HC Deb 15 July 1964 vol 698 cc1210-4

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable reference to be made on nomination and ballot papers at parliamentary and local elections to the political activities of candidates; and for purposes connected therewith. This is a subject which has interested me for a long time. It was brought again to my attention by some events which took place in my constituency recently and at the last General Election. It was heightened by the confusion caused at the Greater London elections recently. It is a subject which interests a large number of hon. Members and candidates for election to this House. There is often considerable confusion and uncertainty when candidates in the same constituency or ward have the same or similar names and where candidates of different political flavours and the same names are standing in adjacent constituencies.

There occurred recently a local election in the Clifton Ward of Bristol, in which I have lived for quite a number of years. I went there on polling day and was greeted by a charming lady who said that she had been to vote for me and hoped very much that I would be elected. I said, "The election is not until October, when you want to vote for me". She said, "Your name was on the ballot paper and I voted for you—for Mr. Cooke."

It was true that the name on the ballot paper was spelled with two o's and without a final e but the name "Cooke" is very much the same however many o's or e's there are in it and a great deal of confusion is caused. Incidentally, the name has nothing to do with the culinary art, but the derivation is from an Anglo-Saxon word Cwic, meaning swift and sure. Therefore, on this occasion a constituent voted as she thought for me, but, in fact, for a Labour Party candidate, another Mr. Cook, who was not elected.

In the Cabot Ward the Labour candidate was a gentleman by the name of Maggs, who had not been heard of in that ward and had no connection with it, but it so happened that the Conservative chairman in the ward is the head of an ancient furniture store known as Maggs, of Bristol, who is well-known there. So many of the electors who are Conservative supporters went to the poll and, seeing the name Maggs, were much confused because they thought that it was their dear friend Mr. Maggs whereas it was a Mr. Maggs of a different political flavour.

In that ward there is a friend of mine who is an antique dealer who has the good fortune to be married to the very attractive daughter of a Labour peer. Unlike the offspring of many Labour peers, she has the same views as her late father. Her husband went to vote as he thought for a Tory, but he was not clear about what the name of the Tory candidate was. He voted for a Mr. McTaggart, and he happened to be a Liberal candidate. That candidate had no chance in the election and the vote was wasted. He returned home and told his Socialist wife that he had struck a blow for the Right.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

So he did.

Mr. Cooke

That led to more confusion. The wife did not hear her husband very clearly and she thought that he had voted against Mr. Wright, who was a candidate in this election, so she voted for Mr. Wright thinking that she was opposing her husband. He, in fact, was a Tory candidate. This caused the confusion of a Tory voting for a Liberal, a Socialist voting Tory and the Labour candidate collected several votes for the wrong Mr. Maggs.

At the last General Election my Labour opponent was named Cocks which, alphabetically, comes before my name. Many short-sighted people expected to see the name of the sitting Member—I had been in this House for two and a half years at that time—at the top of the ballot paper and they put a cross at the top only to discover that they had voted for Mr. Cocks. This just prevented him from losing his deposit and he saved his money.

At this General Election we have a more confusing case still, because the Labour opponent in my constituency is called McLaren. As the House will know there is a much loved hon. Member of this House, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren), who has the same name and sits for an adjoining constituency. We have the spectacle on one side of a McLaren who is in favour of the abandonment of the British deterrent and for an unspecified amount of nationalisation, the abolition of the grammar schools, a wealth tax, and so on, while just across the road a candidate of the same name is against all these things.

I submit that what is most needed is a better identification on the ballot paper. The Bill which I seek to introduce would make a number of provisions. I have no doubt that it would be controversial in some of its suggestions and would perhaps need amendment in Committee, but I believe that the broad principle is satisfactory. Identification on the ballot paper would be a most valuable way of ending confusion. We now have the surname writ large on the ballot paper, but Christian names are in smaller type and the description of the candidate is not often very helpful. Clause 1 would provide that a Christian name should be printed on the ballot paper in as large type as the surname, thus making clear if there are two surnames the same any difference in the Christian names.

Clause 2 would deal with the question of description. This is difficult for some people. A former hon. Member standing for re-election to a constituency is not allowed to mention his former membership of this House and he may not have another. He is not allowed to put "former Member of Parliament" on the description and often has to invent a fictitious occupation. Clause 2(1) would suggest that we might introduce a system of symbols to be used against candidates' names. This has been found useful in other lands and if we are to have majority rule in Southern Rhodesia no doubt symbols will be used there. Surely what is good enough for them is good enough for us.

The choice of symbols could be left to the parties and the candidates. One might suggest for the Tories the oak tree for strength and stability, for the Socialists a flaming torch for light out of darkness, or perhaps revolutionary fervour and the burning down of everything. I have not consulted the Liberal Party, but perhaps Liberals would like to have as their symbol a footprint, not to indicate a flat-footed approach but to show that they are prepared to march their troops forward in the face of never-ending failure.

The political allegiance of the candidate could thus be shown on the ballot paper. I realise that this might produce considerable difficulties if there were a dispute about who should have the label and the Bill, therefore, would provide that if there were such a dispute, and no agreement could be achieved between the candidates, the returning officer could reject any descriptions of any kind other than those which it appears should be allowed. The Bill would, of course, contain a Schedule which would contain these descriptions and parties and symbols not to be allowed. No doubt the printer, if I am given leave to introduce the Bill, will deal with that problem.

I know that the hon. Member for Southampton, lichen (Dr. King), who sits on the benches opposite, is worried about this matter. He was opposed by another person of the same name. There is the case, I believe, of a Speaker of the House of Commons who, in a Welsh debate, called Mr. Williams and eight Members were left standing. He then called Mr. G. Williams and four remained standing. I do not know what happened at the end of that confusion, but I submit that I have made a case that confusion exists. My Bill would go some way towards remedying it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Cooke, Mr. Geoffrey Wilson, Mr. Alan Brown, Mr. Graham Page, Mr. John Page, Mr. Philip Goodhart, Mr. Victor Goodhew, Dr. Reginald Bennett, Mr. F. M. Bennett, and Mr. R. Gresham Cooke.