HC Deb 09 February 1951 vol 483 cc2162-7

Order for Second Reading read.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Marples (Wallasey)

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

We have had a most agreeable day of tranquil meanderings from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Two spectacles have interested me: first, the astonishing and unexpected spectacle of lawyers being unanimous, and, second, the happy look on the faces of Members opposite in comparison with yesterday. It is clear that the subject of common informers interested them far more than the subject of meat.

The small Bill which I now seek to introduce amends the Representation of the People Act, 1949, which was a formidable work consisting of about 268 pages. My Bill proposes to amend only about two of those pages. Those two pages are important, but the Bill nevertheless seeks to amend only a small part of the Act. All Measures, when they are put on the Statute Book, have some slight flaws which become apparent when the Measures are put into operation. The 1949 Act is no exception. The 1950 General Election showed several things. It showed not only the swing to the Right, but that Section 88 of the Act contained defects regarding motor cars.

The Bill, which is quite innocent—it is not at all drastic, as hon. Members opposite, I think, imagine seeks to do three things. First, it is designed to repeal Section 88 (2) of the principal Act. That subsection is odious because it holds that a man is guilty until he is proved innocent, thereby reversing the practice of law in this country. Second, it substitutes a new subsection (4) and allows two things to be done: first, if a motor car breaks down it can be replaced by one which is in working condition—it does not propose an increase in the number of cars; second, it proposes a slight increase in the number of cars allowed in large country constituencies. The third aim of the Bill is, by amending Section 88 (6, b), to clarify the Act in certain respects. I should like to elaborate these points a little.

The common law—I tremble before the lawyers who may be listening—lays the onus of proof upon the prosecution in that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty. The 1949 Act, however, states clearly that a man shall be presumed guilty until he shows that he is innocent. The actual wording of Section 88 (2, b) says that: it shall be presumed until the contrary is shown that the person was so employing or using it"— that is, in a motor car— with a view to supporting or opposing the candidature of some individual as against some other or others. In other words, it is up to a man who is carrying someone to the polls for the purpose of voting, to prove that he is innocent. He might be giving people a lift in the ordinary way.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

Supposing it is important that there should be a condemnation of the principle that a man is guilty until he is proved innocent, would the hon. Member not agree that this should be done in the case of the Special Powers Act of Northern Ireland, which is based entirely on that principle?

Mr. Marples

I would hate to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman into historical researches into other countries.

Mr. Bing

But that is where the Act is at present in force.

Mr. Marples

That may be, but I have never heard that two wrongs make a right and I do not think he would seek to perpetuate one wrong because of another.

Mr. Bing

I wonder if the hon. Member would include that in his condemnation?

Mr. Marples

I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity of speaking later.

Supposing the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department were proceeding to the polls and was attracted by a W.A.A.F. and gave her a lift to the polls. Under the Act as it stands, he is supposed to be guilty of taking her there for the purpose of voting. I am not saying that in the case of the hon. Gentleman he would have any other motive at all, but it is his duty to prove that he is innocent, whereas the onus should be on the prosecution to prove that he took that young lady to the poll in order to help him to get into power. I hope I have made that quite clear, because in the original debate the Attorney-General said: A man is presumed to intend what are the natural and probable consequences of his acts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 112.] If the hon. Gentleman were taking a young lady to the poll how could anyone know what his intention was, except the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Daines (East Ham. North)

And the lady.

Mr. Marples

The second Clause of the Bill proposes that a new subsection shall be substituted for subsection (4) of Section 88 of the principal Act. This is done with two objects. The first is to allow a car which has broken down to be replaced by one which is in action. The second is to make a small, but justifiable, increase in the number of cars allowed for large county constituencies. Taking the law as it stands, if a motorcar taking electors to the poll breaks down at one minute past eight, another car cannot be substituted to take electors to the poll.

In the Bill there is what I call the principle of controlled substitution, that is to say, if a candidate is allowed 20 cars in his constituency and one of them breaks down, he shall be allowed to substitute another car for the car which has broken down. The machinery is provided by placards which may be issued by the returning officer and signed by him. If a man is entitled to 20 cars at the election, he will get 20 placards. If one car breaks down he can transfer the placard from the broken-down car to a car which is in operation. The original Act left a doubt as to who is to issue the placards. At the last election, in 1950, I am informed, most of the returning officers issued placards to candidates for use on their motor cars.

During the discussion on the original Act we had an interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and, in the dispassionate and cool way which we always associate with him, he said that the advantages of wealth were removed by that Act. I am proposing to extend that admirable principle even further by removing any advantages of wealth which may remain, for this reason, that in a wealthy constituency a wealthy candidate has supporters who, generally speaking, can afford to buy new cars, or expensive cars, which are not likely to break down. At least, they could buy new cars before a planned economy drove most of the new cars off the market.

Generally, a man in the lower income group buys a second-hand car which may break down easily. It is not right that a poor man with a poor car should be penalised. It is only reasonable and just that he should be allowed to replace it by a car which is in action. I hope we shall have the support of hon. Members opposite on that admirable principle when we discuss this Bill on the next occasion.

Mr. Daines

Should I take it that the first party to which the hon. Member is referring is his own party and the second party is the Labour Party?

Mr. Marples

No, the Labour Party, being a party of privilege, have commissars' cars which they have not to buy and which are run at the taxpayer's expense. It is a much better position than having to buy them.

Mr. Bing

Is the hon. Member aware that cars run at the public expense are not allowed to be used in an election?

Mr. Marples

I agree—

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

Did the hon. Member actually say that official cars were being used?

Mr. Marples

No. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), with his usual alacrity, tried to put the words into my mouth, but failed on this occasion.

The second effect of Clause 2 of the Bill is to increase the number of cars in county constituencies. The principle is this. If a county constituency has 50,000 electors, and is exceptionally large, then it ought to have a few more cars allotted to it than if it is a county constituency with a smaller area. Larger areas should have more cars provided the number of electors is the same. Originally, when the Government allotted petrol, they gave larger allowances to those county constituencies which have large areas to cover and a smaller allocation to the smaller areas. I am saying that that principle should be carried out in connection with the number of cars as well as the amount of petrol. If the distance is greater, then, obviously, more cars would be wanted.

There are quite a number of hon. Members opposite who would benefit from this proposal, and I think that at this stage I ought to say that I personally would not. I am in a county borough and so would not benefit in the slightest. But there are a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite who would benefit— and many Liberals—more, actually, than Members of my own party. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) would benefit by this proposal, because his constituency covers an area of 327,936 acres. Under the Bill it is proposed that for constituencies of over 200,000 acres there shall be the slight increase of five additional cars if they ask for them; while constituencies of over 300,000 acres shall have eight additional cars, again only if they ask for them. They would receive placards which they could use and allocate to any cars at their disposal. This is a great example of the fair and dispassionate way in which this party works, because such provision of extra cars will, I think, help the Liberals more than any other party in the House.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

Will it pay their deposits?

Mr. Marples

If it helps them to get one or two more Members returned at the next election, it will. It will also help such people as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who has, I believe, one of the largest constituencies, which is rather like Sam Weller's description of London—"extensive and peculiar."

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

In what way peculiar?

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)

Is that correct? Was it Sam Weller?

Mr. Marples

I am sorry; I will not be corrected. It was Sam Weller's description of the City of London.

Mr. Ross

Will the hon. Member explain how the "land of Burns" is peculiar?

Mr. Marples

Anyone who sends the hon. Member to this House must be a little odd in some way.

The last alteration proposed in this very small Bill is to remove three or four words from subsection (6, b) of Section 88. That section would be amended by deleting the words: unless so employed exclusively for the purpose of that member's trade, profession or business. The reason this is put in, is merely to clarify the ambiguity in the law which exists at present.

Mr. Bing

What is the ambiguity?

Mr. Marples

The ambiguity is that, having taken the opinion of two counsel—

It being Four o'Clock further Proceeding stood adjourned.

Bill to be read a Second time upon Friday, 20th April.

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