Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 31st March 1922.

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Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [30th March] "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD:

I want to ask whether there is any alteration in the situation in reference to this Bill as it was left last night.

4.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

With your permission, Sir, and with the consent of the House, as I have already spoken, I should like to explain the position. The House will recollect that, so far as I am personally concerned, I have inherited this Bill from the Ministry of Health. It is only quite recently that questions dealing with the Parliamentary franchise and registration came to the Home Office. Questions dealing with what is contained in this Bill have been the subject of discussion for the last few years with the Ministry of Health. Last night I was not quite sure how far my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health had pledged the Government in such a way that I was bound by any pledge he gave. Therefore I said nothing, in order that I might to-day put the House in full possession of the facts. It appears that the provisions of Clause 2 were the subject of discussion when the Bill of 1920 was in Committee, and at that time the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill discussed three proposals which were made. My right hon. Friend announced, however, that it was the intention of the Government to deal with this subject in a later Bill, but gave no pledge as to how it would be dealt with. Last night I was somewhat severely attacked for having fallen away from my Liberal principles, and something was said about some oblique motive being behind this proposal.

There was a conference held on the 29th June, 1921, at which there were present, in addition to a number of provincial registration agents, a representative of the central offices of each of the Conservative, the Coalition Liberal, the Labour and the Independent Liberal parties. The three proposals discussed were whether there should be a free quota, whether there should be an increase of a ½d. in the statutory limit of expenses, and whether the proposal in this Bill should be adopted. After discussion, in which they were all agreed that something should be done, they were equally unanimously agreed, including Labour, that this provision should be put forward. Therefore the strong things said about my departure from my principles last night would apply with equal vigour to the representatives of the Independent Liberals and the Labour party. When this Bill was first put before me and I read Clause 2, I said: "What is this?" I was told: "That is the result of a conference." It was quite evident last night, so far as I could judge from the speeches of those who took part in the Debate, that no one was in favour of this proposal. No one spoke in favour of it. Everyone spoke against it. I conclude, therefore, that the House would rather this Clause was not in the Bill. I am satisfied that I am bound by no pledge, and I am quite prepared, if the House will give the Bill a Second Reading now, to agree to propose in Committee the omission of this Clause. I would ask the House to give it a Second Reading to-day, because the gist of this Bill is Clause 1. That is the really substantial and important part of it, and unless we get that at once it will be too late for the provisions to take effect in due time for the next registration.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

I was speaking last night when the Debate was interrupted at 11 o'clock.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

Then I am afraid the hon. Member has exhausted his right.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

On a point of Order. I was speaking when I was interrupted, and I took it that I should be the first called upon to continue the Debate. Just as 11 o'clock came I was asking the Home Secretary a question relating to Clause 3—