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Indian Franchise Bill Lords

Volume 414: debated on Friday 12 October 1945

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.53 a.m.

beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill has been rendered necessary by the decision to hold elections in the course of the coming cold weather in India. Its main object is to secure that the absence of any person by reason of war service, whether with the Armed Forces, or in any other capacity under the Crown directly relevant to the prosecution of the war—for example, a munition worker—should not impair his residential qualification so as to prevent his right to vote when the exercise of that right becomes practicable. In other words, it is considered that such a person should not be disfranchised merely by reason of the fact that he has lost his residential qualification as a result of absence from home on war service. The Bill also seeks to ensure that persons on war service whose names have never actually been included in an electoral roll, but who will, on war service, have acquired such qualifications as may be necessary to entitle them to be enrolled as electors—for example, the attainment of the prescribed age of 21 years—should not be deprived of the vote because of the lack of the prescribed residential qualification. The House will appreciate that the requirements as to residence vary widely in their terms, and particularly in their definition of residence. Thus, in Madras a prospective voter is required to have resided in his constituency for a period of 120 days in the previous financial year, while in certain other Provinces it is only required that a person should be a resident or should have a residence in the constituency.

The second object of the Bill is to effect what is essentially a drafting Amendment to secure that the term "military service" in the existing franchise provisions shall be extended to embrace service in any branch of His Majesty's Forces, whether naval, military or air. This question only arises in respect of the franchise qualifications for the Provincial Legislative Assemblies in respect of which past military service is one of the qualifications. I should say that past military service is not recognised as a franchise qualification for either the Provincial Legislative Council, that is the Provincial Upper House, or for the Central Legislature itself. When the Sixth Schedule of the Government of India Act, 1935, which establishes the basis of the franchise in the Indian Provinces, was drawn up, it was decided, in order to avoid further complications in an already complicated piece of drafting, to use only the term "military service," more especially as at that time there was very little Indian Air Force or Navy. Since that time a great expansion has taken place in recent years in the Indian Navy and Air Force, and the great services rendered by those forces in the past war make it anomalous that they should be excluded from this electoral qualification while those who have served in the Indian Army should be singled out for enfranchisement.

In view of the fact that the provisions governing electoral qualifications are contained in a number of Orders in Council and Statutory Rules, in addition to the Sixth Schedule of the 1935 Act, it was thought preferable to achieve the desired result by a self-contained Act of Parliament rather than by way of amending these Rules and Orders individually. I hope, therefore, that this small Bill, which seeks to put right the very small anomalies to which I have referred, will receive the approval of the House.

11.58 a.m.

We would certainly not wish to put any impediment in the way of passing this Bill. We can see it is clearly necessary. The need for it arises, as the Under-Secretary of State has said, from the decision to have elections in the cold weather, and it is not our desire that there should be any impediment in the way of those who would otherwise be qualified, by reason of residence, to be ruled out from having the vote. We hope there will not be the same unfortunate result from the inefficiency of the electoral roll in the Indian Elections as occurred in this country recently, and we look to those who compile these rolls for success and efficiency. We on this side of the House welcome the extension of the definition of the term "military service. "The services rendered by the Indian Navy and Air Force in this war are outstanding. It would have been a real shame if those who have performed service in those Forces had not had their services recog- nised by being enabled to vote in the forthcoming Election.

In regard to the Bill itself, it seems a pity it has been necessary to have an Act of Parliament. I was a member of the original Indian Franchise Committee which went to India under the distinguished chairmanship of Lord Lothian. I recognise that our recommendations on the subject of residential qualifications are extremely complicated. It is only in so far as those qualifications are governed by the Sixth Schedule to the 1935 Act, that an Act of Parliament is necessary. Otherwise the object in view might have been achieved by the amendment of Rules and Orders. It is a little alarming to find the extent to which under Clause 1, Subsection (3), and Clause 3, Sub-section (2), matters are left delegated to the discretion of the Governor-General and the Governors, and the power given them to make electoral rules. The situation before this Bill was introduced was very complicated in regard to residential qualification as such, and I cannot but think that it may become more complicated after the passage of this Measure. However, I do not think these small points which I have raised constitute any reason why we should spend very long on the discussion of this Measure. It is for us on this side of the House to wish the hon. and learned Gentleman well in the passage of his Bill, and I hope that the conduct of the Indian elections will thereby be simplified and rendered more efficient.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next.—[ Mr. Mathers.]