I want to protest, Mr. Murton. For three or four weeks the Government have been toying with the idea of having an election. At the last moment they bring in this Bill. In no way have we had the chance of putting forward amendments, even had we wished to do so. Before we pass Clause 1, my hon. Friends and I might well have wanted to increase or decrease some of the amounts. We might well have wanted to present positive suggestions or amendments. But by their dictatorial attitude the Government, led by the Prime Minister, have precluded us from exercising our democratic right of putting forward amendments.
In case the Minister of State gets it wrong, let me say that I am not suggesting that the amounts are more or less, better or worse, than any other Governments have prescribed. I want to get it clearly into the Minister's head that my complaint is that, when it suits the purpose of the Government, they bring in legislation in such a way as to prevent back benchers from having their say.
I want the hon. Member to be absolutely clear about this matter. Mr. Speaker's Conference was considering the election when we heard that an election might be imminent and we transferred our attention to this urgent matter. The Government therefore could not possibly have brought this recommendation to the House any earlier than today because we finished our consideration of it only at our last sitting this week.
I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton). I take this opportunity of paying my tribute to the Father of the House and recording the great respect and admiration I have for him. I am sorry that he is retiring because whoever succeeds him cannot be in any way akin to him. I am sorry that he is going.
My point about time is not directed at the right hon. Gentleman or the Conference. It is twofold. First, the Government have known for three or four weeks that they might be abdicating and running away. Therefore, the Government could well have said to Mr. Speaker's Conference "We felt we might start running away today or tomorrow, or the week after, and we will ask you to bring in your report because we know we will do a bunk."
Order. I fear that the hon. Member is straying somewhat. I remind him that it would be perfectly in order to complain as he did at one time that there may be no time for amendments to be considered, but beyond that point I fear he has got badly out of order.
I may have digressed a little, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the Father of the House gave me an opportunity of dealing with his interjection. Nevertheless, I still think that it is relevant to the extent that if I come to adduce reasons why I think that the clause should not stand part—I accept that the reasons may be manifold—it is because I have not had even an opportunity of getting a copy of the Bill. My hon. Friend has been more fortunate in obtaining a copy, but he told me that he has not had a chance to look thoroughly at it in order to consider the possibility of framing an amendment. Surely I am in order, therefore, to say that one of the reasons I may have ideas about allowing the clause to stand part is that my hon. Friend and I may well have had an adequate amendment which we might have joined in proposing. Further, with his great knowledge and ability, the Father of the House might also have given me an opportunity to discuss with him the possibility of tabling an amendment. It is on that ground that some protest should be made before Parliament dissolves tomorrow.
What does the clause mean in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) when it says:
register of electors to be used at the election (as first published)"?
What does "first published" mean? Does it relate to the "A" and "C" registers? I believe that the new register comes in on either 15th or 16th of this month.
I should like to ask a question about Clause 1 as well. The clause maintains the differential between expenses allowed in parliamentary elections in a county constituency and a borough constituency. The Minister was kind enough to give me examples of constituencies with 65,000 electors. I forgot the difference between the county and the borough. I think it was somewhere in the region of £2,000.
The difference between the two is still about £140. I know that the Bill narrows the differential a little, but it still maintains it. I should like an explanation why there should be a difference. I appreciate, as anyone must, that there is some travelling involved when one has a county constituency compared with a borough constituency. But the main increase in costs of an election, in my experience, has been in printing election addresses and not in a candidate travelling around various small villages. One could argue that it is cheaper to rent meeting halls in villages than in cities.
Will the Minister tell us whether there will be a further examination of this matter following the election? If so, will it be possible to look into why there should be a differential between two types of constituency?
I welcome what the Government are trying to do in this clause. As a representative of a county constituency, I should like to illustrate to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. James Lamond) the sort of extra expenses that one has to face. My own county constituency is an area about 1,600 square miles with over 100 different branches. One can easily travel in a straight line diagonally from the south-west of the constituency to the north-east and cover 50 or 60 miles without reaching the constituency boundary. That is a constituency in the dense East Midlands. In a county constituency in some of the more remote parts of Britain, those figures would be even larger.
A candidate has to get to all corners of his constituency and doing so will be no cheaper in the days that lie ahead than it was at the last General Election, especially as it is forecast that by the end of this week the price of first-grade petrol will have risen to 54p a gallon. I welcome what the Bill does to help candidates meet their necessary expenses. I should have preferred a still bigger differential to allow for the large increase that county candidates will have to pay for petrol in the coming weeks.
Now that there has been time to consider the Bill more thoroughly, I believe that there is a case for allowing candidates enough expenditure to issue the necessary literature to explain their positions. As I tried to suggest earlier, there will be a particular problem if candidates find that they have completely to reset the type that they may have used on previous occasions.
If, for example, a candidate who used a typeset on his previous manifesto which said,
We utterly reject the philosophy of compulsory wage control"—
If a candidate had in his manifesto, as this one did, the following words—
We utterly reject the philosophy of compulsory wage control"—
and if now he has to present to his electorate a case for having wage control and for completely paralysing the industrial life of the country because he has it, I think he will require rather more than £1,500 to get his case over.
That is only one example.
I should like to agree with my hon. Friend, but throughout my short life I have been impressed by the capacity of the Conservative Party for putting over the most enormous whoppers with a straight face and sometimes getting away with it—as it did in 1970.
If, for example, in his previous literature, a candidate had said: "We will stop further nationalisation", as was said in "A Better Tomorrow" on page 7, and he now has to justify taking over Rolls-Royce and so on, he too will have a problem.
If a candidate said in his previous literature:
We will reverse the decline in building, make home ownership easier again and concentrate Government subsidies where they are most needed",
he would need a lot of literature and would have to go to a good deal of
expense—more than £1,500, I should have thought—to explain why the Department of the Environment building figures issued last week were the worst figures for the completion of houses since 1959——
I said earlier that, had there been time, my hon. Friend and I might have had the opportunity, from which we have been precluded, of increasing the amount suggested to £3,000 or £4,000, which might have given the candidate whom my hon. Friend is trying to help the opportunity of dealing with this problem. The fact that we have been precluded from doing that is sharp practice on the part of the Government.
As I said, Mr. Murton, I do not want to go on reading "A Better Tomorrow". That would be an abuse of the practices of the House-almost as much of an abuse as it is to try to put through an important piece of legislation such as this with no explanation of its content.
Surely my hon. Friend sees the flaw in his argument. If we were to increase the amount allowed for all candidates, many candidates of the Labour Party, for instance, would not need to spend that money at all, because they would have no need to redraft their manifesto. They have kept all their promises in full view and in front of the electorate and will carry their new ones out as soon as they come into Government.
I can speak with some authority on that point, because my constituency, both before I became the candidate and at the last election when I was the candidate, boasted that it had either the cheapest or one of the cheapest elections in the country. The reason was that we did not have to give the electors a lot of plush literature to bamboozle them. We simply stood on the record and the people knew their candidate well enough to vote accordingly.
But I will not go into the question of what people should put in their election manifestos. That is certainly not for me. What I am saying is that if someone has stocks of past literature with some of these statements, he will be in some difficulty. I am sure that many Conservative candidates have stocks of past literature which in other circumstances they would be able to send out saying simply "This is the manifesto we fought on last time, and we still stand by these policies"—with only a brief covering note. That would be a great help to them in getting votes, because it would show that they still stood for the same policies and had done what they had promised.
But if they have in that past literature statements like this one, on page 18 of "A Better Tomorrow",
The increase in the cost of new houses and the hightest mortgage interest rates in our history have prevented thousands of young people from becoming owners of their own homes",
they will have completely to re-set the type and have a new text. They will need more than the brief covering note—and will have to spend probably much more than £1,500.
Would my hon. Friend please deal with my point? He is asking for fantastic sums of money. If all the Tories had to deny all those lies, it would cost thousands upon thousands of pounds, since they would have to change every page of that document. Every promise has been broken. The taxpayers should not be asked to pay thousands of pounds on top of the huge sums that this Government have cost them in order to deal with the lies that they told at the last election.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that I could go through this document—the Conservative manifesto for the last election, "A Better Tomorrow"—and find several statements on each page which have not been adhered to. But if I were to do that, this Committee stage would go on for a very long time. I will therefore rest my speech by repeating that if the Government and their candidates have in their old literature categorical statements like
We utterly reject a philosophy"—
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. With great respect, it is not often that I attempt to correct the Chair, but a moment ago I said that the taxpayers would be paying part of the expenses. I have never known the Chair to correct a statement made by an hon. Member when he makes a political point. I may or may not have been right, but with great respect, Mr. Murton, that is not the job of the Chair. The Conservative Party receives out of taxation income large donations from big public companies, and those are from taxpayers' money. It is contributed to the Tory Party. Therefore, some of this money will be used.
It is a very valuable point all the same.
I was explaining that there will be Conservative Members—like the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). who has recently entered the Chamber—whose old literature, such as "A Better Tomorrow", will contain categorical statements such as
We utterly reject the philosophy of compulsory wage control.'
Because that sort of statement is in their old literature, because what they are doing now is totally different from those statements, and because they have paralysed the nation's industry in order to adhere to policies which they not only did not put before the electorate at the last
General Election but which they explicitely abjured at the time of that election, they will have to throw away all the old literature and produce new literature.
In those circumstances, the proposition coming from Mr. Speaker's Conference is probably far too modest. We ought to have a differential with a factor of, perhaps, two to one, with the Conservative Party being allowed to spend twice as much—in this General Election only, as a one-off thing—because it has to produce so much new literature. We must not blame Mr. Speaker or his Conference for not initiating this proposal. It would never have occurred to Mr. Speaker that the Conservative Party could ever have got itself into a situation in which it was at one election totally opposed to the philosophy of wage control and at the next election making it almost the major plank in the issue and the whole reason for the election.
We ought to feel a measure of sympathy for those Conservative candidates who will have to stand on their heads in the coming General Election. Whatever assistance we can give them in the way of money they will certainly need in order to put over the policies for which they now stand but which they were previously totally against.
You will probably be relieved to hear, Mr. Murton, that I shall not make a speech or ask a question. I wish to make only an exclamation.
Although there are two clauses in the Bill, it is really a one-clause Bill. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), no one saw the Bill until about an hour ago. No one could have tabled any amendments to it. A great number of Members of Parliament who are not at present in the Chamber do not know what we are talking about. This debate is rather pointless.
Very often Members of Parliament are blamed—sometimes rightly—for voting for or against something or for accepting something about which they do not know very much. We are often accused of being guided by the Whips. I doubt whether the Whips of either side know the contents of this clause.
My simple exclamation is that I consider that this discussion is pointless. The Bill could have been introduced by some other method. I am sorry that it has been rushed in such a manner. I have not put my point at such great length as the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North, but I mean more or less the same thing.
If the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) had been present during the Second Reading debate he would have heard some of his hon. Friends put matters at slightly greater length even if less lucidly than himself.
We all appreciate the inability of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) to draw any form of an audience outside the House, which makes him feel that it is necessary to use this clause as a means of making his political speeches in the House. I would only add that, having listened to the quality of his election speech, I am not surprised to see that his majority dropped by over 4,000 at the last General Election and was the biggest drop in the Labour majority of any of the three candidates for Islington, South-West.
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. During this short debate you have very wisely ruled on one or two points of order, pointing out that certain things had been said which were not relevant to the debate. May I ask whether the Minister's statement just now was relevant to the debate?
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked about the meanings of the words "as first published". I understand that the effect of that phrase now is that it covers every name on the electoral register, even the names of people who are not yet entitled to vote but who are on the register because they become of age to vote during the period when the electoral register is in existence. On that register there will be the names of those who, although not entitled to vote when it comes into force on 16th February, become entitled to vote during the course of the year. The use of the words "as first published" is apparently to make it clear in assessing the total amount which can be used on the per capita side of election expenses. One takes account of names on the register, even those who have not yet become of age to vote.
The Minister has just said something which causes me some dismay. Does he mean that the words "as first published" mean that provided that the name is on the register the cash allowance can be claimed, and the person can vote even though the whole street in which he lives is in a clearance area? I shall continue at length in order to enable the Minister to ask his advisers to give him the information required, which he does not have at present.
I see now that his adviser is getting the information. Does that phrase mean that one has the right to object if one knows that Smith, Brown, Black or Blue are on the register but are not legally entitled to be on it? We shall now have a situation in which Smith, Brown, Black and Blue will not only be entitled to vote, although illegally on the register, but the candidate concerned can get an extra allowance. The Minister is now saying that we shall have a right to object.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) might be on the register as living in Westminster Square. He would be on the register, but he would not have the right to contract out and to say that he should not be on it because he was not living there. In addition to the fact that he would have the right to vote, the candidate in the Westminster area—a Tory—would be able to get extra money to help to fight for electors who should not be on the register. Is that the situation we are confronted with? Are we to allow them extra money? That is what Irish politics was all about. I hope the Minister has this wrong.
With a system where part of the payment depends on the number of electors in the constituency there must obviously also be a system under which the number of electors on which that allowance is based may be decided. I gather that that number has been taken as being the number of names to appear on the electoral register and that is the effect of the clause.
I cannot cake a point of order in the middle of putting the Bill. I am bound to put the Bill immediately without debate. I will take the point of order as soon as I have disposed of the Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I agree that normally the procedure you propose to adopt would be followed, but normally we would have the right to put down a motion that the Third Reading should not be taken. I have not had the opportunity of putting such a motion down. I agree that normally you must put the Question without debate unless there is a motion on the Order Paper. Neither I nor my hon. Friends, however, have had the opportunity of putting down a motion and, therefore, I am being denied the right of a Third Reading debate because, correctly, you say that I cannot put down such a motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you, again, correctly, have to put the Question. This is an abrogation of the democratic right of back benchers.
I may not even want to take part in the Third Reading debate, but I want to stand up for the rights of back benchers irrespective of whichever Government are in power. I want to protest at the shady practice adopted by the Government in denying back benchers the chance of exercising their democratic rights.
Maybe I can clear this up without any help from the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham). The relevant Standing Order is Standing Order No. 56, which says:
The question for the third reading of a public bill shall be put forthwith unless notice has been given by not less than six members of an amendment to the question or of a motion that the question be not put forthwith.
I quite understand what the hon. Member means when he says that he has not had the chance, but we are in somewhat unusual circumstances in that I am bound to put the Question straight away without debate.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Standing Order provides that the Third Reading shall be taken without debate unless six hon. Members put their names down to a motion to the contrary. The question is what opportunity has occurred of six Members putting down their names to take advantage of the Standing Order to have a debate on the Third Reading? Are you willing now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to take the names of six hon. Members to ask for a debate on Third Reading? This is a point of some substance, and I know that the circumstances are unusual, but when the Government are introducing legislation in these circumstances they must consider the question of the Standing Orders.
There is nothing now to be said which could not have been said on Second Reading. Any comments hon. Members may have could have been made a little sooner than this. We are on a procedural matter, and I am bound to carry out the Standing Orders as they are laid down.
I do not think it needs any explanation from me of why the circumstances are unusual. There can be no one left in the country who does not realise that they are unusual. I will leave it at that, and I hope that the hon. Member will accept what I say.
Therefore, the Government have made a statement about the business for today and that business is being taken. There is nothing we can do to alter that.
I have not finished my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was saying that obviously the imminence of an election does not affect the rules of the House. I know that it has affected today's business but it does not mean that something has been validly done if otherwise it would have been invalidly done. Will you say now whether you will accept a manuscript motion from six hon. Members that the Bill be not read a Third time? If you are not prepared to accept that the House will clearly be in a ridiculous situation because of the circumstances in which the Government can therefore bring forward a Bill which no one knew about. Hon. Members would have been obliged to put something on the Order Paper yesterday to stop a Bill of which they knew nothing having an automatic Third Reading today.
This is a serious point and were it to be the case that the House had manifestly transgressed its rules of order it would at least be alleged outside that the measure had been improperly dealt with and it might be open to question.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Other occupants of the Chair, including Mr. Speaker, have in times past—and we know that the House is guided by precedent—agreed that when, for reasons that neither the Chair nor the Table can control, hon. Members have not had the time or opportunity of putting down either a motion or an amendment the Chair would accept a suitable motion. Will you consider this further, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I could continue speaking while you look up the precedents.
Further to the point of of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If hon. Members were so anxious to have a debate on Third Reading, surely, as it has been two hours since the Bill was introduced, they have had ample time to get six names on a piece of paper and submit them to the Chair for consideration. The only reason that Labour Members are trying to prolong the proceedings is that they did not think of that course of action before.
I do not need any help from anybody about this. Also I do not need any more points of order. I am sorry but I cannot oblige either hon. Member, much as I should like to do so. If I had the power under Standing Orders to use discretion this is just the sort of case where I should like the chance to use it, but I cannot use it. I am absolutely precluded from that, and I must put the Question straight away.
For the first time since you have occupied the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you replied to me rather abruptly. You seemed to call upon my head a certain amount of ridicule by telling me that I should know why the situation was unusual, and that if I did not the rest of the nation did. My sole point was that the House had not yet been dissolved. It is still in session and we should obey our rules of procedure now, as we always have done in the past.
I take the opportunity immediately to apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I had no desire to ridicule him. I was trying to add some lightness to the debate, which was perhaps becoming a little heavy. Now I must put the Question.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must insist as a matter of principle that I and five other hon. Members have the right to oppose Third Reading, provided we submit our motion in time and have the approval of the Chair. I have been refused the right which is given to me by Standing Orders. The Chair has the right to oppose my claim, if I am not acting in accordance with the Standing Orders. I shall not agree to Third Reading unless the matter is cleared up, so that we have the right precedent for the future. If you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would accept a manuscript motion I should be willing to accept that statement and not submit it. But I want the principle established that you would say "Yes", provided I was willing to act in accordance with the Standing Order and give notice. That would suit me.
I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. He could have helped himself earlier if he had taken the opportunity of putting down a motion before I came to Third Reading. That was not done. I was in the act of calling the Bill for Third Reading when the hon. Gentleman sought to raise a point of order which I told him I could not take. I have tried to be as lenient as I could be with the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]
Order. We must try to be as good tempered as we can be and finish our work here in a good spirit. I try only to carry out the rules of the House as I understand them. I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows well enough that when I have finished what I am saying I shall call him. He must not interrupt me. It is quite out of character and is something which is not done in the House.
I cannot take the motion which the hon. Gentleman seeks to move because I am expressly precluded from doing so. Such a motion must be put down before we come to Third Reading. I judged that we had arrived at Third Reading, so there is nothing the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member can do, not having put down a blocking motion by then.
I hope that I make myself quite clear to the hon. Gentleman and that he will not pursue the matter further, because I should like to think, after being with him for many years in the House, that he and I could part on the best of terms.
I agree unreservedly with your last point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I cannot agree with the first. Before you put the Question, I immediately rose. I could not have submitted the blocking motion, because at that time the Report stage had not been completed. I did not know until the Committee stage was ended whether any manuscript amendment was proposed and whether the Chair would accept it. I did not know until the Report stage whether amendments which might have been moved and accepted in Committee were agreed on Report, so I had to wait until the Report stage. When you asked "Third Reading, what day?" and were told "Now", I immediately rose. I complied with every part of the Standing Order and asked for permission, before you put the Question, to submit a manuscript blocking motion. I still claim that I am in order, and I am sorry that I cannot accept your ruling.
; If the hon. Gentleman will sit down, I shall tell him exactly. The rules are that a blocking motion must be on the Order Paper or, in a case such as the present, when we have had to change the business of the day, in the hands of the Chair before the moment arrives to put the Question. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not keep the House unduly now.
I am trying not to be a nuisance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but under what authority is the Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time" being put immediately after Report? The Bill was reported to you unamended by the Chairman of the Committee. You then asked "Third Reading, what day?" and a voice said "Now". What authority lies behind that call of "Now"? Has the House agreed to take the Third Reading immediately after the Committee stage? It would be quicker to defer Third Reading for an hour and let us get on with another Bill while the motion is put down, a motion which would not in fact block Third Reading.
I cannot accept that suggestion. The position is quite clear. We are working under Standing Order No. 56. The procedure I went through is the normal procedure that we go through on all Bills. I am sorry that I cannot accede to the request of the hon. Members for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham). I hope that I have explained thoroughly why I cannot do so. I am bound by the Standing Order. Now that the hon. Members have had their say, I hope they will allow me to put the Question.