§ The Chairman
I do not select either of the first two Amendments on the Order Paper. The next Amendment stands in the names of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and one of the hon. Members for Dundee (Mr. Foot) —in page 1 line 13, leave out from "time" to the end of the Clause. I have some doubt as to whether I should select that, but I am prepared to give the hon. Members an opportunity of ex-plaining its purpose in order to enable me to decide.
§ 426 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
We think that this raises a very important point that is suitable for consideration by the Committee, and I hope that you will feel able to take that view, Sir Dennis, when I have given my explanation. By passing the Second Reading of the Bill, the House has agreed with the general principle of postponing local elections; but there is another question that does not necessarily go with that. That is the question of whether you should, at the same time, abolish any by-elections that may arise from time to time. So far as Parliament is concerned, we have taken the view that by-elections, whatever may happen about general elections, can go on—by agreement between the parties, although in certain cases there may be a contested election, which does not seem to do anybody any harm. It is felt strongly by some people that there is no reason why there should not be, at any rate, elections in localities for the purpose of filling an occasional vacancy, just as we are finding it possible to do so for Parliament. I think it does not touch the main issue, but it deals with a small and definite point. That really puts the case, I think, and I will leave my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) to elaborate the matter from that point of view.
§ The Chairman
Perhaps the hon. Member will address himself to a point which occurs to me. If this Act, amended as he proposes, were to continue in operation for any length of time there might, for some reason or other, be so many casual vacancies that it would render these local bodies practically unable to carry on their business.
§ Mr. Mander
I do not quite follow how the difficulty is going to arise there. If you had a council consisting of 30 people, and there were 15 occasional vacancies, you would get 15 people elected to take the places of those who had died or fallen out for any other reasons. But the Bill would mean that if the annual election came round and all these 30 people were up for election at the same time, that election would not take place.
§ The Chairman
I must be very cautious, in a case of this kind, not to appear to express any view on merits. In those circumstances, I think I must give the hon. Member the benefit of the doubt, and allow him to move the Amendment.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
As I understood the speech of the hon. Member, what he contemplates is that, although there shall be no local elections during the currency of the Bill generally, in the event of a casual vacancy that vacancy shall be filled by means of a by-election. But that is not the effect of the Amendment. The effect is to leave out all the words in the Clause after "time," in line 13, and what will then be left of Clause 1 will read as follows:While this Act is in force no local election shall be held, and any alderman, councillor or elective auditor in office at the commencement of this Act shall continue in office:Provided that the foregoing provisions shall not prevent the vacatior of the office of an alderman, councillor or elective auditor otherwise than by effluxion of time.That is to say, that there shall be no local elections during the currency of the Measure. Casual vacancies may occur either by death or by resignation, and the effect of the Amendment would be that casual vacancies occurring in that way would not be filled at all.
1087 The real issue before the Committee is not whether there shall be a by-election or not. That does not arise at all on the Amendment of the hon. Member. The issue before the Committee is, should casual vacancies be filled by co-option or should casual vacancies not be filled at all? I think the general sense of the Committee will be that it is a good thing that casual vacancies should be filled by co-option during the currency of the Measure. For one thing, it is perfectly clear that in any council where you have a small majority, either one party or the other, controlling the affairs of the borough or whatever authority it may be, two or three deaths or resignations from that particular party might alter the whole political complexion of the council. I think really it is good sense, if we are to have substantial agreement, that casual vacancies occurring from time to time should be filled by co-option as is provided in Clause 1.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
It may be true, as the Minister said, that the Amendment which is on the Paper does not quite achieve what it sets out to do, but, in spite of that, the Amendment is designed, as was made clear by my hon. Friend, to cut out the principle of co-option and to allow casual vacancies to be filled by election. That is the purpose of the Amendment, and that is the main argument before the Committee to which the Minister has not addressed himself at all.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is attempting to argue in favour of something from which it would appear that the Amendment before the Committee is incomplete. That relates to why I doubted very much whether it was an Amendment which I ought to select, and leads me to consider whether it should not now be withdrawn from the Committee.
§ The Chairman
Exactly, if the hon. Member means a different Amendment from that on the Paper: but the hon. Member was talking about other means of filling vacancies, and those other means are not dealt with by this Amendment.
§ Mr. Foot
In that case, perhaps the best course will be to raise the argument 1088 on the Question, "That the Clause stand part." I understand that there is likely to be a Report stage, and perhaps we may be more successful in placing an Amendment on the Paper then to which the Minister will be able to address himself.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ This is purely a drafting Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, at the end, to add:Provided that the provisions of this Section shall not apply to any council area where the Minister of Health is satisfied that a petition signed, by not less than twenty per centum of the electors, has been presented to him requesting that elections shall be held.This Amendment deals with a small point, which, I think, could very easily be met if the Minister would be good enough to accept it. The general principle has been accepted, but I am sure it would not be the desire of the Government that councils should cease functioning altogether. This Amendment will give an opportunity to electors in a certain area, say, in the area of the rural district council of Lands End, if there is such a body which is not likely to be disturbed in their consideration of local problems, to have an election if they desired to do so. I cannot see what objection there could be to it, if the electors themselves —we know what apathy there is—desire to do so. I am not wedded to the figure of 20 per cent. I had to put in something. If it is thought too low or too high, I shall be willing to accept any other figure that the Minister may think desirable, but it seemed on the whole to be a reasonable one to take.
Let me give an example of the situation that is actually arising now. I know of one particular case. There is a very strong feeling, I understand, among a certain section of the electors in Torquay as to the way in which the negotiations in connection with the requisitioning of hotel property there has been conducted by the mayor and the council. I understand when they heard that this Bill was 1089 to be brought forward they were aghast at the idea and very strongly objected to having their rights of recall taken away from them. In a case of this kind, if the electors of Torquay desire, as they undoubtedly do according to my information, to have an opportunity of making the councillors explain why they have done certain things, and of submitting alternative councillors who may serve them better in their judgment, surely it is a case where the democratic system ought to be allowed to function.
There are other cases which might occur to one. The question of the supply of Anderson shelters is a live issue in many districts, and there is a great interest in the A.R.P. arrangements, which are to some extent in the hands of the local council through the emergency committee. In my constituency there is great interest in this matter. If this Bill is passed in its present form, it will mean, perhaps over a considerable period, that there will be no means of putting any pressure upon the councils and the representatives of the people. I am not arguing against the whole strategy of the Bill, much as I dislike it, and unnecessary as I think it is, but I am asking for a very modest concession that will undoubtedly meet the need of a certain number of cases in this country, and which could be met without any real risk or danger at all.
I hope that the retirement of the Home Secretary from the Chamber does not mean that the Government have already made up their minds and are not going to accept any proposals that we put forward. If so, I do not think that it is treating the House fairly not to hear the case considered and argued on its merits. I appeal to the Government to consider very carefully whether they cannot make concessions in a case of this kind and so give an opportunity, in a very modified form, for the democratic representative system of this country to function locally in certain very enlightened and enterprising areas.
§ 4.40 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
I am glad to support the Amendment, as a member of a local authority. I did not support the Measure when it was submitted to the House, although I abstained from voting, for party reasons. My feelings were, and are, very strongly opposed to the 1090 Bill. If I may say so with respect, this House is rather presuming to dictate to the local authorities of the country in a way in which it is not applying its dictum to its own proceedings. This House has determined that by-elections can take place, subject to local agreement, but in this Measure we are compelling local authorities, whether they like it or not, not to hold local elections. If the war is a prolonged one, this will mean that there will be no change in the constitution of the local authorities, and the lack of change may be a very serious detriment to the electors in certain cases. I have in mind a case in the North of England in which there is great controversy on the question whether or not the time has come for the expenditure of a substantial sum upon a new abattoir. I am advised that that matter has already been determined. There are other kindred matters of importance in connection with local authorities in which the voice of controversy will be definitely stilled by the Measure as it stands. Surely, we might consider the rights of the ratepayers and agree that if a large body of electors, 20 per cent., go to the trouble of promoting a petition to Parliament that local elections should be held, that is a concession which should be made. Otherwise, great hardship may be done in the localities.
The Measure, as far as I have been able to ascertain, was introduced without consultation with the local authorities concerned. Surely, therefore, in this mild degree we might have regard to local views, and if people go to the expense of submitting a petition to this House that local elections should be held, then they should be permitted to hold them. There ought to have been some definite statement made why the great local authorities were not consulted before the Measure was thrust upon the House. One knows that such a Measure was likely to be accepted, in principle, because one does not desire controversy at this time, but local authority opinion has never been consulted, and if for that reason alone we ought to show the degree of toleration suggested in the Amendment and allow it to be passed.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I should have liked to agree with the hon. Member who moved the Amendment because, like him, I did feel rather strongly about the Bill; but, having given a little further consideration to it I have come to the conclusion that in this matter it has to be all or nothing. I regret it, and I regret that it has been necessary at this early stage of the war to bring the Bill forward; but as the November elections are approaching I take it that the Government considered it right to bring in the Bill at this early stage. The impracticability of dividing the Bill into compartments, permitting elections to be held in one place and not in another, is shown by the fact that day by day and week by week we see the electorate in every district being altered. Men are joining the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, there is evacuation and a hundred and one things of that sort, bringing about a complete redistribution of the population. That seems to me to be an overriding principle and one which should decide us to stand by the Bill to which the House has given a Second Reading, and carry it out.
There are other reasons. Assuming the Amendment were passed I can imagine that in some places where strong local feeling exists on matters such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), the result would be that public attention and activities would be distracted from what ought to be our chief effort to-day. I can imagine all sorts of possibilities arising in connection with different matters, some of which might have relation to the war and others no relation to the war. Particular sections of the electors might work up agitations, causing a great deal of difficulty and distraction of the national effort.
§ Major Milner
That is another question, and there might be something to be said about that at a later stage but that, rightly or wrongly, has been more or less an agreement between the principal parties in the State. It does not seem to me to be a reasonable proposition that if a number of people, 20 or 25 per cent., want to have an election for a purpose of their own they should be allowed to 1092 do so, thereby disturbing the even tenour of the rest of the country. We must have regard to the difficulties under which our people are carrying on under the black-out and other restrictions. I feel very strongly on that matter. I think the Government have overdone the restrictions in many respects and that they might well be modified, even though they might have to be brought on at a later date, when the emergency happens. Having regard to all these things, and particularly the question of the redistribution of the population and the absence of large sections of the population, it does not seem to me practicable to carry into law the proposal of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, although when I first read the Bill and his Amendment I felt that I should like to support him.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson
The general argument for supporting the principle of the Bill is very strong, but there are reasons why there should be some procedure in the Bill for meeting exceptional cases. That is what the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has in view. Particularly is that so in regard to individual cases. The hon. Member mentioned a case in Torquay. Bearing in mind what the Under-Secretary said with regard to the balance of power on a council, an individual case may become very important. For example, in the constituency that I have the honour to represent the balance of power on the town council was one, and that balance was changed because one single member went back on very grave, very serious and stringent undertakings he gave at the time of the election. His going back on these undertakings completely altered the balance on the council and raised very grave misgivings not only among those of the same way of thinking as he was when he was elected, but also among those who differed from him in his political views. Accordingly the question arose as to whether he should continue to hold his seat on the council. In normal times there is always open to such a councillor the option of resigning. That has not been done in this particular case. In ordinary circumstances he would have had to face the electors when his natural period of office as a councillor came to an end. If there is a widespread feeling with regard to the actions of any particular councillor the Amendment that has 1093 been proposed completely meets the situation. Twenty per cent. of the electors is a big proportion. In order to meet the exceptional case where the general rule might have to stand down, it is proposed that a petition must be signed by 20 per cent. of the electors. That is a very large proportion of the total electorate, but it may well be that the whole electorate may desire a change of councillor. There may in short be individual cases of such urgency that I think the Committee should give serious consideration to the Amendment.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I desire to support the Amendment. It has been designed to meet the occasional and extreme case where there might be great discontent in a particular area as to the policy adopted by the council. Under the Bill it is proposed to muzzle local government electors for the duration of the war. They go out of action altogether. They are not to have an opportunity to take part in local government elections or in any by-election. The part which local authorities will have to play in this war is going to be much more important than in the last war. Many war duties have been laid upon them which are infinitely more considerable than any they had to discharge between 1914 and 1918. There are all the numerous duties in relation to Civil Defence and there are the emergency committees, something for which there is no comparison in the last war. In these matters, as in others, the general policy is decided by Parliament, but it is for local authorities to decide with how much vigour they shall be carried out. You may have a situation in which a great number of the electors come to the conclusion that the council is not carrying out its duties in National Defence with sufficient energy and vigour. Surely, in that case there should be some method open to the electors. It is not going to be easy to get a requisition signed by 20 per cent. of the electors. It can only happen where you have strong feelings, and the circumstances mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) will make it more difficult to get the 20 per cent.
But you may have cases where there is a great cleavage of opinion. One can see the general design of the Bill. On the normal council where you have a majority 1094 and a minority party, the intention is that each side shall be entitled to fill its own vacancies. You are putting a gift into the hands of the party organisations. But there are some cases in this country where all members of a council belong to a single political party, I am not concerned with the particular party, and that council may take a certain view of its Civil Defence functions. Those who disagree with it may be a powerful minority among the electors, and may during the course of the war become the majority of the electors. They are to have no opportunity of making their voice heard. If we are taking this step which nobody likes—nobody thinks it is a good thing to abolish local government elections— at any rate let us provide this last loophole. I feel that it should be there, and that is the reason why I support the Amendment.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
At the risk of being misunderstood I want to say that the effect of the Amendment would be the very opposite from that which the promoters seek to secure. If you are going to upset the machinery which has been drawn up for the purpose of giving democracy an opportunity of expressing itself in peace time, the effect of giving an opportunity to 20 per cent. of the electors to force an election seems to me to be the very opposite from that which the movers of the Amendment desire. In what circumstances will it be possible to get 20 per cent. of the electors to express themselves? The very illustrations which have been given condemn the proposal.
§ Mr. Mander
The hon. Member is referring to an election where 20 per cent. of the people poll. That is not the proposal of the Amendment. The proposal is that there should be a petition signed by 20 per cent. of the electors.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
That makes it worse. It just puts the argument I want to put. You get certain vested interests whose interests have been affected by something which has been done—like the requisitioning of hotels. It may be the easiest thing in the world to throw out the mayor of a town because he has had something to do with it. He may be in the same position as 650 other mayors in the country who retain their seats because of the legisla- 1095 tion we are passing. The Amendment is undemocratic, and yet it is supposed to be moved in order to safeguard democracy.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
For this reason, that the people who ought to be entitled to vote are not there. The list of electors when the war has been going for some time will be composed of what I consider to be the fortunate people in the country —those who have not been called upon to leave their homes under an evacuation scheme or for fighting purposes. Therefore, it will not be an expression of the electorate, but an expression of that portion of the electorate which remains; and I question whether that would be the best portion to decide the issue, particularly at a time like the present. I hope the Bill will be what it sets out to be, that is, a standstill order for the time being. That is the intention of the Bill, but that is not what it is, as I shall attempt to show when we reach the final Clause. I hope that if some Amendment is needed, we shall be able to obtain it on that Clause at some stage. The Amendment now before us, however, far from improving the Bill, would worsen it from the standpoint of democracy.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Terence O'Connor)
The very trenchant observations of the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) and the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) really absolve me from any responsibility I have for answering the arguments made by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), in moving the Amendment. The observations of the two hon. Members may have appeared conclusive to the Committee, but may I put the matter in a light in which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton has not seen it in the Amendment? This Bill was commended to the House by my right hon. Friend as being a necessary measure of national policy to meet the present emergency, and my right hon. Friend pointed out the circumstances in great detail. He referred to the difficulties of conducting elections in the black-out, the dangers that would ensue from the attendance of people at election meetings, and so forth. By a majority which was the largest I have ever known 1096 in my Parliamentary experience, in that it consisted of several votes to none, the House approved that policy—[Interruption.]If the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton will allow me to finish my sentence, he will find it more easy to criticise. That policy has been accepted by the House, but it has not been accepted by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, and even argument that he advanced in his speech was an argument against the general policy; and the very words of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) showed that, notwithstanding that overwhelming majority, the hon. Member does not accept that policy now.
The hon. Member said that this Bill proposes to muzzle all local government electors for the duration of the war. That is a criticism of the general policy, but the fact is that that policy was approved by the House, by an overwhelming majority, and what hon. Members are now suggesting in the Amendment is that there should be an option in the locality, at the instance of 20 per cent. of the electors, to override the considered judgment of the House. Obviously, that is a situation that could not be tolerated for a moment. How and from whom are the 20 per cent. to be selected?—20 per cent. presumably being the maximum disgruntled minority on which the Liberal party could count. There are to be names collected in the way in which names to petitions are collected—names collected which might not even be on the register. How is my right hon. Friend to find out whether they are genuine names? They are names to be collected under no conditions of secrecy, names collected in a poll not protected by the Corrupt Practices Act, or anything of that kind. In reviewing these considerations, I must confess that I felt that the observations made by the hon. Member for Farnworth were fully justified, and that it would be the negation of the working of democracy that you should have these tabulated lists prepared, one does not know how or by whom, names of people whose addresses one would not know, and people who might not be on the register at the time. If, in fact, the lists were to be compiled between now and 16th November, there would not be any register, so that in any case the Amendment could not operate before 16th November.
§ Mr. Foot
If the Solicitor-General will look at the terms of the Amendment, he will see that it states that the Minister of Health has to be satisfied that a petition is signed by not less than 20 per cent. of the electors. Would it not be a simple matter for the Minister of Health to compare the list of names presented to him with the local government electors roll?
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. Member seems to forget that there is a war on. That my right hon. Friend the Minister for National Security should have cast upon him the responsibility of deciding whether a list of names or a petition was a genuine list of persons who had the right to express their views and the right, if there were an election, to cast votes, would be a burden wholly too great to cast on any responsible Minister at a time such as this.
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. Member might offer his services to that Ministry if he desired that his Amendment should be passed into law. For the reasons I have given, I suggest that the Amendment runs contrary to the considered decision of the House arrived at two days ago, and that no argument can be advanced for it which is not an argument against the principle on which the whole Bill is based.
§ Mr. R. Gibson
Will the Solicitor-General refer to the point which I raised? I accept the principle of the Bill, but I pointed out that there may be a case that is so notorious that there is a universal feeling among the elected parties that a particular councillor should no longer continue on the council. What has the Solicitor-General to say with regard to that point?
§ The Solicitor-General
I intended to include that argument in my general observations. That is an attack on the principle underlying the Bill. Nobody pretends that it is a very happy solution that it should be necessary to suspend local government elections for the period of the war, and this suspension is bound to bring in its train inconveniences of the kind that have been mentioned; but those 1098 are all covered by the general principle according to which it is in the national interest at this time that, notwithstanding disadvantages of that kind, a general measure of this sort should be passed, and that it should not be contemplated that purely local difficulties should enable the considered judgment of Parliament to be overridden.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
When I attempted to make an interruption in the course of the Solicitor-General's speech, he asked me to allow him to finish his sentence, but his sentence must have been somewhat prolonged, because apparently it did not finish until finally he sat down. I wanted to ask him to address himself to the following question. He referred very dramatically to the great difficulty of holding elections in the black-out, and all the other well-known circumstances. I appreciate that difficulty, but if that be the case, how is it that it is possible to have contested by-elections over a very much larger area, containing a great many towns and villages, such as the by-election recently held in Scotland? The fact is that there is absolutely no defence which the Solicitor-General can make, and there is no answer to the Amendment. The position taken up by the Government is wholly illogical, and in their arguments on the Second Reading, and to-day, they have made no attempt to try to meet the points that have been raised.
§ The Solicitor-General
Nobody suggests that it is in the interests of national safety that there should be contested by-elections for Parliamentary purposes. It is a minor evil one is prepared to sustain rather than to sustain the greater evil. Policemen would have to work in the streets during an air raid, but that is no reason for inviting all civilians to go on to the streets. I should have thought the answer was obvious. While one is prepared to make a sacrifice of convenience, and even to put people to risks, in order that Parliamentary representation should be complete, that is no reason why one should do it in the case of every local authority in the country.
§ Mr. Mander
I am sure the Solicitor-General has done his very best, but it is a singularly poor best for him. In the circumstances, he could not do any better. Apparently it is safe, and it is a thing 1099 we can do in the national interest, to hold a by-election over a large area, but it is unthinkable and dangerous in a rural district or a small market town to hold an election. Obviously, there is no real answer to the case we have made.
The speech of the Solicitor-General and one or two of the speeches of hon. Members above the Gangway were in an anti-democratic spirit. The main idea seemed to be to prevent the electors getting at the people whom they wanted to get at. It seemed to be considered a horrible idea that the Mayor of Torquay should be subject to the embraces of the electorate of Torquay and that the electors should have a chance of doing what they really wanted to do in his case. The arguments which have been used are not in favour of the working of representative institutions at all. The hon. and gallant Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) said that people would be away from home, but there are many neutral areas from which there has been no transference of population. I agree that, in a year or two, if the war continues there will be difficulties, but as regards this year's election, the situation which some hon. Members have envisaged does not arise at all. The Under-Secretary the other day objected to the suggestion that the Home Secretary should have power to select areas and issue a fiat that elections should not take place in those areas. Under this proposal no responsibility would be thrown upon the Home Office. The people themselves, the unfortunate, despised electors would take the responsibility of saying whether they wanted an election or not. I regret that the Government have not shown a more sympathetic attitude towards what I feel would be a very mild and harmless concession, but in the circumstances I cannot hope that the House is likely to adopt the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I think we should have a fuller reply than any which has yet been attempted to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). Why retain by- 1100 elections for Parliamentary purposes and abolish elections for local government purposes? The Minister who opened the Second reading Debate did not even refer to that point, and the Minister who replied made no attempt to meet the argument. Only the Solicitor-General has so far ventured any sort of reply. He puts it on the ground that it is more important to retain the democratic principle in Parliamentary elections than in local government elections. We all agree with that, but we who sit in this part of the Committee feel that it is still a matter of great importance to retain the democratic principle in local government, as well as Parliamentary government. That view does not appear to be shared in many parts of the Committee, but we on these benches still hold it.
In this Bill we are introducing a very undesirable principle. We are introducing into local authorities the principle of co-option. I do not think anybody would dare to suggest that Parliament should have the power to turn itself into a close corporation choosing its own members. The only attempt of that kind that has ever been made in Parliamentary history was when this House declared that Wilkes, whose majority was almost as large as that of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Woodburn) had not been returned and declared his oppenent Colonel Luttrell duly elected in his place. That is the only precedent for introducing the principle of co-option in Parliamentary government. It is now proposed to introduce this entirely vicious and undemocratic principle into local government. It may be said that we are postponing a Parliamentary general election. There is this distinction. A councillor whose term of office is prolonged by the Bill is an elected person. He sits there for one reason alone, namely, that he has been chosen by the electors of his district or ward. Now it is proposed to bring in a number of people who are not elected persons and who, in the majority of cases, will be merely nominees of their party organisations.
I do not think any answer was attempted on Second Reading to the objection that a majority might determine to use its powers unconscionably. Suppose there is a vacancy caused by the death or retirement of a minority 1101 member and the majority say, "We are going to take this seat for ourselves," there is no safeguard against that in the Bill. I do not say it is likely to happen. I believe in the vast majority of cases this will be properly worked by arrangement between the parties, but it is easy to envisage cases of a majority using the power of co-option to increase its strength at the expense of a minority, even though that minority might represent the real views of the electors. I think that we should have a fuller reply on these points than we have had up to the present.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I do not think the Government have yet shown good enough cause for this Clause. The Home Secretary in the earlier Debate explained why the Bill has been produced. The reasons which he gave were purely practical. First, there was the question of extra work being imposed upon town clerks and other officials. I admit that, in some instances, town clerks would find additional work placed upon their shoulders by an election.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member will bear in mind that at this stage we must not repeat the Second Reading Debate on the Bill.
§ The Chairman
It is a well-known rule of Procedure that the most important Clause of a Bill cannot be used for the purpose of repeating the Second Reading Debate upon the principle of the Bill, which has already been passed by the House.
I bow at once to your Ruling, Sir Dennis, and I will not pursue the line which I had intended to take. But following on the remarks of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) who asked for a further explanation of the need for this Clause, I would point out that the practical reasons offered for it do not seem to bear close examination. Could not my right hon. Friend, while retaining the principle of the Clause, agree between now and the Report stage to incorporate what has been accepted with regard to elections to this House? Why must there be compulsion? Is there not some way by which the Clause might 1102 be amended, so as to make it possible for local authorities themselves to indicate that they will observe the voluntary idea as we have done in this House? The objection to the Clause is that I do not think it is necessary. I have never yet seen an answer to that objection. What local authority has asked for it? I do not know of one in Scotland. Has any local authority in Scotland been invited to express its views upon the question? I do not know. Has the Secretary of State any evidence that there will be, in any town council area in Scotland, an election in November? If there is such evidence, can we not have it?
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I do not want to close down the discussion on the Clause, but we have had repeated, I think, a good many of the arguments to which we listened during the Second Reading Debate. The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) and the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) both produced reasons for supporting the general principle embodied in Clause 1 of the Bill, but I think I ought to say one or two words in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), who has delivered himself of a quite considerable speech against the principle of filling casual vacancies on local authorities by co-operation. I must confess that I think both he and his colleague, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), in their self-appointed role of Pringle and Hogg, have been a little unfortunate in their intervention this afternoon. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton made a speech which had no relation to his own Amendment, and the hon. Member for Dundee has now stated that he can see no reason for introducing into local government the extremely bad and undemocratic principle of filling casual vacancies on local authorities by co-option. It may interest the Committee to know that the filling of casual vacancies by co-option is the general method throughout the whole of Scotland and has been so for very many years.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Major Milner
Clause 1 provides that in the case of a casual vacancy in the office of alderman, the person shall be electedin like manner as if this Act had not been passed"—and in the case of a councillor—by the council among the members of which the vacancy has so occurred.The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has indicated that it will apparently be competent for the majority on the council, if it so desires, to appropriate all the aldermanic seats as they come along, and similarly, in the case of a councillor, it will be competent for the party having a majority on all occasions to appoint one of their own number and not, as is presumably the intention of this House, to appoint a member of the party or body representing the same principles or policy as the member who has evacuated the seat. One recognises that in the case of aldermen it is competent to do that now, and there are councils to-day which, to my knowledge, have acted in that way. It has so happened that the council has had a majority of a particular party at the time when the aldermanic election came along, once in every three years, and they have then appropriated to themselves all the vacant aldermanic places. Then perhaps the other party comes into power and does the same thing at the appropriate stage. On the other hand, there are more enlightened councils, such as those of the City of Leeds, which have an agreement whereby these things are dealt with proportionately, in accordance with the numbers of councillors who sit representing the respective parties. If it is not possible in this Bill to provide that members elected shall be of the same party or shall represent the same principles—because not all members of a council are members of political parties—as those of the councillor who has vacated his seat, at any rate the Government ought to indicate that in their view there should be something in the nature of a "gentleman's agreement," and that it is the intention of the House that that procedure shall be followed in the case of elections under this Bill. It ought not to be left to individual parties to appropriate the whole of the seats, and unless there is a definite agreement to the contrary, based on the numbers of councillors, councillors 1104 elected under this Bill should be of the same political party as was the outgoing member.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether, prior to the introduction of this Bill, any consultations took place with the representatives of the councils themselves? If not, I should like to know why not. It may be said by the Minister that consultations took place in this House with the Whips and the leaders of the different parties. and that may well be so—I do not dispute it— but it is a well-known Parliamentary doctrine that when the Front Benches get together, it is desirable for the Back Benches to get together also, in order to preserve the liberties of England.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), may I express the view of the Government that, of course, where a casual vacancy occurs, that casual vacancy should be filled by a member of the party to which the person vacating his place on the council previously belonged? It is obvious that you cannot work a Measure of this sort unless there is a measure of good faith on all sides, and I am sure that the sense of justice and fair play of which our people are so proud will ensure that arrangement being carried out. In answer to the point put by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), as to whether there was consultation, my impression is that there were some consultations with the Association of Municipal Corporations. That is my impression. In any case, there have been discussions between the leaders of the three political parties in the House, and the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party took part in those discussions.
§ Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill, put, and agreed to.