§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ SCHEDULE.—(Constituencies to which Act applies.)
§ Sir Charles Edwards (Bedwellty)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, col. 1, at end, insert "Newport."
I have here a statement from the people of Newport, and they are complaining that there will be large numbers of people on holiday in the same way as in other places included in the Schedule. The town clerk addressed a communication to the Home Secretary on 3rd June asking that consideration be given to the alteration of the election at Newport from 5th July to 12th July, because it had come to his knowledge that over 5,000 workers would be on holiday during the week ending 7th July and that this would affect approximately 10,000 voters. The following factories are affected: Messrs. Lysaghts, where over 2,000 men will be on holiday; Newport Royal Ordnance factory, where over 2,000 men will be on holiday; and another factory, Messrs. E. W. King, where over 1,200 will be on holiday, making a total of 5,200. It is estimated that this would mean 10,000 voters away from Newport on 5th July. I believe that they would exceed 10,000a—I would not be surprised if the number was 15,000—and for a borough like Newport it is a serious thing for so many people to be away when an election is held. I hope the Home Secretary will include Newport in the Schedule, so that it is put in the same position as those which have been accepted. It seems to me to be a small thing to add another borough to the list.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Donald Somervell)
This was one of the constituencies which was discussed on one of the preliminary lists, and we did our best to find out what were the facts.
§ Sir D. Somervell
No, it was discussed with the hon. Gentleman and the people locally. In dealing with this prob- 1589 lem we have had our difficulties and we have done our best. Our information was that the numbers affected were considerably less than those which the right hon. Gentleman has given. It is a large-ish electorate; there would be a number of people away on the 12th July as well as on the 5th July, and the general wish on the whole was against a postponement. For that reason we did not put this constituency in the Bill. As I said yesterday, we have done our best. We may have made a mistake here and there, but we have done our best to meet the general wishes of those in the constituencies, so far as we have been able to ascertain.
I do feel it would be wrong and unfair at this stage of the proceedings to alter what has been accepted in this Bill. Hon. Members and those who may be standing against them will have made their arrangements and booked halls. They may have arranged for other speakers to attend. I believe that with regard to this constituency there was a strong feeling against postponement, and though it was recognised—and that was why we made the inquiries that we did—that these places have holidays in progress on 5th July, there will be other people away on 12th July, and on the general balance of convenience we came to the conclusion that we should be doing what was right in omitting this borough from the Schedule. I am afraid that in my view and the view of the Government it would be wrong at this stage of the proceedings to put Newport into the Schedule.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
About two weeks ago I put a Question to the Prime Minister as to what percentage of absentee voters he thought would qualify a constituency for inclusion in the Schedule of constituencies which would have a different polling day from 5th July. He gave an answer which to me was not very satisfactory. I cannot understand the answer that because halls have been booked or 10,000 or 15,000 people in the town of Newport would be away it should really make no difference. After all, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary said that this had been discussed and thought over. The Bill was only known in detail on Friday morning. I do not know what discussions have taken place in the constituency to which the right hon. Gentle- 1590 man the Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards) referred. I am certain that so far as Coventry is concerned, to which I would like to refer by way of example if I may, something like 22,000 people will be away during the week including 5th July, another 22,000 will be away during the week including 12th July, and another 22,000 will be away in the week including 19th July. I wonder what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has got to say about the conversations which have taken place with regard to Coventry since we knew that Coventry was not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
When we have been referring to local authorities or persons who are speaking for a town, it has always baffled me as to who actually has spoken for that town. I think it is of paramount importance to bear in mind that although we who have been accustomed to local government know what is meant by "the usual channels," few other people know the meaning of "the usual channels." Lots of people do not like the usual channels. What are the usual channels in a situation such as this? My right hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards) seemed to put up a reasonable case, and he appeared to me to present evidence which was very convincing.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, on the other hand, simply tells the Committee that certain people have been consulted and that on balance the result of that consultation seemed to be in favour of 5th July. Then he has a further argument. He says they have booked halls and speakers. But really, that is not very convincing, because if they have booked halls and they have booked them on the last night before the evening of the poll, they get their second breath a week after, and they can book some more halls, which makes the election all the more exciting, and the electorate are all the better informed. In fact, you probably get a more intelligent result. Of course, you will not be able to influence them like you did in the good old days. In my boyhood it used to be said, "What Manchester thinks to-day the rest of the country thinks to-morrow," because the Manchester election result used to come out first.
I am wondering if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would care to review this matter again. If he does not feel so 1591 disposed we ought to press him to tell us whom he has consulted. Did he meet the mayor? I am sure it was not the town clerk, because these gentlemen are so impartial, although they are really good folk. Did he consult with the local chambers of commerce? They are invariably so unreliable on this issue. Was it the local Labour Party or the local Conservative Party? Who was it who gave him this information? I would beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be a little more amenable to the reasoning of my right hon. Friend.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I feel that the Home Secretary has not given satisfaction in his reply on this Amendment. My right hon. Friend read out that the town clerk of Newport addressed a communication to the Home Secretary on this matter. It does not say on whose instructions he addressed the letter, but I assume it was on the instruction of the local authority. In that letter the Home Secretary was asked to give consideration to the fact that was established about Newport, that something like 10,000 electors would be away on polling day. The Home Secretary has not answered that at all. All he has said is that the words "general consultation" were used. There was general agreement. With whom? With whom were these consultations carried on? Was everybody represented in these consultations? What efforts were made to establish the facts? I think I am entitled to put those questions. Was the hon. and gallant Member for Newport consulted, and, if so, what was the nature of his representation? Was it contrary to the request of the local authority? I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that, in these matters, party advantage ought not to be taken. Decision should be made on the facts. Has the Home Secretary really ascertained the facts in Newport? Does he mean to say, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards), that, while it is accepted that some 10,000 electors will probably be on holiday on 5th July, he has sought any information as to how many will be away on 12th July and, if he has, how many? What is the relation of the figures? Is the number on 12th July greater than on 5th July? If it is, what is the number?
1592 We are entitled to have a little more information than he has given. It is no good brushing the matter aside like this. If polling day is to be postponed in any constituency, let it 'be dome on the basis of the facts, but do not refrain from postponing it in any one constituency because of some political advantage which, it is thought, may arise. I would ask the Home Secretary to be more explicit with the House, and to let us have that information. If the Home Secretary can satisfy us, on he information he has, that his decision is the right one, I do not think my right hon. Friend will press his Amendment. At the moment, however, no facts are before the Committee.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I said yesterday on the Second Reading—and I meant what I said, and will repeat it now—that it did seem to me that the Government really had made an attempt in this Bill to do the fair thing without consideration of party interest. It is perfectly true, as it turned out, that there were more Members on the other side who were interested than on this side, but that does not really matter in the least because no one can tell to whose advantage a postponement, or failure to postpone, may work out until the declaration of the poll. I was prepared to congratulate, and did congratulate, the Government on having made the best of what was, admittedly, a bad job, the bad job having been created by what, we think, is the unfortunate date of the Election. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that in connection with a Bill of this kind—which has been planned hi order to remove any sense of injustice that would otherwise have been created because a large number of people had made arrangements which they could not cancel before the date of the Election was known—it becomes very important, indeed, that the sense of grievance should be removed. You only half do your job, if you leave a lot of people in another constituency, under the impression, no matter how false, that, in fact, party considerations in that particular constituency prevailed over the argument of equity.
I have heard on these Benches to-day a number of my hon. Friends saying that they are not satisfied in the case of Newport. They are not unreasonable people. This is not a party issue thrown from 1593 side to side, and no one is trying to make party capital out of it. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that if my hon. Friends are not satisfied, something has gone wrong, because the thing ought to have been so handled that nobody would feel that the wrong thing had been done. What is suggested went wrong here? It is, that not enough inquiries were made; that the town clerk was an impartial person, but was not in a good position to judge whether there should be a postponement or not; that he said there should be a postponement, and then somebody else decided there should not be. I think my right hon. Friend would be well advised, in this instance, to explain how it was that the opinion of an impartial authority, who, no doubt, would be the legal adviser to the returning officer in the district, was rejected and something else done.
In the old days, before 1918, the returning officer used to settle when polling day should be, and he used to do it by consulting all the interests on all sides, and by negotiation between the various sides. The returning officer exercised the discretion, and himself chose the date. The first idea, when we were considering this Bill, was to give the returning officer a similar discretion, but the Government decided—and I am not quarrelling with them—that the responsibility should not be shuffled off on to the returning officer on the spot, but taken by the Government, and taken by this House. That only makes it all the more important that all the people interested shall be satisfied that the decision reached was really that of the majority of the people affected, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should explain what happened in this case.
§ Lieut.-Commander Bell (Newport)
I am at the disadvantage of not having had notice of this Amendment, but I would like to explain what the position was as it appeared to me. I was informed that it was proposed to include the Newport constituency in the Schedule very shortly before the Bill was due to be printed. I had very little opportunity to investigate the actual circumstances of this matter. I did, however, endeavour to get in touch with everybody interested. I got in touch with the town clerk and with the other two candidates, and I found that there was no desire to have the date of Polling Day altered in the case of this constituency.
§ Lieut.-Commander Bell
The town clerk informed me that he had put forward the circumstances to the Home Office because he thought it was his duty to do so, circumstances which might tend to lead the Home Secretary to decide that Polling Day should be deferred. I am somewhat embarrassed in this matter because I had conversations with these people, and I do not know to what extent I am at liberty to divulge them. That applies, particularly, to the candidates. I need hardly say, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) will appreciate, that there are no party considerations in this at all. I will not go into detail, but I do not think there: is anything in it at all. That is the opinion I formed from my recent experience of the constituency. It may be, of course, that they have changed in the last few weeks, but my belief is, as I have said, that there is nothing of the party issue in it at all.
It is obviously desirable, on the general issue, that the constituency should poll on the standard day unless there is a real reason to the contrary. Obviously, the general feeling in the constituency will be that, having just had eight weeks of intensive electioneering, they do not want any more than they really need to have. I do not doubt that that will also be the personal opinion of the candidates. I think that will also be the general approach to the subject. I approached the other two candidates concerned. One was definitely in favour of 5th July and the other found it impossible to express any preference. I represented these facts to the Home Secretary. The town clerk was of the opinion that the case he put up was rather weak, but that it was his duty to submit the circumstances as he found them. There was the opinion of the candidates concerned, and finally, what I conceived to be the general feeling of the town, that unless there were good reasons they would naturally prefer a short campaign.
The decision is not mine; I am not attempting to take any responsibility for it. I only wish to explain the circumstances in so far as they concern myself. The Home Secretary makes the decision in this matter, and those were the con- 1595 siderations which I very hastily presented to him. I feel that under those circumstances lie has rightly decided that the constituency should not be included in the Bill. Had I known that there was any strong feeling that the date should be delayed, I should certainly have conveyed that impression to him, but after approaching the Socialist candidate and finding there was no such feeling in his mind, I naturally concluded that there was no general desire that polling day should be postponed. I presented the facts purely as I found them, without any consideration of party advantage, to the Home Secretary, to be added to the other facts already at his disposal, which he had received from the local town authorities. It is no doubt on those representations together that he has made his decision,
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Young (Newton)
Yesterday I raised a similar question to that which is now before the Committee, and the Home Secretary referred to what I regard and what he probably regards as "the usual channels." It puzzled me very much how ageement was to be reached, and I have here the words he used yesterday, which were:If there was overwhelming evidence, however, that the sitting Member and his opponent or his several opponents and the town clerk and all concerned were agreed that it should be put in I am not saying that we should not consider it."—[Official Report, nth June 1945; Vol. 411, col. 1393.]Firstly, I wish to object to the statement that this is a matter for Parliamentary candidates to decide. The consideration ought to be the well-being of the constituency, and how to give the vote to as many as possible in the constituency. Consequently, when the right lion, and learned Gentleman referred me to my opponent or opponents, it is a fact that, strange to say, up to last Saturday night I had no opponent. Consequently, I could not get into touch with my opponent or opponents. Now there is one, and I know where I am. The other part of the statement was that I could get into touch with the town clerk. Unknown to the right hon. and learned Gentleman I had done so. Having done that, I think I was released of all responsibility. It should be the duty of the town clerk to look to the welfare of the constituency.
1596 It is not a matter in which candidates should be allowed to interfere at all. If the present position ever arises again the returning officer should be the man who makes investigations in the constituency, and determines and reports to the Home Secretary what is best in the circumstances. That would get us out of these difficulties. I trust that there will never be another occasion when we require to have an election in the holiday months. Take my constituency as an example. For reasons I have explained to the Home Secretary I do not intend to move the Amendment I have put down—in Schedule, page 2, line 25, column 2, at end, insert "Newton." The first people who objected were the people to whom I referred yesterday. After what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said yesterday I again got into touch with various parts of my constituency. No day in July would suit me. Mine is a county constituency surrounded by four boroughs which have voters working in them. The result is that neither 12th July nor 19th July, nor 5th July, would suit all my constituents. That is the reason why I have withdrawn the Amendment. Naturally I do not want one part of the constituency to be advantaged as against the other. I object to the use in this matter of "the usual channels" between political opponents. It ought to be left entirely in the hands of the town clerk.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The matter has now been raised in the House of Commons, and I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider it in the light of that fact. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Newport (Lieut.-Commander Bell) came into the Chamber. As I understand, after meeting some of my friends from Newport, they went to see the town clerk because they discovered that some very important works in Newport had arranged to take their holidays during that week. Everybody who knows Newport knows that there are very important works there, one of them having 2,000 employees. That concern is a steel works, and the workers have put in 12 months of very hard work. Obviously, they will be taking their holidays with their families. There is the Newport Royal Ordnance Factory, which has arranged to take its holiday during that week.
§ Lieut.-Commander Bell
The hon. Member should perhaps make it clear 1597 that only a very small part of the Royal Ordnance Factory is affected.
§ Mr. Griffiths
If I was wrong, I apologise. I understood that the whole of it would be on holiday. In any case, there will be a substantial number of work people taking their holiday that week. Those facts were communicated to the town clerk. He thought the circum stances were sufficient to warrant him writing to the Home Secretary. If he had thought that those circumstances would not make any difference he would not have done anything. That he brought those facts to the notice of the Home Secretary was a clear indication that he was disturbed about it and felt it should be reconsidered. If these works, which have the largest number of employees in Newport, are having a holiday that week, it is quite clear that an important section of the community will be deprived of voting. That is the important thing, not whether this candidate or that candidate is elected, but whether those dates will give the best opportunity for the largest representative vote of that constituency. Is there any dispute between anyone that the 12th would be better—
§ Lieut.-Commander Bell
I cannot say. The hon. Member will appreciate that 2,000 or 3,000 is not a large proportion out of 60,000. It is beyond the knowledge of man to fix a date in the holiday months which will be suitable for everyone.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is perfectly true, but we find that in that particular week Lysaght's, the Royal Ordnance Factory and Messrs. E. W. Hill are having their holidays. As I understand it our local people went to see the town clerk, who made investigations, and he thought the matter sufficiently serious for him to write to the Home Secretary about it. If the House of Commons takes upon itself the responsibility of saying to the people of Newport that they must vote on 5th July, and not on any other day, we shall be depriving numbers of people of the opportunity to vote.
§ Colonel Sir Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)
I hope that the Home Secretary and the Committee will not be persuaded by the plea of the hon. Gentleman, because I do not think he has produced sufficient evidence to justify a change in the Bill at this late stage. It is true 1598 that Lysaght's will be on holiday on 5th July, and that a very small number of employees at the Royal Ordnance Factory will be on holiday at that date. But it is true that a large number of employees of small firms will be on holiday in the following week; and, in the aggregate, the number of people affected would be greater if the Amendment were accepted.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
We know that a number of people will be on holiday on 5th July, but will the hon. and gallant Member tell us which works will be on holiday in the other week?
§ Sir A. Evans
I have no knowledge about that; nor has my hon. Friend. I suggest that before the town clerk of Newport made representations to the Home Office he should have taken steps to find out what people would be on holiday on 12th July. Whatever date we choose, between May and September, a certain number of workers, both in the Principality of Wales and in England, are bound to be on holiday. That is inevitable. I would say, with great respect, that I think my hon. Friend is seeking to convince the House that the election should not take place in July at all, but in October. In order to justify the moving of this Amendment at this late stage my hon. Friend should have produced evidence that on the date which he proposes there will not be a number of people in Newport, employed in small concerns, who will not be able to avail themselves of the franchise.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Does my hon. and gallant Friend regard the letter from the town clerk as being unimportant?
§ Sir A. Evans
I do not regard it as being unimportant. But I suggest that there are other interests which would have a perfect right to make representations if time were available. Other firms of which the town clerk probably has no knowledge have already made their arrangements. The time to suggest the inclusion of Newport was following the Prime Minister's offer to have this matter discussed through the usual channels. That would have given an opportunity for inquiry. This Amendment is moved in the interests of one point of view only, and in the aggregate such a change is not justified.
§ Mr. Bowles
The hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Sir A. Evans) 1599 has talked as if we had known for quite a long time what constituencies were going to be dealt with, or even that the concession was going to be made at all. The information was given by the Prime Minister only a week ago; the Bill was available in the Vote Office only on Friday; then came the week-end, and on Monday we had the Second Reading. As for the example I gave in my earlier speech, the Government have specifically requested certain Government firms, Royal Ordnance factories, and so on, to stagger their holidays. It was at the Government's request that in Coventry this particular thing took place. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) will support me, because I think he agrees with what I am saying. In the first three weeks of July 22,000 workers of Coventry are away on holiday, at the Government's specific request. I think that a Home Secretary new to his job should give way on this issue. I am not the Member for Coventry, and I am not personally interested, but I have been asked by many workers in Coventry to raise this matter. In view of what has been said, the Home Secretary would be doing something of importance to democracy if he accepted the Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe (Brighton)
I hope nothing will be done to extend the ambit of a Bill which, as I tried to explain on Second Reading, was always bad in principle. We should adhere to the principle of having one polling day, and if people do not choose to exert themselves to vote they should not have exceptions made to suit them. The remarks I made last night were greeted with some derision by hon. Members opposite, but they are proving to be correct. Once you accept this principle you have to extend it to meet every case. When the subject was first mooted, Members were popping up all over the place to say, "What about my constituency?"
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Is it in Order for the hon. and gallant Member to condemn the Bill root and branch oh this Amendment?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
No, the hon. and gallant Member should deal with the Amendment only.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe
May I say that the principle is applicable to any Amendment? Any one of us could put down an Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe
I accept your Ruling, Sir Charles. All I will say is that the damage that I think this Bill has done to the principle should not he extended by accepting an Amendment of this kind.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Bell
There are one or two -points which I did not raise in my first speech, because I came in when the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) was speaking, and did not know what had been said before. The inclusion of the Newport constituency would be an unwarrantable extension of the principle underlying this Bill. The conception was that constituencies which had a generally-recognised holiday, such as a wake, when the great majority of the townspeople by tradition left the neighbourhood, should not vote during that holiday. In towns like that, there should be this special provision made, and I must say that, when I first heard that it was proposed to include Newport in the Schedule, I was really rather astonished, because though the number of people concerned may be a matter of argument, it cannot be large. No-one can be entirely accurate about a thing nice this, because Newport is not a one-works place. It is a town of perhaps a dozen large factories and a very large area in which factories are not a predominant feature at all, primarily, indeed, it is a docks town and not a factory town, and you have not got this unitary conception of Newport as you have in connection with other places.
So far as I could make out in the limited time which I had at my disposal, the gross number of people concerned would not exceed 5,000, and would probably be considerably less. One has also to remember that not all the people concerned are over 21 or resident in the Division. Many of the workpeople in Newport live outside the boundaries of the Parliamentary borough. They actually come into the constituency of the hon. Member for Monmouthshire. A great many are boys and girls under 21, and even if it is true that they are on holiday from work, it is by no means true that they are all going to 1601 Blackpool. It is not a mass trek to the seaside, but a week's paid leave or holiday from work. When you work it all out and make all just allowances you reach the conclusion that something like 2,000 people, or perhaps it may be 1,500, will be out of the district on 5th July. I should not say disfranchised, for that is overstating the case, but perhaps 1,500 or 2,000 may be put in the position in which they would have to travel back to vote.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will the hon. And gallant Member permit me? When he said it was proposed to include Newport in the Schedule, will he indicate who has proposed to include it?
§ Lieut.-Commander Bell
I think it was in the first draft of the Bill, and the hon. Member will appreciate that that was a very late stage. I have no idea at whose suggestion it was included. The first thing that suggested itself was that the Socialist candidate, or the Socialist Party, in Newport had moved to include it, but, on enquiries from the town clerk, I was informed that that was not the case, and that he had simply noted that fact and was under the impression that it was the duty of every town clerk to forward any facts which might be relevant, in which I think he is entirely correct. I am very far from criticising the town clerk. I do not think he felt that it was his duty to express any opinion upon the sufficiency of the evidence he was forwarding. I think he simply stated the facts, sent them to the Home Office, and felt he had done his duty, and I think he had. I do not think we should say that the town authorities had indicated that, in their view, polling day should be 12th July; they did not indicate, either, their view that it should be 5th July. They sent up the facts for what they were worth and left it to the Government. I think that really deals with the point which the hon. Member opposite raised that the town authorities had asked for this. That is really not the case.
I was quite unaware of any desire on the Socialist side that the polling day should be changed, and I only wish that they had told me when I asked them, because I did, of course, ask them. I agree with the hon. Member opposite that it is not a matter for the candidates, but for the town authorities and the Home Secretary, but, at the same time, one does 1602 go to the obvious people to get their reactions, and I am sorry that this other reaction was not brought to my notice. I feel that in the circumstances we cannot honestly say that the postponement to 12th July would result in fewer people being inconvenienced in voting. One must guard against the temptation of thinking of voters as blocks of workers in factories. There are many people in offices, black-coated workers, and all the people whom one cannot describe under any label at all, and it is obvious that from now on, as one week succeeds another, a greater number of the general public will be going on holiday. I would point out that the actual works in question here, Lysaght's, for example, is a very important works in Newport, but it is not the largest, nor even I believe the second largest, and, as I said at the beginning of my speech, Newport is by no means a one-factory town. There are a great many factories, and it was impossible for me to inquire into who would exactly be on holiday on 12th July. I really do not know. It was an impossible inquiry for me to make in the short time at my disposal, and I do not think that the town clerk would be in a position to find that out either. It is difficult enough to find out who will be on holiday on 5th July, but I feel that the Committee should say that the evidence does not lead us to believe that there will be substantially more people away on 5th July than there will be on 12th July, and unless there are substantially more away on one date than the other, we should adhere to the standard polling day.
§ Sir D. Somervell
I should be sorry if I got into controversy with any hon. Gentleman in any part of the Committee over this matter. I entirely agree with what has been said that no one in dealing with this difficult problem has been actuated by any party motive. But the other point that I have had in mind in trying to deal with it is, that, though we had consulted town clerks and members of this House, I felt that if there was any criticism or odium it would be wrong if it was directed to any shoulders but mine. I am very grateful—and I am sure the Committee is—to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newport (Lieut.-Commander Bell) for what he has told us about the information which he obtained and which he gave to the Home Office. The town clerk in this matter 1603 acted correctly. The statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was made on 31st May, little more than a week ago, and he invited both Members of this House and town clerks to send information which they thought might be relevant to the Home Office, or to the Scottish Office, as the case might be, and undoubtedly the town clerk of Newport, in sending the information he did, was acting correctly and properly. He was not expressing a view but was saying, "Here is certain information which I think you ought to consider." Let us be clear; he acted in response to the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and very properly. The information having reached us, we took it up, and we consulted my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newport.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Before consulting the hon. and gallant Member for Newport (Lieut.-Commander Bell), was the town of Newport actually included in the first draft of the Bill?
§ Sir D. Somervell
No. There was an unofficial list of Members who were communicated with who represented seats as to which we had information that there might be a big holiday on 5th July. In many cases the investigations resulted in what my hon. and gallant Friend had told us happened in Newport, that although there was a holiday and you could pick out the works whose employees would be away on 5th July, when you came to consider who would be away on 12th July, though you might not be able to identify very easily those coming from a particular works, there was a substantial number of people away and there was very little in it on balance. I would also like to reinforce what my hon. and gallant Friend has said on another point. This Bill, with the Schedule to it, was intended, and intended only, to deal with cases where, to use the Prime Minister's words, "there was something in the nature of a mass holiday," and of course the type of case which led to this Bill was that of the Lancashire wakes where you get a general exodus from the division, going up to a very considerable precentage of the population. It was never intended, nor would it have been possible, to conduct the necessary investigations in each constituency as to whether, as between the 5th and the 12th, there might be a 1604 slight balance in favour of one or the other. The intention of the Bill—and it had to be and must remain restricted—is that in cases where you could show something in the nature of a mass holiday on 5th July, where nothing of the sort was occurring on 12th July, then you should postpone polling day to 12th July. In the main, however, though I do not agree with all that my hon. and learned Friend behind me said about this Bill last night or to-night, prima facie constituencies must poll on 5th July and it is only in a case where you can say that there is evidence of a mass holiday in progress on the former day, whereas on the latter day there would only be a comparatively small number away, that the Government's intention was to postpone Polling Day.
§ Sir D. Somervell
I am talking about the Amendment. I said last night that Coventry raises quite a different problem. So far as Newport is concerned, I hope the Committee will agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newport has said. It was the view which we had come to. He has amplified the evidence, and I am extremely grateful to him for the assistance he gave us and the assistance he has given the Committee to night on this Amendment. I hope the Committee will feel that the decision we came to, having regard to the general principle of the Bill, was right, and that the Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman opposite should not be accepted.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Seaborne Davies (Caernarvon Boroughs)
After listening to this Debate, I feel one word would come very appropriately from this bench. I think we all feel some sympathy with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newport (Lieut.-Commander Bell). The impression may go out that he in some way has unfairly tried to influence the decision on this matter. I have a personal friend fighting against him in Newport and had I the time I should go to speak against the hon. and gallant Gentleman. But to be quite fair to him, I think we should make it clear that he seems to have acted throughout most properly in the matter.
§ Amendment negatived.1605
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§ Mr. Bowles
Well, then I would like to ask the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) on the Motion, "That the Schedule be agreed to," to say what his views are about his own constituency in this matter.
§ Captain Strickland (Coventry)
Is it possible for us to have a discussion on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill"?
§ Captain Strickland
The Amendment moved just now was not an Amendment to the Schedule, but a new Amendment, I think.
§ Mr. Mathers
I know you dealt with a point of Order, Sir Charles, with regard to a proposal to add to the Schedule, and said that to put this in without having dealt with the previous Amendment would not make sense. But if it were the view of the Committee that this item should go into the Schedule, would it not be necessary then to say that provision ought to be made for this coming into the Bill?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The first Amendment, which was not called, was to put in a new paragraph (c) into Clause 1. The Amendment to the Schedule follows on that, and without the first Amendment would not make sense.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.