed that there were divided views on this in both the main Parties, and, for all I know, in the third Party. Personally I think that the Speaker's Conference was right. I think the members of that were wise to recommend, by an overwhelming majority, the age of 20 for voting. Your Lordships recently voted that the age of marriage without consent of parents or the court should be 20 and not, as the majority of the Latey Committee had recommended, 18. Yet I remember saying on that occasion that it is easy to change one's vote next time if one has made a mistake— as millions of electors now realise they did in 1966—but it is not so easy, even with modern divorce laws, to change one's partner. One marries for life, not for the length of a Parliament. So I am not intending personally to table an Amendment to leave out "18" in Clause 1 and to insert "20", because I think that there is a difference between marriage and voting at elections. In Committee in another place, after a full day's debate and in a Division where there was cross-voting, it was decided by more than a 2 to 1 majority to make the age 20. I would not myself feel justified in moving to reverse that decision. It is far more lastingly serious to make a wrong marriage than to cast a wrong vote.
Moreover, if the present Government are determined to shatter the Labour Party in Wales and Scotland at the next General Election, and to present their seats to the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists, who am I to stop them? I would not dare to speak for Scotland, but I have served as Minister for Welsh Affairs, and in Wales, at any rate, it is high time that the domination of Socialism should be challenged and shattered once and for all, exactly as the domination of Liberalism was challenged and shattered by the Labour Party some forty years ago.
So arising out of Clause 1 I have personally no Amendments in mind; but I have a few questions to ask, arising out of the Government's apparent decision that boys and girls on their 18th birthday are experienced and mature enough to help choose the House of Commons; 1049 in other words, that they are to be regarded as full citizens at 18. At present no one under 21 can serve on a jury. Do the Government regard 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds as mature and experienced enough to serve on a jury; and do they intend to amend the law accordingly? Or are those between 18 and 21 not to be regarded as full citizens in that respect? This is a relevant question which the Government must face, though I must say that I have noticed no legislative enthusiasm, or indeed interest, on the part of the Government in removing the present anomalies in the law relating to jury service, on which the Committee presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, which I appointed in 1963, presented a valuable and unanimous Report almost four years ago. It recommended legislation in various directions, but nothing has been done. I hope that legislation on that Report will not be further delayed while the Government are struggling with this question of the minimum age for jury service.
There will of course be other questions. If full citizenship comes on one's 18th birthday, can a young man reasonably be committed to the care of a local authority up to his 19th birthday, as the Government themselves propose in the White Paper, Children in Trouble, published only nine months ago. In the Government's keenness to establish 18-year-olds as full citizens, do they propose to bring down the age of consent in respect of homosexual offences to 18, very quickly after that has been fixed by Parliament at 21? I have a strong feeling that we shall find that the Government have not thought out all these related questions yet.
To pass on, Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill are generally welcome, I feel sure. Clause 4, "Disfranchisement of offenders in prison, etc.", was hardly mentioned in all the proceedings in another place, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will confirm that it eliminates some rather odd anomalies at the present time. I seem to remember that under existing law some convicted prisoners can claim a lawful entitlement to vote at elections, provided they happen to be incarcerated in a prison in a constituency of which they are on the register. It is all very odd, and I must say that Clause 4 seems a much more logical settlement of the whole matter.
1050 The next clause to which I want to refer is Clause 7. When I was a Member of another place, and when I held responsible office, I used to be seriously worried about the inaccuracies of electoral registers. The proposals here seem to me to be a useful step towards diminishing their inaccuracy, though only a small one. For myself, I believe that by administrative action far more publicity could be given, and ought to be given, to the draft lists of electors and to the period when they can be inspected and mistakes can be pointed out. In the long run, the only way to get the registers of electors substantially more correct is to help or impel potential electors themselves to check that their names are correctly on the registers. The lists, in my view, ought to be available not only in post offices but in other places of public resort. They ought to be strikingly advertised and not simply hung up among a lot of other miscellaneous paper.
I would add that the dates between which claims and corrections can be made are so obscure that I venture to think that only one person in a thousand could state them correctly. I believe that these curious dates are the period November 28 to December 16. Why those odd dates should be so selected I have no idea. It is almost impossible to carry date s like that in one's head. If we could have a more vigorous publicity policy designed to get people to check their own lames on the register, I think it would be a help if the period during which claims could be made was also a more rational one calendar-wise.
Clause 8 increases the maximum election expenses at a Parliamentary election, which by common consent are at present too low. The new figures, I believe, will suffice for the time being. I am a little surprised that provision was not made in another place for the amount of £750 which was in the Bill to be increasable by order in the future in case of need, for at the present rate at which prices are rising the figure of £750 may well be inadequate by 1975, and then a whole new Representation of the People Bill will be imperative.
I am much more concerned about subsection (1)(b) of Clause 8, which deals with local government elections. I really cannot believe that the maxima fixed in that paragraph will be adequate for 1051 Greater London Council elections in the future. I hope that this matter can be further looked at in Committee, because in a curious way, though it was raised in another place, it somehow got shelved. The debate was taken on a group of Amendments, and this one, which seemed to me outstandingly important, was hardly discussed, and the Government answer was directed to other Amendments and not this one. It is a matter of common concern to all Parties, and indeed to anybody thinking of standing for the Greater London Council. The material point is that whereas at present there are large constituencies for the Greater London Council and each constituency elects three or four candidates, after a future date, which may be coming near, it will be a case of one candidate being elected for each constituency, and each of these constituencies is to be the same size as a Parliamentary constituency. It is curiously anomalous, therefore, to find that the amount which a G.L.C. candidate will be allowed to spend will be considerably less than half what a Parliamentary candidate, contesting the same seat, with virtually the same electorate, would be permitted.
I have no comments, at any rate at this stage, on Clauses 9 to 14, except to welcome the improvements proposed in the Bill as to broadcasting, and to congratulate the Government on having bowed to criticism in another place regarding Clause 12, so that now Party political descriptions may be used on nomination and ballot papers in local government elections as well as in Parliamentary elections.
The content of Clause 15 was recommended to the Government by nobody, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, frankly avowed. More than that, it is directly contrary to a recommendation of the Maud Committee in relation to local government, who quite rightly recognised that one ought to enlarge and not restrict the categories of people eligible to stand as candidates for local councils. I find this flouting of the Maud recommendation most strange. It had seemed to me (and I have some local government experience) that all those in local government, regardless of Party, were constantly disturbed at the difficulty of finding men and women of requisite quality to come 1052 forward and stand for election. In a situation like this, it seems madness to proceed by reducing and narrowing the categories of people who will be eligible to become candidates.
Clause 15 is also a further violation of the principle of "No taxation without representation," a democratic principle to which Socialists no longer appear to pay even lip service. I will not develop the arguments against this clause, or rather against the two separate parts which as the noble Lord said this clause contains, because obviously we shall have to examine it thoroughly in Committee. The Government have realised that the effects of Clause 15 in the City of London would be absurd, and therefore they have excluded the City, and I suspect that the effects in certain places elsewhere would be absurd, too. No doubt that is a reason why a good many Government Back-Benchers in another place failed to support the clause, and the Government's majority on it shrunk to a mere 13.
There is another proposal in the Bill which was recommended to the Government by nobody at all. That is the proposal in Part II of Schedule 1 that polling hours in Parliamentary elections should be extended from 9 to 10 p.m. This again conflicts with a unanimous recommendation of the Speaker's Conference, which specifically considered the question of polling hours and came down unanimously in favour of no change. I understand that the Government consulted the local authority associations about the idea of extending the time from 9 to 9.30 p.m. and discovered that those whom they consulted were dead against that; so thereupon they decided to pay less than no attention to the warnings they received, and they have put into this Bill not 9.30 p.m. but 10 p.m. The issue is whether an extension by one hour will enable so many extra electors to cast their votes who, had they wished, could not have voted between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., as to justify the extra strain imposed on staffs and everybody in what is already, for all concerned, an extremely wearing day. In Committee I shall ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, among other things, what extra cost this additional hour will impose upon public funds; for, frankly, 1053 I do not believe the statement in the Financial Memorandum prefixed to the Bill that that cannot be quantified.
There were several other matters raised in Committee or on Report in another place which the Government promised to consider with a view to possibly putting down some Amendments in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred, I think, to one of those, the question of expenses if an election is cancelled through the death of a candidate. If I am right in believing that the Committee stage may be taken a fortnight to-day, may I express the hope that the Government will table their own Amendments on that and any other points as quickly as possible, so that there is proper time to consider them. For my part, I should like to see a new clause in this Bill to provide that electors in rural district council elections are no longer deprived of the citizen's normal right to a postal vote. There is nothing about that in the Bill as it stands, but it has never seemed to me fair or reasonable that everybody, at all kinds of other local elections, right down to urban district council elections, can claim the right to vote by post, yet mysteriously this right is not accepted in the case of rural district councils.
I would not advise my noble friends to vote against this Bill on Second Reading. In another place it received a Second and a Third Reading without a Division, but a number of the separate points it concerned gave rise to searching debate in Committee. I hope that the same pattern may be repeated here. I am sure that we should put this Bill on the Statute Book, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for having described it as a vehicle of conservative adjustment, because we may be able to carry that further. If it reaches the Statute Book, the Bill will add some 3 million names to the electoral registers from February, 1970. That is an increase of some 8 per cent. Owing to movement of population over the last fifteen years or so, there are already some huge electorates and some quite small ones, as exemplified by what we see to be the electorate in Ladywood, where a by-election is now pending. These existing electorates, whatever their size, will all be increased by some 8 per cent. under Clause 1 of the Bill. That means that Clause 1 will considerably aggravate these wide and quite in- 1054 defensible anomalies in the size of constituencies. Therefore, the passing of this Bill will render even more urgent the redistribution of Parliamentary constituencies on a more just basis in time for February, 1970.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I should like to join the two previous noble Lords in suggesting that we in this House have a real interest in this Bill. Indeed, I will go further than them and say that we have a particular interest; that we should apply the principle quis custodiet ipsos custodes, which may well be translated as "Every Member of the House of Commons has a vested interest and we have not". We on these Benches greatly welcome this Bill. We have, of course, one major reservation: we are extremely sorry that there is no recommendation for proportional representation, not as a means of increasing the representation of minor Parties (though your Lordships mist not expect me to think that that is a bad thing) but as a way of enabling people to exercise votes between members of individual Parties and therefore of not having to vote just between Governments but between policies as well.
We particularly welcome the provision reducing the age to 18, and we think this is a step forward for reasons which have been most fully put by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I am not certain that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, about Wales were not slightly tinged by sour grapes. There is only one thing worse than having a political control of a country shattered; it is not ever having had the political control and not being likely to have it.
Among the minor points of the Bill, we are interested in the position whereby people are able to register for Parliamentary elections in two places and choose in which place to use their vote. We think this is subject to some abuse, and we are not certain of the exact way to put it right. We shall do our best to produce some Amendment at the Committee stage, but we hope that the Government will look at this point again. On election expenses, I am sure that the moves are good ones. We need a greater and more realistic allowance for election expenses, particularly in by-elections. Anyone who has had much experience of 1055 the workings of by-elections knows that the present laws are regularly broken by people on all sides. I join the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in his plea for a more realistic allowance for Greater London Council elections. Obviously, in this case and in the case of regional government—if we get it—there is a totally different kind of election from the ordinary local government one, and it should be treated separately and on a different scale.
The main point that I want to talk about this afternoon is on Clause 15, and here I must admit to your Lordships that I differ not only with the Government but with my friend in another place who was dealing with this Bill. If l may digress once more, I took some slight exception to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in dealing with Clause 15, made a differentiation between political motivation and motivation from a genuine concern for the quality of local government. If I may say so, he also made the same distinction when we were talking about cannabis earlier. I am a politician, and I am proud of it. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, is a very good politician, and I hope he is proud of it, and I hope we shall not fall into the false distinction of thinking that things that are political are somehow bad and that good motives are not in some way political. However, I concur with the Government in considering that the property qualification—
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? The point of principle he is putting in commenting on what I have said is important. What I had in mind is that a policy should be supported on the basis of the facts and whether you consider it right or not, not on the basis of whether you consider it likely to be politically popular or unpopular. That is the distinction I make.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but I hope he will respect my view that I think we use the word "political" pejoratively too often, even possibly in these cases.
I concur with the idea that the property qualification is an anomaly, but there are two ways of dealing with an anomaly. One is that you can remove it; the other 1056 is that you can deal with the rest of the situation in such a way that the anomaly disappears and ceases to be anomalous. I believe that in this case the Government have chosen the wrong alternative. This is a time when we are seeking more not less participation in all local matters and matters of local government. It is therefore, I should have thought, an occasion when we should be seeking to give more people the vote and not fewer people. I realise that we are doing this by extending the age group, but there are other people. Those who have businesses in local government areas have a definite interest in what goes on in that area. Indeed, they are taxed for the support of that area, and if they do not have a vote they are subject to taxation without having representation.
Those who work in an area also have a considerable interest in the services that it provides. I should like to see some kind of system introduced which would give some say in local government to those who work in the area as well as to those who have businesses there. In areas where there is a great deal of non-resident industry, of course this could not be on the basis of a vote for every person who worked there. But it would not be impossible to devise a means for giving the people who worked in an area, as well as the people who had businesses in an area, some say on the local council. It would be unprecedented in the English political system but that is not to say that it is necessarily wrong. It is argued that this would be to give people two votes. I see no reason why they should not have two votes, or three or four, or even 24 so long as they are in different areas for different authorities and so long as they have an interest there. If I belong to two chess clubs, or am a shareholder in two electronic firms, no one says that I am somehow unfair if I go along and vote at the annual meeting of each. Likewise, if I have a business in Hythe, work in Camden and live in Petersfield, there is no reason why I should not have some representation at some level in all of those areas.
I should also like to mention the second part of Clause 15, the property qualification for membership of a local authority. I think that the abolition of this qualification is bad, not because I think it should exist as it is, but because I think it should 1057 be extended. If the electors of Camden wish to elect people who live and work entirely outside the boundary, why should they not do so? We may question whether they are sensible to do so, but I do not see that it is any business of ours to stop them doing so if that is what they want to do. It has been argued that the change we are making makes the system work mutatis mutandis in the same way as it does in national elections. There is a comprehensible reason for saying that people who vote for M.P.s should be citizens of the United Kingdom. I do not think that it is necessarily an overwhelming reason, but it is a comprehensible one. It is that so long as we have a Nation State it is not right to have people sitting in the House of Commons who do not have a loyalty to this House and to the Queen. But we are reducing the whole subject to the level of the "Napoleon of Notting Hill" if we apply this principle to local elections.
I can see no reason, no really good reason, for both these changes as they are proposed. I can see that taken in isolation they may appear to be quite reasonable. I should have thought that as part of a general pattern of the way that we want to see the electoral system in this country, and local government in this country, progressing, they are retrogressive and not progressive steps. I believe that the Government have not really thought through these particular implications, and I hope that this House will amend this particular clause in Committee.
§ 4.39 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I share with the speakers who have already spoken gratitude for this Bill in general. I do not want to speak for long on any of the clauses in particular, except Clause 15. Here I must join sides both with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and with the last noble Lord who has spoken, in my dislike of the clause as at present drafted. We have already been told that this particular clause has got in without the sort of consultation that one would have expected to take place in a matter of this kind. We are told that there has been correspondence with local authorities, and that many of them 1058 have expressed a dislike of this clause but have not asked for consultation. I imagine that the reason they have not asked for consultation is that they did not think it possible for this particular clause to go forward. But now here it is. We have been told that the plain fact is that in this matter the Government are giving effect to their own clear view of principle. This is a principle which, as I understand it, has never yet been properly debated, has never been properly discussed. Yet here it is, included in a clause in what otherwise is an important Bill
I wish to criticise the clause on two grounds: first of all, as to the way in which it has been brought in, which I have already indicated; and, secondly, as to its timing. It seems to me most unfortunate that this clause should have come in before the Royal Commission on Local Government have had a chance to report. I wonder whether the effect has been really thought through in the local situation. I imagine that when the Commission report it will be some time—probably three, four or five yearsyearsbefore their recommendations are put into effect. In that time, if this clause goes forward, people who have sat for years on a local council will have been turned out of their seats. I wonder whether, when the recommendations are then put into effect so that the place in which they reside comes into the area, they will want to go back on to a council from which they have had to retire.
I am concerned here about two points. In relation to the first part of the clause, I have the pastoral oversight for an area which, because it is an island, is a slightly difficult area to deal with in Portsmouth; the City boundaries go just outside the island area, but not very far. During the last fifteen years between 30,003 and 40,000 of the citizens of Portsmouth have been rehoused on a housing estate which is not within the City boundaries, and they therefore have no vote in local elections so far as the Portsmouth Council is concerned. They pay their rents to that Council, yet they have no voice in the way in which the affairs of the Council are conducted. I had so much hoped that the Government were going to accept the recommendations of the Royal Commission because then practically all these people who are at present 1059 disenfranchised, so far as the City Corporation is concerned, the body to which they pay their rents, and so on, would be brought back. They all work in Portsmouth; they come in every day. But at the moment there is a stupid and anomalous position.
If the second part of the clause goes through, I am afraid that the effect on local government will be very serious. We shall certainly lose from eight to ten very valued councillors on the City Council, and I can see no reason why the clause should be put into effect. I do not believe that the position is analogous to that of Parliamentary elections since local elections are on a quite different footing. We have already been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that Members of Parliament do not need to live in their constituencies, because they represent the general assembly. This can be applied the other way to those in local government whose interests lie in a particular area, whose whole life is spent in that area, yet who happen to live just outside and are prevented from standing for election in the local council. I very much hope that very serious consideration will be given to this clause in Committee.
I feel that there is a strong case for arguing that this is a matter for local decision and not something to be imposed by the Central Government in Westminster. It has already been recognised that the Greater London Council is an exception. I believe that there are a number of other exceptions over the country, and this fact should be taken into account. Therefore, although I express gratitude for the Bill in general, I have very severe reservations about Clause 15 and I hope that some changes will be made to it before it leaves this House.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD COTTESLOE
My Lords, this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made clear in his introduction, for the most part embodies the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, which sat for three years, and of the Home Secretary's Electoral Advisory Conference, which consisted of experts and representatives of the main political Parties. I suppose we shall all agree that if the 1060 electoral law is to be changed and brought up to date, as from time to time it must be, that is the way in which it should be done. But there are embodied in the Bill other changes, some which are different from those recommended by the Conferences and others which were not considered by them at all. I should like to direct your Lordships' attention to the more important of these matters.
First of all, there is the matter of the age of entitlement to a vote. The Speaker's Conference recommended the age of 20; the Bill says 18. Well, the Latey Committee has recommended 18 as the age of majority, and this has, I think, met with a general acceptance. Notwithstanding what my noble friend Lord Brooke has said, that fact seems to me to be perhaps sufficient to justify the Government's decision on this point to override the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference.
There is then the question of Party labels on nomination papers and ballot papers. The Speaker's Conference held that the prohibition on Party labels should be maintained. Clause 12 of the Bill would remove it. Rather surprisingly, although the Government White Paper lists this change under the heading of major issues, the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill does not mention it at all. The White Paper merely says that there is "a strong case in principle" for Party labels—it does not attempt to say what that case is. I know that it is said, and indeed it has been said to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that this will help to prevent people from voting for the wrong candidate, particularly in local elections where there is sometimes a long list of candidates. But what a feeble reason that is! People who do not know whom they should vote for do not deserve to have a vote at all, and any such random voting probably cancels itself out.
It seems to me that there is a strong case on general grounds for not overriding the view of the Speaker's Conference on what the Government themselves list as a major issue; and, also, that there is a strong case in principle for maintaining the prohibition. I think many of your Lordships would agree that the power of the Party machines is a factor already too dominant in elections. More particularly in the smaller local elections—although, of course, we must accept that 1061 nowadays most votes will be cast on a Party basis—anything that tends to prevent people from taking account of the merits of candidates as individuals rather than the merits of the political Parties that support them is to be deplored. I very much hope that the Government will think again and will accept the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference on this point.
Then, my Lords, we come to Clause 15, and this is an altogether more serious matter. This is something that forms no part of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference and it was not considered at all by the Home Secretary's Conference. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has told us why. But it is not mentioned or forecast in the Government's White Paper either. I find it difficult to understand how it got into the Bill at all, except by an afterthought, and, like many afterthoughts, it would have been better not thought of at all.
Clause 15 does two separate things. In the first place, it takes away from 130,000 people now on the registers their right of voting in local government elections. This was no part of the Government's White Paper; it has just appeared from nowhere. It seems to me, and I think will seem to many of your Lordships, a prime example of the way in which changes in the electoral law should not be made. On the merits of the question, the suggestion that the business vote—if I may call it that—the nonresidential vote, creates an improper plurality in the hands of a few favoured people is nonsense. They have one vote in the election of one local authority, and they may have another vote in the election of a different local authority, paying rates in both. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, pointed out, in just the same way a shareholder in two different companies may have one vote in the election of the board of one company and another vote in the election of the board of another company. There is nothing wrong in that. No one gets more than one vote in the same election.
Then it is said that the abolition of the non-residential vote will remove an anomaly; that whereas individual nonresident traders can vote in local elections, the limited companies that provide the bulk of the business activities in most areas, and the people who spend 1062 their day working in those areas, cannot. That is, of course, perfectly true. But it is also true that in many urban areas the business and the commercial activities provide the greater part of the rates. If there is an anomaly, it is that many of those who provide the local authority with its revenue—those who spend their working day in its area—have no say in electing that authority. That is the great anomaly that many of your Lordships may think ought in equity to be set right. But it can be no possible reason for depriving 130,000 non-resident ratepayers, who are now on the register as individuals, of their right to vote is local government elections.
The effect of Clause 15 is serious enough on that ground, but the second and separate effect is, I think, far more so. The second effect of this clause is to prohibit people living outside a particular local government area from standing for the local council of that area. Whatever may be the merits of such a proposal in theory, and I must confess that I do not know what they are—those merits that have been put forward in this afternoon's debate do not seem to me to hold much water—there can be no doubt whatever that this proposal will have a disastrous effect on the quality and efficiency of many local councils.
The Maud Committee on the Management of Local Government are unanimous in their Report in their concern at the difficulty that local councils have in attracting men and women of sufficient ability and experience to carry oh their work with the breadth of vision that it calls for. In order to improve the position, they recommend that there should be an additional qualification for election to a local authority; that it should be open to anyone who has had a principal place of work within the area of the local authority for the previous twelve months to stand for election. This admirable proposal, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, would certainly improve the position. But Clause 15 of this Bill would have precisely the opposite effect. It may be that your Lordships do not realise the extent of the effect it would, in fact, have. In the great cities, many of the existing councillors, and m any of the ablest of them, would be debarred from seeking re-election. In Birmingham, 24 councillors would be unable to stand again, in Manchester 18, in Nottingham 1063 14, in Glasgow 12, and the London Borough of Camden—in terms of rateable value the fourth largest local authority in the country; larger than Liverpool, larger than Manchester—would lose six of its committee chairmen and vice-chairmen, two former mayors and the leader of the Opposition.
Anyone who has any knowledge and experience of local government knows that the very drastic effect of this provision on local government, not only in the cities but also in the scattered rural areas, would be utterly deplorable. It is really no good the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, being optimistic. There is no doubt whatever what will be the effect. In another place there was so little enthusiasm for this proposal that the Government carried it by only 240 votes to 226—a majority of 14. I hope that on consideration they will now decide to drop a proposal that must do great damage to the efficiency of local government, and that they will themselves bring forward on the Committee stage a suitable Amendment.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, we have so far got through this debate without anybody repeating the slogan, "One man, one vote". I know there are many people who find that slogan attractive and persuasive. It may be that in a Parliamentary election there is something to be said for the principle of "One man, one vote", because whether the elector casts his vote in one constituency or in another he is, in fact, voting for or against the same Government. But in local government that does not hold good. If an elector loses the vote which he holds in respect of business premises, then in one municipality he loses his power to influence that municipality altogether, because he is voting in a contest in which only one of the two municipalities is engaged.
He still continues, of course, to pay his rates to the municipality in which he has lost his vote. That, I would think, infringes another constitutional principle—and one that has been accepted as such for many years: "No taxation without representation". That is exactly what this Bill does. It takes away from the elector such power as the vote gives 1064 him to influence the conduct or behaviour of a municipality in which he has a substantial interest. That, I would have thought, was quite clearly wrong.
Now there are many things in this Bill which, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor has pointed out, will be welcomed by those who are concerned with elections, particularly local government elections; but, my Lords, there are other things in the Bill that I hope your Lordships will most vigorously resist.
The Bill will make two major changes in the conduct of local elections. It will abolish the non-resident qualification for voting at local elections, and it will also abolish the property qualification for election to a local authority. Now these changes are neither necessary nor desirable. Indeed, I think they are wholly harmful. They may well result, as has been pointed out by my noble friend, in local authorities' losing many of their most valued and competent members. It is interesting to see the extent to which this is going to affect local councils. A survey of 16 local authorities, with a combined membership of 943 members, shows that no fewer than 104 of the 943 councillors would no longer be eligible for membership of their council. Very nearly one councillor in ten would cease to qualify for election. That, I think, illustrates the very far-reaching change which these proposals are going to have on the composition of local authorities. Is it really desired that these councillors who are willing to devote their time and energy to the service of their council should be deprived of the opportunity of doing so, merely in order to satisfy some fancied or trivial social or political injustice which the duplicate vote in local government is said to create?
My Lords, local government to-day aims at broadening and not restraining the field from which members of the council can be drawn. That view is strongly expressed in Lord Redcliffe-Maud's Report on the management of local authorities; and I think that everybody who is concerned with local authorities recognises the great difficulty which exists at present in finding suitable men and women who are willing to give to the working of local government that time and energy which the proper conduct of a council's work demands. The 1065 amount of time and energy which must be given to local government work today is very formidable and very considerable indeed, and it is not easy to find persons who are prepared to make the necessary sacrifice. I should have thought that the present was a singularly inappropriate time to carry out these changes. In a few months the Report of the Royal Commission will be published, and it is certain that the Report will recommend a substantial readjustment of the boundaries of most local authorities. Such a readjustment of boundaries may well make the purpose of the changes which are proposed in the Bill unnecessary.
Many persons, including councillors and prospective councillors, have of course gone to live just outside the boundaries of the town in which they work, and it is, I think, worthwhile to consider for a moment what the effects of these changes are going to be on a local authority before and after its boundaries have been readjusted. In the town of Wolverhampton the boundaries of the borough have been adjusted and brought up to date. The result has been that although before adjustment nine councillors would have ceased to be eligible for election, after adjustment, under which the outlying districts of the town to which people have gone are brought into the borough, the number of councillors who will cease to qualify for election is reduced to, I think, one. That shows very clearly what the effect of the reorganisation of boundaries which will follow the publication of the Maud Report is going to be. It shows very plainly, I think, that the change which this Bill seeks to make will prove to be something of a very trivial nature when the boundaries are adjusted. Would it not be better to wait until the Report of the Royal Commission is published before carrying out changes which, as I have said, are going to have far-reaching results?
My Lords, that is all I desire to say about Clause 15. I hope that when the time comes your Lordships will reject that part of the Bill. There are some other measures in which I have no doubt we shall desire to make some changes. As to Clause 8, which deals with election expenses, my noble friend Lord Brooke has pointed out that some ad- 1066 justments will be required in the case of elections to the Greater London Council. So they will. Frankly, I think that that omission was an oversight rather than an omission by design, and that when the time comes we shall have no difficulty in putting it right.
I do not propose to say anything further about those matters this afternoon. On the Committee stage of this Bill we shall have a number of matters—some major matters, some less important—about which we shall desire, if we can, to obtain some satisfaction.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, may I start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, how much I appreciate his very kind reference to myself at the beginning of his speech? By the time I sit down I shall be wondering in my own mind whether I was right to celebrate my birthday by making a speech in your Lordships' House—
SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear,hear!
§ LORD ROYLE
This is particularly so in view of the "Hear, hear!" from in front of me, because it would appear that Clause 15 is the one that has attracted most attention in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I am not surprised; for, with the possible exception of the change to the age of 18 for voting purposes, this is the clause that seems to stand out. But it was Clause 15 of the Bill which attracted me, and perhaps I shall shock some of my noble colleagues on this side of the House when I say that in common with some previous speakers, I am going to be critical of the clause. But I make one discrimination, a discrimination which has not been specifically made so far in reference to Clause 15. That is the difference between the criticisms. I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, really touched on it; although perhaps I shall say it rather differently. I am discriminating between property disqualification and place of work disqualification.
My Lords, I believe this is terribly important. I do not think noble Lords opposite have stressed enough the difference here. Not one of them has said that it is wrong to have a vote on the grounds of property. I am opposed to votes for property purposes; but I am in favour of votes on the qualification of 1067 working in a certain area. That is where I differ. My criticisms are based purely and simply on the fact of a man living in one locality (although his greater interests might be in another) being unable to sit on the local authority of the other locality because he does not actually reside there. Therefore, the Government are right in taking any step which will wipe out the right to vote on the ground of property. I want to make that very clear from the beginning.
My concern is with the other person, the person who works in and is mostly engaged in a district in which he does not live. In Parliamentary elections—and this has been often said this afternoon—we must all believe in the principle of "one man, one vote"; otherwise an individual has two indirect votes for one authority, in this particular case, Parliament. But in all fairness I suggest that so far as local authority representation is concerned the case is different. The proposal contained in Clause 15 has not been before any electoral conference. Furthermore, as was said in the Committee stage of the House of Commons, Amendments to this clause in the Bill were defeated by only the narrowest of majorities. In fact, the Maud Commission recommended that those whose principal place of work was in a certain area of an authority should be eligible to participate in the work of that authority.
My Lords, this is the point I want to make. This is very different from qualification on the ground of property. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth spent some time this afternoon discussing the Royal Commission. Certainly the Royal Commission is important in this aspect at this particular time. But we do not know what suggestions the Royal Commission are going to come up with. It may well be they will come up with suggestions of amalgamations. In fact, it is not long since we amalgamated the police forces in this country. It may well be that, based on that, the Royal Commission will report that it is desirable that there should be amalgamations, and perhaps large amalgamations, in the local authorities. Are we to start all over again? Are we to say to a man, "You will not sit on that local authority because you live in the one next-door", only in 1068 due course for legislation to be introduced on the lines of a Royal Commission Report which will make those two authorities one? In that case we shall for some period have prohibited a man from serving on a particular authority for which, by the amalgamations which are to come, he might be qualified to serve.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, surely that is the strongest possible argument for postponing these proposals in the Bill.
§ LORD ROYLE
That is exactly what I am saying. That is what I am arguing. Perhaps the noble Lord is confusing what I say about property qualification with what I say about work qualification. I am arguing that this is a reason for postponing the proposal until such time as the Royal Commission reports. A man's greater interest may be in the town in which he works rather than in the place in which he lives. Members of Parliament do not always live in their constituencies. When it comes to considering legislation before Parliament, I am quite sure that a good M.P. has a greater interest in the constituency he represents than in his home town.
Naturally, in these matters one comes to the area one knows best to illustrate what is in one's mind. I am a resident of the town of Hove which is quite close to Brighton. It seems obvious to most people that before long those two towns must be one; in fact, there are many people resident in Brighton who do not know where the dividing line is, for once you are off the sea front there is no indication of it at all. Therefore, it seems apparent that they must come together at sometime. I have looked up the situation in the Brighton Council. I find that the Brighton Council are 76 in number and include 10 non-residents.
Perhaps in this connection I may be forgiven for making a personal reference. Noble Lords will remember our late noble colleague, Lord Cohen of Brighton. Lord Cohen lived in a road the right-hand side of which was in Brighton, the left-hand side of which was in Hove. He lived in Hove; yet he devoted the whole of his life to public service in Brighton. Would anyone doubt that Lord Cohen of Brighton was one of the greatest local government men that Brighton ever had? In addition, his interest in the arts and related matters 1069 made him a very valuable citizen. But if this clause had been on the Statute Books during his lifetime he would not have been able to sit on the council in Brighton. I do not think there could be a better illustration of the point I am trying to make.
My Lords, there is another point. If we interfere along these lines in local government matters, what about magisterial matters? Are we in future to say that anybody who does not live in a particular town shall not be a magistrate in that particular town? I go back to my Brighton illustration. There are 59 active magistrates in Brighton. Twenty five of them do not live in the borough; but they have an interest in the crime in Brighton because they have other interests in the town. I go further. What about corporation officials and staff? Are we going to say that because a person is employed by a local authority he must live in that authority's area? I know some parts of this country where there would be great difficulty in persuading a town clerk to live in the town where he works. If we carry this matter to a logical conclusion, we have to consider all those questions as well.
My Lords, the other part of the country with which I am mostly concerned, and have always been, is the large conurbation of Manchester. Up there Stockport, Salford, Bury, Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham, Ashton, Eccles, Stretford, Irlam and Swinton have all a common boundary with Manchester. Is anybody going to say that a person who lives in any one of those districts has no right, in spite of the fact that he works in Manchester, to sit on the local authority of the City of Manchester? It may well be that I am repeating myself, but when the Royal Commission reports we may see something like a Manchester County Council, with all those authorities within its area. Would it not be better to wait and see what arises? Because those thousands of people who go to Manchester every day might easily become qualified.
I do not think that there is much else to be said, because it is a question of repetition; this matter has been so greatly stressed during the debate. If an apology is in order, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Stonham for the fact that I from this side of the House, join in the chorus of criticism against this 1070 clause, but I do so only after a great deal of thought, and I am quite sure that it would be a mistake to accept the clause, at least at the present time. What I want to see in its place is a clause which would preclude a vote on the grounds of property ownership but would permit a vote or a representation on the local council on the grounds of work and activity. That is where I differ from noble Lords opposite. I do not think it is beyond the wit of man, or of the Government, to get down to making an amendment of that kind.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am afraid that I do not give the assiduous attention to the social columns of The Times that is clearly the practice of my noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and therefore I was unaware that to-day is the birthday of the noble Lord, Lord Royle. I, of course, join in the congratulations extended to the noble Lord, Lord Royle. He has said that on this occasion he has undertaken a rebellion against his Party. I hope that the noble Lord has many more birthdays which he may celebrate in that way. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Royle, need be worried that he will bring himself into any disfavour, because in fact all the noble Lords on the Government side of the House, on the Front Bench and on the Back Benches, agree precisely with what he has said. Indeed, all that I am here to do is to add one more voice to those which we have heard this afternoon referring to one particular provision in the Bill.
After all, my Lords, this is really a House of Commons Bill, and speaking as a Member of your Lordships' House, I think that we should be restrained and circumspect in any comments which we may make about it. I should like to think that there might be some quid pro quo from the House of Commons when they come, as no doubt they will in due course, to deal with the Bill to reform the House of Lords—that Bill of "conservative adjustment" to use the term which I think was used by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for this type of legislation. But I fear that that is too much to hope.
As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, reminded us, this year 1969 is likely to be the year in which, for the first 1071 time in the long and splendid political and Parliamentary history of this country, the vote is to be extended to Members of your Lordships' House and to teenage citizens of Britain equally. I can only hope that, with youth at the helm and the Peerage at the prow, the political future of this country and the restoration of our representative institutions will be assured. I voted for the first time when I was 40; it happened that on other occasions I had no opportunity to do so. I experienced very little frustration at not being able to vote at the age of 18, or even at 21. I think there is a tendency on the part of many observers—I say this seriously—to accept that there has been a substantial change in the social climate that makes it necessary for us to accord privileges and to place the burdens of responsibility on younger people to an extent greater than in previous generations, or perhaps it would be more correct to say than for many generations past. I am not sure that the younger people wish to assume those responsibilities, or will enjoy them as much when they get them as they may think now. We should, I think, be careful about reducing the age of responsibility in civic life and in family life to the extent which is envisaged by the Government and which, they are right, is part of the present pattern and climate of opinion.
There is one thing, my Lords, which is absolutely certain: it is that when we, as I hope, get the vote and the teenagers get the vote, the Labour Party will be the only Party that will not gain from the entry of these new classes of voters into the field. It has been the invariable rule in the past that the newly enfranchised voter has bitten the hand that fed him, and therefore if, by speeding this Bill on to the Statute Book, we make doubly certain that the Labour Party will be relieved of the cares and toil of office at the next Election, then who are we to grumble? In carrying through this legislation as expeditiously as possible we are only doing our public duty.
What I have said so far refers primarily, in fact entirely, to the provision in the Bill relating to the national Parliament and national elections. The clause in the Bill, Clause 15, to which I particularly wish to refer deals, as has been pointed out so often during this debate, with prob- 1072 lems of local government; and therefore we in this House are fully entitled to make our representations and to express our opinions on it, because whatever we may not have by way of a franchise in national elections at present we are local government electors. I do not think that there is any mystery about the reason why this particular clause has been included in the Bill. It is a sort of relic, an interesting historic relic, of the Labour Party psychosis and Labour tradition of generations and decades past. Anything that appears to be related to the ownership of property; anything that appears to place businessmen in some particularly favourable position; anything that could remotely appear to be to the advantage of the property-owning classes is something which has to be destroyed, expunged from the Statute Book, removed from national life.
My Lords, I have watched with great interest, as we all have, the work of noble Lords on the Government side of the House. One has on many occasions watched with admiration the way in which they have adjusted their attitudes, their ideology, to the tremendous changes that have taken place in the circumstances of the Labour Party and Government during these last four years. It seems, therefore, strange that they should allow some little fossil, so to speak, of the old prejudices of the Party to remain embedded in this Bill. Because no one, whether it be the Maud Commission, whether it be the majority opinion in the House of Commons—whatever the vote may have been—whether it be those taking part in this debate, believes that at any rate one aspect of Clause 15 makes sense: the aspect that takes away the property qualification for membership of a local authority.
Many examples have been given of the anomalies which this piece of legislation is likely to produce. I can produce one from my own close experience. On the road I use leading straight out of Colchester, perhaps 200 or 300 yards from the urban area, there live on one side a leading Liberal and on the other a leading Conservative, exactly opposite each other. It happens that the borough boundary runs straight down the middle of the road. This means that one of these gentlemen, both of whom are eminently suitable in every way to serve 1073 the community on the local authority if they would wish to do so, though neither of them is a member of the council at the present time, would be entitled in future to be a councillor and the other would not. Both have a leading position in the political life of the community, both work and have worked all their lives in Colchester and so far as I know both of them were born in Colchester.
It might be all very well in big cities—I do not know—but in the smaller towns more and more people, particularly younger people, are moving out of the urban area into smaller houses or housing estates in the periphery of the town but they maintain the greatest possible contact with the whole life of the town. These people are relied upon to a large extent, irrespective of Party, for running the local authorities. In fact at the present moment only two members of the Borough Council of Colchester would be directly affected. I fully accept that we have to look to the future. I do not want to be unfair to the Ministers who are responsible for this piece of legislation, but all of us know that in circumstances like these, a Government tend to get themselves into a position which they find it difficult to get out of. They commit themselves and carry the matter through the House of Commons because it is part of the disciplines of that House. Yet they know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong.
It is clear from all that has been said by both Liberal and Conservative spokesmen and by a distinguished Member of the Government's own Party that there will be strong objection to part of the clause removing the property qualification for representation on local authorities. I hope and believe that noble Lords more expert than I in drafting Amendments will be moving an Amendment to exclude this part of the clause or to alter the clause in some way so as to ensure that people who are worthy and who desire to give service on local authorities are able to do so even though they do not have a residential qualification within the area concerned.
Therefore, the Government have the choice of moving an Amendment at Committee stage, getting it carried and sending it back to another place where no doubt, as a Government Amendment, it 1074 would be accepted, thereby putting this matter right. If the Government do not do that there is the absolute certainty, in my belief, of them being defeated; of having an Opposition Amendment passed against the advice of the Minister—if that is the advice he gives—and sent back to another place, where they will have to go through the difficult procedure of forcing the Members of another place to accept this clause after it has been rejected by your Lordships' House. They have already experienced an unacceptable episode, from the point of view of the Labour Party, when the Government managed to scrape this through by a majority of some 13 votes.
This is the position in which the Minister finds himself. We do not expect him to make any decision or to commit himself in any way now, but I hope very sincerely that he will undertake to look at this. Whether he will say that publicly in this debate when he winds up is not for me to say, but I sincerely hope that the Government will be prepared to put down an Amendment on Committee stage to enable them to do what frankly noble Lords on both this side of the House as well as on the other—whether they have spoken or not in this debate—know to be the right action for the Government to take in respect of this particular provision.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, if representation of the people is most truly achieved by ensuring a 100 per cent. poll in an election, then there is much to commend in this Bill. I must say that I had not thought of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, of linking this Bill to House of Lords reform, but if that becomes an accepted fact then perhaps one day we shall see a 101 per cent. poll which I think everyone in the Chamber to-day would be in favour of.
Under this Bill proxy and postal voting rights are extended, and many election agents in large towns will be relieved to see postal voting rights proposed for those who move to a new constituency within the same borough boundary. Indeed, anything which clarifies postal voting is welcome, and in this respect Clause 6(5), whereby the notice of election shall state the last date for postal votes or proxy votes, something which most people never 1075 seem to realise, will greatly help matters. If political descriptions of candidates are desirable, the Bill has been greatly improved by the Government's acceptance of the very simple procedure now set out in Clause 12, even though noble Lords may still think there is room for some improvement here. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, put the case against Clause 12 clearly enough.
I think two practical queries arise from the Bill. First, undoubtedly a great deal more work will fall on registration officers. The insertion in the register of the date of attaining voting age and the considerable increase in postal votes for students are but two examples, and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, what consultations were held on the question of more work with registration officers and what their reactions have been to the Bill in this respect.
The other point is that if voting at 18 becomes law, it will add on average about 6 per cent. to the electorate of each constituency at the next General Election—and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor puts it at 8 per cent., if the next General Election takes place within a year of this Bill becoming law. It may reasonably be assumed that the average will be more than 6 or 8 per cent. in larger constituencies. As the Home Secretary said in another place on October 14 last:It is difficult enough in all conscience to get to know 50,000 or 60,000 electors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 14/11/68, col. 38.]The effect of more than 6 to 8 per cent. increase in a constituency of, say, 100,000 is an intimidating thought.
There is a point here also about election expenses. Once again, the bigger the constituency, the more difficult it is to describe the election expenses position. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor gave a warning for the future about what the Bill is doing in regard to election expenses and pointed to the anomalies. He was joined by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who pointed out that election expenses would be tricky for the London boroughs. I would ask then whether the passing of Clause 1 would ensure action by the Government on the forthcoming Boundary Commission Report with all possible speed.
1076 It is not unreasonable. I think, to query the balance of advantage in the proposal that polling stations should stay open for one hour longer at General Elections only. As the Speaker's Conference recommended no change in this matter, I wonder what evidence there was which influenced the Government. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred to the consultations which had been held on this subject, but on the evidence which influenced the Government he was silent. This additional difference between General Election and local election polls must lead to confusion. Under the Bill, the General Election poll is going to last 15 hours, and will involve polling station staffs in a 17-hour day. Following this, many presiding officers and polling clerks will be needed for the count. After such a day, this is to invite just about what everybody wishes to avoid—a badly conducted count, or one delayed to the following day. If the Government have evidence that this move is necessary, then of course they are justified; but if not, surely there is room here for the Minister to think again.
The recommendation in the Bill for voting at 18 is bound to attract the reader's attention if only to inquire why the Government have disregarded Mr. Speaker's Conference in this matter. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Brooke warned against the dangers of riding roughshod over the Speaker's Conference. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made the point that this had been passed by a considerable majority in another place; but, of course, we in this House are in the tricky position of receiving this Bill with this clause having been voted on in another place where the Whips were on on the Government side. None the less, I must confess that I certainly, rather at the tail end of a list of experienced speakers, mention this matter with a certain amount of diffidence. For, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, this is very much a matter of judgment and opinion.
It would seem that the Government's argument is that as the Latey Committee recommended an age of majority at 18, the voting age must be the same. I would most certainly accept that there is a connection between the two proposals. From 1970, one more year of compulsory education; higher wages; a younger marrying 1077 age, with the means to have a home of one's own—all these provide a basis for the vote. There is also the argument that an 18-year-old can serve in the Armed Forces, and that if you are old enough to fight for your country, you are old enough to vote. But such arguments, my Lords, are hardly conclusive. The last most certainly carries weight. Yet most 18-year-olds killed in action would, under this Bill, never have had the chance of influencing the Government by their vote. If it is so very wrong to tax an 18-yearold without granting him representation, does this mean that we enfranchise 16-and 17-year-olds? And is marriage at 18, with or without parental consent, really a passport to the vote?
It is remarkable, I think, that the Latey Committee, stepped outside their terms of reference in paragraph 25 of their Report, which was Quoted by my noble friend Lord Brooke, and which ended with these words:We do not accept that the civic and the private field either would or should necessarily go together.Yet, paradoxically, possibly some of your Lordships may agree that it is the educational argument that can lead to a definite conclusion. To vote is to make a judgment. Surely it is wrong to expect that someone who is still being educated should so judge, for those in higher education are sheltered from much that should help to form our judgment at the polls. I am sure that in this matter of casting a vote, many of your Lordships of far greater experience than myself would agree that no elector is prudent who fails to weigh promises for the future with performance in the past. Yet this is scarcely possible for 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds, who five years previously have been in the midst of secondary schooling.
My noble friend Lord Brooke reminded the House that in this matter the Bill proposes an irrevocable step. If it is accepted that the Latey arguments call for some reduction in the voting age, then the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference for voting at 20, coupled with the very fair provision in the Bill for voting as from the date of attaining the correct age, would be a most prudent step. In this case, the proposals of the Latey Committee would give young people at least two years' responsibility 1078 of their own affairs before the time comes when they would cast a vote. This was something to which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred.
Finally, my Lords, may I join with all other speakers in the debate in drawing the attention of your Lordships to some points in Clause 15? First, this clause abolishes the non-resident vote in local government elections. In answer to a House of Commons Question on November 7, 1968, the Minister of State for the Home Office made it crystal clear that local authority associations were opposed to this proposal; and this has been confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to-day. I believe it is correct that this point was not considered at the Home Office Conference on Local Government and Electoral Law. From where, then, does the Government evidence come? Of course, the principle behind this nonresident qualification, as has been said many times, is that if a person pays rates upon which the local authority depends he should have a voice in choosing councillors. But such electors have other interests in local government upon which their businesses and the livelihood of those working in those businesses depend. And let it not be forgotten that healthy local government depends on a two-way contract, to which local government electors of the sort of whom we are talking now so often contribute—perhaps a little more than others, sometimes—both in money and in time.
If there is a case for altering the local government franchise, perhaps it should lie with enfranchising more people, as the noble Lords, Lord Cottesloe and Lord Beaumont, both said. The noble Lord, Lord Royle, made the point that he did not agree with the property qualification for voting, and said that what he wished to see was a qualification for those working in the local authority. May I just say, in passing, that, whatever the rights and wrongs of this point of view may be, I think it is worth beaying in mind that if anyone has a qualification through living in a local authority's area to stand for the local authority it has to be a 12-months' qualification. There is immediately a difficulty here, when one starts to talk about people being allowed to vote in local elections because they work for the local authority, that they may suddenly "up and go" 1079 and not be there for something like twelve months. It is really no good (words used by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford) to represent this voting qualification as outmoded. For so long as the rating system remains, it can certainly be argued that this proposal means taxation without representation.
But, my Lords, this proposal will affect only 130,000 electors, and it pales in significance before the second part of Clause 15, which proposes to abolish the property qualification for election to local authorities. Figures have been given by the noble Lords, Lord Cottesloe and Lord Ilford, on the effects that this will have on membership of local authorities. The imprudence of adopting this second part of Clause 15 before the proposed reorganisation of local government has already been pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Ilford and Lord Royle. Once again, this change is opposed by the local authorities and was not, I believe, considered by the Home Office Conference. The Maud Report reached conclusions opposed to the clause, and in paragraph 424(c) said:The effect of the law is to exclude some people who might be valuable candidates for election to local authorities, particularly in urban areas.And, of course, it is in urban areas, where there is plenty of talent but so little time to spare for the unpaid service of local government, that the effects of this clause will bear most heavily.
Not only is the weight of informed opinion against the Government here, but it would seem that the Home Secretary has not taken very much account of modern developments. To-day town redevelopment may cause people to move out, and car travel into a town is often easier than travel from one side of the town to the other. And who are these councillors who will be affected thus? Many are people who, although they live outside their borough, yet spend more of their waking hours within it. This was a point made very clearly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. No wonder that paragraph 425 of the Maud Report recommended:that there be an additional alternative qualification to election to a local authority, namely that the person should have had a principal place of work within the area of 1080 the authority during the whole of the 12 months preceding the election."!So, my Lords, after receiving good advice that the qualification should be widened, Her Majesty's Government announce that they will move in totally the opposite direction. It would have been understandable if the Government had come to Parliament and recommended that councillors should be, as it were, within striking distance of their local authority—rather like the 15-mile rule for justices of the peace. But this the Government have not done. I apologise to your Lordships for appearing heated in this matter, but this proposal deliberately reduces the chances for recruitment of councillors at a time when their responsibilities are more than ever varied and vital. I trust that Her Majesty's Government may reconsider this step before the Bill passes into law.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I should like to say just a few words at this time in the debate in favour of the Bill, and also in support of Clause 15. My excuse for doing so is some remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in his most interesting speech when he seemed to assume, if I heard him aright, that every noble Lord on this side of the House, or on the Back Benches at least, was in agreement with what he was saying. So far as I am concerned—
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but I was not saying they were in agreement with what I said but were in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Royle, said.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Royle, I agree, was opposed to the property vote, but he was in favour of the very interesting suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. But, in view of that, if I may take up the time of the House, I thought I would say a few words. Also, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, was less than fair to the Labour Party when he said, if I heard him aright, that this was part of the old myopic, traditional attitude of the Party to property. My Lords, I think that that is most unfair, if I may say so. It is just as unfair as if I were to say that the Conservative Party always leaps to 1081 the defence of property whenever it can. I would not say that; I do not think it is true of the modern Conservative Party. And I do not think that what the noble Lord said is true at all of the present-day Labour Party.
Why I support this particular clause is because I think it does away with many anomalies. I think there is a very good case, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, put forward, for allowing local votes for those who work in an area. There is a very good case for that. But I cannot see that there is a case for allowing the vote to a leaseholder, although someone who actually occupies the premises or the land, but denying it to a large company or another body of some kind; or, moreover, denying it to another business where the particular businessman has made himself into a registered company and therefore is ineligible, so that you get two businessmen occupying premises beside each other in the same street, one of whom will be in one category, enabled to vote, and another in another category and not able to vote. Also, this seems to be quite out of line with the 1948 Act which abolished the business vote—I think quite rightly, although many noble Lords on the other side of the House, of course, were against it. It abolished the business vote for Parliamentary elections. It seems to me quite wrong that we can have "one man, one vote"—I say this pace the noble Lord, Lord Ilford—for Parliamentary elections, and yet "one man, two votes" for local elections.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting for a moment, surely the justification of the two votes is that a person will be voting for two quite separate and distinct municipalities, not for the same State as when he votes in the Parliamentary Election.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
I was going to develop that point a little later on.
There is also the question of the qualification for standing for a local authority. Here one of the qualifications is the nonresidential vote; and the other one is that one can own land even if one does not reside in the area at all. One could own a grave, for example, and that qualifies one to stand in a local election. I really think we must bring this into line 1082 with modern thinking, and gradually bring into effect a situation where all local councillors are those who actually reside in the area.
I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, and I should like to pay a tribute to the great work that is done by councillors who do not always reside in the area. But there are in quite a number of cities, for example, a great many councillors—I believe in some there is a majority of councillors—who do not reside in the city at all. I believe that in Birmingham there are 24 councillors who are nonresident; there are 18 in Manchester; 14 in Nottingham, and 12 in Glasgow. I accept that these are very worthy councillors and are doing wonderful work; but, all the same, I think one must bring the procedure into line with modern conditions and have only a councillor who is not only spending some part of the day in the area through his work or ownership of land there, but is also resident in the area as well.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, may I interrupt again, because the noble Lord is replying to something in my speech? What does he mean by bringing the procedure "into line with modem conditions"? Where else in the world, or in this country, in Parliamentary Elections has a member to be identified residentially with the area he represents? That does not apply. If I may suggest it to the noble Lord, this is not bringing it into line with modern conditions. This is, in fact, going back to an old idea of territorial identification, which perhaps was the basis of this noble House but certainly was not a democratic institution.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I do not want to get into an argument, because I think, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, we are getting into a Committee stage situation, and this is a Second Reading. There will be ample opportunities to deal with such matters when we reach a further stage of the Bill. What I was saying is that we must ensure that the local councillor will be someone who is closely identified with an area where he is living as well as working. I should have thought that that was modern thinking in the middle of the 20th century, and that one should not have the right to stand for a local council because one happened to own a 1083 small piece of land, while not resident, in the area. I know that there are difficulties. My noble friend mentioned Brighton and the distinguished career of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton. Of course there are difficulties—and the City of London must be an exception—but, in general, as I said at the beginning, this clause will iron out several anomalies, and for that reason I support it.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, I intrude into this debate at a late hour, and for that I apologise. I do so for two principal reasons: first, because so far no voice has spoken from Scotland to say what are the feelings in that part of the United Kingdom; and, secondly, because I was privileged to serve for many years on the largest local authority in Scotland, that of the City of Glasgow. I want to tell your Lordships of my own experience. Before doing so, however, may I say that on the question of, "One man, one vote", and also on the question of, "No taxation without representation", I am entirely in agreement with those noble Lords who have spoken on these subjects.
From the factual point of view I had the misfortune (if one would call it that) of having the duty of finding candidates to stand for the local authority in the City of Glasgow. Quite recently I found one of my books in which I had lists of people who had been seen—and their names ran into dozens and dozens. They were men of ability, men of business experience, the very type of men one wanted to have in the local authority. But all of them were reluctant to serve on it. After I had left the Council, which at that time was Socialist controlled and has only recently ceased to be after some thirty years, I was privileged to be invited to lunch, on different occasions, by two Lord Provosts. Both were Labour Provosts, and both spoke to me of the great difficulty of getting men of the stature they would have liked to see on the Council. All this provision will do is simply to reduce the area from which the people whom one would like to see doing business—and it is big business—on the local authorities to-day can be chosen. Particularly is this so in the cities, because certainly in Scotland it is easier to 1084 get candidates for the county councils than it is to get them in urban areas.
If I may say so, we had an excellent speech from the noble Lord, Lord Royle. I agree with practically every word he said. He told us about the difficulty in Brighton and Hove, but I think the same thing applies in practically every city in the country. In my own City of Glasgow it is impossible to tell when one moves from the City into the areas round about. They are all built-up, and there are many people who would like to serve on the Council—and indeed many who do—who live outwith the boundaries. As we have been told twice to-day, five present members of the Glasgow Council will lose their seats, and they are not all of one Party.
I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, could have given us the figures of the breakdown of the 12. I know that a number of them are Labour and a number of them are Progressive councillors, but what strikes me as being particularly hard is that when a City like Glasgow is being redeveloped, simply because one has to live outwith the boundaries of the City one is prohibited from taking part. I cannot conceive of a situation—and I do not believe that the noble Lord who so capably introduced this Bill to us on Second Reading would approve it—in which councillors would be unable to serve the city where they work, where they spend the greater part of their lives, where all thir interests, except that they go home to a little place outside to sleep, are centred. I cannot think that anyone who has had experience of local authorities would wish to deny such people the right to serve their native city.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, my name is not on the list, for which I apologise, but I will be brief. I wish to refer to Clause 15. This clause will restrict the choice of candidates at a time when fewer and fewer able people are coming forward. Also, it will remove experienced and able councillors and aldermen of all Parties. Like the noble Lord, Lord Royle, I am not pleading for the property qualification, because rates are a charge upon the occupier, but I am pleading that the place of work should be considered, whether the worker be a labourer or the managing director.
1085 In many parts of the country we have restricted boundaries for urban areas. I live in the City of Portsmouth, where since the war the corporation has rehoused 60,000 people. Thirty thousand of these people have been housed on the other side of the boundary, and whether they were housed within or without the boundary has merely been a matter of chance, according to how they came on the housing list. At the same time, thousands of other residents of the City of Portsmouth have been compelled, because of the shortage of land, to live in private houses on the wrong side of the city boundary. Many of these people were born in the City of Portsmouth; they work in the city, their social and other interests are in the city, and I plead that they should be considered, and that further consideration should be given to the Report of the Maud Committee.
I would point out that a large part of the rates are paid by corporate bodies. Corporate bodies in themselves cannot be represented on the city council, so surely it is fair and equitable that the people who work for that corporate body should be allowed a seat on the city council, whether they live within or without the city. No doubt we shall be told that probably these boundaries will be put right when we have the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government. To put into effect the kind of Report we are likely to get will require not only wisdom but a great deal of courage, and I believe it will be some years before any such Report is put into effect. Therefore I feel that this is the wrong time to have these restrictions.
Finally, I have no doubt it will be said that it is difficult to define what is meant by "working within the city or other local government boundary". I suggest that a fair and reasonable way of dealing with the matter would be to insist that the person should produce a certificate from the employer, showing that he had worked within the city for an average of 20 hours a week over the preceding five years. I believe that a qualification of that kind would be fair and reasonable.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate, which has brought two things to my mind. The first is that I must investigate and find 1086 out why it is that without being intentionally provocative—and I cannot imagine that I have been unduly interesting-1 always attract three, four or five Peers into the debate who had no intention of speaking when we started the debate. This has happened on at least the last five or six occasions, so in future we had better allow a little more time for these debates.
§ LORD STONHAM
The other conviction I now have is that we can look forward to an extremely interesting and fruitful Committee stage. I cannot recall any occasion that I have looked forward to with keener anticipation since the Criminal Justice Bill 1947, when we spent nine days in Committee. I do not think we shall spend as long on the Committee stage of this Bill, but I am sure it will be most interesting. It is always tremendously helpful when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, opens for the Opposition, and I should like to spend some little time answering a number of questions he put to me but leaving until last the main questions which have concerned almost everyone; namely, Clauses 14 and 15. I should like to deal with those in a general way.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked a number of questions in regard to Clause 1. First, on jury service, he asked whether the Government intended that jury service should be obligatory on young people between the ages of 18 and 21. That is a fair question, but jury service is a responsibility of a very different kind from the one we are dig cussing at the moment, which is the question of rights which an individual can exercise or not, as he feels inclined. Jury service is a duty arbitrarily imposed on individuals selected at random from among those having the necessary qualifications.
In our view, it does not follow that if the voting age and age of majority are lowered to 18 the age for jury service should necessarily be lowered as well. This is a separate issue which we shall have to consider very carefully, in conjunction with the proposals for legislation that we shall be bringing forward to implement the recommendations of the Morris Committee on jury qualification. 1087 I am unable to give the noble Lord at the moment even an approximate date on which we hope to bring forward that legislation. I would remind the noble Lord that the recommendations of that Committee were made in relation to an electoral age of 21; and this new age, if the voting age is to be 18, will have to be considered in regard to jury service and the Morris Committee recommendations, and of course the debates which have taken place on the present Bill, including what the noble Lord has said on this occasion.
Then the noble Lord asked about the position in relation to (I think he said) the 8 per cent. increase in the total of electors that would result from changing the voting age to 18, and the effect this would have on increasing the disparity in electorates of different constituencies. And he mentioned Ladywood, at one end, and another constituency at the other. I do not think I can do better than repeat what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said on this subject in another place on October 14. He said, if I may use his own words:I would say on the implementation of the recommendations that the Government see no reason at present to take a decision about the work of the commissions in advance of receiving their reports. I think that it would be expecting rather too much to assume anything else. I shall wait to receive the reports, give appropriate consideration to them, and then bring the Government's recommendations to this House in the light of the conclusions I reach at that time.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 14/10/68, col. 35.]The noble Lord then referred to a subject with which we are both very closely associated, prisoners and their rights. I think he spoke with approval of Clause 4 which eliminates anomalies—and indeed this is so. But, contrary to the noble Lord's belief, the prisoner who can claim a postal vote now is the one who is on the register for a different area from the one in which he is in prison. Under Clause 4 that right will vanish. So we are right on principle but not on detail.
I was very much in sympathy with what the noble Lord said about the electoral lists, the draft register as it were, and the dates for public display. Unfortunately we cannot do much about what I think he called rationally calendarising the dates. Probably he had in mind something like November 1 to December 1, 1088 a calendar month easily memorable; and I am sure that that would be a great advantage. But the fact is that the period November 28 to December 16 is about the only one that can be fitted into the very tight registration timetable. The Speaker's Conference wanted the qualifying date, October 10, altered to November 1; but the Electoral Advisory Conference looked at this, and at the timetable, and they concluded that no change was possible at any point.
With regard to publicity, as the noble Lord is aware, we already do all we can, short of paid-for national advertising—through TV, radio, postmark slogans, local publicity by electoral registration officers—and it is difficult to see what more we can do. Most of us have had the unfortunate experience that so many people begin to think about their vote only a week or so before an election, and then very often find they are disfranchised because of their own neglect, which is most unfortunate. I think that one of the most valuable things the noble Lord suggested was that the lists themselves, where-ever they are displayed, should be more prominently displayed with an indication of what they are, so that no one could miss them, and so that anyone going into these public places would think, "I want to see for myself". I am sure that that suggestion will be very carefully considered.
The noble Lord also spoke about the maximum of expenses allowable in elections for the Greater London Council. He pointed out, perfectly correctly, that although the area and the number of constituents were precisely the same for the Greater London Council Elections as for Parliamentary elections in the same area, the total amount allowed for the G.L.C. Elections is less than half the amount for the Parliamentary election. If the noble Lord will put down an Amendment, I shall be prepared to consider it sympathetically. This is something we should like to get right.
On the question of polling hours continuing until 10 o'clock, I have nothing to add on the question of principle. In our view this is a question of judgment and not of statistics, and we feel that the interests of the electors should prevail. The noble Lord asked me whether I thought that the number of people who would vote additionally—and I am sure 1089 we all want as many people to vote as possible—would pay for the additional cost. That poses all sorts of hypothetical questions. What is the value of the vote? What is the value of a man's life? There is no price in many respects. But in real terms, as far as I can tell the House about the cost, first of all with regard to presiding officers and poll clerks the Treasury are willing to meet the additional cost on a pro rata basis; that is, payment for 15 hours, instead of 14, to presiding officers and poll clerks at polling stations. The cost of the 1966 General Election was £630,000. An increase of one-fourteenth would be £45,000. The returning officers have, however, expressed doubt whether such an increase would be sufficient, but it is something of that order.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I was not seeking simply to equate votes with money. I was asking whether it really was the case that the additional number of votes that would be secured would be such as to justify not only the extra cost but also the considerable extra strain put on everybody in what they already find a very wearing day.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, having three times fought a Division of 400 sq. miles and 70 polling stations, I agree that it is a wearing day. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord that he was not thinking in terms of money, and I am sorry if I did him an injustice in that respect. He and I both know of the fairly substantial number of people who go to the poll in the last hour and the not insubstantial number who actually get locked out. I am quite sure that when the time is 10 o'clock there will still be some people locked out, but there will be a great many more who will vote, and therefore we think it worth while. So far as the cost of the count is concerned, of deferring it to the next day, that cannot be estimated; we do not know how many it will affect. It will depend whether the returning officers can complete the count the same night or not. On the question of poll cards, it will be necessary to alter 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on about 100 million poll cards for Parliamentary elections, and it will be necessary to pay for a considerable amount of extra clerical time, but we cannot at the moment estimate what it will be.
1090 The noble Lord also mentioned a possible new clause—I do not know whether he intended to put down an Amendment —providing for a postal vote at rural district council elections. This is something that we think would be best left until after the Report on the Reorganisation of Local Government is received. The difficulties about a postal vote at rural district council elections are, first of all, the expense to small local authorities; secondly, the burden on returning officers—because it is not only a case of rural district councils, but also parish council elections which take place at the same time; they are combined; and, thirdly, the electoral timetable would have to be rearranged.
I think the last question, except for the "64,000 dollar question", which the noble Lord addressed to me was whether I would put down Government Amendments early. I shall be able to put down some Government Amendments early next week, but not all. I certainly would not be ready, at least for a little while, with the Amendment on expenses following the death of a candidate, to which I referred in my speech. Two other matters that we are considering (although I do not know whether we shall put down Amendments or not) concern psychiatric patients and broadcasting. Certainly I realise the importance of the House learning the Government's intentions as quickly as possible, and I will see what I can do in that respect.
Now I come to Clauses 14 and 15. I will do what I possibly can to lump together all the speeches that have been made on these clauses, with the exception of the speech by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, which I would corn-mend all your Lordships to read and read again in relation to its point of view, which is vastly in conflict with the view of anybody else. It is a pint of view with which I entirely agree.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I think almost everybody else, commended the Maud recommendation of the "principal place of work" qualification for candidates. I find that on this subject there has been a most extraordinary debate. Astonishing things have been said, even by my noble friends Lord Royle and Lord Jacques—absolutely astounding things—but this "place of work" really takes me to the fair! As 1091 my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said in another place, eventually it would mean that everyone who worked inside an area could become a candidate in that area. As he said, this would swamp everything and we would not get local representation. What we want is identity and local representation.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, made some quite extraordinary remarks on this subject. When he spoke of, "One man, one vote" and, "No taxation without representation"—which have been the battle cries, and which were put so succinctly again, in case I had forgotten them, by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—he did not mind even if a chap had 24 such votes. In Londonderry, the battle cry is "Vote often, vote early". As far as having 24 votes, "One man, one vote", to them does not mean 24 votes; they are shedding blood to stop that. I thought everybody in your Lordships' House was agreed on what is meant by. "One man, one vote" in Northern Ireland. I have always understood what it meant here in elections for the United Kingdom Parliament.
I have been listening for nearly three hours to one noble Lord after another, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, saying that if a man pays taxes there he should have a vote, and if he goes to the next constituency, which is only another borough or even an urban district, and pays taxes he should have another vote, and, going on, he could get up to the 24. If noble Lords really hold those views, of course we shall debate them and vote on them. But I say to your Lordships that they are the antithesis of democracy.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth spoke movingly about losing 30,000 people who had been moved out of Portsmouth. He said that they were disenfranchised. "Disenfranchisement" to me means that they have no vote. I object to the use of the expression "abject nonsense" of anything said by a right reverend Prelate, but it is. I have not been down to interview those people, but of course they have a vote. They do not have a vote in Portsmouth, I will accept his word for that; but they have votes in a most estimable local authority area—Eastleigh or somewhere like that. It may not be Eastleigh, and 1092 it is no good my noble friend Lord Jacques shaking his head. It may be that his particular friend, some quite worthy alderman or someone of that kind, an extremely able person has moved out of Portsmouth or perhaps never lived there, but had the quite worthy ambition to represent Portsmouth. I for one would regret the ending of many of these associations. But to say, as my noble friend said, that they would be lost is something that I cannot accept. I am quite sure that my noble friends Lord Royle and Lord Jacques are aware, from their own knowledge among their own friends, of many representatives on local authorities who have only retained their property qualification by a subterfuge. They have got their pied-à-terre. It was suggested that they lived there or had their business there or had a vote there. Those are the kind of things—
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
Is the noble Lord really suggesting that the principle of "one man, one vote" is breached by a person having two votes for two separate authorities? If he is suggesting that, is he not also saying that to have a vote for Parliament and a vote for a local council is also a breach of the principle?
§ LORD STONHAM
No. I am saying that if a man has two votes for one Chamber of Government it is a breach of the principle of "one man, one vote". Certainly I am saying that. What the noble Lord advocated during his speech was of course a breach of the principle of "one man, one vote". If he does not believe it, I would ask him to go to Londonderry and expound his views, and see whether they think it is a breach of this principle. The noble Lord spoke of dual registration, and he suggested that he would put down Amendments on Committee. We shall be pleased to see the Amendments; but I am sure that he will find himself in serious practical difficulties in ensuring that a person was registered only once. When we get into Committee on these points we can develop these things.
We achieved this position in 1948 in the United Kingdom, except for Northern Ireland, of "one man, one vote", in Parliamentary elections. It took over half-a-century to achieve that position. Now in this Bill we want to achieve the 1093 same democratic principle in local government. Inevitably we are told—the right reverend Prelate said this—that even if it is right we should not do it now. We have not had a Representation of the People Bill for twenty years. We might not have another one for another twenty years. I say that if it is right, now is the time to do it.
Whether or not councillors who are displaced will endeavour to get a qualification in the areas they at present represent, or whether they will stand for election in the areas where they live, has to be seen. But I am quite sure that what we are suggesting is absolutely right and that the attitude taken by noble Lords opposite, and even by my noble friends, on this issue is quite indefensible and something they would never apply to any other category of administration of which they have knowledge, because they are completely grounded in democracy and this is something which is really undemocratic.
We have had recited to us the number of non-resident representatives of some of the large cities, including Glasgow. What about the people living in Glasgow who have been, for that reason, precluded, excluded from the chance of representing their city? Is it to be assumed they have no ability? They certainly have full rights. In a great city like Glasgow, or a great city like Birmingham, I completely and utterly reject the proposition that there are not men and women in all the political Parties of sufficient calibre, dedication and ability adequately to represent their city. Well, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, can shake his head. He can go up to those cities and tell the people so. I believe otherwise, and I am quite sure—
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? Would he be good enough to explain what he means by "being precluded from serving on the council because of other people". Surely it is for the citizens to decide who is going to represent them. There is no precluding whatsoever about it, and the noble Lord knows that perfectly well. It is a nice word to use, but that is about all there is in it.
§ LORD STONHAM
The Lord's argument, like his indignation, is somewhat synthetic. If people are occupying positions—and most of these people belong to particular political organisations—and then are, as they quite obviously are, re-appointed, re-adopted, if you like, for those seats, if they fight again it means that somebody else who is resident, and but for those people would become a candidate, does not become a candidate. It is as simple as that.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt, as this is a very important point? Is the noble Lord saying that the selection committee of the ward, whether it is Labour, Liberal, Conservative or Independent, has not got the right to choose the man they want, whether that man is a resident or whether he is somebody associated with them whom they know well and wish to have representing them in the local council?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, what I am saying is that when this Bill becomes law—and it is right and just—some people who have hitherto been qualified will not be qualified, and therefore they cannot be selected. Again it is as simple as that. I am also saying that there will be plenty of good people left with the necessary residential qualifications who will be selected and who will fight for election.
I may not have covered all the points but there is another important debate corning on and I should be doing a disservice to the House if I went on to deal with matters which could properly be dealt with in Committee. I am looking forward to the Committee stage. We will certainly put some Amendments down as soon as possible. We will very carefully study the debate and hope that we can have a full, constructive and useful Committee stage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.