Clause 22. — (Residence, occupation, etc.)

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

Alert me about debates like this

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

I beg to move, in page 24, line 7, to leave out "period," and to insert "term."

This is a small drafting Amendment. It has the effect that a person will not be entitled to a local government vote as an occupier of a house let to him furnished for a period of less than nine weeks. The Amendment seeks to replace the word "period" by the word "term." I am advised that there might be some possible ambiguity about the word "period" in this respect. What is meant, of course, is the legal term for which the house is let, and not the period of time for which it may possibly be occupied by the tenant under the legal instrument. I should not have thought that there was any very great risk, even with the earlier word, of misunderstanding, but perhaps the best test is that there has been a misunderstanding—that there are some people who did not think it clear. I ask the House, therefore, to accept this small drafting Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I beg to move, in page 24, line 7, to leave out from "weeks" to "but," in line 9.

The purpose of this Amendment is to provide that the term "tenant" shall not include a tenant of any room or rooms let to him furnished and occupied by him as a lodger and, as a consequence to ensure that as in Parliamentary elections, any such room or rooms occupied by a lodger shall entitle the occupant to participate in municipal elections. We have already discussed the questions of the vote for a business man and of the payment of rates. The payment of rates should not decide the matter in local elections. I want to make that applicable to this particular question: that the payment of rate should not be the decisive factor so far as the vote is concerned because, in the case of a business man, the rate he is paying is what might be considered a tax on the profits he is making in the borough. He may live entirely outside the borough and the real test for participating in municipal or local elections should not be rates, but residence.

Of course, in the general run of residents the rates will be paid; the great majority of residents will normally pay rates; but the basis of the franchise for local elections should be residence and not rates. It may be that the occupier of a property is able to pay the rates only because there is a lodger who is paying sufficient money for the lodgings as allows the occupier to maintain the house and to pay the rates. That very often happens. It is obvious that a lodger, even though he is not paying rates directly, who is resident in a particular borough, has an interest in local affairs and must be anxious to see progress and development in the borough. There are many lodgers, both married and single, who are keen to see the utmost progress in their boroughs. They are anxious particularly that houses and schools should be built, and it is highly undesirable that such people, who are residents of a borough by virtue of their occupying rooms as lodgers, should be deprived of the right to participate in the affairs of the local authority, and that they should be denied an opportunity of voting.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

It is difficult to imagine a non-resident lodger. There may be such people, however, and it was to avoid one of them accidentally turning up and getting a vote that these words were included. The resident is entitled to a vote, but there is also the kind of case of which I will quote an example. On the qualifying day a man might happen accidentally to be in a place where he is not normally resident, but he lodges there for the night or for a day or two. If these words were not included he might acquire a local government vote in respect of his accidental presence in, let us say, a seaside resort; similarly, a commercial traveller might acquire such a vote in an industrial town. I do not think that that is what the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) wanted the franchise for and I would suggest to him that, inasmuch as the resident for whom he has pleaded gets a vote in respect of his residence, it is desirable that we should exclude the possibility that there should be the creation of some snap votes, perhaps purposely, or some other votes, perhaps accidentally, merely through a particular person being in lodgings on the qualifying day.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

In view of the explanation of the Home Secretary, 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 24, line 12, at the end, to insert: and the yearly value of any land or premises shall be determined in accordance with Section eighty of the Local Government Act, 1929 (which provides for determining it for the purposes of the Representation of the People Act, 1918). This Amendment is consequential on that to Clause 21 which was accepted by my right hon. Friend. It simply seeks to determine within the year the method of valuing the premises in question.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Richard Sargood Mr Richard Sargood , Bermondsey West Bermondsey

I beg to move, in page 24, line 14, to leave out from "in," to the end of the Subsection, and to insert: An electoral area in England or Wales each of the joint occupiers shall be treated as occupying land or premises therein of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds, if the aggregate yearly value of the land or premises is not less than the amount produced by multiplying ten pounds by the number of joint occupiers. This Amendment also is consequential, as the right hon. Gentleman has agreed o accept the former Amendment to make the annual yearly value a figure of £10. In instances where land or premises are owned or occupied by joint occupiers, it seeks to make the aggregate yearly value such a sum as would be equal to an amount arrived at by multiplying £10 by the number of joint occupiers. Thus it would be maintaining the principle that was conceded in the former Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, in page 24, line 25, to leave out "or any lodgings."

This is a consequential Amendment to the one we made in Clause 21, whereby Subsection (3, b) was deleted.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 24, line 28, leave out from "is," to end of line.

In line 31, leave out from "occupying," to first "of," in line 33, and insert: as the case may be, lands and heritages.

In line 44, leave out "and,".

In line 44, at end, insert: (b) the expression 'tenant,' shall not include a tenant of any room or rooms let to him furnished and occupied by him as a lodger."—[The Lord Advocate.]

In page 24, line 47, at end, add: and(c) the expression 'yearly value' in relation to any lands and heritages shall mean in the case where the lands and heritages are separately entered in the valuation roll the gross annual value appearing therein, and in any other case the gross annual value which would in the opinion of the registration officer be entered in the valuation roll, if the lands and heritages were separately entered therein."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

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

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge

I would like some clarification of the Amendments which have been made to the Clause. Am I right in assuming that a family who take a yearly house at the coast at a rent of £100 can, even where there are To members of the family, qualify for votes in that coast town year by year, while, if the family merely take furnished lodgings in the town year by year, not one of them will have a vote? May I have an answer?

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

The position is clear that the qualification applies only to joint owners or joint occupiers of premises with an annual value of such an amount that if it is divided by the number of people the answer is £10 or more. Accordingly, to qualify one must be an owner or an occupier at the qualifying date. Subject to that reservation, the answer is "Yes."

7.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh North

I was not at all satisfied with the reply I received on the last Clause, so I would like to raise two points which come up again on this Clause. As I understand the matter, owners of property in a city like Edinburgh might live in Midlothian. Their property might be occupied by people also resident in Midlothian. Both the occupier and the owner would have local government votes in Edinburgh. Under the Clause, as I understand it, if the house is occupied jointly by four people and the rental is £40 a year, all these people might live in Midlothian and yet have votes in Edinburgh. The situation is quite common in the centre of Edinburgh. A large amount of property there is owned by people living outside the city, as one can see by looking at the Register. If the property is not only occupied, but is owned jointly by 4 or 5 people, dual votes can be exercised by people resident outside Edinburgh in local government elections inside Edinburgh. That situation applies to every large town in Scotland.

I would not like this opportunity to pass without expressing my opposition to this arrangement. It might be true that they pay rates, but it is time that a Socialist Government looked at this matter again and found a more satisfactory basis for local election votes than the present one. I have no doubt that it can be done if a little application is given to the problem. The present position is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I have had experience of people owning or occupying a house at the coast. In the West of Scotland it is very common for people in cities or towns to own or occupy houses at the coast. They will occupy them for a very short period, and then they rent them out to holiday-makers during the summer. Because they occupy them for a time, they have votes, as owners or tenants of the property. [An HON. MEMBER: "They pay rates."] They are able to pay rates because somebody occupies the house for a month and pays exceptionally big money for doing so, as much money in a month as the owner or tenant will pay for a year's rent and rates. The person who occupies the house for a month does not get a vote.

The Lord Advocate knows that if he goes to the west coast of Scotland and gets occupancy of a house for a month, he will pay a very large sum of money. If the Lord Advocate makes inquiries he will find that the tenant of the property is not paying as much in rent and rates for a year as he pays for a month's residence in that house. Yet it is the tenant who gets the vote and not the temporary occupier. I have not got the money to do that sort of thing, but I go to the coast for a fortnight in the summer when I get a chance, and I know what has to be paid. There are people who go down to the coast for a month every year and they make it possible for the tenant of a house to pay the rent and rates. It is about time that sort of thing stopped.

The one thing that the tenants of such houses do not want is an increase in rent and rates in these coastal places. Therefore, they do not want any sort of development in these areas. Anyone who goes to many of these coast resorts will find that there is very urgent need for development. Many of them are slum areas, apart from boarding houses and other houses which are let off for summer residence. The slum conditions in some of these seaside resorts are terrible, and there is a great need for the provision of new conditions for the people in these areas. The one thing that the tenants of these houses are concerned about is to prevent any development which would put an extra 1d. on the rates. Yet the people who pay big money for occupying these houses in the summer have no say as to how the rates in these areas should be spent.

Mr. McKie:

I think I should be interpreting accurately what was said by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) if I said that he appears to be in favour of invading the rights of private property. I do not deny that there may be many cases of sub-let in coast resorts in Scotland, but I suggest that these cases are freely negotiated between the occupier or the first tenant and the person or persons who take on the sub-lease. That is purely a matter between those persons. If the owner or the tenant does not desire to sublet, it is open to the owner or the tenant to insert a clause in the lease providing that there shall be no sub-let. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Fife was not aware of that, but I can assure him that that is the case. Therefore, his remarks about the person who takes a sub-lease and pays a very large rent, and yet has no interest whatever in the affairs of the local authority, fall completely to the ground. I am sorry that I cannot agree with the hon. Member. People who occupy these places desire to partake of the health-giving facilities there, and it is not in the interests of the tenants of such property to frustrate the due advancement and progress in the conditions of all those who normally reside all the year round within the ambit of the local authority concerned.

The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) approached this matter from a rather different angle—in fact, a more dangerous angle—than did the hon. Member for West Fife. Although the Lord Advocate will have no difficulty whatever in disposing of that argument, the hon. Member for North Edinburgh cited the case of persons who might own a house or premises within the City of Edinburgh and who live outwith the boundaries of the City, in the adjacent county of Midlothian or in any other county that lies nearby. He said he could not conceive why a Socialist Government should attempt to maintain that sort of thing; in other words, that all questions of equity in rating should go by the board.

Mr. McKie:

The hon. Gentleman says there is no equity. I think there is. I think it is equitable that a person who owns premises, whether it is house property or other property—

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh North

If I may interrupt, let us take the case of property owned jointly by five people resident outside the city. In the same property we have one occupier who lives within the city, but if the total rent is £50, the five people who live outside the city have five votes in that city as compared with the one person living there.

Mr. McKie:

The hon. Gentleman must persuade his Government to bring in a Bill for the complete overhaul of the rating system in Scotland. If he did so, he might obtain considerable support from hon. Members on this side of the Committee for those proposals which we regard as fair and equitable. Many of us take the view that the rating system in Scotland leaves much to be desired. I come back now to the point to which I was addressing myself when the hon Member interrupted me and when I so readily gave way to him; namely, that we on this side of the Committee cannot assent to his view with regard to the prohibition of people who own premises within the City of Edinburgh and who live somewhere else. The hon. Member says they ought to be debarred. He says he thinks it is a scandal—he got rather emphatic towards the end of his remarks—that a Socialist Government should maintain that kind of thing. I consider those remarks somewhat dangerous.

We do not know what may come in the future, because the tail very often wags the dog—we have had one or two illustrations of that recently—and I sincerely hope that those who are responsible for piloting this Bill will not agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument that this is a disgrace upon Socialist administration, but that even though they are Socialists themselves, they will, at all events, remember that there is such a thing as equity and fair play. I hope they will agree to this Clause remaining as it is at present and will not seek to amend it.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and Eastern

I hope we may be allowed to get this Clause. I have been listening to the arguments, and it seems to me that every time we want to carry through certain legislation somebody introduces a widow and orphan who will be affected by it. Beneficial legislation is stopped, because we are told a widow and orphan will suffer. It may be that there are such freakish cases as have been mentioned, but none has come to the notice of my office, and no complaints have come from the constituencies in which these cases are said to exist. I think it will be agreed that the cases where 10 people will arrange to be joint occupiers or owners of houses will be extremely freakish, and are unlikely to exist in any number. The picture of the whole of Glasgow taking a special train down to Prestwick for the municipal election there would be a fantastic one. The matter has been presented out of all proportion. If actual cases of this taking place are brought to my notice I will be pleased to go into them, but so far they have not been brought to my notice either by the constituencies affected or by anyone else.

7.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

What does my right hon. Friend propose to do when he looks into them?

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and Eastern

We will look into them, but it is bad to legislate on the basis of particular cases. A general principle is concerned there. I think that what my hon. Friends are forgetting is that what was done in the last Representation of the People Act after the Speaker's Conference was the first occasion upon which a residential qualification entitled a person to a local government vote. Prior to that time it was entirely a property vote, and what was done was a great step forward. There is no reason why, in doing justice to residents who are not occupiers or owners, we should do injustice to people who play an important part in the community and pay rates. I think non. Gentlemen opposite would be only too pleased to do away with the owners' vote if we would do away with the owners' rates.

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