Clause 21. — (Electors.)

Orders of the Day — Representation of the People Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1948.

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Photo of Mrs Freda Corbet Mrs Freda Corbet , Camberwell North West 12:00 am, 20th April 1948

I beg to move, page 23, line 10, at the end, to insert: (iii) make application to the Registration Officer for the area concerned on a form of declaration to be issued, on request, by the Registration Officer; and The object of the Amendment is to make it necessary for the non-resident voter to claim his vote. I have in mind the fact that the non-resident voter will not be living in the area in which the election takes place in which he will have a vote. It is not asking too much of him that he should show sufficient interest in the affairs of the area in which he seeks to influence the local government by putting forward a claim, as, in fact, he does at the present time. The normal voter living inside the area would naturally be influenced by political campaigns during the election and would be aware of the local conditions. He would not be subject to the same sort of considerations as a non-resident voter might well be. I therefore suggest that he should be asked to make application for the privilege to vote, but, at the same time, I ask that the Minister should make it clear to the returning officer that there should be a full public advertisement as to the manner in which the application form may be obtained.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I think my hon. Friend has overlooked the fact that when the new registers are compiled under this Bill there will be a canvass of the electoral area, and that, in the course of it, the officer conducting the canvass will visit the place where this voter has some premises which entitled him to the qualification. I can see no reason why he should be treated differently from any other person qualified to be on the register.

5.45 P.m.

During the last few years while there has been no canvass there has been an insistence that business premises voters should make a claim. I think that was necessary when no canvass was being conducted. In fact, however, the register was compiled on the basis of the national register which showed only the man's place of residence and one could not pick out any qualifications from the national register. We have decided that there shall be these non-resident voters and it seems right that all electors should get on the register in the same way. I cannot, therefore, accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mrs Freda Corbet Mrs Freda Corbet , Camberwell North West

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mrs Freda Corbet Mrs Freda Corbet , Camberwell North West

I beg to move, in page 23, line 23, at the end, to insert: of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds. This seeks to obviate the possibility of a non-resident voter establishing a claim for a vote on very minor qualifications, such as grave space, or a garage or lockup shop. Such a claim would seem to be an abuse of this right. It may be argued that it is sufficient if he has possessions in that locality, for as a democratic principle he has the appropriate qualifications. I would entirely support that in the case of the normal resident voter and I would say, in such a case, that the very fact of his residence is a sufficient guarantee against any abuse of the right and privilege of voting. In this case it is obvious that a number of claims might be made which were not really substantial. In order to guard against this I suggest we should introduce the same qualification that it is proposed to put into the Bill for Scotland.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I do not think the occupier of a grave space could be expected to vote in Great Britain. I do not think we have seen a resurrection, with people recently committed to the grave turning up at the polling booth. I do not think we need fear the occupiers of grave space. This is an occupiers vote, just as the resident's qualification is an occupiers' vote, but I think there is a danger that allotment holders—people who have small plots of land just over the border of the constituency in which they live—might be given votes if this Clause were passed in its present form. I propose, therefore, to accept my hon. Friend's amendment and to require that the non-resident shall be occupying land or premises of a yearly value of not less than £10. This is the same qualification as has been imposed in Scotland and it seems to me to be a very reasonable one. I advise the Committee to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

I am very surprised and disappointed that the Home Secretary should accept this Amendment, because, as I see it, it will operate like this. Only those who are sufficiently well-placed financially so as to occupy property of the value of £10 will be able to claim the vote. Those persons who are not in that financial position and are not so well situated will therefore be disenfranchised. I submit that that is entirely opposed to the principles of the Labour Party and to what I conceive to be the Socialist conception of democracy.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I am rather surprised at the outburst of my hon. Friend. After all, all these people will already have one vote for Parliament, as residents in some place in the country, but they will be paying rates in some other place.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

Not if they occupy agricultural land.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

They will be occupying land or buildings within the local government area and, in view of the suggestion of small allotments being brought in unless we insert this Amendment, I think it is reasonable to insert a qualification of £10. I should have thought, in the case of non-resident voters, that that would include practically everybody, except those who might claim in respect of allotments. I cannot think that in these circumstances the qualification of £10 for non-resident voters will disenfranchise anyone.

Photo of Mrs Bessie Braddock Mrs Bessie Braddock , Liverpool Exchange

May I ask the Home Secretary if this means that people can have two votes—one in the place where they live and one in the place where they have a nonresident claim? That raises a difficult question, because I understand the reason for this Bill is that people should have one vote and only one vote. Does it mean they can decide whether they will vote in the area in which they have a residential vote or in the area where they have a non-residential vote?

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

If the hon. Lady will look at Part II of the Bill, she will] see it is local government franchise. We have established in this Bill the principle of one vote for Parliamentary elections, because that entitles a person to have a voice in the affairs of the nation. If a person has, however, an interest in a local government area other than the one in which he resides—through the occupation of land or buildings—it sems to me he has a perfect right to express his voice about the way local government shall be carried on in that second area. These persons will not receive two votes if they live in one part of the borough and have a shop or some other premises in another part of the same borough. They have only one vote in respect of county council elections, no matter how many properties they may have scattered about the county. It seems quite right, however, that if a man lives in one local government area and pays rates there, he should have a vote in respect of that area. If he has some property which he occupies—not which he owns—in another local government area and pays rates in respect of that, he should also have the right to a vote there, because the vote which he has in the first area has nothing to do with the way in which his money is expended in the second area. This does not violate in any way the principle of "One man, one vote."

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham

Is there any limit to this, because I occupy property in Burton-on-Trent, London, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Devonshire, Middlesex and other places?

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

Assuming that the properties occupied by my hon. Friend are of a yearly value of not less than £10, and he therefore contributes to the rates of those areas on whatever basis rates are levied in those areas, he will have a right to vote in respect of each of those properties, always provided that they are not in the same electoral area. If he happens to occupy a brewery and a public house in Burton-on-Trent, he will get only one vote in respect of that. I suggest that while a man pays his rates he is entitled to a vote in respect of that area.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

May I postulate this case? There may be a farmer in Wiltshire, which adjoins my constituency, and he may rent a field in my constituency valued at £10, but will not pay any rates at all because agricultural land is not rated. If the Amendment is to the effect that he will have a vote where he pays rates, there may be something in it, but I submit he has no right to vote when he makes no contribution towards expenditure.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

That is an exceptional case and I will look into the matter. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend will not grow so excited I will try to help him, but if he does not wish to hear me I will let it go. This is a point worthy of consideration between now and the Report stage, but I want to stand firmly by the principle that where a person pays rates in an area he is entitled to a vote in respect of the way in which the rates he pays are expended.

Photo of Mr Joseph Binns Mr Joseph Binns , Rochester Gillingham

What we are trying to do is to prevent the abuse of this privilege, but there is the case where those who pay rates could create a partnership—say, 100 different people paying tooth part of the rates, all in a partnership simply in order to have a vote for that particular area. I am quite sure that this £10 in yearly value is a reasonable basis so long as we cover the point suggested by the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), that it should apply to those people actually paying rates.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Tradeston

Would my right hon. Friend make one point perfectly clear? He used the phrase, "the electoral area." Does he mean by that phrase the Parliamentary electoral area or the local government electoral area? I would like that to be clear, because in the case of a big city, with about 20 different wards, an individual within that city possessing shops, say, in 10 wards might have 10 votes or more in a local government election in that city.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

It is clearly set out in the Bill that the local government electoral area is the borough, urban district, rural district, parish or county which may be concerned in the election. If a person has 20 properties in the same borough he can vote only once. If he has 30 properties in the same county he can vote only once at county council elections. If his 30 properties are spread over many boroughs, urban districts, and rural districts in the county, he will also have one vote in respect of each district where he occupies property. He has only one vote in respect of each local government body in which his properties are situated. With regard to the further point raised, there is a later Amendment, which I propose to accept, which will make it clear that partnerships must produce £10 each before they can lead to enfranchisement. That comes in the next Clause.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Porter Mr George Porter , Leeds Central

I want to compliment the Home Secretary on his agreement to introduce an Amendment to the Clause which will make it impossible for what has happened even this month in the area in which I reside to happen again. Not only has an individual been entitled to a vote, but he has stood as a candidate for local government, and his only connection with the area is that he pays 7s. 6d. per year for an allotment. He is residing in an entirely different area.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

I want to ask the Home Secretary a question about the statement he has just made. Anyone owning shops in a particular area would be entitled to vote in respect of those shops. The question arises whether the owner or occupier would be entitled to vote in the different wards in which the shops were situated in a local government election. Would such a person be entitled to have a vote in respect of each of those shops? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think the matter ought to be cleared up.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I despair of making the matter clear. I have said that in respect of each local government unit—by which I mean borough, county, urban district, rural district, or parish council, as the case may be—a man will be able to vote only once.

Photo of Major Henry Spence Major Henry Spence , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on having accepted this Amendment, because by doing so he has brought the law of England and Scotland into line.

Photo of Mr John Paton Mr John Paton , Norwich

I want to offer a protest. I happen to be one of those who dislike property qualifications of any kind whatever, and while I am not proposing to make a fuss about it now, I want to have it on record that, there are some of us on this side of the Committee who dislike the property qualification, and swallow it only with very great difficulty. I do not like the idea that someone who has parcels of property spread over different local government areas is able to go into every one to express his political prejudices.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

Such a person may or may not express his prejudices, but he may share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) and express those.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, in page 23, line 28, to leave out from "pounds," to the end of line 31.

In moving this Amendment I should like to deal also with the subsequent Government Amendments to Clause 22 which are all connected with it.

The purpose of the Amendment is to delete paragraph (b) of Subsection (3). The reason is that we feel that this paragraph is unnecessary. Under the previous Acts, and particularly in that of 1918, if a lodger had a qualification to vote in respect of his lodgings, it was necessary that he should have occupied those lodgings within the area for a period of three months prior to the effective date. In other words, there was a qualifying period of three months. Now there is no such qualifying period, and any such person, if he permanently lodges in that area, will have his residence there, and, accordingly, will qualify for his vote for the local authority area by virtue of such residence; and, by the same token, if he is the owner, or occupier as tenant, of other lands and heritages of the yearly value of not less than –10 he will qualify for the vote as well.

Therefore it is unnecessary to have this further qualification, because it might lead to anomalies, since the three months' qualification is no longer required. A person residing in lodgings on holiday at the effective date would qualify for a vote in that particular area, whereas, hitherto, he would have had to have residence there for three months. The Amendment is to remove that possibility, without in any way prejudicing the interests of the individual, who will get his vote otherwise, either by virtue of residence or by being the occupier or owner of other property of £10 value elsewhere.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

I am a little confused at this, because a number of hon. Members for English constituencies have an Amendment down, in page 23, line 26, to leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

I thought it linked up with what the Lord Advocate has just stated. I am still confused, because it would appear from what the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) said just now, that there are about 10 different places in which he can stay and get a vote.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham

Will the hon. Lady forgive me? I am not occupying a number of mansions. I am occupying business premises where I carry on my business.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

I thank the hon. Member for that interjection, but it is quite irrelevant to my particular argument. The Lord Advocate has told us about the three months' residential qualification. That has now been cancelled out in this Bill. I understand that in England there is no such period laid down of the time one must occupy premises. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham may fly by night anywhere in England and vote 10 different times so long as he does not vote 10 different times inside one local authority area. However, he can vote 10 different times for 10 different local authorities without inquiry by anyone as to how long he has spent in that particular place. I am beginning to wonder if in Scotland they might ask him with whom he spent his time. It appears to me that Scotland is unfairly treated in the residential qualifications. I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to clear up this matter.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

There is no question of unfairness here. It is merely a question of trying to be logical. If a person qualifies for a vote in ordinary circumstances he will get the vote under this Clause. As the Clause originally stood, by the removal of the three months' qualification, it meant that a person who, for a purely transitory period of, perhaps, a day or two, was actually occupying lodgings of which the unfurnished value was not less than £10 per annum, would have been entitled to register in respect of those premises. Manifestly, that is not the type of qualification which we envisage. A person can still get his vote if he is resident, or, if he has a business qualification vote, he will get it in respect of the business qualification. We are not inflicting any hardship at all, but are removing something which seems out of place in this particular Clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh North

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) I feel that the principle embodied in this Clause is a bad principle. The basing of a vote, whether for a local authority or for the Government, on a property qualification is, I think, wrong, and I want to register my protest. However, there was a specific point which I wished to raise in connection with Subsection (3, a). That Subsection reads: In Scotland, a person shall be deemed to have a non-resident qualification in an area if he—(a) is the owner, or occupier as tenant. … That seems to me to be rather rubbish, to be frank. I am not a lawyer, but it suggests that an owner as tenant—[HON. MEMBERS: "Owner, or occupier as tenant."]—It states, "owner, or occupier as tenant." Why cannot we have the same wording as that in the Subsection relating to England? That seems very intelligible. That is Subsection (2). It says that a person shall be deemed to have a non-resident qualification in an area: if he is occupying as owner or tenant any land or premises therein. That is quite intelligible. I cannot make very much, however, of a sentence which reads: is the owner, or occupier as tenant. I do not know what that means. If I were asked to construe that I should say that, where a person owns or occupies, he is entitled to a vote in that particular area. But, apparently, that is wrong. I do not know. I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate whether we can have the same intelligible wording as there is in the Subsection dealing with England and Wales.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham

I do feel that the Clause is open to objection. I am sure that many of us are grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will look at certain parts of it. I am not disposed to think that my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) is correct, in saying that the wording does not necessarily convey with complete accuracy the meaning of the Clause, but I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a difference in the provisions with regard to England and Wales and the provision in regard to Scotland.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham

I am glad to have that assurance. There really is a fundamental issue of principle in this matter. We have stood against the property qualification. My right hon. Friend makes the point—and it is a very fair one—that the owner, the ratepayer, or the reasonably substantial ratepayer—we do not like the idea that the holding of an allotment is sufficient qualification—should have some consideration in the matter, and have a right to express a view, and I am not prepared to resist that too strenuously.

But my own personal case is a fair case to put. I have not, as my right hon. Friend humorously remarked I might have, the good fortune to own or occupy a brewery at Burton-on-Trent, but I do occupy, as tenant, offices in Burton-on-Trent. In respect of that particular office—which is a not insubstantial office—so far as I recollect I do not pay rates, but I pay an inclusive rental. It does not matter for the moment, but it raises the fundamental principle mentioned by the right hon. Member, that it is the ratepayers who are to have the vote. I also occupy an office in Nuneaton, which is in a different county, and in respect of that I do pay rent and rates. I also occupy offices in Leicestershire and—I think it is—in the county of London. I hope that in saying that I shall not be accused by the Law Society of giving information about my respective premises so as to come within the advertising provisions.

6.15 p.m.

There might be a case—I am not arguing it for the moment—for a person to have one or two votes; but in these days there cannot be a case for a person having ten votes, exercising them at by-elections, and so on. There would, of course, be a geographical limitation on the exercise of a number of votes in a great many areas, but at by-elections a very unfair advantage is given to the person who occupies a number of properties. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider putting a top limit to the number of votes which may be exercised by any one person. I suggest that two is really twice too many as a maximum, and that a person who is entitled to be on more than one register should have to elect on which register he will vote for the purpose of exercising his right.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

I oppose the Subsection which confers the right of plural voting. I have always understood that the Labour Party was opposed to the principle of the property qualification, yet if this Clause is passed now that principle will be perpetuated and, if anything, intensified. In introducing the Bill the Home Secretary said: From now on, every citizen of full age will have a vote, and only one vote. The Bill wipes out the last of the privileges that have been retained by special classes in the franchise of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 839.] That is true of Parliamentary franchise, and when the Bill was introduced, we all welcomed the implementation of that principle. But so far as local elections are concerned, I would submit that that principle is being departed from. This Clause confers the privilege of a second vote based upon the property qualification.

What further objection may result from the working of this Clause? Let me illustrate the matter by relating my own experience. When I was first a candidate for a county council I was defeated by one vote. Now, quite possibly the persons who decided whether or not I should be elected were not people who resided in the county council area, but people who resided in Bristol, outside the county council area. Very often local elections are decided by very narrow margins, and if the principle of plural voting remains in the Bill the desires and wishes of the people in the local area might be frustrated by those living outside the area who possess these plural votes based upon the property qualification. That would be an undesirable result.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) in commending this Bill said that it was based upon principles to which all true democrats could subscribe. Personally, I cannot subscribe to the principle that people should have many votes all over the country. People living in Bristol, adjoining the county council area in the County of Gloucestershire, may have more than one vote, and may determine who shall be elected to the City Council of Bristol, and also who shall be elected to the Gloucestershire County Council. I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider this, and on Report introduce an Amendment to give us greater satisfaction, enabling us to feel that the principle of abolishing plural voting has been implemented, not only for Parliamentary franchise, but for local government elections.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Tradeston

While subscribing to most of what has been said about the property qualification, on which I shall not enlarge, I should like to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh about the part of the Clause which deals with Scotland, because I am sure the Lord Advocate probably realises that this wording will have to be reconsidered. In effect, the phrase "or occupier as tenant" would appear to impose a limitation, because apparently the owner may not necessarily be the occupier. The owner will still be able to vote, and the "occupier as tenant" will be able to vote. But the occupier can be the occupier as owner. Therefore, because of this seeming conflict, where another class is not specifically designated—the class, now fairly common, of the occupier as owner—it would appear that the Clause limits the right of that class to vote. As doubt has been created about the actual meaning of this somewhat clumsy phrase, I hope that the Lord Advocate will reconsider it.

Photo of Mr Morgan Price Mr Morgan Price , Forest of Dean

A quite dangerous precedent might be involved here. Or, to put it another way, the old custom whereby property conferred additional qualifications for voting might be continued. A situation might easily arise whereby people living in towns could own property in rural areas and have representation on those councils, because under the Clause there is a non-resident qualification. I think that we are entitled to an explanation from the Home Secretary. He may be able to satisfy us, but as it stands, I do not think we can be satisfied.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam , Newcastle upon Tyne North

I wish to support the Home Secretary against the attacks of his followers. He seems to be recognising what I have always understood to be one of the great principles of our constitutional system: that there should be no taxation without representation, and if people have holdings in the country they should be allowed their say when they have to pay rates. I do not think there is any danger of a property qualification creeping in again for national politics. But, as the Home Secretary said, if a man has a holding or estate of any kind in a local government area he should have the right to be heard as to what rate he pays.

Photo of Mr Moss Turner-Samuels Mr Moss Turner-Samuels , Gloucester

I should like the Lord Advocate to look again at Subsection (3). It is quite clear that under Subsection (2) there is one test, whereas under Subsection (3) there are two tests. Under Subsection (2) the test is occupation, and occupation only; but clearly under Subsection (3) the two tests are (1) ownership, and (2) occupation. There is that very important differentiation, which should be examined in order that the second may be reconciled with the first.

Photo of Mrs Bessie Braddock Mrs Bessie Braddock , Liverpool Exchange

I must support my hon. Friends on the question of the plural vote, which means that a person, although not resident in the area, would have the right to stand for the council merely because he had a business interest, or occupied office premises. Such a person could be elected a member of the council and determine the policy of the council without residing in the area. In Liverpool some members of the council who have risen to aldermen do not reside in the city, and have no particular interest in the city apart from a commercial one; and in many instances they are the very people who hold back progress which would benefit the residents. Their main concern is the size of the rate, irrespective of providing amenities for the residents.

I thought the principle of abolishing plural voting had been firmly established, and I was very surprised when the clerk to my local authority, the registration officer, drew my attention to the fact that the Bill did away with plural voting only in Parliamentary elections and not in local elections. In municipal or county elections the position is practically the same as before. I hope that the Home Secretary will seriously reconsider this question, because I am certain that there will be grave misgivings among the ranks of our party, particularly among those who have only one vote in the area in which they live, whereas they see others who have the right to vote merely because they possess property qualifications.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I shall not deal with the questions asked about Scotland, because Scottish local government law and the Scottish rating system are so different from what applies in England that it would be wrong of me to intervene on that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will deal with the Scottish questions. I intend to confine myself entirely to the English points which have been raised. As I understand the property qualification, it was a qualification given in respect of the ownership of property. This Bill does not give a local government vote in England and Wales for the ownership of property unless the owner resides in the property or carries on his business in the property.

6.30 p.m.

Let us establish that quite clearly from the start. No one gets a vote under this Clause merely because he owns; he must also occupy. I do not think that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) arises. He said that he occupies an office in Burton-on-Trent in respect of which he pays an inclusive sum, that is a sum including rates. But a great many people in the country also pay an inclusive sum, and if we were to say that my hon. Friend should not have a vote because he does not pay rates directly, that would impinge on the rights of cottagers and others who also pay these inclusive sums.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham

May I point out that we are concerned with a Clause dealing with the non-residential vote?

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

Yes, but my hon. Friend made the point that he was in a different position at Nuneaton than at Burton. I suggest that my hon. Friend would pay less in rent in Nuneaton than in Burton had his tenancy been on the same basis. He pays rates in Burton, whether he pays them directly or indirectly.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) said that this Clause would confer a right to contest an election on a person who has not now that right. This is not a Bill dealing with the qualifications of candidates. There are three qualifications for candidates for local government elections, namely, 12 months' residence, being on the register, or being an owner of property. So far as owners being on local councils are concerned they do not derive their qualifications from this Measure, but from the Local Government Act, 1933.

I thought that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Sir C. Headlam) put the question quite fairly. If a person pays rates, directly or indirectly, towards the funds of a local authority, I should have thought it was a sound democratic principle that he should have a voice in the way those rates are spent; but he should have only one vote. That, I should have thought, was an incontestable principle. It is true that I have had to guard against giving an occupier's vote to persons who merely have a derisory occupation. No one would suggest that a person who is a tenant on an allotment should, by that fact, have a voice in the affairs of the local authority. That is why I accepted the Amendment to insert the qualification of £10. That does not apply to the ordinary resident. No matter how miserable the hovel, or how low the rateable value, that person qualifies as a resident and as nothing else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) said that there might be some occupations which did not involve payment towards the rates. I have undertaken to look into that point, and I will see whether it is possible to find some suitable words to make it clear that persons get this occupation qualification for land or building in respect of which they make contributions to the funds of the local authority concerned. There is no property qualification unless there is occupation which involves the payment of rates, and in order to avoid the creation of "faggot" votes, there is this qualification of £10. It is quite unreasonable to collect rates from occupiers of premises, and then to say to a person that because he occupies the property and resides somewhere else, he is not to be allowed any voice in the way in which the money he has put into the funds of the local authority is expended.

Photo of Mr George Hicks Mr George Hicks , Woolwich East

My right hon. Friend has kindly cleared up the point in regard to plural voting. I understand that, in the case of a local government unit with 12 wards, a man who has a shop in each of the wards will have only one vote at a local government election. Suppose that there were by-elections in each of these wards would he then have the right to record a vote in each case?

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

He can vote only once at the general election of a council and in a by-election. I admit that this is a complication, and I will try to see if we can fasten the vote in that case to one ward, giving the person an opportunity to elect in which ward he will exercise that vote. I think that that is quite a reasonable thing to do.

Photo of Mr Niall Macpherson Mr Niall Macpherson , Dumfriesshire

I find the proposition very extraordinary that, however great a contribution a person may make to the wealth and prosperity of a community, he should not have a say in how that community should be run, unless he actually resides there. The Committee will be aware, after the many interventions of Scottish Members, that in Scotland there are such things as owners' rates as well as occupiers' rates. If we accept the proposition that there should be no taxation without representation, it is a little difficult not to accept the proposition that an owner should have a vote by reason of the fact that he pays rates, even though he is not in occupation. All Scottish Members know that what is wrong in Scotland is that there should be such things as owners' rates. In the course of this Parliament, we have assimilated much English administration and made many amendments to Scottish law, but in this one case where it would be very much better to amend our law, it has not been done. I have no doubt that if owners were relieved of the necessity of paying rates, they would be willing to be relieved of the privilege of having a vote in respect of their property.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

I cannot understand the misgivings and fears in the minds of Scottish Members and in the mind of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) has just pointed out, the reason for the fundamental distinction in this Clause between Scotland and England is the difference in the rating systems. As the Home Secretary explained, the qualification for this vote arises out of the fact that the person is a ratepayer in the area. Whatever hon. Members may say, once that principle is accepted, we have then to apply it to the respective countries in accordance with the respective rating laws. In England, there is only one form of rating. A person is rated because he is an occupier of premises. In Scotland, we have a dual form of rating, and a person can be rated (a), because he is the owner of premises, or, (b), because he is an occupier of premises. With that in mind, it is easy to understand the difference between Subsections (2) and (3).

I cannot understand the complaints of my hon. Friends the Members for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) and Trades. ton (Mr. Rankin) in regard to the drafting. In Subsection (3, a), if one has regard to the punctuation, it will be seen it is quite clear that the qualification is, (a), being the owner, or, (b), the occupier as tenant of any land or heritage of a value not less than rip. In these circumstances, there is no need for any further consideration or amendment to the drafting. I trust that with that explanation these misgivings will have been allayed.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh North

Does it mean that where a person has a number of properties in a town, he may cast a vote in respect of each property? It is fantastic if that is so.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

If my hon. Friend reads the Clause with any degree of care, he will see that a person is entitled to only one vote in respect of the one premises either as owner or as tenant. It is clear from the earlier provisions of the Clause that a person has only one vote in any local government area. If my hon. Friend takes the case of his own City of Edinburgh, which has a number of municipal wards, the result will be that a person will be entitled to vote in respect of one ward at any ordinary general election, and will qualify for one vote in respect of any particular premises.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

To come back to England. I should like to refer to a remark made by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock), that this non-residential qualification puts her party at a great disadvantage. Speaking of Westminster, I can say that a large number of citizens who vote Labour derive their right to vote from a nonresidential qualification. I might add, as the matter was raised both by the hon. Lady and by the Home Secretary, that the majority of those who sit, either as Communist members or Socialist members on the Westminster City Council, derive their right to vote and their right to sit from a non-residential qualification.

Photo of Mr John Paton Mr John Paton , Norwich

The Lord Advocate did not clear up the point which is bothering a number of Scottish Members. Everyone is clear about the question of one man, one vote. What we are not clear about is whether a property can have an occupier vote as well as an ownership vote.

6.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

May I try to settle this matter? In the representation of particular property, we may have two types of persons qualified to vote—the person who is the owner or the person who is the occupier. It may be that the person who is the owner is also the occupier, but that does not give him two votes, because they are alternative. Therefore, we have three sets of circumstances which may apply: The owner having a vote, a separate person as a tenant having a vote, or the owner-occupier having a vote. But there can be only one vote in respect of each class. There may be two votes hi respect of one property, one for the owner and the other for the tenant. The justification for that is that both owner and tenant are ratepayers in Scotland.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

I feel that I must join my English colleagues who have protested at the principle embodied in this Clause. I think that it is obvious that this is plural voting of a very bad kind. Hon. Members opposite have stated, and so has my right hon. Friend, that if a man pays rates, he is entitled to get some value out of the particular authority to whom he pays the rates; or, at least, he is entitled to have a voting interest. I would point out that in the interpretation in the Bill relating to Scotland, it is stated that in the case of lands and heritages owned or occupied by a number of persons, the value shall be multiplied or divided by the number on a £10 basis. If it is £70, and there are seven people, there shall be seven votes. In my opinion that is wrong.

It is a Scottish custom, and it is probably an English custom, for many people to have what is known as their coast house. They have their town house and their coast house. The coast house may be rented at £70, and there may be seven members living there at various times on holiday. Their interest there is purely of a holiday nature. In that village or coast town, the local people may require houses, or better drainage, or a hospital; but the people who occupy the £70 house, merely for July and August, are not interested in the building of a hospital, or in a better water supply, and they certainly are definitely opposed, as in cases of which I know, to an extension of housing in the area where they spend their holidays. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For one reason. They do not like the place where they spend their holidays to have too many houses to the acre. These seven people can vote out the interest of the people who are living in that agricultural village or coast town, where they are probably earning their living from fisheries or agriculture. I say that that is fundamentally wrong, and I am glad to join my English friends in opposing it.

Photo of Mr Niall Macpherson Mr Niall Macpherson , Dumfriesshire

Is the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) suggesting that these seven people living on the coast, who may have a vote in Glasgow, are going to make a special journey to the coast to vote there?

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

They have done so. A previous Lord Advocate said in June, 1929, that they were "bringing them out of the sea" at Dunoon to vote in the Central Division of Glasgow.

Mr. Gallagher:

I am not satisfied with the answer of the Lord Advocate. One can easily have a situation in which owners of property do not wish to vote in their own residential area. The vote there is quite safe, in many cases, for the reactionary on the local authority. They concentrate their voting strength in order to nullify the votes of the progressives in the area where their businesses exist. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) knows that there are areas around Glasgow where Glasgow business men reside, which are strongholds for the deadheads and reactionaries. When it comes to voting, it is not necessary for them to vote in their particular burghs. They can concentrate all their reactionary votes in the big centres.

Everyone ought to understand what happens in many of the coast resorts. There are people who live in those resorts permanently, and they do not want the working people in their areas. Dunoon is building some houses now. The last I heard about them was that they were to have a rental of £40 a year. The ordinary working class family cannot afford to pay £40 a year rent. We have these people keeping out of the area the poorer section of the community. Those who have a coast house and use it for only part of the year, will go down there and vote in order to prevent anything in the nature of progress taking place in the area. I ask the Lord Advocate, who has a wide knowledge of conditions in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to consider this matter again and to keep the principle of one man, one vote, and qualification on residence. Cut out all this nonsense about business men having special consideration. As soon as we introduce discrimination, we do harm and assist the reactionary.

Mr. McKie:

I think that the Lord Advocate made clear to the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) what are the three categories who may exercise the vote under the local government franchise according to this Clause. I am sorry to see, particularly from my colleagues from Scotland, the muddle-mindedness which has been shown and the deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee, as to the whole object of this Clause. No one knows better than the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that the local government vote has never been applied in the same way as the Parliamentary vote.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

If a man has a business in a particular burgh and he is making money out of that business, naturally he will pay rates. He is making money out of the burgh and living outside it. He is not interested in the progress of the burgh. Why should he have a vote in that burgh?

Mr. McKie:

I cannot be persuaded by such an argument which goes to the whole basis of local government franchise. It is for the very reason that a person is called upon to pay rates in a certain ward or electoral division that he has a local government vote. The hon. Member for West Fife talked about reactionaries, whose votes were not wanted, going out in hordes on polling day to swamp the local electors. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) when she talked about the seven people. I do not know why she chose the number seven. She may have been thinking of the seven brethren in the parable. She said that because seven people are interested in a house, it was wrong that they should automatically have seven votes.

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

People only vote automatically when they vote conservatively.

Mr. McKie:

I hope that I am not doing the hon. Lady an injustice when I say she seems to approach this matter, not from a spirit of desiring to see fair play and to see that those who are called on to pay rates have a right to a say in the affairs of a local area, but simply from the point of view that they may not happen to agree in a political sense with the views which she and her colleagues hold. I hope that the learned Lord Advocate will not be beguiled, but will stand firm against his hon. Friends—I do not need to say anything about this side of the Committee—with regard to the wording of the Bill.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.