HC Deb 20 April 1951 vol 486 cc2227-50

Order for Second Reading read.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Marples (Wallasey)

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

This Bill first came before the House on the 9th February, and on that occasion I commenced speaking about 20 minutes to four o'clock and at four o'clock I was still speaking when the Adjournment was moved; consequently the House did not discuss it and neither was a vote taken or the Second Reading really considered. The speech that I made on that occasion has given the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity of considering the Bill. The views which I put forward are on record in HANSARD, and I am sure that he will give us a comprehensive reply this afternoon.

I can on this occasion either repeat that speech, make no speech at all, or summarise what I then said. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I summarised what I said on that occasion in order to give hon. Members who are anxious to take part in the debate an opportunity to make their contribution before the proceedings close at 4 o'clock.

The Bill attempts to alter one Section only of the Representation of the People Act, 1949. That is a large and compre- hensive Act of almost 300 pages, but one of the Sections is shown in practice to be faulty. That is not an unusual thing because a Bill, after it has become law, usually shows some slight difficulty when put in operation. We must learn by experience from our mistakes. That is why this Bill is being introduced.

It attempts to do three things. It repeals one Section of the main Act because that Act has in it a Clause which holds that a man is guilty unless he proves himself innocent. Secondly it substitutes a new subsection for one of the existing subsections in the original Act in respect of motor cars. In this respect the Bill tries to do two things. The first is to allow a substitute car to be brought in if a car breaks down. That is important for those Members who have cars of old vintage and is likely to become more important in the future, because the allocation of new cars is about 80,000 a year to the home market.

Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

Would the hon. Gentleman explain whether this applies to a switch to another car, whether it breaks down or not?

Mr. Marples

Exactly, but it still applies to the car that breaks down. It will be found in practice that if a car breaks down at the present time it cannot be replaced. At the present time, if one minute after polling starts, a car breaks down, that car cannot be replaced. This Bill allows it to be replaced. The second provision in the car Clause is to make a slight increase in the number of cars for county constituencies only. As I represent a county borough, hon. Members on both sides will acquit me of having any personal interest in the matter, because it will not increase by one car the number of cars which I am allowed in my own county borough of Wallasey. The third main point of the Bill is that is clarifies an ambiguity in the original Act.

Having already made the main points of the Bill, I will elaborate shortly its principal objects. First, there is the question of the onus of proof. As the law now stands, the onus of proof under Section 88 (2) of the Act is that a man is guilty unless he proves himself innocent. The Act says that: it shall be presumed until the contrary is shown that the person was so employing or using it"— that is, a motor car— with a view to supporting or opposing the candidature of some individual as against some other or others. In other words, if a man is found with a passenger going in his car to the poll, it is up to him to prove that he is innocent and not for the prosecution to prove that he is guilty. In general, that is a bad thing; the lawyers have many points of view on it, and it should be amended. I propose in the Bill to repeal this subsection of the Act.

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

Has not the hon. Member omitted a very important point— that at the time when it was so employed there was to the knowledge of any person employing or using it for that purpose displayed on it or on a trailer drawn by it any placard, colours or other thing indicating a preference for or against any candidate at the election. Surely, the whole point is that when a placard or something of the sort is exhibited, it is then not unreasonably presumed that the person who was using or employing the motor car was using it with a view to supporting or opposing a candidature. That is an entirely different matter.

Mr. Marples

Not necessarily. If, for example, a constituency has a handsome looking member and a young lady wishes to put a photograph of him, with a banner, on her car, then obviously that is not one of the official cars. It is general practice for quite a number of people to use placards when they are not using their cars for official purposes, especially in constituencies such as Kettering which has a member who is distinguished and good-looking.

Mr. MacColl (Widnes)

If any young lady displayed a photograph of my hon. and learned Friend, it would not be unreasonable to ask her for an explanation of why she was doing so.

Mr. Marples

There might be people who have a very good reason for displaying photographs of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) but I do not think the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is likely to have many placards of his countenance on the backs of cars.

The most important part of the Bill is Clause 2, which has two objects. The first is to allow a car which breaks down to be replaced by another car. The second object is to make a small but justifiable increase in the number of cars allowed to large county constituencies. The present law is that if a car breaks down immediately after polling begins, the candidate loses the advantage of that car and cannot replace it.

I propose in the Bill what I call a principle of controlled substitution. It is the intention of the Bill not to allow a person to "fiddle" an extra car but that he should be allowed to replace a car which is broken down. If he is entitled to 10 cars, he ought to receive 10 placards, which are official placards and signed by the returning officer, by whom they are issued, for use on the cars. The idea is that if a car breaks down, its placard can be moved to another car.

The original Act left doubt as to the person by whom the placards were to be issued, but in practice at the 1950 election it was found, I think, that in most cases the returning officer issued the placards and, in some cases, signed them. This controlled substitution is the first object of the Clause. If hon. Members have any objection to the mechanics of the procedure which is proposed and have a better method of ensuring that no "fiddling" takes place, I shall be glad to have their suggestions.

The second object of the car Clause is, as I have said, to increase the number of cars allowed in large county constituencies. At present, if a small county constituency has 50,000 electors, it is allowed a certain number of cars. In a county constituency which is twice as large and has 50,000 constituents, they are allowed, broadly, the same number of cars: in other words, the cars allotted to constituencies have been calculated by reference to the number of people in the constituencies.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? It would help the House very much if he would also explain that, when the original Act was under consideration, this point was made, and extra polling districts were provided in country areas to meet the point of view which the hon. Gentleman is now expressing.

Mr. Marples

The extra polling districts which were provided have not worked out satisfactorily in practice. They are not sufficient in number, or placed in the right areas, and that applies to a good number of hon. Gentlemen opposite, as well as a number of hon. Members on this side, and their constituents.

Mr. McLeavy

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that his Bill will remedy the difficulty about polling stations? That is a matter for the returning officer, who also takes into consideration the representations of the various political parties. At least, the hon. Gentleman ought to make it clear that, when this matter was considered by Parliament, provision was made for extra polling booths in order to make it possible for people to vote without using cars at all.

Mr. Marples

Yes, but like so many things which the Socialist Party have done, it has not worked out in practice, and it is necessary to have this slight increase in the number of cars in these areas. It is the larger county areas which suffer, and cars ought to be allocated on the basis, not only of the number of constituents in the area, but of the area to be covered and the distance to be travelled. One car is allowed for every 1,500 voters in a county, and for every 2,500 voters in a borough. I propose in this Bill that, in a county of over 200,000 acres in area, there shall be an additional five placards, which means an additional five cars. If requested, in a county over 300,000 acres in area, they will receive eight placards extra.

I have done a little research into the areas of constituencies, and I find that there are 87 constituencies of over 200,000 acres, and that 46 of those 87 are over 300,000 acres. It shows how dispassionate and fair we are on this side of the House, because this helps all parties and all hon. Members in county constituencies which are large, and it does not help me personally. For example, it helps the hon. Member for one of the Norfolk Divisions, who has an area of 327,000 acres, and no one can accuse me of being biased in this matter, because the Bill also helps the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It also helps several of the Liberal hon. Members—the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) and so on—and I believe that this is a Measure which is much wanted in agricultural areas. There is one other minor point.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me? I hope he will not pass from introducing the Bill before dealing with what, to my mind, is the most important aspect of it. The Bill extends to Northern Ireland. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a debate in the Northern Ireland House of Commons on 26th June, 1946, raised by a Member of his own party there, in which there was an allegation of gross corruption against his party in the use of cars? As this Measure has not got the backing of any Ulster hon. Member, can he express any view as to the opinion of the Northern Ireland Government about it?

Mr. Marples

Certainly, and I should have thought the hon. and learned Gentleman might have been aware of it, since his researches into Northern Ireland affairs are more extensive than his re-rearches into the affairs of this country.

Mr. Chetwynd

As the hon. Gentleman was so gallantly involved in another controversy regarding the figures of 200,000 and 300,000, can he say whether these figures are the result of a demonstration at a Tory Party conference?

Mr. Marples

I have listened to many interruptions from the hon. Gentleman, but that is one of his worst. In regard to the 300,000, the hon. Member will be delighted to know that no party conference had anything to do with it. It is a non-party matter and I hope that all Members will treat this as a non-party Measure.

Mr. Bing rose

Mr. Marples

The hon. and learned Member can make his contribution later. He spoke at great length earlier, for about 25 minutes, and I listened to him. I am delighted to listen to him when he makes his contributions to debates.

The last alteration, the removal of the word "unless," which appears in the original Act, is a very small one. It is an attempt to clarify what is to my mind an ambiguity, namely, the persons who can be taken to the polls. It is stated in Section 88 (6. b) of the original Act: unless so employed exclusively for the purpose of that member's trade, profession or business"; That is, a person can be taken unless he is so employed exclusively for the purpose of that member's trade, profession or business. I have taken the opinion of two counsel. They say that the law is not clear. One says that a person living out can be taken, another says that a person living out cannot be taken. One says that if a person works for a man and lives in, he can be taken, another says he cannot.

I am seeking in this subsection to bring about some clarification of the present position. The intention of the Bill is good. It really is not as sinister as some hon. Gentlemen appear to think. If they have any constructive points of substance to make, preferably dealing with England, Wales and Scotland, in that order—[HON. MEMBERS: "And Northern Ireland."]—I shall be delighted to listen to them.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

The Bill extends to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Marples

I do not dispute that. I have given the order of priority in which I should like to listen to the contributions which are made. This is a modest Bill, and I hope hon. Members opposite will treat it seriously and make their contributions, to which I shall listen with great interest.

3.13 p.m.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

In spite of Scotland having been put into third place by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), in his gratuitous insult at the end of his speech, I have risen to support the Bill, and to do so particularly on one point. It must be the desire of all of us that as many voters as possible should go to the poll even if, when they get there, some of them turn out to be Conservatives. I do not think we need be unduly alarmed about the situation in Northern Ireland, because the Bill does not apply to jaunting cars or to any other typically Irish conveyance.

The Bill will have the effect that in widely spread constituencies more cars will be allowed for the purpose of getting voters to record their votes. I know that the argument against cars in general is that they tend to be the monopoly of one political party, or that at any rate one political party tends or used to tend to have an unfair majority of the cars on the road at its disposal. That is less the case today than it has ever been. I think that we can trust the Labour or Liberal voters, certainly in my constituency, to get into the Tory cars in reasonable quantities. I would even go so far as to say that I think the Tories, again so long as their quantity is reasonable, would tolerate that. I am bound to say that in my constituency—[An HON. MEMBER: "Surely not the Tories."] We are very nice people. There is now less discrimination of that sort than there was.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Does the hon. Member mean that the people in his constituency are honest because they deliberately select the cars of other parties in which to ride to the poll?

Mr. Grimond

The Tory cars are sometimes much more comfortable than the Liberal or Labour cars, so there is a certain case for getting into them. If there is any real danger of discrimination it might be possible, at a later stage, to put into the Bill some sort of safeguard. I do not know whether the proposer is in favour or against discrimination, but I see that danger and I feel that it might be guarded against in some way at a later stage. The fact of the matter is that though to some extent it might be got over by more polling stations and better placed polling stations, in my constituency at the last election people were walking, four, five, six and even seven miles to the poll. No one will deny that that is a great hardship, especially if we have a winter election. It does mean that a very substantial number of electors do not record their votes.

This Bill is one way in which to some extent that very real problem may be met. If anyone has a better suggestion I am sure that the House will welcome it. I think that in the counties today there is need of conveyances of some sort. It may be that the State should provide impartial conveyances. I do not know; but in any case the Bill will allow only a very small additional number of cars to political parties and, subject to safeguards against discrimination, it is a Bill which I welcome.

3.16 p.m.

Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)

I will be brief because a newspaper training has made me incapable of being prolix. I oppose this Bill as it gives an advantage to one party, the party which includes the more affluent classes, that get hold of more motor cars than the other party. In the case of a county constituency that is a very serious thing. I speak with knowledge because I was twice a candidate in a Kentish division. I speak of the Faversham Division, which I twice contested unsuccessfully, and I have worked out what that division would get under the terms of this Bill. It would get 42 cars, which is not so many—

Mr. Marples

How many does it get now?

Mr. Smith

I have not the faintest notion. I know that in 1931 it had well over 100, and I know that in 1935 it had more than 150; but my point is that when I contested the division in both those elections, my party had only six or seven cars, so even on that comparison—

Mr. Marples

The hon. Member must be fair and should not take into account what happened before the Representation of the People Act, 1939, because that did, in fact, alter the whole basis of cars allotted to constituencies. Another thing which alters the whole basis is the fact that the Socialist Party is now the rich party with more cars than the Conservatives.

Mr. Smith

I welcome the hearty effrontery of that remark, but the money is still on the other side, and if the hon. Member challenges my figures I have worked out the effect in my own constituency now. His party would get 18 cars; I could not hope to get more than about 10, and that is a very big surplus. If I had my way there would be no cars for party purposes in any election. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to people having to walk long distances to vote, and there are, of course, the sick and infirm. But surely the proper way to deal with that is to have legislation empowering the returning officer to have a pool of cars at the disposal of such people without regard to party.

There is another and much more important aspect to which I wish to refer. It is rather more subtle but no less important. I do not know how many hon. Members of this House have read the works of the late Thorstein Veblen, who was an American and who died not so many years ago. His books were characterised, not only by the depth and wisdom of his thoughts, but also by his sublime English prose, in which respect I would put him among the first half dozen writers of the English language since the days of Chaucer. He coined the phrase "conspicuous waste," which is quite brief, and with which he tried to describe how the more affluent classes in any country seek to impress the poorer classes with their opulence by an elaborate display of all those things which wealth alone can provide.

It was my experience in the Faversham division of Kent, when I was candidate, that in feudal communities like Throwley and Sheldwich the effect upon the labouring classes was most demoralising. On polling day, in 1935, I was talking to one of my best supporters in the village of Throwley. He was a good Labour man, although he had the Conservative bill in his window. He said, "Mr. Smith, how can we hope to win when the other side have all these cars?" That is what Thorstein Veblen used to write about. The people represented in this House by the party opposite can, and do, use their wealth for the purpose of intimidating poorer people. That is what I object to about the flush of cars in county divisions.

Whatever may be the datum line, this Bill would take us back to the dismal days when I fought elections and lost them. The Bill would increase the number of cars and, therefore, increase the handicap in favour of his party as against mine. For that reason, I oppose it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) mentioned Clause 4 (3). My last word is that I oppose this Bill because, in Northern Ireland, it would give advantage to a political party whose principal appeal, so far as I can see, is to religious sectarian prejudice, and I hate that.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith) said that he already got about 10 cars, and he could not see himself getting more than that number even if this Bill were passed and he were allowed to do so. I was born in Nottingham, not far from his constituency, and I think it is fair to say that in his case there is hardly one voter who lives more than a quarter of a mile, at the most, from a polling station. Therefore, his experience has no application to the point of this Bill.

In my constituency in North Lincolnshire, where there are often seven miles between one village and the next, it is of urgent importance that men who work late on the farms should be helped to enable them to register their votes. The hon. Gentleman's experience in Nottingham, South, is nothing to go by. Another point he mentioned was that when he was unsuccessful in fighting Faversham he could get no cars worth mentioning. But those were the dark days of Socialism and since then the position has changed. His party is now full of rich men. In those days they were still Jiving under the shadow of Keir Hardie and his cloth cap. Today, the Front Bench is full of old school ties. The only way to success in the Socialist Party today is to have aristocratic connections and an Oxford accent. They are the people who can get the motor cars.

The provision of extra cars would help hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent widely scattered agricultural constituencies. About controlled substitution, I would merely say that we are not seeking to adopt the American football system whereby one team is replaced immediately they start to lose and there is a complete substitution. We say that we would rather have the English system and retain almost the same eleven. But we have seen English football matches in which two men on one side have been knocked out. That makes the test most unreasonable. I suggest that it would be reasonable to allow two extra cars to be brought in if the position were carefully watched.

It does not affect those of us who represent the agricultural workers, because we hope that when the Government decide to have the next election it will not be in the depths of winter but will be in the summer, so that everybody can register his vote at the poll, whether it be for us or against us But in the summer or the autumn men are working very late in the fields and if they are to go to the poll to register their votes, as we all wish them to do, an extra car here and there is important.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

Does the hon. Member suggest that if he had had a few more cars legitimately at his disposal at the last election, more Conservative votes would have been cast in his division?

Mr. Osborne

I am not interested in whether there are more Conservative votes or not. It is obvious that we do not know whether the person riding in the car intends to vote for us or not—[Laughter.]—Hon. Members laugh at that. May I give them an example? As a livery man of the City of London, once a year I have the privilege of voting for the Sheriff. Those of us who live out of town are generally met at the station before we go to the Guildhall to register our votes. One year before the war a friend and I were travelling in a car which had been sent by one of the gentlemen who was seeking election as Sheriff, and my friend said to me, "Out of sheer devilment let us say we are going to vote for someone else." The young lady who was driving the car was incensed at the idea, whereupon we said, "Do not be silly; we are with your man; drive on." But there is no way of telling which way your constituent will vote; if a man wants to ride in a Liberal car in order to vote Socialist, he is entitled to do so.

I am not suggesting that more cars would bring in more Conservative voters. All I say is that if a democracy is to work well, we need the maximum number of people to express their opinions through their votes. There is no guarantee that they will vote for the man in whose car they are riding. I am sure hon. Members opposite would agree that it is desirable that we should have a heavy poll. When the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that certain voters had not turned up at the election, an hon. Member opposite commented, "I would make them go." All I would say is that that is typical of the Socialists. [HON. MEMBERS: "He said, 'Make them walk'."] That is even better. If we are to say to the agricultural worker in my constituency, after he has been working on the land all day, "I will make you walk; I will not let you ride to vote," then I think that is not the sort of freedom you should offer him.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be developing the argument that the sole purpose of the Bill is to provide reasonable transport for people who need it during elections. If that is so, why is it that instead of a Bill of this kind, giving greater latitude to political organisations for the use of cars at elections, he did not introduce a Bill giving power to the returning officers to provide the transport needed for the public use?

Mr. Osborne

I am much obliged for that intervention. I must point out that my party has not been in power during the last few years.

Mr. Thomas

Was not the hon. Gentleman's party in power between the two wars, almost without interruption? Hon. Members opposite did not deal with this problem but continued to use the privileges they have always had in this matter.

Mr. Osborne

It is true that the Conservative Party has been in and out of office between the two wars, but to keep harking back to what happened 20 years ago, will not solve the problems of the day.

Mr. Thomas

Old soldiers never die.

Mr. Osborne

I sometimes wish there were more old soldiers on the benches opposite.

Mr. Proctor (Eccles)

If the hon. Gentleman had the power, would he carry out the suggestion my hon. Friend has made?

Mr. Osborne

Mr. Speaker is always telling us, "That is a hypothetical question." So is that.

Mr. Proctor

Since the hon. Gentleman is attempting to legislate in the Bill, even though his party are not in power, would he say whether he is in favour or not of what my hon. Friend has suggested?

Mr. Osborne

Let me ask the hon. Gentleman this question. Why did not the Government of his party make that provision in their Act? This is a serious point. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies know the need for this slight increase in the number of cars. I think that unquestionably this Bill would be a help to people in such constituencies. It is no good hon. Members who represent densely (populated areas, simply giving their experience of those areas.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that special provision is made for country districts in the Act, in this respect. If the polling facilities are not adequate, Section 11 lays it down that it is the duty of the local authority or the returning officer to provide adequate polling facilities? The suggestion that one may have to walk six miles, seems to me to be humbug.

Mr. Osborne

It is not humbug. With due respect, that is said with the usual certainty that Socialists seem always to possess, that Almighty God has placed the ace up their sleeve for their purposes only.

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

It comes from the Liberal Party.

Mr. Osborne

It certainly comes from the Liberal Party, and it comes also from Disraeli; but it also applies to the Socialist Party today. All I am saying is that there are in my constituency and in North Lincolnshire polling booths that are long distances apart; and people have to walk to vote. It would astonish hon. Members to see them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Six miles? "] Six or seven miles. About that. It would astonish hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Would the hon. Gentleman, with his wide knowledge of the agricultural areas of North Lincolnshire, not agree that per acre or per 100 square yards there are more cars in possession of the farmers and others than there are in the thickly populated industrial areas? Where is the difficulty in getting people to the polls?

Mr. Osborne

We are not allowed to use them, and, besides, the agricultural workers have not cars. That is the whole point of what I am saying. I think that this is a very reasonable Bill. It is a modest Bill. It has no party politics in it. I would remind hon. Gentlemen that if one takes people to vote, one cannot tell for whom they will vote. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

3.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

I intervene early to make it clear from the outset that I do not share the view of hon. Members of the Opposition that this is an innocent little Bill. It is a Bill to give advantage electorally to the Conservative Party.

Hon. Members


Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

Look in New Palace Yard.

Mr. de Freitas

Earlier, when we were discussing the New Streets Bill, which concerns local government, there were times when there was only one Conservative Member in this House; and at other times there were two.

Mr. Osborne

It was an agreed Measure.

Mr. de Freitas

There was no ex-Minister on the Front Bench opposite at all. Since we have reached this Bill, which I maintain is a party political Bill, we have had a considerable strengthening of Members here, and we had for half an hour the Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party and a former Minister sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.

Sir H. Williams

When the hon. Gentleman says there was no former Minister present, I would point out that with two exceptions I am the senior former Minister on this side. I was present, and I conducted the main opposition to the Bill, and was responsible for the main changes.

Mr. J. Hudson

I thought the hon. Member said it was an agreed Measure.

Sir H. Williams

By the time I had finished with it, it was agreed.

Mr. de Freitas

The hon. Gentleman is so lively and blithe in the House that I frankly confess I sometimes forget that he ever had the cares of office. One also forgets that he was a former Minister because, owing no doubt to the regrets of his hon. Friends, he never now sits on the Opposition Front Bench. He was in office for only a short time.

This Bill is a party Bill, and I ought to quote something in this debate to remind hon. Members of the past history of Section 88 of the Representation of the People Act. Hon. Members who have spoken today seemed to think that by the camouflage of the last part of this Bill they could get away with Clause 1, which is the substance of the Bill. Remembering the strong opposition that there was to Section 88 when this matter was discussed three years ago, I think it is asking too much to believe that the Opposition have suddenly become converted to the merits of Section 88, and accept the principle of it, and are merely here today seeking some minor improvement.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) in Committee moved the new Clause out of which Section 88 was born, there was intense opposition from Conservative Members, particularly such distinguished Conservative Members as Mr. Quintin Hogg, as he then was, who in many ways we were very sorry to see go to another place. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary advised the Committee not to accept the Clause as it then was, and on Report he introduced what is now Section 88, and in doing so said: There can be no doubt that for a long period of years the unlimited use of motor cars has enabled certain parties in the State to profit considerably at election times from their unrestricted use. There was then an interruption from below the Gangway about there being no motor cars in 1883. My right hon. Friend went on: As long ago as 1883 it was found necessary, in the interests of fairness as between political parties, to impose restrictions on the use of vehicles of another type for bringing electors to the poll…. We think that before the Bill leaves this House, it should include a Clause which will ensure that as between parties there shall be less disparity of opportunity in the future than in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 53.] Now at that stage, that principle and the Clause which embodied it were bitterly opposed by the Conservative Opposition, and that is the background which we must remember in considering this apparently innocent little Bill today.

I ask the House to concentrate on Clause 1 which the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) explained very plausibly as being designed merely to put the onus of proof back where it belonged, namely, on the prosecution. He talked as if Section 88 at present threw the onus of proof on the defendant in each case. Of course, it does nothing of the kind. He has only to read it to see that. The fact is that it prohibits, subject to specified exceptions, the use of cars for taking people to the poll, not in any circumstances but with a view to supporting or opposing the candidature of any individual as against some other or others, and it goes on to provide that where a motor car is used to take people to the poll and it has on it party placards or colours, there is a presumption that it is being used with a view to supporting the candidature of some individual as against some other or others.

That is the sole effect of Section 88 (2), which this Bill proposes to repeal. The sole effect is to make a display of a party placard on a car which is used for taking people to the poll prima facie evidence that it is being used in the interests of the party. Everyone who looks at this carefully must admit that if a party car is used for taking people to the poll, there is a fair assumption that it is being used in the party interests. Therefore, it is only right and proper for this commonsense presumption to be a presumption in law.

Mr. Marples

But if my Bill is accepted, will it not be quite clear that the only cars used for the purpose are those bearing the official placard signed by the returning officer?

Mr. de Freitas

But Clause 1 does away with Section 88. It says so in the Bill. I ask the hon. Member to study very carefully what would be the effect of that. Section 88 is aimed at the use by one side in an election of a flush of cars, as it was referred to by one of my hon. Friends, to invite people to go for a ride to the poll. By their pretty colours they attract people. Those colours vary from constituency to constituency. In my constituency the Liberals have blue, the Conservatives pink and we a pleasant shade of orange. In others they are red and yellow, red white and blue, and so on. We should maintain the law as it stands, for it is intended to prevent what appears to many people to be a corrupt practice.

Mr. Osborne

If there were a flush of cars, as the Under-Secretary suggests, there is no guarantee that the party which provides the cars is going to get the benefit of the votes of all those people.

Mr. de Freitas

I entirely agree with that. Of course, there is not, but we should not overlook the psychological effect, and in that connection I would ask the hon. Member to remember the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith). If he did not hear it, I will send him a copy.

If subsection (2) is repealed, what is the result? The car will not be registered under the Section and probably party placards will not be used. It will then be said that people are taken to the poll without discrimination of party, and, therefore, the car is not used in contravention of Section 88. Surely no one can deny that in those circumstances there is a strong presumption of commonsense against the truth of that argument. It would be very difficult to disprove it as the evidence is there. We must have subsection (2) in order to make the Section effective.

Let us remember the very high voting figures of the last election. Hon. Members talk as though there was a low poll. There certainly was not. There were very high voting figures, and nobody is going to convince me or, I hope, the House that this present law keeps people away. The aim of this Bill, which is very well disguised, is to wreck Section 88 by sabotage and I advise the House not to be taken in by it.

3.44 p.m.

Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)

From these crowded benches I desire to express disappointment at the attitude adopted by the Minister on this Measure. He has used strong terms about it, and my view in support of it is that it is to achieve the purpose of enabling more people to get to the poll, which I imagine is not a matter of party controversy at all. I am one of those who represent a county division, in which there are numbers of very remote villages, and it is very important that the electors from those villages should be enabled to go to the poll.

One hon. Member opposite referred to those who were disabled and sick and, therefore, in difficulties on polling day. Perhaps they are not so great, because of the postal voting facilities which now obtain. I want to digress for one moment to recount to the House an experience which I had at the last election, because it may be a warning. Two days before polling day I visited, and I was the last of the candidates to do so, a large sanatorium. Having addressed the patients, or certain of them, through the microphone system, I thought I had been rather impressive and not too bad. I was then told by the secretary that 90 per cent. of them had voted by post three days before.

3.46 p.m.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

This is a Bill designed to lessen the control of the use of motor cars. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) said, quite fairly, from his own point of view—it is a very fair estimation of the Conservative point of view when discussing a Measure such as this—that one should consider England first, Wales next, Scotland third and Northern Ireland last. That is a very fair estimation of the importance the Conservative Party put upon Northern Ireland. They have their Members here and they are good as Lobby fodder, but when we have to consider their interests, we exclude them from our discussion of any Bill.

This is one of the few Measures on which this Parliament has legislated for Northern Ireland. Very humbly, in the absence of all 10 Members from Northern Ireland, I take the liberty of speaking on their behalf. I am fortified by the speech made by a Conservative Member on the use of motor cars in elections in Northern Ireland. In dealing with the Bill, we ought to consider it, not according to the priorities that we give to our various countries but according to the degree of election abuse that occurs. Wherever hon. Members opposite may put Northern Ireland in their estimation of its value to the community generally, I am sure they would agree in putting it first among places where election irregularities occur. Therefore, I would like to ask the hon. Member to deal a little more seriously with the position in Northern Ireland when he comes to reply, if he has the good fortune to do so and if we are able to take a vote on the Bill.

He will remember a by-election held for this House in County Down after the lamented death of Dr. Little, which took place in the last Parliament. Following upon that, there was a long discussion in the Northern Ireland Parliament on how it was possible to remedy abuses in elections, not, of course, for the Northern Ireland House—we are not competent to discuss that matter here—but for this Parliament, which they call, in Northern Ireland, the "Imperial Parliament."

A very valuable speech was made by one of the Unionist Members—which is the name they give to Conservative Members in Northern Ireland—a Mr. Nixon, who had been previously—I think I am right in saying—chief inspector of police and is one of the most experienced of police officers. He was telling what had taken place at the Conservative headquarters before the election, and in regard to the use of cars. I will quote what he said: There was a meeting in Glengall Street—I think it was on the 31st May—and the ex-Prime Minister was in the Chair. This was in 1946. One of the agents, Sir Wilson Hungerford, who was addressing the meeting said 'This is a vital election. Among other things, get all the petrol you can, even if you have to buy in the black market' I am quoting directly from the Official Report of the debates in the Northern Ireland House of Commons a statement made by the Unionist Member, Mr. Nixon. If hon. Members want to check it for themselves they will find it in column 1437 in volume XXX of the Northern Ireland Official Report.

Mr. Nixon goes on to say: Why should they be advised to buy petrol in the black market, except for the purpose of personation? Why? For no other purpose but personation. I do not want to be dealing with what has taken place in the past. I want to deal with the future. That is what all hon. Members in this House do, I am sure.

If we have the testimony of a Conservative Member about the use of cars and petrol for the purpose of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland without, so far as we know—I am sure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will tell us whether the Northern Ireland Government expressed any views on the Bill—any support from the Northern Ireland Government—who, to do them justice, we must presume are trying to check this sort of offence—and without any backing from any single hon. Member for Northern Ireland, how can the hon. Gentleman justify including Northern Ireland in his Bill?

Mr. Marples

Without any opposition from Northern Ireland either.

Mr. Bing

The hon. Member must understand that when he puts Northern Ireland last and treats the people there in this way, it is difficult for them to make their voice heard here. Everybody knows that in their election addresses the hon. Members for Northern Ireland always present a Labour Party policy and that it is only when they get here that they vote Conservative. Therefore, they are, no doubt, in some difficulty about making any representations. I do not want to go any further into this and detain the House too long, because I see that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), wants to speak.

When we come to consider where election corruption is at its height, we have to consider Northern Ireland, and we ought not casually, like this, to include Northern Ireland in a Bill of this sort when Conservative hon. Members themselves have denounced the use, by their party, of cars for this purpose. As my hon. Friend said, more people voted at the last election than ever before, and that does not show any great difficulty about people getting to the poll. As I read it, in some Northern Ireland constituencies more than the electorate voted, but that is by the way.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) returning to the Chamber. His argument that one should encourage the Bill for the simple reason that Conservative cars are more comfortable than the others is an understandable one. So is the condemned cell more comfortable than other prison accommodation, but that is not necessarily a reason for occupying it.

3.53 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

When I took part in a debate earlier today, I was followed by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), and he took five times as long as I did, which indicates that he is more verbose than I am. I am sorry that he brought in the name of Hungerford. The gentleman he was describing was a descendant of the first person to occupy your chair, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch goes into our Silence Room, which I never use, because one is never allowed to smoke or talk there, he will see in the list of Speakers the distinguished name of Hungerford, and he should really be more respectful.

Mr. Bing

I was quoting a Conservative speaker. I was reading out his speech. I felt that even though it involved using the name of a descendant of our first Speaker, it would be wrong for me to detract anything from a speech by a Conservative Member of Parliament.

Sir H. Williams

That may be so, but I do not suppose that the hon. and learned Member has ever been in our Silence Room. Another reason for greater respect from him is that "Hungerford" is the name of the bridge which people will have to cross to visit the Festival of Britain.

To come from frivolities to a serious point, you will remember, Mr. Speaker, that we had a Conference in 1944 over which you presided. I was more or less the leader of the Conservative Members of Parliament at that Conference. Lord Margesson led the party as a whole, and I led the Conservative M.P.s, and I spoke more on the major issues than any other hon. Member. Our proceedings were not reported; only our conclusions were. A great many proposals were agreed to unanimously. I proposed that the City of London should retain its two Members, and an Amendment was proposed by the Socialists that it should only have one. On vote, it was carried that there should be two Members. I played a more substantial part in the reform of the Representation of the People Act than any other person in this House, and, therefore, I think I am entitled to speak on this matter. Most of the proposals considered at that Conference came from me.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Do not be so modest.

Sir H. Williams

I am not being modest, I am being the reverse of modest. As my right to speak was challenged, I am entitled to produce my credentials. Most of the hon. Members opposite who jeer know nothing about it. There is no harm in educating them a little.

This question of motor cars is not purely a party topic. Hon. Members opposite think that this demand for more motorcars is merely for the advantage of my party. I have had nothing to do with this Bill. The opposition to it is purely on party grounds. One has only to go into the Palace Yard to see that most of the cars—I call them the tin and wind cars—which are much too large, are owned by Socialist Members of Parliament. If I had my way there would be no motor cars used by anybody at elections.

I urged at the Conference that there should be a far wider percentage of postal voting. I want everyone to vote. We must alter the present system of postal voting, which is far too restricted and narrow, or we must provide people with convenient means of transport. The party opposite have been quite illogical. They have restricted the means of transport, and they have failed to provide for the extension of postal voting, which is the answer.

I also put forward another proposal for which I did not get a single supporter. I think that elections should take place on Sundays, which is the practice in many Continental countries. The polling booths could be opened from, say, two to six. There should be no Committee rooms and no canvassing. People should perform their most sacred duty as citizens on a Sunday. After all, it is not much trouble to walk into a polling booth, so let us do it in decency on a Sunday, without all the beastly noise and clamour we have on week days.

I made the proposal in a Bill, which I introduced many years ago, that if people did not vote, they should be automatically struck off the register for five years. That would save us an awful lot of money. Why should we send out election addresses to people, 20 per cent. of whom do not vote. Let us come to the issue of keeping our whole system of representation on a clean basis. The whole system of permanent re-distribution committees was brought into a Bill by me as long ago as 1934, and was accepted by the Speaker's Conference. I think that, somehow or another, we should approach this problem of the representation of the people in a way which is entirely divorced from party influence. That has always been my approach. I can substantiate it by the Bills which I have presented to Parliament, some of which have become law and some of which have not become law—

It being Four o'Clock the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 4th May.