HL Deb 20 December 1927 vol 69 cc1226-9

Read 3a(according to Order).

Clause 1:

Disqualification of persons surcharged more than five hundred pounds.

(3) If any person acts as a member of any local authority when disqualified under this section he shall for each offence be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds.

VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved, at the end of Clause 1, to insert "and any member who is presiding at a meeting of such authority and wilfully accepts the vote of any such disqualified person on any matter shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of a like amount and such vote shall be void and of no effect." The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have been informed that under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1875, people who aid and abet others to commit an offence are also liable to penalties. In this case I think it would be useful to the people themselves to know the position in which they are, and I propose, therefore, to put in what is really a short statement of the law so that they cannot pretend that they do not understand, nor can they make themselves out to be martyrs. It is fairer to them, I think, that they should know exactly the position in which they stand. If a chairman accepts the vote of a disqualified person I am not quite certain whether that vote would stand or not in law and I have added the words "and such vote shall be void and of no effect." The noble Marquess may say that having regard to the law the Amendment is not necessary; but I submit that, although it may not be necessary, it is advisable. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 18, at end insert the said new words.—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)


My Lords, I think there is a broad rule in legislation that anything that is not necessary is always inadvisable. If you enact things which are not necessary it raises a doubt about the other legislation to which those things are attached. The Court at once asks: "Why did Parliament legislate in that way and put in an unnecessary provision?" That throws doubt upon Parliament's work. So, broadly speaking, I think I am right when I say in your Lordships' hearing that whenever a thing is unnecessary it ought never to be put into a Bill. When I come to consider my noble friend's Amendment I find it has two points. He is afraid, in the first place, lest these disqualified councillors should vote notwithstanding and that their votes should be valid. As I am informed, there is no question about it: the vote of a disqualified councillor is void. It does not matter in the least whether the chairman accepts his vote or not, it is void. It is essentially void and nothing can make it valid. Therefore, all that part of my noble friend's Amendment is unnecessary.

When we come to the other point as to whether the chairman who admits an invalid vote ought to be punished other considerations apply. We have some experience in this matter because this is not the first time that members of local authorities have become disqualified by actions of their own which have rendered them liable to that penalty under the law. It happens in respect of other matters. For example, if a member of a local authority is a party to a contract in which that local authority is engaged and he nevertheless acts he may be disqualified. I have not the exact provision in mind but that is the kind of thing. The councillor being disqualified under the law—and there are many such cases—the noble Viscount says that the chairman who admits his vote ought to be punished. In the practice of local government we have found no such thing. It happens though not continually, because there are not many councillors who are delinquent; but where there is a councillor who is delinquent in these specific matters he is disqualified and there is no difficulty in respect of the chairman in those circumstances. We do not find that chairmen allow a void vote to be registered and, consequently, there is no difficulty.

All that it comes to, then, is that my noble friend would like to provide by a penalty against the chairman against the possibility of such a happening. I think it is unnecessary. We need not undertake such legislation unless a case is shown for it. Supposing it was shown that chairmen in such circumstances were likely to make a mistake of that kind—to make a mistake on purpose—then my noble friend would have made a case for his Amendment. But as things stand it is better not to carry it further than is absolutely necessary in order to meet the difficulties with which this legislation is intended to deal. That is done. I think I have shown that one half of my noble friend's Amendment is unnecessary and that the other cannot be defended in any instance that he can give. On those two broad grounds I ask him not to persist in his Amendment.


My Lords, after the very lucid statement of the noble Marquess I, of course, withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill passed.