HC Deb 21 April 1948 vol 449 cc1919-20

(1) Where on an election petition it is shown that offences under the corrupt practices Act committed in reference to the election for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of any person thereat have so extensively prevailed that they may be reasonably supposed to have affected the result, his election, if he has been elected, shall be void and he shall be incapable of being elected to fill the vacancy or any of the vacancies for which the election was held.

(2) In Section eighty-seven of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and Section thirty of the Elections (Scotland) (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, 1890 (which provide that an election may, on the grounds there mentioned, be questioned by petition, and not otherwise), for the references to an election being avoided by general bribery, treating, undue influence or personation there shall be substituted a reference to its being avoided under this Section.

(3) For the purpose of the enactments relating to the time within which an election petition may be presented or amended, an allegation that an election is avoided under this Section shall be deemed to be an allegation of corrupt practices, notwithstanding that the offences alleged are or include offences other than corrupt practices.

(4) The reference in Subsection (1) of this Section to offences under the corrupt practices Act shall include offences under any other enactment which are punishable as corrupt or illegal practices under that Act.—[Mr. Younger.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

As many hon. Members will be aware, the existing law about the avoidance of elections as a result of general corruption is somewhat confused, and in some respects anomalous. There is a difference, for which there appears to be no obvious ground, between the effect of general corruption upon a Parliamentary and a local election, and also a difference between the effect of corrupt practices and the effect of prevalent illegal practices. The new Clause seeks to make the law reasonably uniform in those respects. By the combined effect of Subsection (1) and Subsection (4) it is provided that both Parliamentary and local elections may be made void owing to the general prevalence either of corruption or of illegal practices, provided they prevail to such an extent as may reasonably be supposed to have influenced the result of the election.

Subsection (2) provides that a local election may be questioned by petition. That only refers to local elections because the situation in that respect is adequately covered in respect of Parliamentary elections not by Statute, but by case law. Subsection (3) provides that the time for presenting a petition under this Clause shall be the normal time, 21 days after the election. Although it makes the slight alterations to which I have alluded, the Clause does little more than consolidate in order to secure uniformity between two types of election.

Mr. C. Williams

I can see nothing wrong with the technical side of this Clause. It is obvious that, as the Under-Secretary has stated, the two main guiding points are the first and fourth Subsections of the Clause. There is also a technical provision under Subsection (3). It is an exceedingly awkward and inconvenient fact, however, that this rather technical Clause should come before us now as a new Clause instead of having been in the original Bill. I rise to protest against the fact that it was not in the Bill originally, and that it has been left to hinder and hold up the present stage of the Bill by having to be brought before us now. I regret that our time should be wasted in that Way.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have the support of some hon. Members opposite. It shows, among other things, that they are beginning to realise that it is due to the incompetence of their Front Bench that we have to do this now.

Clause added to the Bill.