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Orders Of The Day

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 20 April 1948

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Representation Of The People Bill

Considered in Committee [ Progress, 24th March.]

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

3.46 p.m.

On a point of Order. On the last occasion when we were considering this Bill in Committee I raised a point of Order with the Temporary Chairman, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), as to whether a document which was quoted by the Home Secretary was a State paper, and if so, whether, in accordance with the established Rule, it should not be laid on the Table. The hon. Member who was then in the Chair did not, of course, have notice of this point of Order, and he ruled:

"If a Minister quotes from a paper, or a State paper in the House that paper should be laid on the Table, but we are not in the House now; we are in Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1948; Vol. 448, C. 3127.]
I accepted the Ruling of the Temporary Chairman, although it did not accord with my recollections of previous Rulings given by your predecessors, Major Milner. I later consulted Erskine May, and I found some support for my point of view. Accordingly, later in the Session I raised this matter with the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, and I asked if he would cause a Ruling to be given. I do not propose to trouble the Committee with all the precedents, dating back to 1808, but I would point out that those interested in the matter will find an admirable account given to the House on 31st May, 1938, by Viscount Stansgate, better known as Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I think this matter is sufficiently important to be raised at this stage, and I venture therefore to inquire whether it would not be convenient for you, Major Milner, to make a statement now, assuring us that documents quoted by a Minister are liable to be required to be laid on the Table not only in the House but in Committee.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising this point. The simple question is whether a paper from which quotations are made in the course of a Debate in Committee of the Whole House should be laid on the Table of the House. The difficulty which very naturally occurred to the mind of the hon. Member who was at that time temporarily in the Chair was the analogy of the courts. It seemed somewhat anomalous that documents quoted in Committee of the Whole House could be required to be laid before the Horse itself, which is theoretically a different body. I am not aware that that technicality has ever been considered before. I have now had an opportunity to consider it. The purpose of the Rule is to make the document concerned available to the body before whom it is cited. In my opinion, a document presented to the House should be available to a Committee of the Whole House. I am of the opinion, therefore, that the Chairman of a Committee of the Whole House may properly rule that a Minister, quoting a document in Committee of the Whole House, ought to lay that document on the Table. In my view, his position in that respect does not differ from that of Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy-Speaker when in the Chair of the House. I hope that that may clear up the matter. I ought to add that the question does not now arise in the case of the particular document read by the Home Secretary because it is now recorded in HANSARD.

I thank you, Major Milner, for your guidance and for going to the trouble to give this Ruling, which reinforces the Ruling given by Sir Dennis Herbert in 1938.

I apologise for not having given notice of this, but Standing Committees should also be given some thought in regard to this procedure. Perhaps a Ruling could be given in this respect on some other occasion.

That matter does not arise today, but no doubt could be dealt with by the proper authority on some other appropriate occasion.

Clause 13—(Effect Of Register, Etc)

3.50 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 16, line 6, to leave out from "ground," to "otherwise," in line 7, and to insert:

"of his being or having on the qualifying date or the date of his appointment, as the case may be, been not a British subject or not of full age or."
The purpose of this Amendment is to bring the wording of the Clause into line with that of two earlier Clauses—Clause 1, which relates to the entitlement of an elector to vote, and Clause 10, which relates to the entitlement of a proxy to vote by extending the reference to incapacity on the qualifying date, or, in the case of a proxy, at the time of his appointment. It seems clear that Clause 13, which deals with the same topic, should, in declaring incapacity to vote, also take account of the two dates, and the new words which we propose to insert have that effect.

The words which it is sought to put in seem to me to constitute almost a record in difficult and clumsy draftsmanship. The words which it is proposed to insert run as follows:

"of his being or having on the qualifying date or the date of his appointment, as the case may be, been not. …"
The separation of "having" and "been" in this fantastic sentence seems to exceed the limits of poor draftsmanship to which we have descended in this House. With a little trouble, the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers could carry out their purpose and carry it out correctly in the English language. Instead of "on the ground of" they might have put it "on the ground that he is not or was not on the qualifying date. …" It is quite easy to put it in that alternative manner and to make it run easily. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, if he is right in the general purpose of his words, to look at the language again.

I had somewhat the same difficulty as the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss), but he is a lawyer and I am not. He is entitled to criticise draftsmanship from the legal point of view, and I am not. I regret this desire on the part of draftsmen, when we get to the use of the verb in its perfect form, to try to get phrases between parts of the verb "to have," or "to be." I will for my own sake consider whether it is possible to put this in some such form as the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested. I think that the purpose of the Amendment is quite clear.

It is curious phrasing to read "having … been not a British subject" when it might read "not been a British subject."

Amendment agreed to.

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

I have an Amendment down to this Clause, which has not been called, in page 16, line 5, leave out from "be," to "he," in line 6, and insert "entitled to vote if," to which, perhaps, I might be allowed to refer. The Clause provides that the person registering as a Parliamentary voter should not be prevented from voting even if he is under age. In the past, there have been certain enactments, which in this Bill have been repealed, and which in fact did prevent any person who by inadvertence had been included in the register, from voting. If an infant in arms were brought to the polling booth, that infant could be disqualified, but under this Bill, Section 7 of the William III Act and Section 7 of the Ballot Act, 1872, have been repealed—

"That no person whatsoever being under the age of one and twenty years, shall at any time hereafter be admitted to give his voice for election of any Member or Members to serve in this present, or any future Parliament …"
Those Acts were previously taken into account by the returning officers and infants were not allowed to vote. I speak on behalf of the Metropolitan Borough Standing joint Committee, which has 28 town clerks normally concerned with these elections, and it appears to us that what has been done is merely to give grounds for the rejection of the vote on scrutiny, instead of rejecting the vote prior to it actually being carried out, which seems the most sensible and reasonable way of doing it.

It is true that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Binns) has raised a point concerning which the law is being altered. It is all very well to say that this would permit an infant in arms to vote, but it also prevents that from happening., If the presiding officer—it is not the returning officer who is involved—at the poll, let us say at a quarter to nine at night, suspects that a person coming forward is an alien who has wrongly got on to the register, or is a person who was 20 years and 11 months on the qualifying date, and that person wanted to start an argument with him as to whether he was rightly on the register or not, he might hold up a long queue of electors who were desiring to vote, some of whom might be excluded from voting while this adjudication was going on. I cannot think that that would be right. It may have been all very well in he days of His Majesty King William III, for whom the hon. Member for the Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) has such great veneration, when the number of electors was very small, and, in addition, the poll was open for several days and the voting was at the hustings. We are now living in very different times. I think that the proper thing to say is that the person whose name is on the register has an entitlement to vote at the election. If the name has wrongly got on to the register, it may very well be a ground for petition and scrutiny, but I suggest that, in a practical world, it is necessary to remove the old law and to substitute the new.

In a practical world it has actually happened that infants have found their way on to the register. I am only concerned about the presiding officer in the cases of infants still in swaddling clothes, and of his own safety. I am willing to leave this matter, under the circumstances, to the right hon. Gentleman if he prefers to have that sort of thing happening.

If the name of the person voting was on the register as being 20 years and 11 months old, that might provide grounds for a petition. Surely, he has a right to know where he stands.

The vote of one unqualified person in an election in which the majority was 10,000 or 15,000 would not in itself lead to the election being questioned.

4.0 p.m.

The Home Secretary is no doubt basing his remarks on majorities as small as, say, 25. One hon. Member, in fact, was elected to Parliament by a majority of only four. Elections will be rendered unfair; people will go round making minute investigations, asking the ages of ladies and committing other indiscretions. It is dangerous to pass a Bill which would lay open the way for the maximum amount of complication and uncertainty.

The fact that a person whose name was on the register and who was unqualified but voted would happen in an insufficient number of cases to affect the result of the election. That has always been a ground for a petition.

I should like to say one or two words by way of criticism and to ask one or two questions of the Home Secretary. I do not think that any hon. Member on either side of the Committee will deny that the whole purpose of this Clause involves a somewhat radical departure from previous electoral procedure. The whole purpose of the Clause is to dispense, if necessary, with the casting vote of the returning officer. It is provided that, in the event of the numbers between candidates being equal, the returning officer shall not in future, as in the past, have recourse to the casting vote, but that the tying candidates shall proceed to draw lots. That is a point to which I take serious exception. The Home Secretary, on reflection, will probably see that he may be in danger—to put it no higher than that—of running counter to the wishes of a good many people in electoral and political bodies. After all, the casting vote allows for cases where the numbers are equal, and one hon. Member has referred to a few members elected to the present Parliament by a very narrow margin. I can think of two hon. Gentlemen who were in this position. They were, I think, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Gandar Dower) and the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) who were elected by margins of less than 10 votes. This shows that, even in these days of universal suffrage, a draw is not out of the question.

In the past the decision who was to be the winning candidate to be returned to Parliament in the event of numbers being equal has always been left to the returning officer. It has been left to his discretion to say how he thinks the question should be dealt with. Although it is entirely within his province how he should exercise his casting vote, it has, in the past, undoubtedly been laid down and well defined that, in the event of the sitting Member tying with his rival, the casting vote should be given in favour of the sitting Member.

I notice that the Home Secretary shakes his head, but, in favour of the maintenance of the status quo, I can say that if one of the two winning candidates belongs to the party in possession of the seat—hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee will have sympathy with what I have said—in the past the returning officer would have given his vote in accordance with the maintenance of the status quo, in order that the party which had previously held the seat should continue to hold it. If the Clause is agreed to we shall be very seriously interfering with that well-accepted principle because, in the future, lots will have to be cast.

My first question to the Home Secretary is to ask him how he proposes that these lots shall be cast—by tossing a coin or by cutting through the pack? I am amazed that anything which savours of the gambling principle should be agreed to by a right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the Committee. In the past he or his colleagues have said that they will never be in favour of anything approaching a State lottery. I am not in favour of anything like a State lottery, but I am amazed that the Home Secretary, who. I understand, is a Nonconformist—I understand there is such a thing as a Nonconformist conscience, although I do not understand much about Nonconformity myself—recommends us to agree to the gambling principle in the form of tossing coins, whatever other method it may be, in the event of numbers being equal at an election.

The Home Secretary would be well advised to tell the Committee why he and the Government have seen fit to incorporate this Clause in the Bill. It goes further because, even in the case of an election petition, Subsection (2) provides that the casting of lots in the event of a petition shall be resorted to by the court. It will be very much more difficult for a court to cast lots than even the two individual candidates, who are equal rivals, in the event of no election petition being presented. That is another matter on which I hope the Home Secretary will have something to say when he replies.

I think I am perfectly entitled to say, on arguing the Clause in general, that, once a principle has been agreed to in this Committee, it seldom stops there. This was made clear—I say this by way of illustration—with regard to the recent provision for the Special Contribution in the Budget Resolutions. If the Committee sees fit to agree to this Clause being added to the Bill, we might quite easily seriously infringe upon the whole principle of the exercise of the casting vote in general. It might even be that in future somebody seated in the Chair, or occupying an even more exalted position, might not be able to exercise his casting vote. For the benefit of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee, who are perhaps not as familiar as I am with Parliamentary procedure, I can say that three times in my experience have I seen the casting vote exercised by the occupant of the Chair. I should be very sorry to agree to anything which would make for the infringement of the casting vote in general, particularly as far as Parliament is concerned. I should hate to think that in the future we should see the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition—the occupant of the Chair being barred from exercising a casting vote—spinning coins or casting lots across the Table. I hope that the Home Secretary will have something to say also about these matters.

I realise that at present the right hon. Gentleman is in a difficult position and recently was unable to give a very clear decision. I refer to the special Clause in the Criminal Justice Bill. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman's conscience is somewhat tender on these matters in coming to a decision—perhaps that is why he is such a ready accessory to this Clause. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember that: "Conscience doth make cowards of us all." I hope that he will show better reason this afternoon than he did the other night for the incorporation of that other Clause.

I would like to reinforce one point which has been made by my hon. Friend. I hope that the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary will explain what procedure they envisage. It is a serious thing to pass a Clause which is going to allow the spinning of a coin or cutting through a pack of cards, or something of that sort, by which a Member shall be decided. The election of a Member to Parliament is a solemn procedure, and I cannot help feeling that a tight decision ought not to be dealt with in that way.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to help us also on the question of the election petition. I may have misunderstood the Clause, but I want to be quite clear. Is it really suggested that when a disputed contest comes before a court of law, the judge of the court is to settle the matter by lot? I really cannot contemplate such a position. The function of a court of law is to determine as between the parties that appear before the court; to determine where lies the right as between the two contestants or litigants. A most undignified position will be created if, when two contesting parties in an election are brought before the court, the only function of the judge is to say, after spinning a coin, which of the two it has been decided shall come to Parliament. I cannot believe that that is the position, but I would like to know just how far the matter really goes. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will let us know what is to be the function of the court under the Measure as it now stands.

I think there is very little doubt what the Government have in mind in drafting this Clause. I take it that they are anxious to relieve the returning officer—who often is the mayor, the town clerk or somebody of that kind—from being placed in the difficult and invidious position of having to cast a vote when the candidates have an equal number of votes. I doubt very much, however, whether this Clause is an improvement on that situation. I know, of course, that it caters for changes which are extremely unlikely to happen with electorates of 50,000 or more people, but, as one or two Members have pointed out, we have come very near to that of late. One hon. Member pointed out the case of a majority of only four votes; I think that in one case the majority was as low as two in the last General Election.

This brings me to the point I wish to make. When we are discussing unlikely possibilities we must envisage the possibility of a dead-heat between three candidates; such an event is not impossible, and there might also be the case of four candidates with equal numbers. I would like to reinforce the request that we should be told exactly what procedure is to be followed. We read in Holy Scripture of the casting of lots. I have never been quite clear how it was done then, although I imagine it was not done by cutting through the pack. There must, however, have been some method of doing it. It is most undignified to envisage an hon. Member sitting in this House for four or five years because a coin has come down heads instead of tails; or because the dice has fallen in a certain manner; or because, in going through the pack, the King has been drawn instead of the Queen. How difficult it would be for an hon. Member in that situation to get up in Parliament and claim that his constituents had sent him here to do this, that and the other. His constituents would not have sent him at all—it would be the Ace of Spades or something of that kind which had sent him. Such a procedure would be beneath the dignity of Parliament.

Paragraph (b) of Subsection (2) deals with the election petition. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) when he put this point just now, suggested a procedure which I confess had not entered my mind. Am I right in thinking that what the Government have in mind is that, after the result of an election petition, certain votes will be ruled as invalid and, in consequence, change the result? After all, an election petition generally takes place when a candidate is aggrieved because his opponent has got in by ten or twelve votes and he feels there has been some improper procedure which has deprived him of his seat. The matter goes for a hearing, and the petition is heard. As the result of the petition, the votes are ruled out. That is how I read the, matter, and I would like to know if I was right or not.

4.15 p.m.

The casting of lots in elections is not unknown. The Act of Union with Ireland laid it down that if at any election of an Irish representative Peer there was a tie, the tie was to be resolved by the casting of lots. That Act was passed in 1801. In local government, the casting of lots for the determination of results is not unknown. In fact, it may be described as a fairly frequent practice. I will give the Committee an example which fell within my own experience.

In 1927, I was the Charter Mayor of Epsom and Ewell. I had to conduct the whole of the municipal elections because, as the Charter was new, there were no aldermen. It was prescribed in the Charter that if there was no contest in any ward, or if in any ward there was an equality of votes, the seniority of the councillors concerned was to be determined by the casting of lots. In each ward, three members were to be elected. The one at the top of the poll was to be in office for three years, the one in the middle for two years and the one at the bottom of three successful candidates for one year. Curiously enough, in one ward there was equality of votes between the second and the third of the successful candidates. In two or three of the wards—I cannot quite remember but in at least two—there was no contest.

The names of the people whose voting results were equal were written upon strips of paper. The strips of paper were placed in a closed box and were shaken up. I then drew out one slip of paper, in the case where there was equality of votes between the second and third candidate. The man whose name was on the slip of paper was declared to have been elected for two years. The man whose name still remained in the box was there for one year. Where three names were concerned, the name first drawn out was elected for three years, and the second for two years. The man whose name was not drawn out was elected for one year. I did, in fact, draw his name out, to give him the satisfaction of having had a run for his money. That is the procedure. Anyone who has been a member of an urban or rural council will know that the practice is not uncommon in local government.

In the case cited by the right hon. Gentleman the representation of the wards was not affected. The proposal in the Clause determines the verdict of the electors.

The curious thing is that there may be equality of votes at an election between the last two candidates. Let us suppose there are three seats, and candidates numbers 3 and 4 receive the same number of votes. It has fallen to the returning officer to determine the result. I ought to read what the Carr Committee said on this point. They said:

"Should there be equality of voting, the returning officer for a Parliamentary election, if a registered elector for the constituency, may give his casting vote."
There is at the moment no provision as to what happens if the returning officer is not an elector for the constituency. The Committee went on:
"At a local government election in England he can do so, whether or not he is an elector."
In these days it is invidious to put upon a returning officer the obligation of saying, as between one man and another, whether one or the other should be elected. The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) asked me to consider the returning officer. At one time the hon. Member suggested that the officer should decide in favour of the member who last sat, and then in favour of the representative of the party who last sat. Let me take the hon. Member's own case. Suppose, at the last election there had been a tie in his constituency between himself and somebody else. The hon. Member was in the last Parliament, and, therefore, was the sitting Member, but he was not the nominee, I understand, of the party that he represented in the last Parliament. It is clear that if we attempt to adopt any form of—

The right hon. Gentleman singled me out in order to provide himself with an illustration. I am quite clear about what I intended to say. The returning officer has complete discretion how he may use his casting vote, but there is a long-established custom which lays down that he should give his casting vote either to the sitting Member or to a representative of the party which last held the seat. One candidate may have both those qualifications.

The report published on 27th July did not appear to indicate that. In Parliamentary elections there has been no tie since 1918. I recollect, as a student of old poll books, that there was one tie between 1805 and 1918; but it is a contingency for which we must provide. I think it is better, in order to preserve the attitude of complete impartiality on the part of the returning officer, that he should not have to contemplate at any time what he will do in the event of there being a tie. It is far better to take the matter out of his hands. No one has ever impugned the action in local government to which I have alluded. I do not know whether a tie ever arose between two Irish Peers and that lots had to be drawn. At any rate, it shows that the matter has been thought of in previous years.

I am asked also what is to happen in the event of a petition. I gathered from what the hon. Member for Galloway said that any issue which went to the courts would be decided by lots. That is not the case. What will happen is this. There is a petition. The votes have been scrutinised. The court comes to the end of considering all the votes that have been put in jeopardy, and an equality of votes has been recorded. The court is supposed to exercise complete impartiality as between parties. It would be putting too much of a strain upon a court to suggest that they should then have to make what would be a party decision. At this stage there can be no question of corruption or of improper conduct. If there had been, it would have invalidated the election and we should not be in the position of having to consider a tie.

So far as I know no case has arisen. I do not think that in living memory a tie has resulted from an election petition. I would not like to say from memory what might have happened before.

I will try to find out between now and the next stage of the Bill. It is highly undesirable that the courts should be involved in reaching what is almost inevitably a party decision in these matters. I therefore suggest that there is nothing undignified in casting lots; that it has been tried in local government; that it has been enacted in the Act of Union with Ireland; and finally, in the words of the Carr Committee:

"we prefer a decision by lot in such cases both at Parliamentary and at local government elections."
They say much more that I have not quoted, but this quotation will complete the whole of the quotation from the paragraph:
"This places"—
that is, the giving of a casting vote—
"an invidious responsibility upon the returning officer. He is not obliged to discharge it, but if he does not, the election is void."
Presumably, in the case of a Parliamentary election where the returning officer was not a Parliamentary elector in the Constituency, the election would be void. That is the kind of thing which most people would desire not to see occur. I suggest to the Committee that the proposed procedure is perfectly reasonable and that it has been carried out without any violent criticism.

Would the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to one small point relating to Subsection (2)? I share his view that it would be putting a most onerous obligation upon the election court to give them a casting vote. If an equality of voting resulted, it seems an equally undignified task to put upon two judges of the High Court that they should cast lots. Imagination boggles at the prospect of one learned judge tossing up a coin and the other learned judge calling "heads." If we pass this provision I believe—I speak subject to correction—that this will be the first time that the obligation of casting lots has ever been placed upon the High Court. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider between now and the Report stage the possibility of providing that where the decision of the Court on matters concerning an election results in an equality of votes it should be remitted to the returning officer and that if lots have to be cast they should be cast by that officer. It seems more consistent with the dignity of all concerned that that duty should fall upon him.

Since the Clause contemplates the court deciding the matter by lot, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has consulted His Majesty's judges in the matter? They may have objections.

My prejudices are rather in favour of lots. Everybody talks about how democratic he is; if we want to be democratic the right way is that everybody should be elected by lot, and have done with it. If there is an equality of voting, I am surprised that it has not occurred to the Home Secretary before that the really right thing is that the election should be declared void. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to regard that as a reductio ad absurdum, but there is a good deal to be said for the view which I have put forward. If the election is so near, it ought to be run again. My imagination does not boggle like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) at judges having to toss and not knowing how to do it. It would be perfectly proper for you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to do it now, once and for all. I see no reason why we should not invite the Chair to draw lots to say whether in such a case as we are discussing the person whose name comes first upon the ballot paper, or last upon the ballot paper, should not always be deemed to have one vote more than were actually cast for him. Therefore, Major Milner, you would be tossing once for all now. Whatever indignity or vice there might be would rest upon the collective shoulders of Parliament. The judges would have no difficulty in future. They would simply know that wherever there was a tie they must always give the extra vote either to the man whose name came first or to the man whose name came last, as the case might be.

4.30 p.m.

I will consider the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). Since I spoke last I have heard that in the event of there being an equality of votes on a petition, at present the election is declared void and a fresh election has to be held. I am bound to say that I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) that a second election should be held. I think that in such circumstances it is generally desirable that a result should be achieved on the election that has already been held, and I think this Clause provides for that. I have not consulted the judges as to whether they would be willing to participate in this, but I have no doubt that if Parliament imposes a duty upon them they will carry it omit.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause as amended ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15—(Return Or Forfeiture Of Candidate's Deposit)

I beg to move, in page 17, line So, at the end, to insert: "by all the candidates."

The Clause to which this Amendment relates provides that a candidate's deposit shall be forfeited if he is found not to have polled more than one-eighth of the total number of votes polled. It has been represented that there may be some doubt whether the number of votes polled included only valid votes or other ballot papers as well. There was a phrase in the previous Act of 1918 which might have been thought fit to cover this point, but which has been omitted because it was really designed to deal with two-member constituencies, and it is, therefore, no longer relevant in this Bill.

The words which it is now proposed to add at the end, "by all the candidates," are thought to make the matter quite clear, because obviously if a vote has been polled by a candidate, and has been allotted to a candidate, that must be because it has been accepted. That phrase could only apply to valid votes, and would exclude those which had not been accepted and which had not therefore, been polled by any candidate at all.

As this Amendment is an attempt at clarification, I would like to ask, so that we shall know where we stand, what is the objection to the phrase "one-eighth of the valid votes." It seems to me to be a much fairer description of what we mean.

I would go further and suggest that these additional words do not in the least clarify the Clause. If it is doubtful whether the term "polled" means "validly polled," it must be equally doubtful whether the words "polled by all the candidates" means "validly polled by all the candidates."

Would the Home Secretary look at this point again between now and the Report stage? It seems, on the face of it, that if the word "valid" is used where suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend it would be very much tidier and much more understandable.

I am willing to look at the point again, but I cannot think that there is any real doubt about the meaning of "votes polled by all the candidates." The votes polled by all the candidates are those which are recorded on the final form which the returning officer fills up. If anyone fails to poll one-eighth of those he is liable to lose his deposit. I do not think there is any doubt about what it means, but I will certainly look into it, because I am anxious that there shall be no room for doubt.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 17, line 10, at the end, to insert:

"if the number of candidates shown as standing nominated in the statement of persons nominated did not exceed three or one-tenth of the total number of votes polled if the number of such candidates exceeded three."
Perhaps for clarity it might be as well if I read out how the wording of Subsection (4) will read after these words have been inserted. It will read like this:
"… the deposit shall be forfeited if …. the candidate is found not to have polled more than one-eighth of the total number of votes polled by all the candidates if the number of candidates shown as standing nominated in the statement of persons nominated did not exceed three or one-tenth of the total number of votes polled if the number of such candidates exceeded three."
This Amendment is put down to introduce into the Bill a recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. If hon. Members would refer to the final Report they will see in paragraph 10 that the conference made this recommendation so that the conditions of forfeiture should be made less exacting where the number of candidates is more than three. We want to know why this recommendation has not been followed, because it seems to us to be entirely reasonable. In order to bear that out, I would like to give an example of a case that might conceivably happen. Supposing there are six candidates at an election, a candidate who polls 4,999 votes out of 40,000 can hardly be deemed to be a frivolous candidate, but we should have this result: we might have the winning candidate getting 15,005 votes and the five other candidates getting 4,999 each. They would all lose their deposits, although I do not think it could be argued that those were all frivolous candidates.

Our Amendment would provide that in the case of more than three candidates they should only lose their deposits in the case of only one polling one-tenth of the votes cast and allowed. By virtue of the fact that this was a recommendation of the Speaker's Conference, that it was a reasonable one and certainly not one which would attract frivolous candidates into the field, we feel that this Amendment should be accepted. While we have departed from the Speaker's Conference recommendations in many directions, that is no reason why the right hon. Gentleman should depart from them in other directions; in fact, quite the reverse. I hope he will see his way to accept this Amendment.

The Government have considered this recommendation. We have come to the conclusion that the existing law represents a very reasonable arrangement which has now worked for 30 years without, as far as I know, causing any real ground of criticism. As we have been reminded more than once in the course of this Parliament, there was an election for the Scottish Universities where I think every candidate except the succesful candidate lost his deposit. One-eighth seems to us to be the kind of reasonable support in a constituency for which a candidate should look. To reduce the fraction will encourage splinter candidates and splinter parties, and we think that on the whole it is desirable that that should not happen. Those are the reasons which have induced us not to accept the recommendation of the Conference.

What the Home Secretary's answer amounts to is this: "This is our opinion." It is quite obvious that this recommendation was made after considerable consideration at the Speaker's Conference, and the Home Secretary is merely pitting his opinion and the opinion of his party against the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference consisting of all the parties. That is another instance of what is happening under this Bill, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should meet this Amendment with that answer. In the circumstances, I feel inclined to advise my hon. Friends to divide on this Amendment.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

Division No. 129.

AYES.

[4.41 p.m

Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Price-White, Lt-.Col. D.
Amory, D. HeathcoatHinchingbrooke, ViscountRaikes, H. V.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Hollis, M. C.Ramsay, Maj. S.
Baldwin, A. E.Hurd, A.Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Birch, NigelHutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Jarvis, Sir J.Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bower, N.Jeffreys, General Sir GRopner, Col. L.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Keeling, E. H.Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Bracken, Rt. Hon. BrendanLambert, Hon. G.Sanderson, Sir F.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Lancaster, Col. C. G.Savory, Prof. D. L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Scott, Lord W.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Lindsay, M. (Solihull)Shephard, S. (Newark)
Bullock, Capt. M.Lipson, D. L.Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.
Butcher, H. W.Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Byers, FrankLucas-Tooth, Sir H.Smithers, Sir W.
Carson, E.MacAndrew., Col. Sir C.Snadden, W. M.
Challen, C.McFarlane, C. S.Spence, H. R.
Channon, H.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Clarke, Col. R. S.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Cooper-Key, E. M.Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)Sutcliffe, H.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Crowder, Capt. John E.Marlowe, A. A. H.Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Cuthbert, W. N.Marsden, Capt. A.Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Drewe, C.Mellor, Sir J.Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.
Duthie, W. S.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarther)Touche, G. C.
Eccles, D. M.Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)Turton, R. H.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. WalterMorrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)Wadsworth, G.
Erroll, F. J.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Fraser, H. D. P. (Stone)Neill, W. F.(Belfast, N.)Ward, Hon. G. R.
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.Nicholson, G.Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Gates, Maj. E. E.Nield, B. (Chester)Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Osborne, C.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Grant, LadyPeaks, Rt. Hon. O.York, C.
Gridley, Sir A.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Grimston, R. V.Pickthorn, K.
Harvey, Air-Cmdre. A. V.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.

TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

Head, Brig. A. H.Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)Major Conant and
Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Prescott, StanleyBrigadier Mackeson.

NOES.

Acland, Sir RichardBurke, W. A.Dumpleton, C. W.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Alpass, J. H.Castle, Mrs. B. A.Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)
Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Chamberlain, R. A.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)Champion, A. J.Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)
Attewell, H. C.Chater, D.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)
Austin, H. LewisChetwynd, G. R.Evans, John (Ogmore)
Awbery, S. S.Cluse, W. S.Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)
Ayles, W. H.Cocks, F. S.Ewart, R.
Bacon, Miss A.Coldrick, W.Fairhurst, F.
Balfour, A.Collick, P.Farthing, W. J.
Barstow, P. G.Collindridge, F.Fernyhough, E.
Barton, C.Collins, V. J.Follick, M.
Battley, J. R.Cook, T. F.Forman, J. C.
Bechervaise, A. E.Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.Fraser, T. (Hamilton)
Benson, G.Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.
Berry, H.Corlett, Dr. J.Gallacher, W.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Cove, W. G.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.
Bing, G. H. C.Crawley, A.Gibbins, J.
Binns, J.Crossman, R. H. S.Gilzean, A.
Blackburn, A. R.Daggar, G.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)
Blenkinsop, A.Daines, P.Gooch, E. G.
Blyton, W. R.Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)
Board man, H.Davies, Harold (Leek)Grenfell, D. R.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Grey, C. F.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Deer, G.Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)
Brook, D. (Halifax)Diamond, J.Gunter, R. J.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Dobbie, W.Guy, W. H.
Brown, George (Belper)Dodds, N. N.Haire, John E. (Wycombe)
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Driberg, T. E. N.Hale, Leslie
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil

The Committee divided: Ayes, 125; Noes, 264.

Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Marquand, H. A.Sorensen, R. W.
Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Middleton, Mrs. L.Soskice, Sir Frank
Hardy, E. A.Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.Sparks, J. A.
Harrison, J.Mitchison, G. R.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Hastings, Dr. SomervilleMonslow, W.Stress, Dr. B.
Haworth, J.Moody, A. SStubbs, A. E.
Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Morley, R.Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Herbison, Miss M.Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)Swingler, S.
Hewitson, Capt. M.Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Sylvester, G. O.
Hicks, G.Mort, D. L.Symonds, A. L.
Holman, P.Moyle, A.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
House, G.Murray, J. D.Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Hoy, J.Naylor, T. E.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Neal, H. (Claycross)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)Oldfield, W. H.Thurtle, Ernest
Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Oliver, G. H.Tiffany, S.
Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)Orbach, M.Titterington, M. F.
Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)Paget, R. T.Tolley, L.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Turner-Samuels, M.
Jeger, G. (Winchester)Palmer, A. M. F.Usborne, Henry
Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)Parker, J.Viant, S. P.
Johnston, DouglasPaton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)Walkdon, E.
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Paton, J. (Norwich)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Peart, T. F.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Jones, J. H. (Bolton)Perrins, W.Warbey, W. N.
Keenan, W.Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)Watkins, T. E.
Kenyan, C.Popplewell, E.Watson, W. M.
Kinley, J.Porter, E. (Warrington),Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.Porter, G. (Leeds)West, D. G.
Lang, G.Price, M. PhilipsWestwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.Pryde, D. J.Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Lee, F. (Hulme)Ranger, J.White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)
Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)Rankin, J.White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Leonard, W.Reeves, J.Wigg, George
Leslie, J. R.Reid, T. (Swindon)Wilkes, L.
Rhodes, H.Wilkins, W. A.
Levy, B. W.Robens, A.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Lewis, J. (Bolton)Rogers, G. H. R.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Lewis, T. (Southampton)Royle, C.Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Sargood, R.Williams, R. W. (Wigan)
Logan, D. G.Scollan, T.Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Lyne, A. W.Scott-Elliot, WWilliams, W. R. (Heston)
McAdam, W.Segal, Dr. S.Willis, E.
McAllister, G.Shackleton, E. A. A.Wills, Mrs. E. A.
McEntee, V. La T.Sharp, GranvilleWise, Major F. J.
McGhee, H. G.Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)Woodburn, A.
Mack, J. D.Shurmer, P.Woods, G. S.
McKay, J. (Wallsend)Silverman, J. (Erdington)Wyatt, W.
McKinlay, A. S.Simmons, C. J.Younger, Hon. Kenneth
McLeavy, F.Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.Zilliacus, K.
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Skinnard, F. W.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)Smith, C. (Colchester)

TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

Mann, Mrs. J.Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Mr. Pearson and
Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)Snow, J. W.Mr. Richard Adams.
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Solley, L. J.

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

I would like to ask a question relating to Subsection (1). Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the procedure in reference to deposits outlined there is the same as has been the law hitherto, or is there any amendment? If it is the same as it has been previously, as I apprehend it to be, could the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee exactly what happens to a forfeited deposit? Does it go into the general or a particular fund of the State? I have never been able to ascertain the answer to that question, which is of particular interest to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway.

I believe that the procedure is the same as formerly. I understand that the amount is forfeited to the Treasury, and I imagine, although I wish I had had notice of the question, that it goes to the general credit of the taxation fund of the country.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16—(Returning Officers)

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

I wish to ask one or two questions on this Clause, which provides that the returning officers in Northern Ireland shall be the under-sheriffs. They are not the returning officers for the Northern Ireland Parliament. They represent a rather significant change. It is a good thing that the returning officers for the Northern Ireland Parliament are not accepted by this House. Is this not an opportunity for the House to exercise some degree of control over what goes on in elections in Northern Ireland? We are here appointing under this Clause a special type of returning officer for Northern Ireland who is not the type of returning officer who returns for the elections for the Northern Ireland Parliament.

As we are departing in that sense from the provision made for the Northern Ireland Parliament, I suggest that we might possibly have somebody who is not an under-sheriff, but who is directly responsible to this House. The difficulty about the under-sheriff is that he is responsible to the sheriff, who is responsible to the Minister for Home Affairs for Northern Ireland. If the Northern Ireland HANSARD is to be trusted, the attitude of the Minister for Home Affairs for Northern Ireland towards elections to this House is not to care what happens one way or the other. I will quote the passage. I do not want to argue this point. I only wish to refer to an allegation and to read from the Northern Ireland HANSARD to show the attitude of the Minister for Home Affairs for Northern Ireland. It is alleged—I do not know whether it is true or not—that where there are not sufficient Unionist voters the Unionist agent gives a piece of paper to someone who is not on the register, and that person is then allowed by the returning officer to vote. Secondly, in order that everyone shall be quite clear as to who they are voting for, the figure of the Unionist candidate is exhibited over the polling booth.

This allegation was made by the Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party in the Northern Ireland Parliament. It dealt with a by-election to this House. He said:
"Again there were two persons who said they were ex-Service men, whose names appeared neither on the official civilian residents list of electors nor on the official Service register, yet they were permitted to vote on the authority of a typed slip provided by Unionist representatives in the polling station. It was also noted at the same time that between the door and the window of the polling booth there was prominently displayed a notice stating, 'Unionists, do not split. Vote Mullan.'"
We can discuss that on another Clause. I wish to call the Home Secretary's attention to the way in which the Minister for Home Affairs replied on that occasion. He did not deny it. Indeed, he answered,
"Boy, but they did it."
That seems to me to be a somewhat unreasonable attitude on the part of a leading official.

Then there is the further question that the under-sheriffs are very often compelled to appoint presiding officers who can only look to the Minister for Home Affairs for support in enforcing proper law and order in the booths. If we had commissioners or someone of that description, appointed by this House, it would be possible to deal with the matter otherwise. That support is not given. It was alleged by a Unionist Member of the Northern Ireland House that ballot boxes had been opened, Labour votes taken out and ballot papers altered. That is the allegation of a Unionist Member who was an officer of police.

Mr. Nixon. He was so much enamoured of the Unionist cause that he combined the office of district inspector with that of being the master of an Orange lodge.

5.0 p.m.

Secondly, may I give the House one other example of the fact that the presiding officer and the under-sheriffs cannot get the support which they deserve? Let me give one example of the attitude of the Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs. A number of police went out to canvass in the constituency of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) in the Armagh by-election, and they canvassed, as I suppose is proper, their rivals.

All I wish to emphasise is the attitude of the Minister of Home Affairs who is still excusing himself for having dismissed two of them. I will read his words:
"MR. WARNOCK: The hon. Member for South Armagh did say one thing to which I take exception. He said that the 'B' Specials can terrorise citizens by firing off their rifles. What happened was that three 'B' Specials took their service rifles and fired off some shots. One was wounded, and I have dismissed the other two. I have taken disciplinary action against the people concerned and have dismissed them from the 'B' Special Constabulary."
Then he pleads with the House:
"I would not have done it if I did not think it was right. If I did what was right, what is wrong in that?"
It is a very serious matter. I will just quote a description, entirely uncorrected and undenied by the Minster for Home Affairs, of what in fact took place at one polling station—

I do not see what incidents at a polling station have to do with the appointment of under-sheriffs as returning officers. That would appear to be a different proposition altogether.

I am sorry. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The point I am making is that the returning officers who are in charge of discipline are responsible to the under-sheriff, who is responsible to the Minister for Home Affairs. I do not criticise the under-sheriff. Had we an officer appointed by this House to supervise the elections in the place of under-sheriffs we should be able to effect discipline. That is the point with which I am dealing.

At one polling booth where it was known that impersonation took place on a really large scale, there were no police, and the presiding officer did not get any. Why? Because the inspector of police accompanied by six armed policemen was—and these are the words in HANSARD—
"Helping another presiding officer to make up his register."
Let me read to the Committee the very terrible account of what happened at this election. There were two agents there:
"Immediately these two agents came through the door they were rushed upon by a mob of 200 people. The police were scattered among the mob. One of these boys was thrown on the ground and battered and kicked, and only that two men—whether through mercy or not we do not know—threw him over a wire fence six feet away he would certainly have been killed. The other boy was also kicked to the door of the car. His friends inside the car endeavoured to open it. He was pushed and kicked and battered into the car and the mob gathered in force and threw the car over on its side, broke all the windows, and when the unfortunate men were hanging out through the car one man threw a lighted match on the petrol flowing on the ground."
That is how personation agents are treated if they dare to go to the area where impersonation takes place, and the Minister for Home Affairs is indifferent to this thing. All he said was, "This is a matter for the Imperial Parliament, let them deal with it." I suggest that this is the time to deal with it.

Although I have not addressed the House before, and I would ask hon. Members for their indulgence on this my first intervention, I could not let such remarks pass as have been made regarding my election, which took place only a short time ago. I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the remarks of my opponent when he seconded my vote of thanks to the returning officer. He said he was completely satisfied with the election and he had no fault to find with it. He went further. He said that, so far as he could see, it had been a perfectly clean and straight fight. After the closing of the polling booths there were one or two small incidents. This election was fought on a very vital question that made the people's blood rise to a pretty good height. There were incidents on both sides; the incidents were not confined to one side only. If the official opposition candidate says that the election was fair and that he is satisfied, I think that hon. Members of this House must accept that before they accept the remarks of hon. Members for English constituencies.

The reason why I state that so strongly is that on the day of the election, both my opponent and I spent the day touring all the polling booths, and neither he nor I found any fault at all with the way that the election was being run. I am quite convinced, and I think he was too, that each person had a right to go and vote as he thought fit, and as freely as he wished. I thank the House for the indulgence which they have shown me on this my first speech here.

I do not wish to enter into this controversy, but I would congratulate the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) on his initial entry into Debate. He spoke with such confidence that I am quite satisfied that the House will be pleased to hear him on future occasions. I am also glad to see a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench. I have very grave doubts whether a sheriff is a competent person in Scotland to act as a returning officer. I would much rather see a condition attached to this Subsection that sheriffs should go through a refresher course on electoral law before they came on the job. I wish to illustrate the point by giving one or two experiences of my own from a somewhat long experience in electioneering.

I remember at a by-election which I fought a number of years ago, the sheriff laid it down that the agents of the candidates at the counting of the votes could stand only on one side of the table, although the table was a horseshoe arrangement. He stood calmly by when the figures were announced and permitted the enumerators to stand upon the table and cheer the victory of my opponent. I always understood that enumerators, for the time being anyway, were impartial. But that was only a minor incident. In a famous election in Glasgow where a right hon. Member of this House, who at the moment holds a very distinguished post in the Government, was narrowly defeated—I refer to the Kelvingrove election of 1935—the election agent who was a lawyer, approached me, knowing full well that I was well and utterly beaten by that time by my hon. Friend the Member for Partick (Sir A. Young). I was out and had no worries on my mind. The lawyer asked me what it cost to have a re-count. I said, "Who is leading?" He said, "We are." I said, "Let the other fellow worry about re-counting, don't you worry." He said, "I must make sure, I will ask the sheriff." What do hon. Members think the sheriff said? He said, "I do not know." There was a re-count, and both parties dipped into their pockets and paid the enumerators an extra, fee for counting the votes over again. There was an additional box counted at the second count, and one candidate had fewer votes when the additional box was counted than he had at the first enumeration. The point I wish to make is that the sheriff did not know what it cost for a re-count.

To come to a more recent date, at the nominations in my own constituency I took exception to the designation given to my opponent who was a very likeable chap and the son of a highly respected father with whom I had the closest personal relations. He was described as an officer and "R.N.V.R." was given as his employment. In my submission that was not the man's employment at all. The sheriff, in arguing the case with me said, "If I were to stand as a candidate here I should put in my designation that I was a landowner." I said, "Well, if you were, that would be perfectly true, it would be your occupation." He said, "But that would cost me votes." I was not fighting the candidate at all. I was fighting the R.N.V.R.

On polling day a woman came up to me with a little girl aged 11. She said, "How about this girl here? She is on the register." It so happened that the sheriff was standing with me at the time. I said, "This gentleman will advise you," and I walked away. A few minutes afterwards the woman came up to me and said, "It's all right, it's in the bag." The sheriff had ruled that the 11 year old girl was eligible to vote and the vote was accepted. But worse still, when the election addresses for the Forces were delivered at Dumbarton, the sheriff ruled that the only soldiers entitled to get an election address were the soldiers on service who were having a postal vote and of the 6,000 election addresses sent to the county buildings, 4,000 were returned. I submit that that is an absurd situation.

I do not wish to divide the House on this matter, but I think we should insist on a refresher couse in electoral law. My experience was the experience of several candidates in Scotland over a long period of years. If there is to be a mistake, all the sheriffs should make the same mistake on the same day. Then it would apply with equal force all over the country. At least there should be unanimity. There would be some justification if they were all making the same mistake. My experience was similar to that of other candidates in various parts of the country.

5.15 p.m.

I do not see where anything could be inserted in this Clause to improve the position, but I suggest that there should be an alternative to the sheriff. That suggestion will appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, because good healthy competition is something which promotes greater efficiency. If anything can be done, even after this Bill becomes an Act, to ensure that if this House passes electoral laws those called upon to administer them will understand them, I hope that it will be done. I will give one more illustration. Provision was made for those who had been prisoners of war to vote. Not one returned prisoner in the Vale of Leven or in the Helensburgh district got a vote. There was a special leaf in the register for that purpose, but the minions of the presiding officer knew nothing about it. Service men spent hours at the polling booths demanding what they knew was their right. The fact was that the register was there but nobody had noticed it.

Irritations of this kind should not take place. In this case I am sure that sheer inefficiency was responsible for the mistake. If nothing can be done in this Bill, I hope that the sheriffs will take to heart what has been said and will not feel offended if they are asked to refresh their minds on this important aspect of the law of the country.

Up to a certain point, I endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). I understood him to say that the sheriff or returning officer should have a clear idea of the duties involved. In many parts of the country different interpretations are put upon the situation. It would be well if all the interpretations were the same. I am not sure about a refresher course; I think that some never had any course at all. Some instruction or guidance might be given by the Home Secretary in an attempt to avoid certain incidents which took place at the last General Election. In the Chertsey Division the result was obvious at an early stage of the count. As time went on, there was no doubt who would be second. When the first count was over, the third candidate was in danger of losing his deposit. I will not say the name of the party to which he belonged. It was a question of five votes either way whether or not he would get back his £150.

There were three counts of all the votes because of that. Consequently, a great deal of time was wasted. Outside the hall, processions were waiting to cheer the conqueror, but gradually they faded away so that finally he did not get all the applause to which he was entitled. At about 5.30 in the afternoon everybody knew the result, but they did not know whether or not the third candidate had managed to save his deposit. I make that point because I think that the Home Secretary might make it clear at the next General Election that when the returning officer is satisfied of the result—that is to say, when he is satisfied who is the winner—he should be able to declare it without going through numerous recounts.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) on his maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear from him frequently in our Debates. I wish to endorse the statement of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) about the elections in Northern Ireland. While there is no serious specified complaint, there is dissatisfaction about the election of Members to this House. It is felt in Northern Ireland that the same rules in regard to elections as apply in this country should apply there. I will not attempt to re-open the question of polling booths. I consider that we in Northern Ireland suffer a great injustice in the matter of elections. This House should remedy the position and thus restore the confidence of the people.

I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) on surviving the test of having to make not only a maiden speech but an extempore speech, of the subject matter of which he could have had no notice. It was a distinctly creditable performance. I am sure that even the Government will always be willing to listen to him, particularly if he speaks with the brevity which he showed this afternoon.

I am not going to be drawn into an adjudication on what happened at the last Parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland. It appears to me that some of the points mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), if they related to questions of fact, should have been submitted to an appropriate court. I cannot here adjudicate on statements made on only one side. If some of the allegations were correct, it seems to me they might almost have formed the basis for a petition against an election in which intimidation had been displayed towards sections of the voters. The under-sheriff, as in this country, is a salaried officer. He is responsible for the proper carrying out of an election.

In order that there shall be no doubt in future as to the duties of returning and other officers in the conduct of an election, we have set out in detail in the Third Schedule the proper way in which to do it. That has been done to meet some of the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) who drew attention to difficulties associated with the count. We have been assured that in Scottish elections in the past there has been some doubt as to the rights of agents and other people during the count. In paragraph 4 of the Third Schedule we have endeavoured to set out the appropriate steps that should be taken. I can well understand that at a Scottish election the first question that would be asked when there is a recount is, "Who is to pay for it?" I have taken part in an election in which there were five recounts. I was an agent at the time and I was certain that, although I was resisting the recounts, neither I nor my opponent would pay for them. Anything that was given at a Scottish election by way of solarium to those who had had a recount imposed upon them, must have been an act of grace on the part of the candidates. I am sure that in no court could anything have been recovered from either or both the candidates in that respect.

We have now set out quite clearly in the Third Schedule the rights of candidates and the duties of returning officers so that there shall be no difficulty of that kind in future. I suggest that the sheriff is the appropriate officer. We have endeavoured to set out clearly what are the rights of candidates, and the duties of sheriffs, returning officers and other officers associated with the elections. I hope that the Third Schedule will avoid the kind of difficulties which sometimes have occurred in the past.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17—(Discharge Of Functions Of Returning Officer)

I beg to move, in page 18, line 16, at the beginning, to insert:

"subject as in Subsection (3) of this Section provided."

Perhaps it would be convenient if the following Amendments in page 18, line 23 and line 26 were discussed at the same time.

My reason for moving this Amendment is to give my right hon. Friend the opportunity of making a statement. I gather that he will take advantage of that opportunity. The Committee will recollect that the new City of London constituency is to be made up of the City of London plus the boroughs of Finsbury and Shoreditch. In that connection, it is proposed that the registration officer shall be the Secondary of the City of London. In the view of both Shoreditch and Finsbury, it is undesirable that the work of registration should be done from the City of London. They desire to see the Bill so altered as to enable the town clerks of Finsbury and Shoreditch respectively to be appointed deputies in order that they may carry out this work of registration which they feel they are eminently suited to do.

I believe that it is in doubt whether the City of London is to be amalgamated with Shoreditch and Finsbury. We certainly do not urge that. It may well be that later in the Bill the City will be amalgamated with some other constituency. That is a matter for the future. My concern is to safeguard the position of the town clerks of Shoreditch and Finsbury in the matter of registration. If the Home Secretary would be good enough to take the opportunity of giving an assurance of that kind, I would be very happy.

On the Second Reading of this Bill and on the earlier stages of the proceedings in Committee, I said that the Government were prepared to consider any representations that were made by the City of London and adjoining metropolitan boroughs with regard to the way in which the City of London should be associated with some other boroughs in representation in the future. Up to the moment, I have not had any response which indicates that the City of London has any other preference than that which was expressed when the Sheriffs and the Recorder came to the Bar of the House. I am hopeful that before this House parts with the Bill we shall be able to reach some arrangement which will be satisfactory both to the City and to adjoining metropolitan boroughs.

5.30 p.m.

I think the point of raised in this series of Amendments by my hon. Friends is sound. It would be desirable that, if the City of London were ultimately associated with Shoreditch and Finsbury in its representation, the provisions made here for the town clerks of Shoreditch and Finsbury should be placed in the statute, but, as it is not certain with which metropolitan boroughs the City of London will be associated, I would suggest that my hon. Friend should not press this Amendment at the present time. When we come to the Report stage, I will see that the appropriate Amendments are put down to deal with whatever metropolitan boroughs may be associated with the City.

I hope that, if this Amendment does come before us again, the hon. Member will endeavour to improve the English, which is certainly atrocious.

So far as the English, such as it is, is concerned, the people to take responsibility for it must be the town clerks of Shoreditch and Finsbury. In view of the very satisfactory statement made by the Home Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 18, line 33, at the end, to insert:

(2) The returning officer shall give to the acting returning officer written notice of any duties which he reserves to himself under paragraph (b) of the foregoing Subsection and that paragraph shall, in the case of any election, apply to the duties (if any) of which notice is so given not later than the day following that on which the writ is received, and to no others."
Under Clause 17, the duties of returning officer are to be discharged by the registration officer and the acting returning officer, subject to certain exceptions. Representations have been received that it is not always made clear by the returning officer which duties he has reserved to himself under Clause 17 (1, b). It is the purpose of this Amendment to ensure that, at the very outset and before any action has been taken, the returning officer shall make it clear in writing which are the duties which he reserves to himself, to avoid any possible confusion.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 19, line 23, to leave out from "Ireland," to "vacancy," in line 28, and to insert:

"the power of appointing deputies conferred by the said section eight shall be exercisable by any under-sheriff who—
  • (a) is returning officer for more than one constituency; or
  • (b) by reason of sickness or unavoidable absence is incapacitated from performing any of the duties devolving upon him as returning officer;
  • and in the event of no such appointment being made by an under-sheriff so incapacitated, or in the event of any."
    This Amendment replaces a form of words at the beginning of Subsection (6), on page 19, relating to the appointment of deputies in Northern Ireland. It is slightly more than a mere form of words, and the Committee will notice that it is now proposed, if the Amendment is accepted, to use a form of words which will correspond to that in the preceding Subsection (5), which deals with the same problem of Scotland.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 19, line 40, at the end, to add:

    "(8) Section thirty-six of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1832, in so far as it prohibits a sheriff clerk or deputy sheriff clerk from voting at parliamentary elections shall cease to have effect."
    The purpose of this Amendment is to remove the disability which has existed on a sheriff clerk or deputy sheriff clerk from voting at Parliamentary elections. So far back as 1832 a similar disability on sheriffs and sheriffs substitute has existed. That disability is removed by Clause 17 (7) of the Bill, but the position of sheriff clerks and deputy sheriff clerks had been overlooked, and there is no justification for retaining this disability in their cases.

    I wonder if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could explain why this disability ever arose. I find it difficult to accept the Amendment when nothing is said as to why such a disability has existed in the past, and I am quite sure the Lord Advocate could satisfy me in a few words.

    My recollection does not go as far back as 1832, but I presume that the reason for it was that they might have to carry out certain administrative duties, and it was desirable that they should not be electors in the election. That, I think, is an impeachment not likely to be levelled against a sheriff clerk or deputy sheriff clerk today. Unfortunately, the disability has stood for over 100 years, and I think all must welcome its removal.

    Amendment agreed to.

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

    I would like to ask the learned Lord Advocate if he could give me some enlightenment on Subsection (5) which deals with the powers of appointing deputies which are conferred by Section 8 of the Ballot Act, 1872. I hope I am not asking him to strain his memory or intelligence too far, because I have a great respect for him. I am only asking him to go back as far as 1872, which is 40 years later than the other Act which has been mentioned. I would like to know how far a power of appointing deputies is vested in certain sheriffs, and whether the appointment would go automatically to the senior sheriff concerned. In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) at an earlier stage, when he made some remarks about certain elections in the past, all Scottish Members would wish that the sheriffs or sheriffs substitute should be the returning officers. For that reason, I want to be quite clear how far the Ballot Act, 1872, goes in conferring powers upon certain sheriffs in certain circumstances to appoint as their deputies persons who are not sheriffs principal or sheriffs substitute.

    The provisions of Subsection (7) are very necessary, having regard to the fact that we have already dispensed with the casting vote of the returning officer. I congratulate the Lord Advocate on having gone a little further in tidying up the Clause by inserting a similar provision concerning sheriff clerks. I hope the learned Lord Advocate will say something about the powers of sheriffs under the Ballot Act, 1872, to appoint people outside their own fraternity to act as returning officers.

    It is always a pleasure to allay the misgivings of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). I would remind him that the disability on sheriffs and sheriffs substitute did not commence in 1907; they were disfranchised by the 1872 Act. The initial power for the returning officers to appoint deputies was granted by the 1872 Act, but the powers were re-enacted in the 1918 Act. The powers in Subsection (5) are to all intents and purposes exactly the same powers as were granted in the 1918 Act and no change has been effected, so far as this point is concerned.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 18—(Payments By And To Returning Officer)

    Amendment made: In page 20, line 33, after "Mayor's," insert "and City of London."—[ Mr. Ede.]

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 20—(Breaches Of Official Duty)

    Amendments made: In page 22, line 17, leave out "discharging," and insert "under a duty to discharge."

    In page 22, line 43, leave out "discharging," and insert "under a duty to discharge."—[ Mr. Ede.]

    Clause, as amended, order to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 21—(Electors)

    I beg to move, page 23, line 10, at the end, to insert:

    "(iii) make application to the Registration Officer for the area concerned on a form of declaration to be issued, on request, by the Registration Officer; and
    The object of the Amendment is to make it necessary for the non-resident voter to claim his vote. I have in mind the fact that the non-resident voter will not be living in the area in which the election takes place in which he will have a vote. It is not asking too much of him that he should show sufficient interest in the affairs of the area in which he seeks to influence the local government by putting forward a claim, as, in fact, he does at the present time. The normal voter living inside the area would naturally be influenced by political campaigns during the election and would be aware of the local conditions. He would not be subject to the same sort of considerations as a non-resident voter might well be. I therefore suggest that he should be asked to make application for the privilege to vote, but, at the same time, I ask that the Minister should make it clear to the returning officer that there should be a full public advertisement as to the manner in which the application form may be obtained.

    I think my hon. Friend has overlooked the fact that when the new registers are compiled under this Bill there will be a canvass of the electoral area, and that, in the course of it, the officer conducting the canvass will visit the place where this voter has some premises which entitled him to the qualification. I can see no reason why he should be treated differently from any other person qualified to be on the register.

    5.45 P.m.

    During the last few years while there has been no canvass there has been an insistence that business premises voters should make a claim. I think that was necessary when no canvass was being conducted. In fact, however, the register was compiled on the basis of the national register which showed only the man's place of residence and one could not pick out any qualifications from the national register. We have decided that there shall be these non-resident voters and it seems right that all electors should get on the register in the same way. I cannot, therefore, accept the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 23, line 23, at the end, to insert:

    "of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds."
    This seeks to obviate the possibility of a non-resident voter establishing a claim for a vote on very minor qualifications, such as grave space, or a garage or lockup shop. Such a claim would seem to be an abuse of this right. It may be argued that it is sufficient if he has possessions in that locality, for as a democratic principle he has the appropriate qualifications. I would entirely support that in the case of the normal resident voter and I would say, in such a case, that the very fact of his residence is a sufficient guarantee against any abuse of the right and privilege of voting. In this case it is obvious that a number of claims might be made which were not really substantial. In order to guard against this I suggest we should introduce the same qualification that it is proposed to put into the Bill for Scotland.

    I do not think the occupier of a grave space could be expected to vote in Great Britain. I do not think we have seen a resurrection, with people recently committed to the grave turning up at the polling booth. I do not think we need fear the occupiers of grave space. This is an occupiers vote, just as the resident's qualification is an occupiers' vote, but I think there is a danger that allotment holders—people who have small plots of land just over the border of the constituency in which they live—might be given votes if this Clause were passed in its present form. I propose, therefore, to accept my hon. Friend's amendment and to require that the non-resident shall be occupying land or premises of a yearly value of not less than £10. This is the same qualification as has been imposed in Scotland and it seems to me to be a very reasonable one. I advise the Committee to accept the Amendment.

    I am very surprised and disappointed that the Home Secretary should accept this Amendment, because, as I see it, it will operate like this. Only those who are sufficiently well-placed financially so as to occupy property of the value of £10 will be able to claim the vote. Those persons who are not in that financial position and are not so well situated will therefore be disenfranchised. I submit that that is entirely opposed to the principles of the Labour Party and to what I conceive to be the Socialist conception of democracy.

    I am rather surprised at the outburst of my hon. Friend. After all, all these people will already have one vote for Parliament, as residents in some place in the country, but they will be paying rates in some other place.

    They will be occupying land or buildings within the local government area and, in view of the suggestion of small allotments being brought in unless we insert this Amendment, I think it is reasonable to insert a qualification of £10. I should have thought, in the case of non-resident voters, that that would include practically everybody, except those who might claim in respect of allotments. I cannot think that in these circumstances the qualification of £10 for non-resident voters will disenfranchise anyone.

    May I ask the Home Secretary if this means that people can have two votes—one in the place where they live and one in the place where they have a nonresident claim? That raises a difficult question, because I understand the reason for this Bill is that people should have one vote and only one vote. Does it mean they can decide whether they will vote in the area in which they have a residential vote or in the area where they have a non-residential vote?

    If the hon. Lady will look at Part II of the Bill, she will] see it is local government franchise. We have established in this Bill the principle of one vote for Parliamentary elections, because that entitles a person to have a voice in the affairs of the nation. If a person has, however, an interest in a local government area other than the one in which he resides—through the occupation of land or buildings—it sems to me he has a perfect right to express his voice about the way local government shall be carried on in that second area. These persons will not receive two votes if they live in one part of the borough and have a shop or some other premises in another part of the same borough. They have only one vote in respect of county council elections, no matter how many properties they may have scattered about the county. It seems quite right, however, that if a man lives in one local government area and pays rates there, he should have a vote in respect of that area. If he has some property which he occupies—not which he owns—in another local government area and pays rates in respect of that, he should also have the right to a vote there, because the vote which he has in the first area has nothing to do with the way in which his money is expended in the second area. This does not violate in any way the principle of "One man, one vote."

    Is there any limit to this, because I occupy property in Burton-on-Trent, London, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Devonshire, Middlesex and other places?

    Assuming that the properties occupied by my hon. Friend are of a yearly value of not less than £10, and he therefore contributes to the rates of those areas on whatever basis rates are levied in those areas, he will have a right to vote in respect of each of those properties, always provided that they are not in the same electoral area. If he happens to occupy a brewery and a public house in Burton-on-Trent, he will get only one vote in respect of that. I suggest that while a man pays his rates he is entitled to a vote in respect of that area.

    May I postulate this case? There may be a farmer in Wiltshire, which adjoins my constituency, and he may rent a field in my constituency valued at £10, but will not pay any rates at all because agricultural land is not rated. If the Amendment is to the effect that he will have a vote where he pays rates, there may be something in it, but I submit he has no right to vote when he makes no contribution towards expenditure.

    That is an exceptional case and I will look into the matter. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend will not grow so excited I will try to help him, but if he does not wish to hear me I will let it go. This is a point worthy of consideration between now and the Report stage, but I want to stand firmly by the principle that where a person pays rates in an area he is entitled to a vote in respect of the way in which the rates he pays are expended.

    What we are trying to do is to prevent the abuse of this privilege, but there is the case where those who pay rates could create a partnership—say, 100 different people paying tooth part of the rates, all in a partnership simply in order to have a vote for that particular area. I am quite sure that this £10 in yearly value is a reasonable basis so long as we cover the point suggested by the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), that it should apply to those people actually paying rates.

    Would my right hon. Friend make one point perfectly clear? He used the phrase, "the electoral area." Does he mean by that phrase the Parliamentary electoral area or the local government electoral area? I would like that to be clear, because in the case of a big city, with about 20 different wards, an individual within that city possessing shops, say, in 10 wards might have 10 votes or more in a local government election in that city.

    It is clearly set out in the Bill that the local government electoral area is the borough, urban district, rural district, parish or county which may be concerned in the election. If a person has 20 properties in the same borough he can vote only once. If he has 30 properties in the same county he can vote only once at county council elections. If his 30 properties are spread over many boroughs, urban districts, and rural districts in the county, he will also have one vote in respect of each district where he occupies property. He has only one vote in respect of each local government body in which his properties are situated. With regard to the further point raised, there is a later Amendment, which I propose to accept, which will make it clear that partnerships must produce £10 each before they can lead to enfranchisement. That comes in the next Clause.

    6.0 p.m.

    I want to compliment the Home Secretary on his agreement to introduce an Amendment to the Clause which will make it impossible for what has happened even this month in the area in which I reside to happen again. Not only has an individual been entitled to a vote, but he has stood as a candidate for local government, and his only connection with the area is that he pays 7s. 6d. per year for an allotment. He is residing in an entirely different area.

    I want to ask the Home Secretary a question about the statement he has just made. Anyone owning shops in a particular area would be entitled to vote in respect of those shops. The question arises whether the owner or occupier would be entitled to vote in the different wards in which the shops were situated in a local government election. Would such a person be entitled to have a vote in respect of each of those shops? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think the matter ought to be cleared up.

    I despair of making the matter clear. I have said that in respect of each local government unit—by which I mean borough, county, urban district, rural district, or parish council, as the case may be—a man will be able to vote only once.

    I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on having accepted this Amendment, because by doing so he has brought the law of England and Scotland into line.

    I want to offer a protest. I happen to be one of those who dislike property qualifications of any kind whatever, and while I am not proposing to make a fuss about it now, I want to have it on record that, there are some of us on this side of the Committee who dislike the property qualification, and swallow it only with very great difficulty. I do not like the idea that someone who has parcels of property spread over different local government areas is able to go into every one to express his political prejudices.

    Such a person may or may not express his prejudices, but he may share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) and express those.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 23, line 28, to leave out from "pounds," to the end of line 31.

    In moving this Amendment I should like to deal also with the subsequent Government Amendments to Clause 22 which are all connected with it.

    The purpose of the Amendment is to delete paragraph (b) of Subsection (3). The reason is that we feel that this paragraph is unnecessary. Under the previous Acts, and particularly in that of 1918, if a lodger had a qualification to vote in respect of his lodgings, it was necessary that he should have occupied those lodgings within the area for a period of three months prior to the effective date. In other words, there was a qualifying period of three months. Now there is no such qualifying period, and any such person, if he permanently lodges in that area, will have his residence there, and, accordingly, will qualify for his vote for the local authority area by virtue of such residence; and, by the same token, if he is the owner, or occupier as tenant, of other lands and heritages of the yearly value of not less than –10 he will qualify for the vote as well.

    Therefore it is unnecessary to have this further qualification, because it might lead to anomalies, since the three months' qualification is no longer required. A person residing in lodgings on holiday at the effective date would qualify for a vote in that particular area, whereas, hitherto, he would have had to have residence there for three months. The Amendment is to remove that possibility, without in any way prejudicing the interests of the individual, who will get his vote otherwise, either by virtue of residence or by being the occupier or owner of other property of £10 value elsewhere.

    I am a little confused at this, because a number of hon. Members for English constituencies have an Amendment down, in page 23, line 26, to leave out paragraph (a).

    I thought it linked up with what the Lord Advocate has just stated. I am still confused, because it would appear from what the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) said just now, that there are about 10 different places in which he can stay and get a vote.

    Will the hon. Lady forgive me? I am not occupying a number of mansions. I am occupying business premises where I carry on my business.

    I thank the hon. Member for that interjection, but it is quite irrelevant to my particular argument. The Lord Advocate has told us about the three months' residential qualification. That has now been cancelled out in this Bill. I understand that in England there is no such period laid down of the time one must occupy premises. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham may fly by night anywhere in England and vote 10 different times so long as he does not vote 10 different times inside one local authority area. However, he can vote 10 different times for 10 different local authorities without inquiry by anyone as to how long he has spent in that particular place. I am beginning to wonder if in Scotland they might ask him with whom he spent his time. It appears to me that Scotland is unfairly treated in the residential qualifications. I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to clear up this matter.

    There is no question of unfairness here. It is merely a question of trying to be logical. If a person qualifies for a vote in ordinary circumstances he will get the vote under this Clause. As the Clause originally stood, by the removal of the three months' qualification, it meant that a person who, for a purely transitory period of, perhaps, a day or two, was actually occupying lodgings of which the unfurnished value was not less than £10 per annum, would have been entitled to register in respect of those premises. Manifestly, that is not the type of qualification which we envisage. A person can still get his vote if he is resident, or, if he has a business qualification vote, he will get it in respect of the business qualification. We are not inflicting any hardship at all, but are removing something which seems out of place in this particular Clause.

    Amendment agreed to.

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

    Like my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) I feel that the principle embodied in this Clause is a bad principle. The basing of a vote, whether for a local authority or for the Government, on a property qualification is, I think, wrong, and I want to register my protest. However, there was a specific point which I wished to raise in connection with Subsection (3, a). That Subsection reads:

    "In Scotland, a person shall be deemed to have a non-resident qualification in an area if he—
    (a) is the owner, or occupier as tenant. …"
    That seems to me to be rather rubbish, to be frank. I am not a lawyer, but it suggests that an owner as tenant—[HON. MEMBERS: "Owner, or occupier as tenant."]—It states, "owner, or occupier as tenant." Why cannot we have the same wording as that in the Subsection relating to England? That seems very intelligible. That is Subsection (2). It says that a person shall be deemed to have a non-resident qualification in an area:
    "if he is occupying as owner or tenant any land or premises therein."
    That is quite intelligible. I cannot make very much, however, of a sentence which reads:
    "is the owner, or occupier as tenant."
    I do not know what that means. If I were asked to construe that I should say that, where a person owns or occupies, he is entitled to a vote in that particular area. But, apparently, that is wrong. I do not know. I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate whether we can have the same intelligible wording as there is in the Subsection dealing with England and Wales.

    I do feel that the Clause is open to objection. I am sure that many of us are grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will look at certain parts of it. I am not disposed to think that my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) is correct, in saying that the wording does not necessarily convey with complete accuracy the meaning of the Clause, but I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a difference in the provisions with regard to England and Wales and the provision in regard to Scotland.

    I am glad to have that assurance. There really is a fundamental issue of principle in this matter. We have stood against the property qualification. My right hon. Friend makes the point—and it is a very fair one—that the owner, the ratepayer, or the reasonably substantial ratepayer—we do not like the idea that the holding of an allotment is sufficient qualification—should have some consideration in the matter, and have a right to express a view, and I am not prepared to resist that too strenuously.

    But my own personal case is a fair case to put. I have not, as my right hon. Friend humorously remarked I might have, the good fortune to own or occupy a brewery at Burton-on-Trent, but I do occupy, as tenant, offices in Burton-on-Trent. In respect of that particular office—which is a not insubstantial office—so far as I recollect I do not pay rates, but I pay an inclusive rental. It does not matter for the moment, but it raises the fundamental principle mentioned by the right hon. Member, that it is the ratepayers who are to have the vote. I also occupy an office in Nuneaton, which is in a different county, and in respect of that I do pay rent and rates. I also occupy offices in Leicestershire and—I think it is—in the county of London. I hope that in saying that I shall not be accused by the Law Society of giving information about my respective premises so as to come within the advertising provisions.

    6.15 p.m.

    There might be a case—I am not arguing it for the moment—for a person to have one or two votes; but in these days there cannot be a case for a person having ten votes, exercising them at by-elections, and so on. There would, of course, be a geographical limitation on the exercise of a number of votes in a great many areas, but at by-elections a very unfair advantage is given to the person who occupies a number of properties. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider putting a top limit to the number of votes which may be exercised by any one person. I suggest that two is really twice too many as a maximum, and that a person who is entitled to be on more than one register should have to elect on which register he will vote for the purpose of exercising his right.

    I oppose the Subsection which confers the right of plural voting. I have always understood that the Labour Party was opposed to the principle of the property qualification, yet if this Clause is passed now that principle will be perpetuated and, if anything, intensified. In introducing the Bill the Home Secretary said:

    "From now on, every citizen of full age will have a vote, and only one vote. The Bill wipes out the last of the privileges that have been retained by special classes in the franchise of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 839.]
    That is true of Parliamentary franchise, and when the Bill was introduced, we all welcomed the implementation of that principle. But so far as local elections are concerned, I would submit that that principle is being departed from. This Clause confers the privilege of a second vote based upon the property qualification.

    What further objection may result from the working of this Clause? Let me illustrate the matter by relating my own experience. When I was first a candidate for a county council I was defeated by one vote. Now, quite possibly the persons who decided whether or not I should be elected were not people who resided in the county council area, but people who resided in Bristol, outside the county council area. Very often local elections are decided by very narrow margins, and if the principle of plural voting remains in the Bill the desires and wishes of the people in the local area might be frustrated by those living outside the area who possess these plural votes based upon the property qualification. That would be an undesirable result.

    The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) in commending this Bill said that it was based upon principles to which all true democrats could subscribe. Personally, I cannot subscribe to the principle that people should have many votes all over the country. People living in Bristol, adjoining the county council area in the County of Gloucestershire, may have more than one vote, and may determine who shall be elected to the City Council of Bristol, and also who shall be elected to the Gloucestershire County Council. I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider this, and on Report introduce an Amendment to give us greater satisfaction, enabling us to feel that the principle of abolishing plural voting has been implemented, not only for Parliamentary franchise, but for local government elections.

    While subscribing to most of what has been said about the property qualification, on which I shall not enlarge, I should like to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh about the part of the Clause which deals with Scotland, because I am sure the Lord Advocate probably realises that this wording will have to be reconsidered. In effect, the phrase "or occupier as tenant" would appear to impose a limitation, because apparently the owner may not necessarily be the occupier. The owner will still be able to vote, and the "occupier as tenant" will be able to vote. But the occupier can be the occupier as owner. Therefore, because of this seeming conflict, where another class is not specifically designated—the class, now fairly common, of the occupier as owner—it would appear that the Clause limits the right of that class to vote. As doubt has been created about the actual meaning of this somewhat clumsy phrase, I hope that the Lord Advocate will reconsider it.

    A quite dangerous precedent might be involved here. Or, to put it another way, the old custom whereby property conferred additional qualifications for voting might be continued. A situation might easily arise whereby people living in towns could own property in rural areas and have representation on those councils, because under the Clause there is a non-resident qualification. I think that we are entitled to an explanation from the Home Secretary. He may be able to satisfy us, but as it stands, I do not think we can be satisfied.

    I wish to support the Home Secretary against the attacks of his followers. He seems to be recognising what I have always understood to be one of the great principles of our constitutional system: that there should be no taxation without representation, and if people have holdings in the country they should be allowed their say when they have to pay rates. I do not think there is any danger of a property qualification creeping in again for national politics. But, as the Home Secretary said, if a man has a holding or estate of any kind in a local government area he should have the right to be heard as to what rate he pays.

    I should like the Lord Advocate to look again at Subsection (3). It is quite clear that under Subsection (2) there is one test, whereas under Subsection (3) there are two tests. Under Subsection (2) the test is occupation, and occupation only; but clearly under Subsection (3) the two tests are (1) ownership, and (2) occupation. There is that very important differentiation, which should be examined in order that the second may be reconciled with the first.

    I must support my hon. Friends on the question of the plural vote, which means that a person, although not resident in the area, would have the right to stand for the council merely because he had a business interest, or occupied office premises. Such a person could be elected a member of the council and determine the policy of the council without residing in the area. In Liverpool some members of the council who have risen to aldermen do not reside in the city, and have no particular interest in the city apart from a commercial one; and in many instances they are the very people who hold back progress which would benefit the residents. Their main concern is the size of the rate, irrespective of providing amenities for the residents.

    I thought the principle of abolishing plural voting had been firmly established, and I was very surprised when the clerk to my local authority, the registration officer, drew my attention to the fact that the Bill did away with plural voting only in Parliamentary elections and not in local elections. In municipal or county elections the position is practically the same as before. I hope that the Home Secretary will seriously reconsider this question, because I am certain that there will be grave misgivings among the ranks of our party, particularly among those who have only one vote in the area in which they live, whereas they see others who have the right to vote merely because they possess property qualifications.

    I shall not deal with the questions asked about Scotland, because Scottish local government law and the Scottish rating system are so different from what applies in England that it would be wrong of me to intervene on that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will deal with the Scottish questions. I intend to confine myself entirely to the English points which have been raised. As I understand the property qualification, it was a qualification given in respect of the ownership of property. This Bill does not give a local government vote in England and Wales for the ownership of property unless the owner resides in the property or carries on his business in the property.

    6.30 p.m.

    Let us establish that quite clearly from the start. No one gets a vote under this Clause merely because he owns; he must also occupy. I do not think that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) arises. He said that he occupies an office in Burton-on-Trent in respect of which he pays an inclusive sum, that is a sum including rates. But a great many people in the country also pay an inclusive sum, and if we were to say that my hon. Friend should not have a vote because he does not pay rates directly, that would impinge on the rights of cottagers and others who also pay these inclusive sums.

    May I point out that we are concerned with a Clause dealing with the non-residential vote?

    Yes, but my hon. Friend made the point that he was in a different position at Nuneaton than at Burton. I suggest that my hon. Friend would pay less in rent in Nuneaton than in Burton had his tenancy been on the same basis. He pays rates in Burton, whether he pays them directly or indirectly.

    My hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) said that this Clause would confer a right to contest an election on a person who has not now that right. This is not a Bill dealing with the qualifications of candidates. There are three qualifications for candidates for local government elections, namely, 12 months' residence, being on the register, or being an owner of property. So far as owners being on local councils are concerned they do not derive their qualifications from this Measure, but from the Local Government Act, 1933.

    I thought that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Sir C. Headlam) put the question quite fairly. If a person pays rates, directly or indirectly, towards the funds of a local authority, I should have thought it was a sound democratic principle that he should have a voice in the way those rates are spent; but he should have only one vote. That, I should have thought, was an incontestable principle. It is true that I have had to guard against giving an occupier's vote to persons who merely have a derisory occupation. No one would suggest that a person who is a tenant on an allotment should, by that fact, have a voice in the affairs of the local authority. That is why I accepted the Amendment to insert the qualification of £10. That does not apply to the ordinary resident. No matter how miserable the hovel, or how low the rateable value, that person qualifies as a resident and as nothing else.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) said that there might be some occupations which did not involve payment towards the rates. I have undertaken to look into that point, and I will see whether it is possible to find some suitable words to make it clear that persons get this occupation qualification for land or building in respect of which they make contributions to the funds of the local authority concerned. There is no property qualification unless there is occupation which involves the payment of rates, and in order to avoid the creation of "faggot" votes, there is this qualification of £10. It is quite unreasonable to collect rates from occupiers of premises, and then to say to a person that because he occupies the property and resides somewhere else, he is not to be allowed any voice in the way in which the money he has put into the funds of the local authority is expended.

    My right hon. Friend has kindly cleared up the point in regard to plural voting. I understand that, in the case of a local government unit with 12 wards, a man who has a shop in each of the wards will have only one vote at a local government election. Suppose that there were by-elections in each of these wards would he then have the right to record a vote in each case?

    He can vote only once at the general election of a council and in a by-election. I admit that this is a complication, and I will try to see if we can fasten the vote in that case to one ward, giving the person an opportunity to elect in which ward he will exercise that vote. I think that that is quite a reasonable thing to do.

    I find the proposition very extraordinary that, however great a contribution a person may make to the wealth and prosperity of a community, he should not have a say in how that community should be run, unless he actually resides there. The Committee will be aware, after the many interventions of Scottish Members, that in Scotland there are such things as owners' rates as well as occupiers' rates. If we accept the proposition that there should be no taxation without representation, it is a little difficult not to accept the proposition that an owner should have a vote by reason of the fact that he pays rates, even though he is not in occupation. All Scottish Members know that what is wrong in Scotland is that there should be such things as owners' rates. In the course of this Parliament, we have assimilated much English administration and made many amendments to Scottish law, but in this one case where it would be very much better to amend our law, it has not been done. I have no doubt that if owners were relieved of the necessity of paying rates, they would be willing to be relieved of the privilege of having a vote in respect of their property.

    I cannot understand the misgivings and fears in the minds of Scottish Members and in the mind of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) has just pointed out, the reason for the fundamental distinction in this Clause between Scotland and England is the difference in the rating systems. As the Home Secretary explained, the qualification for this vote arises out of the fact that the person is a ratepayer in the area. Whatever hon. Members may say, once that principle is accepted, we have then to apply it to the respective countries in accordance with the respective rating laws. In England, there is only one form of rating. A person is rated because he is an occupier of premises. In Scotland, we have a dual form of rating, and a person can be rated (a), because he is the owner of premises, or, (b), because he is an occupier of premises. With that in mind, it is easy to understand the difference between Subsections (2) and (3).

    I cannot understand the complaints of my hon. Friends the Members for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) and Trades. ton (Mr. Rankin) in regard to the drafting. In Subsection (3, a), if one has regard to the punctuation, it will be seen it is quite clear that the qualification is, (a), being the owner, or, (b), the occupier as tenant of any land or heritage of a value not less than rip. In these circumstances, there is no need for any further consideration or amendment to the drafting. I trust that with that explanation these misgivings will have been allayed.

    Does it mean that where a person has a number of properties in a town, he may cast a vote in respect of each property? It is fantastic if that is so.

    If my hon. Friend reads the Clause with any degree of care, he will see that a person is entitled to only one vote in respect of the one premises either as owner or as tenant. It is clear from the earlier provisions of the Clause that a person has only one vote in any local government area. If my hon. Friend takes the case of his own City of Edinburgh, which has a number of municipal wards, the result will be that a person will be entitled to vote in respect of one ward at any ordinary general election, and will qualify for one vote in respect of any particular premises.

    To come back to England. I should like to refer to a remark made by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock), that this non-residential qualification puts her party at a great disadvantage. Speaking of Westminster, I can say that a large number of citizens who vote Labour derive their right to vote from a nonresidential qualification. I might add, as the matter was raised both by the hon. Lady and by the Home Secretary, that the majority of those who sit, either as Communist members or Socialist members on the Westminster City Council, derive their right to vote and their right to sit from a non-residential qualification.

    The Lord Advocate did not clear up the point which is bothering a number of Scottish Members. Everyone is clear about the question of one man, one vote. What we are not clear about is whether a property can have an occupier vote as well as an ownership vote.

    6.45 p.m.

    May I try to settle this matter? In the representation of particular property, we may have two types of persons qualified to vote—the person who is the owner or the person who is the occupier. It may be that the person who is the owner is also the occupier, but that does not give him two votes, because they are alternative. Therefore, we have three sets of circumstances which may apply: The owner having a vote, a separate person as a tenant having a vote, or the owner-occupier having a vote. But there can be only one vote in respect of each class. There may be two votes hi respect of one property, one for the owner and the other for the tenant. The justification for that is that both owner and tenant are ratepayers in Scotland.

    I feel that I must join my English colleagues who have protested at the principle embodied in this Clause. I think that it is obvious that this is plural voting of a very bad kind. Hon. Members opposite have stated, and so has my right hon. Friend, that if a man pays rates, he is entitled to get some value out of the particular authority to whom he pays the rates; or, at least, he is entitled to have a voting interest. I would point out that in the interpretation in the Bill relating to Scotland, it is stated that in the case of lands and heritages owned or occupied by a number of persons, the value shall be multiplied or divided by the number on a £10 basis. If it is £70, and there are seven people, there shall be seven votes. In my opinion that is wrong.

    It is a Scottish custom, and it is probably an English custom, for many people to have what is known as their coast house. They have their town house and their coast house. The coast house may be rented at £70, and there may be seven members living there at various times on holiday. Their interest there is purely of a holiday nature. In that village or coast town, the local people may require houses, or better drainage, or a hospital; but the people who occupy the £70 house, merely for July and August, are not interested in the building of a hospital, or in a better water supply, and they certainly are definitely opposed, as in cases of which I know, to an extension of housing in the area where they spend their holidays. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For one reason. They do not like the place where they spend their holidays to have too many houses to the acre. These seven people can vote out the interest of the people who are living in that agricultural village or coast town, where they are probably earning their living from fisheries or agriculture. I say that that is fundamentally wrong, and I am glad to join my English friends in opposing it.

    Is the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) suggesting that these seven people living on the coast, who may have a vote in Glasgow, are going to make a special journey to the coast to vote there?

    They have done so. A previous Lord Advocate said in June, 1929, that they were "bringing them out of the sea" at Dunoon to vote in the Central Division of Glasgow.

    I am not satisfied with the answer of the Lord Advocate. One can easily have a situation in which owners of property do not wish to vote in their own residential area. The vote there is quite safe, in many cases, for the reactionary on the local authority. They concentrate their voting strength in order to nullify the votes of the progressives in the area where their businesses exist. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) knows that there are areas around Glasgow where Glasgow business men reside, which are strongholds for the deadheads and reactionaries. When it comes to voting, it is not necessary for them to vote in their particular burghs. They can concentrate all their reactionary votes in the big centres.

    Everyone ought to understand what happens in many of the coast resorts. There are people who live in those resorts permanently, and they do not want the working people in their areas. Dunoon is building some houses now. The last I heard about them was that they were to have a rental of £40 a year. The ordinary working class family cannot afford to pay £40 a year rent. We have these people keeping out of the area the poorer section of the community. Those who have a coast house and use it for only part of the year, will go down there and vote in order to prevent anything in the nature of progress taking place in the area. I ask the Lord Advocate, who has a wide knowledge of conditions in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to consider this matter again and to keep the principle of one man, one vote, and qualification on residence. Cut out all this nonsense about business men having special consideration. As soon as we introduce discrimination, we do harm and assist the reactionary.

    I think that the Lord Advocate made clear to the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) what are the three categories who may exercise the vote under the local government franchise according to this Clause. I am sorry to see, particularly from my colleagues from Scotland, the muddle-mindedness which has been shown and the deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee, as to the whole object of this Clause. No one knows better than the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that the local government vote has never been applied in the same way as the Parliamentary vote.

    If a man has a business in a particular burgh and he is making money out of that business, naturally he will pay rates. He is making money out of the burgh and living outside it. He is not interested in the progress of the burgh. Why should he have a vote in that burgh?

    I cannot be persuaded by such an argument which goes to the whole basis of local government franchise. It is for the very reason that a person is called upon to pay rates in a certain ward or electoral division that he has a local government vote. The hon. Member for West Fife talked about reactionaries, whose votes were not wanted, going out in hordes on polling day to swamp the local electors. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) when she talked about the seven people. I do not know why she chose the number seven. She may have been thinking of the seven brethren in the parable. She said that because seven people are interested in a house, it was wrong that they should automatically have seven votes.

    I hope that I am not doing the hon. Lady an injustice when I say she seems to approach this matter, not from a spirit of desiring to see fair play and to see that those who are called on to pay rates have a right to a say in the affairs of a local area, but simply from the point of view that they may not happen to agree in a political sense with the views which she and her colleagues hold. I hope that the learned Lord Advocate will not be beguiled, but will stand firm against his hon. Friends—I do not need to say anything about this side of the Committee—with regard to the wording of the Bill.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 22—(Residence, Occupation, Etc)

    7.0 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 24, line 7, to leave out "period," and to insert "term."

    This is a small drafting Amendment. It has the effect that a person will not be entitled to a local government vote as an occupier of a house let to him furnished for a period of less than nine weeks. The Amendment seeks to replace the word "period" by the word "term." I am advised that there might be some possible ambiguity about the word "period" in this respect. What is meant, of course, is the legal term for which the house is let, and not the period of time for which it may possibly be occupied by the tenant under the legal instrument. I should not have thought that there was any very great risk, even with the earlier word, of misunderstanding, but perhaps the best test is that there has been a misunderstanding—that there are some people who did not think it clear. I ask the House, therefore, to accept this small drafting Amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 24, line 7, to leave out from "weeks" to "but," in line 9.

    The purpose of this Amendment is to provide that the term "tenant" shall not include a tenant
    "of any room or rooms let to him furnished and occupied by him as a lodger"
    and, as a consequence to ensure that as in Parliamentary elections, any such room or rooms occupied by a lodger shall entitle the occupant to participate in municipal elections. We have already discussed the questions of the vote for a business man and of the payment of rates. The payment of rates should not decide the matter in local elections. I want to make that applicable to this particular question: that the payment of rate should not be the decisive factor so far as the vote is concerned because, in the case of a business man, the rate he is paying is what might be considered a tax on the profits he is making in the borough. He may live entirely outside the borough and the real test for participating in municipal or local elections should not be rates, but residence.

    Of course, in the general run of residents the rates will be paid; the great majority of residents will normally pay rates; but the basis of the franchise for local elections should be residence and not rates. It may be that the occupier of a property is able to pay the rates only because there is a lodger who is paying sufficient money for the lodgings as allows the occupier to maintain the house and to pay the rates. That very often happens. It is obvious that a lodger, even though he is not paying rates directly, who is resident in a particular borough, has an interest in local affairs and must be anxious to see progress and development in the borough. There are many lodgers, both married and single, who are keen to see the utmost progress in their boroughs. They are anxious particularly that houses and schools should be built, and it is highly undesirable that such people, who are residents of a borough by virtue of their occupying rooms as lodgers, should be deprived of the right to participate in the affairs of the local authority, and that they should be denied an opportunity of voting.

    It is difficult to imagine a non-resident lodger. There may be such people, however, and it was to avoid one of them accidentally turning up and getting a vote that these words were included. The resident is entitled to a vote, but there is also the kind of case of which I will quote an example. On the qualifying day a man might happen accidentally to be in a place where he is not normally resident, but he lodges there for the night or for a day or two. If these words were not included he might acquire a local government vote in respect of his accidental presence in, let us say, a seaside resort; similarly, a commercial traveller might acquire such a vote in an industrial town. I do not think that that is what the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) wanted the franchise for and I would suggest to him that, inasmuch as the resident for whom he has pleaded gets a vote in respect of his residence, it is desirable that we should exclude the possibility that there should be the creation of some snap votes, perhaps purposely, or some other votes, perhaps accidentally, merely through a particular person being in lodgings on the qualifying day.

    In view of the explanation of the Home Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 24, line 12, at the end, to insert:

    "and the yearly value of any land or premises shall be determined in accordance with Section eighty of the Local Government Act, 1929 (which provides for determining it for the purposes of the Representation of the People Act, 1918)."
    This Amendment is consequential on that to Clause 21 which was accepted by my right hon. Friend. It simply seeks to determine within the year the method of valuing the premises in question.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 24, line 14, to leave out from "in," to the end of the Subsection, and to insert:

    "An electoral area in England or Wales each of the joint occupiers shall be treated as occupying land or premises therein of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds, if the aggregate yearly value of the land or premises is not less than the amount produced by multiplying ten pounds by the number of joint occupiers."
    This Amendment also is consequential, as the right hon. Gentleman has agreed o accept the former Amendment to make the annual yearly value a figure of £10. In instances where land or premises are owned or occupied by joint occupiers, it seeks to make the aggregate yearly value such a sum as would be equal to an amount arrived at by multiplying £10 by the number of joint occupiers. Thus it would be maintaining the principle that was conceded in the former Amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 24, line 25, to leave out "or any lodgings."

    This is a consequential Amendment to the one we made in Clause 21, whereby Subsection (3, b) was deleted.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 24, line 28, leave out from "is," to end of line.

    In line 31, leave out from "occupying," to first "of," in line 33, and insert:

    "as the case may be, lands and heritages."

    In line 44, leave out "and,".

    In line 44, at end, insert:

    "(b) the expression 'tenant,' shall not include a tenant of any room or rooms let to him furnished and occupied by him as a lodger."—[The Lord Advocate.]

    In page 24, line 47, at end, add:

    "and
    (c) the expression 'yearly value' in relation to any lands and heritages shall mean in the case where the lands and heritages are separately entered in the valuation roll the gross annual value appearing therein, and in any other case the gross annual value which would in the opinion of the registration officer be entered in the valuation roll, if the lands and heritages were separately entered therein."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

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

    I would like some clarification of the Amendments which have been made to the Clause. Am I right in assuming that a family who take a yearly house at the coast at a rent of £100 can, even where there are To members of the family, qualify for votes in that coast town year by year, while, if the family merely take furnished lodgings in the town year by year, not one of them will have a vote? May I have an answer?

    The position is clear that the qualification applies only to joint owners or joint occupiers of premises with an annual value of such an amount that if it is divided by the number of people the answer is £10 or more. Accordingly, to qualify one must be an owner or an occupier at the qualifying date. Subject to that reservation, the answer is "Yes."

    7.15 p.m.

    I was not at all satisfied with the reply I received on the last Clause, so I would like to raise two points which come up again on this Clause. As I understand the matter, owners of property in a city like Edinburgh might live in Midlothian. Their property might be occupied by people also resident in Midlothian. Both the occupier and the owner would have local government votes in Edinburgh. Under the Clause, as I understand it, if the house is occupied jointly by four people and the rental is £40 a year, all these people might live in Midlothian and yet have votes in Edinburgh. The situation is quite common in the centre of Edinburgh. A large amount of property there is owned by people living outside the city, as one can see by looking at the Register. If the property is not only occupied, but is owned jointly by 4 or 5 people, dual votes can be exercised by people resident outside Edinburgh in local government elections inside Edinburgh. That situation applies to every large town in Scotland.

    I would not like this opportunity to pass without expressing my opposition to this arrangement. It might be true that they pay rates, but it is time that a Socialist Government looked at this matter again and found a more satisfactory basis for local election votes than the present one. I have no doubt that it can be done if a little application is given to the problem. The present position is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

    I have had experience of people owning or occupying a house at the coast. In the West of Scotland it is very common for people in cities or towns to own or occupy houses at the coast. They will occupy them for a very short period, and then they rent them out to holiday-makers during the summer. Because they occupy them for a time, they have votes, as owners or tenants of the property. [An HON. MEMBER: "They pay rates."] They are able to pay rates because somebody occupies the house for a month and pays exceptionally big money for doing so, as much money in a month as the owner or tenant will pay for a year's rent and rates. The person who occupies the house for a month does not get a vote.

    The Lord Advocate knows that if he goes to the west coast of Scotland and gets occupancy of a house for a month, he will pay a very large sum of money. If the Lord Advocate makes inquiries he will find that the tenant of the property is not paying as much in rent and rates for a year as he pays for a month's residence in that house. Yet it is the tenant who gets the vote and not the temporary occupier. I have not got the money to do that sort of thing, but I go to the coast for a fortnight in the summer when I get a chance, and I know what has to be paid. There are people who go down to the coast for a month every year and they make it possible for the tenant of a house to pay the rent and rates. It is about time that sort of thing stopped.

    The one thing that the tenants of such houses do not want is an increase in rent and rates in these coastal places. Therefore, they do not want any sort of development in these areas. Anyone who goes to many of these coast resorts will find that there is very urgent need for development. Many of them are slum areas, apart from boarding houses and other houses which are let off for summer residence. The slum conditions in some of these seaside resorts are terrible, and there is a great need for the provision of new conditions for the people in these areas. The one thing that the tenants of these houses are concerned about is to prevent any development which would put an extra 1d. on the rates. Yet the people who pay big money for occupying these houses in the summer have no say as to how the rates in these areas should be spent.

    I think I should be interpreting accurately what was said by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) if I said that he appears to be in favour of invading the rights of private property. I do not deny that there may be many cases of sub-let in coast resorts in Scotland, but I suggest that these cases are freely negotiated between the occupier or the first tenant and the person or persons who take on the sub-lease. That is purely a matter between those persons. If the owner or the tenant does not desire to sublet, it is open to the owner or the tenant to insert a clause in the lease providing that there shall be no sub-let. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Fife was not aware of that, but I can assure him that that is the case. Therefore, his remarks about the person who takes a sub-lease and pays a very large rent, and yet has no interest whatever in the affairs of the local authority, fall completely to the ground. I am sorry that I cannot agree with the hon. Member. People who occupy these places desire to partake of the health-giving facilities there, and it is not in the interests of the tenants of such property to frustrate the due advancement and progress in the conditions of all those who normally reside all the year round within the ambit of the local authority concerned.

    The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) approached this matter from a rather different angle—in fact, a more dangerous angle—than did the hon. Member for West Fife. Although the Lord Advocate will have no difficulty whatever in disposing of that argument, the hon. Member for North Edinburgh cited the case of persons who might own a house or premises within the City of Edinburgh and who live outwith the boundaries of the City, in the adjacent county of Midlothian or in any other county that lies nearby. He said he could not conceive why a Socialist Government should attempt to maintain that sort of thing; in other words, that all questions of equity in rating should go by the board.

    The hon. Gentleman says there is no equity. I think there is. I think it is equitable that a person who owns premises, whether it is house property or other property—

    If I may interrupt, let us take the case of property owned jointly by five people resident outside the city. In the same property we have one occupier who lives within the city, but if the total rent is £50, the five people who live outside the city have five votes in that city as compared with the one person living there.

    The hon. Gentleman must persuade his Government to bring in a Bill for the complete overhaul of the rating system in Scotland. If he did so, he might obtain considerable support from hon. Members on this side of the Committee for those proposals which we regard as fair and equitable. Many of us take the view that the rating system in Scotland leaves much to be desired. I come back now to the point to which I was addressing myself when the hon Member interrupted me and when I so readily gave way to him; namely, that we on this side of the Committee cannot assent to his view with regard to the prohibition of people who own premises within the City of Edinburgh and who live somewhere else. The hon. Member says they ought to be debarred. He says he thinks it is a scandal—he got rather emphatic towards the end of his remarks—that a Socialist Government should maintain that kind of thing. I consider those remarks somewhat dangerous.

    We do not know what may come in the future, because the tail very often wags the dog—we have had one or two illustrations of that recently—and I sincerely hope that those who are responsible for piloting this Bill will not agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument that this is a disgrace upon Socialist administration, but that even though they are Socialists themselves, they will, at all events, remember that there is such a thing as equity and fair play. I hope they will agree to this Clause remaining as it is at present and will not seek to amend it.

    I hope we may be allowed to get this Clause. I have been listening to the arguments, and it seems to me that every time we want to carry through certain legislation somebody introduces a widow and orphan who will be affected by it. Beneficial legislation is stopped, because we are told a widow and orphan will suffer. It may be that there are such freakish cases as have been mentioned, but none has come to the notice of my office, and no complaints have come from the constituencies in which these cases are said to exist. I think it will be agreed that the cases where 10 people will arrange to be joint occupiers or owners of houses will be extremely freakish, and are unlikely to exist in any number. The picture of the whole of Glasgow taking a special train down to Prestwick for the municipal election there would be a fantastic one. The matter has been presented out of all proportion. If actual cases of this taking place are brought to my notice I will be pleased to go into them, but so far they have not been brought to my notice either by the constituencies affected or by anyone else.

    7.30 p.m.

    What does my right hon. Friend propose to do when he looks into them?

    We will look into them, but it is bad to legislate on the basis of particular cases. A general principle is concerned there. I think that what my hon. Friends are forgetting is that what was done in the last Representation of the People Act after the Speaker's Conference was the first occasion upon which a residential qualification entitled a person to a local government vote. Prior to that time it was entirely a property vote, and what was done was a great step forward. There is no reason why, in doing justice to residents who are not occupiers or owners, we should do injustice to people who play an important part in the community and pay rates. I think non. Gentlemen opposite would be only too pleased to do away with the owners' vote if we would do away with the owners' rates.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 23—(Registration)

    I beg to move, in page 25, line 2, after "prepare," to insert "and publish."

    There are two further Amendments standing in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin). They are connected, and with permission, I will deal with them at the same time. All three Amendments are connected with the proposed register. The second of these Amendments is, in line 8, at the end, to insert:
    "and such two registers shall be published together."
    I do not know the intention in the preparing of the register as it is presented in the Bill—whether it is just to be prepared by the registration officer and kept by his side, or what is to be done. I and my colleague consider that the Bill should definitely provide that the register should not only be prepared, but that the register of local government electors should be prepared and published and that, in the terms of the second Amendment,
    "the two registers shall so far as practicable be combined, the names of persons registered only as local government electors being marked to indicate that fact, and such two registers shall be published together."
    We consider it important to make matters as easy as possible for those who are interested in participating in local government elections and to ensure that they know exactly where they stand as between their voting rights in a Parliamentary election and their voting rights in a local government election. In our third Amendment, we propose, in line 11, to leave out "qualifying date," and to insert "date of publication of the register." It will be seen that this, Amendment would make subsection (3) read:
    "The elections for which any register of local government electors is to be used shall be determined by reference to the date of publication of the register in the same way as in the case of the register of parliamentary electors."
    We feel that if these Amendments were accepted the position of local government electors and their relation to Parliamentary elections would be made abundantly clear. There would be every opportunity for them to see the published register, to compare the two registers and to know that the date was related to the actual publication of the register concerned.

    This Amendment is really unnecessary. There will not in fact be two registers if by that is meant two separate volumes with the names of electors inscribed therein. Owing to the alteration that was made during the war the Parliamentary and local government registers are now almost exactly the same, and when the Parliamentary register is published it will in fact be the main basis of the local government register. There are, of course, a few people who are entitled to vote as local government electors who are not entitled to vote as Parliamentary electors. Peers of the Realm are entitled to vote as local government electors but not as Parliamentary electors. There will be a few of the non-resident voters who we have included by the last two Clauses who will be similarly entitled to vote. The way in which their names will appear and be marked will be governed by the regulations which we shall issue under, the Bill, directing registration officers as to the way in which they shall compile one single volume which shall be used for Parliamentary and local government electors, certain persons being marked as local government electors only. These will not be entitled to record their vote at Parliamentary elections.

    Therefore, the publication of the local government register will be the publication of the Parliamentary register, subject to the regulations which I have just described. It would not add anything to the Bill to insert the words which are proposed in the Amendment. In fact, they might be held to compel the publication of two volumes which would be almost identical and might lead to confusion. While I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing our attention to the matter, I suggest that the point is met in the altered circumstances of the electoral law of the future.

    Very often we have found that many people in the localities have experienced great difficulty in discovering how they stood in regard to Parliamentary and local government elections, respectively. However, in view of the explanation given by the Home Secretary, and trusting that the regulations will be helpful in this respect, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 25, line II, to leave out "qualifying date," and to insert "date fixed for the poll."

    This is a drafting Amendment to bring this Clause into line with the corresponding provision in Clause 5 (1) relating to Parliamentary elections.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in line 15, to leave out "an elector," and to insert "electors."

    This is merely a matter of grammar.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 25, line 37, to leave out "Subsection," and to insert "Subsections (3) and."

    This Amendment is to correct a small drafting error. In cases where the register is not published on the due date, the old register remains in force until the new register is published. That provision already exists in regard to Parliamentary elections and it clearly ought also to apply to local government elections.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 24—(Place And Manner Of Voting As Elector)

    I beg to move, in page 25, line 45, to leave out:

    "or as non-residents."
    The proposal here to give the opportunity of a postal vote to non-residents is quite unjustifiable. There is a provision in the Clause for postal voting for various categories of people which seem to be quite reasonable, but merely because a person is in the non-resident category and, therefore, has very little interest in the constituency and in local government matters, except perhaps that he owns a small shop, seems quite an unjustifiable reason. I am advised that if a person owns a grave space in a constituency he would be entitled to go on the register. If a non-resident wishes to take part in the local government elections we are entitled, surely, to expect that he will show as much interest in the affairs of the local authority for which the election is being conducted as the people who are living in the area.

    As I understand this proposal, somebody living miles away and not interested or caring about the circumstances or the issues of the election can, by merely posting his vote to the returning officer, take part in the election. It seems entirely wrong. This Amendment makes no difference to the quite proper provisions for a number of other people, such as those who are ill and ex-Service men. In a long experience of local government work in London I have never heard of anyone asking for this privilege—because it would be a privilege. If non-residents want to vote in a local election they should be prepared to come to the polling booth and cast their votes.

    I do not think the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) could have been in the Committee when I dealt with this point before. I pointed out then that the ownership of a grave space gave no right to a vote. This is an occupying vote, and the candidates might experience great difficulty in ascertaining to what address they should send any literature for the occupier of a grave space. I doubt even if doing what we do in some local government matters, and nailing a copy of the address on the tombstone, could be regarded as effective service of it. If we give people a vote we must give them reasonable facilities for exercising it. These people are occupiers. They may be nonresident occupiers, but, at the same time, they are occupiers of premises within the local government area. Having given them a vote, it seems to me that they should have exactly the same facilities for exercising it as have other persons who are placed on the register. I regret, therefore, that I am unable to accept the Amendment.

    7.45 P.m.

    I wish to support the Amendment, because I have one down of the same character. Here we have something which comes right back to what the Secretary of State for Scotland referred to earlier. In the recent discussion, in trying to ridicule some argument put up by the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) and myself, he painted a picture of Glasgow people crowding the trains to come down to vote at Prestwick. They do not need to crowd the trains. All they have to do is to adopt the postal vote. It is no use the Home Secretary just walking away from this as if it meant nothing. We have the fact that literally hundreds of businessmen who have premises of one kind or another in Glasgow, are living outside. One can see trains, not crowded with Glasgow people going down to vote at Prestwick, but crowded with Glasgow business people going down to Helens-burgh, or some other suburban area where they live. They have no connection with Glasgow life. They have no interest in the progress of Glasgow. They are going to get a vote and they do not even have to go to Glasgow to register their vote. Obviously, this is wrong.

    We can understand the desirability of postal voting for men in the Services or for those who have been stricken with illness. But these people are not resident in the community. They reside outside, and are given the vote simply because they have a business which is making money out of the community.

    The rates are only an incidental feature. They are not in the community in order to pay rates, they are there to make money out of the community. They are not interested in the progress of the community. Not even the Secretary of State for Scotland would dare to get up and say that these people who live outside the borough where their businesses are are concerned with paying rates or the progress of the community.

    They are concerned with making money out of the community and the rate is simply a tax on the profits which they are getting. They should not be considered at all for a vote, but if they are considered let them come and register their vote. Do not give them a special privilege of taking money out of the community and, on the strength of that and living in some suburban area entirely divorced from the city, include them with the man who is in the Services. I think that is utterly undesirable. I would ask the Home Secretary to think again and accept the Amendment to exclude nonresidents, such as these from participating in the privilege of the postal vote.

    The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has argued his case under a misapprehension. The Bill says:

    "… except in so far as this section makes exceptions for—"
    It is only in so far as this Clause makes exceptions that the non-resident can vote by post. I did not raise the question of people rushing down to Prestwick. That was raised by one of my hon. Friends. I merely pointed out that that was rather an exaggerated picture. If the hon. Gentleman will read the whole Clause, he will find that he is not arguing against it, because it agrees with what he says. He mentioned people who had shops in towns and spoke about whether or not they had any interest in the place. I think he exaggerates when he says that people who earn their living in a place have no interest in it. That would be a most exaggerated picture of the shopkeepers of the country. Many of them would like to live near their shops but they may not be able to get a house there and may have to live as far away as Helensburgh. Everybody who performs a useful service to the community is a useful person and is entitled to consideration whatever his occupation may be.

    I wish the Home Secretary would reconsider this matter. If the non-resident is to be qualified as a voter he should have proper facilities. I am worried whether it is right to give him those facilities automatically without subjecting him to the same tests as everybody else. I fear that we shall get a number of people like my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) who told us that he is in occupation of a number of offices throughout the country. We shall get a number of people who will be able to send postal votes to many different places. I apprehend that we may not get the same domesticity in local government affairs that we have had in the past. We should consider this matter seriously in view of the importance we attach to local electors being genuinely interested in the domestic affairs of the local government area and not being influenced by the national situation or anything of that kind.

    I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would be possible to make a reasonable provision for non-resident voters without allowing them to have something which is unwarranted. In the past there has been a decided demand for postal voting facilities for the sick and the blind. I am afraid that even the provisions of this Bill will not meet those demands in full. There must be application for a postal vote, and people do not know when they will be ill and may not apply for postal facilities. The category mentioned in this Clause will know that they will be absent and they will be non-resident voters. They will have an advantage over people who do not know whether they will be ill.

    There is a good deal to be said for this Amendment. The primary object of local government is that the people engaged in it should be directly interested and that they should not live far away from the district. The Secretary of State for Scotland was not very convincing. He talked about qualifications for non-resident voters being set out in the Clause. The qualification to which he referred concerns dual addresses. If the address to which the communication is to be sent is in the same area as the qualifying address, the person does not become a non-resident voter. The Secretary of State referred to the case of a man carrying on business but unable to find a house in the same area. His residential address is not in the same area as the qualifying address and he qualifies as a non-residential voter. Why should he qualify? Presumably he takes an active interest in his business. He goes to business every day. He has only taken a house outside the district because he cannot get one inside. If he has a sufficient interest to go there daily for business purposes, why should he not go there to vote?

    Another case concerns the man who has a house outside the area and who has a business qualification within the area but never attends the business. If he has not a sufficient interest to take him there for business purposes, why should he be given a vote at all? He is a complete absentee. Those are two totally different cases. I do not see why special privilege should be given. This is not the same position as that which applies at a Parliamentary election. Different considerations arise there. The essential consideration in local government is that a person should have an interest in local affairs, but this brings in the person who does not show an active interest.

    I support the plea made by the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet) that the Home Secretary should consider this matter further. I agree that if we give people the vote we must make it possible for them to exercise that vote. There are in London a number of shops which are rented. Presumably the owners of those shops would be entitled to vote at local elections. Many of them live in Brighton. If they are not sufficiently interested while their shops are open to go to the booth on polling day to cast their vote, why should they have a postal vote? This provision gives them a privilege. If a man is a service voter or if he is blind, it is reasonable and proper that a postal vote should be given. In other cases it is unreasonable. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter further.

    I am always willing to consider matters further in the light of argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) again talked about people who own shops. A man may own the whole of a borough and if he does not occupy some premises within it he does not get a vote. This has nothing to do with the ownership of a dozen shops. This is a question of occupation. I will examine this subject in the light of the Debate, but I am bound to say that if we give a person a vote—and we have done that by a previous Clause—we must see that he has reasonable facilities for exercising his right.

    In view of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 26, line if, at the end, to insert:

    "(iv) at an ordinary election, the fact that that person is returning officer, deputy returning officer or acting as returning officer at an ordinary election of councillors for some other electoral area;
    (v) at an ordinary election, the particular circumstances of that person's employment on the date of the poll by the returning officer at an ordinary election of councillors for some other electoral area for a purpose connected with the election in that area."
    This Amendment proposes to add one more to the category of persons entitled to apply to vote by post. It is in similar terms to previous Amendments to Clause 8, which were accepted by the Committee, in respect of Parliamentary elections. This merely applies the same provision to local government elections.

    Amendment agreed to.

    8.0 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 26, line 24, at the end, to insert:

    "(3) A person not registered as a Service voter if unable or likely to be unable to go in person to the polling station by reason either—
  • (a) of the general nature of his occupation, service or employment; or
  • (b) of his service as a member of any of His Majesty's Reserve or Auxiliary Forces
  • may vote by proxy if he applies to be treated as an absent voter and is likely to be at sea or out of the United Kingdom on the date of the poll."
    This Amendment would give the same facilities for voting by proxy at local government elections as Clause 8 of this Bill gives for voting at Parliamentary elections. We cannot see any case for restricting the right of voting by proxy at a local government election, and we therefore propose that the right should be extended to persons who are unable or likely to be unable to go in person to the polling station by reason of the general nature of their occupation, service or employment, or by virtue of their service in His Majesty's Reserve or Auxiliary Forces.

    I have examined this Amendment very carefully, because, quite frankly, I would very much like to meet the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The difficulty is a purely administrative one, and, if I can overcome it between now and the Report stage, I will endeavour to find a form of words that I can put into the Bill. The local government franchise, especially in the county areas, is a much more complicated thing than the Parliamentary franchise. A person may be entitled to vote, especially in view of the arrangements that have been made for non-resident voters, in respect of a non-county borough or an urban or rural district, but not in respect of the county council in regard to the same qualifications, because he has another qualification in another part of the county.

    If I were to accept this Amendment, it would involve so complicated a system of marking the register in certain cases as to make the administrative difficulties of compiling the register quite considerable. It might also lead to people turning up thinking they had the right to exercise a proxy vote on behalf of someone when, in fact, they had not. If I can find a simple way of ensuring that the elector shall, at any rate in respect of his residence vote, have the right to vote by proxy, I will have it done, but I am bound to say that I shall not be able to carry it through and give the right to the man who has a non-resident vote like the person described by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) who seems to be something like Oliver Cromwell and never spends two nights running in the same bed. I do not think I could arrange to meet the case of that person, but I will endeavour to see if, for the comparatively simple case of the resident voter, I can meet the right hon. Gentleman's wishes.

    In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Amendment made: In page 26, line 38, leave out "An absent voter," and insert:

    "At an election for which a person's application to be treated as an absent voter is allowed, he."—[Mr. Younger.]

    I beg to move, in page 26, line 47, to leave out from first "elections," to end of line 48.

    The point raised here is that postal voting at local government elections is allowed in urban districts and boroughs and not allowed in rural districts. We find it rather difficult to understand this discrimination, because, having regard to geography, we had thought it more reasonable that postal voting should be allowed in the rural districts rather than in the boroughs, if there is to be any distinction at all. We put down this Amendment in order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of explaining why this differentiation in postal voting is in the Bill.

    The Amendment would allow postal voting at both rural district and parish council elections in England and Wales, as well as at the local government elections for county boroughs and urban district councils. I think it would be very difficult to arrange for a very complicated system of elections to be carried out in connection with parish councils, because they are carried out over the whole of the county on the same day and they make a considerable strain on the resources of the competent people who conduct elections. On occasion, the persons concerned in a particular parish council election are not people of a very high calibre, and a complicated election there might lead to great difficulties in getting a satisfactory result.

    With regard to rural district council elections, I am bound to say that what has happened during the progress of this Bill has been somewhat extraordinary. I have consulted the Rural District Councils' Association, and they have assured me that they do not desire this provision to be made, but I understand that other people, who shall be nameless, have also approached them and have said that they did not mind one way or the other. I think that it would be unwise to use postal voting for parish council elections. After all, in view of the amount of work that a parish council can do, although it is rather greater than was described by Lord Salisbury when dealing with the 1890 Act, when he said that they could buy an ordnance survey map for the parish and study it, I suggest that it is not desirable that these facilities should apply to parish council elections. I will get in touch again with the Rural District Councils' Association to ascertain if their objections to being brought within the scope of this Clause have been removed, and, if they have, I will put down an Amendment on the Report stage to bring in rural district council elections.

    I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has not closed his mind on this point, but I hope that he will not confine his discussions merely to the Rural District Councils' Association. After all, it is not merely the councils who are concerned; it is the electors, or the potential electors. I do not think it would be right for this Committee, which represents those electors, merely to say that we will support the Home Secretary in introducing this additional facility if the Rural District Councils' Association concurs. We are entitled to go further and discuss the matter on its merits, whether the association likes it or not, because we are concerned with the rights of people who may desire to vote at these elections. There are a good many cases where there is little difference between an urban district and a rural district, and, in many cases, as a result of recent developments, it is a difference in name and in very little else. The case having been rightly admitted for urban districts, it seems to me that it is quite indefensible to exclude rural districts. Before we pass from this Amendment I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say that he will consider the matter on its merits and will not allow the Rural District Councils Association to introduce any sort of veto. We have had enough vetoes of one sort or another recently and do not want any more. I hope we may have that assurance from the Home Secretary.

    My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been very conciliatory over this Clause and I rise only because, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) mentions, he seemed to be making his assent dependent on the advice of the Rural District Councils' Association. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that there is a point of principle here which should be decided independently. As I understood it, the only objection to the inclusion of rural district councils was one of expediency, but surely that argument really applies only to parish councils. In fact, there is generally no more difficulty in applying postal voting to rural districts than there is in applying it to urban districts. If I may just correct my right hon. Friend on one small point, I believe it is true that when the Rural District Councils' Association in the first place agreed that postal voting was unnecessary, they did not realise at the time that the privilege was to be granted to urban districts. It is quite reasonable that their view could change if they felt they were to be excluded from what was accepted by the House of Commons as a proper principle.

    May I make one plea to the Home Secretary? I appreciate that this is a matter to which he has had no occasion as yet to apply the full weight of his mind and, therefore, we cannot anticipate any final reply this evening, but I hope he will be able to see our point of view in this connection. Rural district councils are, to all intents and purposes, very similar to urban district councils, and to this extent there can surely be no objection to rural districts having the right of postal voting in the same way as urban districts. That applies to those councils which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) mentioned.

    Other rural district councils may be very rural indeed, so the argument is much stronger because in time of election I should have thought those in the very rural areas would be more greatly helped by postal voting to achieve representative results than would any urban district. For those reasons I hope that the Home Secretary will consider the matter further, and will not be put off by the one reason which I consider is the only one which can be advocated against giving postal voting in rural areas—administrative inconvenience. After all, voting was given for the benefit of the representatives of the people and not for the convenience or inconvenience of those who—unhappily for themselves, very often—have to administer the election. I hope, therefore, that the old excuse of administrative difficulty or administrative inconvenience will not be allowed to weigh in the Home Secretary's mind.

    8.15 p.m.

    I can assure the Committee that it will not be the opinion of the Rural District Councils' Association which will be the final determining factor in my mind. In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), it is sometimes very difficult in the very rural districts to get a sufficient number of qualified persons to conduct the elections in the parishes which comprise the rural district. As a rule, one-third of the members of the rural district are elected every year, and it generally means that approximately one-third of the parishes in the rural district are subject to an election each year. Where the rural district consists possibly of a couple of dozen or even more parishes, that sometimes makes a severe drain on the staff of the clerk of the rural district council who is the returning officer and who has to provide presiding officers, poll clerks and other people.

    If this facility is granted, I desire that the postal vote shall be effective. I have participated in two elections in which postal votes were used—the General Elections of 1918 and 1945—and I am bound to say that in that of 1918 there were considerable complaints that a large number of the votes which were recorded by post arrived after the result had been declared. I am sure that is something which no one wishes to happen.

    May I say, in my own defence, that this matter was discussed at a meeting at which all the local authorities' associations were represented, and it was known at that time and at that meeting, therefore, who were likely to get the facilities of postal voting. At that time it was quite clear that both boroughs and urban districts would be included. I will consider the matter in regard to rural districts, and if I can work out a practicable scheme which will be administratively possible in practically every area of the country, I will endeavour to bring it in for the rural districts.

    The Home Secretary has been conciliatory on this point and I think we agree with him that it would be unreasonable to press this matter in relation to parish councils. He has also seized the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy), that we are very jealous that our course of action should not be dictated to us by outside bodies. In view of what the Home Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 27, line 3, at the end, to add:

    "(8) In this and the next following Section, references to employment by a returning officer shall be taken as including, in relation to elections in a borough in England or Wales other than a metropolitan borough, references to employment by the mayor or any person acting in place of the mayor by virtue of paragraph 10 of Part 1 of the local elections rules."
    In the early part of this Clause the right to vote by post at local government elections is given to certain officials employed in connection with the election by the returning officer. That does not cover the officials employed in that capacity in boroughs divided into wards; they are employed not by the returning officer, but by the mayor. This new Subsection, therefore, is required to cover that case In all essentials, their position is exactly the same as those people employed elsewhere by the returning officer.

    Amendment agreed to.

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

    I was very much struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) when he said we were very jealous that our affairs should not be determined by outside bodies. I hope that this was also the view of the opposite side of the Committee when the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that, at the request of the F.B.I., he was removing the advertisement tax from the Finance Act. The Home Secretary said that these facilities for postal voting for non-residents applied to occupiers. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) and myself said that occupiers were people who occupied premises, for business reasons—maybe a shop, warehouse or something of that kind. But they have managers and assistants to run the places, and they live all their lives down at Brighton.

    Another feature of this Clause is that the further away from the borough the occupier is, the better chance he has of getting a postal vote. A voter is not allowed a postal vote if he is resident in the area. I would ask the Home Secretary to look at these two points again. We have been dealing with occupiers of shops and businesses who live well outside the borough—people, as the hon. Member for Kennington said, who have their businesses in London and their homes in Brighton. According to Subsection (3), those who live near where they have their business, and have a better chance of knowing what is going on in the borough, are not allowed a postal vote, but only those who are divorced from the borough.

    As the Communist Party has referred to me, I rise merely to point out to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that there is a difference between being dictated to and accepting a request because one thinks it is reasonable.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 25—(Voting By Post By Absent Voters)

    Amendments made: In page 27, line 12, at end, insert:

    "(b) the fact that the applicant is returning officer, deputy returning officer or acting as returning officer in some other electoral area; or."

    In line 15, leave out "the," and insert "a."—[ Mr. Younger.]

    I beg to move, in page 27, line 22, after "treated," to insert:

    "or, in the case of a person registered as a non-resident, for a ballot paper not to be sent to the address furnished by him."
    This and the next Amendment relate to the circumstances in which a postal voting application will cease to have effect. The first concerns the person who asks that it should cease to have effect, and the second concerns the person who is already registered, and becomes registered by virtue of different qualifications—from being a resident to being a non-resident voter, or vice versa.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In line 24, after "registered," insert:

    "as a resident instead of a non-resident or vice versa or."—[Mr. Younger.]

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 26—(Service Voters' Proxies)

    I beg to move, in page 28, line 6, to leave out Subsection (4).

    I think I can describe quite briefly the point we raise here. Under Clause with respect to Parliamentary elections, a Service voter's proxy can exercise the proxy vote even although he does not reside in the same area as the Service voter. Under this Clause it would appear that the Service voter's proxy cannot exercise the proxy vote unless he does reside in the same electoral area. We do not understand the difference, and it seems to us that it should be possible for Service voters' proxies in local government elections to have the same privilege of exercising the proxies as they have in the Parliamentary elections.

    I think there is a distinction between the two. After all, at a Parliamentary election, the proxy voter will be voting on national issues, and he will be able to judge how the person for whom he is voting would like him to vote, because national issues are the same from one end of the country to the other. If he is not residing in the same local government area, he may not have any knowledge of the issues that are at stake in the local government election in the area in which the vote has to be recorded. He is not like the non-resident voter, with whom we have been dealing for a great part of the day, who has premises within the local government area, and has some connection with the place, and may be presumed, at any rate, to have some acquaintance with the issues involved. This non-resident proxy voter may have no connection with the area at all. We think, therefore, that in these circumstances it is not advisable to give the same power to the proxy of the Service voter in local elections.

    While one quite sees the force of the point which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, will it not frequently mean duplication of proxies? As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is quite open to the Service voter to appoint somebody in some other constituency, some other local government area, as his proxy for a national election. Very likely he will do that, because that one happens to be a particular friend or a relative. But this Clause as it stands will mean having a double proxy, and there will be muddle; there will be proxies for national elections and others for local government elections. Whether this will be made plain to the Service voters by the Service authorities or anyone else I very much doubt.

    I am sure that any system which requires duplication of proxies will lead to quite unnecessary difficulties. Therefore, while I fully appreciate the force of the argument that the right hon. Gentleman has put forward, I do suggest that, from a practical point of view, there is even greater force in the argument for simplicity. One may take it that a man who is appointed a proxy for a local government election will not reside very far away. It is very improbable that anyone would travel a long way for a local government election. He may live just over the boundary, in which case he will probably know as much about local affairs where the election is going on as if he lived in the area. Therefore, on balance, the right hon. Gentleman need not fear distant residents coming in, because they will not travel long distances for local elections except in most exceptional cases. The people who will do the voting by proxy will be people who live only just over the boundary. Therefore, while appreciating the hon. Gentleman's argument, I suggest that there is an even stronger argument on the other side.

    I have listened to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I will consult as to whether the need for simplicity—which, I admit, is very important in the question of compiling registers, and so on—outweighs the advantages which may arise in certain cases.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 27—(Amendments Of Local Elections Rules)

    8.30 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 28, line 39, after "election," to insert:

    "or otherwise of the local elections rules."
    Perhaps we might discuss at the same time the following Amendment—in line 40, to leave out from "that," to end of line 42, and insert:
    "the election was so conducted as to be substantially in accordance with the law as to elections and that the act or omission did not affect its result."
    These Amendments arise out of the discussion we had on Clause 12. Hon. Members will recall that, as we found during that discussion, there is in the Ballot Act, 1872, a provision which provided—I am paraphrasing it, and not reading out the whole—that if it appeared that an election was conducted in accordance with the principles contained in the body of the Act and the irregularity, whatever it was, did not affect the result, the tribunal might act accordingly. The intention of that statute was apparenly to draw some distinction between the principles contained in the Act itself and the rules which were enumerated in the Schedule. That may have been a convenient thing to do when the Ballot Act, 1872, was passed, but it has ceased to be so now, because in the Local Government Act the words "in the body of the Act" have been left out, and the whole of the election procedure was included in the relevant Schedules to that Act without any attempt being made to distinguish between provisions which might be thought to embody principles and provisions which did not. In fact, of course, however one attempts to deal with this matter there seems to be great difficulty in drawing any distinction between rules which are to be regarded as principles affecting the validity of the whole election and rules which are to be regarded as merely procedural, and which will not upset the election.

    Many attempts seem to have been made to classify, on the one hand, the different classes of irregularity whch may void elections, and, on the other hand, those which, although they remain irregularities, will not upset the election. What appears to be clear from these attempts is that it cannot be done by trying to press any distinction between irregularities which are irregularities in principle and irregularities which are something less than that. The real thing, as the Government think, is to look at the whole course of the election rather than at some particular incident which may have occurred in it—some individual breach of some particular requirement—and then to ascertain whether, substantially, the election was conducted in accordance with the law. If it were—although there may have been minor mistakes—by and large, conducted in accordance with the requirements of the law, and if it is clear that such mistakes as did occur did not in any way affect the ultimate result of the election, then the tribunal ought not to void the election.

    We have sought to embody that kind of principle in the new wording of this Clause. We respectfully agree with the view expressed during our discussions on Clause 12, that the phrase
    "No substantial miscarriage in the conduct of the election."
    may not have been entirely apt; but we think that we have now found words which are more appropriate than those originally used in the Ballot Act, 1872, and which do express the meaning which ought to be embodied in the Clause.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In page 28, line 40, leave out from "that," to end of line 42, and insert:

    "the election was so conducted as to be substantially in accordance with the law as to elections and that the act or omission did not affect its result."—[The Attorney-General.]

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 28—(Effect Of Register, Etc)

    Amendment made: In page 29, line 28, leave out from "ground" to "otherwise" in line 29, and insert:

    "of his being or having on the qualifying date or the date of his appointment, as the case may be, been not a British subject or not of full age or."—[Mr. Younger.]

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 29 and 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 31—(Limit Of, And Return And Declarations As To, Expenses)

    I beg to move, in page 30, line 38, at the end, to insert:

    "Provided that the said amounts may be varied from time to time by regulation in such manner as may appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary having regard to the difference between the level of costs affecting election expenses in the year nineteen hundred and forty-four and in the year in which such regulations are made."
    As drafted, Clause 31 carries out the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference with regard to election expenses. We are glad to note that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman has carried out one of those recommendations.

    Well, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will. There is this consideration. Printing and other expenses have risen considerably since 1944; I would emphasise that there is now a 50 per cent. Purchase Tax on many forms of printing. The right hon. Gentleman might like to carry out the spirit as well as the letter of the Speaker's Conference. If he adopted this suggestion to vary the scales by regulation, according to the value of money and goods at any time, he would be carrying out the spirit of the recommendations. If the Clause is left as it is the actual values which were recommended by the Conference would be greatly reduced. For those reasons, I would ask him to accept this Amendment.

    I am gratified to know that the Speaker's Conference is not entirely sacrosanct, and that its recommendations can be varied—and without a previous conference to arrange it. I think that this would be a very injudicious way of dealing with the matter contained in this Clause. I admit that £450 plus the sums that were mentioned in the Speaker's Conference, which we have embodied in the Bill, represent something very different now from what they did in 1944. But I would not think, either that it was unnecessary to put into the Bill some definite sum, or that the maximum expenditure for elections should be left to successive Secretaries of State to consider, and possibly just before an election to bring in regulations which require affirmative Resolution of the House. That would not be a satisfactory way of dealing with the issue. The figure should be embodied in the Bill.

    It would probably be a good thing if, between now and Report, consultations took place to ascertain the appropriate figure to insert which would carry out, as near as may be at the present time, what the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference in 1944 actually meant in capacity to deal with the necessary expenses of an election, so that approximately the same amount of material and labour should be available to the candidate as would have been the case had money not altered in value since 1944. I have no doubt that it would be possible for people knowledgeable in these matters to meet, and for consultations to take place with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself as a result, with a view to seeing if we can arrive at a figure, which could be recommended to the House on Report, to insert in lieu of the figure of £450. I should not be inclined myself to vary the other two figures, but if as a result of such consultations which I have suggested, variations were also put forward from there, it would be quite possible for the House to consider them.

    It would be very unsatisfactory to insert an Amendment of this kind in the Bill. I anticipated that there would be suggestions for a variation of the figure of £450, and I ought to say that the Government would not contemplate inserting a higher figure than could be justified in relation to the £450 of 1944. As an old election agent, I have often thought that a great deal of unnecessary money is spent at elections by all parties. My own view is that an election can be fought so cheaply that it is lost because the candidate is not given a good enough show, and that there is a point above that where there is the maximum return for every penny spent. Certainly, between 1918 and the present time, it has been possible to spend an amount above which a candidate cannot expect to get any return. Therefore, we should not contemplate going back to anything representing the old standard. An effort should be made to ascertain, in terms of present values, what is the proper figure to insert as compared with the £450 suggested at the Speaker's Conference.

    I wish to say at once that we concur in that view. We have no wish to depart from the value which the Speaker's Conference laid down. The suggestion of the Home Secretary is very much better than that contained in our Amendment—I give him that straight away. He has behaved in quite an exemplary manner and has done all that we would wish. We are carrying out the principle of the Speaker's Conference if we have consultations between all parties to get agreement on this matter. I am very pleased that the Home Secretary appears now to be coming round to our point of view, and I hope that he will continue to do so in other directions.

    I think that one thing I said has been misconstrued. I suggested that consultation between the knowledgeable people should take place as quickly as possible, and that when they had reached their conclusions they should come along with an agreed recommendation to the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself. I pointed out that I did not want to be involved as head of a Government Department with a heavy responsibility of impartiality in this matter, in what might be party arrangements in the early stages of these consultations.

    My right hon. Friend has met the Opposition in an extremely conciliatory way, but it is necessary to utter a cautionary word from this side. I have no objections to discussions taking place to see whether there is a case for increasing the amount laid down, but I should be very much against any suggestion to increase considerably the amount of money which may be expended. If we are to take into account the rise in prices since the time of the Speaker's Conference in determining the permitted amount, we might easily find a permitted expenditure of about £1,000 in the borough constituencies at the next elections. Such an amount would be altogether too generous. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep any extensions within extremely narrow limits.

    8.45 p.m.

    I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) in regard to keeping the limit low. I agree also with the right hon. Gentleman's remark that it is sometimes possible to spend too much at elections. It evokes a very responsible echo in my heart, and I recollected that at the General Election my opponent's expenses were nearly £400 more than my own. The Home Secretary has made a helpful suggestion, but I should like to know what are the intentions in the future if the present rise in prices continues. It is surely undesirable that we should have a series of amending Acts. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that three and a half years have seen a great rise in prices which has necessitated a change in the figure recommended. Surely, it is not inconceivable that a similar or even greater rise may take place in the next three or four years. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would say how he proposes to deal with that. The Amendment deals with that point, but while the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion gets over certain difficulties inherent in it, it does not deal with the problem of what will happen in the future.

    I do not think that I have said anything outside the spirit of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton). I want to see election expenses kept as low as possible. With regard to what the hon. Member for Kingson-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said, I consider that the figure should be laid down in the Bill. If it is necessary to vary it, it might be desirable to vary it downwards. If we take a figure, with Purchase Tax at 5o per cent. on some of the items involved, it might be desirable, in the event of an alteration in the Purchase Tax, to consider a reduction. That is a matter which should be the subject of a Bill. I am sorry on this occasion to steal the thunder of the Opposition and declare against a regulation in favour of a Bill, but a matter of this con- stitutional importance ought to be dealt with by a Bill. I hope that the Committee will concur in that view. Some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) and of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames are an indication of how desirable it is that the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself should not be brought into these discussions at too early a stage so that we shall be able to give unprejudiced consideration to whatever suggestions are put forward and make a reasonable and impartial recommendation to the House on Report.

    There is a great deal to be said for the maximum figure being put in the Bill. We do not wish to put the expenses any higher than is necessary, and certainly no higher in terms of value, than was contemplated by the Speaker's Conference. In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 33—(Candidate's Right To Use Certain Schools And Halls For Election Meetings)

    I beg to move in page 33, line 12, at the end, to insert:

    "provided that the cost of any such damage shall not be included in a candidate's election expenses."
    The purpose of this Amendment is to guard against the possibility of unprincipled and evilly disposed persons causing damage to premises where meetings are being held with a view to upsetting the election campaign of a candidate. It is not too farfetched to imagine the possibility, whether by express purpose, or merely as a result of some disturbance that arose in the course of an election campaign, of premises being seriously damaged. I think that the repair of the premises ought not to be included in the election expenses of the candidate unless it can be plainly shown that the damage was due to the action of the candidate himself.

    This appears to be a very reasonable Amendment, and I feel sure that the Home Secretary will realise that if he does not agree in principle with it, it may put the can- didate in very grave difficulties indeed. I think that, without going into details, the Home Secretary will see the point of the Amendment, and I trust that he will agree to it.

    I am advised that the Amendment is unnecessary. I understand that it is doubtful in law whether damage that is done at a meeting is an expense of the election. It is quite clear that if one could go back to the era of Eatanswill one might have one's opponents turning up at one's meeting and smashing up the furniture in the hope that they might build up a sufficient bill to exceed the whole of the permitted election expenses. I will not be dogmatic on the point of law, but I have given the Committee such advice as I have had, that it would appear not to be necessary for damage of this kind to be included in the election expenses. I will, however, examine the point of law with some care before the Report Stage, and if there should appear to be any doubt on the matter I will insert words to remove the doubt.