HC Deb 08 July 1955 vol 543 cc1479-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an Address be presented for a Certificate of Conviction and Sentence of the Assize Court at Belfast on 30th November, 1954, in the case of Thomas J. Mitchell."—[Sir H. Lucas-Tooth.]

11.6 a.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. I do not know whether the Motion is debatable, but if it is, I should like to take the opportunity of asking the Home Secretary what information it is proposed to include in the certificate. Would that be in order, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

This is a Motion for an Address from the Minister's own Department. It is, therefore, an unopposed Return. It has been ruled by several Speakers that for any hon. Member to object to it or to discuss it would be out of order because it is information to which the House is entitled and which is necessary for its future proceedings. Therefore, I must overrule any objection to the Address.

Mr. Silverman

I was not intending to make any objection of any kind. I respectfully agree that these are circumstances in which the House is entitled to the fullest information, and the purpose of the Motion for the Address is to provide it. My purpose in rising was, in pursuance of that very desire, to make sure that the certificate, when presented, will contain all the facts.

I do not know whether it is proposed that the facts contained in the certificate will be limited to the nomination and the voting results—the numbers—and to the circumstances which, in some people's opinion, raise a question for the House subsequently to decide. What I want to make sure is that we are given information about the date of any alleged offence, the circumstances of any alleged conviction, whether there was a plea of guilty, whether there was a trial, whether there was a verdict by a jury, who the nominators were, and whether the facts concerning this gentleman were known at the time of nomination and on polling day.

Mr. Speaker

The information contained in the certificate will be in accordance with the Address which is presented, namely, it will deal with the conviction and sentence at the assize court. That is all the information that is asked for. It will not include matters about the Election at all. It is merely a matter of getting a certificate of the conviction and sentence. That is all the House is asking for. Other matters are quite outside this Address at the moment.

Mr. Silverman

With great respect, I submit that the House is entitled to much more information than that if it is to be asked at a subsequent date to take any action upon the certificate. This is rather a different question from that where the conviction of a Member takes place after his election to the House. In those cases, I understand, the custom is that the judge in charge of the trial affords a certificate to you, Mr. Speaker, and you communicate that certificate to the House, and the House takes action upon it.

If we are correctly informed so far, the facts in this case are quite different. The conviction about which we are to be told is a conviction which preceded the man's election and did not follow it. I suggest that that gives rise to very different questions, because the whole question here is whether the man was ever entitled to be elected at all. Where a man has prima facie been properly elected, where the returning officer has made the proper return, and where other questions have subsequently arisen as to whether the man was entitled to be elected, whether the election was void or not, the House has considered the matter, sometimes with a Select Committee and sometimes without, with, in every case I think, the participation of the man whose election was questioned.

Therefore, these seem to be relevant facts which the House ought to know, and if the Address does not ask for it, it ought to be amended to include the date of the conviction, whether it preceded the election or followed the election, and the general circumstances.

Mr. Speaker

All these matters may be relevant to a future discussion, but they are quite irrelevant to the Motion before the House. We are asking only for these particulars. The House needs these particulars before we can proceed further and raise questions, if they are in order, at a later stage.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

In view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I should not want to object to the Address being made. But may I ask the Home Secretary whether it would not be convenient for him also to call for a return to be made of a precisely similar kind in the case of Mr. Clarke, who was elected for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, in order that the House may at the same time have before it the facts regarding that conviction?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has made his suggestion, but it is certainly irrelevant to this Motion. The Question before the House is that this Address be presented, and I must put it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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