Parliamentary Candidates (Disqualification)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington 12:00, 7 May 1981

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review the law concerning disqualification of candidates at parliamentary elections.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington

Does my hon. Friend agree that the removal in 1967 of the disqualification of persons serving a sentence of imprisonment for serious crime was a mistake which has led to unforeseen and serious consequences? In view of the possibility of the repetition of recent events, does he also agree that the need for the reinstitution of that disqualification is urgent?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I accept that a very important problem has been raised. The need for action is important and urgent. I hope that we shall be able to proceed. with agreement throughout the House. I believe that on a House of Commons matter of this kind it is very important that we should seek to do so.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell:

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that when my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) deferred from tomorrow to 10 July the motion for the Second Reading of his Bill which would restore the law to its state before 1967, he did so upon the understanding that before that date of 10 July the Government would be ready to come forward with an announcement and with their proposals?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend for that action, which I think will help us all. Inevitably, producing a Government Bill involves certain problems and complications, which the House will have to face. In any proposals of this kind, I hope that we can proceed with as much unanimity as possible.

Photo of Mr Jock Stallard Mr Jock Stallard , Camden St Pancras North

Will not the Home Secretary accept that there are dangers in jumping in to amend legislation which was discussed as recently as 1967? There are many precedents. Indeed, we all know the situation before 1967. In view of recent events, if we were to jump in flow, there would be widespread misunderstanding both at home and abroad. It may be said that we change the rules as we go along to suit the circumstances. Would not such action lower the dignity, prestige and authority both of democracy and of this House?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Various balances have to be struck. As it stands—and can be exploited—the present situation cannot raise the standing of this House. It is important to remember that. All those who were Members of Parliament at the time bear some responsibility for what happened in 1967. For one reason or another—the general election was one of the factors—this matter was not raised and discussed in the House at that time.