HC Deb 10 December 1968 vol 775 cc242-87
Mr. Sharples

I beg to move Amend-No. 52, in page 10, line 16, after 'elections' insert 'and local government elections'.

The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

With this Amendment the Committee will take also the following Amendments:

No. 56, in page 10, line 15, after 'par liamentary', insert 'and local'.

No. 64, in page 10, line 15, after 'par liamentary', insert 'and local govern ment'.

No. 65, in page 10, line 18, leave out from beginning to end of Clause and add:

  1. (2) A candidate's nomination paper may in clude a political description.
  2. (3) Where a nomination paper includes a political description normally used by a political party or association and where this description does not include the word 'independent a candidate shall not be validly nominated unless there is delivered at the place and within the time for the delivery of nomination papers an authority signed by the secretary of that party or association indicating that the candidate has the support of that party or association.

No. 58, in page 10, line 28, after 'signed', insert: (a) for parliamentary elections.

No. 59, in page 10, line 29, after 'it', insert: 'and (b) for local elections, by a person in accordance with the procedure outlined in subsection (6)(c) to this section'.

No. 60, in page 10, line 32, after 'parliamentary', insert 'and local'.

No. 71, in page 10, line 33, leave out 'a single register of political descriptions' and insert: 'a register of political descriptions for each constituency'.

No. 61, in page 10, line 36, after 'parliamentary', insert 'and local'.

No. 72, in page 11, line 3, after 'description', insert: (c) the persons (identified by name or as holders of a specified office or position) who will provide returning officers at local elections with the names of the local officers of organisations which are affiliated to the national body and who may for the time being authorise local candidates to use the description.

No. 53, in page 12, line 4, at end insert: (12) No limit shall be placed on the number of persons who may apply for the registration or renewal of, or may be competent to authorise the use of, each political de scription: Provided that in the case of a political description denoting groups of persons or corporations whose activities take place within a parliamentary constituency, the registrar shall ensure that not more than one registration of the same political description is made for each constituency.

New Clause 4:

  1. (1) For the guidance of voters a notice displaying the purported political descriptions, that is to say the political or other allegiance (if any) which each candidate at the election claims, shall be exhibited at polling stations.
  2. (2) The notice of purported political descriptions shall be exhibited in accordance with the rules set forth in Rule 30 of the Parliamentary election rules and rule 23 of the Scottish local election rules in the representation of the People Act, 1949, as amended.
  3. (3) Nothing in these provisions shall confer immunity on any candidate from the consequences under civil law of false or misleading statements made in his claim and published in the notice of purported de scriptions.
  4. (4) The Returning Officer shall not be held responsible for any such consequence by the mere act of accepting and publishing accurately such claims in the notice of purported descriptions.

No. 73, in page 22, line 34, at end insert: (d) the persons who are to appear in the register as persons who will provide returning officers at local elections with the names of local officers of organisations which are affiliated to the national body who may for the time being authorise local candidates to use the registered description.

No. 40, in page 37, line 17, at end insert: 25. In rule 30 of the parliamentary elections rules there shall be added the following new subsection:— '(5) A notice shall be printed in conspicuous characters displaying the purported political or other descriptions of each candidate who claims such a description and shall be exhibited as provided in subsection (4) above, provided that:—

  1. (a) claim for such a description to be displayed shall be made on or before the last day appointed for delivery of nomination papers;
  2. (b) a candidate's name shall appear on the notice of purported political or other descriptions irrespective of whether he claims such description or not;
  3. (c) a purported description shall consist of not more than six words;
  4. (d) in the case of a purported description representing a political or other organisation the printed notice shall, if the candidate so requests, indicate the address of the organisation;
  5. (e) the notice of purported descriptions shall state clearly that such a description indicates the political or other affiliations claimed by the candidate and that no responsibility for the authenticity of these claims is accepted by the returning officer'.

No. 41, in page 41, line 15, at end insert: 35. In rule 23 of the Scottish local elections rules there shall be added the following new subsection:— '(5) A notice shall be printed in conspicuous characters displaying the purported political or other description of each candidate who claims such a description and shall be exhibited as provided in subsection (4) above, provided that:—

  1. (a) claim for such a description to be displayed shall be made on or before the last day appointed for delivery of nomination papers;
  2. (b) a candidate's name shall appear on the notice of purported political or other descriptions irrespective of whether he claims such description or not;
  3. (c) a purported description shall consist of not more than six words;
  4. (d) in the case of a purported description representing a political or other organisation the printed notice shall, if the candidate so requests, indicate the address of the organisation;
  5. (e) the notice of purported descriptions shall state clearly that such a description indicates the political or other affiliations claimed by the candidate and that no responsibility for the authenticity of these claims is accepted by the returning officer'.

Mr. Sharples

By your selection of Amendments, Mr. Gourlay, it is evident that it has been the intention of the Chair that we should have a fairly broadly-based debate on the question of party labels. This gives an opportunity to discuss both the scheme which has been put forward by the Government and the alternative scheme which has been put forward by my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends on this side of the House.

Amendment No. 52 is a paving Amendment for the remainder of the debate, and it is our intention that consideration of any scheme should go far wider than is indicated in the Amendment.

There have been three recent debates on party labels. There was the debate on the Government's White Paper when we discussed this in outline. There was the debate on Second Reading when a considerable amount of time was given to discussion on party labels.

It is fair to say that there is in intention a broad element of agreement on all sides of the Committee. Everyone feels that such a scheme would be a convenience and a help to electors and enable them to know the party which a candidate says that he represents. Men- tion has been made of various difficulties which are caused, particularly at local elections, where the names of a large number of candidates appear on the ballot paper.

There are certain broad criteria which should be met as far as possible by any such scheme. First, if we are to have a scheme for indicating the parties which candidates represent at the time of voting, the scheme must be applicable to all forms of election. It is probably more important that it should be applicable to local government elections where difficulties are more likely to arise than to General Elections. Therefore, the first criterion is that it must be applicable to all forms of elections.

When I come to the second criterion, what I have to say is more from the standpoint of my own party, but it is none the less important. Any scheme should take into account the existing structures of the main political parties. The Government scheme does not do that for the Conservative Party, and I shall say why in more detail later in my speech.

The third of the criteria is that, although hon. Members on both sides have emphasised the growing importance of the system of political parties and the influence that the party which a candidate represents has on those who vote for him or her, so far as possible any scheme should not derogate from the responsibility of the individual candidate. One of our fundamental beliefs concerns the responsibility of the individual candidate at the time of a General Election, not only to those who support him in his own party, once he is elected, all those who are electors or who reside in his constituency.

I know that, after the count has been declared, we all say something to the effect that we will do our best for everyone irrespective of the way in which he or she voted, but I believe that those words mean something and should be seen to mean something.

The next criterion which any scheme should allow for is a change in the structure of politics. It must be flexible enough to be able to do so. During the last 50 years, we have seen a major change in the structure of politics with the rise of the Labour Party. It may be that, over the next 50 years, we shall see similar changes in our political structure. Therefore, any scheme must be flexible enough to allow for such changes to take place. In addition, it must be flexible enough to allow for the views of minorities and splinter groups to be represented properly and fairly when election time comes.

Finally, there is the criterion which the Government have very much in mind and which I support. Whatever we do in designing a scheme to allow for party labels to be attached to candidates, we must not involve returning officers in making political decisions. That has probably been an overriding consideration in the minds of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in drawing up their scheme, and it is the only criterion that I have enunciated which the Government scheme goes out of its way to meet. It seems to be designed not to apply to all the others. It is too elaborate to be applied to local government elections, and it is for that very good reason that the Home Secretary has not felt himself able to apply the scheme to local government elections, where it is most needed.

When we come to consider how it can be applied to the existing structures of the main political parties. I cannot, of course, speak on behalf of the other main parties, but I can speak on behalf of the Conservative Party. As it is in the Bill, the scheme could not be applied to the Conservative Party and, without developing a political argument, I will try to say briefly why that is so.

5.15 p.m.

In the Conservative Party, we have no written constitution and no rules for constituency associations. Each association is separate and autonomous, although they are all bound together by membership of the national union of the party. If the scheme were to be applied as it is at the moment, each constituency association would have to register itself, because there is no central endorsement of candidates by Central Office. I do not want to go into this in detail, because I think that the Home Secretary understands the point and appreciates our difficulties.

In the scheme put forward by the Government, there is an element of inflexibility. It will make more difficult the development of minority parties and splinter groups. It will be impossible for candidates to indicate the reasons why they wish to stand in opposition to an official candidate although, broadly speaking, they may be in agreement with the main theme of his party. I say that as one who has quite a lot to do with the organisation of the Conservative Party, and I can see that it is a matter which may count against all three major parties.

The Government scheme is one for the registration of parties much more than for the application of party labels. As I said on Second Reading, by its system of registration, with each candidate needing the official endorsement of the party that he purports to represent and by that having to be done in statutory form, we should not underestimate the enormous power that it gives to the central machines of the major parties. I appreciate the tremendous difficulties involved in trying to find a viable scheme—

Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)

Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by "power" when he talks about giving more power to the central machines.

Mr. Sharples

In the Conservative Party, as in all parties, there is no statutory reason why a person in dispute with the central machine of his party should not stand as a candidate representing that party, provided that he has the approval of his local association. Certainly, that is the position in the Conservative Party.

Once we make it an obligatory and statutory requirement that a candidate must have the endorsement of the central organisation of his party before he can stand as a representative of that party, it gives greatly increased power to the central organisation compared with that which exists at present.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

The hon. Gentleman is stating the position quite clearly. But is he right about that last point? It would be open to the Conservative Party to authorise its local officer, if it so wished, to give the written form to the candidate. So there would be no reservation of power in that sense to the central party.

Mr. Sharples

Yes. But the central organisation of the Conservative Party does not have that power at present. If it is to delegate a power, it has to have power in the first place. At the moment—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman understands—there is no power to be delegated to constituency associations. Each association is autonomous in its own right. This is the difficulty facing us.

I do not underestimate the difficulties in finding a satisfactory solution. Mr. Speaker's Conference considered this question in some detail and was unable to find a satisfactory solution. In the Amendments to which I have referred we have put forward what we believe could be an alternative scheme. Whether it is viable, or whether there are legal objections to it, perhaps we might hear later from the Government Front Bench. But the essence of the scheme is set out in new Clause 4 and in Amendments Nos. 40 and 41, which are Amendments to the Schedule.

The basis of the scheme is that it allows a notice to be exhibited at the polling station giving the purported party which a candidate represents. It makes it clear, first, that the returning officer is not responsible for the description which is put up. Secondly, it makes it clear that the description to which the candidate lays claim must be notified on or before the last day for the handing in of nomination papers.

We have included in this scheme a limitation on the number of words which may be used by a candidate to describe himself. That limitation is six words. We thought that six words would be sufficient for a candidate to use any existing or foreseen description of political party without enabling him to go into the merits or demerits of developing his case or making a political point.

The first advantage of the scheme—and I admit there may be disadvantages, which will no doubt be pointed out to us from the Government Front Bench—is its simplicity. It could be applied equally to local government elections or to General Elections. It remains firmly the responsibility of candidates to indicate which party they represent. The scheme is flexible. It does not tie the existing structure of the political parties and it allows for the development of splinter groups and for those representing minority interests to describe themselves as they will.

The alternative which we might consider is possibly allowing candidates, without a system of registration, to have the names of their parties on the ballot papers. I have given a lot of consideration to this matter. The real difficulty is that the rules regarding ballot papers are clearly laid down in the 1949 Act. The ballot paper in some ways is looked upon as a legal document. Certainly the conditions under which it is issued are clearly and forcibly laid down in the Act.

The difficulty about allowing candidates to have the names of the parties on the ballot papers is that it would be bound to involve the returning officer in making political decisions of one kind or another even though this, in many cases, might be wholly marginal.

Mr. Tony Gardner (Rushcliffe)

Perhaps I might put a suggstion to the hon. Gentleman. If I persuaded four of my friends to seek to nominate themselves as Conservative candidates in the hon. Gentleman's constituency at the next election, his only redress would be a lengthy civil action against these individual candidates, by which time the confusion would have happened.

Mr. Sharples

Nothing could be done about it if that happened now. However, there is a difference between having the name of the candidate and his party displayed inside the polling station, or even outside the polling station, to remind the elector and having it written on the ballot paper. That is why we have chosen for our scheme the idea of simply having the notice displayed in the polling station.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

What is the difference between having the party label outside the polling station and the party label on the ballot paper? I can see that there are difficulties in trying to decide who should have what labels, and that is what this scheme is about. But the implication behind the scheme is that the party has the right to copyright of its own label and it is not up to any individual candidate to select which label he wants. Once we get over that difficulty, what is the difference between having the party label on the ballot paper or outside the polling station?

Mr. Sharples

The difference is that in our scheme the onus is on the candidate. It is for him to say which party he purports to represent. There is no onus on anyone else and no discretion in anyone else. No one is able to question the party which he purports to represent. If we put that on the ballot paper I think we will probably get into greater difficulties.

I appreciate—and, I think, the House appreciates—that this is a very difficult question indeed. It may be that we have not found the right solution. But the scheme outlined in the Bill, for the reasons which I have outlined, is quite unworkable. We could not possibly work this scheme. Because it can only be applied to Parliamentary elections, not to local government elections, we believe that it would be better not to have it, despite all the disadvantages that there may be. To introduce a scheme which can only be applied to Parliamentary elections would, from our point of view, be unworkable and undesirable.

Mr. Coe

I apologise for interrupting yet again, but the hon. Gentleman does not appear to have dealt with Amendment No. 53. Will he explain why he is putting forward that Amendment, which apparently accepts registration, in view of what he has said?

Mr. Sharples

The reason for putting down that Amendment is to cover the position of the autonomous constituency associations.

If the Government force their scheme through, we shall have to have some arrangement under which each constituency association is able to register its title. This will be an enormous administrative difficulty. It will mean each title having to be registered separately, and a separate fee having to be paid for each registration. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.

I have sought to move the Amendment in the spirit of the two sides of the House together trying to find a solution. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will respond in kind. From our point of view the Government scheme is unworkable, and if the Government persist with it we shall have to divide the House against it.

Mr. Coe

I beg to move Amendment No. 56, in page 10, line 15, after 'parlia mentary' insert 'and local'.

The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Only one Amendment can be moved at a time. We are discussing the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples). The hon. Member can discuss his Amendment with that one.

Mr. Coe

I should like to follow the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) in urging the Government to ensure that any revision which enables the description of a candidate to appear on the ballot paper applies in the case of local elections as well. During the Second Reading debate, in reply to a question I asked, my right hon. Friend said that his mind was not closed, and that he was anxious to see whether some workable scheme could be introduced to ensure that that happened. I concede that the problem is greater in local elections, and my pleasure is by no means diminished at finding that my right hon. Friend has accepted the principle of having party descriptions on ballot papers in Parliamentary elections. It has been said that the change in Parliamentary elections is of minimal importance, but I believe that this is not so on many occasions, and that recognising political parties in the constitution for the first time is a very welcome step.

There are four reasons why my hon. Friends and I believe that local elections should be brought within the ambit of the Bill; first, because of the size of the areas with which we are dealing in local government and the number of candidates involved; secondly, because of the wasted votes which occur in multi-member wards or areas; thirdly, because of the influence of the alphabetical order on the voting intentions of electors; fourthly, because of the similarity of names in local elections.

I know that it is being said that once the Maude Committee recommendation of having single member areas in local elections, as there are in Parliamentary elections, is brought into being the difficulty of similar names will disappear, that we will in effect have a Parliamentary system, but there is still the likelihood of more candidates standing at local elections even if there are single member areas.

On the question of size, if the recommendations which are likely to come from the Royal Commission on local government are carried out, it seems possible that the areas of local government will be much larger than they are now, and this will be another reason for making the suggested change.

In the London Borough of Bromley, where at the moment four candidates stand with an electorate of 200,000, the change would mean that we would be electing one councillor for every 50,000 electors. I suggest that under that sort of circumstance, which is likely to become common over the country, people will vote for the party rather than for the man. They cannot possibly know all the individuals who are standing for election. Thus, if the Maud Committee's recommendations and the reconstruction of local government are carried out, it will be even more important at local elections for party labels to appear on ballot papers.

There would be no wasted votes if the Maud Committee recommendation was carried out, but, if we look at the situation which existed in 1967 during the G.L.C. elections, we find that there were up to 10,000 wasted votes because members of the public were not sure of the four candidates whom they were supposed to support. Consequently, they did not use their votes properly.

I come to consider next the question of the alphabetical order of candidates. This problem is just as likely to occur in a local election as in a general election, although the difference will depend on the number of candidates. An interesting piece of research was done by A. J. Allen in the spring 1967 edition of Parliamentary Affairs, which suggested that the alphabetical order had some relevance in the constituency of Reading. This is a problem. I admit that it is not a major one, but it would help if electors were able to see the political affiliations of the candidates.

The fourth and last reason concerns this vexed question of candidates having similar or the same names. This will always be a problem in both Parliamentary and local elections. The extreme case of this occurred last year during the election in the G.L.C. Borough of Wandsworth. There were two candidates, "Pritchard" and "Prichard". There was a discrepancy of 6,000 votes. The Liberal candidate, Pritchard, got 6,000 votes more than his Liberal colleagues did, while the Labour candidate, Prichard, received 6,000 votes fewer than his colleagues. That was a massive turnover of votes which no opinion poll could recognise. All the other candidates did extremely well.

Hon. Members may have seen the rather plaintive letter in January of this year in the Daily Telegraph from a Conservative Parliamentary candidate who said: I was recently adopted as prospective Conservative Parliamentary candidate … At that time my surname was Lewis, but a few weeks later the local Liberal party adopted their prospective candidate with the same surname … the only course of action we could take was to change my name by deed poll, by hyphening my last two names, which has now been done. and his name appeared at the bottom as Richard Devonald-Lewis. It is a bit hard on someone when he has to change his name because he is a candidate.

For all those reasons it is important that we should extend the scheme to local elections. We have still to see the Maud Committee recommendations implemented. In the meantime, I believe that confusion will get much greater, and I think that even if the Maude recommendations are adopted the confusion will be great, but they could be avoided to some extent by the use of descriptions. That is why we have suggested changes which will enable the Bill to refer also to local elections.

We recognise that having done that, we have to find a procedure which can be grafted on to the existing registration procedure outlined in the Bill for Parliamentary elections. We take the view that this can be done by adding extra names to the National Register of people who will have the responsibility of providing the returning officers at local elections with the names of the chairmen and the secretaries of local parties which are affiliated to the nationally registered parties. The local returning officer would then be able to satisfy himself, without any personal responsibility, that the local candidates who are authenticated as being able to use a registered description have presented an authority signed by one of the people notified to him.

In practice, this would mean that a small party or association which was registered nationally could put up candidates at a local election and their authenticity could be signified by one of the national officers, provided that local elections were included in the Bill.

I accept that there are difficulties over the major political parties, but I would envisage that, certainly in the case of the Labour Party, the job of providing the names of local candidates to the returning officers would be that of regional officers of the national party. In this way, we would, I believe, be able to do it without creating excessive administrative tasks—

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I hope that the hon. Member would not restrict this registration procedure to organisations which are affiliated to national bodies, since otherwise he would exclude the anti-Hogg candidates about whom we have heard so much.

Mr. Coe

I am sure that the hon. Member can argue that better than I. So far as I am concerned, the anti-Hogg candidates can have a field day if they like.

There may be local disputes in the parties, as sometimes happens, in which case I suggest that, as the local affiliated body is allowed by the central registered party to use its label, it would be up to the latter to adjudicate between disputants. If it did not, the local party would not be able to use the label. That seems the way out of this difficulty, to apply the national register on a local basis.

The Opposition claim that this process would move towards concentration of power in the central party. I do not accept that. I do not believe, for instance, that a national party, whether the Conservative Party or my own, would be able to threaten a local party. I do not believe that a national party would refuse to authenticate a particular use of a label if the candidate were not accepted. That is not a particularly creditable argument.

I believe that the Opposition have gone a long way themselves by putting down Amendment No. 53, which at least accepts the idea of registration, even if with the suggestion that it should be on a constituency basis which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam recognised, I think, would cause immense difficulties.

Their new Clause 4 is surely a non-starter. I have twice introduced Private Member's Bills on this matter and have always believed that this fear of confusion of abuse is overstated. I do not believe that there would be anything like the abuse which is so often described. Nevertheless, if there are difficulties, they must be catered for, which is why we suggest registration.

I cannot see the logic behind new Clause 4. If the hon. Member is saying that it should be the local candidate's responsibility to put forward his own purported affiliation, I cannot see the argument for the ballot paper being sacrosanct. There is no reason why its form should not be changed. If the Opposition are going that far. they might as well go the whole hog—I am sorry, the whole way—and accept the idea of descriptions on the ballot paper as well.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friends for their efforts in this matter and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can give some hopeful and helpful response along these lines. Descriptions on ballot papers are accepted in many countries and the extension of this principle to local government would be an extension of democracy. It is in that spirit that I have taken part in this debate.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Turton

May I correct one statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) during his very clear speech? He said that Mr. Speaker's Conference had been unable to put forward a satisfactory scheme. What the conference reported to the House is that Reference to a candidate's party should not be permitted on nomination papers and, consequently, on ballot papers. They reached that conclusion after considerable discussion and with no dissenting voice. That is as far as it can be taken under our present rules. It is unfortunate, when Mr. Speaker's Conference clearly said, without anyone giving a contrary opinion, that this was not desirable, that it should be included in the Bill. I therefore approach this with a degree of suspicion and hostility.

The most important thing is that a Member comes here representing a constituency and not a party. It is true that the vast majority of the voters who support him probably support his political creed, but this does not apply to all and anything which at all diminishes a Member's responsibility to his constituents as a whole, instead of just a section, is to be deplored. I am sure that a number of the Home Secretary's constituents in Cardiff vote for him, although they are not of the same political creed, and I believe that that is true of all of us. This proposal would strengthen the party caucus against the individual Member's representations.

Secondly, it is very important that the ballot paper should be as simple as possible. If the party name is added, there will be many more spoiled papers. Many ardent Conservatives or Labour Party members, when faced with the name of the rival party will, I imagine, suitably embellish their paper. Hon. Members have probably noticed such embellishments. I can think of several which I could not repeat because they would not be Parliamentary expressions.

How is the Home Secretary's scheme to work? Even if I believed, with the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) in the desirability of the party label being added, I could not conceive of a more complicated or unworkable scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam put this extremely ably from his position as vice-chairman of the party.

One can consider the matter from a different standpoint by studying what has happened in the past. How will this scheme work? Will two candidates be allowed to use the same party label? There have been occasions, and they will no doubt occur in future—this has occurred to all parties; it is certainly likely to happen to the Labour Party in a few constituencies at the next General Election—when two candidates wish to support the same political creed in opposition to each other. The Home Secretary has suggested that the use of a registered name should be allowed to only one candidate. Will not this be interference by the party caucus at the centre in what is happening in the constituencies?

Mr. Callaghan

Not necessarily from the centre. It could occur peripherally. It is open to, for example, a local Conservative association to register its name with the Registrar. It would then be for the association to decide whether or not to support the candidates in question.

Mr. Turton

Would it be possible for two candidates who oppose each other in a constituency to use the same registered description on the nomination paper?

Mr. Callaghan

I would have thought that that would be very unlikely. In any event, it would be for the local Conservative association in this case to decide whom it wished to support as its officially registered candidate. The other man might decide to register himself as something else. He would not be able to call himself "Conservative" if the local Conservative association had decided that he was not its candidate or standard bearer, assuming that it was the local association which had decided to register.

Mr. Turton

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting the position so clearly. I suggest that it will lead to undesirable complications, as hon. Members will appreciate.

My main attack on the proposed scheme rests on the question of flexibility. We have recently been reading in The Times and, I gather, in some other organs, of the comparison between today and 1931. I take the Committee back to 1931 when we left the Parliamentary buildings at the end of July. Nobody thought that there would be any requirement for fresh political labels. However, by the time of the election hon. Members on both sides were using different political labels.

If, in 1968 or 1969, there occurred a repetition of the events of 1931 and the same timetable prevailed, it would not be possible, by my understanding of the Schedule, to achieve the necessary registrations. If there were an autumn election one would have to register one's political description before the end of June, and I do not believe that sufficient time would be available.

Crises occur suddenly in the political life of this country and the electoral law must be sufficiently flexible to take them into account. Eventualities occur. There may suddenly be a coalition. I recall the days when the Liberal Party was split in the way that parties do split—the Liberal Party in particular—and when there were Samuelite Liberals and Lloyd George Liberals. Equally, the Labour Party was split and there were those who followed Ramsay Macdonald and those who did not. Any system that does not provide for that sort of emergency is bound to be wrong and that is why I condemn the complicated scheme which is proposed.

I hold that Mr. Speaker's Conference was right on this matter. Unfortunately, I am precluded from giving the reasons why. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) was constantly asking us to state the reasons and I think that it is generally agreed now that it would have been better if we were able to state them. What I can say is that we discussed this matter at length at the Conference, some of us sympathetically, and we came to the conclusion that the course now being proposed by the Government should not be recommended by the Conference.

Considering the alternative proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, I do not think that it is necessary to have this information published in polling stations. After all, we have got over this difficulty before and I am sure that the electors are able to distinguish between candidates. At one time we had two Kings fighting the constituency of Southampton, and the right one was elected. There have been times when a number of Hugheses have fought Anglesey, and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite feel that on the last occasion the right one—the present Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—was chosen.

The electors are not as stupid as the Government make them out to be and the more responsibility they are given the better will be Parliamentary democracy. I therefore beg the Home Secretary to think again on this whole question of party labels, and particularly on the complicated machinery involved in the operation of the Clause.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

One would gather from the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) that the debate has considerably widened in scope. The whole question of whether or not party labels should be allowed on ballot papers has been raised, and, while I welcome the Government proposal, I am, like my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe), concerned mainly with extending the system to cover local elections. I appreciate the many difficulties that are involved, but I cannot understand why a method cannot be worked out to include the use of party labels in local as well as in Parliamentary elections. My main object in making this appeal is to encourage more people to go to the polls. If encouragement is necessary, it is far more necessary at local elections, as the polling figures reveal.

It has been suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite that instead of having party labels on ballot papers, they should be shown in posters either outside or inside polling stations. From my observation of local and Parliamentary elections, the electorate do not read posters when they go to vote. Only if this information is placed on ballot papers will it have the necessary effect.

All hon. Members have had experience of the attitude of voters at election time, either as scrutineers or observers. I like the term "scrutineer" for counting observers because it covers the job admirably. We use this term in my constituency and I hope that the Home Secretary will consider this matter further. I agree with the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that the electors are not stupid. The fact that they returned the Labour Party at the last General Election proves that they have plenty of common sense.

6.0 p.m.

I am reminded of an elector who told me that he had voted in a local election. I said, "Thank you very much". "But," he said, "I didn't make any mark on the ballot paper." I asked why not, and he said, "I didn't know who the Labour candidates were, so, to make sure that I did not vote for someone else, I put a blank paper in the ballot box."

My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich has spoken about rather strange permutations at elections, particularly local government elections where there are a number of candidates. It is difficult for candidates whose surnames have an initial that puts them low on the list. I have suffered in local government elections for that reason. More interesting are the strange permutations among parties. Some hon. Members opposite would be horrified to be coupled with the one Communist who puts up in an election. The Communist would know that he would capture some of the votes from people who are not sure which party is putting up which candi date.

In my constituency there are some wards which elect two, three or four candidates. I do not suppose it happens now, but not long ago in the Borough of Bethnal Green there were large wards which returned 10 councillors. Since there were four parties, each of whom put up candidates, the electors had to choose among 40 candidates. Something should be done to make it easier for local government electors to cast their votes in the way they intend and without any disrespect to the personality of the candidate. I recognise the importance of the personality of the candidate, but I am not kidding myself—I do not know if that is a Parliamentary term—

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

Why not?

Mr. Shaw

I am not kidding myself by believing that any individual, myself included, has the ability by his own personality to win elections. Every hon. Member must know that he is here because he represents a party and that his personality has simply a marginal effect.

I ask my right hon. Friend to realise the difficulties and to take into consideration the scheme put forward by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Lubbock

The attribution by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw), of great intelligence to the electorate for having returned the Labour Party to power in 1966, reminds me of the story of Frank Owen, who was elected to this House in 1929. He used to say, having lost his seat a few years thereafter, "In 1929, the wise, far-seeing people of Hereford returned me to Parliament, but in 1931 the bloody fools chucked me out".

The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has referred to 1931 and to the difficulty that this new Clause and the associated Schedule would present to splinter groups at the time of an election. Registrations take place on only two occasions in the year and applications have to be submitted two months in advance. No doubt that would cause some difficulty in a year of fluidity such as 1931, but I have no recollection of that because I was only three years old at the time. In those circumstances, the difficulty could be solved by the candidates not using political descriptions. They would be in the same position as we are in at the moment and would not put party labels on ballot papers.

They would be able to explain that they belonged to the Labour, Liberal or Conservative Party. Any candidate who called himself "National" would have to put that in his speeches and in his election address. Because of the pressure of time he would not be able to put it on the ballot paper. However, I do not think that the question of fluidity is so important. It has happened only once and, in spite of the rumours which we see in the papers every week-end, it is not likely in the near future. Before the suggestion put forward by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), I did not think that there was any question of a coalition being formed. That likelihood was removed from my mind when I saw that he was advocating it. The serious point raised by hon. Members in the debate is whether or not we should extend this scheme, or something similar, to local elections where it is of far greater importance. For those of us who represent seats in the Greater London area the experience has been that we do not need the registration of parties on the ballot paper so much in Parliamentary elections—although it may be convenient when a candidate comes into a constituency for the first time—as in local elections.

When there are 12 or more names on the ballot paper it is confusing to the electorate, the more so because in Greater London Council elections we have not the same kind of political propaganda as there is in General Elections. One can reach polling day with 30 per cent. of the electorate not knowing that the election is on, let alone knowing who the candidates are. Those who go to the polling station and are confronted with a list of names of at least 12 people, and sometimes more with independents and splinter candidates, are utterly confused. We have had an example quoted of two candidates named Pritchard in the same G.L.C. ward. One had 6,000 more votes and the other lost 6,000 votes because of the confusion which was created.

Even if the Home Secretary cannot extend this scheme to local government elections—I recognise the difficulties which he pointed out on Second Reading—he should consider whether it is possible to use the scheme for Greater London Council elections. We in London face a situation in which we shall have elections in 1970 on the old basis of multi-member constituencies and no machinery designed to cope with that situation. That is most unfortunate because, if one does not accept the ideal to which we shall be coming later concerning Greater London, the intention is that the area should be divided into single-member electoral districts coinciding with Parliamentary constituencies. I cannot see that coming about in time for the 1970 Greater London Council elections. There will be the same confusion then as there has been in the past.

I do not accept the claim made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) that the scheme proposed by the Home Secretary is unworkable. Obviously, it is workable. The registration of political parties is a necessary concomitant of the use of labels on ballot papers. However, the display of notices in polling stations is not the answer. On Second Reading, I pointed out that, if it is to be left to any person to use the label "Conservative", "Labour", or "Liberal" in a notice displayed in the polling station, several people are likely to use the same label; and that will cause even greater confusion.

The hon. Gentleman said that he does not think that this would happen. As soon as an outsider knew that he was entitled to have his name displayed in this way, it would encourage many people to say, "If I am allowed to have a free notice displayed in the polling station alleging that I am a Conservative candidate", or "a Labour Party candidate", "I will take advantage of this procedure and have my name so displayed". Far from there being only a few such contests as we have had in recent years, there would be many.

There was a by-election at Dorset, South a few years ago, with two Conservative Party candidates. One of them was in favour of the Common Market. The other was against it. In that election it was fairly clear to the voters what the issues were. If at that time it had been possible for any person to have his name displayed on a notice in the polling station as being a Conservative, there might have been many fringe candidates who had nothing to do with the Conservative Party. This is a point which the hon. Gentleman has not taken into account.

On the other hand, registration, which obtains in many other countries, including Germany, would remove confusion. I do not think that the element of control by the political parties is anything like as serious a matter as some hon. Gentlemen seem to fear. Somebody must be responsible for saying who is entitled to use a label, but, as the Home Secretary pointed out in an intervention, this does not need to increase the power of the political parties centrally. It could be, if it were so decided, that the constituencies would be free in this respect and not subject to the control of the party whips, the central committee, or the party secretary. This matter, I think rightly, is left to the discretion of the parties in the Bill.

For that reason, I am in favour of the proposals in the Bill as far as they go, but I appeal to the Home Secretary to consider, before Report, whether he could not extend the machinery which is provided for at least to the Greater London Council elections.

[Mr. E. L. MALLALIEU in the Chair]

6.15 p.m.

Mr. C. Pannell

On the grounds of pure utility I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would argue that the proposal to brand Parliamentary candidates adds much to the electoral process. In one election, parts of my constituency declared a 90 per cent. ballot. Such things have happened elsewhere. Some years ago they ran out of ballot papers in Coventry, South when there was a 95 per cent. poll. The fact that the register is 85 per cent. right shows that we are most sophisticated electorate in the world.

To be fair to my right hon. Friend, he does not base his argument on that. He is a good party man and he thinks that it is a good idea to associate the party with the candidate. I do not object to that very much, because I hope that I am as good a party man as my right hon. Friend is.

The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Molton (Mr. Turton) suggested that there was almost an odious connotation between a Member of Parliament and his party. I am rather proud of my association. I have no doubt that I speak for most of my hon. Friends when I say that I owe the Labour Party far more than it owes me. I am very conscious of the fact that I would not be here but for the devoted work of people who broadly agree with the sort of things I stood for. I am sure that this is true of hon. Members opposite. I have said before that, if I am ever moved by anything, it is by the number of people who, on election day, come in and out of the committee room, because I wonder at their selfless devotion.

In any number of seats he who gets the selection conference gets the seat. In certain places he who is adopted as the Conservative candidate gets the seat. This is now true of the Labour candidate in some parts of the country. I do not think that this necessarily weakens the representative type of Member. Since 1964, hon. Members on this side have asserted themselves to a great extent. The Whips are not what they used to be. Many years ago I was speaking rather informally to that famous Chief Whip James Stuart when a young Conservative came up and listened. James Stuart said, "That is the Lobby". I know what he meant.

Mr. Mendelson

That is not what he said at all.

Mr. Pannell

I know.

The Home Secretary thinks that the balance of advantage is with this pro position. On Mr. Speaker's Conference I was one of those who saw no advan tage in the Parliamentary scheme. It is largely what happened in Greater London which has converted me to thinking that it should be done in local government. I cannot think of any case where the will of the electorate nationally has been thwarted by the absence of party labels. I think that the will of the electorate has been thwarted in many cases because of the absence of party labels in local government elections.

Where there are nine or 12 candidates—somebody has mentioned the possi- bility of 40—there must be some way of overcoming this difficulty. In one General Election there were three candi dates named "Hughes", in Anglesey. The Welsh found no difficulty in placing them in the right order. I can remem ber a long-standing Tory named "Edwards", in Walthamstow. At the last moment the local party thought that it would be a good idea to put up somebody named "Edwards", and the original Edwards was beaten by three votes. Stratagems such as this come into it.

There is the association of ideas between local government and national Government. Any number of people lost their seats at the last local elections not because they were bad councillors, but because they were victims of the general swing against the Labour Party. The case is overwhelmingly in favour of doing this in local government rather than in national politics. It is inconsistent to do it in the one case and not in the other. It is logical to carry the proposition on.

There is not much difficulty about party labels. We do not have much difficulty about identifying people here. The proposal could be easily implemented. We will get used to the idea as we go along. If we are not to have this in local government, I wonder why it is necessary to have it in the Bill at all.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), I think that the Clause puts the thing the wrong way round. If there is a case for party labels at all, it is infinitely stronger in respect of local government elections than of Parliamentary elections, for the obvious reason that there are far more candidates at local elections. I remember seeing a ballot paper at the last G.L.C. election with 18 names on it. It is usual at a Parliamentary election to have no more than five names, or more than two or three really serious candidates. Therefore, if there is a case for it, it is a case which the Clause does not meet. The Clause goes, on the other hand, into the Parliamentary field, and I am very sceptical about it.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, West that our electorate is fairly sophisticated nowadays, having a good idea of how it wants to vote, and it is not necessary to take this further step to assist the electorate in its work. I cannot help recalling how a previous Government, with the highest of intentions, suggested closing the public houses on election day, and the late Lord Birkenhead, then Sir F. E. Smith, observed," Vox populi, vox dei —but it speaks with a hiccough unless the right hon. Gentleman takes the proper precautions".

I suspect that that is the sort of thing which the Home Secretary has in mind to do here, and I regard it as unnecessary. Not only is it unnecessary; it is harmful. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) about the effect on people wishing to vote for the candidate, as some still do, rather than the party. I do not agree with the hon. Member opposite who said that this is an affair of the parties and candidates do not matter. One cannot study the record of the last few elections without noticing that some Members survived against thetidebecause, very often, of their personal qualities and the work they had done for their constituencies. They survived although others, if I may say so, had been submerged with the tide.

There are people—I am sure that this will apply particularly to the sitting Member—who are prepared to vote for the individual, but who, if presented with a ballot paper on which, against the name which they know and like, there appears the name of a party which they hate, would be much less likely to vote in that way.

I should not regard that as a good thing. The personal support for the good local Member who has done his best for the area is one of the valuable features of political life under our constitution, and I should regard the change proposed by the Government as a step turning us more and more towards the American presidential set-up, with the contest decided by the party leaders on television, and diminishing regard for the quality of the service which an hon. Member gives to his own constituents. I do not wish to exaggerate, but I am sure that it would work in that way, and diminish to some degree the number of voters who are prepared to vote for the man even though they hate his party.

The Home Secretary obligingly intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton to point out what would happen if more than one candidate wished to use the same political label. The right hon. Gentleman explained the Clause with complete clarity. The outcome would rest on whether a particular party functionary, whether at the centre or on delegation to the constituency, was prepared, so to speak, to certify the candidate as entitled to the particular trade description. That has an unpleasantly reminiscent ring of the "dog licence" speech, does it not? Frankly, I do not like it.

There is more than one case in our recollection, and there will be more than one at the next election, of two people genuinely and sincerely wishing to fight as Labour or Conservative candidates in the same constituency. It is a situation which may well arise, for example, in Pembroke. It is one which has developed in history from time to time.

I recall the days of the Asquithian Liberal and the Lloyd Georgian Liberal; either would have died rather than admit that the other was the true Liberal. The House may recall one of the more entertaining of Sir Alan Herbert's "Misleading Cases" of a foolish woman who left in her will a bequest to the Liberal Party, after which it was found that 99 applicants genuinely applied for payment of the bequest.

Mr. Lubbock

Does the right hon. Gentleman know what happened to the bequest? I should like it now.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenfer

I am sorry to have to break it to the hon. Gentleman. It will sound tactless, but he brought it on himself. It was held that a lady who could leave such a bequest was of unsound mind and incapable of making a valid will. I was trying to spare the hon. Gentleman.

Why should any functionary of a party have the monopoly of the party name? Why should not a sitting Member who falls out with his local association, which does not wish to readopt him, but who has great local support stand with the same political label as he has used at umpteen previous elections? I do not see why any party functionary—I say this in the presence of the Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party—should deprive me or anyone else of the right to stand under the political label which I believe in and which I wish to adopt.

One of the advantages of the scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) in new Clause No. 4—I do not necessarily go the whole way with him—is that it does leave the choice of designation to the candidate. The phrase used is, "purported political descriptions". I submit that that is right.

I put a further difficulty to the Home Secretary. What happens when there are two organisations in a constituency each claiming to be the proper exponent of the particular political faith? This has happened before. The Home Secretary may say that, if the question is left to the central party, the central party has to choose. However, if the central party, taking what I regard as the more civilised view, delegates the matter to local level, then, presumably, the unfortunate registrar has to decide which of two sets of competing people represent the true faith. For example, what would happen in Pem- broke, where, I understand, this is a distinct possibility and the matter has already been the subject of litigation over the party's property?

Is it not wrong to leave an official, in this case the registrar, the decision on which party organisation is entitled to give the certificate necessary if a can didate is so to describe himself on the ballot paper?

I leave this point also with the Government. Subsection (2) provides that it is not compulsory to use party labels. My guess, however, is that if this scheme is adopted it will become morally compulsorily, since it will be difficult for someone not to give a description when everyone else does. Will this not cause difficulty in certain special situations? What about Mr. Speaker? When Mr. Speaker stands for re-election he usually stands not on a party designation, but as Mr. Speaker, seeking re-election.

I recall that, although our present Speaker. I am glad to say, was not opposed by my party at the last election, Speakers in recent experience—I think that this happened to Mr. Speaker's predecessor—have been opposed in their constituency when standing for re-election. How are they to describe themselves? I do not think that "Mr. Speaker seeking re-election" is a party designation which could be used. It would be grossly improper.

Mr. Lubbock

Why could it not be used?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is certainly not a party designation. In very essence, it is no such thing.

Mr. Lubbock

It could be a registered description.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is Mr. Speaker alone solemnly to apply to the registrar for a designation as "Mr. Speaker seeking re-election"?

Mr. Callaghan

The right hon. Gentle-man is putting the matter very fairly, but he overlooks that there is no mention of parties in the Bill or the Schedule. It speaks only of a description. Mr. Speaker would not have to register as a member of a party. He would give a registered description of himself if he chose to do so.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

But, under sub section (3), that is what Mr. Speaker cannot do. He must produce the certificate of an official or functionary, and who is that to be?

That may be an exceptional case, but there are others of people who may well not wish for a designation. Yet they will be put at some electoral disadvantage when people standing against them use such designations. Though I entirely support the suggestion in subsection (2) that the designations be not made compulsory, I fear that that does not mean very much, because they would tend to be so.

Therefore, I suggest that the Home Secretary drops the Clause. If he really thinks that there is a need for party designations, I suggest that he brings forward a new clause to deal with the problem of local government, where there is an arguable case. But for the time being I suggest that he leaves Parliamentary elections alone and lets each of us in our own way announce our allegiance to a political party and expound our political views. We do not require his assistance.

Mr. Callaghan

Perhaps I might intervene now to deal with some of the points raised—for the convenience of the Committee, not necessarily to bring the debate to an end, though, naturally, I hope to shorten it. Although the discussion has been very useful, I do not think that the proposals are fully understood. That may be partly because of their complexity, and perhaps I might assist the Committee by giving an explanation. I want to get the views of the Committee on the matter, and I am grateful for what has been said this afternoon. It helps me.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) put the position perfectly in relation to the functionary who can authorise the use of a label—except for one word. He said, or implied, that the authorisation would need to be delegated from the centre.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It could be; it need not be.

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) had not quite got this right. There is no need for the Conservative Party to obtain some authority for itself and then delegate it. It is open to the local Conservative Association in my constituency, for ex ample, to say to the registrar, "We wish to register as the Cardiff South-East Conservative Constituency Association." It will then be for the registrar to con sider whether there is anybody with a better title to that name than the Cardiff, South-East Conservative Constituency Association. If he thinks that there is, he can hold an inquiry to decide between the two. But there will be no need or occasion for the Conservative Central Office to come into the matter directly.

I agree that the structure of the Conservative Party is different from that of the Labour Party, and I hope that I am stating the Conservative Party position correctly. I recognise that the Conservative Central Office has no authority over local constituency associations, though I dare say that a certain amount of influence is applied from time to time. But there is no constitutional authority, and the Clause recognises that by making it possible for the constituency association to register itself with the registrar if it wishes.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

Could the right hon. Gentleman explain this point in principle and in theory, irrespective of the differences between the two parties? Suppose a party said to the registrar, "In respect of every constituency X shall be the person who shall approve the use of the label by the candidate". Is not it possible, under the Bill as it stands, for the central direction of the party to be registered as the only source of authority in every Parliamentary seat throughout the United King dom?

Mr. Callaghan

If a party wanted to handle the matter like that, it could do so, though I believe that anybody who tried to foist that on the Conservative associations would not succeed. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames spoke of his view of the Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. I do not think that that would be a runner, nor would it be a starter in the Labour Party.

I think that the problem the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in connection with Pembroke could not arise. As I understand the legal case which has just been decided, the learned judge ruled—I speak with great care here, and I hope that I am right—that the local Pembroke party cannot disaffiliate from the national Labour Party. Therefore, the structure is different, and there is a different setup. What would happen in the case of the Labour Party is that the national agent or the general secretary would register the name of the Labour Party.

The Conservative Party would have to register the name of the Conservative Party—the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam would do that himself—and the local constituency association would also register. I concede that that is inconvenient. I think that the Labour Party would need to make only one registration, while the Conservative Party might need, if it chose to do it in this way, to say to its local constituency associations, "To protect your name, get your registered trade mark. Please register with the registrar." That is the basic difference.

Mr. Turton

Then surely the ballot paper would have to say, for example, "John Smith, Cardiff South-East Conservative"? That would cause unnecessary complication. Surely one could only put on the ballot paper what was registered with the registrar?

Mr. Callaghan

I should like notice of whether the Cardiff South-East Conservative Constituency Association could register itself in a way that would enable the candidate to put simply "Conservative", or whether he would have to spell it out in full. I cannot see that it would be more disadvantage to put "Conservative" or "Cardiff South-East Conservative Constituency Association". I do not think that it matters either way.

I do rot see the difficulty raised by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames about the Asquithian and Lloyd Georgian Liberals. Both could register, and both could protect their trade mark, if they could agree who was entitled to it. There would be nothing to prevent the Lloyd Georgian Liberals claiming to patent that name and the Asquithian Liberals doing the same. I cannot see that any problem would arise here.

Of course, the origin of this exercise was the convenience of the elector. I understand that the elector would like a scheme of this sort, so it is for us to devise one if we can, although I said when I introduced the White Paper that I recognised the formidable administrative difficulties, and accepted the idea in prin ciple subject to being able to make the necessary administrative arrangements.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

To return to the point about the competing Liberals, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Asquithian Association and the Lloyd Georgian Association in a certain area could both register the name "Liberal"?

Mr. Callaghan

What I am saying is that if both wished to register the simple name "Liberal" the registrar would have to decide who had the better title. But I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that neither would dream of using the other's name, and, therefore, they would have to register as Asquithian Liberal or Lloyd Georgian Liberal. I shall not go into the history or troubles of the Liberal Party, except with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). But it seems to me that that would be the conclusion of that matter.

I agree that one of the advantages of the proposal is not from the elector's point of view, but from the point of view of the party. I see every reason why one should concede to a party the right to a patent for its trade mark, its name. I think that there is something to be said for that. I do not rate it too highly, but I do not see why a party should be at the mercy of people who do not stand for its views or principles, but, nevertheless, claim to do so and by such means deceive the electorate.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)


Mr. Callaghan

No. I have given way a lot, and the hon. Gentleman has not been present throughout this debate.

It is, as I say, an arguable case—although I would not say that great constitutional decisions rest on it—that, if we can reasonably give the party some protection, this should not be ruled out of our considerations.

The right hon. Gentleman listed six criteria and said that we only stood up on one of them. I think that we stand up on five. That is a matter of argument, obviously. However he and I agree that we should not involve the returning officers in making political decisions if we can avoid it.

I would not regard it as criticism of the scheme that minority and splinter groups cannot be represented. They can. There is nothing in the scheme to prevent any splinter group of the Tory, Labour, Liberal or any other party, registering as such if it wishes to separate itself from the main body. It is also obvious under the third criterion that the arrangements are flexible enough to provide for changes if, say, a group of Tory or Labour Members wished to cut themselves off and register themselves separately.

There is a weakness in the scheme if we assume another situation like that of 1931. I agree that there is a time weakness. Obviously, there would be nothing to prevent the persons concerned from describing themselves in any way they wanted in their election literature, posters and publications. But on the ballot paper, if they had not got in in time—and we are assuming a time gap—they would either have to say that they were independent, non-party or nothing at all. They could leave it blank. That would be the solution. But such a situation could only arise by an accident in time. I readily concede that we should consider such a situation but I would not regard it as an overwhelming argument against the scheme.

Mr. Turton

Surely one has eight months in which to change—from June to February.

Mr. Callaghan

There are two registers a year, although I would not have thought that there was eight months between them. However, I will look into the point again. The registrar will publish a register of descriptions twice a year, not of parties, although, obviously, they will be party names in most cases. It will be up to date.

One of the weaknesses of the scheme, raised by the right hon. Gentleman but basically by my hon. Friends, is that it does not apply to all forms of election. I regret to say that I have no answer to that criticism. It is also fair to say that the chief difficulty arises much more in the case of local elections than in the case of Parliamentary elections. At the moment, I do not see how the scheme can overcome this. The extension proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe), who has done a great deal of work on the matter, would involve over 1,400 local authorities in England and Wales alone, apart from parish councils. They have anything from a handful to 100 electoral areas each. In addition, in local affairs, parties often exist for single wards or divisions and thus there might be tens of thousands of individual parties to register. Many of them would be ephemeral, with little or no organisation and ill-fitted to comply with the exacting requirements of the procedure.

6.45 p.m.

I think that the scheme could bear hardly on people advancing local or even transient causes in local elections. For this reason, I have not been able to apply it to local elections, although this is where the criticism arises. Even so, I think it worth while putting the scheme forward so that the electors can have some indication on the ballot paper of the people seeking their votes. At the moment, the ballot paper merely says that a candidate is a merchant, or a gentleman, or a farmer, or whatever it may be. Is it not more relevant to tell him that a candidate is a Conservative or a Labour candidate rather than tell him that he is a farmer, for example? The case may not be universal but it applies broadly. I shall not argue how much each of us is worth in terms of personal votes, irrespective of party.

Mr. Hogg

Five hundred, at the most.

Mr. Callaghan

On this and some other matters I would not disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

But there have been times when I have been glad to have those 500 votes. I would not spurn any of them. But I think we all know that the important factor is that the local supporter in the local constituency adheres to the cause and not to the name of the person who is candidate. We may regret it, but all I am seeking to do on the ballot paper is to recognise it as the fact that it is.

Perhaps I may refer again to the structure of the Tory Party. There is nothing undemocratic in saying that on the ballot paper shall be shown the description of the supporters of the standard bearer—the candidate. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for it. They are taking the responsibility of putting him up for election, of providing finance and organisation and are working for him. There is surely a good arguable case far saying, "The group who have called themselves 'Conservatives' should be able, if they choose, to say it on the ballot paper". That is the beginning and end of it.

I ask the Committee to give me the Clause at the moment, but in the light of what I am saying I do not want it to assume that I would insist upon the Clause on Report. I ask the Committee to give me the opportunity to think about the various alternatives put up. I think, in view of what I have said, that there can be little doubt that Amendments would be called, if put down, on Report so as to allow us to discuss the matter again.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

My right hon. Friend has raised the basic objection to extending this scheme to local government elections. He said that it would lead to possibly a very large number of parties. Surely that is an administrative difficulty for the registrar. My right hon. Friend went on to say that this may in certain circumstances bear hardly upon local causes because they would not have the facilities to know how, when and where to register. Surely, in such a situation, all that would happen would be that a local candidate would go on the ballot paper with no description at all and, therefore, would be no worse off than now. In such a situation, would it not be desirable to cover the vast mass of candidates rather than opt out of dealing with local government elections for the sake of one or two who might be hardly done by?

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend has summed up the position, but, of course, it is important also to try to be fair to everyone. I do not dissent from the way he has put it. One can argue that transient causes would be no worse off, but I am striving for a situation in which everyone will have the same start. I admit that this is a weakness in the scheme. My hon. Friend says that we should not abandon it because of administrative difficulties, although we will agree that those difficulties are formidable. I am not sure that I can overcome them, although I take the point that administrative difficulties should not prevail over policy if we can avoid it.

I return to the hon. Gentleman's argument about public notices. I would like to consider it, but it is possible to advance the argument that a public notice posted in the polling station or booth might be construed as carrying some official sanction, even though it says that it is what the candidate purports to describe himself as. I am advised that the safeguard he proposes would not be very useful if someone wished to mislead. One can argue that the ballot paper always derives from the nomination form, that it is the description on the nomination form which is reproduced on the ballot paper, and, therefore, there would be less official sanction if it were clear that the ballot paper was reproducing what was on the nomination form. It would be clear that there was no official sanction how the man described himself.

I would like to consider all of these schemes again. If we were to move from the scheme we have here, with the defects which I have readily acknowledged, I would still, despite some arguments that had been put up, like to keep the description in because it is my understanding that the elector would like a description, if we can find the right scheme. I will look at the right hon. Gentleman's scheme, at the idea of a free-for-all in which people just say, "I am the Con servative" and if there are three Conservatives on the ballot paper he will need to sort it out. That is the possibility, without any official sanction.

If I ask the Committee to give me this Clause, I hope that it will do so on the understanding that I do not feel wedded to this scheme in the light of this discussion, but will take it away and consider all the proposals that have been made quite freely and without prejudice to what has been said, and come back if I thought it right and administratively possible with something new on Report.

Mr. Hogg

I do not want to detain the Committee unduly, nor do I wish to curtail the debate if hon. Members wish to pursue it. I should respond to what the right hon. Gentleman has said and give the Committee my provisional view about it. It had certainly been our intention to vote, at least, once on these Amendments and possibly even twice. I must say that if the Report stage does not yield a different result from that which is now proposed, we shall vote against it then.

On the whole, we would be well advised to accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said as a reason for not pursuing the matter to a Division now. This is not a controversy for which I would die in any of the ditches which have been excavated by any of the speakers so far. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the public would like labels, if it can be done. I also believe—and this is where I perhaps diverge from him—that the public would like a system of labels which was neither very complicated nor made any substantive change in the relative powers of individuals or organisations, that they would simply like a fair description of what the candidate was, without altering the balance of the constitution or the balance of powers within an election in any way.

Very often it is true that the public wants it both ways. In that event one has, rather regretfully, to say that it cannot have it both ways. I suspect that this may be one of those cases. What I want to say quite plainly is that I think in relation to Parliamentary elections the disadvantages of this scheme heavily outweigh the advantages. We have here a complicated scheme which does not meet with the situation really in need of reform. There is no substantial demand for party labels in Parliamentary elections because, except in a very few cases where all the candidates names happen to be the same, electors are in no real doubt about knowing who stands for what.

On the other hand, there is a substantial demand for labels in local elections. I would like to meet it in one way or another. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is right when he said that this scheme cannot be applied to local elections. I do not think it is feasible. The conclusion I draw from this is that if the Government think it worthwhile to produce a scheme they must produce a different scheme from that contained in the present Clause. That is why, if they do not think of something before Report, I shall vote against it when the time comes. The right hon. Gentleman has approached the problem in the right way, and I would like to give him the opportunity he desires.

In those circumstances, when the time comes, I shall suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) that he withdraws his Amendment. I shall not advise a Division on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. That, I think, will meet the right hon. Gentleman's invitation.

Mr. Gardner

In view of the very accommodating response by my right hon. Friend I will make only three brief points. I thought that we were being led up the garden path, with great respect to his considerable experience, by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). His argument, with which I concur completely, is that we are representatives of geographical areas of people, and we represent them regardless of political power. This might equally be applied to the whole business of elections and party propaganda during the period of elections. I cannot see the difference between putting a label on a ballot paper and putting a great deal of propaganda through people's doors.

My right hon. Friend is right in trying to apply political labels to candidates in Parliamentary elections, because I would hardly have thought that if we assume a sophisticated electorate the business of going round with a loudspeaker van and shouting, "Bloggs for Labour" and, "Jones for Conservative" is the modern way in which to approach an election.

We spend a great deal of money doing this, and we are dealing with a Bill which will enable us to spend more money doing this kind of thing. I would like to be in a situation during an election when one can discuss issues instead of concentrating all the candidate's time and effort and the resources of those around him just shouting slogans. I welcome the idea of labels. I agree with others who say that we should apply this to local elections. I share some of the misgivings expressed about the application of something like the present scheme if we are to make this possible. That is why I tabled an Amendment which is an attempt to relate it much more closely to the local associations.

One of the dangers we fall into sometimes is that we try to legislate for every possible circumstance. If one wanted to put a name to this Clause one might say that it is the Clause to deal with the situation in Pembroke. We should not make laws in this way. It would be possible to identify, in simple terms, what is a local association, whether political or anything else, and therefore to relate the political description to the one commonly used by that association locally.

We can overcome the problem of the man who falls foul of the association or perhaps does not want to be directly associated with it by enabling him to put additional words in the description to say that he is an Independent Conservative, Independent Liberal or Independent Labour candidate.

I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. I hope that he will try to work out a system which can be applied locally. I agree that the danger of people not knowing for whom they are voting applies much more readily in local government elections than parliamentary elections. I hope that on Report my right hon. Friend will be able to include within the Bill a system which will enable political descriptions to be applied in local elections, too.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I apologise for detaining the Committee after the Home Secretary's generous remarks, but I wish to press the right hon. Gentleman on the question of applying any scheme of party labels to local government elections.

I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) that, by and large, the electorate in Parliamentary elections can sort out which candidate is which. However, at the last election, I remember going to a polling station and being asked by an elderly lady whether I could remember the name of the Labour candidate. It put a considerable strain on my memory. If the electoral circumstances had been different, it might have put an impossible strain on my memory. I am sure that it is at local government elections that the need for some identification of the candidate arises.

Like two other speakers, I believe that the last G.L.C. election at Wandsworth provides the classic case. The 216,000 electors at Wandsworth were faced with a list containing the names of no fewer than 20 candidates. One of those candidates was a well-known Labour councillor, Mr. Prichard, who received 4,500 votes fewer than the next Labour candidate who had not previously been a councillor, Mr. Sporle. There was a Liberal candidate who was also called Pritchard, although he spelt his name differently. There was a 't' in the name of the Liberal candidate, but not in the name of the Labour candidate. The Liberal Pritchard received 11,319 votes whereas the next Liberal candidate received only 5,058 votes. It is plain that more than half the votes given to that Liberal candidate were given by mistake.

I recognise that it is much more difficult to assign party labels at a local election than at a national election. A number of examples have been cited today of controversies which have shaken local associations in Pembroke, North Dorset and North Newcastle, and there has been dispute about who was entitled to bear the party label. But at the national level such disputes receive maximum publicity and the situation is not very confusing for the electors.

In my constituency there has been considerable argument about who should have the party label at a local government election. When the constituency of Beckenham came within the Greater London Borough of Bromley, it was necessary slightly to reduce our number of local representatives. Following a duly held selection committee meeting, two of those people who had represented one ward were not reselected for the new seat. They did not accept the decision; they stood firm. As they had stood before as Conservatives, they should have been entitled to stand again as Conservatives, just as the official candidates did.

The Amendment put forward my my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) is right. Let the candidates choose the label under which they wish to stand, particularly at local government elections, because provided there is a modicum of communication between all those concerned, it is possible to arrive at a compromise between the rival groups. If one old faction wants to go on calling itself "Conservative", the new official candidate could be put on the ballot paper as official Conservative. This could be a matter of local negotiation. I am sure that in nine cases out of 10 it would be possible to resolve any dispute amicably.

I put to the Home Secretary two reasons why it would be to his party advantage if the names of the parties appeared on the ballot paper. First, it would benefit the large party as opposed to the small party. At the Wandsworth election, clearly the Liberal Pritchard gained far more from the coincidence of name than the Labour Prichard. Therefore, in any clash of names between the Labour and Liberal Parties, one would assume that the Labour candidate would do better as a result of indentification.

Another argument is that this would help the party for which stupid people tend to vote. Intelligent electors are far more likely to be able to remember the names of candidates than the less intelligent electors. Therefore, while we on this side of the Committee have been pressing for the extension of the scheme to local government, it will be, on the whole, against the advantage of the Conservative Party, which has more intelligent supporters, and to the advantage of the Labour Party, which has less intelligent supporters.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I will not detain the Committee for long, in view of the conciliatory attitude of the Home Secretary, but I should like to add to what has been said by referring to what happened in my constituency at the last G.L.C. election, because it was typical of many.

There were 18 candidates. Four of them were Labour candidates. The candidate with the highest vote received 1,250 votes more than the one who got the lowest vote. The candidate who received the highest vote was the least known of all four candidates. That situation, which is indefensible, arose because the electorate did not know which were the Labour candidates and which were not. I advised the candidate who had the least votes, and who was probably the most able and best known, that he should do what the well-known Victorian artist, Mr. Alma-Tadema did.

Mr. Tadema, as his name was at that time, was fed up because pictures were exhibited in alphabetical order so he altered his name to Alma-Tadema so that his pictures would be the first to be seen by visitors to the exhibition. My advice to the unsuccessful Labour candidate was to do the same, but now I hope that I will be able to take less drastic action, and assure him that there is a good hope that our Home Secretary will alter the law so as to give a fair chance to those whose names are lower down on the alphabetical list.

Mr. Iremonger

The steam has gone out of the debate. Any hon. Member who is unwise enough to intervene at this stage must be aware that he is against the grain of the feeling of the Committee. I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes since Members expect to be able to debate all the important details of the Clause on Report when the Home Secretary brings forward his new scheme. We shall not, on Report, be able to debate the validity of the underlying principle of the Clause; that would not be in order. I therefore ask for an opportunity to record my absolute fundamental opposition to the entire principle of having party labels on ballot papers. It offends deeply against my most cherished constitutional and political principles.

My right hon. Friend spoke of what the electors want. He said that the electors want to know which party the candidates stand for. I think that the electors want to have less feeling that their political destiny is in the hands of party monopolies rather than in the hands of the people they elect to represent them.

The electors are suspicious of party influence. They are afraid that their representatives are party hacks, Lobby fodder, going through the Division Lobbies in this place at the behest of the party Whips. This is a profound feeling of mistrust which is universal in the electorate except for those who are committed to political parties. The Clause will confirm those widely held suspicions.

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Gentleman, I am sure, understands that, if his theory is right, then we are giving a great boost to that point of view. A candidate will be free to describe himself on the ballot paper as independent, or non-party, and we shall be able to see what support he will get. In other words, this sorts out the parties, whom the hon. Gentleman dislikes, from those independent and non-party people whom he says the electors want.

Mr. Iremonger

The right hon. Gentleman is not doing justice either to himself or to me. I believe in the two-party system. I think that it is essential for the proper functioning of parliamentary democracy. I am proud to support and be supported by the Conservative Party. I am the Conservative candidate, and I sit in the House as a Conservative Member of Parliament, but I also sit in the House primarily as the elected representative of the people whom I represent; and we all do.

To the extent that our electors doubt that, we are mistrusted as Members of Parliament, and the House is mistrusted. If we put on the ballot papers the names of the parties, we derogate from the proper constitutional independence, so it will seem to the electors, of ourselves both as candidates and as representatives.

Mr. Callaghan

Why does the hon. Gentleman put it in his election address? I am sure that he does, and is proud to do so, and on every other piece of literature.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Iremonger

I say that I am proud to be supported by the Conservatives in my constituency. Broadly, they and I take the same view, and are likely to continue to take the same view. I intend to support broadly those they expect me to support in Parliament, but I am not the creature of my party. I am returned to act as I think right, to influence my party or, if necessary, to resist it. That is an important duty of every hon. Member, and I would not dream of suggesting that other hon. Members do not take the same attitude.

But we are all suspected by the electorate of not taking that attitude, and if we go to them with our names on the ballot paper, supplemented and reinforced, as they will see it, by the fact that we are Conservative or Labour, we are derogating from our own personal responsibility and making the electors mistrust us as proper constitutional independent representatives. I am, therefore, afraid that the Clause will damage the confidence of the voter in the institution of Parliament as a whole.

I believe that the parties should function, and function strongly, and that there should be two of them, but they have never had any constitutional reality or existence. This is the first time that the existence of political parties has been written into our constitution, and I do not think that it should be done. I want to protest about it now because I shall not be able to on Report. It offends against the cardinal principle of democratic representation, which is that representation is in the first place personal, and than the candidate should answer to his electors, having made his allegiance known in his own person, as himself, with his own voice, without having a dog licence round his neck, so that he stands both as something more and as something less than himself.

Anything which derogates from the personal responsibility of the candidate and of the Member of Parliament is a constitutional blasphemy which I am extremely distressed to see being accepted so lightly by the Committee.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I am sorry that I could not be here at the beginning of the debate. The Home Secretary refused to give way to me on the ground that I had not been here, but I was attending a Select Committee of the House and, therefore, could not be in the Chamber.

I do not like the idea of copyrighting party labels. The Committee may recall that under the Ten Minute Rule procedure I had the leave of the House to introduce a Bill dealing with party labels on ballot papers, but that nothing in my Bill copyrighted the names. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) first introduced this in the series of Ten Minute Rule Bills.

I hope that the Home Secretary will have second thoughts about copyrighting the names. It gives undue assistance to the party machine, and I would not want to do that. I regard it as a beastly cynical observation to suggest that no candidate is worth more than 500 votes. This has been disproved by a number of candidates who have collected many thousands of votes against the wishes of their former party or of a party machine.

We could get out of our difficulties by a simple procedure which could apply to local elections as well as to Parliamentary elections, if labels are necessary to make it easier for those who are not sure of themselves. All the candidates at an election, Parliamentary or local, can tell the returning officer how they wish to describe themselves. If they are all agreed, and nobody objects to the name used by any of the others, all those descriptions can go on the ballot paper and everyone will be perfectly happy. The returning officer is put in no difficult position where he has to arbitrate; all he has to do is to accept that they are all agreed. If they all agree, fair enough. If there is a dispute, then the simple rule is that no one shall be described by anything other than his occupation, as at present.

This simple procedure would be fair and would meet many difficulties, certainly the difficulty of local authority elections where things may happen quickly and many different descriptions may be required which are not easily registrable in time. I leave that thought with the Home Secretary to consider before Report.

Mr. Sharples

This has been a useful debate. I want to express my own gratitude to the Home Secretary for his undertaking to give further consideration to the various schemes which have been put forward.

I do not want to appear churlish, but perhaps I might mention one point. He gave his ideas of how the scheme could be applied to the Conservative Party. Leaving aside whether or not under the Clauses and Schedule as at present drafted it would be possible to register perhaps 630 different descriptions separately, I am sure that he will appreciate the enormous administrative problems which there would be in this, with all the procedure that there is in the Schedule.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentle man will give some thought to this point when he considers the matter with his advisers. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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