§ MR. LEWIS,
in rising to move—That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery to make out a new Writ for the election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Wigan, in the room of Francis Sharp Powell, esquire, whose election has been declared to be void,said, that, in the absence of any information from the Attorney General as to his being willing to assent to this Motion, he assumed that it would be opposed by the Government; and, there- 1947 fore, he should give as shortly as he could the reasons upon which he moved it. Before he did so it would be advisable for him to refer to an Amendment on the Paper by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Baron De Ferrieres)—That no Writ be issued to fill up any vacancy occasioned by corrupt practices until this House has disposed of the Corrupt Practices (Disfranchisement) Bill.He did not understand what connection there was between the Motion and the Amendment. If the hon. Member looked at the Disfranchisement Bill, he would find that it dealt with particular constituencies, of which Wigan was not one. There was no direct or collateral result of that Bill which could in any way affect Wigan, and, therefore, the Amendment was clearly beside the question. The Motion he presented to the House contained a question of Constitutional importance. What he suggested was founded upon precedent. It was considered a matter of great importance that no constituency entitled to return Members to that House should be prevented from exercising that Constitutional right except in due course of law. What was the case in reference to Wigan? A year ago, when the Election Petition was tried, it resulted in the Member being unseated, and the Judges reported that there was reason to believe that corrupt practices extensively prevailed. In the expiring days of last Session the Attorney General moved for the issue of a Commission to inquire into the corrupt practices at Wigan; but the House decided that the Commission should not issue. Nothing further was done until the present Session, and on being questioned on the subject the Attorney General intimated that the Government had no intention whatever to repeat the Motion to issue a Commission. He had no doubt a great many Members would agree that the Government exercised a wise discretion upon that subject. He had no intention to detain the House at any length with regard to the Report of the Election Judges; but he ventured to say that if anyone looked at the evidence they would see that very few pounds indeed were proved to have been corruptly spent. If they turned to the decision itself, they found that the decision had been made upon the payment of five sums of 10s. each, under circumstances which made the sitting Member 1948 responsible for the acts of his agents. He admitted that there was some evidence given of considerable treating, which had an effect upon the minds of the Judges; but, as a matter of arithmetical calculation, it would be found that a very small sum indeed was involved in the alleged corrupt practices upon which the Judges proceeded. But had the House ever exercised indirectly that punishment for the iniquities of constituencies which it had the power to punish directly after a Report had been made by Election Judges? He had precedents which were of considerable value. In 1874 the then sitting Member for Wakefield was unseated, and there was a specific case of bribery reported against the constituency; but in consequence of there being no statement of general corrupt practices prevailing the House did not think fit to stop the issue of the Writ. In the Stroud Election case it was reported that corrupt practices extensively prevailed. In those circumstances, the Motion for a new Writ came before the House in the month of May. On that occasion he (Mr. Lewis) drew attention to the Report of the Judges, and it was then objected by the present Attorney General himself that, there being no opportunity of issuing a Commission and no occasion for issuing a Commission legally, there was no reason to retain the Writ, and the constituency had a right to have the Writ issued. The hon. and learned Attorney General, on that occasion, resisted the Motion that he (Mr. Lewis) made, and he did so on the ground that as no step was taken by the House for a Commission, it was improper and useless to suspend the Writ, and that the constituency had a right to it. Was not the present a much stronger case? The case they now had was this—that the House had deliberately decided that it would not issue a Commission, and following upon that the Government had decided they would not ask the House to re-consider the election. Then how did they stand? Why, in the words of the Attorney General in the Stroud case, it was not possible to take any further steps. What steps did the hon. and learned Attorney General mean to take? After all the action of the House and the action of the Government, an Address to the Crown could not now be moved. He did not understand such a step to be intended. 1949 The House remained face to face with this—it did not please Her Majesty's Government to issue a Writ. Why not? In the existing state of the House a matter of this kind was of no great importance; but they must consider the rights of the constituencies. There were great matters daily and almost hourly coming before the House, and the constituency of Wigan had as clear a right to representation, whether the Representative belonged to the majority or the minority, as any other constituency represented in the House. What would be the effect if this were to be carried on? It would be in the power of the Government to suspend the rights of many a constituency. Let them see how the matter stood. Last Session the subject came before the House, and the Resolution which was proposed by the Attorney General was rejected, not by a Party majority. He would read what was said by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. K. Cross). That hon. Member said—I must say that in the sense of Southern corruption, the borough of Wigan is perfectly pure. I live within seven miles of the place, and I know it perfectly well. The people are rough and ready, and a great many of them are colliers, who are certainly a dog-running, pigeon-flying, cock-fighting, Church-and-King lot, who always vote Tory."—[3 Hansard, cclxv. 508]Well, no doubt, in the mind of the hon. and learned Attorney General, that was the chief fault—that they were a dog-fighting, pigeon-flying, Church-and-King-loving lot. What he asked the House to consider was what grounds were presented for depriving the constituency of Wigan of the right to be represented by two Members in the House. He supposed they would draw from the Attorney General whether he had made up his mind on the subject of an Address to the Crown for a Commission. Most likely he had not changed his mind, and the House had not changed its mind. That being so, the House had no proper function to discharge in connection with the suspension of the Writ. He quite admitted that before the Corrupt Practices Act was passed, when it became competent to the Crown to issue a Commission, it was customary for the House to exercise a kind of peremptory action on the constituency by suspending the Writ; but he challenged the hon. and learned Attorney General to find a single case since the Corrupt Practices 1950 Act where a Commission was refused analogous to the case before the House. He would have to go back to a time before the Corrupt Practices Act, when there was no power to inquire into the condition or conduct of a constituency to find a case where the House had refused to issue a Writ. When the Corrupt Practices Act was passed, the right of a constituency was not placed at the caprice of a Party. It was taken out of the hands of the House, and remitted in the first instance to an authorized tribunal. He would ask the hon. and learned Attorney General where was his precedent since the Corrupt Practices Act was passed, after a Commission had been refused for a detention of a Writ for over 12 months, as in this case? He asked him, further, how was it possible for him to escape from the precedent he himself set in the Stroud case, where the House refused to suspend the Writ for three or four days even for the evidence to be placed on the Table? The Attorney General then said it was perfectly useless, and that no further step should be taken; and, therefore, they ought not to do any indirect injustice to the constituency, and he would be no party to it. The Attorney General by his own act, and the House by its own act, had renounced the intention of issuing a Commission, and they had now only the will of the Government and the will of the Attorney General, who thought, probably, that Wigan had not been punished enough. No doubt that was his opinion; probably many others might think it was so. This case was a miserable case. Learned Judges could make mistakes, and they did so in the case of Knaresborough. The Judges in that case made a grievous mistake, for there was not the smallest ground for the slur on the constituency contained in their Report; and, therefore, it was allowed to go scot-free. He would appeal to independent Members opposite, and ask them if they were going to vote against this Writ because it might produce an increase in the Party minority of one? He did not know how the result might be; but this he would say, that there existed the gravest reason why Members of the House should not vote in a Party sense in a matter like this. He thought Election Petitions were given up in order to extract altogether from the domain of 1951 opinion the action of the House in election matters; but now he supposed they were going to be appealed to by the Attorney General to punish this borough. If that was the appeal he made, that 12 months' privation was not sufficient, he (Mr. Lewis) would ask the House to consider what was the nature of the case provided. He challenged the Attorney General to show that there was anything more than a few pounds proved to have been received. When the House was asked to issue a Commission, there was a majority against it. If it was said that the House exceeded its right last year, he was unable to understand how it was the Act of Parliament did not call upon the Attorney General to do, as an Executive Officer, a particular thing outside the Office, but required that he should appeal to the deliberate action of the House as to whether it should or should not appoint a Commission. He contended that the action of the House was more Judicial than Ministerial. There must be something meant in the deliberate action of the House of Lords and House of Commons being called into operation under the Statute. If that was not so, the hon. and learned Attorney General was placed in this difficulty, that the House of Commons had refused to do that which by law it ought to have done. If that were so, surely the power of the Attorney General was sufficient to point out to the House what it should do now. Whatever the case might be in reference to that, the hon. and learned Attorney General was wholly unable to point out to the House any precedent or usage for refusing to issue a Writ for Wigan, and the House had no legitimate right whatever for interfering with the right of the constituency. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery to make out a new Writ for the election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Wigan, in the room of Francis Sharp Powell, esquire, whose election has been declared to be void."—(Mr. Lewis.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was sure the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) would not have taken up the time of the House as he had done for any 1952 Party reasons, and he regretted that he should have suggested that the Government were opposed to the issuing of the Writ because it might give one vote against them in the House. He would, however, suggest to the House this consideration—that he believed that the House made a mistake last Session in refusing a Commission; and all they could do now was to remedy as far as possible the mistake that had been made. The House would allow him to remind them of the position in which they stood. When the Act of 1868 gave power to the Judges to determine Election Petitions, it also gave them power to say whether corrupt practices extensively prevailed; and it would be at once seen by the House that it would be impossible for the House to go beyond the decision of the Judges, and inquire into the correctness of their decision. In the year 1869 it was suggested by Mr. Gathorne Hardy that it would be for the general good that where the decision of the Judges showed that corrupt practices extensively prevailed, a Commission should issue in consequence of that Report. That rule was accepted by both sides of the House, and it had been followed ever since; and it was never deviated from until the unfortunate vote of last Session. He must say he felt some little blame attached to him in the matter; and the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) pointed it out at the time. He did not go very fully into the facts of the case. He referred to the general rule; and he thought that wrong arguments, were brought to bear on the House, in order to set aside the rule which had been so long acted on. One was that of the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. K. Cross), who argued that as the constituency was one of very peculiar habits it should be exempted from the ordinary practice. He presumed that the argument prevailed. At any rate, the House, by a narrow majority, refused the Motion for a Commission; and the question now was, what were they to do in consequence of that decision? The Report of the Judges was that corrupt practices extensively prevailed.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that a Report that 1953 corrupt practices prevailed, or that the Judges had reason to believe that they prevailed, had exactly the same effect. There was no difference between. the two, except in the hon. Gentleman's view, in the spirit in which he was discussing the matter. The learned Judge gave his judgment, not, as had been said, that there was a small amount of treating, but that there was a deplorable condition of things in the borough of Wigan, one witness proving extensive bribery of 150 voters in one room alone in one public-house. Another witness spoke of 20 persons being bribed; and the result was that the learned Judge, at page 220 of the Report, proceeded to deal with this as one of the gravest cases of corruption, and thought it to be a rare thing if the electors did not receive money for their votes. The House had now to deal with such a Report in such a state of things. The House thought it wise in August last that there should not be a Commission. If they were now to grant a Writ they would be giving great encouragement to corruption. He confessed that it was an inconvenient position to be placed in, because he admitted that the consequence of the Report should have been the issuing of a Commission; but they had deviated from the rule laid down. Ought they to make two mistakes instead of one; or ought they rather to do the best they could in order to remedy the mistake already made? The hon. Member challenged him to give a precedent for the course he (the Attorney General) had taken in suspending the Writ. The hon. Member knew there was no precedent. And why? Because the House had never before arrived at such a vote as that of August last. It always issued a Commission till that time; and this was a case in which a Commission ought to have been issued. He submitted to the House that the House ought to exercise its judgment. He was sorry to see the House placed in this position; but, being placed in that position, it was the duty of the House to treat cases as they arose. It would have been far better to let the Judges' Report have its proper result. The House had sufficient before them on which to act. If there had been a Commission, they would have been able to treat all the constituencies alike. Although a Commission had not issued, 1954 the House knew this was a case of considerable gravity. He had not thought it right to include Wigan in the Disfranchisement Bill, as he considered that disfranchisement ought only to be proposed upon such certain information as could be supplied by a Commission. What course ought the House to take? The hon. Member for Londonderry professed to be very anxious on behalf of the electors of Wigan that a Writ should issue; but the electors themselves had made no such demand to the House. Wigan was represented by his hon. Friend the sitting Member for Wigan, and it had able Representatives in the Members for the county of Lancaster. These Members had made no such demand. He could not help feeling that, considering the Report of the learned Judge, the suspension of the Writ should continue for some time longer, for the purpose of showing that the House entirely disapproved of the electoral corruption of Wigan. For this there was a precedent in the case of Gloucester in 1859. At the election which took place there that year it was reported that corruption extensively prevailed; but no step was taken for the issue of a new Writ for Gloucester till 1862, when Mr. Disraeli pointed out that the time had come when the Writ should be no longer delayed. A Writ was then moved for. He was acting within that period now. With reference to the borough of Stroud, he certainly did say the Writ ought to go in that case, because there was no corrupt practice but treating suggested, and he felt there could be no disfranchisement for that offence alone. There was no evidence that there had been bribery in Stroud. In reference to Wigan, however, when the Disfranchisement Bill came on it would be open to any Member to move to insert Wigan in the Schedule. But he did not recommend that course. It was not for him to determine the matter; but he would suggest that the House should not pass over the matter lightly or hastily, and the House should show that it disapproved of what had taken place. He could not fix one time more than another when the House should express its views; but if the House asked him he should say that as in Gloucester the Writ was suspended for three years, in the case of Wigan it might be for two years, and at the end of the present Session a Motion 1955 might be made for a new Writ. By taking that course the House would show that they had done something to mark their disapproval of the conduct of the electors, without acting with severity towards the constituency.
§ BARON DE FERRIERES
said, he thought it was not only undesirable, but unfair, that any Member of the House should go on moving for new Writs for different boroughs in which he had no particular interest. He did not think that a place like Wigan could complain if its case were hung up till the whole question of corrupt boroughs had been considered by the House, though that Bill ought not to be delayed any longer than was necessary. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Writ be issued to fill up any vacancy occasioned by corrupt practices until this House has disposed of the Corrupt Practices (Disfranchisement) Bill,"—(Baron de Ferrieres.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to the singular position in which it would be placed if it adopted the unconstitutional and arbitrary course suggested by the Attorney General. The precedent which the Attorney General had given for the course he proposed was that of the City of Gloucester. It was true that that unhappy City was found out in 1859, and the Government repeatedly resisted any proposal for a Writ. In 1861 Sir George Grey stated that the Government had resolved to ask the House to withhold the issue of a Writ for the City; but in 1862 the Government changed its mind, and a Writ was issued. It was alleged by the Attorney General that in the debate on the Writ Mr. Disraeli alluded to the suspension of the Writ for three years as a sufficient punishment. That was not a correct statement of his views. He did not say that the three years which had elapsed might be taken as a sufficient punishment upon Gloucester. On the contrary, alluding to the suspension of the Writs for Wakefield and Gloucester, 1956 Mr. Disraeli said, "that the suspension of those two Writs had been continuously arbitrary and unconstitutional." He further observed—"In 1861 the Government refused to introduce a Bill for the suspension of the Writ for three years, and that, neither the Government nor any Member making such a proposition, another year had passed, the arbitrary and unconstitutional suspension still remained." No language could more clearly show that it was not accurate to represent Mr. Disraeli as saying that, three years having elapsed, sufficient punishment had been inflicted, but that, on the contrary, from beginning to end, he spoke of the suspension of the Writ, unless it was with the intention of bringing in any measure for disfranchisement, as arbitrary and unconstitutional. There was also the authority of Sir George Grey, who, in the same debate, in consenting to the issue of the Writ, never said that Gloucester had been sufficiently punished, but put it upon Constitutional grounds. He stated that, while adhering to the opinion he had previously expressed, there were serious objections to the suspension of a Writ for a protracted period, without reference to any proceedings or any impending measure. He (Mr. E. Clarke) would ask the Government to act, not upon the suggestion of the Attorney General, but upon the principle laid down by Sir George Grey, that the suspension of a Writ was only to be justified when the Government was prepared to introduce, or the House was considering a Bill to disfranchise the borough. It would be a most serious innovation upon the Constitutional rights of constituencies, which had recently been so loudly and rightly proclaimed, that the majority for the movement should ask the House not to re-try a case, but to deprive constituencies of their representation, even when the Government was not prepared to legislate. Then, the Attorney General based his suggestion upon the fact that the House had refused to issue a Royal Commission. Through that refusal, he said, the matter was in the same form as it would have been before the Corrupt Practices Act had passed. That he entirely challenged. It was clear that upon receiving the Report of an Election Judge the House, if it chose, could vote for the issue of a Royal Commission, and, if that Commission reported 1957 against the borough, could proceed to deal with the subject by legislation. But if the House did not think sufficient ground had been shown for the issue of a Royal Commission, how could it be contended that its refusal to impose that penalty upon the borough enabled the majority of the House to inflict punishment as if that inquiry had taken place? Although the House had refused to try the people, it was contended that the House was entitled to punish them. Anything more monstrous could not be conceived. The Attorney General not only asked the House to punish where it had refused to try, but he asked it to form an opinion upon materials which he did not take the trouble to lay before it, and which he did not indicate in his speech. It was quite as arbitrary and unconstitutional to ask for the suspension of the Writ, under the circumstances, for the Session as for any length of time. Immense mischief would be inflicted upon the unhappy borough of Wigan by the course proposed. Till the month of August Wigan would be in the middle of a contested election, which would probably delight those who wished to see that borough disfranchised, as it would then have plenty of time in which to gratify any propensity for corruption it happened to possess, and so to render itself disqualified for the franchise. There was no proposal, either from the Government or from a private Member, for dealing with the matter in a Constitutional way; and the refusal of the Writ had become a matter to be dealt with simply by the arbitrary majority for the moment.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, he very much regretted the course the House took last Session on this matter. The position seemed to be that every borough must wait, if it had been guilty of any isolated act of corruption, till the Attorney General's Corrupt Practices Bill passed. He did not think that that was a fair thing to do, especially as many of the charges made were based upon the ipse dixit of one or two individuals. As a Representative of a borough, he recently had to pay a rate of 5s. in the pound, owing to the erroneous finding of the Judges, because they had no witness of truth. In 1859 there were no Royal Commissions issued for Wakefield and Stroud, and they were worse cases of corruption than some of those which had 1958 recently deprived boroughs of their re-presentation. The question the House had to deal with was whether the Writ for Wigan should issue now, or at some future period. He thought the House came to an unfortunate decision last year, for the object of legislation of late years had been to remove these questions out of the hands of the House and treat them in a quasi-judicial manner. If, in these cases, the House were to pass over the Report of the Judges, it would revert to the vices of the old system, and the question would lapse into a contest between those Members of the House who wished a new Writ to issue, and to negative the decision of the Judges, and those who wished to support the decision. With regard to a Royal Commission, that could not be issued unless the statutory enactments were complied with; otherwise, it would be an illegal trial from beginning to end. The decision of last year was arrived at at the fag-end of the Session, and in a very thin House; and it was the duty of the Government to have afforded an opportunity of raising the discussion again. The main object of a Parliamentary Commission was not to punish individuals, but to eradicate corruption from boroughs. The House having committed one blunder last year, should be careful not to make another this year. Upon the whole, he thought the House was bound to issue the Writ; and he should, therefore, vote for its being issued.
§ MR. KNOWLES
said, he wished to refer to one or two points raised in the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke). One was that very few Members of the House had read the Judge's Report. He was quite sure that the Attorney General had read it carefully and thoroughly, as he had acted wisely in not pressing for a Commission. It would have been found a very weak case indeed. Wigan had undoubtedly erred; but it was not so bad as Gloucester, Chester, and other places. No doubt, as the sitting Member was unseated, the constituency was to some extent guilty; but the Judges exonerated him from blame, and said he did all he could to avoid corruption. With reference to the second point, as to the issuing of a new Writ, he trusted that the Attorney General would reconsider his decision, 1959 which would be likely to plunge Wigan into a state of turmoil until the end of the Session. The House had not thought it necessary to act on the recommendation of the Election Judges to issue a Commission, and, in doing so, had acted wisely. He himself knew something of Wigan people, and he knew that a Commission would have been unnecessary, expensive, and not worth the trouble. And who were the people said to be guilty of corrupt action? Generally they were enthusiastic and indiscreet shopkeepers, who were giving free breakfasts right and left to everybody, both electors and non-electors, and, to some extent also, because they had an idea that it would afterwards assist their business. There had been a strike amongst the colliers for a long time, and they were then in the middle of it. There was great distress. The weather was very inclement and severe—the worst they had had, perhaps, for 50 years; and nearly all the railways in the Kingdom were snowed up, and what was done was more as an act of kindness than with intent to bribe. With reference to the observations which had been made last Session by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. K. Cross) as to the habits of the people of Wigan, and that they were a "Church and King loving" people, that was quite true. He (Mr. Knowles) was glad to say that they were. As to his description of their being a cock-fighting people, that was a mistake; and he (Mr. Knowles) did not believe there was any truth in the statement. He had been at some trouble to make inquiries as to this matter, and found it was not so. He had been brought up amongst the people and knew them well; and he thought they would compare favourably with the inhabitants of any similar manufacturing and mining district. The borough, however, was, to some extent, under a cloud; and, under the circumstances, he did not blame the Attorney General for objecting to grant the Writ at the present time. He hoped that the Motion would be withdrawn. He himself had not moved for the issue of a Writ, and would not have thought of doing so until nearer the end of the Session, because he considered that the borough deserved some punishment. He would be very glad, however, if the Attorney General would, without any long inter- 1960 val of time, again agree to issue the Writ, and so put the borough out of suspense, and prevent the turmoil and agitation of an impending election being spread over a long period.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, they found themselves in an unfortunate position. The Judges found there was bribery and treating: but the House refused to issue a Commission, and then arose the question, what was the Government to do? They, no doubt, acted wisely in not renewing the Motion for a Commission, and they were equally well-advised in not including Wigan in their Bill as a place to be punished by disfranchisement. The Attorney General, he thought, had acted very fairly. The question was—What was to be done in the present circumstances? Personally, he would not have moved in the matter at present, and he was very sorry the Writ had been moved for. He should have been content if the Writ had been moved for in the course of the present Session; but they were placed in a different position now that the Constitutional question had been raised and argued. It was a great stretch of power in the House to say, without the consent of the other House in an Act of Parliament, that they would punish a constituency by depriving it of representation. He was sorry the question was raised. He would not have raised it; but as it was raised, unless it was answered by the Government in some form, they would be entering upon a dangerous precedent; for the House would appear to be assuming, of its own authority and without a Bill, to deprive a constituency of a Member. It would have been better that the Constitutional question should have been avoided by acquiescence in the issue of the Writ in two or three months' time. But, the question having been raised, he could have no doubt as to the course that he ought to take.
MR. MAC IVER
said, he charged the Government with doing that in a political capacity which they would have been ashamed to do as private Members. The Government were not in earnest last year in moving for the issue of a Commission. If they had been in earnest they would easily have obtained the inquiry. He happened to know something about the borough of Wigan; and the sole reason why the Government refused to issue a Writ at the present mo- 1961 ment was because the Conservatives had prematurely announced the name of the candidate they intended to run at the next election. The object of postponing the issue of a Writ until the end of the Session was obvious. They were prolonging the period over which the election agitation extended, in order that some injudicious agent might do something sufficiently technically illegal as to unseat the newly-elected Member. They knew, too, that if the election were to take place now they would lose the seat; and, like Mr. Micawber, they were waiting for something to turn up. The reasons given by the Attorney General for the postponement of the issue of the Writ were not the real reasons; and they were those which he (Mr. Mac Iver) had described to the House.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he did not think the debate ought to be allowed to close without a further statement of the views and intentions of the Government. Last year the Government made a specific proposal to the House. The House, in its wisdom or its folly—he did not say which—declined to accede to the proposals. The speech of the Attorney General consisted mainly of the allegation that the House of Commons had last year made a mistake; and, no doubt, the House had made many mistakes; but if it had made one, that would be no reason why it should continue to make another. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) had pointed out that there was an essential difference between the case of Gloucester and the proposal now made by the Attorney General. The contention of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite apparently was that the penalty of temporary disfranchisement might be imposed by its own fiat, instead of by Statute. He proposed the disfranchisement of Wigan for a certain definite number of weeks; but what distinction was there in theory between the suspension of a Writ for a few weeks and for a few years? The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that the Writ in question should issue at the end of the present Session; but could he guarantee that his Colleagues would be in favour of the proposal when the time came? The House ought seriously to consider the position in which it was placed. Two courses were open to the Government in 1962 dealing with this question; but they had adopted neither of them. They might have asked the House to rescind the Resolution to which it came last year, but they did nothing of the sort; they might have scheduled Wigan with the other boroughs in the Corrupt Practices Bill; but they preferred to leave it to be dealt with separately. The result, therefore, was the proposal of the Attorney General that the borough should be punished on its own ipse dixit. With respect to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Baron De Ferrieres), he confessed that he could not understand it. The hon. Member asked the House not to issue the Writ for Wigan until the Corrupt Practices Bill had been disposed of. It seemed to him, as the Corrupt Practices Bill in no way affected Wigan, that the hon. Member might with equal relevancy have referred to the Boiler Explosions Bill, or the Churchwardens' Admission Bill. But the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had said that the borough might, perhaps, be included in the Schedule of the Corrupt Practices Bill. Ho had heard of Governments fishing for a policy; but for the Government to invite other Members to insert Wigan in the Bill when they themselves had not the courage to include it was without parallel in the history of Parliament. The Bill had more relation to the larger Corrupt Practices Bill, which had been called a Bill for the prevention of Ministerial defeats at bye-elections. The course followed seemed to be adopted for the purpose of preventing constituencies from expressing their opinion of the Government of the day. He was convinced it was not guided by the calm and judicial mind of the Attorney General, but would more appropriately have emanated from the guiding spirit of the Caucuses. He trusted that before the debate closed some responsible Minister of the Crown would announce some definite course which the Government were prepared to submit to Parliament.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that the right tone had been given to the discussion by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who would not have brought forward the matter, but held that it had now become a grave Constitutional question. After what the Attorney Gene- 1963 ral had said, it would be well, perhaps, if on another occasion the hon. and learned Gentleman simply announced, without giving reasons, the decision to which the despotic Government had come. The hon. and learned Gentleman had mentioned the case of Gloucester as a precedent; but he held that if Wigan was to be punished at all, it could not possibly be punished in a more undesirable manner. It was not necessary to punish Wigan, because they had no power to punish Wigan. They were living now in times when they had a despotic Prime Minister and a despotic Attorney General; and he would ask the latter hon. and learned Gentleman, in view of the small allowance for election expenses provided in his Bill, whether it would Be wrong for the popular candidate at Wigan to hire a single committee-room, or appoint a single agent, or to issue a statement to the effect that he intended to come forward?
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
cordially supported the Motion, observing that the Motion for issuing a Royal Commission had been defeated last year, almost at the close of the Session, on a Saturday afternoon, by a majority of only 6, in a House of no more than 80 Members; and its decision on that occasion, therefore, did not carry with it very great weight. Since then nothing had been done by the Government, although eight months had elapsed since the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) had moved to issue the Writ last August. The constituency of Wigan had, consequently, had no opportunity of defending itself against the charges of corruption made against it; and he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) considered it unjust, under these circumstances, to deprive it of the privilege of returning a Member. It looked as if the Government were applying a Coercion Act to Wigan; and he, therefore, while he considered that a Royal Commission ought to have been again moved for at the beginning of the present Session, should cordially support the Motion of the hon. Member for Londonderry.
§ MR. LEWIS,
in reply, observed, that surprise had been expressed that he should have moved the issue of this Writ. The despotism of the Liberal Party, which had been displayed on so many occasions, now came to this—that 1964 a Member of that House was to be told by Members on the other side in bringing forward a grave Constitutional question—"Oh, you are only Member for so-and-so." He was aware that certain Members of the House usually moved the issue of new Writs; but there never was a Rule which prevented any Member of that House, if he thought a particular constituency was being ill-treated by the manner in which its rights were being disregarded by the House, or any Member of the House, from presenting himself as a supporter and upholder, not of a constituency, but of Constitutional Law. The hon. Member for Cheltenham thought it quite right that Cheltenham should interfere, but not Londonderry, though Wigan was on the way to Londonderry. The hon. Gentleman interfered, it would seem, because he (Mr. Lewis) had postponed his Motion from Monday week; but he did that because he did not want to stand in the way of the Budget; and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in his opening statement, while making pointed reference to the courtesy of another, took no notice of what he had done. He would tell the House very frankly why he had taken up these election cases; and he should take them up until he drove the Government to bring forward the Corrupt Practices (Disfranchisement) Bill. It was this, and he would say it in the face of the House. The Attorney General had deliberately kept that Bill back. Instead of producing that Bill, he had brought forward a general one relating to the future. The truth was, the hon. and learned Gentleman did not like to produce the Bill; but, until the Government did so, he should avail himself of every possible opportunity of challenging their conduct. The whole subject-matter of the Attorney General's speech amounted to this—that he quoted one precedent, a precedent which was totally inapplicable to the circumstances of the case, for which he was obliged to go to a time anterior to the period when Commissions proved to be no precedent at all. It seemed to him that what they had to consider on the present occasion were the rights of the Wigan constituency and the question of Constitutional representation; and consequently, under the circumstances, he should consider it his duty to go to a division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—
§ The Tellers being come to the Table, Lord Kensington, one of the Tellers for the Noes, informed Mr. Speaker that an honourable Member had remained in the Eight Lobby without voting.
§ Mr. Arthur Vivian thereupon came to the Table, and said that not having heard the Question put, he had not voted.
§ Whereupon Mr. Speaker stated to him the Question, and he declared that he voted with the Noes.
§ The Tellers accordingly declared the numbers Ayes 142; Noes 220: Majority 78.—(Div. List, No. 75.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he hoped, now that the views of the Attorney General had been made known, the Amendment would be withdrawn.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
joined in this appeal. The moment was inopportune for pressing the subject.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.