Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Mr. MACLEAN:

I was taking exception last night, and earlier to-day, to the reference to the Local Government Act of 1888

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD:

On a point of Order. I should like to ask your ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to the effect of the three last lines of the Resolution which we passed at the beginning of the sitting: That Mr. Speaker do not adjourn the House under Standing Order No. 3 until he shall have reported the Royal Assent to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill. Is not the effect of that to bring our proceedings to a close?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

No. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at Standing Order No. 3, he will see that it requires Mr. Speaker to adjourn the House, without Question put, after the Orders of the Day have been disposed of.

Mr. MACLEAN:

This Bill applies to the whole country, with the exception of the Irish Free State, and the Bill itself sets out its applicability to the North of Ireland. A rather peculiar situation arises under Clause 3. We are referred to the Local Government Act of 1888, which does not apply to any other part of the country except England and Wales. Scotland is left out. The North of Ireland would have been left out here, but for the fact that the Home Secretary has included in a specific sentence in the Bill that this shall apply to the North of Ireland. What has poor Scotland done?

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

We are bound to do this in the case of England and Wales, and we could not give financial relief unless this correction is made. There is no intention to leave Scotland out of this financial arrangement. This is quite a Committee point, and I will undertake to see to it during that stage.

Mr. MACLEAN:

I am sure that any matter of this kind affecting Scotland would have been debated fully if it had been understood. I hope that during the Committee stage the Home Secretary will put this matter right. I see that Scotland is referred to in one of the Schedules, and I hope that Scotland is going to be put in. We want an Amendment that will extend the scope of this Measure and give greater benefits to the people of Scotland. I have no objection to any Measure that is going to do good to Scotland, although as a Scotsman I believe that by putting down Amendments to Clauses which affect Scotland as well as other parts of the country, we are thus conferring advantages upon those other parts. I hope the Home Secretary will remedy what appears to mo to be a bad piece of draftsmanship, because they have left out the best part of the community. I see that the Secretary for Scotland is now present. I notice he is studying the Bill, and I hope he will see to it that when this Bill comes before the Committee the anomalies that affect Scotland will be excised, and that anything which is likely to give Scotland similar advantages to other parts of the country will be included in the Bill.

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

The Home Secretary is so eminently reasonable in the eon duct of this Bill that I hope he will relieve me and my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) from the effort that we shall have to make, if the Bill is kept in its present form, to prevent it passing into law. I do not want to raise any obstruction to this Bill, and no one will be more relieved than myself if my right hon. Friend adopts the same wise tactics with regard to another Clause as he has done with regard to Clause 2. I gathered from the somewhat half-hearted manner in which the right hon. Gentleman presented the Bill that it has something of the loneliness of the baby left on the doorstep. It came from the Ministry of Health. What the Ministry of Health has to do with the question of registration, the subdivision of county areas, and other things, passes my imagination, but I have long given up any attempt to penetrate the mysteries of Departmental decrees. Has my right hon. Friend seriously considered the effect of Clause 3? My hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) has called attention to the fact that Scotland is not included. My com- plaint is of a quite opposite character. Why is Ireland included? Has Ireland or any part of Ireland asked for this Bill? Have the representatives of Northern Ireland asked for it, or, at least, for Clause 3? Why should my right hon. Friend persevere? As a matter of fact, this Bill has not only created a good deal of attention, but it has created a good deal of apprehension in the North of Ireland.

Everybody knows that elections in that part of the world are contested with the greatest keenness. I believe that the minimum proportion of electors to go to any election, either local or imperial, is 98 per cent., and I believe that on certain occasions, when party feeling ran high and party funds were particularly plenty, they even voted 101 per cent. I give that as a sign of the great keenness with which these elections are fought. Of course, there is one part of the North of Ireland in which elections are more keenly fought than in others. I refer to the two counties, Tyrone and Fermanagh, which unfortunately are the obstacle to that good understanding which one hopes will be reached between the North and the South. Under a previous Act of Parliament there was in these two constituencies, where every seat, even for an urban council, is contested as vehemently and energetically by both sides as seats for the Imperial Parliament, a redistribution of area which I can only describe as gerrymandering. The same thing occurred in Belfast. My hon. Friend, who has represented the Falls Division of Belfast for a considerable time, found himself, under a recent redistribution Act, saddled with two Orange wards. Everybody will recognise the unfairness of that. It would really have as its result the disfranchisement of that constituency and of a third of the population of Belfast. With these experiences before us, we cannot be blamed if we look with a great deal of suspicion on any further method of producing and facilitating this form of gerrymandering. Has my right hon. Friend read and studied the effects of Clause 3? When under that Clause representation is made that it is desirable the boundary of any electoral division of a county or counties should be altered, there can be no objection to a public inquiry, but although a public inquiry may take place, the Secretary of State still remains omnipotent and has the power to accept or reject the result of the inquiry. Apply that to a county like Tyrone where, in some parts, there is a clear Nationalist majority, in other parts a Unionist majority, and where in still other parts by a little manipulation the Unionist minority may be converted into a Unionist majority. These are serious matters for Ireland and this is a provision which those who represent the minority in the North of Ireland are bound to resist. I know that the time of the Government is very much occupied just now, and I do not want too much of it to be taken up by this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees to exclude, as far as Ireland is concerned, this particular provision, I think I can say his Bill will get through without opposition. Although the question of increasing expense is important, the question to which I have drawn special attention is still more vital to us.

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Glasgow Springburn

I hope the Home Secretary will take an opportunity of considering one particular point. Under the provisions of the last Act dealing with the franchise all the elections were fixed to take place on one day, and the result was a great congestion. It was almost impossible to get the polling boxes and ballot boxes which were necessary, and in some cases the ballot was actually defeated by what took place. It is a great mistake to have all the elections on one day, because the people of this country have always recognised that the Government is carried on by a Government and by an Opposition, and if the elections were all on on one day they cannot tell how things are going at the polls. There is a tendency, when the elections are spread over a number of days, and when it is noticed that the great majority are voting on one side, for the electors to vote for the losing side in the remaining elections, so as to ensure that there shall be a proper Opposition and not the miserable apology for one which we now have, and which is more vocal than intelligent. I think the electorate ought to have an opportunity of seeing how things are going, and consequently all the elections ought not to be fixed for one day. Besides, spreading the period over a number of days would be of great assistance, not only in the matter of providing the necessary machinery for the elections, but also in the matter of expense.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I should like, before this Bill is read a Second time, to enter my protest against the undertaking which the Home Secretary has given to drop the provisions of Clause 2 at the bidding of the Labour party. That is what it really comes to. I was on the Committee on the last Representation of the People Bill, when the late Minister of Health gave us to understand that the provisions at the present time embodied in Clause 2 would be inserted before the next Dissolution. According to my information, the wish of all parties in the North of England is in favour of the concession to candidates which is now embodied in Clause 2. The Home Secretary, in explaining why he is going to give way on that point, only assigned two reasons for the surrender. The first was that all the speeches made yesterday on the Bill were hostile to Clause 2; but who made those speeches? Not one was made by a supporter of the Government. The only people who protested against Clause 2 were opponents of the Government, and it is simply absurd, merely because a protest has been made by the Opposition, to give way to them at once. Weakness never pays. The second reason assigned by the Home Secretary was that doubt had been thrown upon his Liberal principles. Who cares about his Liberal principles? The true issue which faces the Home Secretary and the House is whether or not this Clause is wise and expedient; it is not whether it is in accord with the maxims, clichés, and shibboleths that have marked the Liberal party for the last generation. I suggest that the Government, before withdrawing a provision which has been made in pursuance of wishes expressed by the representatives of the Coalition Liberal party and of the Conservative party should elicit their opinions as well as those of the Opposition.

Mr. J. JONES:

You will be the next one to get the sack!

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

The provisions concerning the expenditure of candidates for election to Parliament were drawn up in the days of the penny post, and the effect of making a certain sum applicable to election expenses was that a certain proportion of the sum allowed should be spent in postage—which, of course, goes to the State—and that was regarded by the Government of the day as right and proper. Since that time the cost of postage has materially increased, with the result that the amount to be spent on actual electioneering is reduced by something like £80 to £100, although the electorate has increased with the increase in population, while the cost of printing, paper, and many other items has also increased. It follows, therefore, that if you want to give candidates in Parliamentary elections the same chances of propaganda as they had when the Representation of the People Act, laying down this limit of expenditure was passed, you must increase the proportion of the sum allowed which is available for propaganda, instead of allowing it to be cut down through an increase in the cost of postage. It is perfectly democratic, and has been approved, as the Home Secretary at one time admitted, by representatives of all parties, and no reason has been brought forward by him for this surrender to the clamour of members of the Labour party. The idea that Clause 2 is playing into the hands of rich men is also absurd. Everyone spends more or less the same at election times. The period when rich people like Labour Members, who have the support of co-operative societies and trade unions, take advantage of their greater wealth is outside election times. We know that all the year round the moneys of co-operative societies and trade unions are being squandered upon political propaganda in support of members of the Labour party. That is the time when the people with these great funds behind them have the advantage. It is not at election time. That was, no doubt, the view of the delegates of the four parties who met together and approved of Clause 2 when it was drawn. Before the Home Secretary takes the step of definitely abandoning a Clause which has been brought in at the wish of representatives of all parties, he ought to take the opinion, not merely of the enemies of the Government, but also of its friends.

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

May I say, in answer to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor), that not one of the things that he talked about could possibly happen under the Clause. The law at present is that if a report is made an inquiry must be held, no matter if everyone is in favour, and if it decides that a change should be made a change is made. The Clause does not alter that in any way. What it says is that where it is perfectly clear that all parties have agreed we need not be put to the expense of an inquiry. If the hon. Member had read the proviso he would have seen that if 100 electors in any division where a proposal is made object to it the inquiry must be held. The sole change in the law is no change in the power to make alterations, no change in the power of people to ask for an alteration, but where it is clear that there is no opposition and all parties are agreed, they need not be put to unnecessary expense.

Photo of Colonel Charles Yate Colonel Charles Yate , Melton

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he is going to do to relieve England, Scotland and Wales from the terrible trouble of two registrations in a year and put them on the same footing as Ireland, which has only one?

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

That cannot be dealt with in this Bill.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

What I should really like to have explained to me is why Ireland is put into this Bill at all. From whom did the demand come? There is not a single Member from North-East Ulster here but myself. I bear alone the burden of that responsibility.

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

I do not think this Clause applies to Ireland at all. I thought my hon. Friends were suggesting that the same things would happen in this country which happened in their country.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Why is there inserted in this Measure a Clause stating that this shall apply to Northern Ireland? What right has this Parliament, which has transferred all Parliamentary constitutional powers to North-East Ulster, to include in a purely British Measure, which does not apply to Scotland, a Clause applying the Measure to Ireland? I do not believe anyone on that bench knows anything about the Bill.

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

I really do not know what the hon. Member means. This Clause 3 applies to no part of Ireland. It only deals with representations which are made under Section 54 of the Local Government Act, 1888, and you cannot make those representations with regard to Ireland because the Act of 1888 does not apply to Ireland.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

If it does not apply to Ireland, why is a Clause put in that it applies to Northern Ireland?

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

It is not, if the hon. Member will read the Bill.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

A half of page four is devoted to a Schedule dealing with Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I am unfortunate in this position, that I have not the faculty of dealing with great clarity or interpreting the mystifications and archaic language of a Parliamentary Bill. I am in good company in that regard, because I remember that the present Lord Chief Justice found it almost impossible to make clear certain provisions of the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill. As far as I can see there has been a certain amount of chaos on the Ministerial Bench as to what this Bill means.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

There has been a Cabinet Council on the Front Bench, without most of the Cabinet, in order to ascertain what this Bill really means. The right hon. Gentleman has said that this was handed over to him as a heritage from the Ministry of Health. What in the name of Heaven have electoral areas to do with health? Our reading of this Clause is clearly that this will enable the Northern Parliament to gerrymander and reconstruct the wards and sections of county administration areas and to repeat what they did when they evicted me—

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

It does not apply to Northern Ireland at all. I ask my hon. Friend to accept that assurance. Clause 1 applies to Northern Ireland. Clause 2 would do so if not dropped, but Clause 3 does not apply to any part of Ireland.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Will the right hon. Gentleman in Committee add a Clause explaining that?

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

It is already in an Act of Parliament. The Act of 1888 does not apply to Ireland.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I will accept that assurance. I am certain that if my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had not raised the point the Northern Parliament would have taken advantage of this to gerrymander the counties.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Williams Mr Aneurin Williams , Consett

The Home Secretary has just said, regarding Clause 2, that it would apply to Ireland unless dropped. That seems to me inconsistent with what he said before.

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

What I said was that I would accept an Amendment to omit the Clause.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKEE adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Ten Minutes before Five o'Clock, till Monday next (3rd April).