I beg to move, in page 4, line 18, after "incapacity," to insert:
I do not intend in any way to raise an Imperial issue, and in no way is this Amendment meant as an attack on Eire or on Irishmen. I myself have Irish blood in my veins, I served in an Irish regiment, and I married into an Irish family, so that I have no anti-Irish feelings—very much the other way. But the franchise is a very valuable thing. We all prize it, and the franchise is for those who live and reside and take an interest in the affairs of this country. As I read the Bill, it seems to me that there is a possibility that many Irish, Southern Irish or Northern Irish, farm workers and so on, who are birds of passage and only in this country for a few months, may come on the register and be entitled to vote, because Clause 5 says:"and not being a person who at the outbreak of the present war was ordinarily resident in Eire."
I understand that an Eire national is still a British subject—"Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, a person, being on the qualifying date a British subject of full age—"
"—shall be entitled to be registered in the civilian residence register for an election in any constituency, if on that date that person either—
(a) is registered in the National Register as residing at a place in the constituency and has—
It would seem therefore that any worker who is a British subject and comes to this country and is in this country for only two months—who is a bird of passage not interested in this country—would get a vote. I do not think the Bill is very clear, because if the Committee will look at page 5, Sub-section (2, b), he will see that it says:(1) throughout the period of two months ending with that date;"
The Under-Secretary might perhaps make it clear whether that Sub-section covers workers who are temporarily in the United Kingdom. It is quite possible that a man might come here for a couple of months and get his permit extended, say, for six months. In that case would he be considered as usually resident outside the United Kingdom, and what about those who have been admitted for war work for an indefinite period? I would like to ask the Under-Secretary whether the national registration system provides any means for identifying Eire workers who have been admitted to do war work and whose permits have been extended from time to time, and does it provide means of identifying those who have been given permits for an indefinite time? Can the registration machinery be so used that the names of the Eire workers will not be sent on by the national registration officers to the election registration officers, and if it can be so used, will he give an assurance that it will be so used? I have no objection to any Eire citizen coming here and being registered if he intends to live here permanently, but I am sure that the Committee does not wish to give a vote merely to these birds of passage. I hope the Under-Secretary will give that his consideration."a person shall not be treated as registered in the National Register as residing at a place in any constituency if he is so registered as usually resident outside the United Kingdom."
Does the hon. and gallant Member say that he would prescribe as regards a resident of Eire that he is not a British subject and has no right to receive any benefits of the franchise here?
I understand that a resident of Eire is regarded as a British subject, and while he is over here for just a couple of months he will be entitled to a vote—
I understand that. As far as British citizens are concerned, we recognise even one in Eire to-day as a British subject, and, that being so, why should he be denied the right here?
I think I had better put the Amendment.
I do not find myself in agreement with the Amendment. The point at issue goes further than the question of residence in Eire. I agree that there are a number of residents from Eire in this country. Perhaps, Mr. Williams, I might suggest that on this Amendment you allow some latitude, as it raises questions of principle. There is a certain number of West Indian British subjects working in civilian employment in this country. Then there are civilian British subjects from the Dominions. What is their position? It is clear that we can discuss this matter only in the light of Sub-section (2, b) of the Clause, which says:
Let us assume, for the sake of example, that a labourer from Eire has been in this country for two years prior to registration, but has previously spent his life in Eire. The same thing would apply to one of these West Indians, who had spent his life previously in the West Indies. Would such a person be regarded as a person usually resident outside the United Kingdom, or not?"a person shall not be treated as registered in the National Register as residing at a place in any constituency if he is so registered as usually resident outside the United Kingdom."
In answer to the Noble Lord's question, as to whether we should discuss the whole question of temporary residents on this Amendment, I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed it now, and not on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
This point has been the subject of very careful consideration by the Home Secretary. He is advised that the provision, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) have drawn attention, in Subsection (2, b) of Clause 5:
will cover the numerous labourers and workmen from Eire; and, of course, if it covers them it will also cover those from other places who have been admitted temporarily to Great Britain and Northern Ireland to take up employment during the war. The fact that a permit has been extended from time to time, and that some of these people may be allowed to reside in the United Kingdom for a substantial period—even two years or more—does not take them outside the category of persons usually resident outside the United Kingdom. The National Registration system provides means for identifying Eire citizens who have been allowed to enter the United Kingdom for war work, including those who have been allowed to stay here for a substantial period. The National Registration system will be used to see that the names of these workers are not sent on to the electoral registers. I think that meets the point that my hon. Friend had in mind. We all agree that it would be undesirable for these temporary residents here, especially those from Southern Ireland, to make use of the franchise in this country. We are determined that the machinery shall be so used as to exclude them. I hope that, on that explanation, my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment."a person shall not be treated as registered in the National Register as residing at a place in any constituency if he is so registered as usually resident outside the United Kingdom"—
While thanking the Under-Secretary for his very lucid explanation, I feel bound to say that I should be far happier if the Amendment were passed. Equally with the Mover of this Amendment, I disclaim, in supporting it, any attack whatever upon Eire or any ill-feeling whatever towards Eire. I have spent the greater part of my life in trying to promote good relations between the North of Ireland and Eire. But there are certain relevant facts which I should like to bring before the Committee. What are the numbers of those citizens of Eire who are coming to this country? It is very difficult to obtain the figures. Some people have estimated them at 100,000; some at as many as 300,000. Suppose we take the lowest estimate, of 100,000. Even so, it would be possible, if those citizens got on the register, to swamp completely the electorate in certain constituencies.
As we have been told that these people will not vote, is it in Order to discuss the number of them in this country?
It is, I suppose, technically just in Order. But, on the other hand, as for practical purposes the point has been dealt with, I think it is going rather far, if I might suggest it to the hon. Gentleman, to discuss the whole question of the numbers of these people. That is really not quite relevant to the Bill especially after the explanation given by the Minister.
Surely, Mr. Williams, it is in Order for any hon. Member to say that he is not satisfied with the explanation given by the Minister. If he thinks that the position is not covered, he is in Order in saying so.
That is why I put the position as I did.
I shall be as brief as I possibly can, as I do not want to detain the Committee; but there are certain considerations which I must bring before the Committee. What is the legal status of these citizens of Eire? Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1935, these citizens of Eire are not British subjects. Mr. de Valera stated in the Dail:
Under that Act Eire regards its citizens as not being British subjects. Under the other Act passed in Eire in 1935, called the Aliens Act, it is stated that the word "alien" means a person who is not a citizen of Eire."Under Irish law no Irish citizen will be a British subject when this Act is passed. When this Bill becomes law, it would be an impertinence if the British were to claim as citizens of their country people who are obviously citizens of another country."
I really think that going into the question of Acts that have been passed by another country as to whether their citizens are citizens of this country, is outside the scope of this Bill, and still more outside the scope of this Amendment. I cannot see that it has any relation to this Amendment.
I accept your ruling, Mr. Williams. All I wanted to point out was that these citizens of Eire are regarded by Eire as not being British subjects, and we should be perfectly right in excluding them.
While I do not dispute the Eire definition of British subjects, might I point out that we are dealing with the position of British subjects in this country? Can we have an interpretation from the Government bench of what is a British citizen?
If the hon. Member wants to ask that question, he will be able to do so when he is called upon.
I think I am entitled to refer to the Irish Aliens Act, under which all British subjects are aliens in Eire. It seems to me, therefore, that we should demand something like reciprocity.
Nothing in an Act of the Southern Ireland Parliament has anything to do with the very narrow point dealt with in this Amendment.
I would now like to refer to what has happened in this country. Last April two Irishmen were summoned at Chester for failing to register for fire-watching duties. They pleaded that they did not think they were liable, because they were not British subjects. [An. HON. MEMBER: "They were ignorant."] No; let me finish. One of the men produced a letter which he had received from the High Commissioner for Eire, who told him that he did not regard citizens of Eire as British subjects. In order to be quite fair, I should add that he advised the man to do fire-watching duties, because he considered them humanitarian and because they helped in self-protection; but, on the technical point, he advised that these citizens of Eire were not liable to be called upon to do fire-watching duties, because they were not British subjects. I submit that that is a very relevant consideration.
Would not the relevant consideration be, What is the position of the British courts in this case?
We are having a very wide discussion, and I have let the hon. Gentleman put his point; but I hope that he will try to get very much closer to the Amendment.
Is it relevant for me to point out that Mr. de Valera, speaking at Ennis, declared—
That is exactly the point. This Debate might be very nice in the Southern Ireland Parliament, but it does not affect the position in this country.
If Mr. de Valera described His Majesty the King as a foreign King—
This really is going too far. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to keep completely off Mr. de Valera and affairs in Southern Ireland.
Very well. I would only ask the House to insist on this safeguard, which appears in the Amendment. I think you will not rule me out of Order, Mr. Williams, when I say that my reason is this. I feel very strongly on this point. When the Statute of Westminster was going through this House we received the most solemn assur- ances from the Prime Minister of the Free State that the Treaty of 1921 was still regarded as absolutely binding, and that if we inserted a Clause in the Statute of Westminster which would exempt the Treaty of 1921 from the operation of the Statute the Government of the Free State, as it then was, would regard the Treaty as morally much less binding. We have seen that Colonel Gretton and his supporters, who moved an Amendment, were perfectly right. Had that Amendment to the Statute of Westminster been accepted, we should not have had the flagrant violations of the Treaty which we have witnessed in past years. Therefore I ask the Committee not to be satisfied with any assurances, however strong they may be, but to have this matter put into black and white in accordance with the Amendment which has been moved.
I have become a little confused in my mind as to what the exact position is, and I would like to feel a little more certain than I do that the answer the Minister gave us really does mean that these temporary residents will not have the power to vote. Under the Bill as it is drafted I believe that if your name appears on the register, you are then able to vote. What assurance have we that in actual fact we can check the prevention of these names of temporary residents in Eire appearing on the register?
There is one point I should like to put to the Minister in order to get over this difficulty. I understand that people from Eire and other parts are not liable to be called up for military service. Why should we not limit the vote in this country to those people who can be called up for military service, and then we would sweep away all this difficulty?
As a native of Eire, I shall resist all temptation to make any reply to the hon. Member who spoke from the benches opposite. I yield to none in my disapproval of the attitude of the Eire Government, but I do not see what that has to do with it. These people are under the Statute of Westminster and under the law of this land British subjects still. The sponsors of the Amendment are trying to make special legislation in this case. If they had Put at the end of their Amendment, instead of "or ordinarily resident in Eire," "or ordinarily resident outside the United Kingdom," it would have been very much better. They would not have been open to the charge of discriminating against citizens of Eire. As the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) remarked, there are West Indians in much the same position, and indeed others. You cannot possibly deal with the citizens of Eire in this way. Tens of thousands of them are fighting loyally for the Allied cause. A few years ago there was a Boundary Commission, and it is likely that if they had drawn their boundary a little different, General Montgomery would have been excluded from the franchise under this Amendment. And what about Esmonde, V.C., who went to certain death in an old, slow and obsolete aircraft in the gallant attack on the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisneau"? What about young Jackman, one of the early V.Cs. of the war in Egypt? Are you to exclude these people? Many such have come over here because of their love of this country and their love of liberty, and you cannot class all the Irish who come over here with the questionable ones. They have come over and shared our perils in the great cities which have been blitzed, and many of them have done yeoman work in the Fighting Forces.The Amendment is much too widely drawn. I agree, as has already been said, that there is still a danger that some of the people whom we do not intend to get on the register will manage to slide on to it. I was not altogether satisfied with the Under-Secretary's statement of the measures that were being taken. For instance, it is said that the National Registration organisation would see to it that they did not get on to the register. I would rather it should be done directly by Act of Parliament. Between now and the Report stage something stronger might be done to make it certain that these people do not get on to the register. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment to consider that it is so widely drawn that it does a grave injustice to a great many, and I hope he will withdraw it.
I would like to say a few words on what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. As far as I can see, the particular gentlemen to whom he referred are serving this country in the Forces and would be entitled to be placed under this Bill on the Service register, so that there is no force in the objection he raised to this Amendment. The Amendment applies only to civilians temporarily visiting this country from Eire. It does not apply to anyone who comes over here with the intention of remaining permanently in this country. I would be entirely satisfied by what the Under-Secretary has said in regard to the Amendment, except on one point. He says that there are means far distinguishing the temporary visitors from those who come to live here permanently under the Regulations. I would like to know, not whether there are means for distinguishing temporary visitors, but whether those who came here since 1939 are distinguished now on the National Register. It is no use providing for their being distinguished in the future if you leave those who have been here perhaps since 1939 completely undistinguished from those who are going to remain in this country.
We ought to be very careful not to do Eire's work by regarding Irish citizens as non-members of the British Empire. That is the sort of thing which might happen. We have a right to regard the citizens of Southern Eire in the same way that we regard Canadians or Australians. (HON. MEMBERS: "No.") That is to say, they should have the right to vote here if they reside a sufficient length of time, but we should leave it at that. Mr. de Valera wants Southern Ireland to be regarded as a non-member of the British Commonwealth, and therefore we must not play up to him by making it impossible for citizens of Eire to become British citizens if they wish when they have come over here and qualified in the same way as Canadians or Australians might do. I am satisfied with the section of the Clause under discussion and the statement of the Under-Secretary that sufficient precautions are taken to prevent citizens of Eire from coming over here and getting the vote in spite of what de Valera may want to say or do, but if they qualify by length of residence, then they should vote in the same way as other members of the Empire can do.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary will clear up the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) whether the thousands of citizens of Eire who are at present fighting, and extremely gallantly, for this country will automatically go on to the register under the Bill or be automatically excluded. It is rather an uncertain point, and it will facilitate my judgment if the right hon. Gentleman can clear up that matter.
We have heard a lot about the men voters, but the point that arises in my mind is, What about the women? A great many women have come over here and are working in factories and as domestic servants and in hotels and in many other ways, and I would ask the Under-Secretary what is their position under this Clause.
I can answer two or three of the points that have been raised, and I think satisfy bon, Members on this question. As the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) rightly said, the words on the Order Paper would go much too far. There are many thousands of loyal and extremely worthy British subjects residing in Southern Ireland, and they were residing there on the outbreak of war, such as retired officers, retired civil servants, and people of that kind. Many of these people have come back to this country to work, and they have acquired a home and domicile and residence in this country, and though they are qualified in the ordinary way under this Bill, nobody would wish to exclude such persons from voting at a General Election. Ever since the middle of 1940 there has been direct control of travel and of emigration from Ireland to Great Britain. Everybody who has come in since that date has had to have special identity and travel documents. They are well known. They have been admitted under arrangements made by the Ministry of Labour in order to help in the heavy work of aerodrome construction and so forth, and all these people are what we at the Home Office call "conditionally landed," and they can be excluded from this country at any moment. These are the people who are identifiable and whom hon. Members rightly seek to exclude from exercising the franchise, and they are the people in respect of whom I have given the complete assurance that they are completely identifiable as far as National Regis- tration is concerned, and machinery will be used to exclude them from any possibility of being placed on the electoral register. I cannot do more. The assurance is complete, and the identification is complete, and I hope that with that explanation my hon. and gallant Friend will withdraw the Amendment.
After that explanation I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
There is one point I want to ask the Under-Secretary. The speech he has delivered has made the position a little more confusing. What is the exact position with regard to people who are normally domiciled in Eire and who have come into this country and have been living in this country for a period of two or three years and who will presumably go back to Eire when the war is over? Are they now on the register, or are they eligible to be placed on the register, and will they be able to vote at a General Election? That is the first point. I appreciate the Minister's undertaking regarding those people who come in from Eire and elsewhere under temporary licence to come in, but what is the position regarding the people from outside who have come into this country during the war and who, therefore, as far as I can see, will be eligible to vote at a General Election? Surely it is not right that people should take part in an election here unless they are in fact domiciled properly in this country.
Arising out of what the Under-Secretary has said, would the position not be made clearer by adding the words "of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" after "United Kingdom"?
It is regrettable that I should have to sit on this side, the home of democracy and of centralisation, where friendly relations are being preached day in and day out and listen to an hon. Member getting up on the Floor of this House and throwing forth such a venomous attack upon a friendly neighbouring country.
I must ask the hon. Member to withdraw that statement.
Order. We cannot have two hon. Members standing up together, and unless the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie) gives way, the hon. Member for Belfast University (Professor Savory) cannot interrupt.
I do not think that I have mentioned any particular hon. Member yet. If the cap fits, then the hon. Member for the Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) can wear it. I do not believe he is a native of Ireland at all; he belongs to no party and would perhaps better serve the interests of his own country if he tried to put the Germans out of it. I come from Ireland, and I can tell the Committee that the people of Northern and Southern Ireland do not want to get from this country any privileges to which they are not entitled. The name of Montgomery has been brought into this Debate, the name of a hero. I feel angered and annoyed that Members have used Montgomery's name to cloak with respectability manoeuvres which are trying to create distrust in the relationships between this country and Eire. If this House has been embarrassed by Eire or its citizens, it has not been brought about by the Eire Government. It has been brought about by hon. Members who—
I think we had better leave all Southern Ireland to look after itself.
Under your guidance and protection, Mr. Williams, I will proceed on different lines. I can understand the fear of many thousands of Irish people in Great Britain who are at present helping to make our war effort sufficiently powerful to drive Hitler and all he stands for from the earth. These people are being looked upon, by this Amendment, with suspicion. I would like to know what portion of Northern Ireland will suffer under this Amendment. I am treated as an alien when I come here. I have to have all sorts of identity cards and be examined by the Customs and censorship authorities. I am supposed to be living in a part of Ireland which is classified as part of the United Kingdom. I have to have the same residence permit as a citizen of Eire in England. Does this mean that Northern Ireland citizens will be chased away from this country after the war? Are they to be disqualified from having the right to vote for their representatives in this House?
They can vote in Northern Ireland for their representatives in this House.
Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that many people from Northern Ireland come to live in Great Britain and that many have been here for several years. If they decide to remain, will they be disqualified from having a vote for a representative of the area in which they reside? I cannot see any reason why their fellow countrymen should not have the same right.
They have the vote wherever is their place of usual residence.
Where would their residence be?
I am disturbed about the point of view put forward by the Under-Secretary about the North of Ireland. The person's normal residence would be Northern Ireland, but assuming he had been for three years in Great Britain, he could vote for me, but not for the hon. Member for the Queen's University of Belfast. This Bill is full of complications, and I hope its reactions will not be such as to do any damage to the war effort of this country. The war effort of this country should be proud of its voluntary workers. I have come across them many times, and they are not all living in congenial conditions. Some people in this country have the idea that the Irish in this country can be housed in any conditions.
It is getting rather far from the Amendment if we are to discuss the housing conditions of war workers on this narrow Amendment.
I will not pursue that course, but I would ask the Committee to go carefully in regard to this Amendment. The Mover has asked leave to withdraw it, and I think he is wise. He has near him an hon. Member who is a native of the 26 counties. Eire is Ireland, and I live in Ireland.
The hon. Member must not go into that.
The Amendment contains the word "Eire" which covers 32 counties of Ireland. Eire is Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it is. Ireland has 32 counties, but the part of Ireland known as the 26 counties is the part referred to. That is the position. Assume that a new Parliament comes about in 10 or 20 years' time, that a younger generation coming from Ireland all adopt the Eire language and instead of the word "Ireland" use the word "Eire." That would lead to many difficulties in connection with this Bill.
On a point of Order. Arising out of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie), I want to ask you, Mr. Williams, whether this Amendment is in Order. The Amendment refers to Eire, and if it be the case that Eire includes all Ireland [HON. MEMBERS: "No."], then it would be outside the Title of this Bill, because it would purport to legislate for Southern Ireland.
Yes, if that was the case, but it does not happen to be the case. We can, therefore, go on with the Amendment as it stands.
Further to that point of Order. I raised this matter several years ago when Eire was mentioned for the first time in a Government agreement. There were a Free State Government and a Northern Ireland Government, and then the Free State Government decided to take over the whole of Ireland. They called this Government by the Gaelic term "Eire," and that term means Ireland. I am quite positive that if this Amendment was passed and anyone took the matter to court, no one in Northern Ireland would be permitted—
As the hon. Member has already said, that is a matter for the courts, but it does not seem to me that what someone said or did some time ago in Southern Ireland or Eire will necessarily be the law in English courts. I suggest that we might keep fairly strictly to the Amendment and not use this occasion to go into a complicated matter of international law between us and Southern Ireland. That might be possible on another occasion—I do not wish to give a narrow Ruling—but I make that suggestion to the Committee as a whole.
On a point of Order. I would like to be allowed to point out, Mr. Williams—
The hon. Member cannot point out to the Chair.
Then I would like to ask you, Mr. Williams, whether you do not recollect the Eire (Confirmation of Agreements) Act, 1938, under which Eire was defined as being the 26 counties of the Free State? That is an Act of Parliament; there is no doubt about the matter. All this discussion is wholly irrelevant.
That is for me to judge.
I can see that we should have to extend our hours of Sitting if there were more Irishmen in the House. I will confine myself, Mr. Williams, to the terms you have laid down for discussion of this Amendment. I hope my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will not think that I and others are making things difficult in refusing to give permission for the Amendment to be withdrawn, but I am not quite satisfied that the announcement he has made is entirely watertight. I know he is making efforts to meet the points raised by the Mover of the Amendment, but the difficulty is not confined simply to the question of Irish temporary residents in the United Kingdom. The difficulty may very well extend much wider, as my noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winter-ton) stated. There are a large number of temporary residents from the Dominions, all subjects of the Crown, in this country, and it is possible that a man may come from Canada and have a vote in Great Britain. That is a constitutional issue which ought to be dealt with in the future, although it cannot be dealt with under this Bill and certainly not under this Amendment. The reason I am not happy about the Under-Secretary's declaration is that he says that the place of temporary residence will cover Irish workers and others who come to this country during the war and that they will be covered by the electoral machinery, that is to say, presumably by directions which will be given in the future by the Home Secretary. If that is the case, I would point out that a declaration such as he has made cannot bind any future Government. Should the Bill come into operation as an Act, it is quite possible that a future Government may take a different view of the directions to be given.Would it not be sounder therefore to put something into the Bill in black and white? Personally, I should not like it to be in the form of this Amendment, because, although my hon. and gallant Friend expressly dissociated himself from any attack on Eire or the Irish people, there is the reference to Eire in the Amendment, and I think it would be better to have a more composite Amendment introduced on Report. Would my right hon. Friend consider the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Sir R. W. Smith), which seemed perfectly sound, that the qualification should be eligibility for being called up for military service? Those who are working temporarily over here are apparently not liable for military service, being looked upon as subjects of Eire. If that suggestion were followed I think the Bill would become workable, and there would be no doubt about any person appearing on the register who was not a resident of this country.
In my view we people from Northern Ireland have no concern at all with this Bill. In Northern Ireland we have our own machinery. The Mover of the Amendment wants to put something into the Bill which will explain to a court of justice the meaning of the reference which the Under-Secretary has made, in view of the possibility of some other interpretation being given to it, but it is for the people of this country to say whether the Bill should be so amended.
I am only very slightly Irish, and therefore feel that I am not qualified to take part in these rather bitter controversies, nor am I disposed to do so, but I have had the very great privilege of serving as an indifferent soldier in a regiment in which there were a very large number of Irishmen, and I would say two things to the Committee. First, although there were Englishmen, Ulstermen and Southern Irishmen in that regiment, I never yet heard any disputes or controversies about these matters of tremendous historical importance. Perhaps that shows that in some respects the Army is more broadminded, enlightened and tolerant than certain of those of us who take part in these proceedings. Secondly, although I am only a quarter Irish, I should feel tremendously disloyal to the great men, private soldiers and the like, with whom I have served, if I did not say that there are in that regiment, as there are in many British regiments, and in the Royal Air Force and the Navy, a number of Southern Irishmen. It is one thing to serve in the Armed Forces of His Majesty if you live in this country, because if you do not join voluntarily you are compelled to join. It is another thing to serve if you come from Ulster, because while you are not under compulsion there is, no doubt, a strong public opinion in favour of your doing your duty. But a man who comes to join my regiment or any other regiment from Southern Ireland is making a very much bigger sacrifice than I have made or any other man—
On a point of Order. Is it not the case that we are discussing a civilian register and not discussing soldiers at all?
Several illustrations from the Army and Navy have been given, and I think the hon. Member's point, which is only a short one, is not out of keeping with the character of the Debate.
The point I wished to make was that there are Southern Irishmen who are doing their job under difficult conditions. Many of those in the regiment, private soldiers or officers, when they go home on leave have to go home in civilian clothes, and once they get home there is nothing on earth that can make them come back, but in my experience they always do return. That being so, are we really wise in putting into a Bill something which points out these unhappy differences? As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) said, it is only right that people who do not live in a country should not vote in that country. Whether they come from Canada, or Australia, or Northern Ireland these men are here as soldiers. If a man is resident here he should have the vote, and if we do embody this in the Bill would it not be better to do it in such a way as will not accentuate and embitter these very unfortunate differences? With all respect to those who speak with more knowledge, feeling and authority, I would ask the Under-Secretary to pour oil on the troubled waters but not to pour oil on the flames.
I have been trying to pour on oil for some little time past, and I will make one more effort to satisfy those who, like my two hon. Friends, seem to think that this issue will rest upon some assurance which the present Government is giving. I really can make it clear that that will not be the case. Clause 5, Subsection (2, b) makes it perfectly clear that a person shall not be treated as registered in the National Register and consequently entitled to be placed on the civilian residents' register if he is registered in the national register as usually resident outside the United Kingdom. It is mandatory upon the electoral registration officer not to place such people on the register, because they will not be qualified. The only assurance I have given is that machinery exists for operating this sub-section, and it is the duty of the national registration officers to make use of it and see that these names are not transferred to the electoral register. It is not a question of an assurance by the Government that something will be done. The duty is laid upon the officers and for that reason the Amendment is, in my view, quite unnecessary and, as other hon. Members have pointed out, goes very much beyond what would be desirable.
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted paragraph (b), which I think is somewhat clumsily drafted, though quite understandable. The case of the Irish workmen who come over here to work during the war is covered, and they will not be eligible, but he also pointed out that there are a number of perfectly loyal people of the type who fought for us in the last war and who came over in this war to help the war effort. The whole point revolves round the word "usually":
What is meant by "usually"? Is it one year, two years, or three or five years? It is a question of interpretation, and I hope that it will be looked into."a person shall not be treated as registered in the National Register as residing at a place in any constituency if he is so registered as usually resident outside the United Kingdom."
I beg to move, in page 4, line 23, to leave out "two" and to insert "three."We were told on Second Reading that the Bill provided machinery for facilitating voting by the people and did not affect the qualifications of those entitled to be put on the register. Under the Act of 1918 three months' residence was necessary, and that period has been altered by this Bill to two months, without, so far as I can find, any explanation of why that alteration was made. If we are going to alter qualifications it is wrong that we should do so piecemeal, and my Amendment proposes that we should retain the same period as has been in existence since 1918.
Briefly, the reason why we have adopted two months' residence as the qualification and not a longer period is that a Departmental Committee, which comprised members of all political parties, including, I think, yourself, Mr. Williams, considered this question and the recommendation of that Committee, to which there was no dissentient voice, was that the reduced period of two months was the appropriate period. The Government have adopted that recommendation. As between two months and three months, I would point out that the longer period would result in the disfranchisement of a certain number of people who otherwise would have the vote. For these reasons I think we should be well advised to stick to two months.
In view of the explanation which has been given, with which I am entirely satisfied, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 31, after "constituency," to insert:
I am sure the Committee will be glad to know that, as I am not in any sense Irish, I do not possess either the eloquence or the fervour that some of them do to deal with matters of this kind. This Amendment is designed to safeguard the elector from losing his right to a vote owing to removal during the qualifying period. That is a safeguard which is given to him under normal conditions. The Clause as drafted provides protection in the case of a removal within the constituency, and I seek to extend that somewhat, so that the elector will be protected on removal within the county or county borough. My reason for doing so is that, particularly in built-up areas, the boundaries of constituencies frequently run across the middle of a street, and one elector who moves to, say, No. 76 may retain his right to vote whereas another who moves to No. 78 may lose it, because he is just over the boundary. It may be said that the machinery of national registration cannot function quickly enough to deal with removals within the county or county borough, although it is contemplated that it can deal with removals within the constituency, but the number of such removals would be quite small and it is desirable that we should avoid an anomaly which will certainly not be understood by any electors who are affected."or in the same county or county borough."
My hon. Friend, who has great knowledge of these matters, has moved an Amendment which would import into the temporary provisions in this Bill, a provision of the existing law in regard to residence and removal, but, of course, the system proposed by the Bill is a very much more liberal one than that in the existing law. Under the existing law, in order to acquire a qualification, a man has to be resident for a fixed period of three months during part of the year. Under the new system there is no fixed period, and residence for two months continuously provides a qualification to be placed on the register. This question of removals within the county or within the county borough would greatly complicate the work of the registration officer. He would not be able to treat all removals to or from his constituency in the same way. A person who moved to or from a constituency in the same county or county borough would require a different treatment from one who moved to or from a more distant constituency. We anticipate in the new system considerable machinery difficulties. A great deal of work will have to be done with considerable speed, and we think that the more liberal methods proposed by the Bill of enabling a resident's qualification to be acquired to a large extent counterbalances the drawback of there being no provision in the Bill similar to that in the Representation of the People Act, 1918, to which my hon. Friend referred. It is a question of machinery difficulties. It would complicate the work of the electoral registration officer considerably, and I think that for the sake of simplicity and also on account of the greater freedom given by the Bill to enable qualifications to be acquired, it would be wiser to omit a provision of the kind proposed from the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will therefore not press it. It would in fact require the redrafting of a considerable number of the Clauses of the Bill to give effect to it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very studied and careful reply, and I accept at once the statement that the provisions in the Bill as to the qualifying period are more generous and do much to make the register more up to date than it is. I suggest, however, that that fact reduces the likelihood of the provision for which I ask being called into operation and by so much reduces the administrative difficulties. I would not wish, however, to press a matter of this kind which is highly technical, and as my hon. Friend has assured me that he views this proposal as likely to cause complications in the machinery, I must bow to that view and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I think the next Amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Kings Norton (Major Peto), would be more conveniently considered in connection with Clause 7.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 22, to leave out from "furnished," to "to," in line 24.For some reason which I cannot fathom, this Clause provides that the information prescribed by the national regulations with regard to the National Register shall be furnished first to the proper officer of the council of a county borough or county district if it relates to a county borough or county district and then by him to the registration officer. I can see no point in this circuitous action. If we look at a later provision, we find that the proper officer is really to work as a delegate of the registration officer to fulfil such functions as the registration officer selects. I therefore suggest that there would be a considerable saving of time if these words were omitted, and the information sent straight away and directly to the registration officer, who is the person who wants to receive it.
The effect of the Amendment would be that this provision in regard to the appointment of a proper officer as an intermediary between the National Registration machinery and the electoral registration machinery would be omitted from the Bill.
No, but that the information which is prescribed by the regulations should be sent by the National Registration people directly to the registration officer without going through any one else's hands.
I am informed by those who are much more highly versed than I am in the technicalities that that procedure would be in many cases impossible; that the National Registration officers have no means of knowing who are the appropriate electoral registration officers to whom this material should be directed. Apparently there is such confusion and overlapping of boundaries with areas which are not co-terminous that there are many cases in which it would not be possible for the machinery to function without the intervention of the person who is described here as "the proper officer." If my hon. and gallant Friend looks lower down on the Order Paper, he will see an Amendment to Clause 13 in the name of my right hon. Friend which is intended to take the place of the definition of "proper officer" now contained in Sub-section (3) of that Clause. The effect of the Amendment is to nominate the proper officers under the Bill and not leave their nomination to the regulations. The reason for that is that we attach great importance to these proper officers being appointed by the Bill and being able to undertake their functions immediately the Bill becomes law. We regard the proper officer as a necessary intermediary. His appointment, I am told, will save papers having to be sent to one electoral officer and then returned by him because he is not the proper officer to receive them, and then sent to another electoral registration officer who may find that the voter's names are not in the polling district in his area and who thus has to return them again, and so forth. I am told that by bringing into the picture the proper officer, who will as a general rule be the rating officer, it will be possible to distribute the material furnished by the National Registration authority without unnecessary delay. Although, as I say, I am not very well versed in these matters, I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will accept my assurance that the experts do regard the appointment and the intervention of these proper officers as necessary to the smooth working of the machinery.
Is the Minister sure that the rating officer in future will be the registration officer?
I was not saying that he would be the registration officer. I was saying that as a general rule he would be the proper officer appointed under Clause 13 of the Bill.
At the present time the registration officer is the food control officer. It has all been handed over to the food control from the rating officer, who used to be the registration officer, and if there is an immediate election, it will be the food control that will act.
I expect that that will come into the picture here.
In view of my right hon. Friend's assurance, which I gladly accept, and his explanation of the object of these words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.