HC Deb 23 July 1963 vol 681 cc1270-86 Motion made, and Question proposed. That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county constituency of Stratford in the room of John Dennis. Profumo, esquire, O.B.E., who, since his election for the said county constituency, hath accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—[Mr. Redmayne.]

3.47 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

In the absence of satisfactory and sound reasons for this Motion, I shall oppose it; and unless substantial reasons are advanced before the end of the debate the Patronage Secretary may be under the necessity of recalling a large body of Conservative Members of Parliament from Buckingham Palace, where they are now attending a garden party.

If we are to be accorded a satisfactory reason, or reasons, for the Government decision to indulge in what can only be regarded as unseemly haste, then the one man to reply to this debate should be the Prime Minister. I regret the absence of the right hon. Gentleman. But no doubt perhaps the Patronage Secretary or the Leader of the House—just the man for the job—will be the representative, wearing the appropriate hat, of the Conservative Central Office—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

A hard hat.

Mr. Shinwell

As the occasion is Stratford-ort-Avon, perhaps I may be permitted to indulge in a Shakespearean quotation: A good plot, good friends, and full of expectation: an excellent plot, very good friends". If that quotation is not precisely relevant, may I venture another quotation which is relevant at the present time to the situation at the Conservative Central Office: O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts. And men have lost their reason Is not that a perfectly adequate description? For after all, what is the reason for this remarkable and unseemly haste?

The gentleman who is to be the Conservative candidate at Stratford-on-Avon was once an hon. Member of this Assembly, a man of integrity, I have no doubt, a man of intellectual quality, that I concede. But he decided to resign and went to Australia to undertake the task of editing an important newspaper. Then he returned. Immediately he returned he was snapped up by the Conservative Central Office and pitch-forked into the South Dorset by-election. There appears to be no hope, not even the remotest hope, of the Conservative Party regaining the seat of Dorset, South. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) has proved his worth already. It is necessary to find a seat for Mr. Angus Maude; I can mention his name without transgressing Standing Orders. He may not have fully recovered from his escapade in Dorset, South. Why rush him into this venture? Let us ascertain the reasons for this decision. I have no doubt that the Leader of the House is fully armed with precedents—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Let us assume that he has; if so, I dismiss them at once.

This is a unique occasion. The Conservative Central Office is in a panic; there is no doubt about that. Many seats have been lost, many more are to be lost. There is a spot of trouble on the Conservative back benches and in spite of every effort to conceal it, or smother it, it reappears now and again not merely in the form of a shadow, but endowed with substance.

So hon. Members opposite have to rush this by-election and get it over quickly. What for? To raise the deteriorating morale of the Conservative Party. That is all it is. Why indulge in this particular task? In order to prevent the Labour Party from organising its resources in time for the election? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I expected that. I do not know whether to describe the interruption as jeers or cat-calls.

Never mind about the Labour Party; it can look after itself, but what about the Liberal Party? This is a democracy. Even in recent by-elections we had a vast number of ex-Service men, or those who hoped to be ex-Service men, who sought to be nominated to various constituencies. No one ventured to frown upon their decision, although at the end of the day they found that there were physical and perhaps financial and other difficulties in their path. Everyone has a right to come into this House and must be accorded an opportunity in time and not rushed into an election in this panic-stricken fashion.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

May I clear up any misunderstanding? Mr. Profumo did not resign until June, but the Liberal Party has had a candidate in this constituency since May.

Mr. Shinwell

There is nothing like eager expectancy, whether the by-election is to take place in August, next year or whenever the General Election comes. Perhaps the Leader of the House might furnish a little information on that subject. We are all very anxious to know, myself in particular. I have a majority of only 28,000. [Laughter.] If some hon. Members are hard up for votes, I can sell them a few.

I venture to give a reason for this decision. I have had very little time, I admit, to consider it. I learned only this morning that the Patronage Secretary was to present the decision of the Government about the Stratford-on-Avon vacancy to the House today. Nevertheless, I have had a little time to cogitate. I have come to the conclusion that the reason the Government have decided to rush this by-election is that Lord Denning is to submit his report during the Recess, and heaven knows what will be in that report. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If any hon. Member imagines that I am casting aspersions on any hon. Member, or anyone outside he is mistaken, not even on Mr. Profumo. I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr. Profumo. I have some compassion. If there had been a little more Christian charity—I can say that with feeling and understanding—perhaps there would not have been so much harshness indulged in about that gentleman. I leave it there.

No, I am not casting aspersions at anyone. I am pointing out that Lord Denning's report, having regard to the vast number of witnesses who have to be examined and statements which are current—whether they are true or not I am unable to say—and references to security, which is a matter which concerns every hon. Member on either side of the House, are matters which might come before the country at a time when Parliament is unable to debate them.

So this by-election has to be rushed because there may be something in the Denning report which may make some impact on the electors at that election. It has been suggested since I came here this afternoon that there is a substantial reason why this election should be rushed—because the electors in Stratford-on-Avon have no representative in Parliament. The answer to that is that if there is an election in August, and a Conservative is returned, or a Labour man, or a Liberal is returned, as the case may be—all in the lap of the gods and of the electors of Stratford—the electors will not be represented until the person returned has taken the oath. He cannot act on behalf of his constituents until then. So that argument can disappear.

I have no desire to hold up the proceedings. My Scottish hon. Friends are anxious to discuss legal matters concerning Scotland. I have no desire to prevent any hon. Member, particularly on this side of the House, in view of the possibility of a Division, disappearing to Buckingham Palace, to the garden party. They have our consent, but I submit that we are entitled, on this occasion, having regard to all the circumtances, to demand from the Leader of the House, in the absence of the Prime Minister, satisfactory, sound and substantial reasons and arguments why, at this time, the Government should indulge in unseemly haste in rushing this by-election.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Whether or not judgment may have "fled to brutish beasts", it is clear from his speech that "Manny" has not lost his reason. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) tested our patience by quoting. I thought that he was going to refer to Tennyson's "Come Into The Garden Maud", the garden, of course, being virtually the garden of Eden, or rather now, Avon.

In my humble suggestion, this Motion is unprecedented, certainly since the Representation of the People Act of 1949, and it is open to the gravest possible exception. It originated rather in sin, because although Parliament does not ask for the notice to be given on the Order Paper upon the moving of a Writ, it is equally clear that notice arrived in Fleet Street of this intention at least two days before any hon. Member heard about it—and, presumably, via Newfoundland, where a keener interest has been taken in the fortunes of the Conservative Party and its leader than in Oldham.

The objection to this procedure is grave and serious. In the circumstances in which the Writ is moved it is an indefensible procedure. I appreciate and apprehend that there is a perfectly fair point in saying that Mr. Speaker's power to move the Writ in Recess does not apply in the case of a Steward of the Manor of Northstead, as in this case, and that, therefore, the Writ must be moved in the House. But the House is due to sit until 2nd August. Were it moved even then it would avoid the most manifest and serious objections which are apparent.

The 1949 Act imposes on the returning officer and the Clerk in Chancery certain time limitations, which are imperative. It is a misdemeanour on the part of a returning officer or Clerk in Chancery not to comply with the rather rigid timetable laid down. I apprehend, though I cannot offhand recall, its precise details. However, the Government have overlooked so many things recently that one might be forgiven wondering about the present procedure, remembering that August Bank Holiday Monday is on 5th August; at any rate, it is well into August.

The result is that if this Writ is issued today—and, presumably, to the Clerk in Chancery tomorrow; and he has power to inform the returning officer by telegraphic process if he thinks fit—we shall be faced with a situation in which a by-election of some significance and importance will be held by a returning officer who must take on all the extra work involved in the preparation for the election, arranging officers, and so on, all in Bank Holiday week.

I realise that hon. Members may tell me that August Bank Holiday is dies non and will not count and that if a day of public mourning is proclaimed during that time that, too, will not count. Nevertheless, we still have a serious proposition: that even if one takes the most liberal interpretation of the timetable, this by-election is likely to take place in the week after August Bank Holiday week. This time seems to have been shrewdly calculated—or, at least, that has been hinted in the Press—for a large number of workers may be taking their annual holiday a long way from Stratford and will not be able to get in their cars and drive back to vote during their holiday.

If this has not occurred to the Leader of the House or the Patronage Secretary I suggest that they could easily deal with it by saying, "We will postpone the issue for a few days". But if it has occurred to them it seems that this is a negation of every desire which is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House in general; that there shall be a fair determination of the result and that there shall be offered a fair opportunity for all the candidates to make themselves heard and to hold meetings—and I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that not the best day for doing this is August Bank Holiday Monday—and to allow the great majority of the electors to exercise that right which is accorded to them only once every five years.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington made references which would please the cynicism of Shaw. I can think of a succession of quotations from Shaw and it is worth recalling that his three first unpleasant plays, as he called them, have been playing at the Palace of Westminster for the last few weeks. We have had "Mrs. Warren's Profession", "The Philanderer" and yesterday we had "Widowers' Houses". For the record, it seems that we are to move on to "The Devil's Disciple" I hope that the electors—those who are there and able to vote and who are not away on holiday—will, if this Writ is carried, hesitate a little about that. Meantime, I ask the Government Chief Whip to hesitate a little and to wonder whether he will win any more sympathy for the Government and for the party which used to support them, if he insists upon holding a by-election of this kind in these circumstances and at this time of the year when, clearly, it could conveniently be postponed, at any rate for a short time, and so give a fair opportunity for the electors to return home and record their votes.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I would like to begin by making it clear that the Liberal Party is ready to challenge the Government in Stratford-on-Avon any time they choose. At the same time, there is a good deal of substance in what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said about workers being away for their holidays at the time the by-election may be held.

Everyone knows—including the Leader of the House—that the motor car firms always take their annual holidays at that time. For this reason there seems to be something fishy about the choice of this date. I say that without prejudice to what I said at the start of my remarks; that we are ready to challenge the Tories whenever they are ready.

I recall that at the time of the by-election which brought me to this place the Writ had been so long delayed that my constituents had to get up a petition asking for it to be issued. My predecessor, Judge Sumner, resigned in September and although ample opportunity existed for a Motion for a Writ to be issued to be placed on the Order Paper, that was not done until late in February the following year. The by-election did not take place until 14th March, so that six months elapsed between the resignation of my predecessor and the date of the by-election.

I draw the attention of hon. Members to two important points. First, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said that he was not concerned with precedents. I have had them looked up and I find that only one case has occurred since the war of a by-election being held in August. That was for one of the Ulster constituencies, where the hon. Member concerned kept going to prison. That continued to happen until it was impossible to delay the holding of a by-election any longer and it was in fact, held during the inconvenient month of August. In that case there was no difficulty of so many of the constituents taking their holidays in that one month, the situation which faces Stratford-on-Avon.

The second important point is that Mr. Profumo resigned on 5th June, but Lord Hill of Luton was made a peer on 8th June, only three days later. We are entitled to know why this Writ is so urgent that it must be issued today when nothing has been said about the issuing of a Writ for Luton. The Writ for the Luton by-election should, logically, be issued three days after this one; but I have no reason to believe that the Government have any intention of bringing the Luton Writ forward between now and the Summer Recess.

These matters must be cleared up before we assent to the Motion before the House. However. I repeat that the Liberal Party is ready to challenge the Government in Stratford-on-Avon at any time they may choose.

4.9 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I wish to support the protests made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I do so on what I regard as even more elevated constitutional grounds than those which he cited. There are extremely important constitutional problems involved in the case which has arisen and, indeed, in the whole manner in which Governments and Oppositions propose the date on which Writs should be issued. There is no more delicate matter for the House to consider than its relations with the elections that may take place in the country.

At the end of the seventeenth century and at the beginning of the eighteenth century the House of Commons used to spend perhaps six months or twelve months after a General Election discussing whether the people who got here had any right to be here. The House used to receive a whole series of petitions. Indeed, it was the main business for a year or more after a General Election to discuss the process of election itself.

As a result of these persistent disputes, the House came to realise that it was most undignified and most injurious to the reputation of Parliament that Parliament itself should be discussing who were the people who had a right to sit in the House of Commons. This same issue was raised more famously in the Wilkes case, when eventually the House of Commons resigned or abandoned its powers to interfere with the processes of election itself. Therefore, it is an anomaly in one sense that the only real power which the House now has to interfere with the dates of elections is that which is left to the Chief Patronage Secretary and the Opposition Chief Whip to propose the date when writs should be issued for elections.

I suggest to the House seriously that this is bound to give rise to invidious disputes at various times when proposals are made for elections. Always there will be the suspicion, even if it is not justified, that one side or the other is using this remaining power to have an election at a time which is most beneficial to itself. It is no good the Leader of the House looking shocked, as if this idea had never occurred to him. I see that the Chief Patronage Secretary is smiling for the first time for the past three months. He has seen something funny at last. The idea that the Chief Patronage Secretary should not consider primarily the interests of his own party has brought a laugh even to his stony face.

It is the fact that each party uses these occasions to pick the date to suit it best. I seriously suggest that this is not in the best interests of the House. It would be much better if both sides would agree that, following the application of a Member for the Chiltern Hundreds, or the death of a Member, there should be a fixed period within which such a Motion should be moved. Then no suspicion could arise against either side as to the date on which it moved for a Writ. This would be a much better way of doing it. Then the Chief Patronage Secretary would not be open to the charges which all of us are making against him today and which he knows to be so peculiarly apposite.

This is illustrated by this case, because, as has been said already, it is the most shocking example which we have had for many years of the use by a Government of the remaining power which they have to interfere with the process of election in their own interests. It is obvious that the reason why the Government—this is obvious to everybody; it is what has been printed in the Press before we were ever informed about the matter—are making this selection of a date is that they want to have the lowest possible poll in this election. This is a scandalous way for the Government to use their power. It will cast suspicion on the way in which this power is used in the future.

It is a very rare thing for a protest to be made against the issue of a Writ I suggest to the Government that, in view of this protest, the best thing for them to do is not to ram it through with their majority, but to take account of what has been said and say that they will reconsider the matter and will bring forward another date. If they accompany that with a general proposal that they are willing to discuss with the Opposition the general procedure under which this whole process could be carried out in a more seemly fashion, we shall have gained something from the piece of trickery which the Government are attempting to put across us.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington began his speech with a series of Shakespearean quotations. When I look along the Treasury Bench, all other Shakespearean quotations are driven from my mind except for the simple one: There's small choice in rotten apples. I can understand the Government's desire to try to alter this image, but at least they should not do it in such a shameful and devious way as they are attempting to employ today.

4.16 p.m.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

I should like to give a precedent.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)


Sir J. Lucas

Not Shakespeare.

In July, 1939, towards the end of a Parliament, a by-election arose in Portsmouth. Directly I was adopted it was rushed forward—nobody protested—so that we could get it over before Goodwood, and we did.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Dorset, South)

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) has quoted one precedent. I am entitled to quote another, which occurred last year. The seat which I now hold fell vacant at roughly the same time of the year as Stratford-on-Avon fell vacant, yet it was decided that the electors of Dorset, South should remain unrepresented until 22nd October of that year.

I wish to ask the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House why the electors of Dorset, South were kept waiting for so long in 1962 when, at the same time of the year, the electors of Stratford-on-Avon are being treated so specially well.

The House is entitled to consider seriously the interests of the electors of Luton who remain disfranchised for all this period. The Government should give a satisfactory answer to the questions why the by-elections last year were allowed to wait for five months and why the electors of Luton are being kept waiting, whereas the electors of Stratford-on-Avon are receiving this very special treatment.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I want to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). We owe him a debt of gratitude for raising this matter today. I agree very much with the proposal advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). A definite procedure should be agreed between the two sides. The practice of selecting the most advantageous date for the interests of party should be abolished as soon as possible. I hope that the Chief Patronage Secretary will seriously consider making representations to the Opposition Front Bench on this matter.

I want to devote the major portion of my argument to the case of workers who may be on holiday. Undoubtedly, a fair number of workpeople will be on holiday in the relevant week. This is monstrous. Those of us who have been deeply embroiled in political struggle through the years know that the active people in any party are the workers. They are the people who make up the rank and file of the Labour Party or the Liberal Party or the Tory Party. I put the Tory Party last. It is not necessarily in order of merit that I place the parties in this order.

We have here a real chance to show the country that on both sides of the House we believe in democracy and in the ordinary workpeople. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I know that there are mutterings by hon. Members opposite. Many hon. Members opposite do not believe in democracy. This was illustrated clearly by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) when he told a funny story to make his contribution to the debate.

But some of us do not regard this as a time when we should tell funny stories. We think that this is serious and that great regard ought to be paid to the fact that many workpeople will be on holiday during that period and that many of them will be unable to get back for the election. They do not all have cars, and they cannot afford to pay a double fare to return home the day of the election. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite talk as if workers had plenty of money and they were all in the £20a-week class. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Stop muttering, you, and if you have anything to say, get up and say it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was not muttering. But this habit is growing, and it interferes with our debate; it is essential that observations should be addressed to the Chair.

Mr. Manuel

I apologise for using the word "you", Mr. Speaker. I certainly did not mean you. You know that I did not mean you, and you know who I did mean. I humbly apologise, but I ask you, when the House is dealing with a subject which some of us consider to be serious, to control the ignoramuses on the other side of the House who have been making those remarks.

I want to propose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The hon. and gallant Member for Davenport is a bladder of ignorance.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)

On a point of order, coupled with a point of behaviour. Should the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) refer to me as the hon. Member for Davenport when I am the proud and happy representative of the division of Knutsford?

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) would not have misnamed the constituency save in error, but if we are all to correct our errors all the time we shall not get on.

Mr. Manuel

I am sorry, but if the cap fits….

I want to finish by pointing out that there may be a few Service men who want to be ex-Service men and who want to play some part in politics. They may want to be candidates. They ought to be given the opportunity to qualify to stand as candidate it they so wish. I hope that the Leader of the House will take some note of these points and give this matter the serious consideration which I, at any rate, think that it deserves.

4.23 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

May I reply, starting with the general and moving to the particular? The general point raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) and other hon. Members is as to how the House should discharge its duty in these matters. The position as I understand it is that any hon. Member can, if he so desires, at any time after a seat becomes vacant move a Writ. But for a long time it has been the convention of the House that that Writ should be moved by the representative of the party which was successful at the previous election in that seat.

I do not know exactly how long this has been going on, but I know that in 1905 there was an exchange of letters between the two parties of the day, the Liberal and Conservative parties, confirming this, and saying—this is still carried out—that they would give 24 hours' notice to the parties in the House of their intention to move the Writ. It has been going on for a very long time.

The House will see at once that if this were altered—that is to say, if it were put to a vote of the House—the people who would lose would be the minority party, because inevitably the Government could then pick the date for every by-election. For example, if an hon. Member of the opposition party died suddenly, and if, in that seat, the Government had a candidate, perhaps adopted only a few days before, and if the Government could move the Writ at once, that would put the opposition party concerned, or the minority parties, as the House will agree, in a very difficult position.

This tradition, therefore, which like most of our traditions and conventions has grown up in this way, has a great deal of sense behind it. It may be that somebody can think of a better way—and I do not rule out the suggestion that there should be talks about it—but, on the whole, I think that it has worked satisfactorily over the years, and that we should be very chary of changing it, because, as Leader of the House, I am sure that this rule, with the Government having the majority in the House, is a protection to the party which forms the Opposition. We should, therefore, think very carefully indeed before we adopted any other method.

The second question asked is whether there is any distinction between this seat and the other seats which are vacant, or, if hon. Members like to take the point, the seat of South Dorset a year or two ago. The answer is, "Yes, there is". The seats which are vacant at the moment, three of which were Conservative-held at the last election and one of which was Labour-held, are Belfast, South, Luton, Stratford-on-Avon and West Dundee. Two of those have become vacant because of death, one because of being appointed to a peerage and the other, that which we are considering at the moment, because of the technical arrangements for taking an office of profit under the Crown.

I think that I am right in saying that the Writ in respect of a peerage, which applies to Luton, and which also applied to Dorset, South a year ago, and the Writs which have arisen as a result of the sad death of two of our former colleagues, one on each side of the House, can be moved when the House is not sitting, but that which we are considering cannot be so moved. There is, therefore, the strongest reason why this is different. One could move it next week if particular importance were attached to that. I will come to the point about holidays in a moment.

To move it next week would still take in the period of August Bank holiday, and I cannot see any particular relevance in that point. The point which I make, and which the House will acknowledge, is that there is a distinction between Stratford-on-Avon and the other Writs which could be moved if either the Patronage Secretary or the Opposition Chief Whip chose to do so.

The next point is that of precedents, which the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) dismissed so abruptly. There are precedents for a number of matters in these cases. Of the last two occasions when there had been objections moved to the Writ, one was Orpington in 1962, and the other was a by-election in 1957, The objection made in 1957 was that the Conservative Party was moving the Writ too swiftly. In 1962, the objection was that it was moving the Writ too slowly. In 1963, the objection is that we are moving the Writ too swiftly. Therefore, the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) is, with respect, perfectly valid; the action in this case is not as swift as all that, because this seat has now been vacant for seven weeks.

I think that I carry the House on the general point of the convention we have had for many years which is, on the whole a protection, not for Governments, but for any minority party in the House.

A number of hon. Members have said that to have an election in August, is for some reason, almost ex hypothesi unfair. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said that he had found a precedent since the war, and he is quite right, in Mid-Ulster, but in 1946 the Writ for Glasgow, Bridgeton was moved in August and the poll took place in August—and that was a seat that had been held by the Labour Government—[An Hon. Member: "July."] I shall come to that, because there I think that the argument is with me.

Stratford-on-Avon has no connection here with holidays, but Luton is an industrial town and has an annual holiday. I can understand the holiday argument, but that is not what we are considering here. Stratford-on-Avon is a tourist centre. As hon. Members very well must know, in July and August people do not go on holiday from Stratford-on-Avon; on the contrary, they take their holidays at other times of the year—

Mr. Manuel

Not all of them.

Mr. Macleod

Yes, I suggest they do, just as is done in many seaside resorts as well.

I therefore make two points. First, someone might devise a timed method, but I do not believe that that would work, as there might well be complications in the selection of a candidate—for either side of the House. It might well be that the unions concerned or the local parties concerned might want rather longer, or be ready to go ahead rather earlier. I am content, subject to any better method being devised, to leave this to the Chief Whip of the party, however small that party may be, that held the seat at the previous election. I cannot believe that the House would be wise to go back on that arrangement.

Secondly, there are precedents for this action as, indeed, there are precedents for most dates for the moving of Writs. Thirdly, I am sure that if one studies the special case of Stratford-on-Avon, the argument put forward in relation to holidays tells rather for the issue of the Writ at this time than against it.

I believe, therefore, that the House would be wise to support the Motion.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Before the Leader of the House sits down, may I ask him a question? I shall not argue with him, although I a man old politician. I served on one of the Speaker's conferences in 1945. We used to have the register made up twice a year, but that was stopped for reasons of sheer economy. Is it not time to consider, in order to ensure that if we have a by-election or a General Election during the half-way period the register is up to date, restoring the earlier procedure by which the register was made up twice a year?

Mr. Macleod

We can certainly look at that point. That was part of the objection, I remember it well, taken to the moving of the Writ in 1957. That, however, is rather a matter for discussion, if discussion be necessary. I do not think that it affects the principle, to which I advise the House to adhere, that the moving of the Writ should remain with the party that held the seat.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has been fair with us on one point We understand that all the hotel proprietors and boarding- house keepers in Stratford-on-Avon, from whom the Conservative Party in that constituency draws most of its support, will be able to vote in August, and will probably be taking their holidays, as most of those in that category of business do, in October or November, on the Continent. That is very often done.

What the right hon. Gentleman has not told the House is that there are hundreds of commuters between Coventry and Birmingham and Stratford-on-Avon—engineers, electricians—who work in the Midlands and who will probably be on holiday in this very week. It is they who will be denied the right to vote, because a postal vote cannot be obtained if the ground is merely one of holidays.

I put this point to the Leader of the House. Outside this House there is already a deep cynicism about Parliament, and that cynicism will grow if practices like this continue. The tree of democracy is not so deeply rooted that we can afford to have it poisoned with more cynicism, which is bound to happen if the man in the street and the factory feel that those who hold power are using it to prevent them from taking an active part in the decision that the country will make as a result of this by-election.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Macleod

With the leave of the House, if it is needed, may I say that I am, of course, aware of that point but, with the holiday system as it is at the moment, that argument applies with very considerable force to by-elections in June and July—for which there are dozens of precedents on both sides—and to elections in many other months as well. I will say this to the hon. Gentleman and, across the Floor, to the Opposition Front Bench: I would dearly like to see legislation enabling people to vote when they are away on holiday, and if I could be assured of the Opposition's support I would be ready to bring in a Bill to that end.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county constituency of Stratford in the room of John Dennis Profumo, esquire, O.B.E., who, since his election for the said county constituency. hath accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke. Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.