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Clause 8—(Service Register)

Volume 393: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 6, line 35, to leave out from "or," to the end of the paragraph, and to insert:

"elects that constituency as the constituency in which he desires to record his vote."
The next Amendment in my name is an alternative to leave out from "or," to the end of the paragraph and to insert:
"his next of kin is residing at a place in the constituency."
I would like to speak on these two Amendments together, because both refer to the same point and are really two alternatives that I am suggesting to the Government to the Service qualification.

If it is the wish of the Committee, we will discuss the two Amendments together.

The alteration I am trying to make is to take out the words:

"would be so residing but for his service as a member of the Forces or a seaman."
The reason why we want to make the alteration is that the qualification for the Service register is vague and indefinite and rests upon a hypothesis. Under this provision many men in the three Services will be disfranchised if that qualification is interpreted literally. Earlier in the Debate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) made an impassioned plea for Irishmen who have fought so well in all the Services.

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is confusing me with somebody else. I did not make an impassioned appeal for Irishmen.

I have probably mistaken the speech of the Noble Lord, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cleveland made an impassioned appeal and quoted a number of cases of military distinctions won by Irishmen, and I apologise to the Noble Lord. Once in the Forces a man would be residing in the Army and therefore would have no franchise at all, I have in mind a man of the Regular Army who has been abroad six years, and it would be impossible for that man to say where he would be residing if he had not joined up 14 or 15 years ago. I regret to say that there are many cases of men serving in the Forces whose homes have been destroyed and who have no home which they can claim as their own. I have noticed, in reading through this Clause and subsequent Clauses, that, although they put in these definite words, the Government have given no check on this Service declaration. The soldier must declare that he would have been so residing but apparently my right hon. Friend does not expect anybody to check the veracity of that. I would like him to deal with that point. If it is a fact that a man is going to be allowed to say he can declare for any constituency and claim the place where but for his service he would be residing, that would satisfy me artifically, but there might be no opportunity for every man in the Army to elect the constituency of West Leeds and my right hon. Friend would find that he would have an embarrassing electorate.

Well, then, North Leeds. If it should operate without a check, then let us have it made clear in the Bill. Let the soldier choose the constituency. It is a reasonable claim to be allowed to choose the constituency for which he can be given the vote. If that is too much for the right hon. Gentleman to concede, I suggest that which was suggested as long ago as 1917, namely, that the soldier should choose for his constituency the address of his own next-of-kin. It is a clear, definite qualification, and in my view it is far better than having the vague, indefinite qualification that is at present in the Bill. It is a matter of considerable importance to see that what the soldier receives as his qualification is easily intelligible to him and that by merely looking at his pay book he can exercise his vote in any election.

I think that if you look at the result of the alternatives which the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has put before the Committee, the matter is not quite so simple as it would seem to be. The first alternative he put forward is to allow a member of the Forces to elect for a constituency in which he desires to vote. This would give him a wider choice than he already possesses in the Bill as drafted. The Bill as drafted preserves the principle of the existing law, and that goes some way to meet the point the hon. Member has put forward, because Section 5 of the Representation of the People Act says:

"A naval or military voter shall be entitled to be registered for any constituency for which he would have had the necessary qualification but for his service with the Forces."
I think that meets the point which the hon. Member has raised. There is a further point in my mind and it is this: What happens if the house at which he would have been residing does not exist any more, if, for instance, it has been blitzed? In that case if the house has been destroyed by a bomb he can be advised to fill in any address at which he would have been likely to have been residing, that is to say, at the house of a relative. It is intended that an instruction to this effect shall be given to officers attesting the declaration. In that way we have tried to meet the pathetic case of the man whose home has been blitzed. It is essential that the address shall be specified because that is the only way in which it is possible to ensure certainty as to the constituency in which the man is to be a voter. If the Amendment was passed as contemplated, the constituency could be selected without specifying an address, and you might have somebody writing in "Birmingham," "Manchester" or "London," which would lead to an impossible situation. There is another point, to which to some extent the hon. Member alluded, although I do not know whether he has thought what the effect might be. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the whole of the Army was particularly annoyed at something the Minister for War was doing.

Yes, and an entirely hypothetical case. You might have soldiers who decided to get their own back by registering in that unfortunate right hon. Member's constituency. You might have another case. You might have an organised body of opinion in this country which decided to run a vendetta against particular Members who had not voted for something that that organisation had happened to want. In that case we can see a way in which it would be possible to organise a Service vote to elect in a certain constituency or group of constituencies. That would be a form of rather dangerous blackmail. If you take the second alternative, which would allow a person to be registered for the constituency where his next-of-kin resides, I see two real objections to it. To begin with, a man could only specify the name and address of his next-of-kin as he last knew them. The man may be in Burma or some other far-off place, and his next-of-kin might have removed.

But his Service document has to have the address of his next-of-kin kept up to date.

It might not be possible to keep it up to date, because he may have removed in that short time. He may have then registered somebody else as his proxy, and if a Service voter's qualification is to be linked with that of his next-of-kin, the proxy appointed by the Service voter might be able to vote on his behalf if the next-of-kin has removed from the constituency where the proxy vote was. Then you might have great difficulty. Of course, this difficulty could be overcome if the Service voter was required to appoint his next-of-kin as his proxy. That would meet one point, but it would raise another. You cannot always assume that your next-of-kin is of the same political complexion as yourself and would vote in the way you want. I can think of Communist fathers who have deeply Conservative sons.

While appreciating the excellent idea in the Mover's mind, I hope he will see that these are practical difficulties in war-time elections.

Could the hon. Lady deal with the point about checking? What check is there on the present words?

Does the hon. Member mean the check on whether the Service man really puts down his own address?

No, the check on the words:

"… 'would be so residing but for his service.' …"
There is no provision in the Bill for checking it.

Well, you have to trust people to some extent. There always will be a few who might have another idea in their minds, but we take it for granted that where a man was residing will be given as his address. If he cannot do that for reasons I have stated, he will give some address in a definite constituency.

I think it is pressing an open door to support the hon. Lady, because she has put the point with such clarity. I do not want to be over-critical—I am sometimes accused of so being—but I appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) not only not to pursue his Amendment but also the idea which is behind it. It really is most dangerous. The hon. Lady has reminded us that this Bill, in general, endeavours to carry out the ordinary electoral law, and the first consideration upon which the whole basis of representation in this House rests is that persons have votes for the constituencies in which they have an interest of some kind. I understood my hon. Friend to say that Service men should be allowed to select the constituencies in which they should vote. That is a dangerous principle. I would like to give another example in addition to those which the hon. Lady gave. Not only might there be an attempt by certain persons in the Army to endeavour to organise a vote against particular persons, but it would be a tremendous temptation for parties to do so. I do not say they will, but members of the Tory Party might try to organise a vote against members of the Socialist Party. Socialists might endeavour to turn out a Tory like myself. It would be a most dangerous proposal. I hope my hon. Friend will not think I am unduly critical, but I very much hope he will not pursue the idea. A Bill like this can only go through with a measure of general consent, because of the circumstances of the time. If we were dealing with the whole basis on which an ordinary election was conducted, we should be here for weeks.

As I understand, the hon. Lady says if a soldier's house has been blitzed, he could give the address of his nearest relative.

May I give an example? In such a case the soldier when he went to his commanding officer who was attesting these declarations would say, "I cannot put down the address where I lived, because the house is not there now." We are going to say to the attesting officer that in such a case the soldier should give the address of a relative or friend.

But the blitzed house will still be registered. It will still be his property.

Let me mention my own house as an example. It is not there. There is only a hole. It will be no use my giving that as my address. Therefore in such a case as that the attesting officer would have to ask, "Where have you been residing, or where would you reside if you went back home?"

May I ask whether the hon. Lady would put in at the Report stage an Amendment providing that where a man resided in a certain constituency before the war and his house was blitzed he should still have a vote in respect of that particular house?

There are two points I would like to raise. I take it that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary has made out a case for not accepting either of these Amendments on their merits, but I would like to ask what form the instructions will take which are sent to the Service Departments. There may be endless trouble if every commanding officer is expected to interpret what is meant by the place where a soldier resided or would be residing. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the Home Office will draft the orders for the Service Departments in such a way as to make the matter clear in ordinary soldier's language and not in Parliamentary or legal language. The second point has already been raised by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). Unless there is some check on the statement that but for his service a soldier would be residing at a certain place, a state of affairs painted by the Hon. Member opposite might quite well come into existence.

There is one point about blitzed houses which has not yet been mentioned. A Service man who has been abroad for some time may have no knowledge that his house has been blitzed. Would his registration be invalidated if the house which he had given as his address is shown not to exist? If not, why should not all people who lived in blitzed houses show them as their places of residence? I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that cases may occur where a man may not know his house is blitzed and may give it as his address. My second point refers to seamen. I rather think that "seaman" is a new word in an Act of Parliament—the expression "naval rating" is more usual. Will the word "seaman" include men of the fishing fleet, and will they be entitled to a vote in the same way?

I would like to pursue this matter further. I sat down before I finished in order to give way to the hon. Lady. Take the case of a man who before the war lived in a house which has been blitzed, and he is now serving overseas. As I understand, the Home Office proposal is that he should give the name and address of a relative. But it may be that he has no relative in that particular constituency, and he may not desire to vote in the constituency where his nearest relative is living. I should have thought that, in such a case, if the man desires to vote in his old constituency that should be allowed.

I should like to support my hon. Friend. I think that the hon. Lady must see, and I am sure the Solicitor-General will agree, that this matter requires very careful examination. It is true that blitz and evacuation and other war problems have upset many areas as far as registration is concerned. Common sense must be applied. It must be recognised that the great majority of the men in the Services will want to return to the areas they left. Those who were already established in certain constituencies will normally desire to vote in those particular constituencies. What we must maintain is some safeguard so that no group within the Services can abuse the rights that are being extended to them.

The hon. Lady made a very good case with some of the examples she put forward, but I have one which must touch hon. Members much more nearly. We were promised recently—I nearly said threatened—that a Member on the opposite side might cross the Floor of the House. I understand that in a recent speech the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said that he might cross the Floor as our Prime Minister had done in the past, and it may be that those in the Services belonging to the Conservative party might organise a vote against him or any other man who, if I may put it that way, wished to move to a higher status in politics. Or an hon. Member, no matter of what party, may take a certain line in regard to one of the Services, may disagree with certain high officers in that Service, and those officers might be able to exercise a certain amount of influence against him. I do not believe such cases would be numerous, but even if only one or two occurred it would be an abuse of the Parliamentary rights of the men in the Services. Therefore, I think we should be well advised to leave the Clause as it is, if we are able to extract from the Solicitor-General an assurance that the whole question will be carefully reconsidered in order to make the instructions to the attesting officers as clear as possible, so that serving men may understand their position.

The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) invited the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) to withdraw this Amendment on the ground that it would be dangerous to allow Service men to select their own constituencies. In my view the Bill as it stands gives effect to that very dangerous principle, because there is nothing in it to prevent a soldier, or a group of soldiers, selecting a constituency, or selecting constituency after constituency, as the place of their would-be residence. The hon. Lady said the soldier would have to show his postal address, but that would not be a very difficult matter, and, so far as I can see, no penalty is imposed on anyone who likes to indulge in that practice. It is true that by a major Clause it is an offence to make a false statement in any such declaration, but to get a conviction one would have to prove the statement to be false, and how could one prove that a soldier's statement as to where he would be residing on a particular date was false? He might declare that but for his service he would have been residing last April in the Daventry Division, and no one could prove the falsity or truth of his statement, and he would be entitled to vote there. Now that a by-election is pending in Woolwich, he might make a subsequent declaration to say that but for his service he would have been residing in Woolwich, and no one could prove that his statement was in any respect untrue. Therefore, I hope the Government will carefully reconsider the wording of this Clause, which does not seem to be apt to give serving soldiers, airmen or sailors facilities for voting which we should like them to have, and which sometimes opens the door to the abuse of such facilities as are granted.

The hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller) has put my point of view so admirably that only one sentence needs to be added by me to explain why I support this Amendment. The whole object of the Amendment is to make this Clause fool-proof as well as knave-proof, and it is because we suspect that it may possibly not be knave-proof that we have emphasised the importance of this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 6, line 37, at the end, to insert

(c) immediately prior to his service as a member of the forces or a seaman was occupying business premises in the constituency."
It has been said with justice against my previous Amendment that I was trying to alter the procedure of the 1918 Act. Here I am doing the reverse, asking the Committee to put back the position to 1918. The Government, for some reason which I do not understand, have altered the right of the soldier under the Representation of the People Act, 1918. Under that Act he had a right to either a residential vote or to a business vote. He has now been limited to a residential qualification. As I said on Second Reading, this is not a matter of party differences. It may be that some hon. Members do not agree with the business vote, but if we have a business vote a soldier should have as much right to be registered in the business register as in the residential register. On Second Reading the Under-Secretary seemed to think there was some difficulty about giving this qualification, feeling that people would claim it if they had once been qualified in peace time for inclusion in the business register, but I would point out that the words of my Amendment are the identical qualification which has existed from 1918 until to-day, and would remind the Committee also of the words of the then Home Secretary when that Act was being passed in 1917. Lord Cave, who was at that time Home Secretary, said:
"I have come to the conclusion that if a soldier would have had business premises but for that service he ought to be able to get a vote in respect of that place."
I do not think it is fair to the man who is fighting to-day suddenly to deprive him of a right which he has had so long and has always exercised. Only to-day the Under-Secretary, in saying that he would put forward an Amendment to allow a wife to apply for registration on behalf of her husband, said, I thought very inaccurately, that that would help the man who was serving, but unless we put in this Amendment it will not help him, because it is no good to a soldier to be included in the civilian register under Clause 5. What is of value to him is to be in the service register under Clause 8, and if the Under-Secretary did really mean to help the soldier then he must grant us this concession under Clause 8, so that the business qualification can be included in the service register.

This war has dislocated the business life of a good many men. They have been called up and have thrown away their businesses to enter the Army. Now is the time to see that those men have the right to vote as if they had not been called up for the Army and were still engaged in business. There will come up for consideration the question what would happen if the business they had before the war was blitzed. I hope that will be dealt with on the lines put forward by the hon. Lady on the previous Amendment—that if a man's business was blitzed, he would still be entitled to inclusion in the business register. The Army to-day is a civilian Army. They are men who were in business and employment before the war and all the time they are looking back to that civilian life and watching anxiously their right of voting. I think it wrong that the Under-Secretary or any Member of the Government, should seek to justify that a soldier who, up to the passage of this Bill, had a right to be included in the Service register either for a residence or a business qualification, should as a result of the Government's action be limited to the residential qualification, and have the business vote taken away.

I have just come in from a meeting of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and I rise merely to draw attention to the fact that the Under-Secretary, in dealing with this difficult Bill, is not fortified by the presence of a senior member of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman is in a difficult position because he is not authorised, in the ordinary way, to accept Amendments. I think it improper that a Bill of this magnitude should be considered without the presence of one Cabinet Minister or some person of that rank—because we know that the word "Cabinet" is rather vague now. It is unfair to the Under-Secretary and a discourtesy to the House.

My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has not had an opportunity of answering the question which I put to him concerning seamen and particularly fishermen, who go from one port to another and might not be in a constituency when the election took place. I also wish to know what would be the effect if a man's house or his business premises were blitzed and he had no knowledge of it.

I have put my name to this Amendment mainly in order to get an opinion from the Under-Secretary on whether a Service man is entitled to a business vote. The Under-Secretary, on the Second Reading, said he would be entitled, but I am still not convinced. He referred to the Subsection which says that a person registered in the Service register shall be deemed to be registered in respect of a residence qualification. That seems to me to rule him out as a Service business voter. Take a particular case. Let us say that the wife of a Service man serving in Italy registers for business premises in North Leeds. She gets on the register but what sort of privilege does the man get as regards voting? That is the important thing. He may be on the register but how is he to vote? I want to get it clear from the Parliamentary Secretary, first, whether the man gets on the register, and, secondly, what benefit does he get and how is a Service man to vote.

I support this Amendment. I think it falls into line with the reply of the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary on the previous Amendment. I cannot understand why we should state definitely that on the date of the declaration the declarant, that is, the Service man

"was, or but for his service would have been, residing,"
etc. We must recognise that it is only because he is a Service man that he is making the declaration. I suggest that the Solicitor-General should give us an assurance that this Clause will be carefully examined. Personally I do not want a Cabinet Minister brought into this. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) who has recently entered the Committee must recognise that we have been getting along not so badly so far without the assistance of any Cabinet Minister including the particular one whom he desires to pillory. But I ask the Solicitor-General to examine the Clause. On the one hand, as I see it, the Service man could abuse his rights if he desired and could take advantage of the Clause, and, on the other hand, if the Amendment is accepted, it still leaves the Clause in a rather doubtful position. If a soldier is asked to make a declaration it may be a case in which his home and property have been destroyed and his family evacuated. As to where he goes on leave, it might be the case that a soldier would ordinarily stay in Devon but for purposes of his own he might go to another part of the country for his leave. There would be absolutely no check on what the soldier could do in changing to different constituencies.

On a point of Order. Surely this is more appropriate to the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and is not pertinent to this Amendment.

I should say that the part of the Clause which we are discussing, in conjunction with the Amendment, lays itself open to these abuses. I think it has been badly drafted, and I ask the Solicitor-General for an assurance that it will be carefully reconsidered.

A good many points have been raised on this Amendment which are a little remote from it. If I may first reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), I would explain to him that seamen are defined in Clause 21, and clearly the definition would not include members of the fishing fleet or ordinary fishermen. The Amendment before the Committee is that moved by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) to enable persons in the Forces who occupied business premises at the time of their enlistment to be placed on the Service register in respect of the occupation of those premises. The register designed by this Bill is divided into three parts, the civilian register, the Service register and the business premises register. There is nothing to stop a member of the Forces being on both the Services register and the business premises register. What you cannot do is to be on the civilian register and the Service Register at the same time. There is nothing to disqualify him from admission to the business premises register and under an Amendment which the Government are prepared to see introduced into the Bill it will be possible for his wife to make application for his name to be entered in the business premises register which will go a long way to meet the point which my hon. Friend has in mind. That is to say, a serving soldier can be replaced by his wife on the business premises register in respect of the business premises which he occupies during the qualifying period.

But where my hon. Friend's Amendment is unacceptable is that it provides for persons being entered in the business premises register in respect of premises which they may have occupied one year, two years, three years or four years ago. The consequence of that, of course, would he that we might have three or four different persons entered in the business premises register in respect of the same business premises owing to their having occupied them in series before enlisting in the Forces. It is quite right that these people should be able to exercise the business premises qualification and should be entered in the register, but to our minds it would be wrong and a departure from all the principles of the past Acts to enable people to be entered in a register in respect of a qualification which they once enjoyed and do not any longer enjoy. Paragraph (b) is to provide our serving men with one vote. The principle underlying the business premises vote has always been occupation during the qualifying period, whatever it was.

May I just put this point? Bill Smith lives at No. 1, Park Street; he is called up for the Forces. Another man takes the pre- mises; he is called up for the Forces. As many as you like take the premises and are called up for the Forces, but their qualification is in respect of the premises which they previously occupied.

The difference between a residence qualification and a business qualification is that for the business qualification you have to be in actual occupation during the qualifying period, and it is quite impossible in our view to concede a position on the business register to people who have long ceased to be business men. It would be unreasonable, and we cannot accept my hon. Friend's Amendment, which would, in any event, enable these men to be placed on the Service register.

First of all, my right hon. Friend said there were three registers—the business register, the civilian register and the Service register. What is the use of a soldier being on a business register if he cannot exercise his vote? Unless a soldier can have his business vote in the Service register he cannot exercise that vote. It is perfectly nugatory for my right hon. Friend to say he is on the register if he cannot vote; that is the first point. The second is that he said that some new theory was being propounded. I think he was out of the House when I made my speech. The Home Secretary in the 1917 Government said he had come to the conclusion that a soldier who would have had business premises except for service should have a vote. In fact, from 1917 the soldier has had the business vote, and my right hon. Friend is asking the Committee to take that vote away from the soldier. I hope the Committee will insist on the vote for the soldier. It is a new principle which my right hon. Friend is trying to thrust on this Committee—that a soldier should not have a business vote. Let us keep to the wording of the 1918 Act, which says that a soldier would have had the necessary qualifications but for his service. That includes both residential and business qualifications, and for that reason I would ask the Committee to insist either on this Amendment as drafted by me or, if my right hon. Friend has a better form of words, on the lines of paragraph (b), which I take violent exception to. I ask the Government to consider this matter very carefully. The soldier has a right to be justly treated. A great many men who have this business vote are overseas to-day.

I hope there will be some reconsideration of this question. A lot of people do not seem to realise that this is a disfranchising Bill. All these men are on the register. A vast proportion of those who would be qualified by the Amendment are now on the register. If this Bill is passed, they will be taken off the register. In other words, a man is in occupation of business premises, he joins the Forces, he gives up his office for the time being, but he hopes to come back. Because, however, he has given it up you take away from him that right which he already possessed in 1939. That right is taken away from him unless he has, in fact, gone on paying the rent for the premises during the period in which he was in the Services.

The right would have been taken away from him in any case had we gone on preparing annual registers since the war.

The fact remains it takes him off the register. The Minister contends that you cannot have more than one person registered in respect of one premises. Paragraph (b) is based on a hypothetical residence. This is based on hypothetical occupation. There is no moral difference between hypothetical occupation and hypothetical residence. Why should a vast number of people in Westminster, in the City of London, in Liverpool and Manchester be deprived of their votes in the places where they used to earn their living and where they hope again to earn their living when they come back, merely because they are serving in the Forces? The City of London would be a farce if the vote was restricted to the people who live there. The same would be largely true of Westminster, though they would still have me left as a residential voter, as well as the Prime Minister and one or two others. But you get these important business centres from whence the people have gone off to fight, and while they are away you are going to deprive them of that power to vote for the place which often means far more to them than the place where they live. They are migrants from one constituency to another so far as residence is concerned. But because they are away serving His Majesty you say you will disfranchise them because somebody else, who may be a refugee, not British at all, is in occupation of the premises. It seems to me a complete denial of justice.

I am attracted into this Debate by the hon. Member's reference to the Exchange Division of Liverpool, of which I happen to have some knowledge. My first adventure in Parliamentary contests was made in a by-election in the Exchange Division of Liverpool. [Interruption.] I was about to tell the hon. Member that the previous Member had a majority of 10,000. I was fortunate in being able to reduce that majority to rather under 2,000. What is perfectly certain about it is that I should have been returned by an overwhelming majority but for the business men's plural vote, and, what is much more important, though not Quite relevant at the moment, the vote of their wives. One may say to the hon. Gentleman that among the soldiers away fighting who belong to the Exchange Division of Liverpool the vast majority have a residential qualification in the division. People think that that division is predominantly a business or commercial division. It is nothing of the kind; 70 or 80 per cent. of it is a working-class residential division. What is the hon. Member asking for in respect of that division? He is asking that a soldier who has an office in the Exchange Division and a house somewhere in Liverpool or over in Wirral shall be given under this Bill two votes, one in respect of his residence and one in respect of his office in the Exchange Division, whereas his comrade fighting at his side shall have only one vote in respect of his residence.

I am not asking that he should be given two votes, but that he should not have one taken away from him.

I think it amounts to the same thing in this sense, that if the hon. Member has his way the man for whom he is pleading will have two votes to the other man's one vote, whereas if I have my way they will have one vote each. It comes to the same thing. I say to the hon. Gentleman that he very greatly misunderstands the spirit in the Forces now if he thinks either that such a proposal as that would make for harmony in the Forces or if he supposes that such a proposal as that would have the support of the soldiers in the Forces. I do not believe it. There is a new spirit at work, and it is evidenced nowhere more strongly than in the Forces themselves. This sentimental plea the hon. Member has made sounds very well until you examine the facts, but it is a plea of privilege and a plea that men shall not be equal, a plea for inequality of citizenship, that some men in the Forces shall have a greater voice, or more voices, in the community's affairs than other men. I am quite certain that among all the citizens of this country there are none more strongly resistant to any such suggestion than those on whose behalf, mistakenly, the hon. Member made his sentimental plea. This Bill is not going to amend anything fundamental in the electoral sphere. Let us have no humbug, no hypocrisy, If we are to make our claim for privilege, let us make it quite clear that we are claiming it on privilege not on sentimental grounds.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has put forward an impassioned claim that the business vote for the serving man should not be retained on the grounds that it is a privilege. He is apparently quite content that under this Bill the Service man shall be put in an inferior position to the civilian who remains in business, because a civilian at home must have if he carries on a business a residential vote as well as a business vote. The man who has gone to serve his country overseas, according to the hon. Member, should be content if he is deprived of one of his votes, that he is left with merely his residential vote. I cannot conceive that to be right or justifiable in any shape or form. If we are to have a Debate on electoral reform, let us have it. If we are to discuss the merits of the business vote, let us do it, but not in this hole and corner fashion, nibbling at it.

Hon. Members cannot debate the merits or the demerits of the business vote. That is not before the Committee.

I have no intention of doing that, Major Milner, but I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member was in the Committee before or not. He said I was content with something he described. I am not content. I have made it clear several times to-day that I am not content with it. If I had my way I would abolish the plural vote altogether.

I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member. What I meant was that he was content that the civilian at home should have two votes at home as against one vote for the soldier.

The Parliamentary Secretary does not seem to like the wording proposed in the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). Will he consider, therefore, although I personally do not think there is very much wrong with that, repeating what is now the existing law, that is, under Section 5 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1918:

"A person to whom this Section applies.. shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector for any constituency for which he would have had the necessary qualification but for the service which brings him within the provisions of this Section."
If the Under-Secretary will keep the present law as it is, I am sure my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment. We must have one or the other, otherwise, as the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has said, it is depriving the Service people of something they already have.

The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) argued that we were depriving the man on active service of a vote which he already has. The Minister says that that is not true: that the man would not be on the register anyway if there were no Bill. If three or four shops have changed hands a number of times, as many have done in the suburbs of London three or four times in a year or two, is each of the men who have occupied each shop to have a business premises vote on that account? According to the argument of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and that of the hon. Member for South Croydon, a man who was registered for a business premises vote should continue to have such a vote. That is not fair. If there were electoral reform now I would like to argue against plural voting for anybody, but that is not the issue now. What is under discussion is the rights of the men in the Fighting Services. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) knows that in the area where I live shops have changed hands half a dozen times in three or four years, not because of war circumstances, but because there are too many shops in our area. No one can argue that each of the men who has held one of those shops, if he has since gone into the Services, should have a business premises vote on that account. It is wholly inconsistent and inequitable, from the point of view either of the Service man or of the citizen.

How will the hon. Member justify taking from the Service man the business vote which he already has, and not taking it from anybody else?

There is no question of justifying taking away something which a man has got. If you were to compile a register to-day, on the legislation that we now have, irrespective of this Bill, the majority of those people would not be entitled to be on the register at all. [Interruption.] Soldiers would be able to vote, because they would have a citizen's rights somewhere. Of the soldiers in the Fighting Services 99.9 per cent. have residential qualifications, even if they live the life of a hermit. I do not see why we should pursue this argument any further. I think that the Minister is quite right.

I have listened to the speeches from all quarters on this matter, and I think it is right that the Committee should consider what is the actual problem. The Amendment proposes something quite new, namely, the pegging of the business qualifications to an antecedent date. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) recognises that the Amendment seeks to do something quite new, and has offered, in the tentative way which is the only way one can make an offer of an entirely different Amendment from the one on the Order Paper, to put forward an altered form. I want to do justice to my hon. and gallant Friend's intention, and it might be useful to remind the House of what was the law in 1918, as expressed by Section 5 (1) of the Act:

"A person to whom this section applies (in this Act referred to as a naval or military voter) shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for any constituency for which he would have had the necessary qualification but for the service which brings him within the provisions of this section."
There was a special qualification that those who had left the Army within the last six months could get their qualification within a period of one month, which is very much the same as the period with which we are dealing now. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) seeks to do something quite different. His Amendment says that if you occupied a business premises in 939 that is the end of the matter, and you are entitled to the vote now. You have not even to place your hand on your heart and say, "I shall be back in the business premises." The Committee ought to have some regard to the problem. I am not going to enter into the deeper problem, which you, Major Milner, would rule out of Order. We are dealing with a total vote of 386,000. That includes wives. In some cases the business has gone on. Although the occupier may be in the Army, he can make his application, or his wife can apply on his behalf, so that he can get on to the business premises register. So of that 386,000—out of 27,000,000 electors—two vast groups are taken out. They are those who are over age for being on Service—quite a considerable body of the 386,000—and their wives, and those who have continued the occupation of the premises. These, I think the Committee will agree, will cover a great proportion of the cases. I am quite open to the argument, which I already see hovering on the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), that an injustice is no less an injustice because it is confined to a small number of people. That is a point which we must meet. But we are dealing with practical improvements to machinery, and there are always hard cases on the side of every statutory line. If one sees that they are reduced to a small proportion, that helps to the effectiveness of our legislation. I think that is a fair point.

Let us see whether there is any real injustice. At the highest—and I take the revised form as put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan)—what he wants is that people should be able to say, "There but for the war I would be carrying on business." Anyone who has been interrupted in carrying on business for a period of even two and a half years, like I have myself, will not likely be held to be unsympathetic towards people in that position. But allowing for all that sympathy, it is a very difficult matter to say, "There but for the Service I would be carrying on business, dealing with the whole business or going into a new business." That is a much more hypothetical matter and much more uncertain than saying, "There would I have lived and there would my household goods have been." There would be very different considerations in saying where you would be working, I care not what that work might be. When we consider the extent of the problem, which I have tried to put forward and have given due allowance to the other point of view, and when we are dealing with the hypothesis, I would ask the Committee to say that the method—and hon. Members will know that the old method was not successful in its working out—we have suggested is a practical one. The grounds of possible injustice are very limited and it is not an injustice which anyone can really and fairly represent.

The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) has asked me to consider certain parts of the Act generally. I need hardly say that I would have assured him had the opportunity occurred earlier, but he may take it from me that I shall be pleased to look into any part of the Measure which he or any other hon. Member indicates to me they would be glad to see revised. I must not be taken to suggest to the Committee that that would mean a guarantee of alteration, but I shall with the greatest pleasure look into the points which the hon. Member has indicated.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 6, line 37, at the end, to insert:

"'residing' for those seeking inclusion in the services register shall mean the place where the person is living or would but for his service be living and shall not include the place at which such person is stationed or billeted for the purpose of such service unless that person has been stationed or billeted there for two months preceding the qualifying date."
The purpose of the Amendment is to try and clarify a doubt that certainly exists in my mind as to the meaning of the words "is residing." In the case where a soldier serving in this country is stationed in a part of this country far from his home the question may well arise as to whether the place where he is stationed is his residence for the purposes of the Act or not. I think it would be the intention of the Act that the soldier should have a vote in the part of the country where he had an interest and a stake and to all intents and purposes his residence should be that of the whole of his family. Some people may see some doubt about it as I have myself and therefore I have put down this proposal. If accepted the Amendment will stop the whole of an Army corps suddenly moved into a constituency becoming entitled to vote at a particular by-election.

I would add a word in support of my hon. and gallant Friend. The object is really an inquiry of the right hon. Gentleman, but it seems to me, and it may well seem to other Members of the Committee, that, unless the word "residing" is more adequately defined than at present, the somewhat exaggerated suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend that an Army corps moving into a particular area might suddenly become available to vote in that area, will become a possibility, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will clear our minds on this matter.

In this question of defining how the Service voter shall choose his constituency, we have had to take the middle path. We have had to steer between the abuses which would result, on the one hand, from giving the Service voter complete freedom of choice in the matter of choosing a constituency in which to vote, and, on the other hand, the large number of serving men who would be disfranchised if we tied the matter up too tightly. We have done that by providing that the Service declaration shall state that the serving man is residing or would be residing but for his service at a place in the constituency. That means that we shall to some extent have to trust the soldier, and that for their part the Government are prepared to do. We do not want to tie the soldiers up in a strait jacket and say to them, "This declara- tion of yours is going to be subject to restrictions and to objections." If we were to do that a man might fill up a form and say, "But for my service I should be residing at so-and-so in such a street," and after his declaration the house might be destroyed by a bomb and anybody could come forward and say that the declaration was a bad declaration. It would be impossible for anybody to be residing at that place. Therefore, one can conceive of cases of soldiers in the Far East not knowing that their homes had been destroyed by bombs filling up the Service declaration which could be successfully challenged and thereby the soldier who is innocent of any intention to deceive in the matter is disfranchised.

We have therefore chosen the middle course which implies trusting the soldier's will and that is, I think, a wise thing to do in this matter. The object of the Government is to make it as easy for soldiers to take an effective part in the election as possible. That is the possibility we have in mind in drafting this Clause. My hon. and gallant Friend wants to define "residing" so as to exclude the place at which such serving person is stationed or billeted for the purpose of his Service unless that person has been stationed or billeted there for two months preceding the qualifying date. There may be persons who have no address to give other than that at which they are serving. There are, for example, considerable numbers of married soldiers occupying married quarters in barracks, and no doubt exactly the same thing applies in the Navy and possibly in the Air Force. It would be a hardship to disfranchise these people unless they had been at that station for a period of two months preceding the qualifying date. We want to be liberal to members of the serving Forces and we do not therefore think that the tightening of the definition which my hon. and gallant Friend proposed is necessary and we would rather be without it.

Do I understand from what my right hon. Friend has said that soldiers who have moved into a constituency, and who may be there perhaps three weeks, will become residents in that constituency for purposes of voting? It is only to let soldiers know where they stand and the candidates who the voters are likely to be that I have put down this Amendment.

I think the position is clear. A man makes a Service declaration while serving in this country. He says, "I am residing here" or, alternatively, "But for my service I should be residing somewhere else." He has a choice in the matter, his declaration is accepted, and he is accordingly entered on the Service register. He has slightly more latitude than the civilian, but in the interests of the effective use of his vote I think that position is justified and will commend itself to the Committee.

It would be of considerable advantage to the Committee if those Tories who are obstructing so successfully the early passage of this Bill would make up their minds what they wanted. At one moment they are moving Amendments to increase the privileges of Service men, and the next moment they are moving further Amendments designed to restrict those privileges. The position is clear. It states that the serving soldier shall have a vote and leaves to him the right to select where his vote shall be. Hon. Members have come along with Amendments designed to restrict his liberty of choice as to where his franchise shall be exercised and where he shall declare his normal home to be. I hope the Government will resist the Amendment and that we shall get on with the Bill.

Suppose a soldier leaves a constituency where he has been living with his people, joins the Army and does not register as his constituency the address from which he went. Is it open to him to choose some other constituency which he prefers to say will be his residence when he comes out of the Army? All my hon. and gallant Friend was trying to establish was that under normal conditions the place which he registered would be the place from which he came and at which he normally lived. The reply of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did not make that matter clear to me. He talked of the married soldier in married quarters and said that it may happen in the Navy. I have not heard of married quarters in the Navy, and, so far as I am aware, they do not exist.

I would like to put another point. If a man leaves the home of his parents and marries, possibly a woman from a neighbouring consti- tuency, he may—as I did myself—take up residence in that neighbouring constituency on his return from the Forces. I interpreted the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) as meaning that he could not elect to select that place. I want to know whether he could elect the neighbouring constituency, or is he restricted to nominating the place of residence of his parents from which he went to the Services?

If the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), who is my constituent, will allow me, I think there is a misunderstanding. Quite obviously, if a man leaves his parents' home and marries it would be reasonable if he wanted to live with his wife's people somewhere else and chose to do so. I was thinking of the unmarried man who has left his home, which is the only fixed point he possesses. I am not trying to deny Service men anything; I only want to know what is the position. Is the man able to choose any other part of the country? It is quite reasonable that a married man should choose the home of his wife's parents.

We are not dealing, as the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) seemed to think, with people who have freedom to move where they please. We are dealing with people in His Majesty's Forces, who are under orders. The position is that they make, under the Bill, a Service declaration. They can cancel their Service declarations and make new ones at any time. In that declaration they nominate any constituency, and they have a choice as to a constituency in which they are residing. That they will often do when they are stationed in the United Kingdom. Alternatively, they can choose the constituency in which they say they would be residing but for their service. Obviously, in the case of men going overseas or being overseas they will declare for a constituency in which they say they would be residing but for their service. It seems a reasonable width of choice to give a Service man and will conduce to the effective use of the Service vote. We do not think that narrowing the definition of the word "residing," as proposed by the Mover of the Amendment, is necessary. It would not make very much difference but it would to some extent.

I hope I have not misunderstood my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, but if my understanding is correct, I am more filled with alarm than I was before. It seems that a soldier can change his view and opinion as to where he is normally resident as often as he likes. My right hon. Friend says, "Trust the soldier." We know that we all should, but there are those who will exploit the innocent and who might desire to organise innocent-minded soldiers in order to obtain their votes for a particular constituency. [Laughter.] I am sorry if my hon. Friends opposite are laughing at me—

My hon. Friends seem to have no knowledge or experience of exploitation of the individual. Unfortunately, my great experience of human nature makes me realise that such things happen, especially in the political field. I think they ought to show more sympathy than they are showing with the point I am putting forward. I would like a fresh assurance on this point. While you may trust the soldier, you might not trust those who organise the soldiers' votes.

I think I can give my hon. and gallant Friend a further measure of assurance. He is afraid that 10,000 or 20,000 soldiers will opt to vote in a particular constituency, either because they like the sitting Member or because they do not. My hon. and gallant Friend must be aware that every soldier serving overseas, who wishes to vote by proxy, has to obtain a proxy to exercise his vote for him, somebody in his constituency who is willing to exercise the proxy on his behalf. Under the provisions of the Schedule to the Bill, no one person can hold more than two proxies at the same time. Therefore, the possibilities of the sort of organised racket feared by my hon. and gallant Friend are, in practice, very remote.

The matter becomes even more involved. My right hon. Friend said just now that a soldier may opt for a different constituency as often as he likes, that he has to find someone in his constituency who is prepared to operate the proxy on his behalf. It is perfectly possible for more soldiers to opt into a constituency than there are proxies. What will happen then?

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 7, line 41, after "regulations," to insert "and received by him."

This is purely a drafting Amendment to bring this Sub-section into line with Subsection (2) of this Clause.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 8, line 3, after "deemed," to insert "until the contrary is proved."

I think this Amendment speaks for itself, and I shall be glad to hear what the Government have to say about it.

It appears to me that this Amendment would raise the very difficulty about blitzed premises which we have been trying to avoid and which I thought we had successfully avoided. If, when someone makes a declaration and it turns out that the premises have been blitzed, we are going to give someone else the right to prove the contrary, we may get into a very difficult position. Under the Bill, as presented, the premises are deemed to be the man's residence, and I hone my hon. and learned Friend will see that it is better to leave the Bill as it is drafted.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his explanation, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Before we leave this Clause, may I ask the Government to reconsider the whole question of the Service register? Some of us are not satisfied that all who are serving their country and are British subjects will be included. We get many letters from soldiers saying they have not got a vote because of the way this Clause is drafted. It is a matter for the legal advisers of the Government and perhaps for the Speaker's Conference, and I do not want to delay the Committee now, but I would like to ask the Government to give an undertaking that all who are fighting, for their country will be allowed to vote.

I can give an assurance that everything that has been said in the course of the Debate will be looked at before the Bill becomes law.

May I draw attention to a point in connection with my Amendment which was not called? I think if a soldier can make as many declarations as he wishes as to where his residence is, he should at any rate be limited to one declaration as to a would-be residence. I believe if that were done there could be no abuse of the kind indicated by the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel Evans). Otherwise you might have a man making a declaration at each by-election as it came along. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary to consider the proposal, so that some check may be put on that possible abuse.

I cannot give my hon. and gallant Friend much encouragement, I am afraid, as regards the Amendment which was not called. It would, in our view, provide quite unreasonable restraint upon soldiers in the exercise of their vote. If, when once a soldier has made a declaration, that is going to be for all time irrevocable, then if his wife or sweetheart or next-of-kin moved to another part of the country he might have great difficulty in finding a proxy. I am afraid I cannot hold out hope that his Amendment can be accepted.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.