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Chartered And Other Bodies (Resumption Of Elections) Bill (Lords)

Volume 415: debated on Friday 2 November 1945

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.18 a.m.

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

This Bill is short and, I am informed, non-controversial which will be rather a change. Just as it was necessary to suspend municipal elections at the outbreak of the war, so it was necessary to suspend elections to various statutory bodies. As a result, the Chartered and Other Bodies (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939, was passed to enable Orders in Council to be made to suspend elections to various statutory bodies of members and officers, where such postponement appeared to be necessary. Under these provisions Orders in Council were made postponing the elections to various bodies, principally dock and harbour boards, drainage authorities and bodies concerned with the conservation of common lands and open spaces. Some of these Orders have already expired and, in the majority of cases, there is no difficulty of resuming normal elections, and this will be done as early as possible.

There are, however, some legal difficulties which still remain. The difficulties arise, mainly, in the case of dock and harbour authorities. Shipowners and companies who use the harbours and normally pay the fees have a right to elect to these authorities their own members and other people who have interests in the harbours. Since the war, ships have been requisitioned by the Government or are under charter to the Government and, as a result, fees are paid not by the shipowners, but by the Government. As the payment of dues is a qualification for the purposes of election to boards, shipowners at the moment are not entitled to elect or be elected to these bodies. It is necessary therefore to rectify by Orders in Council something which, by reason of the war and the circumstances arising out of the war, has deprived the people who were entitled by special Statute to be on the harbour boards. There are one or two other matters which require adjustment by Order in Council. Where, for instance, bodies are appointed for three years, it is desirable that the election should take place as early as possible, but the date of the election may not coincide with the date which is appointed by the special statute. As a result, for the first election a shorter period will have to be provided for until the proper statutory date comes round when the election can take place. It will be necessary to make adjustments in that regard.

There are some bodies, too, which, after the postponement of elections, have continued to elect to those bodies, but have not subscribed to the requirements of the Statute, many of which have been almost not understandable because of their number. In consequence, elections have taken place which are not strictly legal. It will be necessary to regularise by means of Orders in Council the position where such things have taken place. It is unnecessary to say that Orders in Council under the Bill will only be granted where the necessity for them is clearly shown. In those cases it will be necessary to lay the Order before both Houses of Parliament, and thus every safeguard will be provided against abuse.

11.24 a.m.

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his clear explanation of the purposes of the Bill which, as he says, is of a non-controversial character. The Chartered and Other Bodies Act, 1939—in the discussions on which, I seem to recollect, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary took a considerable part, with special reference to the position of the Electricity Commissioners—had two main operative Sections. The first dealt with chartered bodies and provided that the Lord President of the Council might modify the constitution of those bodies without the necessity of their promoting a special Act of Parliament. I should like to be informed by the right hon. Gentleman whether it is intended that that Section shall be of a perpetual character, or whether it is intended at any time to revert to the pre-war position. That Act was passed owing to war conditions and the difficulties in war-time of promoting special Acts of Parliament, in order to modify the constitution of chartered bodies.

Section 2 dealt, on the other hand, with bodies constituted under Statute and these are the bodies primarily dealt with by the Bill. The main object of this Measure, as I understand it, is to enable elections to be resumed to these statutory bodies—harbour authorities, drainage boards and bodies of that character. On that matter we have no objections to offer to the Bill. I would only draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one phrase in it which seems to me capable of varying constructions. It is provided, under Clause 1, that where certain circumstances have arisen—
"His Majesty may by Order in Council make such modifications in the provisions of the special Act…as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of enabling satisfactory elections to be held."
I am not happy about the word "satisfactory," because what the right hon.Gentleman might regard as a satisfactory election might not be so regarded by my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I suggest that when we come to the Committee stage we might try to devise some happier phrase to ensure that the Act does what it is intended to do.

11.27 a.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the response he has given to this Bill. With regard to Section 1 of the principal Act, I understand that it is not necessary for any further statutory enactment to be made in order to ensure that the previous practice shall come into operation. I will, however, look at the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised between now and the Committee stage. With regard to the question of what is a satisfactory election, it is true that opinions differ, and unfortunately they differ widely in a world where we would desire to be in friendship with all men. The position is that no election can be held in some of these cases, and we get back to the state of Old Sarum and Gatton because the electorate has simply disappeared. In other cases, the most extraordinary results at the moment might be recorded, because certain quite minor interests now monopolise a particular electoral college, and if an election took place in these circumstances, a most unrepresentative body would be elected. I will, however, look at the words to see if it is possible to do something to make it clear that what both sides desire shall be achieved, and I hope I shall be able to meet the right hon. Gentleman when we come to the further stages of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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