HC Deb 22 April 1964 vol 693 cc1305-8

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 Winchester in the room of Peter Henry Berry Otway Smithers, esquire, who since his election for the said Constituency, bath 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.]

3.38 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

I wish to raise a short but important point which, I think, the House should consider before it agrees to this Motion.

In present circumstances, reasonable men could take two quite opposed views about whether a by-election should be held in this constituency or in any other. There is the purely considerate and practical aspect of the great expense which those who have to organise the campaign have been put to this year in county elections and the Greater London Council elections, with the General Election following, and the frequency with which one can reasonably ask people to go to the polls. That has to be set against the perfectly proper concern about the possibility of a constituency being unrepresented for perhaps five or six months.

Whatever decision is taken in the light of these considerations, it would be quite improper not to take it for all the constituencies involved. Therefore, before the House agrees to this Motion, it should hear from the Chief Whip why it is, apparently, the Government's intention to deny to the voters of Runcorn what they intend to give to the voters of Winchester.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the hon. Member is quite considering what the scope of this debate is. The scope of this discussion relates simply to whether or no we should set in motion the machinery under the Statute in relation to this constituency. No other question arises.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

On a point of order. If we are considering whether the machinery should be set in motion in respect of this constituency, would it not be proper for hon. Members to advance arguments that the Government should not said the machinery in motion for this constituency until such time as the machinery had been set in motion for constituencies where the electorate had been disfranchised longer than in the case of this constituency?

Mr. Speaker

If and when that arose, I should rule about it. What I was saying was that it was outside the scope of this discussion to invite a statement on why a Writ had not been issued for some other constituency.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I hope that no one on this side of the House will seek to prevent the Government from proceeding with their arrangements. We should do everything possible to facilitate them. After all, they have taken a considerable time—indeed, an unconscionable time—to come to this decision. Undoubtedly, there must be some understanding among members of the Cabinet. May we be informed whether there was any division in the Cabinet about demanding the issue of these Writs? The House is entitled to more information.

Sir C. Osborne (Louth)

What about the Opposition's Writs?

Mr. Shinwell

: The hon. Member, in his characteristic method of interruption—always reclining on his seat—asks why NA e on this side have not moved to is me our Writs. It is precisely because there was recently a clear indication in the Press—if I may mention the Press, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

I have great difficulty in impressing; even upon the right hon. Gentleman how narrow necessarily is the scope of this debate. I very much doubt whether rifts or divisions in the Cabinet can come under consideration.

Mr. Shinwell

It is precisely because this is a narrow issue that one can merely ask for information. I could make excessive demands on my vocabulary if I were permitted to do so.

After many months of consideration and, no doubt, a good deal of suffering and heartburning, the Government now move to issue these Writs. Within this excessively narrow compass, may we know why they have now come to this decision? Is it because of the threat made by the Chief Whip of the Labour Party to issue Writs on our behalf that the Government have come to this decision? Are they trying to get in first? Are they jumping the queue?

May we have a little more information? That is all I ask. In this matter I am quite innocent. I want to facilitate the Government's arrangements. Can the Leader of the House furnish us with some information?

3.43 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

It is a well recognised practice of the House that there should be no announcement beforehand of intentions whether or when the issue of new Writs will be moved. Some hon. Members may not be aware that Writs have already been moved without opposition for the constituencies of Devices, where the vacancy arose on 18th January, Bury St. Edmunds, where the vacancy arose on 19th January, and Rutherglen, where the vacancy occurred on 26th January. In the case with which we are dealing the vacancy arose on 9th March.

The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) has put the position plainly. There is a balance of convenience in this matter: on the one hand, the expense, inconvenience, and so on, occasioned to the electors in the constituency concerned, and, on the other, the question whether any constituents should be allowed to go too long without representation. I shall not go into the various precedents about the length of time, but I think that, on the whole, the Government have taken the right balance in the action that they have taken today.

3.44 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I think that the Leader of the House is trying to mislead hon. Members. Is he aware that everybody in the country knew long before the noble Lord, Lord Runcorn, as he is now, applied for the Chiltern Hundreds that a by-election was bound to take place at Runcorn? The concern of the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) is how, in view of that knowledge, which was known quite as soon as people had knowledge about Winchester, the Winchester by-election can take place but the people of Runcorn are denied the facility of being represented in this House. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us why?

Mr. Speaker

I have already ruled that that does not arise. It is outside the scope of the Motion.

Mr. W. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether the statement which was reported as having been made by him over the weekend—that there will be no by-elections during the life of this Parliament—was correct?

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

I never said any such thing, and action taken today proves clearly that I did not.

Question put and agreed to.