Skip to main content

Clause 5—(Residence Qualification For Electors In Constituencies In Northern Ireland)

Volume 465: debated on Monday 16 May 1949

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

I beg to move, in page 4, line 32, to leave out "was" and to insert "is."

I hope I can deal with this Amendment quickly. I suppose that the object of subsection (1) is, so to speak, a further protection to the regular inhabitants of Ulster from the risk of occasional incursions for the mere purpose of participating in an election. If that is the purpose, I am not sure in my own mind—and I admit I am not familiar with electoral procedure—that the words produce that effect. I am not even quite sure that the words do not run some risk of producing the opposite effect.

There seems to be an inclination to suppose—and the Prime Minister fell into it on Second Reading—that coming over the border into Ulster makes a person a resident in Ulster. I am not sufficient of a lawyer to say what one has to show to say one is a resident in Ulster, but surely this is not enough. That delusion of the Prime Minister's has been shared by other hon. Members, and by some of those on this side of the Committee. That there is some slight risk of a temptation to fall into that delusion might be strengthened by the form of words as it is here, which might seem, if not to lawyers at least to ordinary people, to lead one to suppose that by spending three months in the Six Counties one acquires residence and is, therefore, entitled to vote. I am sure that is not the intention, and I desire to be reassured that that is not the intention. I would like to believe that my words have that effect, but if my words are technically, or from a draftsman's point of view, inadequate, I hope the Treasury Bench will help in the intention I have tried to make clear.

The Committee will recollect that this point arose during the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Act, when an Amendment was moved from the Ulster Unionist bench to provide that some residential qualification should be attached to voting in Northern Ireland. There had been a similar qualification in Britain, but it was abolished by the 1948 Act. At that time, Eire was still a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but we feel that, as a result of what has happened in Southern Ireland, it is now desirable that a residential qualification should be imposed. The residential qualification we have fixed is a period of three months, which will have to be the three months before the qualifying date. Assuming the qualifying date is 30th June, a person, to be qualified to vote in Northern Ireland for this Parliament, will have to have residence in Northern Ireland on 30th June and have at least three months prior to that date. What constitutes "residence" is, after all, a matter about which lawyers can argue. I think it does mean in this connection a continuous residence in the place for that period.

It is desired that this should prevent the creation of faggot votes by people who could just move across the border and reside with a relative on the qualifying day and then claim that they had qualified for a vote in Northern Ireland. We believe that, as a practical proposition, the period of three months will remove the likelihood of the creation of faggot votes. This is an Amendment which we believe will achieve the purpose that we have in mind, and I hope I shall not be asked to say precisely what the courts may in the end hold "residence" to mean. I understand that in England, for certain matrimonial purposes, the leaving of a walking stick in a house for a period of three weeks constitutes residence to enable the owner of the walking stick to be married in the parish church of the parish in which he has left that walking stick. We certainly desire that there shall be something more than that, and I think in English law residence, for electoral purposes, has to be something far more substantial than that.

With great respect to the Home Secretary, I am not sure he has met the point of the Amendment. He did say, about four sentences ago, that he thought this Amendment met the point which was required. He said that this Amendment met the point which the Government had in mind.

I am sorry; that must have been a slip. I meant that the Clause as drafted met the point the Government had in mind.

I think the Home Secretary meant the Amendment which the Ulster Unionists moved on a previous Bill, the principle of which has been included in his Clause.

If the hon. Gentleman is trying to confuse everybody, I will not interfere.

I was trying to help the right hon. Gentleman by saying that I thought he meant the Amendment proposed by the Ulster Unionists. The point is that I do not think his brief deals with the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). The point my hon. Friend made was that he thought the Government's object would be better achieved if it were made quite clear that the qualification of the man should be that he is resident and has been resident for three months. That is the object of the Amendment. His argument was that the words as they are now might give the wrong impression as to what are the qualifications of residence in Northern Ireland.

It may be. On a point like this, I prefer to state words in my own language rather than in the language one sometimes finds in a Departmental brief, which I find almost as boring as some of the other legal arguments we have been listening to this morning. If what is now said is the point which was in the mind of the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), as far as I know that would introduce an entirely new principle into electoral law. It is not required that a person shall be resident in the place for which he is on the register on the date of the election. That has never been a requirement. Let us assume that the qualifying date is 30th June and that the register comes into effect on 15th October, and remains in force for six months until 15th April. It would be very hard to impose the condition that a person, on 14th April, the day before the register expires, must still be resident in the same place in which he resided on 30th June or he would lose his vote.

Whether it is in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. In the Representation of the People Act, 1948, the House agreed to the most elaborate provisions whereby a person who moves shall be able, through the exercise of the postal vote, still to have an effective voice in the government of the country.

Has he not still to be resident in that place? Am I not still resident in Cambridge at this moment, although I am going to sleep in S.W.1?

That may be, but I understood the difficulty that is being put forward to be that a person may not be resident in the place for which he is qualified on the register on the day when the election actually takes place. That was the point put by the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster).

He has been called "learned", so often tonight that somebody ought to give him silk pretty soon so that his hon. Friends may not so frequently make the mistake. I understood that to be the point, and I say that that would introduce an entirely new requirement which has never been insisted upon, so far as I know—certainly not in modern times. Anybody qualified to vote for this Parliament in Northern Ireland will in future have to be resident there on the qualifying day and for three months before that qualifying day. If he stills resides there after the qualifying day, he will be qualified. If he does not reside there after the qualifying day, but has resided so as to be qualified to go on the register, all the while that register is extant he will be entitled to vote in that constituency. I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that, and I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment. What I said was that in spirit, at any rate, this incorporates the Amendment which was moved to the Representation of the People Act, 1948, by the Ulster Unionists when that Measure was in Committee of this House and when, for what I then regarded as good and sufficient reasons, I advised the House to resist it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.