§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of the Bill is to regulate the use of motor cars for the conveyance of voters at elections, and for purposes connected therewith. The question of the conveyance of voters at elections has been a live issue in this country for many years. No less than 55 years ago a Bill was introduced which eventually became the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883. It was based on almost the same proposals as those which are before the House now, with this difference, that the proposals at that time related to horsed vehicles and not to motor cars as is the case with the proposals of to-day. The Act of 1883 is still the basis of our electoral law. It forbids treating and undue influence, lays down conditions governing the expenditure of candidates, and prescribes the law in relation to corrupt and illegal 1461 practices generally, the disqualification of electors, election petitions, and many other matters.
Section 14 of the Act of 1883 forbids the letting, lending or employment of any hackney carriage for the conveyance of voters to the poll—a hackney carriage being one licensed to ply for hire. The only exception to that prohibition is that an elector can use his own vehicle for the conveyance of himself and his family to the poll, and that exception is also contained in the Bill. In the Debates on the 1883 Measure which lasted many nights, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Balfour, Lord Randolph Churchill and many other distinguished Members of Parliament took part, and a strong case was put up in favour of the view that if the hiring of vehicles was to be abolished, as in fact it was, equally, the lending of vehicles ought to be abolished. Mr. Labouchere put the matter in a nutshell when he said that the lending or hire of carriages for electoral purposes appeared to be one and the same thing in principle, because it conferred a distinct advantage on the rich man over the poor man. Mr. H. H. Fowler, afterwards Sir Henry Fowler, a distinguished member of my profession who was then Member for Wolverhampton, pointed out that the Measure of those days proposed to forbid the man who could afford two guineas to hire a carriage, from doing so, while it continued to permit the man who could afford 200 guineas for the permanent ownership of a carriage, to use that carriage for the conveyance of himself and his friends to the poll without question. He went on to say that there should be some restriction upon the practice of lending carriages.
It was proposed then, as it is proposed in this Bill, that the returning officer should have the duty of providing conveyances for those whose residences were three miles or upwards from the nearest polling station. The prohibition on the lending of vehicles was not carried into effect at that time, because the extent to which the evil might develop was not appreciated; there was not the discrepancy in wealth between the two predominant parties which exists to-day, and the Government of that day promised to provide additional polling places as a way of meeting the difficulty. Sir Henry Fowler said then that the settlement pro- 1462 posed would not be a permanent one, because the working class of this country would not be content to see such an obvious advantage given to the wealthy candidates. To-day the position has worsened with the advent of the motor car, and not only the working class but many other people are not content with the present situation.
Shortly, and in compendious terms, the Bill proposes, in boroughs, entirely to prohibit the conveyance of voters to the poll except in the case of those who because of age, sickness, physical infirmity or otherwise are unable to go to and from the polling place. In those instances the Bill provides that conveyance shall be arranged by the returning officer. It further proposes, in counties, a similar prohibition on the conveyance of voters to the poll with a similar exception, but in counties it will also permit a proportion of the electors who would not otherwise, owing to distance from the polling place, be able to vote, to be conveyed there under arrangements made by the returning officer. I do not know whether objection will be taken to people having to walk to the poll—I hope not—but I would remind the House that over 300 years ago the freeholders of Buckinghamshire who supported John Hampden walked to the poll, as did the Yorkshire supporters of Wilberforce in 1784. Surely, with our greater number of polling stations and our public transport facilities we cannot be behind our ancestors of hundreds of years ago. I submit that in boroughs there is no necessity for motor cars at all, except in those cases for which provision is made in the Bill. In some counties there may be, and the Bill provides for that need being met.
I am not in any way tied either to the method, the proportion, or the provision that should be made in counties. If the central principle of the Bill is retained, I am sure we shall be happy to agree to any Amendment in the Bill in matters of detail, particularly on the question of the proportion. The principal ground, however, on which I ask the House to approve the Second Reading of the Bill is that the present system, under which a well-to-do candidate or a candidate with well-to-do supporters has a great preponderance of cars, gives such a candidate an unfair advantage over his less well-to-do opponent. That fact can- 1463 not be contradicted. How can conditions be said to be fair or equal when, for example, at Northwich in 1929, in a constituency covering 179 square miles, one candidate had no fewer than 150 motors, and his opponent had only five cars? In that election the winning candidate had a winning majority of four votes only. Is it not obvious that if this Bill or this central principle were carried, or if there were a greater equality in the number of conveyances, an election such as that would have resulted differently?
In 1935, at Shrewsbury, a constituency with 61 polling districts, one candidate had 300 cars against his opponent's four, and how can such an inequality as that be justified? Fair play is said to be a jewel, but where is the fair play in such an unequal contest? Take the case of the Kelvingrove Division of Glasgow. There, at the General Election in 1935, I am reliably informed, there were large numbers of electors living in, for example, the new housing area at Ruchill, which in parts is some three miles from the nearest polling station. Incidentally, this matter is very largely aggravated by the number of new housing estates that have grown up. In that Kelvingrove Division, in 1935, there was a great number of people who came home from work within an hour or two of the closing of the poll. They were three miles from the nearest polling station and were unable to get there in time unless they had transport to carry them. I am informed, on the most reliable authority, that they were standing in queues on the pavement, waiting for transport—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Major Milner
After the interruption, upon which I will not make any comment, because I want to be moderate and reasonable in all that I say, I will remind the House that I was pointing out that at the General Election of 1935, in the Kelvingrove Division, there were very large numbers of people who had come home late from work, standing in queues on the pavement, waiting for transport, which was not available, to carry them to vote for one candidate, while the half-empty cars of the other candidate were passing literally by the score, I am told, with their drivers actually scoffing at the 1464 plight of those who, owing to the distance, were unable to get to the poll in time and, of course, refusing to carry them. The winning candidate had a majority of 149 only, and it is surely beyond argument that those particular electors were disfranchised owing to their distance from the polling booth and by their reliance on transport which was not available for them, though it was available for those who were willing to vote for another party. Had the parties been more equal in the matter, it would, I submit, have been extremely likely that we should have had someone other than the present Member sitting for the Kelvingrove Division.
I will give two more instances. I remember a recently deceased hon. Member of this House putting up for a Division some years ago. He was a man of very great wealth, and he actually ordered a special train to bring his own motor cars and those of his friends, numbering 70 in all, from London to the Leeds Division which he was fighting, in order to help him to win that election. I am glad to say, and as hon. Members who know Yorkshire would expect, that the hard-headed electors of Leeds, notwithstanding his advantage in cars, did not see fit to elect that gentleman to this House, and he had to seek a constituency elsewhere. Then a present Member of this House, sitting for a constituency not 100 miles from Leeds, told me only the other day that at the last election he had more cars than he could usefully employ, and indeed that he was able to send the surplus to help other less well equipped Divisions. That is a not unusual position.
The gross unfairness of the present practice is proved beyond a doubt. That practice is in spirit an evasion of the present law, and I was interested to observe that the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry), who has his name down to an Amendment asking for the postponement of this Bill, spoke only a few minutes ago on evasions of the law. Today and for many years past there has been an evasion of the law on this subject. Hon. Members are aware of the limitation of the expenditure which a candidate at an election can incur. A wealthy candidate or one with wealthy friends gets round and evades that present limitation of expenditure, which was introduced specifically to make the conditions between the rich and the poor 1465 candidate more equal. To-day expenses are incurred which are not shown, and the House must agree that that places a rich candidate, or a candidate with rich friends and supporters, at a great advantage. This Bill seeks to restore or make effective the present law and should be supported on that ground alone.
The present practice also results in disfranchising a great number of people. I have already instanced the voters in the Kelvingrove division. In the Ross and Cromarty division there are places 12 miles from a polling booth, and there are people living in places from which it is almost impossible to get voters to the poll without transport. Hitherto that has been available to one party only, and if it is not available to the electors who want to vote for another party they are disfranchised. Under the Bill the agent will submit lists of those distant voters and the returning officer will arrange for the transport fairly and equally between the parties. It cannot be disputed that the offer of a lift in a car amounts to little less than bribery or treating, and it is in spirit a violation of the present law. I am sorry to go back so many years, but 55 years ago it was said in this House,You do not allow a candidate to give the voter a glass of wine or a lunch on election day. Why, therefore, should you allow him the use of your carriage?Those words are equally appropriate today. Many electors have few opportunities of riding in a motor car, and if they do so on election day they feel it incumbent on them to vote for the candidate in whose car they have ridden. That is regrettable but it is so and the psychological effect of a great many cars for one candidate and very few for the other is considerable. There are villages—I know one in Yorkshire—where the villagers are afraid to ride in the cars of one party, and if they do not ride in the cars belonging to the squire, a former Member of this House, or the vicar, or the doctor, they are liable to be marked as unsound politically—strange, but true, in 1938. I have been informed that as many as half-a-dozen liveried chauffeurs worked one village polling station. The intimidating effect in such a case must be obvious. I do not think it can be disputed that the present practice results in congestion of the polling booths. It causes the electors to have difficulty in 1466 getting into the booth when as many as a hundred cars are round the polling station; children swarm on and about moving cars; accidents not infrequently occur; and I have reason to believe that the police in thickly populated areas would welcome this Bill for that reason. If the Bill is passed candidates will be relieved from the obligation of having to beg cars from their friends and putting them sometimes under an undesirable obligation. Car owners would also be able to avoid having to lend cars to their annoyance and inconvenience, and not infrequently to their expense.
I submit that I have in moderate and non-partisan language made out an irrefutable case for the Bill on grounds of justice and fair play, of adherence to the spirit of the law as well as of the letter, and of public right and convenience, particularly in the case of the aged, infirm and sick, who in many cases are not conveyed to the poll. I am, therefore, at a loss to know what grounds those who have the Amendment on the Paper to postpone consideration of the Bill pro pose to advance against it. In 1885, when it was proposed to prohibit the use of hired vehicles, it was urged that the proposal was monstrous, impracticable, unjust and so on, but the proposal was passed, and its benefits have become a matter of second nature to us. The question of expense may be raised. In the old days all expenses, including those of the returning officer, were paid by the candidates. To-day the returning officer's: expenses are rightly paid by the community, and I cannot think that any objection can be taken to the small expense that would be incurred in boroughs, which would be the only expense, in conveying aged, sick and infirm persons, who could not otherwise exercise the franchise, to the poll. In counties elections occur on an average only every three or four years. The expenses in the aggregate for the conveyance of the aged and infirm and the few distant electors especially listed by the agents would surely be negligible.
I cannot hope to meet all the arguments in advance, but I would ask without offence the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), who heads the list of those opposing the Bill, one or two questions. He had a majority in his division of 1,742 at the last election. His opponent had three cars only. I am glad to see the 1467 hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) present. No doubt, following the footsteps of his grandfather who took a similar reactionary attitude to the one I am apprehensive that he will take, he has forgotten nothing and learned nothing. His ancestor objected to the Bill of that day, and presumably the hon. Gentleman is objecting to this Bill to-day. The hon. Gentleman, in a large county division, had a majority of 970 at the last election. I would like him and any others who oppose the Bill to tell the House frankly how many cars they had and how many cars their opponents had, and whether, in fact, they do not think that they had an unfair advantage over their opponents in this respect. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give us a straight answer to that question.
The other day Senor Madariaga at Geneva summed up the national characteristics of various countries. He chose the words "fair play" as best exemplifying the chief characteristic of the British nation. I hope that I have submitted the case for this Bill fairly and frankly to the House. No doubt the Bill is capable of amendment, and I should welcome its improvement in any respect. I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, and thereby take the first step towards remedying a long-standing grievance, and give some proof that in the work of the House of Commons, irrespective of personal and party considerations, the spirit of fair play, equity and justice is still the paramount characteristic.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House, whatever their views may be, will agree that this is in no sense a party question, although I think it is true to say that of the hundreds of thousands of motor cars which are used on election day in this country the party opposite enjoy the assistance of probably 90 per cent. at least. I can speak only of my own constituency, but I noticed after the last election a statement in the local Press that my opponents had the advantage of the assistance of practically 400 cars. Whether that be true I do not know, but I do know that I had the use of only 18 cars.
§ Mr. Henderson
That is obvious. Of course, I believe that it is a practice in many constituencies to make use of the cars of one's opponent. In my own election it was mentioned to me that a private car, driven by a liveried chauffeur, reported to one of my workers by mistake, and was allowed to make several journeys taking my supporters to the polling booth before the driver discovered that he had reported to the wrong side. This question has been discussed for a number of years, and I find that so far back as 1901 an arrangement was entered into by the three candidates taking part in an election at Oldham to limit the use of cars to seven for each party, including one to be used by the candidate and one by the candidate's agent. We have it on authority of those who took part in that election that the reduction in the number of those who voted was less than 1½ per cent., and that may have been explained, partly, by other causes. Therefore, I doubt very much whether there is any substance in the argument that in the event of restrictions being placed on the use of motor cars in elections there would be a diminution in the number of people voting.
The House discussed this problem on a private Member's Motion in the Parliament of 1929–31, and, whatever the views of hon. Members may be, we are entitled to say that this is a question which has caused concern to many people for some time past. It may interest the House to know the position as it exists to-day. Section 7 of the Corrupt Practices Act, 1883, makes it illegal to make any payment or to enter into any contract of payment on account of the conveyance of voters for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate. Subsection (3) of Section 7 does expressly allow the hiring and use by voters of any kind of vehicle provided it is for their own use. So there is nothing in law to prevent the use of privately-owned cars, and that is a privilege of which considerable use is made. Section 14 of the Act prohibits the hiring or letting for hire of any public, stage or hackney carriage, so that hackney carriages cannot be used to convey voters to the poll. That is why private motor cars may be used but hackney carriages may not.
My hon. and gallant Friend who moved this Motion referred to the 1469 anomalous position which has arisen by reason of the fact that it is unlawful to expend money on buying intoxicating liquor for the purpose of influencing votes. It is unlawful to spend whatever the price of beer may be—a shilling a pint or whatever it is—[AN HON. MEMBER: "The cost of living has gone up "]. Well, how much is it? Perhaps the hon. Member knows, but I do not. While it is unlawful to buy a pint of beer yet it is perfectly lawful to spend 3d. on buying petrol in order to take a person to the poll in a motor car—[Interruption]. It is not a question of how much petrol one can get for 3d. It is possible to spend whatever may be necessary on petrol in order to take people in a motor car to the poll, whereas it is unlawful to spend money on intoxicating liquor with the same object in view, namely, influencing a person to vote. Hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds are spent in constituencies in this way, whereas it would be unlawful if the money were spent on intoxicating liquor.
I suggest that the problem has become much more acute during the last 20 years, because of the enormous increase in the number of cars, but the need for motor cars in elections has become less. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the better transport facilities which exist to-day. Most districts are covered with a net work of motor bus services, many of the urban areas have tramcars, London has its underground railways, and the transport problem is not so acute as it may well have been when the Act of 1883 was passed. Secondly, as my hon. and gallant Friend also pointed out, during this century there has been a great increase in the number of polling stations, although I think hon. Members will agree that in many districts there are still not sufficient. In my own constituency, in Quarry Bank, a long straggling village, there are two polling booths, one at each end of it, but a person living at the top end is not allowed to vote at the polling station there, because it is on the other side of the main street and the main street has been taken as the dividing line, and so he has to go to the bottom end. There are many instances where an increased number of polling stations would be of considerable advantage to the electors.
This Bill is eminently reasonable. It does not seek to give an advantage to any particular party. It would put all 1470 parties on the same footing. It cannot be argued, therefore, that we are animated by any motive of self-interest in asking the House to accept the Bill. In these days, when we hear so much of the advantages of our own democratic system, I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree that the basis of democracy is not only that the electors shall have the right to cast their votes freely, but that they shall have equality of opportunity so to do. It is because we believe that under the present system the greater number of motor cars in use at elections are at the service of one of the great political parties, that we want to place all parties on the same footing.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I move the rejection of the Bill with great pleasure, because I think that both the Mover and Seconder of the Bill have performed a very useful service in giving the House the opportunity of discussing rather more entertaining legislation than we have often to discuss on a Friday. Of course pretty well all legislation is bad, but some Bills are worse than others. I confess that I have had the privilege of opposing many private Bills and of supporting a few, but I hope to convince the House to-day that of all the Bills that have been produced, at any rate in the course of this Parliament, this Bill is just about the worst. The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) pointed out with truth that the National Government or the Conservative party possesses more cars than are possessed by the Opposition. He went further and said, "Here the Labour party are comparatively short of cars, but the other side have a good many and the thing ought to be levelled up." I can understand that argument from the Opposition side, but why the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) should have said that this was not a party Measure, beats me. If the Bill was simply produced in the interests of complete purity for all elections and all electors, why did the hon. Member stop at motor cars? Why did not motor bicycles and side-cars come in?
§ Mr. Raikes
The hon. and gallant Member says he is quite prepared to accept such an Amendment and I am sure that whenever any tricky points are raised—I have a number up my sleeve—he will be quite prepared to accept them. But if he is prepared to mutilate his whole Bill, how can he expect this House to set up a Committee in order to remedy all the mistakes and the follies of which he has been guilty by producing this Bill? We have a right, when dealing with a Measure, to find that on the face of it it is equitable and has not to be cut about and cut about in order to make it reasonable.
§ Mr. Raikes
The hon. and gallant Member refers to the Coal Bill. In my view that was a bad Bill at the start, and we have made it a little better. In this Bill motor-cycles were not brought in originally. I do not like to think that lurking at the back of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind at the time of the introduction of the Bill was the thought, "A great deal of the support which the Labour party receives in the country comes from the youth of the country, but on the other hand the Conservative party, although it has a powerful youth organisation, gets a very large proportion of its votes from eminently respectable persons who have learned that street-corner oratory is nothing more or less than wind." It has taken them some time to learn that, but the older they get the more conservative they get, as even Mr. Bernard Shaw has admitted. When I see a car load of elderly ladies in my constituency, wending their way to the poll, I say to myself, "Ah, those old girls are going to vote for the right man, and that is me." But under this Bill, if cars were wiped out we should be driven to a desperate position. I should see my dear old ladies, whom I had previously brought up in cars to the poll, on the pillions of motor-cycles attached to sidecars, perhaps even on tricycles, on a cold November day. I maintain that that would be a most scandalous thing to happen. We have a good many deaths on the road at the present time, but if we had young men endeavouring to show their mothers and grandmothers how speedily they could take them to the poll on motor bicycles, we would have innumerable accidents, 1472 and those who escaped accidents would catch pneumonia before they got home.
In fact, a Bill of this character, by depriving us of cars, would lead to the death and destruction of the older supporters of the Conservative party. I am shocked that the hon. and gallant Member opposite, with that virtuous air that he always possesses, has at the back of his mind a new blow and a red blow for the destruction of elderly ladies. On that point alone there is a grave case against the Bill, in the interests of equity. But that point does not stand alone. The hon. and gallant Member asked me a question about South-East Essex. He said, "The hon. Member had a majority of 970. How many cars did he possess in the election and how many did the Opposition possess?" I do not know the numbers. I admit that I had a considerable advantage in cars as against my opponent. But I was also a candidate in 1929 in the county division of Ilkeston, in Derbyshire, and then I had a considerably larger number of cars than the hon. Member who still represents Ilkeston, and in spite of that I had the misfortune to be defeated by something like 14,000 votes. On Polling Day, in May, 1929, I happened to be outside the Socialist Committee room in Ilkeston, and I saw a notice, of which I make no complaint, to the following effect: "Have a free ride in the capitalist's car and vote against him." (Hon. Members: "Hear, hear.") If hon. Members applaud that, what have they to grumble at in the present situation, and why all this nonsense against the use of cars against themselves?
There is a further point. Let me go back to my own constituency. There, there is one area which is more or less urbanised. My opponent gets most of his votes in that urbanised area and I get my votes from the more scattered districts outside. If the number of cars were cut down in a district like that, the Socialist area would not be affected because cars are not needed so much, but I should have greater difficulties with my voters in the more scattered districts. In fact, the Bill would operate in this case against myself.
§ Mr. Raikes
But there is no provision for a greater number of cars in areas which are scattered than in those which 1473 are closely knit into a constituency. This important Bill requires careful consideration. A large number of the electors who go to the poll are not serious politicians. They like to have a little fun out of election time. I should think that half the voting population of this country feel in their heart of hearts that they will not get much, whatever Government is in office, and that they had better get something when they can. I do my best in South-East Essex to provide as many charming young ladies as I can find to drive cars on polling day. There is a mixture of classes, including persons who generally have to go by bus, and they probably get more satisfaction out of having a free ride in company with a charming young lady than they would out of the company of the candidate. It would be a pity if we deprived them of that sort of pleasure.
§ Mr. Raikes
There would be nothing to prevent them from doing that after the poll was closed, but I daresay that the hon. Gentleman has had greater experience in that direction than I have had. Perhaps I might parody some well known verses in this way:For forms of government let fools contest;Who charms the voter most will come off best.That is quite as good as any poetry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) is likely to produce in his leisure moments.
I want to pass now to percentages relating to voters taken to the poll. As I read it, a list of 2 per cent. is to be the limit in a county constituency of those who may be taken to the poll at the expense of the country. What would that amount to? In a big constituency you might very well be placing upon the returning officer the burden of arranging for the carrying of from 8,000 to 10,000 people to the poll. In Romford we get about 170,000 electors on polling day, and as there are four candidates that would mean that 8 per cent., would have to be taken to the poll, a very considerable burden at the public expense. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that you would really get more electors? Suppose we presented, at about nomination day, a list of the persons whom we wanted to be 1474 taken to the poll; I am certain that in a county constituency a considerable amount of jealousy would arise between polling districts as to the names which should be put down. I should not dare to take the risk at election time of taking doubtful voters, and I should concentrate with great vigour upon my best supporters. Otherwise they would turn and fight among themselves. They would take the view that here was a lift being given by the State, and that if they were not being given a lift by their candidates they were being overlooked. Instead of making Democracy more operative in the country, the result would be to make it less operative. We should be taking to the poll voters who would vote for one in any event, while the others would remain away.
This is an example of the hidden hand. I always thought that the hon. and gallant Member was a democrat, and I still hope he is, but we must remember that one of the greatest criticisms against Democracy is that it makes people much less willing to shoulder their responsibility, and more inclined to be State-controlled. On the platform we say: "Get your people to the poll." Unless we do that, Democracy becomes flat, and if people do not vote, Democracy will die in England as it has died in other parts of the world. If we concentrate on taking to the poll the people who would vote in any case, there remains a larger proportion of people who do not vote, and the first blow for Fascism will have been struck by the hon. and gallant Member. I thank him once again for making it possible to have such an interesting discussion, and I hope that the arguments I have placed before the House will convince him that the Bill would make it much more difficult for him to take many of his own supporters to the poll.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
I beg to second the Amendment.
Unlike my hon. Friend, who moved the rejection of this Bill in such a witty and convincing speech, I rise to oppose, though with some reluctance. I am surprised that an hon. and gallant Gentleman for whose mental equipment and integrity I have always had such a high regard, should bring in a Measure of this kind. I should never agree with his political opinions, but I have always had the 1475 greatest admiration for his intrinsic qualities, and he has caused me great disappointment that he should be the author of a Measure of this pernicious nature. He is a Member whom I would trustingly make the executor of my will and to whom I would willingly confide the plate to take round in church. My regret may possibly be understood by the House. Here we have a distinguished lawyer introducing a Measure which, on the face of it, must bring, and is designed to bring, a considerable increase in the work of the legal profession, and therefore financial benefit, no doubt, to the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. It is almost as though the millers that we read about in the Press as trying to form a corner in flour were seeking to promote legislation making the eating of a certain proportion of bread each day compulsory on everyone. Or, if I might perhaps take a more personal analogy, it is rather like a plastic surgeon, who has specialised successfully in reducing the size of large noses, seeking to promote a Bill to make the wearing of a large nose an offence against the law as well as the eye. I think these analogies are strictly in accord with the attitude of the hon. and gallant Gentleman in bringing forward this Measure. This is one of those occasions that make one regret the passing of those qualities of delicacy and decency and restraint which were such admirable characteristics of the last century. Indeed, we must deplore from the bottom of our hearts this gross materialism, even commercialism, which appears to have permeated the character of one of such integrity and honesty as the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
But there are, as I see it, far more fundamental objections to the Bill. It is, to my mind, a negation of democracy, a negation of freedom, the antithesis of a classless society; it is calculated to promote dishonesty among our people; and it would be almost impossible to operate. I think that these are sufficient grounds upon which to base my objection to the Measure. Now let me prove my contentions. Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 lays down a two per cent. quota of the electorate who are allowed to be carried free, but, owing to the bad drafting of the Bill, it is impossible to know whether it is two per cent. four per cent. six per cent. or eight per cent. It all depends, 1476 apparently, on the number of candidates and the list supplied by the agents of the respective candidates. Suppose, however, that it is only two per cent., and take the average electoral strength of a division, which was given from the Front Government Bench the other day as 50,000. Assuming that the two per cent. means two per cent. of the total electorate, that means that 1,000 voters will be carried free out of the electorate of 50,000. Take a constituency like Argyll—a large scattered constituency, sparsely populated, difficult to get about in, with great distances between the polling booths. Such a constituency would only enjoy the same concession as a small, compact constituency in the South of England, where everyone might very well walk to the poll. Secondly, this proposal savours too much of class legislation. To anyone who studies the Bill—and I hardly like to think that any of the Members on the Labour Benches have studied it, or they would not support it—it means in effect that rich or well-to-do people, with their luxurious cars, will be encouraged to vote, while the poor people without cars will be left at home.
§ Sir T. Moore
No, I myself have seen large and luxurious cars taking opponents of mine to the poll. I must admit that there were very few of them, because I find it difficult in my constituency to find an opposing elector. Speaking for myself, as a Member whose majority is largely composed of discriminating and highly intelligent people of the working class, I should never on personal grounds alone vote for this Bill, seeing that it would react against my own success in my constituency. I say that perfectly candidly, and I hope that hon. Members who support the Bill will be equally candid.
In Clause 1 there is a provision which is well worthy of a little further examination—certainly more than the hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced the Measure appears to have given to it. It says:Nothing in this section shall prevent—(a) any motor car being used for the purpose of the owner or any member of his family bona fide residing with him from being conveyed to or from the poll.Take the case of the owner of a large, luxurious, expensive motor car, who is a 1477 bachelor, with a large house and a large staff of domestic and other servants. He drives off to the poll in a big car capable of holding six or seven people, and leaves his staff to walk.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member knows very well that that is not true. I, myself, am often brought down to this House by friends who own cars, and members of my family and staff are often taken out by them, in a happy spirit of comradeship; and every Member of the House, whether Tory, Liberal or Labour, who owns a car, would do the same thing. That interjection is purely for the purpose of stirring up a bias in favour of the Bill. If, in such a case as I have mentioned, only the owner of the car is allowed to drive to the poll, and his large staff have to walk, is that likely in the opinion of the House to promote good will between class and class, such as our friends on the other side of the Gangway are always talking against? I would also ask the promoter of the Bill, what about the chauffeur? He has to take, his employer to the poll, take him home again, and then start out on foot to register his own vote; otherwise he will be liable to three months' imprisonment. Again on the question of the use of a car for members of the owner's family, how many relatives of the owner, with the large house and many empty rooms, might not feel it necessary and proper and pleasant to go and spend a protracted period with him, especially when an election was in progress? That is not referred to in the Bill. It would be possible in some cases for the owner of the car to accommodate half the village in his house—friends, relatives by marriage, and so on. The Bill is so ill-devised and ill-designed that it does not cover any of the difficulties which could be pointed out by any reasonable lawyer. I am not a lawyer. I am sorry for it, because I realise that it is a very necessary and well-paid profession, and will be a much wealthier one if this Bill is passed. I ask, quite honestly, why should the feelings of generosity and good will which engender cars being offered at election times be stifled, and stifled at the expense of the taxpayer, who is to be called upon to pay in default of what is at present freely offered? That is what will happen if Sub-section (6) is carried. That Sub-section says: 1478The cost of hiring motor cars and all other expenses incurred by a returning officer under this section shall be defrayed as part of his expenses in connection with the election.Then there is the question of the penalty, which, according to Clause 2 (4), is three months' imprisonment for coming in out of the rain. If a girl is walking to the poll on a pouring wet day, and she is given a lift, or asks for a lift, the penalty is three months' imprisonment. I ask the ordinary man-in-the-street, as well as Members of this House, can one possibly accept such a savage sentence as that?
§ Sir T. Moore
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell me where 40s. is mentioned, I shall be obliged. The Bill says that the maximum penalty shall not exceed three months. The only penalty mentioned in this Bill is three months' imprisonment, with or without hard labour, and it is extraordinary to think of a young girl of 21 being sentenced to three months' hard labour for coming in out of the rain.
§ Major Milner
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will also appreciate that that is the present penalty for hiring vehicles.
§ Sir T. Moore
I am not going to enter into a legal argument with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He is better qualified to conduct a legal argument than I am. I am arguing from the point of view of the man-in-the-street. As a matter of fact, if the Bill were put into effect, I should probably have a bigger majority than at present. According to Clause 2, absent voters are exempted from the scope of the Bill. If that is so, what is to prevent all the people in a constituency going out of the constituency on the day of the poll, thereby coming outside the scope of the Bill, and demanding cars to take them to the polling station?
I come to the question of the infirm, the aged and the sick. Who is to decide who is infirm, aged or sick? You must have a medical certificate, presumably, before you can prove that a person is sick, and then a birth certificate to prove old age. You are putting so many restrictions on possible voters by this Bill that, if it were passed, no one would take the trouble to vote. That is, no doubt, what hon. Members above the Gangway want. 1479 I speak as one representing a Scottish constituency. In Scotland, we have large constituencies, with sparsely-populated areas. Under this Bill it is proposed, apparently, that we should be hampered and cramped in the expression of our opinion. In Scotland, we are proud of our democracy, proud of our honesty, and proud of ourselves, and we most emphatically repudiate the right of any English Member to try to deprive us of our liberties.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
We have listened to a great deal of wit from the previous two speakers, but I really ask myself whether there was a breath of sincerity in anything they said. They have brought us a large number of higgledy-piggledy objections about chauffeurs and philanthropists; but have they faced the big issues which the Bill raises? It is perhaps superfluous to say that this country is supposed to be a democracy. Under democracy our parties put up candidates, who spend a considerable time going about their constituencies, stating their views and endeavouring to win the support of the electors. Polling day itself is nothing but a piece of machinery for discovering which candidate has been successful in winning, to his way of thinking, the largest number of electors.
There are all sorts of obstacles which discourage electors from voting. There is old age; but we get old people on each side. There is ill health; but there are Socialists, Liberals and Conservatives who get ill on polling day. There is apathy; but we all have our enthusiastic supporters, our moderately enthusiastic supporters and our apathetic supporters. Those disadvantages are meant to cancel each other out; and so they would, and you would get a true reflection of the state of opinion in our constituencies, but for one thing. In our democratic system we have tried to avoid giving any advantage to wealthy people. In the old days, none but the richer people could vote, but we have abolished that by our system of general suffrage. There were days when very rich men had large numbers of votes, but we have abolished that.
To-day, one single advantage is given to wealth through this instrument of the motor car. It is through this instrument that you get the true opinion in a con- 1480 stituency distorted in favour of the party which possesses the wealth and the motor cars. That was never intended, and is not intended under democracy. It is the major issue of this Bill, apart from any little points, that, under the present system, you are distorting the machinery of democracy through wealth. I beg opponents of this Bill not to under-estimate the way it works out. Why have we had elections always in the Autumn during the last few years? Is it because there was a lull in foreign politics or anything of that kind? No, it is because the Autumn more than any other part, of the year is likely to provide wet days.
§ Mr. Acland
As the last two speeches were almost filled from beginning to end with points which were meant to be a little amusing, perhaps I may be allowed to include one in my speeches. May I point out how the thing works out? If through ill-fortune it becomes a wet day, there is no question of driving for miles in scattered districts. In the towns, between the hours of six and eight, which is the time when people can vote in masses, both parties have their apathetic voters. In some constituencies there is more apathy on one side, and in some constituencies more on the other, and perhaps it balances itself out. But one party is able to bring its apathetic voters to the poll and the other is not, and that is the way it works out in a constituency such as there are many in the West of England. It is not in the country parts, but in the towns that it works this way in the closing hours of the poll. The Tory party has 200 motor cars, and the Liberal or Labour party will be very lucky to have 40. These cars can make, on an average, four short journeys an hour into crowded streets, taking an average of three voters per journey. That is 24 people per car, 200 cars on the Conservative side, 4,800 voters. On our side if we are lucky, 24 people per car, 40 cars, 960 voters. In these last two hours cars mean to the Tory party a majority of 3,840 voters per constituency.
§ Captain Sir Derrick Gunston
Does that represent the total vote of the Liberals in every constituency?
§ Mr. Acland
That is very clever, but it is not true, because if that were so, 1481 I would not be in this House. I am not speaking on behalf of my party only, but on behalf of democracy and those who have not the money as yet to buy these motor cars. The big point which hon. Members opposite are shirking all the time is that this presents them with 3,000 or 4,000 per constituency. I do not wonder that they are against the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland would not be in this House to-day if this Bill had been passed before the last election. There is no doubt whatever that in the constituency of Spen Valley there was a majority of constituents who had been persuaded against the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his views, and the reason why he was returned was that he was able to bring to the poll this large number of voters and the other people were not.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Major Sir George Davies
The House is indeed fortunate, in the course of this Debate, in having at least one representative of the Liberal party opposite to keep us all right. I am unable to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) upon the Bill which he has brought forward this afternoon, although I respect his courage in doing so. I share the view that, whatever the objects may be, it is a thoroughly wrong and miserable Measure to bring before the House of Commons. Generally speaking one may say—and let us admit it—that there is a feeling among hon. Members opposite, with a certain amount of basis to it, that the possession, by what is generally regarded as one party, of this free transport facility is an advantage in elections.
§ Sir G. Davies
The schools are up now. Unfortunately, a case might conceivably be made on those lines, and the hon. and gallant Member tried to do so, but he was not altogether fortunate in his seconder, who I notice has now left the Chamber. The hon. Member for Kings-winford (Mr. A. Henderson), in the course of his efforts to support his hon. and gallant Friend, pointed out two things which completely undermined the whole basis upon which the hon. and gallant Member introduces his Bill. It became clear that the aim is not, as he tried 1482 to show, a completely non-party Measure. It is not. Hon. Members opposite want us to be frank and say that there is a certain advantage in having a majority of these transport facilities. We will admit that, but we want them to be equally frank and say that it is not a question of non-party that is really behind this Measure, but that it really is a party Measure attacking what they conceive to be certain advantages held by hon. Members on this side.
§ Sir G. Davies
In his efforts to maintain that position, the hon. Member for Kingswinford gave the whole situation away by two things which he said. One was that in the election which, unfortunately, resulted in his return to this House—I say this merely from our point of view—he suffered an enormous disadvantage as his Conservative opponent had no fewer than 400 cars and he had 18. According to the whole basis of the opposition to this Bill, his Conservative opponent ought to have been here with an enormous majority, but he was defeated. It shows, therefore, from that point of view, that the enormous advantage that is supposed to be held by the party of which I am proud to be a member is non-existent. His other basis was to show that if we did away with this sort of thing, it would not reduce the electorate by one per cent. If that is true, the existence of it does not have the enormous and overwhelming results which our school teacher, who has been informing us on the situation, told us about. If we are to talk about Democracy and the basis of having the best kind of representation of the views of the people before we are sent to this Chamber, we need to have as many people as possible to come to the poll in order to record their opinions. This Bill is going to reduce them.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) put, in very amusing form, some really vital objections to the Bill, based upon the point which I want to make, namely, that it is going to reduce the numbers of the electorate who are entitled to vote rather than to increase them. It is idle for hon. Members opposite to suggest that it is in these luxurious cars—one does not come my way, incidentally—that we on this side of the House are all supposed to possess 1483 only the real dyed-in-the-wool Tories are taken to vote. That is complete and utter nonsense. Elections in this country nowadays are very largely decided by what we call the floating voter, who is not attached definitely to any political party. No one in this House, and no specialist outside, is able to say what way that cat is going to jump. Our efforts are often concentrated on trying to win the floating electors our way. One of the ways of doing that is to enable those electors to vote, but Clause after Clause of this Bill would prevent them from doing so, or make it more difficult for them. One of my objections to the Bill is that, instead of spreading the advantages of democracy, it is taking away from the voters opportunities which they now have of getting to the poll.
I represent one of those wild west county constituencies, and I know what it means to have long distances to cover in order to get to the poll on wet and muddy nights. If the hon. and gallant Member had brought in a Measure to increase substantially the number of polling booths in those areas, or even to evolve a method of travelling, we would all welcome it as a means of making it as easy as possible for the people to exercise the franchise, but to bring forward such a Bill as this is to put the voters in a much more inferior position than they occupy to-day.
I should like to deal with some of the details of the Measure. The hon. and gallant Member will perhaps say that the points we raise can be adjusted in Committee, but when a Bill is brought before the House and in line after line one finds absurdities, then if we are told that they will be altered in Committee, it means that the Bill will be an entirely new Measure when it comes back to us. Let me draw attention to some of the provisions of the Bill and the difficulties in working them out. I pass over the fact that the hon. and gallant Member appears to assume that all the electors are males and that there are no females. I suppose he will tell us that that can be put right in Committee. In the use of the expression "motor cars" in the Bill there is a great deal of vagueness. There is really no definition in the Bill. It seems to me absurd that when science and civilisation have discovered a method of convenient and rapid transportation, a Mem- 1484 ber of this House should bring in an artificial Bill to crib, cabin and confine that method of transportation. I have always felt that the invention of the internal combustion engine has been nothing but a disaster to civilisation. If it had never been discovered we should never have had "G" men and had gangsters, men who exercise a new technique of crime. We should never have had hideous bombings from the air, and we should never have had the dreadful thought that you can get from the North of Scotland to the South of England in 48 minutes. We have lost the desire nowadays to stay put. We want to get somewhere else as rapidly as possible. Much as I hate all that, and much as I think the development of the internal combustion engine has been a disaster, except in the case of getting the fire brigade quickly to an outbreak, yet if we have these facilities, why should we try to prevent the use of them in a matter like this? It reminds one of the position of a man who can walk perfectly well, but who has to use crutches.
§ Major Milner
Why not have drinks and lunches, games and music? All these things have been abolished. Where is the difference in principle?
§ Sir G. Davies
I was coming to that part of the argument of the hon. and gallant Member, but at the moment I am dealing with the question of transportation, not with music or alcoholic refreshment. Not many years ago anybody who possessed a motor car of any kind was regarded as a millionaire plutocrat. In these days of hire purchase anybody putting down the smallest amount can get some kind of a motor car and tries to get past the eagle eye of the Minister of Transport and his officials with inefficient brakes and general inefficiency. As the years go by, as the standard of living increases and the cost of motor cars and motor bicycles goes down, more and more will they come within reach of the purchasing power of increasing circles of our people, and it will be no longer the plutocrat who will own or drive in a motor car. In a few years' time the hon. and gallant Member will realise the utter absurdity of a Measure like this in conditions which are not static, but which are moving forward all the time. The luxuries of to-day are the necessities of to-morrow; and that will be the case in this matter.
1485 Not only is the Bill going to result in fewer of the electorate getting to the poll but it is also going to impose a check on the progress of science and transport. There is a provision in the Bill—I do not know whether such a provision is in any other Measure—which puts the onus of proving his innocence on the owner of the motor car. He is guilty unless he can prove his innocence. The Bill says:where it is shown that any motor car has been used as aforesaid the owner shall be deemed to have knowingly permitted such use unless the contrary is proved.That is a very dangerous departure from the principle that a man is regarded as innocent until he is proved to be guilty. Here he is regarded as guilty unless he can prove his innocence, and there is a penalty of three months' hard labour.
§ Sir G. Davies
If that is so, then do not let us add to the number of such poisonous provisions which this House lets go through.
There are one or two other matters which I should like to point out. Again, the hon. and gallant Gentleman will probably tell us that this can be adjusted in Committee, but it goes to show that this is a rather bad little Bill. What is meant by the wordsany member of his family bona fide residing with him.Who is or is not a member of the family? I pass over the word "him," but sometimes a woman is the head of a household. This is not a trivial objection, because there is a penalty attached to it, and if one is not within the limits provided by the Bill with regard to being a member of the family, one may find oneself liable to the penalties that are set forth later on. How is bona fide residence to be proved? We know how difficult it is in the case of taxation to prove that a person is a bona fide resident in the Channel Islands, or Belgium or somewhere else. Every time a borderline case came up, under this Bill a person would have to prove bona fide residence in a certain household. A person might see the other members of the household go off in a luxurious motor car, but have to walk to the polling booth himself, because he was not a bona fide resident or was outside the limits of the family member- 1486 ship as specified in the Bill. I do not see how, within the limits of common sense, it would be possible to make this sufficiently elastic to cover even the exceptions which the hon. and gallant Member wants, and at the same time to apply common sense to the restrictions that would be put on different members of the same household.
I pass now to Clause 2, which deals with an elector:who on account of age, sickness or physical infirmity is unable to go to or from the poll.How would that work in practice? Obviously a medical certificate would be needed. When would that medical certificate have to be procured? Sickness or infirmity might arise immediately before the day of the poll, or even on the morning of the poll. There ought to be a schedule with regard to this matter. Is any medical officer's recommendation to be taken? Let hon. Members remember the difficulty which arises with regard to people who apply for war pensions, as to whether they are suffering from a disability due to war service. We all know that innumerable medical officers with the best intention in the world give certificates not acceptable by the Minister of Pensions; they have to be gone through, and very often they are turned down. Is that to be the situation with regard to the medical certificates in these exceptional cases of age, sickness or physical infirmity?
§ Major Milner
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that it is proposed that His Majesty in Council should make regulations, in accordance with the established practice of the National Government. Those regulations would provide for this matter.
§ Sir G. Davies
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has come up against a real difficulty in this Bill, but has passed it on to somebody else. I do not think he has added to his battery of artillery by drawing my attention to that matter. In any event, I do not think that all the King's horses and all the King's men, and all the Orders-in-Council, would be able to overcome all the difficulties that would arise in this matter. Then the Clause provides that, where necessary, one attendant is to be conveyed in the motor car with the voter. Is the attendant to be allowed to vote also when he reaches 1487 the polling place, or is he to be in the position of the chauffeur who, having driven the members of the household to the poll and brought the car back and put it in the garage, then walked to the poll to vote himself?
The last point to which I would call attention is the onus which will be put upon the candidate, the agent and the returning officer with regard to fixing the percentage of voters who are to be conveyed. Reference has already been made to the invidious distinctions which will be involved, but I ask hon. Members also to think of the work which will be involved. Hon. Members opposite do not sit for scattered county constituencies to the same extent as hon. Members on this side, and perhaps they do not all realise the tremendous amount of work which there is for a candidate and his agent in a county constituency. It is impossible always to be prepared for elections. They sometimes come as thieves in the night. How is a candidate at short notice to draw up a list of those voters who are to receive transport facilities while other poor blighters have to walk? It is an absurd provision which would never work out properly, and the cost of it is to be placed on the taxpayer, and not on the resources of the constituency of the candidate. I object to this Bill, first because I think it is impracticable, and, secondly, because it misses the motive which I believe is at the back of the hon. and gallant Member's mind, namely, that there should be an extension of real democracy in this country. The result of the Bill would be to prevent the extension of democracy, and I hope the House will reject it.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I support the Motion. I was particularly interested in the remarks of the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment, and I was very pleased to find that those who are in opposition to the Bill admit frankly that there is an advantage in the use of motor cars. As I listened to some of the speeches, I wondered how long it was since those hon. Members had fought elections. I have not been many days in the House, and I know something of what motor cars are intended for and what is done with them at elections, from an experience which is not yet three weeks old. I speak with recent knowledge of the use 1488 of motor cars in an election, and I have been interested and amused by some of the objections put forward to this Bill.
It has been suggested that the Bill would strike at democracy. That seems the strangest argument that could possibly be used in this connection. If the use of motor cars were open to all, if motor cars were available for all on election days, there might be something in the argument that by the use of motor cars you could aid democracy. But when it is admitted that a motor car belonging to a given person is intended and is used for the purpose of bringing that person's supporters, and his supporters only, to the poll, I do not see how such use of the motor car can be advocated as a defence of democracy. A humorous suggestion was made about the chauffeur who drove his master to the poll and back home and then had to walk to the poll himself. We all smiled at the suggestion, but it may be in the true interests of democracy that the chauffeur should have to walk back to the polling booth in order to record his own vote. At any rate, then he would not be voting in the presence of one who might have a desire to influence the way in which he should vote.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
The length of time ago seems to me to influence the hon. and gallant Member's attitude to this question. I was saying when I was interrupted that although the ballot is secret, and known by many people to be secret, I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the individuals who ride in those motor cars are in the main known to the people who give them the ride to be voting in their direction, otherwise they would not take them to the poll. I want to give hon. Members opposite sufficient credit for realising that they would not drive voters if they knew they would vote against them. I was interested too by the illustration of the pedestrian who might ask for a lift to the polling booth on a wet night. Again I want to suggest that there are not many pedestrians going to the polling booth who request a lift. I 1489 know something of the working of Conservative headquarters, just as I know something of the working of our own headquarters, and I know the lists that are prepared beforehand of people to bring to the polling booths. They are not looking for strays in the motor cars, they are fetching certainties, and, therefore, the illustration of the pedestrian on a particular sticky night cuts no ice so far as argument is concerned.
It seems to me that the attempt that has been made by hon. Members opposite to laugh this Bill out of court is a refusal to face up to the issue. The last speaker suggested that in spite of the fact that there was a preponderance of motor cars in Kingswinford on behalf of the opponents of my hon. Friend, he yet won the seat, and that therefore the value of motor cars cannot be brought into the question. The argument which he was thus seeking to put up was that because we occasionally win in spite of the handicap, the handicap ought not to be removed. If it were in the interests of democracy that this Measure should not be passed, I suggest that it is equally in the interests of democracy that all the legislation which has been passed curtailing expenditure for the purpose of inducing people to vote should be repealed, because every argument that has been used in favour of the private owner bringing voters to the poll is applicable to the individual who hires cars for that purpose. Why should the individual who owns a car be at an advantage in comparison with the individual who has money but does not own a car?
I speak from some little experience in this matter. Some years ago now, when I was a young man innocent in politics, thinking that justice was always meted out, and knowing the particular advantage that was given to the Conservative party, in our town at any rate, by the use of motor cars, we, in our inexperience, hired three motor cars for the purpose of conveying electors to the poll and evening up the ballot. To our dismay, we found that, while it was legitimate for the individuals who owned cars and their friends to use cars, when we hired them we paid £23 through the Law Courts for our experience, so that it seems to me that in the principle of this Bill there is an attempt to aid democracy, and I hope the House will pass it.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wise
I do not think I can follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson). I was interested in his revelation of the wealth of his party and the ease with which they hired motor cars for their use in elections. It is a thing I have frequently suspected. I look in a reasonable, unbiased way at this Bill and the proposals which it embodies. I represent a constituency where a motor car is not a necessity, for no elector is more than half a mile from a polling booth unless he lives outside the borough. The motor car is used mainly in my constituency as a means of advertisement, displaying posters round the streets. I have never yet had sufficient cars, although I remember a generous gesture from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in one election, when he had rather too many and he sent me some supports.
I have had experience of this motor car problem in a way which, possibly, not many Members of my party have had. In my first election I found that the number of motor cars and the luxury and size of them which were put into the field by my opponent were far greater than mine. My opponent was at that time one of the real blue-eyed boys of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Wise
Perhaps he is not so popular now with the party as he was then, but after a short time in their ranks he was advanced to high office. The number and luxury of his cars completely outweighed anything I could put into the field. I do not think that the number of his cars really had any effect on the size of his majority. It was, at any rate, 3,000 fewer than he had betted it would be. My second election in the same borough was in 1931. I then had a considerable preponderance of motor cars over my opponent, but I do not think they had the slightest effect on the course of the election, because, after two years of experience of the party opposite in power, the electors would have crawled to the poll. In my third election the disparity between the respective fleets of motor cars was not so great. It was nearly even, and I do not think they had an enormous effect on the size of the poll on either side. I must confess that my tongue almost hung out with envy when I heard the estimate of the hon. Member 1491 for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) of 400 cars as that of the fleet of one of my neighbours.
§ Mr. Wise
Even if it were double the number, my tongue would still hang out with envy, because the largest number of cars I have seen working for my neighbours was 94. I think the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) failed to establish the necessity for his Bill. The examples which he gave of voters being unable to get to the poll did not seem to be very convincing, and I should like to put the opposite case of what happens where voters have to be got to the poll somehow or other. As regards the Kelvingrove division of Glasgow surely the queues of electors referred to were not disfranchised because they had no motor cars, whereas our party had. Surely they were not so far from polling stations that they could not walk to them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Three miles in some cases!"] That is one hour's walk, and surely that is not very much to ask if the zeal of the working class for the Labour cause is as great as hon. Members opposite lead us to believe. To walk three miles in order to register a vote in the cause of freedom, progress and democracy is not very much. In the country districts, where the absence of motor cars would disfranchise a very large proportion of the electorate, irrespective of party, in some cases instructions are given to the drivers of all motor cars that they are to take all voters to the poll.
There was an instance, of which I know at the last election when my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) issued definite instructions to all his private drivers that they were to take voters to the poll irrespective of party. In many cases, even with the best organisation, a candidate's cars will still take to the poll a large number of voters for the other side. I believe the country districts would be hopelessly disfranchised by this Measure. Take constituencies like some of those in Lincolnshire, which extend over 600 square miles, and have a sparse population; and the situation is worse, of course, in Scotland. If Northern Ireland were not exempted from the Bill 1492 it could be shown that the position there would be very much worse, though I do not believe that was the reason for omitting Northern Ireland.
§ Major Milner
The hon. Member will appreciate that there is no objection to people lending their cars to the returning officer, although not to the individual candidates.
§ Mr. Wise
If I read the Bill correctly, even if they do lend their cars to the returning officer, the only people who can be carried are the two per cent., or whatever extra percentage it may be, and the aged and the infirm; but that does not cover my point about the country constituencies because there I do think that every person has a real right to be carried to the poll—and away also, as an hon. Member remarks. I do not think this Bill would bring about a necessary reform. The use of a motor car is not a bribe or some strange form of corruption. It is not on a par with the examples which have been given from the benches opposite; and I must confess also that in regard to the distribution of favours I do not see why on earth you should not give a buttonhole to a voter. That is not parallel with the hiring of motor cars to carry voters to the poll; there is a good deal of difference between a freewill offering and the accumulation of a force of mercenaries to undertake anything of that sort. Further, I do not think that hon. Members opposite have established their point that the privileged classes, as they sometimes call them, have anything like a monopoly of the motor cars in this country. I believe there are something like 1,000,000 private motor cars registered in this country.
§ Mr. Wise
It is idle to say that all those cars, or even a vast proportion of them, are in the hands of supporters of our party. If that is so, then the claim of hon. Members opposite to represent the middle classes, which they frequently make, falls entirely to the ground. With 1,700,000 motor cars registered, cars will, one day become as common as the bicycle was before the War, and in a very few years it will not be a question of using loaned motor cars to carry voters to the poll, but most voters will go to the poll 1493 in their own cars—that is, as my hon. friend reminds me, if the present Government remains in office and the standard of living has a reasonable chance to rise. I hope the House will ignore the specious argument in support of the Bill, an argument which appeals very much to the emotions but does not in fact really show that the Bill will effect any of the things which it seeks to do—an argument which would provide one more unnecessary offence in a country which is already overloaded with statutes making it improper for citizens to do one thing or another.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Does the hon. Member imply that it is more progressive to walk to the poll than to drive?
§ Mr. Riley
I hope to show that it would be more progressive if those parties which are not very wealthy had equality of opportunity with those which are wealthy. We have had some clever tomfoolery—I say this without offence—about the disaster that might occur to miners and bricklayers if once in every three or four years they had not a chance to drive to the poll with a charming young lady in a motor car. We have had that kind of extravagance indulged in to-day, but we have had no serious effort made to deal with the admitted handicap which now exists regarding the use of motor cars in elections. I ask this question and I think every one must answer it affirmatively: In the electoral system of this country what is the implication of the statement that every section of the community is entitled to take part in the government of the country? It is the implication that every section of the community should have an equal opportunity of achieving that purpose. That cannot be disputed. It is admitted that in elections there is a definite handicap imposed so far as the use of vehicles for conveying voters is concerned. Case after case has been mentioned of one party in a constituency commanding, say, 200 cars, whilst the opposing party had only four, five, six or a dozen cars.
§ Mr. Riley
The hon. Member knows quite well that one swallow does not make a summer, and that if the Labour party had the advantages possessed by hon. Members opposite that would not solve the problem, which arises out of the disparity in election fights between the men of wealth and the men of slender means, and that position has not been seriously met by opponents of the Bill. Instead, we have had references to the misfortunes of people who are unable to ride beside some charming lady.
From the hon. and gallant Member who seconded the rejection, we had an almost fanciful picture concerning a chauffeur who might carry his employer and family to the poll but would not be entitled to vote. He would have to take his employer and family back home and return on foot to the polling station. I suggest that the hon. and gallant Member should look at the wording of Sub-section (3. b) of Clause 1, which reads:any motor car being let to or hired or employed by any elector or electors.The chauffeur does not have the car let to him, nor does he hire it.
§ Mr. Riley
Yes, but the car is not hired or let to the chauffeur. The words are:being let to or hired.There is no disqualification, and the objection was a fanciful one not related to the facts.
I want to stress the point, because it is something which we should all face, that there can be no dispute that the people whose position enables them to command 100 motor cars at an election have advantage over the others who cannot do so. To meet that point, the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) declared that the Bill would diminish the use of motor cars, would deprive people to that extent of expressing their democratic point of view and would diminish the volume of democracy in our elections. He said that if we did not continue the unlimited use of motor cars the percentage of electors going to the poll would 1495 fall, and this could be retained only by allowing the present arrangement to go on. If hon. Members do not like the Bill, are they prepared to amend it in Committee in order to provide that the total number of cars at election time shall be pooled for the equal use of all candidates?
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Commander Bower
I owe an apology to the promoters of the Bill for the fact that I was not here to hear the, no doubt, admirable speeches that were made in its support. I feel that the Bill is really based on a complete misapprehension of the real state of affairs as regards motor cars and the electorate. It is obviously based on a fear that we on this side of the House can command a great many more motor cars than can hon. Members opposite, and I am quite prepared to admit that in some cases, but by no means all, that is true. I believe that in many constituencies it is just as easy for hon. Members opposite to have motor cars as it is for us.
When I see a Bill of this sort, I always turn to the list of promoters, and I think that in this case it provides us with some interesting information. It includes three lawyers—using the generic term as covering both branches of the profession—one retired lieut.-commander of the Royal Navy, one well known manufacturer of paint and varnish, and two Members who might possibly by some stretch of the imagination be regarded as members of the working class. I do not know how-many of those hon. Members possess motor cars, but I imagine that at least six of the seven do, and doubtless their motor cars, during an election, if they are not standing themselves, will be placed at the disposal of the candidate of their party who is standing for the constituency.
As to the provisions of the Bill itself, I am not going to cover the ground which has already been covered so ably by a large number of other Members, but I really feel obliged to say something about this provision in Clause 1:Nothing in this section shall prevent—(a) any motor car being used for the purpose of the owner or any member of his family bona fide residing with him from being conveyed to or from the poll.I do not want to enter into the merits of the next paragraph, or what is meant by 1496 hiring a motor car; that would be a matter for the Courts to decide; but it seems to me that there is evidence in the draftmanship of that particular paragraph that one or other of the legal gentlemen; to whom I have referred was concerned in drafting it. I think that legislation, of this or any other kind should be regarded from the point of view of whether it will work. This, obviously, will not work. Supposing that in a certain street, which we will call Johnson's Lane, there resides, at No. 3, a gentleman whom we will call Buggins. He lives there with certain members of his family. In the same street, three doors away, there lives Mr. Buggins's first cousin, who is a fish hawker, and, being a fish hawker, and therefore a very prosperous man, possesses a motor car. Polling day comes round, and Buggins Senior and his children, all of whom have votes, go down the road and have a fish supper with their cousin who lives three doors away After supper this gentleman said, "Come along, we had better go and vote Labour," and he gives them a lift in his car. As a result the Buggins family will find themselves all in gaol. Quite obviously this does not work. I come to the next Subsection, which refers to:any motor car being let to or hired or employed by any elector or electors at their joint cost for the purpose of being himself or themselves, as the case may be, conveyed to or from the poll.That was obviously drafted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), because I do not understand it, and I doubt if any other hon. Member understands it either. Clause 2 (2) says:…every candidate shall be entitled to have conveyed to the poll free of charge such electors as may be named in a list to be prepared by him or his agent, so, however, that the number of names on any such list shall not exceed two per centum of the total number of names on the register (exclusive of absent voters).I think that that rather prejudices the whole idea of the secret ballot. The hon. Member suggested—and I think the suggestion was not really credible—that an employer driven to the poll by his chauffeur might exercise undue influence upon him. I repudiate that. In my constituency, and many others, small tradesmen and people engaged in business are very reluctant to state their political views 1497 or say they belong to our party, because of the intimidation that exists. That is an irrefutable fact. Hon. Members opposite are artists in that direction. We are not prepared to accept that any of us who are fortunate enough to be able to afford chauffeurs exert any influence on them. In any case, the ballot is secret, and I think that the secret can be kept. Then, there is the question of the burden that would fall on the returning officer.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I beg to move, "That the Question be now put." This Debate has lasted two hours and 25 minutes, and hon. Members on all sides have had a chance to speak.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid I must come to my own conclusion as to whether the Closure shall be accepted or not.
§ Commander Bower
The returning officer is an exceedingly hard-worked official. He is the target for the candidates and agents of all parties. At the last election, the returning officer in my 1498 constituency got into serious trouble with myself and my agent.
§ Major Milner
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Commander Bower
One of the polling booths had an approach to it down a very narrow lane without any form—
§ It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 14th February.