HC Deb 21 April 1948 vol 449 cc1826-30
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

I beg to move, in page 41, line 37, to leave out from "candidate," to end of line 38, and to insert: who remains validly nominated at the latest time for delivery of notices of withdrawals If convenient, the following two Amendments in page 41, line 41 and page 42, line 1 may be considered at the same time. Under Clause 42 a candidate is required to name an election agent not later than the time when the statement of his nomination is published, but in local government elections it is open to a candidate to withdraw for a period of 24 hours after the time when the statement is published. It seems unnecessary to require that an election agent should be named within that short period if the candidate is going to withdraw. These three Amendments make the relevant time by which the naming of the agent must be made the last time for delivery of notices under this Clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Consequential Amendments made.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 42, line 29, at the end, to add: (b) in paragraph 48 of Part III of the local elections rules (which prohibits a returning officer or officer appointed under those rules or his partner or clerk from acting as polling or counting agent) for the words "polling or counting agent" wherever they occur there shall be substituted the words "candidate's agent in the management or conduct of the election"; but nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Subsection or in Section fifty of the Representation of the People Act, 1867, or Section thirteen of the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1868 (which make similar provision in relation to parliamentary elections), shall be taken as preventing a candidate from acting as his own election agent. This is a slightly related matter and is consequential upon the provision of Clause 36 which now requires that local government candidates shall appoint election agents. As is set out in the Amendment, the present election rules prohibit a returning officer or an officer appointed under those rules or his partner or clerk from acting as polling or counting agent. The Amendment proposes to include in that prohibition someone acting as the candidate's agent which, of course, was not formerly necessary in local government elections. The latter part of the proposed new Subsection is designed to ensure that the prohibition will not extend to prevent a candidate who is the partner or clerk of an election official from acting as his own election agent. As hon. Members will know, this possibility is open to him under the Bill and is what happens if the candidate does not name any other election agent.

Mr. C. Williams

Before this Amendment is agreed to, I wonder whether we could be told why the Government did not include this provision in the original Bill? This is a matter of some importance, dealing as it does with the election laws of the country, and it is extraordinary that a Measure which was obviously being built up for a long time should not have included in its original form the provision which is made by this Amendment.

Mr. Younger

I do not think it is of any great importance to know why these words were not included before. What is important, however, is to know why it is proposed to include them now, and that is the explanation which I have given.

Mr. Williams

The explanation did not cover the reason why this wording was originally omitted. We were given to understand that this Measure had been carefully considered, and it will be difficult if these enormous Amendments, which are of considerable effect and importance, are to be brought up at this stage. I hope the position will be examined properly by outside authorities who have a great knowledge of election laws to see whether it is really right.

Amendment agreed to.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)

I beg to move, in page 42, line 29, at the end, to add: (6) this section shall have effect in its application to a local government election in Scotland as if for subsection (4) there were substituted the following subsection— (4) Where a candidate is by virtue of this section to be treated as his own election agent he shall be deemed to have his office at his address as given in his nomination paper or papers or if that address is not in the local government area or in a county of a city or town adjoining thereto, at the address of the person named as the proposer of the candidate in the nomination paper first delivered in which the address of, the proposer is in the local government area. The procedure proposed occurs in England but not in Scotland under Scottish local government law.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) on the preceding Amendment apply somewhat to this Amendment, although I do not think the Secretary of State for Scotland has been anything like so guilty, if I may use such a strong term, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. As the electoral law in Scotland now stands, if the Clause had gone through without this Subsection, it would have been impossible to comply with it in Scotland as regards the addresses of the candidate and election agent. Just as in the case of the last Amendment, those responsible for administering Scottish affairs should have realised that it would have been better if this Subsection had been put into the Bill before it was printed.

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

Hear, hear.

Mr. McKie

I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) because he is very much au fait with local government matters in Scotland, perhaps even more au fait than the right hon. Gentleman. It is as well to have this Subsection in the Bill, and it will be realised how completely jeopardised local government matters in Scotland might have been if it had been sought to operate the Clause without it. In entering this caveat I hope I shall have the complete support not only of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire but of all hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies who are gracing the Committee by their presence.

Mr. Woodburn

The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) will understand that it a Bill were perfect in the first place there would be no occasion for a Committee stage, and we should miss the charming interventions which he makes and get on with the business more quickly.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. C. Williams

Before we pass away from this Clause, I would like to emphasise, for the sake of the Government and the Committee as a whole, that the Amendments we have made to the Clause take up nearly a third of a page of the Bill. I regret to say, and say it with great pain, that after further researches were made after the Bill was printed, the Government found two mistakes in one Clause which, added together, make about a third of a page. Such considerations and the blatant mistakes of the Government leave no room for wonder that the Bill is very lengthy. I congratulate the Government on these Amendments. It would have been a great pity if we had to have an amending Bill very shortly because these Amendments to this vital Clause had not been made. I congratulate the Home Secretary on having found the fault, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, no doubt, will be shortly praised and honoured by supporters, for having found out something which ought to have been obvious long before the Bill was printed.

Mr. Ede

I can think of something else I would like to see pass away, besides this Clause. This Clause was inserted against the recommendations of the Carr Committee because we thought it would be unwise to deprive a man of his chance of standing as a candidate merely because he had omitted to appoint an agent. We thought that if a man appointed no one it would be quite right if he became his own agent. After we studied the matter when the Bill had been printed we found that consequences flowed from that—very unlikely to arise, in most circumstances—which might cast doubt on the validity of some person's actions. In order to make the Clause watertight, we decided to bring in the new Subsection. I hope the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) will not pass away too soon.

Mr. C. Williams

I hope the Clause is more watertight than it was before, but I should not be the least surprised if there were very considerable leakages in the Bill. After all, we expect leakages in anything connected with this Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.