I beg to move, in page 146, line 19, column 3, to leave out "last."
I would like to mention also the following Amendment—in line 20, column 3, to leave out "a day." Both these Amendments concern the period of delivery of nomination papers.
Perhaps it would be convenient if the hon. Member dealt at the same time with the Amendment in line 24, column 2, to leave out from "on," to "the," in line 28.
At present the delivery of nomination papers is governed by the Ballot Act, 1872, and the Representation of the People Act, 1918. The time now allowed is two hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any day not later than the eighth day after the proclamation summoning the new Parliament, with an additional hour for withdrawals. I am of opinion that the present arrangement is sufficiently accommodating to meet the convenience of all political parties, and I should like to know the reasons for the proposed revolutionary change. There has been no agitation from people who take part in Parliamentary Elections as candidates that they have been denied the right of nomination as a result of existing arrangements. If there were any such obstructive arrangements, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say so.
If, as the Bill suggests, the period of nomination is to cover eight days, the returning officer will be twiddling his thumbs for a long time waiting for something to turn up, because it is well known at election times very often some weeks beforehand, who is going to contest the election. Consequently, the returning officer, or the representative of the local authority deputed to serve in his stead, would be wasting his time. We do not want to see these duties being performed by officers of the local authority. It is a serious responsibility and should be conducted by an elected person, such as the mayor or lord mayor, as the case may be; he, rather than an officer of the local authority, should scrutinise the validity of the papers.
I am not aware of the reasons for the proposed changes, from which it would appear that the returning officer would suffer great inconvenience. As a rule a returning officer has his engagements fixed well into his year of office. It may well be that he would be denied the opportunity or right of presiding at meetings of the local authority or at other functions if he were committed to attend election.
For these reasons, I feel there is no need for such an extended period as eight days to be prescribed for this purpose. If in the past it has been possible for this matter to be dealt with in two hours on one particular day, with one hour allowed for, withdrawals, a period of, let us say, five hours on one day—or, at the most, five hours on two days—would be quite enough time in which the candidates could deliver their nominations, and it would give time also for withdrawal. I have consulted the returning officers of many local authorities, and this Amendment has the blessing and support of the Association of Municipal Corporations.
The Speaker's Conference, in Item 13 of their Report of July, 1944, recommended that:
it should be made lawful for nomination papers to be lodged with the Returning Officer at any time between the issue of the writ and nomination day.
To give effect to this, the Carr Committee, in paragraph 7 of their final Report, recommended:
a provision allowing nomination papers to be delivered between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any week day other than Saturday and between 10 a.m. and 12 noon on Saturday, on any day between that on which the notice of election is published and the day of nomination.
Part I of the Third Schedule gives effect to these recommendations. At present, and in every Parliamentary Election in which I have taken part, the nomination papers are filled up; the agent sends or takes them to the office of the returning officer and submits them to him; the clerks in the office check the names against the register and, if anything is
wrong, there is ample time for the matter to be put right. That is the practice, no matter what the law may be. The agent, or the person he has sent with the paper, nowadays takes it back to the central committee room and keeps it there; on the day fixed for nominations under the existing law, the candidate comes in with his agent, his proposer and his seconder; the farce is then gone through of again examining the paper and, to the great surprise of everyone, it is found that the first check was quite accurate and that the nomination paper is valid,
I suggest that what is the actual practice-is the common sense way of conducting, the election. I am asked to believe that the mayor or the lord mayor, of his own' knowledge and volition, decides whether it is a good or a bad nomination paper. May I be preserved from any mayor or lord mayor—and I hope my constituency will soon have a lord mayor—who undertakes unaided to adjudicate upon a nomination paper. Everyone knows that, in practice, in boroughs where the mayor, or the chairman of the urban district council in some cases, is the returning officer in these matters, he acts on the advice of the returning officer. I suggest that there again the practice is the thing that should guide us. It seems to me to be in every way desirable that the arrangement recommended by the Speaker's Conference, as arranged by the Carr Committee and embodied in the Bill, should be adopted in future.
I am certain that if there is a desire for one particular paper to be handed in, with the mayor present in his robes, and the local Press photographer also present in the room, quite illegally, but obviously being there in order to afford both the mayor and the candidate suitable publicity, no one will have any objection, and' I have no doubt that each of the candidates will arrange that it shall take place at a suitable time. I suggest that this is, one of the cases in which the actual practice at elections, which is convenient to all concerned, might advantageously be embodied in the law. That is why we have put the Third Schedule in the form of which it appears in the Bill.
I beg to move, in page 146, column 2, to leave out lines 50 to 58.
This Amendment has the effect of cutting out the proviso at the bottom of page 146. As the law is today, there is every reason to have this proviso, which says that
any objection to the sufficiency or nature of the particulars of the candidate shall be made at or immediately after the time of the delivery of the nomination paper.
Under the law, as the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft) said, there are only two hours in which these nomination papers can be officially handed in and objections made to them. Under the new arrangement, of course, there will be eight days. It seems rather unreasonable that an objection must be handed in immediately after the handing in of the nomination paper, which may, of course, be on the first of the eight days, leaving semen more to go in which it seems reasonable that an objection might be made.
For instance, let us imagine that someone wishes to make an objection. He will not know exactly when the nomination paper is to be handed in. He does know it at present, because the time is limited to two hours. In all the circumstances, it seems reasonable that this proviso should be deleted so that objections can be handed in up to the very last moment it is possible to hand in nomination papers. I hope I have made the point clear.
This proviso is re-enacted from Rule 6 of the Ballot Act. I agree with the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) that the arguments which I have just used, substantiating the earlier part of the Third Schedule, to some extent invalidate this provision. I propose, therefore, on the Report stage to put down some words which will indicate a time before the closing of nominations during which objections can he heard. What we have endeavoured to secure by the previous part of this Schedule is that a candidate shall not he ruled out by some quite technical objection taken, let us say, 10 minutes before the time for closing nominations.
I agree that there must be opportunity afforded to persons who are entitled to do so to make objections, and not be ruled out on the ground that the paper was delivered the previous day and they were not there when it was handed in and that the paper had already been adjudicated upon. I think it will be possible to find words to secure the right to make objections and ensure that the person who wants to make the objection and the person who, on behalf of the candidate, might desire to answer the objection shall be able to meet in the presence of the returning officer so that the matter can be properly adjudicated upon. I hope, that with that assurance, the hon. Gentleman will not feel it necessary to press the Amendment.
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said I shall not press the Amendment. I rather thought I heard him say that he would have to lay down a limit of time at the moment before the close of nominations. I hardly think that will do. If a would-be objector comes along a minute before closing time, he must still have a chance to object. I may have misheard the right hon. Gentleman, but subject to that reservation—
Before the hon. Gentleman withdraws the Amendment, may I say that, of course, if a man is so foolish as to stroll up a minute before closing time, he must then run the risk of having his nomination paper ruled out on a technical ground. There have been times in quite recent history when, during the two hours, owing to the breakdown of a motor car bringing nomination papers, candidates have sometimes run it very close, and possibly there are cases where candidates have been just too late to get their nomination papers in. That is the kind of thing we desire to avoid, and which we have avoided by giving the prolonged time for the deposit of nomination papers. I think the candidate who has taken the precaution of handing in his nomination paper well in advance should be relieved from the possibility of having a technical objection taken at the last minute; but where a man likes to run the risk of trying to spring a surprise on the constituency by making a dramatic appearance at the last moment, he must run that risk.
Before the Amendment is withdrawn, I would like to ask the Home Secretary to consider again a matter which was raised a moment or so ago, whether he is not allowing too long a period. I suggest that this proviso illustrates the kind of practical difficulty which may arise. If an election agent and those concerned have to be on the alert for the whole of eight days, which may well be the case, is not the right hon. Gentleman really over-complicating the matter? There may be a good case for lengthening the time, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he works out the wording of a new proviso, to consider also whether he has not made the period too long, because I can see complications arising.
I feel that the best thing would be to fix a period on the last morning during which, objections would be considered, and for papers handed in up to that time to be considered during that period only. Any paper handed in after that period had expired and before the time for the closing of the poll should, in my opinion, run the risk of being thrown out, because it would be too late to have the paper rectified.
I beg to move, in page i47, line 35, after "residence" to insert "nationality at birth."
The purpose of this Amendment is to show more clearly the nature of a candidate's British nationality. Under the present law, of course, a candidate has to be a British subject. This Amendment is designed to make it necessary for the candidate to declare whether he is British by birth or British by naturalisation—born in maybe Roumania, Poland or the United States. I have moved this Amendment because today many people strongly feel the need for preserving the British character of the British Parliament. We should all recognise that there is something in loyalty to the land of one's birth. We should also recognise that Communism has become an international conspiracy, and that the day may come when the British Parliament has to face the alien forces of Communism.
I submit to the Committee that in a crisis a man's judgment may be affected by his early upbringing. If his roots are in Bratislava, Warsaw or Belgrade, a man's actions in a crisis in Parliament may not be in the best interests of Britain. For very good reasons we are admitting large numbers of foreigners—and admitting them freely. We have had, I think, 95,000 new foreign workers brought in during the past year, and they will soon be qualifying for naturalisation.
I want to see that the electors do not unknowingly elect to the British Parliament candidates whose roots are far from Britain. That is all this Amendment seeks to do. There is nothing vicious in it. It is simply informative so far as the electors are concerned. It does not exclude anyone from becoming a candidate for Parliament, but it does ensure that the electors know a little about the man or woman for whom they are asked to vote. I need not say any more: I think I have made my point of view clear.
I must take exception to the very foolish remarks of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), that Communism is an international conspiracy, and that apparently it has something to do with this Schedule. As far as this country is concerned, Communism is a theory of society based on the proposition that the land and the means of wealth, distribution and production should belong to the people. That is all it is. Communism had its roots here, in England, when the peasants rose against the foreigners who had come and taken possession of this country. It will be found that in the early days of Parliament most of those represented by the other side of the Committee were foreigners—people not British by birth, but by residence.
There is no need for such an Amendment to be made in this Schedule. If a man or woman is good enough to be given British citizenship, then that man or woman is good enough to be elected to Parliament, irrespective of political views. I do not know what the political views of people naturalised in this country may be; they may be true blue Tory, they may be evanescent Liberals, or they may be mild moderate Labour—or they may reach a logical conclusion and accept the views of our forebears. Nobody ought to be so foolish as to propose that a person granted British nationality by naturalisation should be denied the ordinary rights of citizenship, or have to declare in a statement where he was born. What is important is not where he was born, but that he is a naturalised citizen, and is accepted as a naturalised citizen. That should be enough. The only purpose of making people declare where they were born would be the hope of creating prejudice against them. That is the only reason there can be, because it does not matter to the particular interest for which the candidate is standing.
In the last Parliament there was an hon. Member whose family were originally Germans, then they had become Americans, and then they had become English. The hon. Member was not born in England, yet nobody would have suggested that she should have to put on her nomination paper where she was born. There is no sense in that at all. The only reason for that sort of thing would be to try to create prejudice against the candidate, prejudice for which there was no justification. If a candidate is naturalised his character is there, his work is there, other candidates will have knowledge of him, and the electors will be able to understand and discuss his views; whether he was born in Britain, Ireland, Belgium or Poland is quite irrelevant to the question at issue, and no consideration should be given to it.
I hope the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, save on the point of conspiracy, in connection with which I suggest that it might be a good thing if he were to read the spy trial report of the Royal Commission in Canada, from which he may be able to decide whether or not Communism is an international conspiracy. Under our electoral laws it is possible for a complete stranger to go to any constituency and offer himself as a candidate for Parliament. It seems desirable that the electors should be enabled to know as much as possible about that candidate. Under the law of the land it is comparatively easy to change a name, so the name is no guide. Curiously enough, the nationality at birth has to be declared when applying for the majority, if not all, of Government appointments. Similarly, the nationality at birth has to be declared when applying for a passport.
As my hon. Friend points out, it has to be shown on the passport permanently when one is travelling about the world. Today, we are faced with a completely new situation. Many thousands of men and women are coming into this country from abroad, and, unlike prisoners of war, they will not go away again, but they are coming here to stay for good. Just as the Huguenots and the Flemish peoples were absorbed into the life of this country, so will they, in due time, be absorbed. It may well be that some may wish to stand for Parliament. If they do, the public should know where they come from, and their original nationality. Therefore I support the Amendment.
I want to support the point of view of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), because I rather resent the idea of Communism, which is merely an old English word, and a New Testament idea, being mixed up with the Communist Party or the Communist International. The theory of Communism, of which there is so much ignorance in this House, is not new; it is not a conspiracy, and it certainly is not the monopoly of any political party, but I rather suspect that the motive underlying this Amendment represents the point of view and the mental outlook of the Fascists. This is the sort of thing of which Hitler approved. Hitler demanded race purity; in Germany the whole idea was to create prejudice against the Jews. It is part and parcel of the mentality of the person who looks upon a foreigner as an inferior being.
The hon. Member did not take that view when we welcomed to our shores a potential father of a future King of England. That attitude was not adopted towards the Duke of Edinburgh because he was born a Greek. Nobody raised the question of his nationality, and I fail to see why there should be this national prejudice. [HON. MEMBERS: No."] I do not wish to misjudge the hon. Member, but the idea is, I believe, that there must be something anti-British about anybody who happens to have had the misfortune to have been born in another country. If that attitude is to be taken up we may get to the position when those who are all in favour of race purity will be saying that the man's father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather ought to have been British, with all this stupid business of creating prejudice against a person because he happens to have been born in a particular territory. I hope that this reactionary Amendment will be rejected, not because I have any sympathy with the ideological attitude of the Communist Party, but because I do not believe that we should try to excite racial passions or racial prejudices in an election.
In my view a person is either a British subject or he is not. If a person is not a British subject he is not entitled to be nominated as a candidate for Parliament. If he is a British subject that, in my view, suffices, and I, as one who is responsible for having to admit into British nationality persons who are other than British subjects by birth, would deprecate an action which differentiated, after naturalisation, between one British subject and another. It is up to the electors of a constituency, by heckling, by attending at meetings, and by such other ways as may be open to them, to ascertain whether the candidate before them is a person to whom they should give their suffrages. If he is a British subject it is my view that there is no ground for him to have to state on his nomination paper how he came to be a British subject. There are some people who, if they had to put in their nationality at birth, would put Welsh; there are even some who would put Scottish. I have never described myself as English, although, so far as I can trace my ancestry back it is entirely English on both sides —which, of course, is a great disqualification for anything in England.
I suggest that this Amendment is not really worthy of a Parliament which, from time to time, has been saved by persons who were not of British nationality at birth. I wonder what the hon. Member for the Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) would say if it were suggested that William III ought not to be held in veneration because he was not a British subject at birth, and that the great generals who served under him at the Battle of the Boyne ought not to be regarded as protectors and protagonists of British liberty because they also were born in Holland. I advise the Committee to reject this Amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that we regard it as a dishonourable think to have been born outside England. That is not the point at all. We think, and I feel that my hon. Friend made it clear, that that is a matter of information which should, with advantage to the electorate, be made known to them at the time of nomination. That, it seems to me, is the point of this Amendment. It is then for the electorate to decide whether they think such a person should come to the House of Commons or not. There really is not any question of necessarily holding a man born outside this country in less honour or less esteem than a man born in the country. All the arguments the right hon. Gentleman put to us were very good arguments—as one of my hon. Friends said in a low aside—for getting Dr. Schacht here as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the moment but they did not seem to have anything to do with—
I quite appreciate that. The right hon. Gentleman has reminded us of the advantages to this country of bringing William of Orange here, and I was taking him up on that. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tackle one point of great substance which was put to him: Why should we insist upon knowing this information about a man when he applies for a passport, or when he applies for certain situations under Government, and not insist upon knowing when he is applying to become a Member of the House of Commons? The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have answered that point at all. If he has a satisfactory answer on that point perhaps we might begin to understand his case a little better than I do at present.
I do not think the Home Secretary has quite grasped what lies behind the Amendment. The hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) has touched on one point. It is also the fact that anybody who is applying for His Majesty's commission in any of the Armed Forces has to disclose his nationality at birth. That has been the practice for some time. I find it very difficult to see why, when a person who is applying for a position in the Services has to disclose that information, it is regarded as raising prejudice if we ask that a would-be Member of Parliament should disclose the same information to his constituents. There is another point. The Home Secretary said that electors find these things out by heckling a candidate at election time. I should have thought it would be very much better to have the information straight out on the nomination paper, instead of encouraging inquiries about that sort of thing at meetings. Everything ought to be done to remove personalities from politics when an election campaign is being fought, and that is what this Amendment would do. If anybody who was not a British subject at birth had to declare it on his nomination paper everybody would know it, and there the matter would rest.
I do not believe that this disclosure of information would prejudice a candidate. It would be much more prejudicial if it were dragged out of him by personal haggling during the course of the campaign. I cannot understand what is the objection to a person who is seeking to become a Member of this House being asked to disclose his nationality at birth. It passes my comprehension. I have observed in this Debate that the proposal seems to fill the Communist Party with horror. The most violent objection to this Amendment was raised by the Communist Party.
The hon. Gentleman must not have been paying attention to the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). His argument was that this Amendment was necessary in the Bill to keep a candidate who was a Communist, but who was not born in this country, from getting into Parliament.
No adequate reason has been given why this proposal should not be accepted. We must have regard to what is happening today. The Government are in the forefront in warning us of the dangers occurring in Eastern Europe, and which is creeping ever closer to this country. Then they resist an Amendment which asks for the disclosure of the nationality of a Parliamentary candidate.
I was unimpressed by the answer of the Home Secretary. Apparently there are two reasons for opposing the Amendment. The first is that the person who was born abroad and wishes to stand for Parliament in this country should be ashamed of that fact. But he is ashamed of the fact he is not the right sort of person to put himself forward at an election. The second reason is one which we continually find quite common among hon. Members opposite—a fundamental distrust of the common sense of the British electorate. If we trust the electorate—and they are capable of coming to a private judgment on these matters—why not tell them the facts? The very fact that hon. Members opposite say that the country of origin of a candidate should be concealed seems to me to suggest that the electorate would draw a false idea from this disclosure. That is wholly in line with the other analogies drawn about this Amendment.
I recall a by-election in which the Conservative candidate was not born in the country, and his opponents got out placards which announced that fact. That would be more unfair to a candidate, whatever party he belonged to, than the simple specific statement on the nomination paper of the country of his birth.
I beg to move, in page 147, line 37, to leave out "shall not, "and to insert "may."
I would draw the attention of the Committee to the wording of the paragraph of the Schedule:
The description shall not refer to the candidate's political activities, and need not refer to his rank, profession or calling so long
as, with the other particulars of the candidate, it is sufficient to identify him.
It will be noted that it says that
The description shall not refer to the candidate's political activities, and need not refer to his rank.
On the nomination paper his rank may be stated, so that we may get a person described as a major in the Army, a solicitor, a clergyman, and so on. Suppose that a candidate's calling is political activity. It says in the paragraph that the description shall not refer to a candidate's political activity. But the calling of the candidate might be a Communist Party organiser, or a Communist Party propagandist. To make the paragraph intelligent and sensible we should adopt what is suggested in the Amendment, which would make it clear that the political activities and the profession of a candidate may be mentioned.
This is a relatively small point, but one in which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), as in a great many other cases, is in a very small minority. A suggestion was made some time ago that political labels should be attached to the candidates, and the great majority of the representatives of the country's political parties were in agreement that this was not necessary nor advisable. It has always been the theory and practice in this country to vote for candidates and not for party lists. I do not know of any person—or groups of persons—beyond the hon. Member for West Fife who would suggest it would be suitable to include the political activity of the candidate in a nomination paper. The Carr Committee, which reported on this matter, took the same view as I am expressing, and said that in any event the nomination should describe the candidate and not the cause. Identification is the main purpose of a nomination paper, but this Amendment is intended to describe the suitability or otherwise of a candidate for election. That is to be determined by other means during election. As political labels are sometimes matters of dispute it would add to the confusion rather than to the clarity of the position, and I recommend the Committee to reject the Amendment.
I do not want to be taken as attempting to give an authoritative interpretation of this paragraph, but it would be probably legitimate to put "political organiser" or just "organiser" and not to specify any further.
I beg to move, in page 47, line 39, after "is," to insert:
in the opinion of the returning officer sufficient and not more than.
If you, Sir Basil, and the Committee approve, I would also like to deal with the next Amendment, in line 41, after "long," insert:
or if in the opinion of the returning officer it is not sufficient or is more than sufficient to identify the candidate.
It is important that a returning officer should have a certain discretion in dealing with the description a candidate inserts in the nomination, and the returning officer ought to be entitled to alter or substitute a description which does more than identify the candidate. These Amendments are put down at the suggestion of the Association of Municipal Corporations because it is felt that they will help returning officers to deal with the practical difficulties which have been met in the past.
I am not out of sympathy with the purposes of these Amendments but I suggest that they are not really necessary. As the matter now stands, everything the hon. Member wishes to have is already provided. In the first place, the returning officer is entitled to require that the nomination paper should have the particulars which are required by law, and paragraph 2 (3) of Part II indicates the particulars required. Sub-paragraph (4) states:
If the description is unduly long, the returning officer after consultation (if possible) with the candidate … may shorten it or substitute another.
Therefore, on the one hand, if the description is insufficient to identify the candidate, the returning officer naturally invalidates the nomination because it does not comply with the requirements laid down by law. On the other hand, if it is too long he also has a discretion to exercise and may substitute another description. I do not know that the Amendments would add very much to that but, in so far as they did, I am not quite certain that it is really desirable that the discretion of the returning officer should override the wishes of the candidate as to the precise wording to be put in. There is not very much between us and I suggest that because sufficient discretion is already given to the returning officer and because this further discretion is not really required by the returning officer, the matter might well be left as it is.
We have received representations along the lines of the Amendments from the Association of Municipal Corporations—I do not know whether something else may be coming—but it seems to us that the point in which the Association is interested is already covered by what I have said.
I beg to move, in page 147, line 46, at the end, to insert:
(2) Where a nomination paper bears the signatures of more than the required number of persons as proposing, seconding or assenting to the nomination of a candidate, the signature or signatures (up to the required number) appearing first on the paper in each category shall be taken into account to the exclusion of any others in that category.
The object of this Amendment is to make it clear that where a minimum number of signatures is required on a candidate's nomination, it shall also be the maximum. In a case where it is eight, no more than the first eight shall be considered, subsequent signatures being disregarded. This is a matter on which there will be general agreement, and I believe that the Association of Municipal Corporations is of that view.
I beg to move, in page 148, line 49, to leave out from first "is," to "or," and to insert:
one of the candidates nominated by a nomination paper.
I move this Amendment in order to get an explanation of what appears to be a considerable anomaly when paragraph 8 is read with paragraph 9. Paragraph 8 says:
No person shall be entitled to attend the proceedings during the time for delivery of nomination papers or making objections thereto unless he is a person standing nominated as a candidate or …
Paragraph 9 reads:
Where a nomination paper and the candidate's consent thereto is delivered and a deposit is made in accordance with this Act, the candidate shall be deemed to stand nominated …
Reading those together it appears that a candidate cannot take his own nomination paper to the returning officer. I am sure that is not intended and I may be reading the language wrongly, but I have studied it very carefully and it appears that when we take the definition of a person standing nominated as a candidate under paragraph 9, it amounts to the fact that he cannot take his own nomination paper to the returning officer and cannot make an objection to a nomination handed in before his own. I hope I have made the point I am querying clear to the Under-Secretary. The object of this Amendment is to get an explanation of this apparent contradiction.
I think I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Certainly the intention is not the one he indicated. Paragraph 2 (I) on page 147 reads:
Each candidate shall be nominated by a separate nomination paper delivered by the candidate himself …
Therefore, the suggestion that he cannot himself be present at the proceedings for the purpose of delivering his own nomination paper does not hold water. From the point of view of being present in attendance when he is not himself delivering his own paper, it is reasonable that he should not merely have delivered a nomination paper but that he should have fulfilled the other conditions as to consent and deposit and be the candidate who, in accordance with paragraph 9 (I) stands nominated. It does not seem to me unreasonable that that should be so. This is a matter of drafting, and we will see to it that paragraphs 8 (I) and 9 (I) are looked at again to make sure that there shall be no mistake about it. I do not think there is much substance in this point, and that as a matter of drafting it is all right, but I will look at it, and on that assurance perhaps the hon. Member will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.
I am making no complaints of the conditions under which a person must be nominated before he can make an objection. All I am arguing is the point that, these two paragraphs, read to me as though they are actually preventing the person delivering his own nomination paper, and I think they will read the same to the hon. Member. However, in view of the assurance that he has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 149, line 39, to leave out sub-paragraph (2).
The Committee will see that where the returning officer is satisfied that a candidate is out of the United Kingdom, a telegram purporting to have been sent by him shall have the same effect as a notice signed by him, and an attestation will not be required. This seems to us to open rather a wide loophole for abuse. If a candidate is out of the country at the time when it is necessary for him to be nominated, under this sub-paragraph all that is necessary to withdraw his candidature is for a telegram to arrive withdrawing it, and no attestation or identification is necessary, as is the case if a candidate withdraws when he is in the country. It would be possible for any- body to send such a telegram and that would finish the matter. It ought to have been possible to arrange for the candidate to do it through a consul, or in some other way, in order that there should be no risk of a telegram being sent feloniously withdrawing a man's candidature without his knowledge. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider deleting this subparagraph, and that between now and Report he will find some form of words which, whilst not making it too difficult for a person abroad to withdraw his candidature, will at least ensure that it is done genuinely.
The hon. Gentleman is on to a point of some substance. The reason for the present provision in the Bill is that there was a kind of precedent for it in that, under the Local Government Act of 1933, a candidate who is out of the United Kingdom may consent to his nomination by this method of a telegram which does not require any attestation. However, that is only partially a precedent. I think it is desirable that there should be some means available to a candidate outside the country to withdraw if he so wishes. The hon. Gentleman suggested that it might be done through a Consul, but there are certain other possibilities. It might, for instance, be possible to say that he could do it through his proposer. That would put him somewhat in the hands of his proposer, and it would be open to some abuse, but to rather less than in the case of an entirely unattested telegram. I appreciate the danger of a telegram arriving and being taken at its face value, and that this is a matter at which we ought to look again. I have not gone into it sufficiently myself to offer any real indication of what the solution might be, and it will require a good deal of consideration, but we will see if something can be put down.
I beg to move, in page 150, line 7, to leave out from "select," to the end of the paragraph.
This is a minor Amendment but it has some substance in it. It seeks to remedy the obligation which requires that the details of three nomination papers in respect of each candidate must be published. It is in the nature of an insurance, but it is usual for the returning officer to select one only which has been published. I suggest that it would be useful to keep to the earlier practice in which only the name of the proposer and seconder of one paper has been published. There might be a number of candidates at each election, and for the returning officer to have to publish particulars from three nomination papers in respect of quite a number of candidates, would seem to be using up rather more paper and to involve more printing than might be necessary.
This is one of several Amendments which show that at the time of an election there is inevitably some slight conflict of interest between those hard-worked persons who have to organise the election and the candidates who are standing in the election. The candidates may want an almost unreasonable amount of work done, on the one hand, to assist their case and, on the other hand, the hard-pressed organisers may wish to reduce work to a minimum. When considering this matter the Carr Committee reached as a compromise what now stands in the Bill, that is to say, that there should be up to three nomination papers if the candidate so requires. It is true that the principal reason for having more than one paper is to ensure that if there is a defect in one, the other will stand. There is also something in the propaganda point that candidates like to show that they have a considerable volume of support. As I say, the Carr Committee recommended that it might be reasonable to allow up to three, and I would suggest to the Committee that although this is not a thing on which one can be dogmatic, it is not an unreasonable imposition to put upon the persons organising an election while, on the other hand, it is something which many candidates would wish to have. I suggest, therefore, that this Amendment should not be pressed.
That would give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of making a statement on how he envisages future elections may be worked and whether this obligation should be placed on the returning officer. The principal purpose behind this Amendment is to draw attention to the extraordinary amount of additional work to be thrown on returning officers and to make quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman that there are grave fears that it will be almost impossible to comply with the requirements of this paragraph.
We know that immediately we decide to contest an election we have to start preparing poll cards and arrange for them to be sent to electors as soon as possible. We can start preparations earlier than the returning officer, because he must wait until the close of nominations before giving final instructions to the printers. There is always the possibility of a last minute candidate, and while at present, if there is a mistake, it is the responsibility of the candidate, the position will be entirely reversed by the responsibility being put on to the returning officer to see that poll cards are sent out. In large cities a returning officer will have to send out anything from a quarter of a million to three-quarters of a million poll cards, and as the poll may commence at 7 o'clock in the morning on the ninth day after the close of nominations, the cards would have to be posted on the seventh day to give the Post Office a chance of delivering them before polling started. One of the seven days may be a Saturday, and there is no post on Sundays.
Considerable difficulty will be experienced in the comparatively short time available in recruiting the large staff required for this work, and we are in a further difficulty because at present the printing trade is working a five-day week. At certain times of the year there are power cuts, which make it very difficult to get the work done in time, and there is in this trade a disinclination to work overtime, which also puts additional burdens on the returning officer.
The Home Secretary may not feel able to accept this suggestion, but I hope he will be able to give some assurance that any work done in advance of nomination day, in order to ease the rush which will take place, will be paid for by the Treasury. I should be glad to hear that he has had consultations with the Minister of Labour to see in what way assistance may be given to returning officers in this matter.
As the Schedule stands, there appears to be no provision to ensure that the poll cards are sent out in sufficient time. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) referred to the manifest and notorious fact that there are great printing difficulties today and, in view of the prescribed time-table, there will be a comparatively small margin of time in certain districts. Consideration might be given to the suggestion that a provision should be inserted for a date before which it must be the duty of the returning officer to send out the poll cards. That would provide a stimulus. If one has to do a job in a fixed time, it often results in overcoming difficulties which otherwise would appear insuperable. It seems desirable that there should be some time-limit.
As I read the second paragraph, a poll card has to be sent to the qualifying address regardless of whether ordinary correspondence is going there. It may be that the Post Office have a standing order for the redirection of correspondence. Does the paragraph mean that, notwithstanding such an instruction, this provision will not be complied with unless the poll card is sent to the qualifying address? If so, there is a risk of the poll card going astray. If a person is relying on all his correspondence being forwarded, he naturally will not look for mail at his other address, and there is the possibility that if the words mean what they seem to mean the poll card may go astray. Paragraph (3) says:
Provided that if the elector's name, qualifying address and electoral number are shown on the envelope in which the poll card is sent, and are referred to in the poll card as being there shown, they need not be repeated in the poll card.
It is common experience that most people, when they receive a communica-
tion through the post, tear up the envelope before reading the contents. In this case they will probably read the contents after having destroyed the envelope containing the electoral number—
It is the experience of many people. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) may disagree. He is a very punctilious person, but there may be other persons without his high standard of accuracy in dealing with correspondence. It is not an unknown practice for people to open an envelope, throw it away, and then read the contents.
My opinion on the matter is probably no better and no worse than that of the hon. Member. From my point of view it is not necessary to say that that is a general practice if it is a practice which is at all common. I suggest that it is a rather frequent practice, that there are hon. Members who do precisely that. It is a reasonable practice in dealing with correspondence, particularly on the part of people who have to deal with a large volume of correspondence. If I am correct in what I have said about that practice, the value of having an electoral number will be lost. It may be that it is intended that this shall be done by postcard. If so, the difficulty is eliminated, but it seems to be a possible cause of confusion on a matter on which it is highly desirable that every sort of confusion should be minimised. The possibility of error, when circulating say, 30 million of these documents to every sort and type of person in the country, is very real. That is why I thought that point was worthy of consideration by the Home Secretary.
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend to take into consideration the Amendment in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), in line 31, to leave out subhead (d), which requires
particulars of the candidates in the form and order in which they appear in the ballot paper.
to be set out on the poll card. We in the very large cities are seriously concerned about this. We are not trying to run away from our responsibility. As a matter of fact, I think that political parties will be very pleased to get rid of this anxious job of supplying poll cards for the electorate, but we ask my right hon. Friend to give consideration to the returning officers, whose responsibility it will be to supply the particulars on the poll card.
The chief difficulty which we envisage will be a shortage of time, as has been pointed out by previous speakers. Possibly there will be not more than two or three days available to the returning officer, who will have the job of furnishing the particulars that are required on the poll card. The name of the constituency can be printed. The name of the elector, the qualifying address, and the electoral number will have to be written in. The date and hours of the poll and the situation of the elector's polling station can either be printed or rubber stamped, but this provision of Subhead (d)
the particulars of the candidates in the form and order in which they will appear in the ballot paper
will present a real difficulty, because it must be remembered that we shall not know the particulars of the candidates who are nominated until after the time for nominations has expired.
I wish to place before the Committee what the position would be in Manchester. The returning officer would be called upon to print, and also to have written out, more than 500,000 poll cards. We have already carried out a test there, and we found that even our best clerks could not write more than 100 poll cards an hour. It would take 60 clerks two days to complete those particulars, and the returning officers are afraid that they would be unable properly to carry out that task. Therefore, we ask for the deletion of the particulars required under Subhead (d). Every candidate contesting either a by-election or a General Election must be well known, for his name will be blazoned forth on the walls and hoardings all over the constituency, and the newspapers, handbills and his election address will probably convey to the electors that he is taking part in the election.
We suggest that these particulars might safely be omitted from the returning officer's poll card. If my hon. Friend is not prepared to give favourable consideration to that proposal we suggest that he might extend from nine to fourteen days the time during which the returning officer would have the opportunity to get a proper staff to do this work. We in Manchester have some recollection of the inefficiency of the casual staff there last year, when the question of our Sunday cinemas poll was brought up on the Floor of the House, due to the fact that the casual staff recruited by the returning officer were completely incapable of facing up to the duties with which they were charged. We ask that if this duty is to be discharged efficiently, particularly as the returning officer will be responsible in law for any mistakes made, my right hon. Friend should omit this provision under Subhead (d) or else allow a period of four days in excess of the nine days that is provided in the Bill.
We are having a general discussion on all the Amendments. There will be no subsequent discussion on the individual Amendments which are being considered with the one before the Committee.
I thought it would be well if I gave a preliminary indication of what are our views on this subject at this moment. After hon. Members who have not yet spoken have had an opportunity to do so perhaps they would not mind if I intervened again, if necessary. We are in Committee so that there will be no difficulty in that respect. We have first to ask ourselves what the elector wants to have on his poll card—what is its advantage to him? I think that in these days he wants to know three things—the place where he is to vote, the hours between which he can vote, and what is his number on the register. In my experience that is what most electors want to know and wish to obtain from their poll cards. All these three things will be within the knowledge of the returning officer. As a rule, he will know where the polling place is before the candidates do; he will know the hours of the poll, and he will also know the elector's number on the electoral roll.
Does the elector, in these days, want to know on the poll card the names of the candidates? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] My own view is that in the majority of cases he does not. The poll card will be different from that issued by the candidates, which generally says, "If you wish to vote for so-and-so—" or, "If you wish to vote for a particular party, please mark your paper thus," and on the poll card there is a reproduction of the ballot paper with a cross opposite the name of the candidate of the party which issues the card. There are generally some remarks at the bottom, such as, "Do not make any other mark on your ballot paper. If you spoil your ballot paper please ask for another," and, generally, there is a request to the elector to vote early, to which I understand that in the old days in Ireland there used to be added "—and often."
I suggest that it would be better if I made a connected statement. If, at the end of that statement, there are any further points which hon. Members wish to put they can speak, and I will endeavour to reply to them. If we now have a series of interruptions some points may quite easily be forgotten. I am not over impressed by what my hon. Friend said about the difficulties of the returning officer in getting out the poll cards. All of us who have been candidates know that, as a rule, that between the time when we discover where the polling places are, and who the candidates are, we have, by voluntary labour, managed to get the poll cards out and delivered to the constituents. It may be that professional writers of poll cards may work rather less quickly than voluntary writers of poll cards.
I do not think that there are many urban constituencies where the address is written. My own experience of urban constituencies is that there is a rubber stamp by which the name of the road is written in, and the electoral number is printed on by one of those devices by which cards can be numbered in rotation. All that has to be added is possibly the name of the elector, and the number of the house in the road in which he happens to reside, and in respect of which he appears on the electoral roll. I cannot think that the completion of that is beyond the resources of the returning officer, if he is not hampered by having to wait for the names of the candidates.
I was asked the other day about a prohibition in the Bill against issuing of a duplicate poll card with intent to deceive. It was said, "If I put on the back of my election address, as I have done in the past, 'If you wish to vote for me, place a mark on the ballot paper, thus,'" and then he prints his name in thick type, and his opponent's name in thin type, with a cross against his own name, would that be a duplicate poll card with intent to deceive? At the time I did not think there was any intention to deceive in it, because, quite obviously, the thickness of the type of his own name, and the thinness of the type of the other candidate's name, indicated his own idea of the relative importance of the two candidates. I do not think that that would amount to the issue of a duplicate poll card, and I suggest that the candidates themselves can be well left to issue that kind of thing. If we leave the names of the candidates off the poll cards it would not then be a duplicate of the poll cards.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made an interesting suggestion, and one which I think is well worth considering. He said that the poll card might be issued in the form of a post-card, that is to say, the front of the poll card would bear the name and address of the elector, and on the back would appear the information about the electoral number, put on by the mechanical process which I have described, the date and time of the poll and the polling station. I think that is the information which the elector wants, and which he is entitled to have as official information.
The other night I mentioned a difficulty in which candidates sometimes find themselves when the polling station happens to have one entrance in a main road and another entrance in a flank road, and sometimes at one election it is alluded to as being in the main road and at the next election it is alluded to as being in the flank road, so that candidates are sometimes in doubt, up to the last minute, as to which description will be used for the polling station. The returning officer knows which description he will give, and it will be up to him to see that the description given on the poll card is the description which will appear on the printed notices at the polling station, which he is bound to issue.
I do not propose to accept the first Amendment that appears on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Richard Acland). I do not think we want to compel a returning officer to issue poll cards when, in fact, no poll is to be taken. Under the scheme which I have outlined he could still get on with the job of preparing poll cards, in the event of there being a contest, and it would be a legitimate expense which he could charge against his election funds, if he had incurred that expenditure, and it was unnecessary.
As to the first Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), I think it will be desirable to prescribe in the regulations a period before the poll by which these documents should be posted. I hope that some of the difficulties that we encounter at present will not be so continuous that we need to legislate in a way that indicates that we regard some of the difficulties as being permanent, involving ourselves in an amending Act if we want to bring future requirements into line with what the circumstances will then be.
As to the second Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for North Leeds, the obligation of the returning officer is to put the poll card in the post. What happens to it after that is not his concern, and we have not given any indication in the Bill as to what the postmaster is to do, other than that he is to discharge his ordinary duty as a servant of the Crown in securing a prompt and efficient delivery of the material submitted to His Majesty's mails. If he knows that the elector has moved, and in the ordinary course of his duties he is, in fact, forwarding correspondence addressed to the new address of the elector, it would appear to be appropriate that he should continue to do that. I do not think that we need to put it into the Statute, although I would see that the Postmaster-General, in the course of the instructions which he gives to his servants during an election, would indicate to them that they should treat these pieces of postal matter in the same way that they treat other pieces of postal matter sent to the same address.
The first Amendment standing in my own name, in page 151, line 28, to leave out, "electoral number," and to insert, "number on the register," is merely a technical Amendment to get the right definition into the Bill. I have indicated that I am disposed to accept the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr.H. Thorneycroft) —
The hon. Member may not be inclined to accept it, but I am inclined to accept it. For the reasons which I have given, I suggest that it is reasonable, and that it will assist returning officers in carrying out this work with efficiency. If the names of the candidates go on, there will be nothing but the names of the candidates. On an official poll card there can be no indication of the way in which a vote should be recorded, which is the great advantage of the party poll card which can well be put on the back of the election address or on some other document issued by the candidate. Lines 33 to 36 will disappear if my suggestion is carried out. The poll card would probably be best sent out as a postcard, but in any event sufficient time would be allowed for the poll card to be properly prepared. I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, that when people get a postal communication the first thing they do is to tear up the envelope. I can assure him that every envelope that comes into my house is carefully opened and used again, in accordance with the desire of the Government.
No. After it is delivered to me it is used again. It would be desirable, if possible, not to use envelopes but to use postcards, so that on the one document, in the way I have suggested, the postman could get his information and the elector would get the information he requires when he goes to the polling station. I have given an indication of the course I would suggest, at this stage, that the Committee should adopt. I think it will meet the objections which have been raised on behalf of public officials who are under an obligation to carry out this work if the duty is placed upon them. It will enable them to discharge their duties with that degree of accuracy which we have a right to expect.
Did I gather that the right hon. Gentleman said that a candidate could issue a duplicate of the ballot paper with a cross by his own name and with some words at the bottom? It is generally understood in Scotland that it is illegal to issue a polling card with anything more on it than the candidate's own name and a cross. Other names cannot be put on the card.
The more I am brought in touch with the practice in Scotland, the more I realise what extraordinary things can be done. I speak in the presence of a considerable number of English Members. Every one of us has issued a poll card on which we have set out the names of the candidates with the intimation, in my case:
If you wish to vote Labour, please vote, thus.
Then followed the names of the candidates. On occasions, I did not give the names of other candidates. If they want advertising, let them pay for it themselves. Against the name of the candidate in whose support the card is issued, a cross is placed. There is an injunction not to put any other mark, and so on. I have never heard that contested in England as being other than a perfectly legal document. I very much doubt if there is any candidate who has contested an English constituency who has not issued a poll card in the way I have indicated.
I find myself in a difficulty, because Clause 35(2) states:
No person shall for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of any candidate at a parliamentary election issue any poll card or document so closely resembling an official poll card as to be calculated to deceive.
I am a mere layman, and I am glad to see that we have access to the legal lumin-
aries who generally advise us on these matters. It appears to me that Clause 35 would debar anybody from issuing anything resembling a poll card. My other point is that I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman is willing to accept the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft). I have great respect for returning officers and their staffs, but it is a little farfetched to say that with all the facilities a returning officer has in his municipal capacity he cannot get his work done in the time. As an experienced election agent, the right hon. Gentleman knows that every candidate who has an organisation or a semblance of an organisation tackles the question of addressing the poll cards as one of many jobs. The argument is unconvincing. If my first point is right—that the legality is rather doubtful—then before we leave this Schedule we must be certain of our position. I repeat that I am not at all convinced by the argument from the municipal corporations. It is a bad argument which does not bear analysis. We should be quite clear on the effect which Clause 35(2) has on the Amendment.
Paragraph 16(3) of this Schedule says:
The official poll card shall be in the pre scribed form. ….
If the Amendments which I have indicated were accepted, the result would be that the prescribed form would not include a table setting out the names of the candidates, so that a paper giving the names of the candidates could not be a duplicate of the poll card, because that information would be excluded from the poll card.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is willing to accept the Amendment to leave out lines 33 to 36, but I do not see how the acceptance of that Amendment hinges upon the leaving out of subhead (d). I consider that, in leaving out subhead (d), he is detracting from the value of the poll card as originally envisaged. While it may be assisting the returning officer, I think the whole purpose of these poll cards is to assist the electors. We want all the information of that kind which we can get, and one of the most important pieces of information is the names of the candidates. In so readily accepting this Amendment, my right hon. Friend has under-estimated the feelings of the Committee in the matter, and I ask him very sincerely to think once again about it. I must say that I was attracted by the idea of a postcard, which seems a sensible one, and, if the postcard does contain the full information, I think it would meet the desires of the Committee.
I apologise. I want to oppose the idea that the names of the candidates must not be on the polling card. In my experience as election agent, candidate and all sorts of things, I have seen large numbers of people coming to the polling stations with various documents in their hands to enable them to remember the name of the candidate for whom they were going to vote. I have seen others come to the polling station who asked who the candidates were. When the name of one candidate was suggested, the answer was "No, that is not the one," but, when another name was mentioned, the reply was "Yes, that is the man." This makes it fairly clear that, while the Home Secretary may be correct in saying that a large number of electors know the person for whom they are going to vote and do not need to be reminded of that candidate's name, there are quite a number of people who take something with them in order to keep that name in mind. In these cases I think it is desirable that the polling cards should give them all the information which they require.
It so happens that I disagree with my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis). I think the Home Secretary mentioned all the guidance necessary for the electors. I entirely disagree with the idea that the candidates' name should be put on the poll card, and I think it would be unwise to do that. In this Bill we have gone a long way in the education of the electorate to their responsibilities, in that the State, as a whole, will accept responsibility for giving guidance to the electorate regarding the polling station and the numbers on the cards.
If I could find an argument showing why it is necessary to put certain names on the card, I would accept it. Is it because people are illiterate? I have probably as much experience of electioneering as anybody in the House—and probably more than most—and I say that it is just the illiterate people who get the cards specially marked and take them along to their friends or the agents within the precincts of the polling station to get the necessary guidance. Everybody knows that at every election all kinds of agencies can be at work for particular candidates, and I say that, if we are anxious to make it clear to the people where they can vote—and it is very important, because of the changing of boundaries and polling stations—it is wise to keep those persons well informed as to where they can record their votes. To save time, it is important that electors should know their numbers.
There is no political or party significance in giving the names of the polling stations or the names and numbers of electors on the register, but it tends to give publicity to the persons who are associated with the campaign. In all elections there is the possibility of the free candidate, in which connection some of my friends have been in difficulties. To give free candidates publicity and responsibility during a campaign might be very disturbing. If the Home Secretary or anybody else can give me any guidance on the importance at polling time for the names of all the candidates to be on the card, I will accept it. I am prepared to be guided and advised if I can be shown sound reasons. So far, the important concessions relate to the number of an elector on the register and the place at which he votes. I shall be happy to withdraw any comment I have made if any useful information can be given, but I have not heard any so far.
I support my hon. Friends who wish to retain paragraph 16 (3), (d). There may be people with strong opinions who have no full party support, but who are able, nevertheless, to find the necessary money to put down to contest an election, who might have difficulty in putting the full election propaganda campaign into operation. If that were so, none of the electors would know who were the candidates unless they went to the municipal offices to look at the copy of the ballot paper. Many people would have no knowledge of the number of candidates, or any particulars regarding them, unless such information was sent through the particular political party.
On many occasions in the past a propaganda fight has taken place at an election. A party has perhaps not had the necessary finance to supply to every elector details of their particular candidate. The same position might well occur again. If, however, the names are recorded on an official card sent out by the authority, everybody will know the names of the candidates, which will appear on the ballot paper. It is important that we should remember the rights of minorities, of people who think they have a reason for standing at a Parliamentary Election but who may not have sufficient money to send out propaganda. We should not, of course, include on the card that is sent out the name of the political party for which a person is standing, I have been in elections when, for various reasons, we have not been able to deliver the whole of the literature available in support of the candidate. In such circumstances many people would not know the names of the candidates.
If we are to do the job properly, and if the authority is to be responsible for supplying to the electors, through the postal services, particulars of the candidates, then we ought to include on the poll card as much information as possible for the guidance of electors. The Home Secretary ought to reconsider this matter; otherwise there may arise some difficult situations in which nobody will know the name of a candidate representing a minority party which is unable to put into operation the whole of the propaganda which larger parties can set in motion during elections.
The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on the very fine job which he is doing in piloting this Bill through its various stages. The introduction of official poll cards is a great stride forward, but I would like my right hon. Friend to think again, because I can assure him that the omission of the names of candidates from the poll cards would take away 80 per cent, of the value of those cards. We should not spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I urge upon my right hon. Friend to do the job as a good workman should do it, and to ensure that the names of the candidates are on the official poll card.
I appeal to the Home Secretary to ensure that the names of candidates are put on the poll card. I can see no reason why all the particulars, such as the name of the elector, his number, the situation of the polling booth, and so on, should not be put on one side of the card, and the names of the candidates on the other side. After all, we are trying to make it easy for people to vote, and, therefore, the names of the candidates ought to appear on the card. I am very surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft) should have raised this matter at all, because the returning officer will have a full three weeks in which to do this work. He can write up all the particulars as to the polling booths, the elector's name and address, his electoral number and so on, and the names of the candidates can be printed on the other side of the poll card after the eighth day and during the period between nomination day and polling day. There would be no trouble about that. I appeal to the Home Secretary to do this job well, and to keep the names of the candidates on the poll card.
I would ask hon. Members to consider on what principle people vote. Surely, they do not vote for a name. They vote for a name which represents a party. I do not think a name on the poll card can be of any value unless there is also on the poll card the party for which that name stands. The inclusion on the poll card of the names by themselves cannot be of any benefit, and I hope the Home Secretary will reject the Amendment of the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft).
I think the statement made by the Home Secretary is one which will be received with considerable satisfaction in all parts of the Committee. I have listened with attention to the arguments put forward by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mrs. Braddock), but I would ask her to address her mind to this consideration. We are all eager to make clear to the electorate that an election is to take place, and that it is their civic duty to take part in the election. Therefore, the publicity provided by the returning officers and by the State should be directed to the election. What she is asking—I think in her desire to prevent any disadvantage occurring to minority parties—is that the State should carry it one stage further and start giving publicity to persons as well. I suggest that there is a clear line to be drawn between the two things.
It is the duty of the State to draw people's attention to an election, which is to take place at a certain time and at a certain place, to indicate the polling hours, and to make it as easy as possible for people to exercise their vote. Having done that, it is for candidates who submit themselves to the electors to put their own case, and to bring their own names, views and party affiliations sufficiently before the electors. I think that is a matter which the hon. Lady has not had in mind, and I feel that on reflection she will be able to agree with the Home Secretary. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 152, line 10, to leave out from the first "register," to the end of line 11.
I move this Amendment in order to obtain an explanation. The Committee will see at line 9:
the expression 'electoral number' means a person's number in the said register or, pending the publication of the register, his number (if any) in the electors' list therefor.
I find some difficulty in understanding how an electoral number can be a "number (if any)." Indeed, I do not quite see the purpose of the second part of that definition at all. There may be some purpose which has escaped me, but as it stands I would put the case thus. First, there is no reason for the last line and a half at all; and, if there is a reason, it can hardly be a reason for his "number (if any)" being part of the definition of a number. I hope that someone has a brief which will enable that matter to be cleared up. I confess that we merely desire to have the wording accurate.
This definition at the top of page 152 applies only to the electoral numbers of persons subscribing the nomination paper by virtue of paragraph 3 (2) on page 147. It is desirable for identification purposes that if possible a number should go on and that number should be the one on the register. As the Committee know, at the time of the nomination it may well be that the register which is to be used will not be published. In saying that that may well be the situation, I might add that it is highly unlikely, but it is possible. Therefore, the number on the register cannot be opposite the name of the person subscribing the nomination paper. Nevertheless, there may be electoral lists in existence which are being used for the time being for identification purposes. If there is a number on that list it is advantageous that the number should go on purely for identification purposes.
The reason for the words, "if any" is, I understand, that at the present time, contrary to the pre-war practice, the lists do not have numbers, though it is likely that on future occasions they will have numbers. That is why the words have been included in this definition. It is a simple point, and we have to have some provision if the register to be used is not available when the nomination time comes.
I confess that it had not occurred to me that that was the reason, and I hope we shall not be faced with an election in which there has not been publication of the register until after the day of nomination. The task of anyone fighting that election would be quite intolerable in those circumstances, and I hope that whatever may be put into the Bill for the sake of dealing with possible emergencies the Home Secretary will take every possible step to see that it does not happen because of the confusion which it would cause. I am sure the Home Secretary will do that and, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 152, line 26, after "words," to insert "or numbers."
With this Amendment I propose to include the Amendment which follows, in line 35, at end, insert:
(d) No words or numbers whatever shall be printed or marked on the back of any ballot paper.
I will deal with the one Amendment and maybe by inference I can deal with the other. It is obviously undesirable that any words or numbers should be on the front of the ballot paper. Only one thing is essential for balloting, and that is the official embossed, perforated stamp clear enough so that there can be no doubt in the recipient's mind that the official stamp is there. It should be understood that there is no need for any other mark. People who occupy particular positions have come to me and possibly to other Members of the Committee, too, to ask whether it was not possible by words or numbers on the ballot paper for someone whom they did not want to know about it, getting to know how they voted.
Certainly the numbers on the ballot paper, make it clear that all who vote are known to the returning officer if he compares these numbers with the register. I am quite certain that the returning officer would not give away that information, but nevertheless the fear is in the minds of many people. People come to me and ask me if it is absolutely certain that the numbers on the ballot paper do not mean that it will be known how they vote I have always tried to reassure them. There is no need for marks on the ballot paper other than the official stamp, and I ask the Home Secretary to accept this Amendment and also the spirit of the Amendment which is out of Order because its spirit is not out of Order even though the words may be.
All sides of the Committee share the anxiety of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that there should be no fear in anybody's mind that they can be identified and the way they voted discovered. At the same time it is necessary that when a court comes to consider an election petition, there should be some means of finding out the particulars of a certain ballot paper, and that is the reason why these provisions are in the Bill. There are ample safeguards against any possible abuse of this system. I have never heard of any suggestion that there is such a fear in people's minds.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for West Fife knows the precautions which are taken, but under the present law the marked counterfoils which contain the numbers have to be sealed up immediately after the close of the ballot and the used ballot papers immediately on the completion of the counting of the votes. The sealed packets then have to be sent, in the case of Parliamentary elections, to the clerk of the Crown in Chancery, or, in Scotland, to the Sheriff's clerk, and in the case of local government elections, to the clerk of the local authority, by whom they must be kept, in the case of Parliamentary elections, for a year, and in the case of local elections, six months, and then destroyed. The sealed packets may only be opened by the order of the court, on the court being satisfied on evidence of the need for it. The Committee will agree that that is a very complete safeguard and in the absence of any evidence whatever that there has been abuse or that there is fear of abuse of the system, I think the hon. Gentleman can set his mind at rest, and I suggest that he should not press this Amendment.
It is indeed refreshing to find the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) doing something to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot. That has always been the dearest tradition of the Tory Party. I am not altogether surprised at this move on his part because his is a small party and it is always to the advantage of a small party to have secrecy in the ballot. I congratulate him on his industry and on having moved this Amendment.
To come to the Under-Secretary, here again I am surprised and interested to note that the Members of the Socialist Party, who in the main are so far removed from anything to do with labour as they sit on the Front Bench, are in favour of secrecy in the ballot. I congratulate them on this sign of democracy. They are rather far removed from the general principles of democracy and I am glad to be able to say on this occasion, as someone who has had during his life a number of elections in one way or another, that I believe the regulations for the secrecy of the ballot on the whole are fairly complete. I say quite frankly that this House of Commons, or any House of Commons, can never spend too much time in seeing that the secrecy of the ballot is absolutely complete and perfect.
As far as my party are concerned, we, of all parties, tend today to benefit by the great secrecy of the ballot, and we always have benefited. For that reason it is only right that at any rate one Member of the Tory Party should proclaim what is our everlasting faith, that there is no harm, on an Amendment such as we have here, in looking into this matter of secrecy and, if there is any possible leakage, having it stopped. I am glad the matter has been raised, and that the Under-Secretary has been able to give, from his brief, some information that the arrangements are reasonably perfect. It is a matter for continual and close scrutiny, and we must never let any prejudice against this or that section of the House of Commons go against the fact that, in the main, the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment and the hon. Gentleman who put the Government's position, have, not too effusively, supported the secrecy of the ballot.
Before withdrawing the Amendment, I would like to say that I am somewhat comforted by the statement of the Under-Secretary with regard to the secrecy of the ballot, and I am encouraged by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) who said that we want absolute secrecy of the ballot. I might mention that at the last election the Scottish bishops issued a warning to my constituents that in no circumstances should they vote for me, otherwise they would go without a stop to the lake of fire. Many of them asked me whether the ballot was secret, and whether there was any possibility of being found out. I was able to assure them that it was, but since the Italian elections I am not so certain because they now have a slogan—"God can see you but Stalin can't."
I beg to move, in page 152, line 35, at the end, to insert:
(2) Where two or more candidates have the same Christian names and surnames, the descriptions of those candidates shall be printed in large type on the ballot paper, as well as their Christian names and surnames, and if their descriptions are also the same their residences shall also be so printed.
There is, under the present law, provision to avoid confusion where two or more candidates have the same surname, but there is no provision where the first name is the same. That is a situation which not infrequently arises in certain parts of the country, and this Amendment would meet it.
This seems a very good Amendment where there are only two candidates, and their names and descriptions are similar. But what is the position to be where two such candidates are also opposed by a third with a different name? Is it proposed that the two with the same name are to have their descriptions printed in large type, and the third candidate without any particulars after his? It might very well strike the ordinary elector as making the ballot paper look rather odd, suggesting, that the third person had less to be said for him than either of the other two.
If these names are to be printed in large and thick type, with the greater amount of detail after them—I understand, for instance, that occasionally, in a Welsh local government election, there are two "Thomas Joneses" of the same profession—it is clearly desirable that the electors must be able to see who is who of these two. Filling up the space with this great mass of writing in thick type would, if anything, give advantage to the candidate whose surname appeared only in the thick type in the appropriate space on the ballot paper. My name being short I have always found it a great advantage on a ballot paper and on election posters. I do not think that the third candidate will suffer from any disability. It is necessary to distinguish between the two people whose only difference on the ballot paper is the address. The man whose name is quite distinct gains by having it clearly set out in the whole of the space.
I do not agree with, the Home Secretary that there is an advantage to the third person, but even assuming that he is right, let us face this question from that point of view. Is it right to give that third person prominence? Would it not be much more satisfactory, where this procedure has to be followed, that the same particulars should be printed in respect of all the candidates? If the Home Secretary is right, the third person will be deprived of this advantage; if I am right, the other two will be deprived of the advantage. But we are all agreed that it is highly undesirable that anybody should get an advantage from the arrangement of the ballot paper.
I would like to suggest that there is an easy way out of this difficulty, and one which will enable the Committee to act consistently with what it did a little while ago. The easiest way to secure that no candidate shall have an advantage over any other candidate is not to have any names on the ballot paper at all. We have already come to the conclusion that elections are not about names, because, under the present law, all that appears on the ballot paper is the names of the candidates; the only choice the elector has when he goes into the polling booth, which is the operative act in an election, is a sheet of paper with the names of the candidates upon it. I understand that on a previous Amendment we decided that that did not matter and that the election was not about that at all, but about something else which was undefined and that all one needed to do in giving notice to the electors that an election was to take place was to tell them where and when and at what hours it was to take place. It was not regarded as necessary to tell them between whom it was to take place. In that case, why should the elector have more information in the polling booths than when he was told that an election was to take place? The two things seem to be on exactly the same footing. The poll card is to direct his attention to the time and place of the election, and the ballot paper is to enable him to make his choice. I cannot see on what principle we distinguish between the two documents. To be consistent we ought to do what we did on a previous Amendment; all our difficulties would be completely satisfied if there were a completely blank paper in front of the elector. He would then be unprejudiced, and no one would have an unfair advantage over anyone else.
I was not quite clear how far the suggestion of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) should be carried, whether the elector should write the name of the candidate of his choice on the ballot paper, or merely put a cross on it which, in the absence of a name, would be misconstrued as to its intent. I think the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made a perfectly proper point when he suggested that any discrimination between the candidates coming forward would be invidious, that it would be either advantageous or disadvantageous, and something which should not be the subject of doubt in any election. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say that where it is necessary to print the particulars of one candidate in a certain way, all other candidates mentioned on the same ballot paper at that election shall be printed in an exactly similar manner.
So far as I gather no one can make up his mind why there should be heavy type. Is it a distinguishing mark, or not? A person can read a name and description of a candidate in normal type. What difference could it make to print them in normal type? I shudder to think of a list of candidates printed like a football pool coupon, on which an elector would proceed to mark two home and one away. When he saw the heavy type he would assume that some of the permutation experts had been drafting the paper. Joking apart, is there any reason why there should be heavy type on the ballot paper at all? I may be dense, but I am not alone in that respect so far as this Amendment is concerned. We should have an adequate reason why this dangerous practice is to be followed.
I am not satisfied with the Home Secretary's explanation, because he has overlooked the fact that, in these days, hoardings and posters have a great influence on the minds of the people. The names that are printed in the biggest type are invariably regarded as being the most important. People who may be a little indifferent will have presented to them, on going into the polling booth, a ballot paper containing the names of perhaps four candidates, two of which will stand out in big print as if they were stars from Hollywood, and the other two in much smaller print. It is no use the Home Secretary trying to persuade us that that will not have a psychological effect upon the people.
He gave an illustration which obviously referred to Wales, about two Thomas Joneses. He need not worry on that score. That happens, but we generally get out of any difficulty by letting the people know that one Thomas Jones is from Llanuchlyn and the other from Llanerchymedd, and the thing is settled. We do not need to worry about the identity of names in Wales. That is something which we always resolve. Seriously, I am not satisfied, and I would not be satisfied if I were to go to the polling booth as an ardent supporter of the candidate who was outstandingly the best in the field, and found his name there in small print, with no description associated with him, while his opponent had his name and his description in large type.
I do not think that the subject merits as much time as is being spent on it, but I will endeavour again to put the position as I see it. When one gets a ballot paper, in which, as a rule, the candidates are of different Christian names and surnames, one finds the surname of each candidate printed in bold type and underneath is the candidate's full name, his address and the description. This Amendment has been suggested to us from Wales, because we are told that difficulty has occurred in Wales on occasion—
Let us proceed by stages. It is not unknown in Wales for the surname and Christian name of two candidates at the same election to be the same. There is no advantage in having Christian names printed in a type which will draw attention to the distinction between the two candidates. It is therefore necessary to try to do something else, so that the elector shall know for which of the two he is voting. I have here the form of ballot paper from the Ballot Act, 1872. They give the example as I thought. "John Brown, 52 High Street, Bristol, merchant." Let us assume that there are two John Brown's in the election, and that "John Brown" has now been printed in large type on the ballot paper. The elector still does not know which of the John Browns is Red and which is Blue. We then propose that we shall add his description. Let us assume that both of them have the same description. It is true, of course, that with each addition we make the chances of similarity become less. We have a description, and it so happens that they are both grocers, or both milkmen, or both undertakers, and we have not got any further. We then say, as a last resort that we will print the address at which the man lives. I do not think that we can imagine that there would be two men so exactly alike, one living upstairs and the other down in the same house and thus having the same address.
I understand the point of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). He thinks it might be an advantage, or a disadvantage, that all these particulars should be printed in heavy type, and that there should be a third candidate, "Thomas Smith," who is the only "Smith" on the ballot paper. I will consider between now and the Report stage whether it is desirable for these successive particulars to be entered with regard to two candidates, and if there should be other candidates, that they should receive similar treatment. I think the advantage would be with the candidate whose surname is there, but I realise that it is desirable that the ballot paper should be an impartial document, and should not give an advantage to anyone. I am quite sure a simple Amendment on the Report stage will enable that to be secured.
I wish to support the right hon. Gentleman. I do it because I notice that there is a certain amount of opposition to the right hon. Gentleman in the Committee as a whole. I happen to have a name which has been copied to a vast extent in Wales. It has always been one of my great fears that the Liberals and Socialists would hunt Wales to find a Liberal who was called Charles Williams and also a Socialist who was called Charles Williams. The three names would be put on the ballot paper, and my electors would not know who was the really highly qualified and highly proper person for whom to vote, and they might vote for either of these two immigrants from Wales. That has been one of the things of which I have always been rather afraid might happen in my case because I bear the great disadvantage of carrying a name which is rather commonly copied in other parts of the country.
The Home Secretary out of the kindness of his heart has overcome one of the difficulties which I fear in an election in the future. It is a very natural wish on this side of the Committee—owing to the cunning of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in getting little bits here and there on these occasions—that all the candidates should have equally large print and equal descriptions. I thought that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was treating this matter rather lightly in the speech which he made. We are rather accustomed to hear speeches from him—but I will not say any more about that. [Interruption.] I do not interrupt him and I seldom speak for much more than one column, whereas the hon. Member very seldom speaks less than four columns. I seem to have it on brevity on every occasion. The hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) is also muttering. Does she wish to interrupt me, or is this one of the occasions when she wishes to sing to me?
I was subject to a little interruption. I will keep my eye on you, Major Milner, so that these diversions, attractive though they may be, will have no further effect. I am glad that the Home Secretary has stuck, to his guns. This Amendment is necessary. This is one of the very rare occasions on which I congratulate the Government and the Home Secretary on having done what every reasonable person would consider to be the right thing.
My own experience at the last Election compels me to support the Home Secretary. My two opponents had similar names—Waters and Walston. Many people think the only reason I was elected was because my name was distinctive. The great disadvantage from which both people suffer when they have similar names is obvious. As far as possible, it should be removed in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not want to prolong the Debate, but I would like my right hon. Friend to repeat the actual facts about what a ballot paper looks like. I do not know how long it is since he voted in an election. I suppose that, like myself, he votes whenever he has the opportunity. My own recollection is quite clear. Nevertheless, it may be mistaken; but, mistaken or not, it is clear that on a ballot paper where the surnames are different there appears nothing but the names of the candidates. The surnames are in capitals and the other names are in small letters. I feel sure that that is the normal practice, but I may be mistaken.
I would hesitate to instruct the hon. Gentleman in the law. He asked me a question and I quoted from the Ballot Act of 1872. It is true that I have not often voted in Parliamentary elections in recent years because I have been a candidate in one part of the country and my home has been in another. I had an opportunity of voting recently. The prescribed form of ballot paper for a Parliamentary election gives the surname of the candidate in heavy type and underneath, abstracted from the nomination paper, is his full name, address and description. In local government elections I understand that only the surname is printed, but in Parliamentary elections the Ballot Act requires that the other particulars shall be on the paper
I hesitate to intervene after the Home Secretary, but I would like to speak as one of the very few Members who resides in his own constituency—[Interruption]—as one of the minority in this House who resides in his own constituency, and as one always registered as an elector who always exercises the privilege of the franchise, even though it is in favour of himself. The Home Secretary is absolutely right in his reply to the hon. Member.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and those of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) appear to have nothing to do with the Amendment. I must ask them to enable the Committee to get on. There have been a good many irrelevant speeches, and unless the hon. Gentleman has some really relevant remarks to make, I think he should resume his seat.
As an elector in my own constituency I have the opportunity sometimes of placing a cross against my own name and of seeing the ballot paper perhaps more often than either the Home Secretary or his hon. Friend, and I can therefore subscribe to what the Home Secretary has said. I thought he did not seem to be sure what the position was, and I only took advantage of the opportunity, having more recently seen the Parliamentary ballot paper than either the right hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend, to underline what the Home Secretary said, and to say that it is absolutely accurate that there is always a full description of the candidate.
I beg to move, in page 153, line 4, to leave out from "by," to "a," in line 5.
Paragraph 5 of Part III of the Third Schedule enables the presiding officer in certain circumstances to put a number of questions to a person coming to the polling booth. These questions are, or may be: "Are you the person registered in the register?" etc., and, in the case of a proxy:
Are you the husband (wife), parent, grandparent, brother (sister), child or grandchild of C.D.?
If that question is not answered in the affirmative, the voter may then be asked—
Have you at this election already voted in this constituency on behalf of two persons of whom you are neither the husband (wife), parent, grandparents, brother (sister), child or grandchild?
These rather puzzling questions may be put by the presiding officer, and they must be put by the presiding officer if he is required to put them by a candidate or by a candidate's election or polling agent. There is a further provision which is new to us in election law, so far as we are aware; it is that these questions must be put by the presiding officer if he is required to do so by two Parliamentary electors of the constituency. The only persons who have a right to be present in a polling booth, apart from the electors in the actual course of casting their votes, are officials, on the one hand, and the candidates, election agent and the polling agents, on the other; and we are puzzled to find out who are these two Parliamentary electors present in the polling booth who may require the presiding officer to put these questions to people who come to cast their votes, and who may, in fact, compel the presiding officer to put these questions by demanding that they shall be put. Seeing that Parliamentary electors have not got the right to hang about in polling booths,
we are very puzzled why these words are inserted in the Schedule.
I think it is probably the case that the words which have raised doubt in the minds of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not very frequently be required or be effective, but they are not, in fact, new. They arc copied from paragraph 16 of the Third Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1933. I think it is unlikely that they would be operated, but at the same time electors may well be on the spot at the time, electors who may be there on their own business and who have no right to be there for any purpose other than for voting. They may be there, and all that happens, if this request is made, is that these questions are asked. I do not think there is any danger in allowing this arrangement to stand. It is conceivable, however, that two persons who were present when somebody else arrived might think that person was guilty of impersonation; they might give this information and make the request to the presiding officer, but I do not think any harm would be done. This procedure has been part of local government law since 1933. I am not aware of any complaint having arisen, or of any reason why this arrangement should not be copied into the Schedule. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is a perfectly reasonable provision although it is one which is not likely to he frequently used.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman or to the Under-Secretary that this matter might be looked at again before the Report stage. In my view, it is a completely new provision so far as Parliamentary Elections are concerned. It introduces some measure of doubt whether Parliamentary electors have the right to hang about in polling booths; certainly they do not have that right. They are not given that right under the Schedule and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether these words cannot be taken out.
I would like to add a few remarks in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). The reason that has been given, quite fairly, I think, is that this procedure is already being used in local government elections. Two electors at a local government election can be a com- paratively small matter compared with the congestion at a polling booth during a General Election. Although this happens to be the law for local government elections, it would be a bad thing if two electors could be in a position to do what my right hon. Friend has said at a General Election. It may be true that such an arrangement has not caused difficulty at local government elections; but we must safeguard against such action in case it is developed and used generally. I appreciate the intimation by the right hon. Gentleman that he will look into this matter again. There is a great deal in this Amendment and the consequences can be entirely different in a General Election from those at a local government election.
I beg to move, in page 153, line 48, after "a," to insert "candidate or his election or."
We have just been discussing the power of a candidate and his election agent to secure the interrogation of someone whom they suspect is about to exercise his or her vote improperly. Under the paragraph to which this Amendment refers, the power to challenge a person who is suspected of having exercised his vote improperly is restricted to the polling agent. We wish to insert these words so as to bring the matter into line with what we have previously been discussing. We cannot understand why, if a person is thought to be about to commit an offence, he can be challenged by the candidate or his election agent, but that after the offence has been committed he can only be challenged by the polling agent. I would be glad if the Home Secretary could explain the distinction.
The candidate and his agent are likely to be very fleeting visitors to any particular polling station during the course of the election. As a rule, they travel round the constituency trying to cheer up their supporters by walking into the polling stations and seeing that everything is going on satisfactorily, whereas the polling agent is present for the express purpose of detecting personation and drawing the attention of the presiding officer to any irregularities of that nature which might occur. He appears to be the appropriate person to exercise the function.
I would have thought it would be desirable that the presiding officer should have to deal with one person who is generally with him throughout the whole day, rather than have to take into account something that he is requested to do by an accidental visitor. The candidate and his agent as a rule do not want to hang about any particular polling station for more than a few minutes. They are usually anxious to get on to the next polling station, whereas the polling agent is there throughout the day. This appears to be the sort of legitimate function that should fall to him, and he should be well acquainted with the special responsibility which he bears in this matter. After all, asking for the arrest of a person is a pretty responsible duty to undertake.
I appreciate what the Home Secretary has said, but I think that all he has said applies just as well to paragraph 5 (r) which we have just been discussing. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I agree with what he says about the fleeting visits of the candidate and his agent, and all the rest of it, but though they visit these places fleetingly they are empowered to ask for the interrogation of a person before he has committed a wrongful act. I still cannot see why, if that is the case, it should not be put on all fours in this subsequent paragraph.
I should have thought there was a substantial difference. If they ask for questions to be put, and it then turns out that an offence has been committed, I think that the polling agent should be the person to take the next step. I do not think that this responsibility should be put on to the candidate or his agent. It is one thing just to go into a polling booth and request that a certain person should be questioned. It may even be done by the candidate to ascertain whether the presiding officer knows all the rules of the game and how it ought to be played. That seems to me to be very different from waiting about to make quite sure that an offence has been committed and then asking for the arrest of a person.
I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider this point. It seems to me that the very seriousness of an offence might be sufficient ground for providing that the candidate or his agent should take the responsibility. A polling agent may be a sensible and shrewd person who would take the responsibility, but suppose he was a little timid; the candidate would be sent for, and the polling agent would say to him or to his agent, "This is your election; one of you is the candidate and the other is the agent. This is a serious matter. I think an offence has been committed. Will you please take the responsibility?" I do not say that the candidate or his agent should be corn-polled to do so, but I think it is a pity that they should not be included in this provision.
I have myself seen something like this, and I would submit that the Home Secretary's argument is very fair and reasonable. When there are 13 or 14 polling stations how, in Heaven's name, can the ordinary registration agent of candidate visit the polling stations more than once, or may be twice, in one day? There was a particular Division near my home in Lancashire where they used to say, "Vote early. Vote often," and sometimes they managed to do it. But there was always the threat that one side or the other would challenge whoever was likely to vote contrary to the provisions of the Act. I submit that the agent referred to in what the Home Secretary is defending is the fit and proper person to put this into effect. While we might like to include the candidate or his agent, it would be far better to use the term indicated in the Schedule.
Perhaps I might help the Committee by pointing out that under Rule 51 of the Ballot Act it is possible for the candidate himself to undertake the duties of a polling agent, so that he will be a polling agent, not at one particular polling booth, but throughout the constituency. Similarly, there is nothing to prevent the election agent being appointed a polling agent under Section 85 of the Parliamentary Voters Registration Act, 1843, and so acquiring the power, if he has any particular reason for doing so. The real answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) is that, if either the agent or the candidate desires to be in a position to exercise this power he can, under the existing law, acquire that power.
I am bound to say that if I were a candidate I should hesitate to arm myself with this particular power, because obviously it might leave very nasty feelings behind among particular electors if the candidate himself intervened with a request for the arrest of an elector. It appears that without any Amendment of this Bill it is possible for both these gentlemen to appoint themselves polling agents, and in that way they can acquire the powers if they so desire. I think that, to some extent, that answers the point made by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). However, between now and the Report stage I will consider whether it is desirable, whether I can do it without casting doubt on previous Acts of Parliament, and whether I can put something in the Bill to indicate that this power exists.
I beg to move, in page 155, line 30, to leave out subhead (c).
Subhead (c) appears to give the returning officer power to allow any person to attend the count, merely at his discretion. This seems a wide discretion to give him. Perhaps the Under-Secretary would tell us the reason why there is this wide discretionary power?
It is not, I think, strictly correct to say that subhead (c) gives the power to certain classes of persons to attend. In fact, the power is given by Rule 33 of the Ballot Act. All this subhead does is to say that if there are any persons who, by virtue of that provision of the Ballot Act, are in attendance they shall make the same declaration of secrecy, and shall he subject to the same conditions as other people. Actually the power of the returning officer in his discretion to allow certain persons to be present is not given by this Schedule or by this Bill. It is an old power which has existed since the time of the Ballot Act, and this Amendment is one which we could not accept, because it would leave there the people who have a right to be there and would not affect the discretion to the returning officer.
I beg to move, in page 156, line 3, to leave out "(except in special circumstances)"
We in Scotland are afraid that if these words are retained, they will do away with the benefits which this Schedule will give. We are afraid that the returning officers in Scotland may make use of these powers to have an inadequate number of scrutineers when the counting is being carried out. We have been told from time to time in Scotland that the premises in which the count takes place are too small to provide accommodation for the number of persons we consider adequate. Very often it is held in the sheriff's office instead of in a hall of sufficient size, and it is because of this, that I and my hon. Friends put down this Amendment. We ask the Home Secretary to examine it very carefully with a view to seeing that there will be no opportunity given to returning officers in Scotland or in any part of Great Britain to refuse accommodation to an adequate number of representatives.
It certainly is not the intention of my right hon. Friend that the phrase "except in special circumstances" should allow the provisions of these paragraphs to be nullified except when there is a very good reason. The Committee will be aware that there is a good deal of anxiety on the part of many of the authorities concerned in running elections and organising counts lest there may be at the count an undue number of persons standing around and so crowding the space available that the officials are unable to do their job. The Carr Committee discussed this at length and found conflicting points of view. They arrived at something of a compromise, which has been adopted in this Bill. My right hon. Friend will see that when instructions are issued to the returning officers it will be made plain that it is only where it is impracticable for reasons of space that the provisions of these paragraphs should be departed from. We think it right that a certain amount of discretion should be given to the returning officer, but it is not the intention that the strict terms of the paragraphs should be departed from except on very rare occasions.
It is the very point that the Under-Secretary has made in regard to adequate space about which we are so anxious. Let me outline to the Committee the practice in Glasgow, though it does not apply all over Scotland. Only the agent, the candidate and one other person can attend the count. The candidate's wife cannot do so, or if she does, one of the other three persons is excluded, because there can be no more than three persons. If these words are retained, in many parts of Scotland, it can be argued, as the counting takes place in the sheriff court building and under the guidance of the sheriff substitutes, that those rooms are quite inadequate to take in the number suggested in this paragraph. From my long experience I can say that this is a very serious handicap. There may be eight tables and anything from 30 to 40 people counting the votes, and the three persons will have to make the effort to try to watch the counting. In recent years, because of many circumstances, all kinds of persons have been employed in the counting of votes and many of them—I say this in no disrespectful way—have not been too competent at that type of job.
I want to be perfectly fair. In some parts of the country, though I do not say all of them—I have seen it in the West Lothian area—any number of people watch the counting of the votes and yet that is denied to the big towns. My hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) is correct in her reference to limiting the number to the candidate, the agent and one other. If these words are left in, except for the short statement by the Home Secretary, we shall get no advantage. I would like the assurance of the Home Secretary that we can get this operating in Scotland as in other parts of the country.
Once again I have to express my surprise at the stories I hear from Scotland. I accept what my hon. Friends say about the difficulties which confront them there. The proper thing to do is to place in this Schedule an obligation on the returning officer to take for the purposes of the counting premises which are adequate to comply with the Schedule. I know that big cities like to have all the counts conducted in one room, and there are reasons why that is desirable, but it may very well be that in a big city in these days of large electorates there will not be any one room which is adequate in which to carry that out.
Although it will probably involve some other difficulties, arrangements should be made in those cases for the votes in the different constituencies in a city to be counted in some place other than the very small kind of building to which allusion has been made. I suggest to my hon. Friends that if some instructions to returning officers of the kind I have indicated are put into the Bill and appropriate instructions are issued to returning officers, it would be quite safe to leave these words in the Bill, because even with the best will in the world, there might in some county divisions be difficulty in getting a hall big enough to accommodate the full complement of counting agents. I hope that my hon. Friends will feel that I have listened to these stories from across the Border sympathetically and am endeavouring to do what I can to meet our desire that elections on both sides of the border shall be conducted in such a way as to give confidence to the candidates and the parties interested in the election.
I beg to move, in page 156, line 6, to leave out from the beginning, to "shall," and to insert:
Persons attending the counting of votes by virtue of paragraph t of this Part of this Schedule.
The object of this Amendment is to extend to the candidate, his spouse and the election agent the facilities which the returning officer has to make available to counting agents.
This point is very similar to one that was raised a short time ago. It is open to the candidate, his agent or anybody else to be a counting agent if they so wish. It does seem that, with the provision made in this Schedule for quite a considerable number of persons to have facilities for checking, it is rather unreasonable to add to the burden of those conducting the count. It is specifically provided that any person is entitled to act as a counting agent—candidate, agent, wife, or anybody else. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that is sufficient.
I cannot say that I find this a very convincing argument, because the hon. Gentleman will remember that on the last occasion the Home Secretary destroyed his own case by the argument that has been advanced. It is not a matter of great importance, however, and I do not press it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 156, line 10, at the end, to insert:
(4) In particular, where the votes are counted by sorting the ballot papers according to the candidate for whom the vote is given and then counting the number of ballot papers for each candidate, the counting agents shall be entitled to satisfy themselves that the ballot papers are sorted right.
This Amendment merely makes explicit the right to ensure that sorting has been correctly carried out which is desired by persons attending the count. They may well be entitled to it in any event, but it is often asked for and sometimes, in our experience, refused. It is worth while putting in the Bill.
I know it is the intention to make the matter more explicit, but I would prefer to see it in less ambiguous terms. I direct the attention of the Committee to the last two words of the proposed Amendment—"sorted right." I should have thought it much more appropriate, coming from the Home Secretary, if the ballot papers had been sorted left and not sorted right. The ballot papers might be "rightly sorted," but surely never "sorted right."
In these matters the Left generally is right. If I might be allowed to change the last word, I would move it as "rightly." It is desirable it should be an adverb rather than an adjective.
I beg to move, in page 156, line 22, to leave out from "may," to "require," in line 23, and to insert:
if present when the counting or any recount of the votes is completed.
I think that this Amendment and the two subsequent Amendments might be taken together. The point is that any request for a re-count should clearly he made before the election is publicly declared. As the matter stands, that might not always occur, because in some cases the public declaration might be made before the ballot papers were sealed. I think that the formula which is introduced by these three Amendments will make it quite clear that the re-count must be requested immediately, and will, therefore, always take place before the count has been announced.