§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Ever since the ancient Greek philosophers defined the principles of democracy, men throughout the ages have argued their relevance to existing forms of government. I do not wish today to enter into that sort of discussion, but it will be commonly accepted that central to our understanding of democracy in this country is the belief in free elections. The Bill is an attempt to assist in the electoral process and, therefore, to strengthen democracy as we understand it in this country. Because free elections are crucial to our democracy, it is logical that electors should be given as much assistance as possible to vote for the candidates of their choice. This is the central theme of the Bill.
Since introducing a similar Bill last Session, I have received considerable support. That is hardly surprising when electors look at the confusion which can now arise simply because the electoral law expressly forbids any mention of 797 political allegiance on either nomination or ballot papers. This confusion is most marked in local elections. There is no doubt that as we move towards larger units of local government this confusion will become more important.
There are five main difficulties which face electors in this matter. They were spotlighted very clearly last year in the Greater London Council election, but they have also been evident in elections in large conurbations—for instance, elections for the Greater Tees-side authority—and a problem in many rural areas for some time.
The first difficulty is the size of local government areas, which makes it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for electors personally to know the candidates. I live in the Greater London Borough of Bromley which has an electorate of more than 200,000 and which comprises at least four different boroughs. In the circumstances, it is impossible for any elector to know personally the people for whom he is asked to vote. Consequently electors naturally vote according to the political or other allegiancies of the candidates. It would be much more sensible if, having accepted this fact, even though we do not particularly like it, such allegiances were displayed on nomination and ballot papers.
The second difficulty is caused by the large number of candidates who now stand in a number of local elections. Last year I was asked, in the Borough of Bromley, to choose four councillors from a total of 14 candidates. If we look at the situation in the Greater London Borough of Ealing, the electors there were even more unfortunate. They had to find four councillors out of 21 candidates. It is surely expecting a prodigious feat of memory on the part of the electors, which we really ought not to expect.
One has a certain sympathy with one elector in the Borough of Sunbury last year, who was asked to elect six councillors out of a total of 18 candidates. He marked on his ballot paper a cross-against nine of the candidates and wrote underneath: "Perm any six from nine." He enclosed £1 and said: "Send the money to charity." One can understand 798 the frustration of an elector faced with this sort of position.
This feat of memory required of electors leads to a third difficulty, which is that of lost votes. Because electors cannot remember the names of all the candidates whom they wish to support, they do not use their full quota of votes. They are naturally afraid that if they vote as they think it ought to be put down on the ballot paper they may be voting for a candidate whom they are not prepared to support. If we take the example of the Greater London Council elections last year, we find that in a number of the boroughs the total of lost votes exceeded 10,000. If the allegiances of candidates had been placed on the ballot papers I suggest that most of these lost votes would not have occurred. It is fairly obvious that if it is a very closely-fought contest this can make a considerable difference to a number of results.
The fourth difficulty is one about which there is a certain amount of doubt, but from the studies which have been made into this it would seem reasonable to assert that candidates who are placed near the top of the ballot paper are more likely to get a favourable response from the electorate than those further down. Whether this is a very large matter one cannot judge, but if allegiances were put on the ballot paper this difficulty would largely disappear.
The last and perhaps most spectacular difficulty arises when the names of candidates on the ballot paper are the same or substantially similar. In my previous speeches on this matter I have given a number of striking examples. The best is that which occurred last year at Wandsworth, again in the Greater London Council elections, when there was a well known retiring Labour councillor named Pritchard who received 6,000 votes less than his three other Labour colleagues, while a Liberal candidate in the same election also named Pritchard received 6,000 votes more than his Liberal colleagues. It is reasonable to assume that if party allegiances had been shown this obvious example of mistaken identity would not have occurred.
These examples have been drawn from local government, but the Bill seeks to extend the principle to Parliamentary elections. While the difficulties are less, it is worth remembering that in the 799 Parliamentary election of 1955 the constituency of Anglesey was contested by three candidates called Hughes and one called Jones. In 1964 it was the other way round; we had three candidates called Jones and one called Hughes. Difficulties can obviously arise. All of those that I have been discussing in relation to local government can also be applied to central Government, perhaps to a lesser extent. It is, therefore, with some disappointment that I recall that Mr. Speaker's Conference recently turned down the principle embodied in the Bill in respect of Parliamentary elections.
These five difficulties make the case for the Bill unanswerable. While many would agree with this principle, they do not see how it can be implemented. Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to amend Schedules 2 and 3 of the Representation of the People Act, 1949. At the moment these forbid any reference to political or other allegiances on nomination and ballot papers. The Bill would provide for an extra column on each paper so that the political or other allegiances could be inserted.
Let me explain why we have used the phrase "political or other allegiances" rather than simply talking about political allegiances. I am well aware that if one seeks to take part in the political processes of the country and uses the word "politics" in its widest sense, it could be argued that we need have said only "political allegiances." We are very anxious that no one should feel in the least debarred from taking part in any elections. There are a number of allegiances not normally associated with political activities and it seems sensible to maintain this description and use the expression "political or other allegiances."
§ Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Would the hon. Gentleman under this proposal consider it right, for example, that religious allegiances should be indicated on the paper?
§ Mr. Coe
Under the terms of the Bill there would be nothing to prevent this provided that the other provisions of the Bill were complied with. The right to insert such an allegiance would be given only to those registered under the provisions of Clause 2. Many who favour 800 the principle of party names or descriptions on ballot papers have dismissed it because they cannot see a satisfactory way in which the whole process could be carried out. They are afraid that there will be some abuse of the principle.
I can understand that if there was no registration, and no control over who could use a name or description very similar to that of a well-favoured candidate in order to attract votes for himself which he would not otherwise have got, there would be a danger.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Suppose a Labour Member loses his "dog licence" and his local association adopts someone else as the local Labour candidate. If he wishes to stand, is he prevented from putting "Labour" on the ballot paper, having been a Labour Member of this House for some years?
§ Mr. Coe
If the hon. and learned Member will contain himself, I will reach that point a little later. It can be dealt with without worrying about "dog licence" arrangements or anything else. One can see that people might be afraid of abuse if there was no control over who could use labels. In such a situation the confusion that might arise might be much worse than the confusion which I am trying to avoid by means of the Bill.
It would be unfair to leave to the returning officer the decision about what label or description could be used. After all, he is a neutral official. Normally, he is the town clerk. It would be unfair to ask him to make a decision in this matter, particularly since, as the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) suggests, there might be some difference of opinion within the party—and it could be not only within the Labour Party but within the hon. and learned Gentleman's party. Therefore, to leave the matter to the returning officer would be untenable.
That is why the Bill provides for national registration of a name or description by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. He would maintain a register of political parties and other associations for Parliamentary and local elections. A political party or association would have to have a minimum paid-up membership of 1,000 members, and the register would be revised each December, when new 801 applications and applications for re-registration would be considered. Immediately following the passage of the Bill, the political parties and associations represented in the House of Commons would have one month in which to register their name or description if they so wished. After this time, other political parties or associations could apply. Once the first batch of registrations had taken place, future registrations would take place only in December. The revised register would be published in January, and would be in operation for that year.
To avoid confusion in names or descriptions, Clause 2 would enable the Registrar to refuse the registration of any name or description which was similar to or could be confused with an existing registered description. Therefore, in an election only a registered party or association could use that name or description. Disputes would be avoided simply by giving the Registrar at the time of registration the name or names of national officers of the party or association, which would be included in the Register.
They would be responsible for two things: first, for authenticating the candidature of candidates standing at Parliamentary elections; secondly, for providing the returning officers at local elections with the name of a local official, who would have a similar job in authenticating candidates in local elections. Obviously, the large parties would include in their list of names put in the register regional officers who would perform this second task. In this way, confusion would be avoided, and it would allow the use of registered labels only through a process of authenticity, which is given from the national officers and the local officers. Returning officers would then know that only one person—the candidate responsible to the registered party—was entitled to use that registered name or description. This would solve the difficult cases in which there was some difference of opinion. This chain of command ensures that only those affiliated to the registered party or association can use that registered name or description. Clause 3 specifically prevents the use of a registered name or description of any derivation of it.
There is no intention in the Bill to prevent candidates who are not members of 802 registered parties or associations from standing for election in the normal way, but they would leave blank the section on nomination and ballot papers referring to registered political or other allegiances. The present law relating to election expenses would not be affected. Candidates would still be responsible for their election returns, as they are now.
I have spent some time on the question of registration. I do not believe that the degree of confusion over names would he very great, but it is important that the Bill should make it clear and specific so that if there is any confusion it can be easily cleared up.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Instead of leaving the space blank, could a person put in the word "Independent" if he was an Independent? On the other hand, suppose he stands as a ratepayers' candidate without being affiliated to any organisation. Would he be able to state that on the ballot paper and in the Press?
§ Mr. Coe
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have thought seriously about this point, and I have come to the conclusion that it would be simpler and less likely to cause confusion if the space were left blank. If a person stands as an Independent he is saying, in effect, that he does not wish to belong to one of the registered parties or associations. Therefore, it makes sense to leave the space blank. On the point about someone who belongs to a ratepayers' association, there is a national association of ratepayers' associations. It would be sensible for that body to be nationally registered, and there would then be a right to use that label through local associations affiliated to it. However, if they were not registered, they would not be able to use in any of their election literature names or descriptions which coincided or could be confused with existing ones. I hope that that clears up the hon. Gentleman's point.
In considering how the principle could operate effectively, I have been impressed by the practice in other countries. There is nothing unusual in what is suggested in the Bill. It is we in this country who are unusual in not incorporating this provision in our electoral law. Even allowing for the differences in election processes, it is significant that, for example, in France, Sweden, Norway, Italy, 803 Austria, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands and West Germany party allegiances are shown on ballot papers. Most of those countries also have a form of registration. For example, in Sweden it is done by the Ministry of the Interior; in Norway, by the Ministry for Municipal and Labour Affairs; in Ireland, by the Clerk to the Dail; in the Netherlands by an electoral council.
Those countries have recognised in law the existence of political parties, which we have never done in this country. I think that the time has come when we should do so. Political parties so obviously play a prominent part in our electoral process that we should recognise the fact. A side effect of the Bill would be that the country would adopt a positive attitude to party politics. Politicians do the cause of party politics a disservice by sweeping the matter under the carpet and pretending that they do not exist in law. The Bill, nevertheless, accepts that those who are not members of political parties should still stand for election.
This is a typical but effective British compromise. It is a Measure which would be widely welcomed. To return to the point on which I began, it would help the democratic process. It is in this spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R McMaster (Belfast, East)
I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) on the way in which he introduced the Bill. It is a very important Measure. It is a pity that, as was the case with the National Lottery Bill, it is introduced on a Friday when the attendance is not as good as on other days of the week, because it deserves the close attention of the House as it proposes a fundamental change in our constitutional practice.
The hon. Member presented a strong argument for the Bill, particularly in local elections where there are a large number of candidates and where it is not easy for every member of the public to get to know all the candidates. One has Hughes's, Jones's, Smiths and perhaps Rileys, in numbers, appearing as candidates for various local authorities 804 throughout the country. In that case it probably would assist the electorate, in exercising their functions of choosing between various candidates, if they were given some indication of the party affiliation of the candidates.
I am, however, caused some anxiety when I think of the wider application of this principle. First, I am particularly worried about the position of independent candidates if they are simply to leave a blank on the ballot paper. I am referring, in particular, to Parliamentary elections, but, a fortiori, the argument applies also to local authority elections. Are not the independent candidates placed at a disadvantage? Such great men as Sir Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan, who have been independent at one time or another, would have found their chances in elections severely jeopardised had this principle been applied.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I fail to understand that argument. If Sir Winston Churchill had been in dispute with his party, had not been expelled from his party and had been adopted by his local constituency association as the party candidate, he would have been entitled to put "Conservative" on the ballot paper. The Bill in no way restricts that right. If he had been expelled from his party, he would not have been allowed to do so, but in any event he would then have been an independent.
§ Mr. McMaster
I intend to come to that point. A number of people have left their parties for a while—Conservative and Labour. Such an hon. Member might wish to stand in his constituency and to call himself "Independent Labour", being on the extreme Right or Left wing of the Labour Party. If he is prevented by the Registrar from using the words "Independent Labour" because they might be confused with "Labour", then he is at a disadvantage, because a blank space will appear under his name and no indication will be given to the public whether he favours the Labour or the Conservative case. Because he has a blank under his name, he is at some disadvantage when the ordinary man in the street enters the election booth and sees on the ballot paper two names described as "Conservative" and "Labour" and a third 805 name with no description beneath it. That is a serious objection.
I feel that the addition of the type of information set out at the bottom of page 1—Registered political or other allegiance, if any''—might tend to cause people to spoil ballot papers. We all know of electors who say, "I will vote for neither party" or "I would not vote for the Labour Party if they gave me a pension". Words such as those could easily be added to the paper by the electors. That point may sound frivolous, but I advance it as a serious argument that if we add any words to the ballot paper, we encourage the more frivolous members of the community to spoil their ballot papers instead of registering their votes properly.
I turn to Clause 2, which sets up the register. The need to have a register shows one of the difficulties of advancing a scheme such as this. It involves a little more bureaucracy. It causes a little more difficulty. The Registrar has the duty placed upon him by the Bill to vet the names. By exercising his discretion he can refuse to register certain names. To a certain extent—it may be only to a slight extent—this interferes with the democratic right of individuals to put their names forward at elections and to describe themselves as "Independent Conservative" or "Independent Labour"—names which the Registrar may refuse to accept, in the exercise of his discretion. This state of affairs could cause irritation between the individual and the official—the kind of irritation which we know about and deplore.
§ Dr. Ernest A. Davies (Stretford)
Does not the hon. Member agree that it is incumbent upon a candidate to make it quite clear where he stands? If he cannot convince the Registrar that he is entitled to a certain label on his ballot paper, then he is not succeeding in making his position clear to the electorate, which is his first responsibility.
§ Mr. McMaster
But why should an individual have to make it clear to an individual which side he supports? And why should it be assumed that because he cannot make it clear to the official 806 mind of the Government he cannot make it clear to the public? The Government official is playing a very different rôle from that of the general public. They may wish to have some indication of the man's allegiance—for example. "Independent Labour" or "Independent Liberal". I must not leave the Liberals and I am sorry that they are not in the Chamber.
§ Mr. McMaster
I may not have followed the point correctly, but in introducing the Bill the hon. Member said that an independent candidate would leave the space blank. I can see difficulty, because this is a question of interpretation. Hon. Members may feel that there is no problem and that a man may describe himself as "Independent" or "Reformed Labour". We might regard that as permissible. But in establishing a number of precedents the Registrar might decide that that fell on the wrong side of the line and that the term "Independent Labour" could be confused with "Labour" and therefore was not permissible. What is the candidate to do? He might call himself "Reformed Socialist ". But I do not think that that situation enables us to support the Bill.
I turn to a criticism which is frequently levelled against the House in the country. It is often said that we are completely ruled by the party Whips. I apply that test to the Bill, and I am afraid that if it does anything at all, the Bill tends to strengthen the party system. If a person cannot get the support of his party, then under the Bill he is at a disadvantage because he has "Independent" attached to his name. This places him at a disadvantage in the polling booth. All those who have fought elections will agree with me on that point. Consequently, a man must toe the party line more strictly and must be careful not to adopt an independent attitude or to be too much of a rebel, and that seriously weakens the Parliamentary system. I can think of hon. Members from both sides of the 807 House who at times have taken an independent line and have fallen out with their parties. Such men, under the Bill, would be subject to more pressure because they would fear that the party ticket would be withdrawn and they would then have no option but to think of a name which would not offend the Registrar, but which might be misleading, or to leave a blank space on the ballot paper.
While, therefore, the Bill deserves more thought in reference to local elections, in which respect I might be prepared to support it—although I should like to give more thought to it—on balance I am opposed to it in its application to Parliamentary elections.
The Bill applies to Northern Ireland, and its application would cause difficulties there, too, particularly in Parliamentary elections, where people should get to know who are the candidates. There is a duty on every member of the public to make himself aware of who the candidates are and what they stand for. I am not happy about the Bill and I do not think that it would help.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Dr. Ernest A. Davies (Stretford)
I rise to support the Bill, and I first extend my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) on the way in which he drafted the Bill to circumvent quite a number of the difficulties with which we are faced.
All of us who have taken part in elections, whether national or local, know of the especial difficulty which faces electors when they have to choose between a large number of candidates and to select the candidates they prefer. My hon. Friend referred to an instance in which as many as 21 candidates were presented to the electors and the electors had to choose whom they wished to support from that long list of 21. He also made a most amusing reference to the reaction of one elector who was faced with the task of choosing six from 18. Such a problem does not arise in all areas of the country, but no doubt it will develop, especially in the larger conurbations. In the area which I represent we do not have that difficulty at present.
None the less, we have a difficulty which arises from the confusion of names. My 808 name is fairly well known. It is a common sort of name. There are seven Members of this House who have the same name, and three of us even have the same initials. I frequently get letters, and sometimes bills, which might properly be addressed to other hon. Members.
My wife, too, has taken part in political activity and has stood for the local council. On that occasion her opponent was a gentleman who had the same name as my wife. Great were the debates that went on in the appropriate circles to decide whether Christian names should be printed in black in large capital letters rather than surnames and whether the electorate might be better attracted by the title "gentleman" than by "housewife." All that would have been quite unnecessary in a simple election for a councillor had the party allegiances been stated on the ballot paper.
It is illogical to claim that a person is strictly an independent and then wish to indicate on a ballot paper that in some curious way he belongs to some kind of organised registered body of independents. It seems to me that if a candidate wishes to present himself as truly independent, he must make it clear to the electorate in his literature that that is his position and that he must not on any account seek to include on the ballot paper a label which would give an impression that he had some kind of connection with an organised body. To a truly independent candidate, that would not be of any disadvantage.
I was a little startled when the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) cited as two examples of independents the late Sir Winston Churchill and Mr. Harold Macmillan. I suspect that they are hardly examples of people of political independence, no matter how independent were their lines of thought from time to time. To select two Conservative Prime Ministers as examples of political independence indicates to some extent how limited is the field in practice and how weak the argument in consequence.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Of course, Sir Winston Churchill was at one time a Liberal in this House and he actually changed his party. On another occasion he resigned from the Conservative Party and was a very independent-minded person.
§ Dr. Davies
In that case, I suggest that during that period he would have preferred to use the word "undecided" rather than "independent".
I turn from the general question of providing clear information to the elector, which is a vital aspect of the Bill and one of the main points on which it should be welcomed, to two smaller points on the Clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich has made it plain that the inclusion of party allegiances on a ballot paper does not in any way restrict candidatures or limit the democratic practice as we know it but would illuminate it.
I should like to draw attention to two points on the Bill to which consideration might later be given. When seeking leave to introduce his Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich remarked that there might be difficulties concerning minor points of registration which could be considered once the broad principles of the Bill were accepted. I should like to draw his attention and that of the House to two points which, I think, should be considered and discussed.
In Clause 1, my hon. Friend proposes to extend the question of naming to "political or other allegiances". It is possible for a candidate to have a number of allegiances or political associations which do not necessarily conflict. If one accepts the principle that the intention behind the Bill is to illuminate the electoral process, there has to be a limit to the amount of information which could be given in the little "box" on the ballot paper which is intended to name the political or other allegiance.
One suggestion might be to consider naming the largest body, or one or two bodies, to which a candidate offered allegiance and by whom his candidature was being supported. There is, however, a case for limitation, otherwise the ballot paper might develop into an enormous list of allegiances, with the result of confusing the electorate rather than the reverse. This is not a major point, but one worthy of attention.
My second point concerns Clause 2(5), which sets out reasons why the Registrar might refuse such a registration. In subsection (5,a), there is a limitation if he thinks that the name for which registration is sought is identical with one already 810 registered. We should consider whether there should be some restriction on names given to parties which already have a name registered, since an organisation might, in this way, be presented in a number of guises.
It is time that we welcomed formal, legal recognition of the part played by political parties in our public life. I am sure that hon. Members do not need to be persuaded that the mainsprings of our political and democratic life depend on the continued activity of political parties—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Dr. Davies
It is very encouraging to be allowed to continue with the support of so many right hon. and hon. Friends, but I will not detain them from their lunch or express disappointment that they should now withdraw so precipitately as I continue my speech.
I was saying that our political system depends greatly on the activity of many who support recognised parties, and there is no reason why that should not now be recognised in legislation. It has often been argued that there is no place for politics, particularly, in local government. Some objections to the Bill are that it would make party politics too evident here, but this will not stand up to examination in a modern context, and is less likely to do so if local government reform, which we understand is in the pipeline, results in larger units and any form of regional government, which would make it even more necessary for the electors to know candidates' party allegiances. The argument that there should be no party politics in local government does not, therefore, stand examination.
One of the requirements for effective democracy is not only the freedom to choose a candidate but also the ability to bring home to him and his friends responsibility for their actions and for their decisions and their consequences. Anyone who has considered the complexities of local government must know that only in the simplest circumstances is it possible for even the most interested 811 elector to understand how a candidate has or has not carried out his duties, if he has previously served on the authority, or to follow his subsequent career if he is elected.
One way of bringing home some sense of responsibility to elected representatives is surely the ability to hold their parties responsible. We all know that, whether they carry one or other label, parties do develop in local authorities, and they should recognise their responsibilities, which the electorate should be able to check. This means that a party label on the ballot paper is highly desirable for local elections.
I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, and urge the Under-Secretary of State and his right hon. Friends to assist in seeing that it is brought into effect.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Before dealing with the merits and demerits of the Bill, and after I have congratulated the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) on introducing it, I would point out to the House, such as it is, that the Bill would make a big change in our constitutional arrangements and the manner in which Members are elected. It has always been a feature of our unwritten constitution that changes in the electoral system or electoral law should, as far as possible, be agreed between the parties. For that purpose, there have frequently been held, and still are held, for all I know, Speakers' Conferences—
§ Mr. Doughty
Well, they certainly have been held, and at them agreement was frequently reached, after which the Government of the day would introduce a Bill, with the support of the Opposition, to make an agreed change.
Therefore, whatever the merits or demerits, it is a mistake for the hon. Member to bring in a Private Members' Bill to alter our electoral constitution. If it were passed today, by however many hon. Members were here, the whole country would be affected by the will or the votes of a few hon. Members who happen to be here on a Friday afternoon. That is a mistake against our practice over the 812 centuries and against those arrangements that have always been understood in this House to precede any changes in electoral law. I believe that the Speaker's Conference that dealt with this question came to the conclusion that the change ought not to be made, and on that ground alone I do not think the Bill should be given a Second Reading.
One of the pretensions or illusions that we like to keep in our constitution is that the political parties as such have no part in the ballot papers. Any member of the Commonwealth—except certain disqualified people—above a certain age, who can get 10 other electors to support him and has £150 in his pocket can have his name on the ballot paper and, if he gets enough votes, will become a Member of this House. The Bill would give the political parties and their organisations much too strong a say in the control of candidates. We all know that the major parties have organisations which select candidates and support them after selection in ways with which we are all very familiar, but although they naturally try to persuade the electors to vote for their candidate, they have no actual say on the ballot paper.
Every party has various names. We on this side have names such as Conservative, National Liberal and Conservative, National Liberal, Conservative and Unionist—
§ Mr. Doughty
We have all those excellent names because we are a party that embraces the whole of the community—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I appreciate that hon. Members opposite represent but a small portion of it but none of these names appears on the ballot paper. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) is a National Liberal and Conservative: if this party were to take the name "Conservative" would he be prohibited from calling himself a National Liberal and Conservative—
§ Mr. Doughty
The Liberals are useful. They sometimes lose their deposits, and 813 they come in late to debates and make interruptions, but it is surprising how tolerant the Conservatives can be even of the minor irritations of this life.
If this Bill were passed, the local party organisation, on the assumption—but only on the assumption—that it remained affiliated to the central organisation in London, would have the copyright of the name, be it "Labour", "Liberal" or "Conservative". That is not proper. An hon. Member opposite might lose his "dog licence" and not be readopted by his organisation because he was too Left, or too Right, or too anything, but might yet wish to stand again. He might say, "I have been a devoted Labour man, and a Labour Member for seven or eight years." A large part of the members of his ex-association, as it would be, might support him at the election, but when he handed in his nomination papers and applied to have his title on the ballot paper he would be told, "You cannot do that. The body which has registered this name and which has affiliated the local association has the copyright in that name, and that organisation has put in another man you have never heard of as the Labour candidate. You must leave your space blank."
Is that right? The same thing could happen to a Conservative—[Interruption.]—the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has given a name, but I do not like to bandy names about. I will only say that though the person named was not successful, he did stand as an independent Conservative. He was fully entitled to put at the beginning of his election address, "I have been a Conservative Member of the House of Commons"—for a certain number of years—"and I now stand again as a Conservative, although I do not have the support of the local association. "The Bill would have prevented him putting the word "Conservative" on the ballot paper even though he had been a Conservative Member for a number of years.
Such a big constitutional change is undesirable. It is said that at election times the electors can get muddled with the candidates. I appreciate the point about Wales. I know little of Wales, but those who do know it say that, although the vast majority of the people seem to be called Jones, the electors also seem to know which Jones is the Jones 814 who is standing on behalf of a certain political party. I have never heard of any difficulties in that respect in any part of the world.
There is a good saying that hard cases make bad law, and if we are to alter the whole electoral law in order to deal with one type of election it will result in an even worse situation. I am sure that in a General Election all electors know the political standing of the candidates whose names are found on the ballot paper. If they do not, it is nearly always the fault of the candidate. A candidate is entitled to, and does, send out election addresses. He has canvassers going round on his behalf. I know that in my constituency at election times I am just about sick of seeing my name and picture on the hoardings, and if I notice it as much as that I am very sure that all the voters will know who stands as Conservative candidate for Surrey, East.
The Bill would be a very great drawback at a General Election. I have been the official Conservative candidate for the constituency, but any other Conservative who got 10 other electors to support him might have said, "I am more independent and a better Conservative than the official Conservative candidate". The Bill would have prevented him from showing on the ballot paper his Conservative allegiance. I am sure that no one would desire that to happen.
At local elections we get very many styles of candidate. Apart from the three principal parties, we have the ratepayers association, and very often the local tenants association, which generally has some council estate grievance, puts up a candidate. We have people who are really independent, and we have those who, perhaps because they are civil servants and cannot declare political allegiance, stand as independents, though many of us have a shrewd idea where their political sympathies lie. Candidates should not have to declare political allegiance when their names go on ballot papers for local elections.
The Bill would cause a great deal of difficulty to the Registrar. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Orpington would object if the Conservative Party wished to include among its names "National Liberal". If so, we should have to have an argument and 815 possibly an appeal to the High Court about who had property in that name. I do not think that such an argument is desirable.
The practice in foreign countries has been mentioned. The number of parties in France was so legion that it finally meant the collapse and dissolving of the democratic system there. Nobody could tell exactly who was standing for what, and in that country political parties have their subscriptions from the national treasury for their funds, which is not the case in this country—and I hope that it never will be. That is not a good example for the arguments in favour of the Bill.
The Bill says that the political party or association could be mentioned. Could both be mentioned? Could a candidate describe himself as a Right-wing Conservative, or Left-wing Labour, or must it be slap in the middle without any previous adjactives? The endless permutations and combinations which could apply, or which it could be sought to apply, would place returning officers in great difficulties. Other allegiances could be included and such a description on a ballot paper is hardly desirable.
It is no good comparing ours with the practice in other countries. In Australia there is compulsory voting. I do not believe that we should have it in this country. It is the duty of the candidates and their friends and supporters, whatever their political views, to get their names before the electors and to persuade the electors to vote for them because they are who they are and because they have declared allegiance, if they have any, to a political party. They should not tell the electors not to worry for at the polling booths they will find that all they have to do is to put a cross against the appropriate political party. That would be a retrograde step. It might solve some difficulties, but in doing so it would put us in a worse position.
This is a proposed change in the electoral law, a change in the constitution, which should not be made by a Private Member's Bill, but by agreement after the Speaker's Conference—unless the Government of the day are prepared, in spite of what has failed to be decided at the Speaker's Conference, to say that, 816 although they cannot get the agreement of the Opposition, they nevertheless intend to make a change, when they must take responsibility for changing the electoral law. Unless the Government are prepared to do that, or there is agreement at the Speaker's Conference, it is not right to make this sort of change by a Private Member's Bill on a Friday afternoon when so few hon. Members are likely to be present to express their views.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I have listened to a number of contributions by hon. Members opposite. So intense is their feeling about the Bill that, as soon as a Count is called, they disappear from the Chamber in an attempt to terminate the discussion forthwith. We know their tactics; we know what they are concerned about; they are concerned about the Live Hare Coursing (Abolition) Bill which is coming later. If I am persuaded of one thing after listening to their contributions, it is to join with my hon. Friends in seeing that the Government give time to that estimable Bill.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
On a point of order. Is it right for an hon. Member to cast aspersions on what other hon. Members are doing and on what their intentions are, and is it in order to refer to another Bill now?
§ Mr. Lyon
I am much obliged. I have made my point.
In his lucid speech moving the Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) eschewed a desire to go back to Greek political philosophy to discourse on the origins of democracy. He was always wiser than I, and I am tempted to do just that. I think that what we are considering is the nature of democracy. The Bill is as fundamental as some hon. Members opposite have claimed.
We are concerned with what the elector wants when he puts a cross on his ballot paper. That is the essence of democracy. It is the free choice of the individual elector about the way in which he wants to be governed. Because 817 of the complexity of our society, he cannot go co the market place as he did in Athens and raise his hand. He wants someone to do that on his behalf at the place where decisions are taken, either here or in council chambers throughout the country.
What does he want when in the 20th century in Great Britain he puts that cross or the ballot paper? If he wants the individual candidate, he can say so and put his cross, but all of us know—and this is partially conceded by those who oppose the Bill—that what most people want is to put their name against the appropriate party.
It has: been said that there are some constituencies where a donkey with the appropriate party label would get in. If that be so—and we feel that some donkeys got in on the Opposition side—surely that is desirable for democracy. If the electorate wants that kind of candidate, it can have him, and that is the essence of democracy. If the electorate wants a particular party label, it is undemocratic to deny it the right to vote for that party. All the Bill says is that electors should have free choice. If they denied free choice, their cross could be put against the name of the candidate who will not represent their choice.
This has been said a number of times, and I can give my own experience. In the first Parliamentary election which I fought at York there were three candidates. All of us were barristers, so that putting our occupations did not help. The first name on the ballot paper was that of the Conservative candidate, Long-bottom, which was sufficiently descriptive. The second was my own, Lyon, and the third was that of the Liberal, Lloyd. Long-bottom could be distinguished although it began with an L, but the names Lyon and Lloyd led to confusion. I know from talking to constituents that some who wanted to vote for me voted for Lloyd, and some who wanted to vote for Lloyd voted for me. Of course, some cancelled out each other, because there were mistakes both ways, but that is not the point. The point is that an elector wanted to make his own free choice and was confused by the names.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
The hon. Gentleman allows his modesty to prevent him from stating what are the facts of the case. I know him well enough to know that at 818 no election would he ever be mistaken for anybody else. He is much too good a public man and a public figure ever to be mistaken and nobody will ever make a mistake about him. He should not be so modest.
§ Mr. Lyon
Modesty is my major virtue, I must confess, but the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) is wrong, because I have the evidence of my constituents. It may be that that did not sway the result of this election. It may be that the margin was too great in any event, but some of my constituents were denied the right of free choice. They were denied it because of their own misunderstanding.
§ Mr. Lyon
Let me develop my point. One might say that it was their own fault, but not everyone is so interested in politics as right hon. and hon. Members. However, we are concerned about the way that we are governed, and all those who vote have at least some desire to express a wish about the way they want to be governed. By our present electoral system we are denying them that right. That seems to be the negation of democracy, and, therefore, a case for this Bill.
We say that there should be greater information on the ballot paper so that a free choice can be made. I take the point made earlier about there not being a religious denomination specified on the ballot paper, as there will be in some areas where the religious denomination of a candidate is of crucial importance to an elector. It may be that that would be desirable if the desire for this information was widespread, but it is not. One has to draw the line somewhere. One cannot put potted biographies on the ballot paper. But we know that in every constituency in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the party label has a meaning for a substantial proportion of the electorate, and we are not entitled to deny them their democratic right to vote for the party if that is what they want.
I take a major objection to the Bill. I have been in Parliament only a short time, but I have always admired, and have come to admire even more, the nature of the Parliamentary process. I am as adamant for the individual right of a Member of Parliament to speak his 819 mind with his own conscience as anyone else. I agree with Edmund Burke, in his address to the electors of Bristol, that an M.P.'s responsibility in the end is to his own conscience. If it be that my conscience is against what the party Whip says, no party Whip will dragoon me into either one of the Lobbies. In the end, a Member of Parliament can only serve his constituents if he serves his conscience. I accept that, but that is not to say that I am not a party politician. Of course I am. One joins a party because it best represents the kind of legislative and social programme that one wants to get through the House of Commons. It is a reflection of the man that he joins a party. If I were a different man I might be in the party opposite—though God forbid. But I would at least be expressing my own attitude of mind.
This is of the very nature of politicians today. It is true that some people are so independent that they cannot easily be fitted with any party label, and it is perhaps desirable that there be some way for those people to find voice on the floor of the House of Commons. Most of us see our rôle in politics through a political party and we join it because we want that party to succeed. I see no conflict between the point of view that the individual's conscience must be the supreme guide and that he might best express his political philosophy through a party affiliation. Those two views run in harness for the majority in this House. If that be so, it is of crucial importance for my constituents to know that, though I will take an independent line if necessary, on most things I will support the party to which I am affiliated. This is of crucial importance for them to decide in their choice. In that way, therefore, I do not believe that it necessarily inhibits our constitutional process or is in any way a reflection upon the independence of a Member of Parliament that we put on the ballot paper the information requested in the Bill.
I come now to the practical objection which has been raised. It is no secret that in the headquarters of the two major political parties there are reservations, about the proposals made in the Bill. There are thoughts that there would be confusion with other political parties or 820 other dissident groups which set up a party with a similar name. In my view, the proposals in the Bill deal with that difficulty. It is a real difficulty, but it has been dealt with in a way which will cause very little confusion and very little injustice. Of course, at the margin there will be difficult cases. It is inevitable wherever the line is drawn. But in considering the difficulty of the practical implications of the Bill we have to weigh in the balance the confusion that now exists among electors when they go to the polls and the confusion that will arise in isolated cases at the margin for a number of candidates who wish to adopt titles similar to existing titles. When I weigh those two difficulties in the balance I come down heavily in favour of assisting the electors. The candidate can look after himself.
Let us consider the difficulty which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) was elucidating earlier. If he wishes to resign or is expelled from the Ulster Unionist Party, he could stand as Northern Ireland Anarchist, a party label completely different from any registered by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. He might be the only Member, but if he wishes to indicate a party affiliation he could register it. I take the point that a label can be registered only if there is a substantial number of members of the party. Subject to that, if his constituency party were prepared to support him, even to the point of disaffiliating from the national party, he would be able to set up a separate party with a separate label. If not, he could stand as an independent, not putting anything on the ballot paper, but explaining in all his literature where and why he differed from the party from which he had been expelled or from which he had resigned.
There are ways round the slight difficulties that will be posed by the mechanics of the Bill, but it rights an obvious injustice in denying to many thousands of people, at both local government and national elections, the right to express their free choice.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) on giving the House an opportunity to discuss this matter, because it has been of widespread 821 concern and interest in the constituencies. Indeed, the Liberal candidate in the by-election pending in Acton has forced the issue by adding "Liberal" to his name so that this can be shown on the ballot paper. His name is now Frank Liberal Davies. His surname will appear first on the ballot paper, and the word "Liberal", now one of his names, will clearly identify him. I do not see why this should be a bad thing, because it shows the electors in Acton that he is proud of his political affiliation and wants it to be known to the electors through the medium of the ballot paper. Otherwise, in some cases they might not know.
I agree that if an hon. Member has fought many elections his name is likely to be known to his constituents, and that difficulty does not arise. As the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) said, he has fought many elections in his constituency, and during election campaigns he gets tired of seeing his face on the hoardings and his name on all the posters. He does not think that his electors would have much difficulty in knowing that he was the Conservative candidate.
But even if the number of individuals deprived of the chance of exercising their vote is very small, the matter still warrants the attention of the House. Whether only half a dozen or a dozen people in a particular constituency have made a mistake because they were not aware of the party affiliations of those on the ballot paper, it is a serious matter which we should consider at some length.
I appreciate that the Speaker's Conference has been considering the matter and has recommended against the change. One of the difficulties in discussing the Bill is that unless one happens to have been a member of the Speaker's Conference one does not know what arguments were used. As a member of it, I very much deplore the decision not to publish the full transcript of the proceedings so that not only hon. Members but the public at large could size up the issues and make up their minds. That is a big argument against accepting the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman that we should always do things as we have done them in the past. By tradition, custom or practice Speaker's Conferences have never published their proceedings, and, there- 822 fore, each time the electoral law is examined by this device, which has been used since 1918, the members of the Conference do not have the benefit of looking at the arguments presented on the previous occasion. Probably they have gone through precisely the same arguments as their predecessors quite unnecessarily, because they would have seen that certain changes were either obviously undesirable or could be allowed without much discussion. However, that is a matter which it is too late for us to correct now because the decision has been made.
The hon. and learned Member said that the political parties would have too strong a say in the selection of candidates if the Bill became law, but I do not think that they would have any stronger a say than they have already. One can deplore the strength of the political parties in influencing the selection of candidates, but I do not think that one can make out a substantial argument for claiming that the registration of parties would add to those powers in any way.
We all know that the choice is in the hands of a very few individuals. There is the selection committee, which is limited to the élite—if one should put it like that—of the local party. I am not aware that any of the parties put the choice out to the general membership. The local party may be called to meet to endorse the choice of the selection committee, but how often do we hear of arguments at that stage, or of alternative candidates being put up from the body of the membership of the constituency concerned? I do not remember a single instance in any of the 630 constituencies in the last General Election. I think one would find that the choice of that very small minority is endorsed when put to a general meeting. Therefore, we have very small cliques in every party which, in my opinion, possess an unwarrantable power. But that is nothing to do with the Bill, and we are not conferring additional powers on constituency parties or the selection committees in particular by requiring that the name should be registered.
On the question of the names and how their use is to be controlled, I thought the hon. and learned Gentleman made a strong argument in favour of the Bill when he referred to the National Liberals, that tattered remnant of deserters from 823 the Liberal Party who have no independent existence. They are not recognised in the usual channels in the House, for example, although there was a person who called himself the Chief National Liberal Whip until fairly recently. As such, he occupied a room in the Palace of Westminster until it was taken away from him and, I am glad to say awarded to the genuine Liberal Party by the House of Commons Services Committee. That was a very right and proper change, but it took place many years after it should have done.
If the High Court is to decide that the words "National Liberal" shall not appear as a political description on the ballot paper, all I can say is that that would make me support the Bill very strongly because they can be used only to mislead the electorate in the few constituencies where the name still operates, conveying, perhaps by implication that rather than openly, that the person using the label is really not a pure Conservative but has eclectic leanings towards the Liberal Party as well, to make him worthy of support by the Conservatives and Liberals in that constituency to the detriment of the official Liberal candidate. Therefore, I should not be at all sad to see that name disappearing from our political usage and not being allowed to appear on the ballot paper.
Another difficulty the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned was the case of the hon. Member who loses the party Whip and as a result is not endorsed as candidate at the next election. He said that that could create all sorts of difficulties because the hon. Member, who might have given long service to the House, would be deprived of his opportunity of standing because he did not have the official approval of Transport House, the Conservative Central Office or the Liberal Party organisation. But when one considers what happens at present one sees that it is practically impossible for a candidate without the official endorsement of one of the three main parties to get in in any case.
As the hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking, I mentioned the case of Carlisle, where our recent colleague, Dr. Donald Johnson, stood as an Independent Conservative and received very few votes because he did not have the approval of 824 the local constituency party. If it had been said that he could not call himself "Independent Conservative", and there had to be a blank against his name where the space for affiliation would be provided on the ballot paper under the Bill, according to the opponents of the Bill everyone would know who he was. They say that there is no difficulty about that at present, that the electors would realise at once that he had been their Member of Parliament for a number of years. They would know that he was standing as an Independent with a blank against his name because he had not the official endorsement of the local Tory Party, and that somebody had been put up in competition with him. I do not think it would have made a difference of more than a very small number of votes to the total he received then. Nor would it have affected in any way his chances of becoming the Member. I concede that anything which prevented an Independent or a person without official party affiliation from taking part in an election is to be deplored. My only point is that I cannot see that that difficulty arises from the provisions of the Bill.
I do not agree with what was said about decisions being taken on a Friday afternoon with only a few hon. Members present, because it is up to hon. Members concerned. If they do not feel that the matter before the House is important enough to attend they cannot possibly have any grumble if there is a vote and the House reaches a decision contrary to their wishes. But since the Speaker's Conference has made a report and since it covers a very wide spectrum of recommendations, which will no doubt be considered by the House before very long, it would probably be wrong on balance to make a decision on this one matter in isolation from all the rest. Therefore, although I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich—he has done a service to the House in enabling the discussion to take place—I should prefer the decision not to be taken until the whole of the Report of the Speaker's Conference has been debated.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I must oppose the Bill in principle, although I do not like doing so as I greatly admired the way in which the hon. Member for 825 Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) presented i t, and I recognise that there is a good deal to be said for the objects which he has in mind.
In my view, our consideration of this whole subject should be taken rather further. Great as our political parties are, and essential as they are to the running of our constitution, there is still something greater in our constitution, that is, this honourable House and its Members in their individual capacity. It is a great shame that not enough notice is taken nowadays of this greater element in our constitution. People ought to take the trouble to find out exactly who their candidates are. It has been said over the years that many people are so moronic that they will not take the trouble to find out. There have been times when this was true, but, during a fairly long political life—my next election will be my twelfth—I have seen the character of the electorate change considerably. When I first stood for Parliament in 1935, at Wigan, there were two candidates whose names appeared on the ballot paper. Mine was the first, and the second was the name of the sitting Member. I need hardly add that I was beaten by a large and enthusiastic majority. Nevertheless, what took place outside the polling stations that night was very bad. Supporters of my opponent, as people were crowding the polling stations, as they do towards the end of polling time, kept calling out to them, "Number Two".
It may be said that that is just what the hon. Member wants to avoid by his Bill. Perhaps it is, but, if education means anything today, it ought not to be necessary. People ought to find out all about the candidates before they go to the polling booth, and we should not pander to their laziness or foster it by putting the names of political parties on the ballot paper.
I see great difficulty in that proposal. It is so difficult to know what a political party is. I draw attention to the words beginning at line 13 on page 2 of the Bill—it is difficult to identify it in any other way as there are so many complicated insertions and provisions in the Clause—in rule 5(2) (nomination of candidates) at the end there shall be added the words, 'and the political or other allegiance of a candidate may be included…' ".826 That is very dangerous. What other allegiance? It might be religious. It might be almost anything. A person might be a Jehovah's Witness, a Roman Catholic, or something like that. Surely, we do not want to encourage in this country such a thing as a Catholic Party. I certainly do not. To provide for the entry of other allegiance" would be a retrograde step.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)—or, if I may give him his accustomed title in his own great city, the citizen in Parliament"—did not touch more upon that aspect of the matter. I enjoyed his speech, as I always do. The more I hear of him, the more I enjoy his speeches. My only regret is that he sits on that side of the House, not this, and it worries me a little that we may not see him sitting here at all one day. But I hope that he will not take over long to get back. I dislike that provision in Clause 1 very much.
Clause 2 refers to the registration ofany political party or association which applies for registration and has a paid-up membership in excess of 1,000 members.We all know the fiddling that can go on over paid-up membership. Who is to judge what is paid-up membership? If someone wants to register a party, he will find the paid-up members all right. There will be no difficulty about that. This is another serious criticism of the Bill.
To do him justice, the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich has put before us a very complicated Measure. I am sure that he must have had a good deal of help from the Home Office in bringing it forward at all. It is not the sort of Bill which a private Member can readily produce for himself without a lot of help. No doubt, we shall hear from the Under-Secretary of State whether I am right in that belief and whether the Home Office is more behind the Bill than, perhaps, appears on the face of it.
Next, line 1 on page 3 refers tothe name or names of the officer or officers of the political party or association authorisedto sign papers, and so on. Why is that said? There is already a person whom the law recognises as a legal entity. If anyone is to do it, the agent should do it. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, 827 but I understand that no one can stand for Parliament at all unless he has a duly accredited agent. He is the man who should be named here. I assume that it is thought that the chairman or vice-chairman of the party or association would be the person to sign the papers. But that would be wrong. Such officials are, as it were, nebulous people who come and go. The agent, on the other hand, is recognised by the law, and it is his name which ought to appear there.
Those are just a few of the important flaws which I see in the Bill. My main criticism is that it would be wrong to encourage people to be lazy in informing themselves about their elected representatives. But that is what the Bill would do, however good the intention—which I do not doubt for a moment. It is our job to see that we get the best men for Parliament in their own right, apart from any party. If the hon. Member's proposals were adopted, we should be encouraging people to take notice only of names appearing on lists, not people who are known to the electors and who make themselves known. We should encourage candidates themselves to be lazy, too.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department(Mr. David Ennals)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) not only on his speech but on having brought the Bill to this stage today. We had a most thoughtful presentation of the Bill from him. He has been a persistent and persuasive advocate of the principle which the Bill embodies not only today but on previous occasions. It has been a serious debate—or most of it has been—and I am glad that the attempt made a little earlier by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) to bring it to a close was frustrated by my hon. Friends.
It is worth recalling that there was no specific prohibition on references to a political party in nomination papers before the present provisions in the Representation of the People Act, 1949. The Act provides that a candidate's description on his nomination paper…shall not refer to the candidate's political activities…828 It is interesting that this prohibition was introduced as a direct result of a case at a local election in 1945, where the word "Labour" appeared on the ballot paper against the name of a candidate who was not an official Labour Party candidate. The matter was considered by the Carr Committee on Electoral Law Reform. That Committee, on which the main political parties were represented, recommended in 1947 that the use of party labels in nomination papers should not be permitted.
As the House knows, apart from the pressure from my hon. Friend today and in a previous Bill he sought to introduce, this matter has been considered recently by the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law. None of the political parties proposed any change in practice so far as political labels are concerned, but this was considered by the Speaker's Conference, which recommended that there should be no change.
In addition, the matter was specifically referred to the Home Secretary's Electoral Advisory Conference, which includes representatives of acting returning officers and of the headquarters of the main political parties. It advises the Home Secretary on matters relating to electoral machinery. It, too, recommended that there should be no change. It is true that these two conferences were considering the matter primarily in relation to Parliamentary elections. I think that it would be generally agreed that there is no great problem as far as Parliamentary elections are concerned, because normally the lists are short.
My hon. Friend mentioned an election in Anglesey and suggested that there was some confusion between the surnames of the candidates, which were the same. This is inconvenient but usually the voters seem to get it all sorted out. For example, in the constituency of Caernarvon in 1964 there were two Roberts—Goronwy Roberts, Labour, and Shelagh Roberts, Conservative—while, in 1966, there were again two Roberts—Goronwy, Labour, and Humphrey, Welsh Nationalist. But in both elections in that constituency the swing to the Labour Party was about average for the whole country. So the electors of Caernarvon were able to sort out for themselves which party they were voting for.
§ Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)
Would not a statistician say that this simply indicated that the errors cancelled each other out?
§ Mr. Ennals
That is perfectly possible. I am not trying to draw conclusions except to say that one cannot necessarily claim that the problem seems to affect results in parliamentary elections. This is, indeed, much more of a problem in local government elections. There may be long lists of candidates and my hon. Friend referred to the Greater London election of 1967, as well as the one in 1964, in which it was possible, as he said, for there to be 21 candidates on a ballot paper from which five or six only were to be selected.
There is no doubt that there was substantial cross-voting in that situation. It is also true that long lists of candidates are common at parish council elections and elections for urban districts which have not been divided into wards. In these circumstances, however, there is perhaps less likelihood of confusion because the personalities of the candidates are likely to be better known in a local situation. I do not think that such areas have experienced some of the problems my hon. Friend referred to as arising in local government elections in urban areas.
It should be recognised that it has never been the intention that the present electoral arrangements for the Greater London Council should continue. Under the London Government Act, 1963, as soon as effect has been given to the review of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission each London borough is to be divided into two to four single-member electoral areas for Greater London Council elections. My hon. Friend mentioned the size of local government areas as an argument in favour of the Bill. The Maud Committee on Management of Local Government, in its Report last year to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, recommended that all local government electoral areas should have single-member seats. In other words, it is suggested that they should all be brought into line with parliamentary elections and, in the local government world, with county council elections, where no serious problem seems to arise.
830 The organisations concerned have been asked for their views of the recommendations of the Maud Committee, including this one for single-member wards. If this recommendation is eventually accepted, the right time to give effect to it would be during the reorganisation following the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government. Should this be done, and once Greater London were redivided on the lines I have indicated, the effect would be that all local government elections would, like Parliamentary elections, be for single members only, with the exception of elections to the London borough councils.
A conference on local government electoral law for England and Wales and a similar conference for Scotland were convened fairly recently, and both have recommended within the last few weeks that even for local government elections the present position should continue. These conferences included representatives of the returning officers and of the heaquarters of the political parties as well as of the local government associations.
The fact that all the political parties are united on this does not mean that they are necessarily right. In fact, my natural reaction is to smell a rat when I see that all the political parties are agreed on something. I wonder then what has gone wrong. I recognise the force of some of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend.
The Labour Party fears that the change in the law proposed in the Bill might lead to a weakening of party organisation. It says that it is the party's job to get its candidates well known and to campaign on their behalf. It argues that, if the job is done for it on the ballot paper, the incentive for effective party organisation may dwindle. It is my impression that this view is also held by the Conservative and Liberal Parties.
There is also the confusion that might be caused by small unrepresentative parties adopting a name similar to that of one of the main parties purely to pick up extra votes. This is foreseen in Clause 2(5)(a). But it is an invidious decision to make as to whether a particular political party is, by its name, thought to be identical with another or sufficiently close to another's name as to cause confusion. For example, it could be thought in such circumstances that the 831 name "Independent Labour Party" was too close to the name "Labour Party" so that it would be unfair for such candidates to stand.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Does my hon. Friend realise that the same difficulty arises both in relation to the trade unions and to the friendly societies—also, indeed, to companies under the Companies Acts?
§ Mr. Ennals
I recognise that, but it is a difficult matter when we come to putting the name of a political party on the ballot paper. It might be that enough people would be able to form a certain political party for it to become registered with a title sufficiently similar to that of another party as to create confusion, and designed to create confusion in order to gain more votes. I am only saying that this is one of the arguments which can be brought to bear. I am putting not so much my own view but the views put forward by the political parties, none of which has shown any enthusiasm for the registration of political parties. There is also, of course, the problem of independent candidates.
The returning officers, too, are naturally concerned, and we believe that it is vital that they should not themselves be dragged into controversy about a person's right to use particular labels. The Bill provides that a returning officer has to be satisfied by written evidence that a person has the right to use a particular label. While there may be no difficulty in this in a Parliamentary election with national parties, since matters there are usually fairly clear-cut, I am not certain that there would not be difficulties at local government elections in determining whether or not the returning officer was satisfied with this written evidence.
On the other hand, I know that election officials on duty at polling stations are often pressed to indicate which candidate belongs to a particular political party and are often embarrassed because they are not able to give that information. I think this is a problem which has to be faced. The Government are aware of all these considerations. As has been expressed in the debate there are clearly arguments on both sides. I do not think any of them either way are conclusive. It is also true that in many countries there are party labels on the ballot papers. We cannot therefore necessarily assume that 832 this undermines the party or democratic system as some hon. Members have suggested. There is a negative recommendation from Mr. Speaker's Conference, but the Government have not reached their conclusions.
I assure my hon. Friend that what he and what others have said in the debate, including the powerful speeches in favour of the Bill, will be taken very seriously into consideration. The Government are considering the Report of Mr. Speaker's Conference as a whole. Although the subject of the Bill was the subject of a negative recommendation, there are a number of positive recommendations all of which the Government have before them. It is our view that legislation now on any one of these measures would be premature and that the proper thing to do, if we are to make changes in the existing basis of the law in this matter, would be to do so collectively and together when we have considered all the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference.
This, more than any of the arguments raised against the Bill, suggests that it might be wise for my hon. Friend not to press his Bill at present. I hope that he will think over this. We are genuinely grateful to him for promoting the Bill for the debate he has stimulated and the interest he has stimulated in the country. We are grateful for the opportunity which this debate has given to ventilate a question which has caused and does cause considerable concern. With the assurance that we are looking very carefully at what my hon. Friend has said and the points made in the debate, I hope that my hon. Friend may feel able to withdraw the motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am afraid the hon. Member cannot do that on a point of order. He must wait to catch my eye.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Further to that point of order. I have noticed that one hon. Member has spoken three times today and he moved for a Count. I have the feeling that the object is not democratic procedure but is 833 designed largely to keep other Bills on the Order Paper out of discussion. May I ask for the guidance of the Chair on whether real democracy will be defended in this House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am afraid all that I can say is that the hon. Member has done nothing which contravenes the Standing Orders. Captain Elliot.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I can well understand the feelings of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller). We have all had the experience of thinking that the other side is taking too much time. We did so only the other day when discussing Armed Services and public service pensions.
This is a most important Bill. I apologise to the hon. Member who sponsored it because I was unable to be present during his speech. That was unavoidable. I was rather disappointed with the reply of the Under-Secretary. In the classic manner he rather took the view that we have aired this matter and there it must remain. I should like to have had a firm undertaking from the Government that they were to bring in a Bill dealing with electoral reform of which perhaps this Bill could form a part. I would certainly have agreed with that.
I support the principle of this Bill. I do so because from experience I do not under-estimate the difficulties of the electors. I well recall that when we were debating the London Government Bill, which was designed to postpone London borough elections for a year, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer explained at great length the difficulties of the electors taking part in two separate elections with a large number of candidates. We on this side of the House were rather inclined to discount those arguments, but they were powerful and he certainly put them forward with some vehemence as a justification for that Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris), speaking earlier, seemed to take the view that with general education available to everyone, everyone should be able to select and identify candidates. I am sure every hon. and right hon. Member must have known a large number of cases at elections where, although it is difficult to 834 understand it, this has not happened. I have taken elderly people to the poll to vote. I have got them there and they have voted and when they have come away they have seemed quite undecided for which party they had voted. I therefore do not under-estimate the difficulty.
As the Under-Secretary said, it is a comparatively simple matter at General Elections, although we all know the feeling that the candidate with his name at the top of the list because it begins with an initial letter that is high in the alphabet has a built-in advantage over those lower in the list. I do not want to exaggerate that, but it is some indication of the difficulty.
I believe the Under-Secretary suggested that it was up to the parties to get their candidates known. Of course it is their responsibility to a large extent, and it is the responsibility of the candidate himself. On the other hand, I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is a very much easier matter to get a candidate known than to get one's policies known. With the argument going to and fro, I am not sure that a candidate's time would not be far better spent trying to get his policies known and making absolutely crystal clear on the ballot paper or by some other means for which party he stands in order to avoid confusion. We want that made absolutely clear so that electors can judge entirely on the policies put forward.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that that can be misleading because there are a number of parties, particularly on the Left, with similar names, such as Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Independent Labour Party and so on? Does he not agree that that leads to confusion—
§ Captain Elliot
That is a very good point. Although I agree in principle with the object of the Bill, which is to achieve only one small electoral reform, it seems to be a most complicated Bill. It does not seem entirely desirable that it should be brought in separately to deal with this one issue. A particular issue on which I feel strongly is the ability which electors should have to cast their vote when on holiday. That is an equally important matter. We have recently been 835 discussing the costs which a candidate might or should be allowed. These are just two additional points, and that is why I am sorry that the Minister was not more forthcoming in promising a comprehensive electoral reform Bill, which is very necessary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich seemed to take the view that this Bill was not particularly desirable, because he felt, at the back of his mind, that we were all becoming over-governed and that the individuality of a candidate or a Member would be lost under the party label, and, therefore, it was up to the individual so to put forward his case as to enhance his status, so that there would not be the slightest doubt as to which party he represented.
If I may quote from my own experience, against myself, I had not been elected very long, about a year, when I was carrying out an intensive canvassing campaign in my constituency to get myself known. One of the remarks made to me on two or three occasions when I said who I was, was:Well now, let me see, are you local government or Parliamentary?I had to explain then that I was the Member for Parliament, elected about a year ago. There are other instances when one turns out and someone says:I recognise you I suppose this means that there is a General Election about to take place?That sort of thing definitely makes one a little more modest in one's approach and illustrates the difficulties that a Member, until he has been a Member for some time, has in enhancing his standing.
I would have a good deal of criticism to make of the Bill in detail, but I support the principle. It is the duty of the authorities to make it crystal-clear to what party a candidate belongs, and leave it to him to get his policies across. I am sorry that the Minister has not given a pledge or an undertaking that the Government intend to bring in a Bill to reform the electoral system.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I have been interested in this subject for a long time, ever since one painful experience I had at a selection 836 conference in a safe Labour seat some 20 years ago, when there were only two of us up for adoption. The other candidate, whose name I will not mention, because he is now one of my hon. Friends, shared the name of the sitting Labour Member. He was decisively elected. I was pained at the time because I thought that it was some reflection on my ability, but I have since discovered that it was a reflection upon my name, which enabled me to think slightly better of it.
§ Mr. Body
The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) nods his head. Luckily my name is distinctive. I only complain when I am called "Bodey", not "Body". Fortunately only one Member of my name has ever been in this House before, a distant forebear, and he retired in 1365. There has been no confusion since.
The Under-Secretary referred to a number of examples where there had been confusion, and suggested that although there was this possible confusion, statistically there was little to support the argument that anyone changed their allegiance simply because of a name. One can cite a large number of examples of that, particularly in Wales. There was, in the constituency of Anglesey, an occasion when the right hon. Member (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) had three opponents, all with the same name as himself. It made no difference to the result.
I disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) I dislike the principle of the Bill and some of its details. I disagree entirely with the principle, which will make both the elector and the candidate more idle.
§ Mr. Body
I hope that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) does not think that the Member for Holland with Boston is idle.
At the moment every elector knows that when he goes to the polling station the identity, or political affiliation, of the candidate is not disclosed on the ballot paper. It follows that, if he is to vote 837 with any intelligence, he has to make some inquiry as to who it is he is voting for. That leads an elector to make certain sensible inquiries, and one hopes, to look at the candidate's election address. If we permit the candidate to put his label on the ballot paper, there will be far more electors going to the polling station simply to put their cross against whichever label, not whichever name, adorns the ballot paper.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I find this extremely odd, coming from the party which always has an old dear at the polling booth precisely for this purpose.
§ Mr. Body
It is important that the old dear should know the name of the candidates. There is a very good reason why we have old dears—sometimes they are young dears in my constituency—because we have a magnificent organisation, filled with plenty of enthusiasts willing to get up before 7 o'clock in the morning, and 10 relieve others and to stay there until 9 p.m.
§ Dr. Ernest A. Davies
Is the hon. Gentleman's organisation devoted to telling people to vote Conservative?
§ Mr. Body
When I have been a Member of the House for as long as the hon. and learned Gentleman, and if I am as well known in Holland with Boston as he is in Northampton, I hope that the same situation will arise. It adds to the efficiency of the organisation and is helpful to the elector if there are people outside the polling booth to ask the elector for his electoral number and then records that number with other numbers and takes them back to the committee room so that those who have voted may have their names ticked off on the list and they are 838 not troubled later by still more party enthusiasts who are willing to winkle out voters.
§ Captain W. Elliot
My hon. Friend takes an opposite view to mine. He is taking the rather idealistic view that there are exceptional candidates and that everybody knows them. In fact, if one puts one's feet on the ground, surely one will agree that under the party system people vote largely for the party policy, although a good candidate may increase his vote by a few hundred and a bad candidate may decrease his vote by a few hundred. One wants to get across the policy without any danger of confusing the issue by saying who stands for what.
§ Mr. Body
There is some merit in that argument, but I ask my hon. and gallant Friend to consider two points. First, this proposal will make for idle candidates. It is important that candidates should make themselves known and that their names should be made known. If a label is put on the ballot paper, I am convinced that candidates will not make that effort, certainly not in very safe seats—and I use the word "very" because we do not know what are safe seats for the Labour Party. But there can be no doubt that if a candidate knows that his party's name will be on the "ticket", to use a transatlantic phrase, he will not make a real effort to get round the constituency and go into the pubs and clubs and market places to get himself known.
That is one of the principal functions of a candidate who is standing for the first time in a constituency. This is what electors like. They like to know before-hand the man for whom they are voting. Perhaps they will not have any profound conversation with him, but the fact that a candidate shakes the hand of a prospective elector and introduces himself reassures the elector and makes him feel that the candidate has got round the constituency and is accessible. He should not he aloof. He should be available so that those who have problems which they wish to raise may know where to find him.
§ Dr. Ernest A. Davies
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that if the name of the party is put on the ballot slip it will encourage Conservative Members to sit on their backsides in the committee room? If so, surely it is an 839 unwarranted aspersion to cast on his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Body
No, I do not think so. It is important that the candidate should make himself known as an individual. This is of growing importance in public life. Much of what we do as Members relates to individual constituency problems. The more a Government interferes with the life of the individual, and the more we in the House implement policies which affect individuals, the more important will this side of a Member's life become. Therefore, it is necessary for Members to create a line of communication between themselves and their constituents.
I suppose that all of us have what some call "surgeries" and others "clinics" where we can regularly conduct interviews with electors. This is all part of the process of the hon. Member getting himself known as an individual on the basis of his own ability and not necessarily on the merits of his own party's policies. This is not to say that the policy is unimportant—far from it. I hope that I shall not be criticised for disparaging the importance of a candidate's policy. It is manifest that a candidate must do his utmost to put across his policy. One can think of many cases in which the Member may not be in full agreement with everything that his party as a whole says—and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is present—and he may be in a minority. If we lower the value of the individual candidate and say that what matters is the label round his neck—in other words, we are looking for dull conformity with the official party line—we shall make it that much more difficult for the individual to shine and to make his impact.
That is why the Bill is based on a dangerous principle. It will give more power to what is now commonly called "the selectorate". Some of us have read the book of that name in which is described how a candidate is chosen by, in effect, only a handful of people. This process is criticised. Perhaps there is some validity in the criticism. But the criticism will be strengthened if the principle behind the Bill is endorsed, because then "the selectorate" will give even less weight to the individual merits and personality of the candidate.
840 It is important that the individual candidate should be known for what he is as well as for what he stands for. if that is done, one hopes that the strength of the House will grow.
§ Captain W. Elliot
My hon. Friend says that the candidate should make himself known for what he is and for what he stands for. The implication is that the voter can then vote for Conservative, Labour, or Liberal. If we took, say, the hon. and learned Member—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not indulge in private conversation. He must address the Chair.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. If we take, for example, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and some of his statements, what impact does my hon. Friend think there would be on a voter in distinguishing the party which he supports?
§ Mr. Body
Perhaps it would not happen now because he has had 20 years to make himself and his views known in the constituency, but if the hon. and learned Member for Northampton were a newcomer he would be at a disadvantage if the Bill were enacted—and I say that with respect to him—as would anyone who has a particularly distinctive line and whose views do not necessarily represent those of the party on the label, or, to use the transatlantic phrase again, the party ticket, round his neck. My point that the Bill will make for lazy candidates is particularly valid concerning safe constituencies. In marginal constituencies, obviously the candidate will have to go on working hard and put across not only himself but his policies.
It is significant that when considering the very marginal seats, one realises that the value of a candidate and his personality and ability are far more effective than in the safe constituencies. The most brilliant of Conservative candidates could stand in certain very safe, or formerly very safe, Labour constituencies in South Wales, but their effect would probably be no more than that of the most brilliant Labour candidate standing in a constituency like Kensington, South. In a marginal constituency, however, which is apt to swing, a candidate's personality and ability are of great importance.
841 That is why I disagree with the psephologists who say that no candidate is worth more than 500 votes in any constituency. That is a rash generalisation. He is worth much more than 500 votes in a marginal constituency. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) represents an extremely marginal seat. No doubt, his ability may be worth 500 votes plus—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Whether a particular hon. Member has a marginal seat is outside the scope of Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Body
In a safe constituency, that would not apply.
If I may turn to a point of detail, which, I hope, is not a Committee point, the Bill deals with the registration of political parties. It would enable a party with a paid-up membership in excess of 1,000 members to apply for registration. I criticise this. It is not a matter simply of detail.
From time to time, particularly in local authority areas, individual parties are formed with a purely local interest. There was an example of this in the Greater London Council elections when a certain party was formed in Islington. Obviously, it would be far more difficult for a party there to raise 1,000 members than for a national party. Therefore, that provision of the Bill is unfair and as a detail it should be resisted. If the Bill receives a Second Reading and goes to Committee, I earnestly implore the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) to reconsider it and whether it is right to stipulate any such membership as 1,000 before an organisation can be registered.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
We have had two speeches of considerable length, neither of which gave me the impression that it was directed either to passing or defeating the Bill. Nor did those two speeches seem to contain the kind of enthusiasm that wished to talk out the Bill. As a 842 matter of interest, I wonder to which Bill those speeches were addressed. Was it the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Bill? Was it the Employer's Liability (Defective Equipment) Bill, which, I should have thought, was a rather good Bill?
§ Mr. John Smith
On a point of order. Is not that a most unfortunate reflection on the Chair? Surely, if hon. Members speak to the wrong Bill—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is even more of a reflection on the Chair that the Chair could not hear what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was saying. If he will say it again, I will decide whether it is in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The point of order is now a correct one. It is for the Chair to decide what is in order.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)
I very much respect the motives of the sponsors of the Bill. Indeed, I very much respect the sponsors themselves, and in particular the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). There are, however, three grounds on which I doubt whether it is advisable that the Bill should go forward.
First, the Bill would tend to make politics more impersonal. When I entered this House, I was surprised how very much hon. Members were individualists in their own right. It occurred to me that few of them were very like their own constituents but that almost all the types which exist all over the country were represented here. Further, coming from the crude world of commerce, I was very impressed at the high quality of Members on both sides: I was impressed that it was possible to recruit such people, bearing in mind the pay, conditions, and hours here. I feel that if politics is to be depersonalised by the 843 attachment of labels, we shall lose a great deal of that individualism.
Secondly, I should regret the Bill on personal grounds. My name is Smith. Furthermore, my Christian name is John. In the course of time this has given rise to various incidents, some good and some bad. For example, I was demobilised out of turn at the end of the war by a clerical error. I received a telegram saying, "Are you willing to accept release as an art student?" As I was willing to accept release in any guise, I replied, "Yes" and was demobilised. I have often wondered where the bearded and chafing John Smith, who was an art student and who should have been released, eventually got to.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that we could have solved that by putting a party label around the hon. Member as the Bill proposes.
§ Mr. Smith
When there is an election in my constituency, I feel—too modestly, perhaps—that my name is better without a party label. I consider that the more thoughtful and sensible of my constituents, the Conservatives, will know the name of their candidate and will vote for me; whereas the rest of my constituents who do not know the names of any of the candidates will probably think that a candidate called John Smith may be the one for them. On those grounds alone, I should regret the passing of the Bill.
The Bill seems to me to have further imperfections. It is introduced as an aid to the electors, but in my view the British people are already over-guided on life's journey, and I am not in favour of aiding the electors any more in this particular way.
§ Captain W. Elliot
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that this Bill also covers local elections at which there are many more candidates than at Parliamentary elections?
§ Mr. Coe
If the hon. Member had been here to listen to my speech he would 844 have heard me deal with that point. We are trying in the Bill to use the word "political" in its widest sense. Rather than the candidate giving his political allegiance in the narrow sense, we are trying to include other associations. That is the reason for the phrase "political or other allegiance".
§ Mr. Smith
I apologise that I did not hear the hon. Member's speech. The Bill was reached earlier than I had expected.
I now turn to the third and last point which I should like to make about the Bill. The political parties are to be registeredby the names by which they are commonly knownand the Registrar, who is to be the Registrar of Friendly Societies, is tohave discretion to refuse such registration if the name of the political party or association is in the opinion of the Registrar…identical with the name of any political party or association which is already registered…I think that this will give rise to serious legal difficulties. I shall paraphrase very briefly, if I may, the report which I have here of a case in 1927 In re MacAlister—Runciman, Simon, and George v. Prim. This was an action in the Probate Division arising out of the will of Miss Mary MacAlister, who left a large legacy to the Liberal Party. In his judgment, the judge said,The defendant, Mr. Prim, is the executor of a Miss MacAlister, and the several plaintiffs are thirteen persons, each of whom asks for a declaration that he is or represents 'the Liberal Party' and is therefore the proper recipient of a large legacy. The testatrix…did not describe the object of her bounty in terms of greater precision, but it is unfortunate; and testators would do well to provide some indication of the particular Liberal Party which they have in mind…It has been proved in evidence before me that there are five main Liberal parties, and the relations between them are such that no one of the parties"—this is intended I think in jest—will willingly share a taxi with any other…This being so, the efforts which I made to bring about a compromise between the parties were naturally unsuccessful…I was asked…to base my decision on considerations of principle, and to say that the Liberal Party is the Liberal Party which preserves intact…the banner of the true Liberal faith.But when the judge followed this line of inquiry, he said, he was disappointed 845 to find that each of the plaintiffs claimed that position. He continued,Again, I have found it difficult to arrive at any clear definition of political principle. The evidence on the whole goes to show that a man who has made up his mind on a given subject twenty-five years ago and continues to hold his political opinions after he has been proved to be wrong, is a man of principle; while he who from time to time adapts his opinions to the changing circumstances of life is an opportunist.He added:These observations, however, have advanced me very little towards a just disposition of the dead woman's property. The plaintiff George and others invited me to ignore the question of principle and direct my mind to the realities of the situation.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is not in order to read speeches although he may use copious notes.
§ Mr. Smith
I am paraphrasing this case. It is a brief and almost concluded extract from this report.
The judge continued:I have therefore turned my attention in another direction, which was suggested by one of the plaintiffs…who confesses frankly that the Liberal Party which he represents is a party of one".That plaintiff's point of view was that there must at one time have been some connection between the Liberal Party and the idea of liberty. He called evidence to show that the testatrix was herself a lover of liberty and resisted strenuously actions roughly classed as interference. He described the particular plaintiff's policy. His own programme was simple—it is interesting that this occurred in 1927—for this plaintiff who claimed to be the Liberal Party wished to introduce bills to amend the law relating to divorce, lotteries and gaming and Sunday entertainment.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are not discussing the whole history of the Liberal Party or the question to whom the money should have gone. The hon. Member must come to the subject of the debate.
§ Mr. Smith
The point is that the judge was faced with 13 plaintiffs, all of whom claimed to be the Liberal Party. In the end he decided in favour of the plaintiff who did not wish to pass further legislation but simply wished to repeal legislation. I mention that only in passing.
846 The point of this case is that serious difficulties are bound to arise of interpretation and of claims to the names of old and in some cases, indeed, extinct parties. On those three grounds, I hope that the House will have further thoughts about this Bill.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I want to intervene briefly. I know that hon. Members want to move on to another subject, and I will therefore say very briefly what I want to say against the Bill.
Whatever the merits of the Bill, which I oppose, it is oddly timed. I do not get a strong impression of the public desire for closer political affiliations and identifications. On the contrary, I rather get an impression that they object not so much to us as to our parties. This is a curious moment, in a way, to increase what I sense to be a certain public disenchantment with political parties in general and to make us more easily rather than less easily identifiable with them when we go to a General Election.
I have two main objections to the Bill. First—I will not labour the point—[...]is should not be tackled piecemeal but should form part of the wider electoral reform Measure which we shall eventually have, according to the Under-Secretary. There are objections to taking one item, and some of us can think of matters which are even more important. I, too, object to canvassers importuning people outside polling stations, and it is odd that they should survive.
My second major objection is that the Rill would have bad consequences. One example is that there will be many more spoiled ballot papers. At the last election there were 400 in my constituency, which I think is a reasonable average. In most constituencies this presents problems for the returning officer and the two agents. I think that this number will increase under the Bill.
I agree that the obligation is squarely on the parties to make their candidate known. My agent in my first election had a simple slogan, "Deedes is Conservative". He said nothing else during the campaign, and it did not have bad results. I do not suggest that everyone should carry that kind of slogan, but there are worse ways of asserting oneself in one's 847 first constituency. Tying on labels does not affect public indifference or apathy. The minority who trouble to inquire about the identity of a candidate may, indeed, be discouraged from doing so.
Finally, I hope that we can keep the personal element in elections. I would not dream of claiming 500 personal votes as one of my hon. Friends rather presumptuously did. I should never put it higher than 100, including my friends and relations. But the personal element counts for a great deal. After all, we all disband our associations before entering an election, and for good reason. The party organisation keeps out of the elections, and the candidate fights as an individual, although we know that he has a machine behind him.
It is difficult enough for individual candidates to keep their heads above water in elections. With television appearances by leaders, broadcasts and other diversions, it is difficult to present oneself to the electors as an individual. The tendency today is to blanket all election representation with the names of the larger parties.
At the end, when we are successful, we undertake to represent all concerned in the constituency. Although this is a detail, it must be borne in mind. So it is not a bad idea that the individual should fight as an individual. The Bill would be a move towards elevating organisational politics, and one thing with which the public are disenchanted at the moment is organisation and organisation men in politics.
Therefore, if there is some misunderstanding, those of us who are not clearly identifiable—like my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith)—may suffer some handicaps, but, at the risk of misidentification, I would prefer to fight future elections under my name and my name alone. For those reasons, I oppose the Bill.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
When I fought my first election, I was privileged to replace in the House a very experienced, distinguished and cunning politician, the late Lord Crookshank. At the beginning of the campaign he told me 848 that the most important thing was to tell people, "Vote for Kimball, the middle name on the ballot paper." His name, beginning with a "C", always succeeded in being first on the ballot paper in the 20 years that he represented the constituency.
It amazes me that at by-elections, so many candidates do not tell the electorate where their names appear in order on the ballot papers. I am sure that it is easy for people to think, when introduced to a candidate, "I shall forget his name." But if one said at the end, "I know that I can count on your vote: mine is the middle name on the ballot paper", that simple electioneering exercise would be very successful. Indeed, my predecessor was so successful in getting his personality across by these methods that when the electors of Gains-borough faced a by-election in 1956 many still had out on polling day notices bearing the legend "Vote for Crookshank today." So there must be something in the contention that one can get one's name across without party labels on the ballot paper—
§ Dr. Ernest A. Davies
Am I to understand from the hon. Gentleman's argument that, rather than having his party affiliation on the ballot paper—something of which I can see that hon. Gentlemen opposite might not be very proud—he would be prepared to be reduced to a number in the order on the ballot paper? That is an odd way of asserting one's individuality.
§ Mr. Kimball
That is a most interesting interjection. We have at the present time an interesting experiment going on in which the well-known London telephone letter codes are being changed to numbers. I should hate to think that the ballot paper would just be made up of numbers, but we may be forced to that position if we are to proceed to the computerised age.
My argument is that it is perfectly possible for a candidate to get his name across to the electorate. If he cannot do so, it is possible for him to make it perfectly clear, through his helpers and agent, that people wishing to support his party should vote for the first, second or third name on the ballot paper.
The Under-Secretary of State has made it clear that there is very little evidence 849 of substantial objection to the present system, but the debate has shown that on both sides there are many objections to the system proposed by the Bill. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) referred to spoiled ballot papers. Because of the way my name is made up I probably get a very considerable share of spoiled papers: it needs only a little use of a pencil to make a telling remark on the ballot paper—
§ Mr. Kimball
They were not necessarily lost votes. It is not necessary to vote for all the candidates of one party. A voter might feel that some of the candidates of his party did not warrant his support. The way to ensure that one's friends get in is to abstain from voting for those candidates whom one does not like, even though they are of one's own party.
A danger is that it will not be very difficult for anyone to register a party. We might enter into serious trouble over race relations. What is to stop someone registering an All-White Alliance? That sort of thing would be a very undesirable tendency. We have discussed whether religious beliefs should be put on the ballot paper. I hope that, if the Bill gets a Second Reading, it will be made clear in the Standing Committee that no steps whatever in that direction will be taken.
Political parties would be registrable, but how should we deal with, say, the National Farmers' Union, if it decided to run candidates? The N.F.U. in London might be one of the organisations that would be allowed by the Bill to register farmer candidates, but, unfortunately, the N.F.U. has a number of breakaway unions. What would be the position of someone wishing to stand as a candidate for the Welsh N.F.U., which is a breakaway?
Clause 6(2) states:This Act, in its application to parliamentary elections, shall extend to Northern Ireland.850 Does that mean that in elections for the Parliament of Northern Ireland candidates would have to put the party name on the ballot paper, or would that requirement apply only to the election of Ulster Members to the United Kingdom Parliament?
The hon. Member has done a valuable service by providing an opportunity for an interesting debate on a very important topic, but I hope that we shall not proceed much further with the Bill. I shall certainly vote for the Bill going into Committee because it might be an advantage to go into it in greater detail, but I should not like to see the individual suppressed any more by the party machine.
We all know that when he gets here or on to a council an individual must accept the party Whip, but from the point of view of the electorate and the constituency the party cannot represent the local interest. How many times, even if he is in receipt of the party Whip, is it necessary for an hon. Member to make a plea for special interests affecting his constituency? It is important that hon. Members should be returned by their own names in support of the party they are sent here to support but on their own merit and not just on their party's merit.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The House will know and I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will agree, that it is not my habit to intervene in debates when it has not been possible for me to be present during the earlier stages. It was only a thoroughly unexpected call on my personal services by a constituent which kept me away from the Chamber when the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) was moving the Second Reading of his Bill. I apologise to him for being absent then.
I want to oppose the Bill and, for the record, to explain my reasons. There is very great enthusiasm for this Bill among many of my supporters in the Conservative Party. They find that there is often confusion, or they fear there may be confusion, on the part of electors when they vote for candidates in multi-member constituencies such as there are at the moment in the Greater London Council area. I do not think the multi-member confusion is a telling argument simply because it happens to prevail at the 851 moment because that arrangement will be coming to an end very shortly. We hope that the proper individual representation of constituencies by individual members returned by the electorate will be resumed in the case of Greater London Council as soon as the constituencies are delineated.
I nevertheless have sympathy with the difficulties that supporters of political parties feel they suffer in making their candidates known to the public. Their enthusiasm is very welcome to candidates even though it reflects somewhat on the candidate's own inadequacy, but I think hon. Members should always want to pay great regard to the interests of their supporters and their anxieties. I tabled a motion at the last Conservative Party conference which was designed to achieve the objects of this Bill although I would not have wanted to do it in this way. I think it can be done in another way. I think there is a fundamental objection in principle to having the names of the parties as distinct from and in addition to the names of candidates on the ballot paper.
It is a constitutional principle that this country's affairs are regulated by the Government under the general surveillance of Parliament which is supreme. Parliament consists of hon. Members who are returned on the principle of individual representation of constituencies. We do not in fact represent large constituencies along with other hon. Members. To revert to that principle more than for a short time as in the case of the Greater London Council would be a bad democratic practice. It is neat arithmetically and of course it is one of the arguments which enthusiasts for proportional representation often put forward. But I do not think that the arithmetical argument is as important as the democratic multi-member—
§ Mr. Iremonger
With respect, I was mentioning this because it is a telling argument in favour of the Bill that there are multi-member constituencies in Greater London at the moment, and the view has been put to Mr. Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform that propor- 852 tional representation should be adopted as the principle on which our elections are—
§ Mr. Speaker
With respect, these are not matters within the Bill, which the hon. Member would have known had he been here.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Now that you, Mr. Speaker, are ruling that one may not discuss the difficulty, in the case of multimember constituencies—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We can indeed discuss the application of this Bill to multi-member constituencies, but we cannot discuss the constitution of multimember constituencies and proportional representation on Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am obliged for that clarification of the distinction. I am sorry if I have strayed from the strict path of order in mentioning that.
Whatever may be the merits of the application of multi-member constituencies to the Bill, I do not think that they outweigh the disadvantages of derogating from the duty of hon. Members to represent their constituencies when in the House or in any elected Chamber and, therefore, their duty to address themselves to their electorate in their personal capacities independently of their proposed allegiance to any political organisation when they are returned.
There is another way in which the confusion that might arise could be got round. I should prefer to see the law amended so that it was lawful for the names of candidates and any particular allegiance they wanted to make clear to the electorate to be displayed outside the polling station. One could have the name, candidate A, and the party, X, or whatever it might be, displayed so that the elector entering the polling booth was able to refresh his mind immediately before casting his vote. That would satisfy the requirements of political party supporters who are sometimes doubtful about the effectiveness of their promotion of their candidate's interest.
In my view, it is wrong for an individual to stand for election to an elected assembly on the basis that he is anything other than, more than, or less than himself. If he wants to make clear to the electorate 853 that he espouses a political cause or that his political actions will be based on some particular philosophy, it is his duty to hold public meetings or write articles in the Press and make known his views by any other means he thinks suitable. It is wrong for him to be able to shelter behind the ballot paper doing his campaigning for him. If he cannot get himself and his policy across, he will have to abide by the resulting confusion and possible loss of support. In my election addresses I always make it clear that I stand for the principles of the Conservative Party but I make my election address a personal one.
My view is that parties are created by their members. Parties do not dictate the views which their members hold or their actions in voting in accordance with their best judgment when they are returned. I do not want to see a member returned to any assembly on the basis that he is a party man. A party man who changes his mind when he has been elected does not have the freedom of the man who, when he puts himself up for election, says that tie proposes, subject to any change of mind that he might have, to support the policy of any particular party.
The Bill would bring into the British Constitution for the first time recognition of political parties in the House. You, Mr. Speaker, take no recognition of parties whatsoever. Right hon. Members on the Front Bench on either side of the House who give guidance to their hon. Friends have no official standing. I have thought it a somewhat heretical tendency when Leaders of the House of both parties have referred, and allowed other hon. Members to refer, to the Whip. When the Leader of the House has been heard to refer to a free vote it has seemed to me intolerable that the House should be asked to accept, even by implication, a state of affairs which has no constitutional existence.
§ Mr. Iremonger
If we pass a Bill which recognises the existence of parties, which the Howe does not in its procedure, we shall bring about a constitutional change of the first magnitude. Therefore, we should not give a Second Reading to the Bill without looking into the con- 854 stitutional principles and implications that might underlie it.
A person might well want to stand as an anti-party candidate. Under the Bill he could leave a blank where the name of his party would appear, but, if a party candidate is entitled to put his party allegiance, simply leaving a blank would not do justice to the anti-party candidate's devotion to his cause. All-party alliance candidate who stands in various by-elections—and it is a very good thing that he should—is in fact an anti-party candidate. His policy is based on the proposition that political parties are obnoxious and against the country's general interest. The Bill would require him either to fail to make his political dogma clear or to commit himself to an allegiance which he did not feel, based on a principle he opposed.
There will be very great difficulties in the registration of parties. What would have happened, for example, in the 1880s, when Joseph Chamberlain, leading the radical wing of the Liberal Party, left the party on the issue of the union of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom? He formed the Unionist Party, entered into an alliance with the Conservative Party during the life of the Parliament, and then stood as a Unionist, with his followers also standing as Unionists, in support of the Conservative Party in the following election. If such circumstances were repeated the Bill would introduce far more confusion into the minds of the electors than there could be today in asking them to remember, or be reminded at the door of the polling booth, who stands for what.
We should also closely examine the suggestion of introducing political allegiances into the law because there are, or should be, candidates who want to stand not in support of a party or programme but on one single political proposition such as opposing the war in Vietnam. To opponents of mine who attack me at election meetings, as they are perfectly entitled and welcome to do on the grounds that I should be opposing the war in Vietnam, I say that if they want to oppose it, to oppose the Americans and to ask the British electorate to do so their remedy is to stand for Parliament themselves as anti-American, anti-Vietnam war candidates. They cannot stand as Labour 855 candidates because the Labour Government support the Americans in the Vietnam War. If we are to have political parties registered and there is a wing of a political party corresponding to Joseph Chamberlain's wing of the Liberal Party in the old days which is anti-American and wishes to support the Viet Cong, its candidates should be enabled to stand on their policy without being deprived of what other candidates would have, namely, a party label which would give them a special status on the ballot paper.
What happens if a Member returned as a party candidate resigns the Whip in the middle of a Parliament or—it would not happen on this side, but it might happen any day on the opposite side—is expelled from the party and deprived of the Whip?
§ Mr. W. S. Hilton (Bethnal Green)
I have noted the considerable anguish expressed by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends about the Bill. Would the hon. Gentleman be satisfied if I told him that his arguments had convinced me and I was able to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) to withdraw the Bill?
§ Mr. Iremonger
With respect, the hon. Gentleman must not answer for his hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich is at liberty at any moment to rise and tell Mr. Speaker that he has decided to withdraw the Bill, which, of course, would fulfil the object of all those of us who oppose it. I invite the hon. Gentleman to do just that. I shall instantly give way to him if he intervenes. But if he does not wish to withdraw the Bill—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman asks leave to speak again in order, I gather, to withdraw the Bill. He may not do that because he may not have the Floor so long as any hon. Member objects.
§ Mr. Ennals
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is clear that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) 856 knew perfectly well that my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) was prepared to withdraw the Bill, and he is simply dragging out the debate. He was not here when the debate began. Is it in order for hon. Members to continue in that way?
§ Mr. Heffer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I noticed—perhaps you could give me guidance on this—that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who called a Count earlier—presumably because he wanted the proceedings to collapse—objected to the ending of this debate when my hon. Friend wished to withdraw the Bill. Are the rights of other private Members being protected at this stage?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Chair may not do anything which is out of order, and nothing is happening at the moment which is out of order.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was not only my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) who objected to the withdrawal of the Bill. I also objected. Moreover, if you will allow me to proceed, Sir, I oppose the Bill—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make a speech under the guise of a point of order. The Chair is not interested in whether one, two or a dozen hon. Members object to withdrawal. If one objects to withdrawal, the objection is taken.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I realise that order is frequently irksome to hon. Members. It is frequently irksome to me, if I may say so, but order is order and perhaps it is, on balance, better than disorder. If I am in order, I am entitled to the protection of the House in adding a few further comments on what is, after all, an important constitutional issue.
I was coming to a conclusion on the point which I was making about an hon. Member who resigns the Whip or is expelled. If an hon. Member had been returned to the House as a party Member and then during the Parliament either resigned the Whip or was expelled from his party, he would face a moral choice 857 which would not face him now whether he should resign his seat. At present, an lion. Member is returned to the House and until death or disqualification he remains a Member, and he is in perfectly good conscience in so doing, whatever may happen. If, on the other hand, he is returned to the House not as himself but as himself with a label attached and he then ceases to have that label attached, he has not been returned to the House in his second character and he ought to resign his seat. We should, therefore, be derogating in a further respect from the fundamental and central principle of personal representation in the House.
I invite the House to note the view of the Greater London Council as recorded in the minutes of its meeting on 18th July, 1967. In the report of the General Purposes Committee, it was said:The chairman…promised that he would consider the suggestion that ballot papers should show the party allegiance of each candidate".The minutes went on:In the great majority of cases there would be no difficulty in deciding what party should appear beside a candidate's name, though in a few cases there would. There would also need to be some system of patenting the names of parties so that only candidates who complied with the revelant regulations could use those names. This could bring intervention by Parliament into the internal affairs of political parties".That is an extremely shrewd and penetrating observation. The report went on:The Speaker's Conference has decided against showing party allegiance on ballot papers, etc., and although leave has been given for the introduction of a private member's Bill to change this there is considerable doubt when a decision on it will be reached. We do not propose to offer any observations on the question.Then it makes certain observations with which I will not weary the House because they cover the point about multi-member constituencies which you have ruled out of order, Mr. Speaker.
When the recommendation of the General Purposes Committee was moved in a sense contrary to that of the promoter of the Bill, an amendment was moved by a member of the Council that the following words should be added:and to make provision at an early date so that ballot papers shall show the party allegiance (if any) of a candidate.858 That Amendment was defeated. We should take note that the Greater London Council, which in its own immediate experience has encountered the most stringent exercise in confusion on ballot papers, has actually refused to take any action to promote the purposes of the Bill. On every possible ground it would be misguided of the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill. I hope that the Opposition to it will be shown either by its withdrawal or by the House dividing upon it and refusing it a Second Reading.
§ 3.32 p.m.
Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
I also apologise to the promoter of the Bill the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe), for not having been present throughout all the debate, but I congratulate him on having produced a valuable Bill, which I support. I should be sorry if he tried to withdraw it because I believe that it is needed in the country even though I should have preferred it to be brought forward as a Government Measure.
I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his courage in bringing forward a Bill like this, because anyone who, at this moment, suggests that at the next election Labour candidates should have the word "Labour" after their names is very brave. Be that as it may, I sympathise with the Bill largely because of a personal difficulty I had at the last election when I saw how necessary it is to have a party label. My main opponent was Mr. Walter Dalgleish and his name appeared accordingly on the ballot paper. Mine appeared as Walter John Dalkeith—and Dalgleish and Dalkeith are slightly confusing. It is not like having two Smiths. These are slightly less usual names and when they are close together look very much the same. I know for a fact that in the election there was a tremendous amount of confusion. Had it not been for that confusion, perhaps I should not be here now. However, I have strong experience which prompts me to support the Bill. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not withdraw it, because it is necessary.
I turn to the question of local government elections, particularly in Scotland. This is referred to in the Bill, which I understand is permissive in this sense. There is a problem in that in Scottish 859 country districts party politics do not arise. It would be most undesirable to do anything which might encourage candidates at local elections in Scottish country districts to break away from the tradition of having the best possible people elected on their merits and having nothing to do with party politics. I should, therefore, like the Government spokesmen, when he winds up the debate, to stress that this would be permissive and not compulsory.
§ Mr. Ennals
Had the hon. Gentleman been here, he would have known that I had already contributed to the debate.
Earl of Dalkeith
I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would add something on this aspect, which merits a certain emphasis.
On the whole, this is a sensible Bill, and I hope that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich will press on with it.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Hilton (Bethnal Green)
One of the things of which the debate has convinced me has been the correctness of the Labour movement's interpretation of historical facts in relation to the political climate which we have suffered in this country. We were always told that a democratic concept was alien to the Conservative Party. If the debate today has proved anything, it has proved categorically that that is still the position. Hon. Members opposite believe that anything which can keep the electors in a state of ignorance will redound to the political advantage of the Conservative Party. I will not go over what we have suffered throughout the history of democracy from attempts to keep electors from getting the information which they ought to have. The attitude of hon. Members opposite in opposing the Bill shows that they have nothing to learn from their far from illustrious predecessors about preventing vital information being given to the electors to help them form a sound judgment.
§ Mr. Hilton
No, I certainly will not. We have had to listen to many speeches from hon. Members opposite who hardly understood what they were talking about 860 and had no idea of what had happened in the debate because they have come into the Chamber only at the last moment. If they believe that it is a disadvantage for the electors to have full information, at least they are consistent in that they themsleves have very little information about what has happened earlier in the debate. Their contributions have shown a narrow attitude to the country's political development.
§ Mr. Hilton
We have been told from the benches opposite that it would be a great disadvantage to have a candidate's political tag following his name on a ballot paper, but hon. Members opposite spend thousands of pounds in total throughout the country trying to rectify the disadvantage of not having stated political affiliation by having their supporters outside electoral booths with their own mock election ballot papers showing the candidate's name and political affiliation. They spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to rectify a disadvantage which today they claim to be an advantage.
§ Mr. Hilton
It would be an education to the people of this country if we could send them free copies of today's HANSARD showing the unedifying spectacle of today's so-called democratic forum in which hon. Members have made impassioned speeches to maintain life in a Bill which they oppose knowing that it has already been given up by its sponsor. If that is their concept of enlightened democracy, I am happy that they sit on the opposite side of the House.
§ Mr. Hilton
I have been here all day and the hon. Gentleman has only recently come into the Chamber.
As far as I am concerned, one of the great disadvantages in any constituency election—and I am speaking as one with experience of about six or seven as a full-time agent or as a candidate or working in other elections—is the fact that one often cannot convey sufficiently to the electors, during the period of the 861 election the candidate's political affiliation. Is it not a fact that the electors are making up their minds on the basis of a political philosophy? Especially in today's circumstances with television and the Press and other public media, which is much greater than in the past, they are doing so not so much on the basis of the individual candidate in their constituency—who sometimes attracts an election audience which would easily fit into a taxicab—as on the basis of the speeches made by national leaders on television and national philosophies as expounded through the Press.
The electors have, therefore, decided, in my opinion rightly, that they want a particular programme carried into effect, and, therefore, the political allegiance of the candidate is of great importance, far more important than the candidate's name. It has been said that if one puts up an ape in some areas for the Conservative Party it would be elected. We have had ample proof that this is so in today's debate.
If hon. Members opposite were to examine this matter from the point of view of their own electoral machine, and what would give their supporters and the supporters of any political party greater information on the electoral position of candidates, they would be supporting the Bill. Yet nearly every speech from the benches opposite has been against the Bill. My hon. Friend has offered to withdraw it, having been persuaded by the eloquence of the speeches, or perhaps disgusted by them and hoping to cut them short. Upon offering to withdraw the Bill he has found that no greater supporters for keeping it in existence are to be found in this House than among hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I said that I believe that the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite is anti-democratic, and in the context of what has happened today we have seen that it is not only towards this Bill that their attitude is anti-democratic. They are using the Bill completely to block all other Measures coming from private Members. The debate has proved to those of us on this side of the House who came in only at the last election that what we have been told for many years about the cynicism which is sometimes to be found—we have not wished to accept it, believing that this is still a democratic 862 forum of honour and made up of people who are sincere—can be true. We have today seen evidence of this from the Opposition benches, and we shall know how to conduct ourselves in future.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
It is some time since we have heard such rubbish as has been spoken by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton). He seemed to forget that my noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) had been speaking in favour of the Bill. I rise to speak in favour of the Bill, and I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not having been here throughout the discussion, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do me the honour—
§ Mr. Iremonger
On a point of order. Am I not right in thinking that the word "" is unparliamentary, and the hon. Member should be asked to withdraw it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sidney Irving)
Unfortunately I did not hear, but if it is applied directly to an individual, yes, it is regarded in Erskine May as an unparliamentary word, and if the hon. Gentleman used it he should withdraw.
§ Mr. Ennals
Further to that point of order. If it is applied to a group of hon. Gentlemen is it still out of order?
§ Mr. Iremonger
Further to that point of order. The hon. Member who had the Floor said that hon. Members who had spoken, including himself, had spoken for certain reasons, thereby identifying them individually, and the hon. Member opposite said "hypocrites" in respect of what they had done. Therefore, to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order, The hon. Gentleman has assisted me. I am now clear about the matter. What the hon. Gentleman said was not out of order.
§ Mr. Hilton
Perhaps I should explain that I applied the word "hypocrites", not to two hon. Members opposite, but to 863 every member of the Opposition who had spoken.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am in a very benevolent mood towards hon. Members opposite because I have seen them in a more sensible mood on other days this week, including some Members sitting on the benches opposite now. I am prepared to ignore the irrelevant remarks made about me and my hon. Friends.
I wished to say something constructive. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is a neighbour of mine politically. In many ways, in our county of Kent, there is not all that difference between the philosophy which he expresses and the philosophy which my party expresses. I joined the Minister in the Lobby recently on a Bill which is supported. But there is a fundamental difference in the real philosophy which divides the two main parties in the House.
I support the Bill because I feel that, despite all the communication in this country today in politics, and particularly during elections, there is still some confusion at the ballot box, and I should like that confusion, even if it is only slight, to be removed. I am glad that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) has introduced the Bill, because it gives us an opportunity of expressing our opinion. When a person has been a Member of the House and has been identified with a political philosophy and political party for many years, there is no doubt about the philosophy and political belief to which he subscribes. Even perhaps the most ignorant elector is sure how he votes when he reaches the ballot box. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), for example, would cause no confusion to 99.9 per cent. of the people who reach the ballot box in his constituency about the nature of his party, but they may well be confused about what he really stands for. Nevertheless, there is a special, and proper, advantage which the elector is entitled to have when he goes to the ballot box, and that is to be reminded, not that a person has a special name, but that a person with a name has a special philosophy and supports a certain party. To me, that is essential.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green spoke about the House of Commons being 864 a so-called democratic forum. I cannot think why he should be so sneering. He may have plenty of reasons for sneering, but there is only one place where he can find the origins for those reasons, and that is on his own Front Bench. It is the Government Front Bench which, in the last three years, has caused us to have some doubt about the true function of democracy and the true interpretation of it. When I heard the hon. Member use that phrase, I was most surprised, in view of his long experience of politics before he came here, that there were loose today anti-democratic feelings and even a movement.
The Bill is an expression of something at the very root of democracy. No one on this side of the House, whether he supports the Bill or not, wants to deceive anyone at the point of voting. I am confident that I speak for all my hon. Friends on this side in saying that they are proud to declare their philosophy and their party at any time there is an election and, above all, when the voting takes place.
I want to add very little except to say that the Bill would contribute to a positive declaration by candidates for Parliament and in local elections to the electorate that there is no deception during an election and at the point of election.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I had hoped to be speaking today on another Bill but as that opportunity will obviously not be granted to me, or to other hon. Members to speak on Bills in which they are interested, I felt that I should say a few words concerning the Bill and the contributions that we have heard particularly during the last hour.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) suggested that he was always proud of his political party. I remember that at the last election certain hon. Members opposite and their friends—some of them did not arrive back in this House—had their names in huge letters on all their election material and then, almost unnoticeable—one needed a microscope to find it—they added the word "Conservative". I got the impression that they were not particularly proud of their party on that occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Really!"] Yes. The material was there. Everybody knows it. That was very much in line with the view of the famous New York 865 politician who always used to say, "If your party is doing well, have the party's name in big letters. If it is doing badly, then have the name in small letters." That is a philosophy which hon. Members opposite understand very well and accept.
If hon. Members opposite genuinely believe that we should have a Bill of this kind, and if they believe that the name of the political party should be stated, why did they not come forward to do precisely that in the years when they had a majority? It has to be a Labour Party Member who brings this proposal forward, and it has to be represented as the Labour Party wanting the change.
Hon. Members opposite now realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) wishes to withdraw the Bill, but a number of them have come in during the last hour to say how much they are in favour of it.
§ Mr. Heffer
No. The hon. Member has only just come into the House. I am not prepared to give way to somebody who has arrived at seven minutes to four. My hon. Friends and I have been either in the House or just outside the Chamber all day, hoping to be able to speak on the Bills in which we are interested. We have not been given that opportunity, and I am not giving way to any hon. Member this afternoon.
§ Mr. Heffer
It could hardly be suggested by anybody who knows me that I am undemocratic. I am the very reverse of that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) must not use a point of order to make a contribution to the debate.
§ Mr. Heffer
If the hon. Member has been into the Chamber five times today, 866 then I certainly apologise to him. I know that he is interested in another Bill which we have not reached, because I heard him speak in support of that Bill on a previous occasion. Possibly, like myself, he wanted to take part in a debate on that Bill. Unfortunately, he will not have that opportunity, because we have had filibustering by hon. Members opposite—a tactic adopted deliberately to prevent discussion of certain other Bills. That is what we have experienced this afternoon, and I regard it as a complete negation of democracy.
I once read that the House of Commons was considered to be a talking shop and nothing else. I never accepted that argument. I always believed that hon. Members in debate put forward their point of view genuinely. Unfortunately, I have now come to the conclusion, after what we have heard today, that certain hon. Members have brought the House into disrepute by a policy of filibustering and have created a situation in which people outside the House can genuinely consider the House to be nothing but a talking shop.
I will come back to the Bill for a few moments. I intend to keep going until half-a-minute before Four o'clock, and will not give way to any Conservative Member, because we have had to sit here listening to one after another of them making innocuous and irrelevant speeches.
One hon. Member said that he thought that at the next election we should not want the name "Labour" on the ballot paper because we should be ashamed of it. Let me tell hon. Members opposite that I have never been ashamed and never will be ashamed of the name "Labour". "Labour" is an honourable name, and I am prepared at any time to have the name Labour next to my name on any ballot paper. I am proud of the Labour Party and always will be proud of the Labour Party. I am proud of the Labour Party because it represents a certain philosophy and a certain attitude of mind. It wants to change society so as to get rid of the class character of our society. Hon. Members opposite do not want that to happen. They want to maintain their class privileges and their class society. They want to maintain everything which 867 goes with the traditional Conservative society.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
On a point of order. Are the hon. Member's remarks relevant to the debate?
§ Mr. Heffer
My remarks are extremely relevant to the debate because I am showing why we ought to have "Labour" behind our names when we are standing on behalf of the Labour Party in any municipal or General Election. That is why I genuinely support the Bill, which unfortunately is not to be brought to a vote because my hon. Friend intends to withdraw it—which he wanted to do two hours ago, but under the rules of the House was not allowed to do because of objections by hon. Members opposite and because of filibustering.
I make this point seriously: we ought to have the names of the political parties on the ballot paper. It is a myth perpetuated by some hon. Members opposite that none of us here represents anybody other than himself. We all got here because we had a political organisation behind us. It is therefore very important that, sooner or later, this reform should be brought into operation.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
I oppose the Bill. It is one of those with a certain obvious appeal. One reason why it should have been discussed at length is the stupidity of its provisions if they are carried to their logical conclusion, as they would be by hundreds of political candidates—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.