HC Deb 15 June 1948 vol 452 cc353-8
Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 42, line 37, to leave out from "sixteen," to second "and," in line 38, and to insert: except in so far as it relates to bands of music, torches, flags and banners. This Amendment proposes to alter the drafting of paragraph (b) of Clause 42 (1) as it was amended in Committee. It was amended so as to continue in force the provision as to payments or contracts for payments for bands of music, torches, flags or banners. Actually the way in which it was drafted has been found not to be satisfactory for that purpose, and, therefore, the words proposed to be inserted in this Amendment are brought forward.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after "music," to insert: other than music reproduced by gramophone records. The purpose of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment is simply to get an assurance or an understanding that by maintaining these provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibit payments in respect of bands of music, torches, flags and banners at a parliamentary election, we are not, in fact, prohibiting the quite common practice of playing a gramophone record in a motorcar to attract by a suitable tune a crowd before embarking upon an open air speech. If we have to pay something for the hire of the gramophone are we, in fact, making a payment relating to a band of music?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

While the Home Secretary is dealing with that point I wonder if he will deal with the situation which might arise if some zealous and interested owner of a car fitted with a radio which was taken into a public place during an election switched on the radio. He might have a candidate near or in the car when he turned on the wireless, and the band might be playing on the normal B.B.C. programme at the time. Would the playing by that band in those circumstances be considered a breach of the Corrupt Practices Act?

Mr. C. Williams

Will a choir such as a Welsh choir be all right in these circumstances. This is a point which ought to be brought forward. I have some excellent Welsh supporters in my division, and I do not wish to see them stopped from singing if they think it necessary, because they were mostly Socialists but now they are sensible people.

Mr. Ede

The kind of things that have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) and the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) would not be hit by this Amendment. It all depends on whether payment is made. Many bands are willing to volunteer to come forward either to support the candidate or to drown the views of his opponent, like the celebrated election at Eatanswill. If no payment is made the gramophone can be used just as the band can be used. If, however, a payment is made for it—if somebody with a loudspeaker van undertakes, let us say, to provide music while awaiting the arrival of the next speaker—I think that would, in fact, be an infraction of the law, on the assumption that the whole arrangement is being paid for. The same applies to what was said by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams); so long as the choir comes voluntarily to the place where the singing takes place, there is no prohibition on such a thing by the words of the Amendment.

Commander Galbraith

I would like some further enlightenment because I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has got the picture clearly. As far as I understand, it is perfectly proper for any candidate at an election to hire a loudspeaker van to speak through it himself or to play to the crowd recordings of his speeches.

Mr. Ede

It may be in some cases and not in others.

Commander Galbraith

Is it permissible for the candidate, having gone to that expense, to play gramophone records on that loudspeaker installation? The gramophone records, of course, would have to be purchased. Would it be proper for that to be included in the expenses of the candidate? This is a point on which perhaps we could have legal assistance, or into which the right hon. Gentleman might look further, if he is not quite certain of the position. I am sure he would not deny those attending an election meeting an opportunity of hearing the Conservative Party playing "Land of Hope and Glory." He might object, of course, to hearing "The Red Flag" played at Socialist meetings.

Mr. Ede

Curiously at the last General Election, in the constituency in which I live, the Labour candidate, who is now a Member of this House, was carried by his election supporters to his Committee rooms on the eve of the poll; they were all singing, very lustily, "Land of Hope and Glory." I do not imagine many other Labour candidates have had the same experience but it is astonishing what happens in the excitement of General Elections.

I was surprised to hear that "Land of Hope and Glory" is one of the anthems of the Tory Party. I have often attempted to sing it, to the great annoyance of people standing or sitting near me, and I should not have thought that I was subscribing to the doctrines of the party opposite by so doing.

Commander Galbraith

Would the right hon. Gentleman give that advice to his hon. Friends behind him who constantly sing "The Red Flag" in this House?

Mr. Ede

I sing "The Red Flag," too. Regarding the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Commander Galbraith) if the expenditure to which he referred was on music for the election, I think it will be caught by the words; but if the hon. and gallant Member has his own records at home, brings them along and plays them, and no expense is incurred at the time, I would have thought it would not be caught. This is one of the things which will have to be judged on the facts of the case. I cannot see the difference between hiring a band and hiring a car, one of the stipulations being that the person who provides the loudspeaker shall also provide gramophone records to be played on whatever instrument may be in the car for the purpose of producing noise.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Reid

It is rather important to get this point precisely right for the assistance of those of whatever party who conduct elections. I wonder if the Lord Advocate would agree that the words in the part of the Corrupt Practices Act which are retained are "bands of music," not "music"? There are many forms of music which are not produced by bands. As I understand it, and I hope that the Lord Advocate will agree with me, if I choose to produce either a singer or a solo instrument, either alive or in the "canned" form of a gramophone record, it seems to me that I am not breaking the law because it seems that these words are all that is left of the old Section, and when one is trying to prosecute one must bring the person concerned exactly within the words. If the words are "bands of music" I should have thought that a singer or a choir or a solo instrument, whether alive or through the medium of a gramophone, is plainly exempt. I hope that the Lord Advocate will agree with that.

On the other hand, it is equally clear that a live band—and a band need not consist of more than two persons I should think, but I will not go into these niceties—is prohibited if one pays for it, but what about using a record, or, as my noble Friend says, the B.B.C. programme? That is a difficult point. Is that a band of music or is it not? It would be highly desirable to have on record for the purpose of assisting all parties in the conduct of elections what the Lord Advocate's answer is upon that point. I agree that the Lord Advocate's view is not conclusive when it comes to a question of prosecution. On the other hand, I think that all sensible prosecutors would not bring a prosecution against someone if they were informed that in this House, when the Bill was being discussed, an assurance had been given by a Government spokesman that a certain thing was not intended to be criminal. I hope that the Lord Advocate will tell us which is the view of the Government. Is the gramophone record of the band prohibited or not if one pays for it? I hope that the Lord Advocate will also agree with me that there is no prohibition either of the solo instrument or the singer.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)

On this vexed question of when is a band not a band the simple solution is to be found in the withdrawal by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) of his Amendment and by leaving the law as it stands at present. If it is put to me. What is the existing law, I would refer to the existing Corrupt Practices Act, in which there is reference to "bands of music"? That might, as the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid) must know, refer even to a single individual. North of the Border at least we have such people as one-man bands and to that extent we do not require plurality of numbers in order to provide something which may be an offence under the Section. Nor do we require to charge him with acting in concert because a single individual might be charged.

Looking at the matter quite seriously, I feel it would be in the interest of the hon. Members opposite who are putting forward this Amendment to the proposed Amendment if they withdrew it. I do not think that the law as it stands refers to gramophone records playing music. When reference is made to "bands of music" it refers to live bands. It is sometimes difficult to realise whether some of the bands we listen to are alive or dead. I use the word in the generic sense. Therefore, if my construction is correct, that bands of music refer to live bands, and do not refer to gramophone records, and we leave the law as it stands, I think the interests of all parties will be served.

Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)

May I ask if the Lord Advocate would tell the House whether the term "gramophone records "would include some speakers?

Mr. Peake

In view of the authoritative pronouncement of the Lord Advocate, and bearing in mind the safeguards which the Secretary of State for Scotland introduced yesterday, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment to the Amendment.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.