HC Deb 02 July 1973 vol 859 cc210-3

12 midnight.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I beg to move, That the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th June, be approved. The order simply amends Regulation 21 of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 1969. It provides that a Member representing a Scottish constituency should receive from the electoral registration officer on request a free copy of the electoral register for his constituency.

A similar provision for England and Wales was debated on 26th February and came into operation on 19th March.

12.1 a.m.

Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I wish to ask my hon. Friend three brief questions.

It appears that the order makes an unusual use of the powers contained in Section 42 of the principal Act. That relates to the form and procedure of the lists and does not relate to their distribution. Section 171(5) is a mere definition, and Schedule 4 relates to the publication or the provision of these lists in a public place. At a time when so many orders are coming before the House, it is important to discover whether an unusual use is being made of powers. At one time, we had a committee specifically looking at these matters.

Secondly, as the order is to come into operation very soon, can my hon. Friend say whether it relates to old constituencies or new ones? Whereas it is true that at the next election Members will be fighting on the basis of constituencies different from those which they now represent, many of us now represent people who, if we are successful at the next election, we shall not represent. It is obviously of great help to us to have lists of our existing constituents available. Can my hon. Friend say whether this regulation will relate to our existing constituencies?

Thirdly, the order puts an obligation on the registration officer, on being requested, to supply one copy to the Member of Parliament for each constituency. Does that mean one copy of the register in the duration of a Parliament, or one copy whenever a Member asks for one?

I have raised three detailed points. My main concern, however, is that the order appears to make an unusual use of the powers in Section 42 which relates only to form and procedure. I shall be grateful for my hon. Friend's comments.

12.4 a.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am pleased to respond to my hon. Friend's questions.

On the use of powers, I ask my hon. Friend to refer to Statutory Instrument No. 912 of 1969, the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations, No. 21 of which contains power, in certain circumstances, for the registration officer to supply copies of registers to people. No new power is being granted to the registration officer. It is just that he can use the power to give copies of the register to Members of Parliament in addition to those to whom he can already give it.

As Regulation No. 21 stands, copies can be supplied to candidates and prospective candidates at parliamentary elections, but those copies, which are used in connection with the election campaign, are usually supplied to the election agent, and the Member himself may or may not receive a copy.

It was my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) who drew attention to the matter earlier, and it is as a result of his suggestion to the Government that the regulation has been introduced.

Mr. Edward Taylor

That is exactly the point I was making. My hon. Friend is pointing out that the powers that are being used are in a regulation that was passed by the House under the Act, and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments drew attention to the unusual use of powers that relate to powers stemming from a regulation that stemmed from an Act. In other words, this is delegated legislation at the second step and not at the first step, which appears to be rather unusual.

As the order refers solely to powers conferred under Sections 42 and 171, and not to powers conferred by a regulation, this would appear to be a very unusual set of circumstances—certainly one that has been deprecated in the House before.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

My hon. Friend is the first person to raise this point. I should not have thought that it particularly concerns or worries the House. It is very much to the convenience of hon. Members, and I do not see any abuse of the power. Certainly, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not drawn attention to the regulations.

My hon. Friend asked two other more detailed questions. He asked to what constituencies the regulation would apply. It is for the constituencies for which people stand that the copies will be made available; it applies to the existing constituencies. Members will be able to get a copy for each time the register is issued, which is annually.

I believe that the regulation will be helpful to hon. Members. It was much welcomed by hon. Members for England and Wales when the matter was debated earlier. I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that they will find it useful in the exercise of their parliamentary duties.

Mr. Taylor

One final point—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already made his intervention at some length.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) has raised the question whether the instrument has been examined by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments to ascertain whether the Minister is in this case making an unusual use of powers, perhaps I, as Chairman of the Committee, may say that it has been examined by the Committee, which determined not to draw the instrument to the special attention of the House because it is of the opinion that the instrument in no way breaches any of the matters which are within its terms of reference.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th June, be approved.

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