Clause 17. — (Discharge of functions of returning officer.)

Orders of the Day — Representation of the People Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1948.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch 12:00 am, 20th April 1948

I beg to move, in page 18, line 16, at the beginning, to insert: subject as in Subsection (3) of this Section provided.

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

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

Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch

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.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

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.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

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

Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch

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.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

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.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

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—

  1. (a) is returning officer for more than one constituency; or
  2. (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.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

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.

Photo of Commander Thomas Galbraith Commander Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Pollok

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.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

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."

Mr. McKie:

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.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

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.

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