HC Deb 05 February 1952 vol 495 cc810-2
Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ensure the right of tenants of leasehold dwellings to use rooms as committee rooms during Parliamentary or local government elections; and for purposes connected therewith. In asking the House to give leave to introduce the Bill I will not detain hon. Members for very many minutes from the weighty matters which lie ahead, but the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and if in the democratic organisation of our political life there is some defect, I believe it is the duty of this House to remedy the matter as expeditiously as possible.

We know that all political parties make use of a number of committee rooms during an election and, owing to the statutory limitation on expenditure, most of them have to be in private houses. In many districts, no other premises are available. We all know, too, the individual who takes his politics seriously and regards it as a privilege and pleasure to be able to offer hospitality in his home to the candidate and party of his choice.

But in the present state of the law, this privilege is by no means universally enjoyed. In February, 1950, a case was brought to the Birmingham County Court in which the landlords—rather inappropriately named the Ideal Benefit Society—obtained an injunction against one of their tenants restraining him from using his dining room as an election committee room on the ground that the premises were a private dwelling-house. I am glad to say that the agent for the opposing candidate came to court to give evidence on behalf of the tenant and testified that all political parties used private committee rooms and that he himself had been offered, and had accepted, the use of a room in another house belonging to the same landlords, about which no action had been taken.

In other words, at present the field is open for completely arbitrary discrimination as between one citizen and another. Not only private landlords are concerned. Local authorities are making restrictions so that, for example, what may be lawful in Paddington may be illegal in Lewis-ham. I am also informed that the Railway Executive has taken restrictive action against some of its servants who are also its tenants, and I have details of similar action by various private employers.

I submit that action of this kind is a perversion and an abuse of the proper care which the landlord should have for his property. Actions of this kind are taken with quite other motives, usually political prejudice, although in the case of the Railway Executive it might be some queer desire to be upsides with the B.B.C. But if there is serious concern, as there might be in the case of blocks of flats, about undue noise or disturbance, there are speedy and effective remedies at law which may be taken, which do not introduce political discrimination.

The Bill seeks to make it lawful for the tenant of a private dwelling house during the narrowly prescribed period of the election—from nomination day to the day following the declaration of the poll is suggested—to use a room or rooms in his house for the purpose of a committee room on behalf of a candidate in that election.

I cannot believe that any fair-minded Member can be satisfied with the present state of affairs. It would not be the first time that this House had taken action which it thought fit in the public interest to waive a condition in a private tenancy agreement. I cannot think that any of us would wish to be frustrated in this manner during an election, nor do I believe that individual Members would take action in this way as landlords and be prepared to defend it on a public platform. If we are not prepared to do this ourselves with a perfectly clear conscience, I submit that there is something in the present state of the law which should be altered. Therefore, in the interests of a free and healthy democracy and in the interests of justice as between one citizen and another, I ask the leave of the House to introduce the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. White, Mr. Mitchison, Mr. MacColl, Mr. Holman, Mr. James Johnson, Mr. Baird and Mr. John Taylor.