HL Deb 09 July 1931 vol 81 cc751-9

Alternative Vote Rules.

1. A voter at any election conducted in accordance with these rules—

  1. (a) may indicate the candidate who is his first choice by placing the figure 1 or the mark "X" on his ballot paper opposite the name of that candidate, and any ballot paper so marked shall be counted as a first preference vote given to that candidate;
  2. (b) he may also place the figure 2 opposite the name of the candidate whom he would prefer if the candidate, who is his first choice, cannot be elected, and in cases where there are more than three candidates, may similarly indicate his subsequent preferences by the figures 3 or 4 and so on opposite the names of further candidates.

2.—(1) If on the counting of the votes a candidate receives an absolute majority of first preference votes, that candidate shall be declared elected.

(2) If no candidate has received an absolute majority of first preference votes, the candidate who has received the smallest number of first preference votes shall be excluded, and each ballot paper counted to him which indicates a second choice for one of the unexcluded candidates shall be transferred to, and counted as a vote given to, that other candidate, and the candi- date who receives an absolute majority of the votes reckoned at that count shall be declared elected.

(3) If still no candidate has received an absolute majority of the votes, the process of excluding the candidate who has received the smallest number of votes and of transferring to that one of the unexcluded candidates next in order of the voter's preference such of the ballot papers counted to the last excluded candidate as indicate second or subsequent choices for that unexcluded candidate and of counting ballot papers so transferred as votes given to the candidate to whom they are transferred shall be continued by means of succeeding counts until one candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes reckoned at the count, or until only two candidates remain unexcluded.

(4) The candidate who receives an absolute majority of the votes reckoned at any count shall be declared elected.

(5) The votes reckoned at any count in respect of any candidate shall be taken to be the votes counted to that candidate at the previous count with the addition of the votes transferred to him at the count in question.

(6) If at any time two or more candidates, one of whom ought to be excluded, have an equal number of votes, that candidate shall be excluded who has the greater number of transferred votes, but if there is no difference in this respect between the candidates, the returning officer shall determine which of them shall he excluded.

(7) If on the final count at which only two candidates remain unexcluded there is an equality of votes, that candidate shall be declared elected who has the greater number of first preference votes, but if there is no difference in this respect between the two candidates the returning officer, if a registered elector for the constituency, may give a vote to one of the candidates, and that candidate shall be declared elected.

(8) Nothing in these rules shall require the returning officer to reject as invalid or void for uncertainty any ballot paper which is so marked as to indicate the intention of the voter to vote for any candidate as his first choice or to reject any ballot paper by reason only that no effective second or subsequent choice or a subsequent choice in excess of the valid number of preferences is indicated thereon.

LORD JESSEL moved, after paragraph 1, to insert: 2. At an election conducted in accordance with these rules, the counting of the votes shall not he commenced until nine o'clock in the forenoon of the day succeeding the day of election or if it is a Sunday until the next day. The noble Lord said: This is not a contentious Amendment at all. Its object is to provide in cases where the alternative vote procedure is adopted that the counting of the votes shall be postponed until the next day. I understand that under the First Schedule, Part 1, rule 35, of the Ballot Act, 1872, the returning officer is under no obligation to count the votes between the hours of 7.0 and 9.0 p.m. But in practice, so much pressure is brought to bear upon him that he often feels bound to proceed with the counting forthwith. Your Lordships the other day inserted a provision in a Bill that certain articles should not be lent by the Trustees of the British Museum and other high authorities which were prior in date to the 16th century. That provision was put into the Bill to protect them, if necessary, in taking that course. If such a provision was necessary in the case of these highly placed Peers and gentlemen in great positions as Trustees, it can be imagined how very difficult it is for a returning officer to refuse to count votes on the same night.

As I have said, this is not a contentious matter, but I think it would be for the benefit of everybody concerned. The election staff are all very tired after a very long day. At all events, it would relieve many people who are anxiously waiting to hear the result. They would be able to hear it the next morning comfortably instead of staying up all night to hear what had happened. In those circumstances, I venture to hope that the Government and your Lordships will accept this Amendment. I may point out that a similar Amendment was put on the Paper in another place, but I think the Home Secretary would not consider it because he had not heard the full representations of those concerned. I understand that both the Society of Clerks of Boroughs and the Association of Municipal Corporations are strongly in its favour. That, of course, is no argument if your Lordships do not wish to accept it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 16 at end insert the said new paragraph.—(Lord Jessel.)


As the noble Lord has said, this cannot be considered a contentious matter. I am sure it is not contentious nor is there any Party advantage to be got out of it. There are two views. It is true, as the noble Lord has said, that it would be for the convenience of those actually concerned in the work if they were not allowed to comply with the request of all the candidates and all the election agents that the counting should be done that night. On the other hand, I would say that if the noble Lord wanted to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number, he would not deprive them of the opportunity of hearing the result on election night. If his Amendment is carried, the results will dribble in during the afternoon of the following day when there will be no fun in it whatever. But as the object and purpose of a General Election, as I have tried to say more than once, is a much more serious matter than the joy of voting—namely, to determine whom the King shall select as his Ministers, I do not think we ought to be guided by the amount of pleasure that can be got out of it. The Government are not prepared to commit themselves, to this Amendment, but if your Lordships are inclined to adopt it the Government must reserve a free hand for reconsideration of the matter in another place. I do not necessarily want to oppose it at this moment if it is the wish of your Lordships.


I should like to point out to your Lordships that it is very important in some borough constituencies that the election results should be known on the night of the election. Not only may the postponement of the counting create further excitement, but often a market day might follow and in any case if the counting took place compulsorily on the day subsequent to the poll business would be very much interfered with. It is for the convenience of everybody in those cases that the counting should take place on the night of the election. It seems to me that there is a good deal to be said for leaving the matter in the hands of the authorities who, at present, exercise very great discretion in dealing with it.


I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite would look into the matter a little and consider it again before the Report stage. If he did that, I do not know whether my noble friend would press it at the present stage. It is rather a difficult point, I think, to settle without further consideration.


Yes, I am quite glad to undertake that; but even then, I do not know that the Government can be committed to it. However, I will do my best to get further information.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD CRANWORTH moved, after subparagraph (2) of paragraph 2, to insert: Provided that no second or subsequent preference marked on a ballot paper which indicates as first preference a candidate who under Section twenty-seven of the principal Act forfeits his deposit shall be transferred to any other candidate. The noble Lord said: When I put down this Amendment I thought it was a brain wave of my own. I subsequently found a very similar Amendment had been moved in another place, and so very naturally I got the OFFICIAL REPORT to see what were the arguments against this Amendment which seemed to me to be largely non-controversial. It was a considerable debate, and I found to my astonishment that during the whole course of the debate but one argument was produced against this Amendment, and that was by a Liberal gentleman who said he could not vote for it because he was so afraid of the harm it would do the Conservative Party. You have been told that political considerations are not to enter into your minds in this matter, and therefore that one argument will not appeal to you. Beyond that—and noble Lords can correct me if I am wrong—there was no argument.

Turning to the other side, that is not the case. I do not propose at this late hour to go through all the arguments, but I will give four in favour of this Amendment. The first is this. It seems to be a hypothesis of this clause that if 500 vote for a candidate, and 501 say that he is not quite so bad as one other candidate, in that case he is more truly a representative of the people than a man for whom a thousand people say he is the candidate they want. That being the hypothesis in support of it, there has been what I think must be an injustice—that is to say, a second vote is given to those who voted for the worst candidate, but no second vote is given to those who voted for the man who presumably is the best. This Amendment does a little, if not all, to do away with that injustice. The second reason is this. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill expressed himself as deeply concerned with the number of minority Members of Parliament. I would point out to your Lordships, as you doubtless already know, that there can be nothing under this clause which can make a minority candidate into a majority candidate. Further than that, any change of membership owing to the operation of this clause must be by means of substituting a candidate with an even greater majority against him than the candidate who wins under the present arrangement. My Amendment goes some little way to prevent that. I therefore think I shall have the support of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill there.

The third reason I give is that this clause as it stands does something to encourage freak candidates, and your Lordships will recall that in 1918 an effort was made, by means of the forfeit of the deposit, to stop freak candidates. It was, I understand, put in because of the trouble that had been occasioned by a gentleman called Mr. Hunnable, who had stood in various places on various curious principles. In one place he had three principles. He was in favour of hot water pipes in cemeteries, having coal mines above ground, and compulsory mixed bathing. Those three principles did gain a considerable number of votes, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the people who voted for Mr. Hunnable at that election were not worthy of having one vote let alone two. I find it, very difficult to differentiate between them and lunatics, but lunatics have no votes. This Schedule suggests that these lunatics should have one vote and then another vote. Moreover, lunatics are not the only people who do not have votes. Your Lordships do not have votes, and it seems to be hard that people who vote for a candidate like Mr. Hunnable should have two votes, and your Lordships should have no vote.

There is one more reason and it is this. I cannot but believe Elections will be made very much worse by the operation of this clause. I think rowdyism will be very much increased. It seems to me there may be very serious rowdyism if, say, a Labour candidate was head of the poll and the Conservative candidate ousted him with the aid of votes given to another candidate. In that case I think we should see rowdyism on a very large scale. That is another very good reason for bringing forward this very simple and commonsense Amendment. There are other reasons, but I will not trouble your Lordships with them. I merely venture to suggest that this will be an improvement, almost non-controversial, of a provision which I think has need of all the improvement which your Lordships can make to it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 27, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Cranworth.)


I wish in a very few words to support the Amendment of my noble friend. He has given four very good reasons why this Amendment should be passed. There are two other reasons which I should like to add. First of all, with regard to what he has called freak candidates, they have to-day no standing in the State, because if they do not poll one-eighth of the votes, I think it is, they forefeit their deposit. Consequently at the present moment the State regards them as of no account. What are we going to do under this Bill? We propose to give them the privilege of helping other candidates through their second preference votes. Having regard to their present position under our electoral system, I do not think they should have any such privilege attached to their second preference votes. There is one other point and it is this. I believe that if the second preference vote is given to freak candidates it will open the way not only to gerrymandering but to conditions of corruption. It will be very easy to find gentlemen, like the gentleman my noble friend has just been describing, who may for a certain consideration put themselves up as candidates, and through their second preference votes assist other candidates standing at the Election. I regard that as probably the most important reason why this Amendment should be passed. I therefore have great pleasure in supporting my noble friend.


I am sorry to say the Government cannot accept this Amendment. I think the whole argument rests on a confusion between the candidate who has been so mercilessly referred to as a freak candidate and the electors who vote for him. As a matter of fact the intention of the requirement to forfeit a deposit was to penalise the candidate. There is no reason why people who vote for him should be penalised. They have committed no sin, and it would be most unfair, merely because they have voted in the first place for a candidate who has had the misfortune riot to get one-eighth of the electors' votes and who forfeits his deposit, that they should be penalised. They have done no harm, and yet they would not be allowed even to use their second preferences.

It is not a question of giving two votes. No man under this system will get two votes. It is only if the person for whom he votes is not practically available that he will then have his vote counted for somebody else. There is absolutely no reason why these people should be penalised. The last man on the poll is not always a freak candidate. Quite the contrary. Wisdom lies in minorities and he may be the right man, only other people are too stupid to see it. I do not see why those who have the perspicacity to pick out the right man in despite of the others should be excluded and deprived of the privilege given to everybody else. The Government must resist this Amendment. I would point out that in the other House it only received 108 votes and was rejected by a majority of 234.


The last argument of the noble Lord seems a bad one because he has just been telling us that minorities are more often wiser than majorities. It seems a contrary argument. When I first saw the Amendment of my noble friend I was rather attracted by it because, like him, I should be very glad to do anything to reduce the number of freak candidates, even though some of them may be geniuses who are not yet recognised, as the noble Lord opposite said. But I confess that on second thoughts I thought it would be rather difficult to apply a penalty to people merely because they had voted for this candidate. Could they always tell whether he was to be a freak candidate? He might get the required number of votes. I think the penalty ought to fall on the gentleman himself if he so badly misjudges his own chances as to imagine that he was going to get substantial support. I entirely agree with any proposal for penalising freak candidates. It might he done possibly by increasing the amount of penalty on them.

As regards the second preference of the voter, it might be said that if he was really anxious for the man to whom he gave his second preference to be returned, he would probably give him his first preference, so I am not quite sure whether the laudable object aimed at by my noble friend would be attained by the Amendment. My noble friend said he had many other arguments besides the four he put forward, but I think I shall be doing him no injustice in saying that probably he put forward the four strongest. I do not know whether he wishes to press the Amendment.


May I say that I think it is rather unfair to speak about freak candidates. It is not only freak candidates who suffer, but unfortunate persons who happen to have a lot of competitors. If there are five or six candidates at an election, a man may lose his deposit simply because there are not enough votes to go round. That has happened in recent elections. Therefore I think it would be rather hard to penalise even the freak candidate as you call him. Certainly you ought not to penalise those who vote for him.


After the reply of the noble Lord, although I cannot agree that people who vote for freak candidates are innocent people—personally I think that sometimes they are the worst because he may be the victim of circumstances—I feel disposed to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, has an Amendment to leave out the First Schedule and insert a new schedule, and the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has an Amendment to that.


That is consequential. I shall not move.

THE EARL OF MIDLETON moved to leave out the First Schedule and insert the following new schedule:—