§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am glad to observe that I did not over-emphasise the simplicity. I shall not need 104 to spend long in expounding its contents, but it would have been idle to pretend, even before the last two minutes and it is still idler now to pretend, that it is uncontroversial. Your Lordships may therefore expect me to state the reasons for the Bill and the issues which it raises. As it concerns one of the rules relating to elections to another place, although I am not for a moment questioning your Lordships' undoubted right to deal with the Bill as seems fit, I shall try to state those reasons as factually and as briefly as possible.
Let me deal first with the existing law. Section 88 of the Representation of the People Act, 1949, which the Bill seeks to repeal, restricts the number of cars that may be used by, or on behalf of, a candidate to take electors to or from the poll at a Parliamentary election—the section does not apply to local government elections. The limit is one car for every 1,500 electors in a county constituency and one for every 2,500 electors in a borough constituency, and all cars so 105 used must be registered with the returning officer and carry a placard indicating that they are so registered. A contravention of these provisions is an illegal practice.
The Act of 1949 was a consolidating measure, and the provisions of Section 88 were first introduced as Section 33 of the Representation of the People Act, 1948. That Act was based largely, though not entirely, on the recommendations of the 1944 Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform and also on the recommendations of a Committee on Electoral Law Reform under the Chairmanship of Sir Cecil Carr. This Committee's membership included the chief agents of the main political Parties. The question of restriction on the use of cars by candidates was considered both by the Speaker's Conference and by the Carr Committee. Neither came to a unanimous conclusion.
The Speaker's Conference rejected the idea of such restrictions by fifteen votes to fourteen and the Carr Committee said—I will quote these words—not all of us feel able to support a system of limitation which cannot easily be protected from evasion. In any case some of us are not convinced that any restriction on the gratuitous use of conveyances is either needed or desirable, particularly in these days when the motor car has become so common a mode of transport.That is from paragraph 41 of the Final Report of the Committee. The Government of the day—I am glad to see such distinguished members of the Government of 1948 in front of me—when introducing their Representation of the People Bill in 1948, had, therefore, conclusive evidence before them that the Parties as a whole were not agreed that there should be restrictions on the use of cars by candidates.
Noble Lords on the Opposition Bench, as members of the Government, were responsible for the production of the 1948 Bill and secured its reading for a second time in another place without any such restrictions at all. I think this point is worth a little emphasis, because the Opposition's main argument against repealing the restrictions is that these restrictions are essential to ensure fair play between the parties. Yet when the Labour Government introduced their major electoral measure of 1948, these restrictions were not contained in the Bill; they were put in only at a later 106 stage as a result of pressure from their own Back-Benchers. The clause containing these restrictions was strongly objected to at the time by the then Opposition, but the Government of the day used their majority to carry it through all stages.
Naturally, my Lords, I do not deny for a moment that the Labour Government were within their Parliamentary rights in doing so. I mention the point only because it has been suggested, and it may be suggested to-day, that it is very shocking, if not unprecedented, for Her Majesty's present Government to repeal the restrictions without the agreement of the Labour Party, notwithstanding that we made it quite clear in 1948, as I shall endeavour to do now, that we regard these restrictions as misconceived in principle and unsatisfactory in practice.
Before I develop the reasons for this view I should perhaps say a word about a point that may be in the minds of some noble Lords opposite, namely, the timing of this Bill. It might be said "Granted that Her Majesty's Government consider these restrictions to be wrong, why are they only now repealing them?" I will answer the point. It is, of course, a fact that there has been a Conservative Administration for about seven years now, with increased majorities, but apart from more urgent preoccupations, when we were first returned to power the restrictions had been in operation for only about two and a half years. We realised the undesirability of frequent changes in the electoral law and this seemed to us a matter in which, strongly though we expressed our view about it, we ought to proceed slowly and carefully, and in the light of further experience.
We now have the position that the restrictions have been in force for nine years and for three General Elections—as well, of course, as for numerous by-elections—and there has been ample opportunity to test their efficacy or otherwise. Even so, we did not embark lightly on the repeal of these restrictions. Unlike our predecessors we thought we should first consult the Opposition, and these consultations took place last summer. In view of references which have been made to the recent Conservative Party Conference at Blackpool at which the resolution for the repeal of this section was carried, let me remark that 107 the consultations with the Opposition took place some months before that Conference and well before we knew what resolutions were to be tabled.
The consultations showed that we should not be able to carry Her Majesty's Opposition with us and that they would not revert to the view which had found favour in their minds when they introduced their own Bill in 1948, but would stand by a later view which had been forced upon them by their own Back-Benchers. After the most careful consideration we came to the conclusion that we ought, none the less, to proceed with removing what we sincerely regard as an excrescence on our electoral law. My Lords, these consultations and deliberations made it impossible to introduce the necessary legislation last Session. So if we are to be accused of delaying this legislation until late in the life of this Parliament, it is really an accusation against us for taking time to consider this matter and making an unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to ensure that it could be done by agreement. That is an accusation which I for my part, am quite prepared to accept.
Now as to the main reasons why we think Section 88 should be repealed. These are really all variations of the most important reason. The restrictions in Section 88, if they have any effect at all, make it more difficult for electors to get to the poll. In this respect they are, I think, quite unique in our electoral law. They are certainly not comparable with restrictions on a candidate's expenditure, because the latter restrictions do nothing to prevent or make it more difficult for the elector to cast his vote. Accordingly, unless some special justification can be found for the restrictions in Section 88, they stand self condemned.
Let us look at the alleged justification. It is that the motor car is so exclusively or predominantly the prerequisite of one political Party that its use at Parliamentary elections—although not be it noted, at local government elections—must be restricted to prevent one Party from obtaining a substantial electoral advantage over its opponents. The number of motor cars has increased from just under 2 million in 1948, when these restrictions were first introduced, to nearly 4½ million; and we all know that the number continues to increase so 108 rapidly that there is now the problem of how they are all going to run on our present roads. So we are not considering an article which is rare or the prerogative of a limited class or section of the community. And even if the motor car were a rich man's privilege, he would not suffer from the restrictions as they stand, because, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury pointed out when the Bill of 1948 was before your Lordships' House, Section 88 does not prevent people from using their own cars to go to the poll or taking with them their family, their resident domestic staff or any visitors staying with them overnight. What that section does is to restrict the organised use of cars to take to the poll people who have not cars of their own.
Therefore, even if we accept the argument that Conservative voters as a whole tend to have more cars than Labour voters as a whole, it is by no means a conclusive argument for the restrictions; and, in any event, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said in another place that the Gallup Poll estimates that 19 per cent. of car owners tend to vote Labour compared to 60 per cent. Conservative; and the 19 per cent. would still give an average of about 1,300 Labour cars per constituency. I have fought elections for another place for over twenty years, and the idea of having a half, a quarter or one-fifth of 1,300 cars is something which I have never contemplated in my political life. It comes down to the analogy of selecting a country's Rugby football team—I take that example because it is something universal. There are 50 million people or thereabouts in England. 5 million in Scotland, 2½ million in Wales and 2 million in New Zealand; and certainly when one gets to the 2 million in New Zealand or, as the noble Lord whom I see in front of me would certainly insist, when one gets to the 2½ million in Wales, one can choose just as good a Rugby team from 2 million or 2½ million as from the 50 million in England. Similarly, when we get the position that there is an average of 1,300 cars available for the Labour Party in every constituency, I believe they really have far more than they are ever likely to require.
The next argument is that it is said that Labour is not able to organise the use of cars as well as Conservatives because Labour voters tend to be at work all day. 109 I really cannot believe that every one of the 13¼ million people who voted Conservative at the last General Election belonged to the leisured classes; and if the Opposition are going to say that all the 12,400,000 people who voted Labour were industrial workers, I will take their word for it though it will not be a very good argument for their claim of not being a class Party. In any event, as your Lordships are only too well aware, the polling stations are open for fourteen hours, from seven o'clock in the morning until nine at night, and cars can surely be organised for whatever part of that time is important, especially after 5.30 or 6 p.m. Indeed, the removal of restrictions will enable the maximum use to be made of cars during such time as is available.
Having dealt with these points, I would say, apart from all these considerations do not let us talk in 1958 and, far more, do not let us think, as though the colour on a car in which an elector is conveyed to the poll is going to determine which way he votes. A lift in a car is not an extraordinary act of benevolence in this year of grace. Finally, on this aspect, let us remember—and I say this in consolation to noble Lords on Opposition Benches—that the absence of restrictions on use of cars at local government elections does not appear to have handicapped the Labour Party. And in consolation to my noble friends on other Benches I would say, nor has the presence of the restrictions at Parliamentary elections prevented the Conservative Party from increasing the percentage of votes cast for them and the number of seats won in another place at each successive election.
I submit, therefore, that those who favour the continuance of Section 88 have failed to discharge the burden of proof which must rest on them, having advocated this peculiar (in every sense of the word) interference with the means by which electors may reach the polling station. In view of all this, it is not surprising that these restrictions tend to bring the law into contempt. In fact, they are so difficult to enforce that, as my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General said in another place, it is practically impossible to undertake proceedings with any prospect of success unless the party concerned had already made an admission. I would add that a survey of the admittedly few proceedings 110 and convictions which have taken place suggests that the Party who introduced these restrictions do not comply more strictly with them than do their opponents. Noble Lords will find that in the figures given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place on November 5 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 594 (No. 7) col. 960]. It is therefore our considered view that these restrictions are completely out of date and irrelevant to their designed object and that they are bad law. They have been given a fair trial and found wanting and should go without delay. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I am sure we are all greatly indebted to the noble and learned Viscount for a remarkable forensic performance. He has covered up with enormous skill what is in fact, a rather mean little political device. It must have gone very much against the grain, both as lawyer and as a sportsman: as a lawyer because he would naturally like to see justice done, and as a sportsman because I cannot believe that, as a sportsman, he would think it right to alter the rules of a game before the other side had had its innings. That is exactly what has happened.
It is as if one altered the l.b.w. rule against the Australians after Britain had had her innings; or in Rugby football (which would perhaps be more appropriate, considering the 'Varsity match this afternoon), if one suddenly made some person available for the team although he was seven pounds over-weight. That is what is being done. The noble and learned Viscount has not really put up any case for this measure. One gathered that it did not matter who conveyed anybody to the poll. Why were the Conservative Party so keen on it? Why did the Government not accept the proposal that there should be a pool of neutral cars?
Then we have had some wonderful statistics. They reminded me of the danger in statistics and the example which Sir Winston Churchill used to quote regarding the South African war. Your Lordships will remember that one: 111 it turned out that whereas only 25 per cent. of all the people died of enteric, 50 per cent. of teetotallers died from it. There were only two teetotallers and one died! The noble and learned Viscount suggested 1,300 cars. There was no mention of where they were; and the distribution of cars is vital in this matter. The number of cars hardly matters in some constituencies. I used to represent Lime-house. It is a very small constituency, but very crowded, and on polling day there were so many children in the streets that one dared not go in a car at all; one walked. On the other hand, in these widely-extended country areas it becomes an important matter. It is precisely there that we shall not find many Labour cars. It is said as a rule that almost every country house is a Conservative committee room, well provided with cars. It is nonsense to suppose that this measure is not designed in the interests of one particular side.
It was a quite contradictory argument that was put forward by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. I could not quite follow him all the time. Apparently the limitation did not work, yet it was very important to change it; it did not have any effect on either side, yet apparently this idea of abolishing it appeals to the Conservative Party and not to the Labour Party. I was reminded, when I listened to all the Lord Chancellor's arguments, of that famous story of the lady who was asked to return a borrowed frying-pan. She said, "I haven't got it; I am using it myself and anyway it has got a hole in it." That is the sort of argument which the noble and learned Viscount put forward. I think that he spoke with his tongue in his cheek.
There has been all this business of having to wait. We have waited all these years since 1951. Year after year they have been watching the experiment. They have been watching it, according to them, and seeing that every time there was an Election a greater proportion of Conservatives went to the poll. And yet they felt they must alter the arrangement. They waited because they wanted to study the position and consult. They knew that there would be no consultation that was worthwhile with the Opposition. They wanted to consult about something which they knew perfectly well was 112 designed solely in the interest of one Party. It has taken a very long time to get anything like equality of the Parties. The suggestion is that this is a wonderful thing because the position was all right before! Years ago it took ages and ages to get the ballot; it took ages and ages to get polling hours straightened out to get any chance whatever for the workers to vote. This is purely a Party stunt.
My noble friend said that the electors were intelligent. Unfortunately they are still very conscientious. They will often arrive in a Tory car and not think it right to vote Labour; and vice versa. But I think they will be intelligent enough to see through this Bill; they are not quite so simple that they will not see through it. They know perfectly well what it is designed for. It is designed to load the dice against the Labour Party at the next Election; and that is what the timing has been for—the next Election.
Personally, I am not sorry about this. I cannot think the great Conservative Party would have introduced this measure, through their Lord Chancellor in this House, by means of a partisan Bill like this, unless there had been a very serious doubt about their position at the next Election. Quite obviously they have to snatch at any chance whatever in order to try to scramble home. Of course, this measure will be carried here. I do not think it will do much good in the country. How much harm it will do to us I cannot say. Undoubtedly in the country constituencies, where there are very few Labour cars and a great many Conservative cars, it will give the Conservative Party a pull. Our object should be to try to equalise matters and have a fair show. I have often noticed how curious it is that the great Conservative Party, which one would think would be full of sportsmen, always like to alter the rules to their advantage before the match.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, when a Bill is introduced into this House which affects exclusively elections to another place this House does not normally. I think, see fit to debate it at any great length. But it seems to me that, if it is debated at all, some regard should be had to the merits of the measure. I always listen with the greatest attention and enjoyment to the noble Earl who for so long led the Socialist party in this country, and whose experience, 113 brevity and wit always entitle him to a respectful hearing. But, my Lords, he did not at any stage of his speech say one word against the merits of this measure—I repeat, not one word about the merits of the measure.
He had a great deal to say about it, and he scored one point—or it would have been a point, if the contention which he sought to overthrow had ever been made in favour of this measure. He said that it was not very important, or, alternatively, that it was absurd, if it was so important, for it to have been so long delayed. I frankly agree with the view that it is not a very important measure. The question is whether it is a right measure. If it had been an important measure, then, indeed, it would have been very injurious to the reputation of Her Majesty's Government that they had not introduced it much earlier. But it is, in fact, of very little importance. I think we ought to consider its merits, and I hope, if it is to be further debated, that some noble Lords who think this is a bad Bill will explain why it is so wrong to permit in elections for Parliament what is permitted, with their consent and approval, in elections for local government. So far that distinction has not been explained.
I have no idea why Her Majesty's Government thought fit to try to secure the agreement of the Socialist Party to this electoral change. For most of the period of twenty years during which I served in another place I took the view, which Her Majesty's Government apparently still take, that on any question relating to Parliamentary elections agreement between the Parties was desirable. I took that view strongly. That was the view that inspired the modern tradition of seeking to get agreement through a Speaker's Conference. Which Party was it that overthrew that tradition? It was the Socialist Party. The Speaker's Conference to which my noble and learned friend referred did not recommend the change in the law which was made when the Labour Party legislated and which it is now sought to reverse. As he said, they were divided almost equally upon it; and no doubt that was why the Socialist Party, when they introduced their Bill, did not embody this restriction on the use of motor cars. But it was a unanimous recommendation of that Speaker's Conference that university seats 114 should be retained, and that unanimous recommendation was thrown over without any consultation with the other side.
If we are dealing with realities, the idea that in any electoral reform we can ever proceed in future by consent has been thrown away by the Socialist Party in taking that partisan, that mean and foolish step, which is still doing them considerable harm in the country. I admit that I have strong feelings on this point. I was one of the University Members at the time. Some of my friends told me that I and two of my colleagues were the chief reasons for that part of the Bill. Be that as it may, that Speaker's Conference made a unanimous recommendation. On the strength of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference the National Government carried out some legislation before the General Election of 1945, and other matters awaited legislation afterwards; but that recommendation was cast aside. Now the Socialist Party, through their most distinguished leader, a former Prime Minister, attack this Bill for reversing something which was never recommended by the Speaker's Conference, and which was not in the Bill they themselves introduced and for which no rational reason of any sort has yet been given.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, may I correct the noble Lord? I realise the argument he is putting forward, but I did not base my remarks on any recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. All major electoral changes, such as doing away with obsolete things like university seats, and previous changes by both Conservative and Liberal Governments, have always been opposed by the other side. The big changes are never made by consent, and I am not putting it forward as a matter of consent. I merely suggest, from my own point of view, that it is purely a partisan question. If the noble Lord thinks that the abolition of the old out-of-date university representation is on a par with that, well and good.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I have always been delighted to yield to the noble Earl if he thinks he has a point, and I am perfectly certain that he thought he had one, however obscure it was to most of us. If the abolition of the university seats, a university franchise which he thinks so contemptible, was really so contemptible and absurd, I wonder why 115 the representatives of his Party who sat on that Speaker's Conference and the representatives of the Liberal Party all agreed that they should be retained. I think that that should be explained.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that at that time there was a National Government relying on what measure of agreement could be got between the Government and our Party? It is obvious that our Party were not going to give way on a principle on which we had stood for years—the abolition of the double representation of the universities.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I think that every intervention of the noble Earl makes his case a little worse. If the National Government had wanted to legislate as a Government, of course there would have been no need for a Speaker's Conference at all. The whole purpose of a Speaker's Conference was to enable the Government not simply to legislate or give a view as a Government on a basis of their representation in another place, but to give representatives of all Parties—and the Opposition Parties at that time were slightly over-represented in numbers on the Speaker's Conference—a chance to agree, in order to try to get a view which, if unanimous, could not indeed bind in law but would be treated with respect by future Parliaments. The view has always been held in modern times that in matters affecting the representation of the people it was a good thing to proceed, so far as possible, by agreement. That was the reason for the Speaker's Conference.
It is quite obvious, after the treatment of the last Speaker's Conference by the Socialist Party, that that is something which can never be repeated. I am at a loss to know why the Government thought fit to seek an agreement with the Opposition on this matter. Now the noble Earl, in a passage in his speech which was humorous but may have been intended as serious, said that it was most unfair to alter the rules in the middle of the game before one side had had an Innings. Let us examine that a little. Since the measure imposing this restriction was passed, the Conservatives have won two successive General Elections.
§ LORD CONESFORD
The noble Earl says that they have not had an innings. Presumably, that means that they have not won a General Election. It would have been all right to introduce this measure, provided that the Socialists, who do not like it had first won a General Election! I think that that argument had better be reconsidered.
I agree that the reform dealt with in this Bill is not an important one, but it is undesirable to retain on the Statute Book something that is difficult to enforce and has no logical reason behind it. There are many things I should like the Government to do much more than the little reform carried out in this measure. Perhaps I had better not give a whole list of them, but they are many. Since the Government have introduced this measure, I think it is right that we should consider it on its merits. The merits are overwhelmingly against this restriction which does not apply in elections for local government. The reasons given against the Bill and the arguments used by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, are, I am sure, the best that can be put forward, but they do not bear examination.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, in view of the speech we have had from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the advantage we have of the presence here of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, as Leader of the Opposition, may I ask this question? The noble Earl condemned the Bill roundly. Could we know whether the Labour Party intend to reintroduce this restriction, if by any chance they are returned at the next Election? I think we are entitled to ask that. We are discussing this measure in the quieter atmosphere of a non-elected Assembly, after the Bill has passed through the heat and fire of another place. We are rather like those who have passed over, discussing the shortcomings of some of those left behind in another place. The noble Viscount is a member of the Shadow Cabinet of the Labour Party, and therefore it is not unfair to ask him, in view of the contention of his Front Bench, if he can tell us here and now whether this restriction will be reintroduced in the event of his Party being returned.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should think that even then there are many priorities 117 to be considered, and we should be entitled to examine most carefully the results of the passing of this Bill, which we now regard as quite iniquitous; and if it proved, as we now contend, to be unfair, no doubt the Government of the day would see that the grievance was repaired.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, I rise for a few moments to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I have fought something like ten elections of one sort and another, and I have never been able to accumulate the number of cars which the restrictions provided by the Act that we are now seeking to amend enabled me to obtain. But I rise to oppose the Second Reading for another much more important reason. I do so on one main ground alone, which in my opinion transcends all others, and which I feel sure every Member of your Lordships' House must in his or her heart know to be true. It is that this Bill, if and when it passes, will unquestionably confer an electoral advantage on the Conservative Party in the forthcoming General Election, in that it will remove the restriction which at present obtains on the number of cars and their use for the conveyance of voters to the poll.
I do not imagine that there will be one of your Lordships who would deny that Tory supporters in the country come for the most part from the better-off members of the community, who want to conserve—hence the term "Conservatives"—such privileges as their better position in life enables them to obtain in what, after all, is still a capitalist country. These better-off members of the community not only have more cars but, what is equally important, more time, more opportunity and more means to enable them to hire the drivers for those cars, or to employ their own employees, if they desire to do so.
I can give a striking instance of that from what happened a good many years ago when there was the free-for-all system in vogue which the Government are now seeking to reintroduce. In (I think) 1910, Mr. Samuel Samuel, who, as your Lordships will know, was one of the founders of the Shell Oil Company and later the Member for Putney, contested the West Division of Leeds. It 118 was then said, and although it is a good many years ago I believe it to be true, that he brought a whole trainload of motor cars, if not two train loads, 200 miles from London to Leeds in a great effort to wrest that seat from the Liberal holder, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, who had held it for a good many years. It is true that it did not have sufficient effect on the hard-headed Yorkshiremen who lived in that division, but Mr. Samuel Samuel went very near to achieving his aim. That same position might conceivably occur again: in greater or lesser degree if there is this free-for-all, a whole trainload of motor cars, or a collection of motor cars, collected from ones' friends or relatives or whatever it may be, without any limit, can be thrown into any constituency in the country and have a most unfair effect on those others, whether they be Liberal or Labour, who are contesting that division.
The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has given us a great number of statistics. I do not propose to go into these. We all know that statistics can be made to prove anything. I should like to point out, however, that what the Government are doing is precisely what the Lord President of the Council, Lord Hailsham (he is not here to-day), condemned as recently as June 8 of this year, when he made a speech at Nottingham in which he criticised what he called the "card-sharpers" in the Conservative Party. He then said:The card-sharpers are so terrified of a Labour Government that they would have us alter the rules of the game in order to avoid a Labour Government. They go about … saying that since we have no chance of winning under the existing rules we must rid the rules in order to prevent our being beaten.The noble Viscount, who is a member of the Cabinet, went on to say:Now, the answer to the card-sharpers is that although politics is not a game, like life it must none the less be played honourably if we do not wish to bring public life into absolute contempt.What greater condemnation could there be of the present action of Her Majesty's Government than those words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham? I venture to submit that this House, with its great traditions, ought to throw out this Bill as being unworthy of Party politics in this country.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor replies, I should like to ask him one question. I do so because my father was a member of the Carr Committee which dealt with electoral reform during the war. I can well remember the many long hours he spent in meetings with the Conservative national agent, and I believe that it was their intention then to produce a Bill which not only would give a degree of equality between the major political Parties but would maintain equality for the smaller political Parties, like our friends who sit beside us here, as well as the Communist Party, the League of Empire Loyalists, who now and again put up candidates, and the Independents, one of whom is now, I believe, considering standing at the Harrow, East by-election. I am sure it is the wish of your Lordships' House and of the country that the laws under which this country elects its Government and its representatives should be equal, so far as is humanly possible, and that there should be no opportunity for privilege or complaint. That is what I believe we had under the Act of 1948.
I must say that I share the feeling of my noble friends on this side of the House—a feeling of great regret that the Government have thought fit, just before a General Election, to produce what I can only call a squalid Bill. I was hoping that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, would have come here this afternoon to give us his views. I was going through the Report of the Third Reading debate in another place, and there a small part of the speech made by the noble Viscount at the Conservative Party Conference at Bournemouth in 1955, on a move to abolish restrictions on cars, was criticised. This is what the noble Viscount said:It is—and I cannot emphasise this too strongly—of the greatest consequence to us as a country to ensure the continuance of general competence and respect for election law as something that is above Party.I think we must all deplore the bringing of election laws into such disrepute. The question which I rose to ask the noble and learned Viscount is this. Would he not agree that, whilst the two main political Parties are closely involved in this change of law, it perhaps hits harder the smaller Parties, and the Independents, who have not the vast organisation of the two main political Parties?
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Milner of Leeds. I have fought a number of elections, and never have my Party in the constituency been able to get anywhere near the prescribed maximum number of cars, although I have noticed that my opponents were always amply supplied with cars. It seems to me that this is a mean, shabby Bill, designed to add some electoral advantage to the Conservative Party, in addition to the other great advantages which they have over the Labour party. The first of those advantages is—
§ LORD BURDEN
—that 99 per cent. of the Press of this country are behind the Conservative Party. Secondly, there was a vast fund built up at headquarters in response to the appeals of the noble Earl, Lord Woolton. Then there are the amounts flowing from the legal decision in regard to "Mr. Cube", by which industry is able to spend money in support of Conservative candidates which never appear in Conservative Party Election accounts. The noble and learned Viscount said, as we are aware, that this change was demanded at the Conservative Party Conference. Very good. I believe that there were also vociferous demands at the Conservative Party Conference for reinstituting flogging and hanging. Why not go the whole hog?—or is it that this is a sop for the next Conservative Party Conference on the principle which the present Prime Minister indicated of, "not too swift and not too slow"? That is a quotation, I believe, from a squib of Swinburne at Cambridge, which I will not complete, in view of the delicate ears of your Lordships.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I also have fought a few elections, and I should like to say one word in answer to the last speakers. First, as regards the Press, at the moment some of the biggest circulations support the Socialist Party. The Socialists also have great financial resources, with the trade unions behind them. I believe that laws should be respected. This law is unenforceable and has never been observed. All of us who have fought elections know that both sides have paid little attention to this law. 121 The convictions, such as they have been, have been equally distributed among the supporters of both sides. But this law is not supportable, and has never had universal support. It is because I believe that, if we have laws, they must be enforceable and supported that I back the Government.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if this debate has no other effect it has certainly given me great pleasure in once again being answered by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He has often clone it in the past and, whatever he says, I hope he will believe that I am entirely sincere when I say that it is a joy to hear his argument again.
Of the points that have been raised, perhaps the most serious, and most seriously put, was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He has raised a difficult point about the smaller Parties, because one wants to consider carefully the effect of proliferation of Parties. That is something which I should not like too rashly to go into, in view of various experiences in other places, which I need not again enlarge to-day.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble and learned Viscount was not suggesting that we should have any legislation that would prevent the expression of a particular political view?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Not for a moment. I have never suggested that. Everywhere in the world I have always referred with pride to the fact that the Communist Party fight Elections here, and are always soundly beaten and lose their deposit. The longer we continue with that, which shows other people the position of Communism in this country, the better we are off. I hope the noble Lord will not misunderstand me on that point. The other point is whether we should do the opposite of that and create an artificially favourable position for small and splinter Parties. That suggestion I am afraid I should have to consider very far before I came round to expressing my opinion in favour of it. I am sure on the other point—all of us who knew the noble Lord's father will be sure—that he and my old friend, his opposite number at the time, approached this matter in the most public-spirited way.
122 The other point upon which I want to spend a moment or two is the reference to the speech of my noble friend Lord Tenby. It is difficult to take passages out of speeches, and the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, took the passage which was largely quoted in another place. Like him, I have read all the debates in another place that were readable, and I know the passage he has in mind. I have in front of me the reports of that speech in The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Manchester Guardian. In the Daily Telegraph it is stated that my noble friend said:A strong case could be made out for repealing Section 88. It has been argued with justification that the limitation was unjustified. If it was true that the section was widely ignored, that demanded the closest investigation"—that is the point which my noble friend Lord Astor made a moment ago—but there was substantial reason for restraint, for it was a matter of great controversy and it was one of the highest consequence to ensure that confidence and respect for Election law was above Party, even if it was irksome and irritating.Then, according to the other report, in the Manchester Guardian, he is quoted as saying:He asked that more time should be allowed to show how this experiment of 1949 was going to work out.It is for your Lordships to form your own views of what he did say, but I thought it only fair to my noble friend that one should have some idea of the tenor of his speech. He was clearly saying that this was a difficult matter and a strong case could be made out; at that time he thought there should be further time for consideration and he was not prepared to take action. That was over three years ago. We have had more time for consideration, and we agree that this, as I said, was not only a bad but an unenforceable law.
My noble friend, Lord Conesford, has dealt with the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, as to changing the rules in the middle of the game, and I really cannot think that the noble Earl has much to complain about. We have given him the chance of "best of three." He won by a very narrow margin the 1950 Election; we won by nearly as narrow a margin in 1951, and we increased our majority threefold in 1955. When one has seen this working three times, 123 I do not think one can say that it is the middle of the game, because, after all, one can never pass an Act during an Election; it must be after one Election and before another. The point that rather surprised me was the noble Earl's reflection on the countryside. Really, that seemed to me a remarkably old-fashioned conception. I have a cottage on a farm and, apart from cars owned by myself and the owner of the farm, there are, I think, no fewer than eight cars which are owned by people who work on the farm. I do not think that that is particularly untypical of the countryside as I know it.
The noble Earl then falls into the dilemma, which is quite a serious one: either he is bound to say that it is a pity that these people have cars, which I do not think he would for a moment, or that he and his Party have not the slightest chance of attracting any of the eight workers on that farm who own cars. Really I should be sorry if the noble Earl were to sit on either of the horns of that dilemma. There is a danger for all of us, as the years pass on, that we are apt to live in the halcyon period which we enjoyed so much. I could not help feeling, when the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, had to turn back to an election in 1910 that that was really the state of the country and the age and time which noble Lords opposite were envisaging. I cannot see the noble Lords, Lord Howe and Lord Brabazon of Tara, here at the moment, but I think I am right in saying that the first motor car order was in 1903. In 1910 the motor car had moved a little, but not a long way; and to compare those days, to go back forty-eight years to find an argument, when to-day you have 4½ million cars, when factory after factory is faced with the great problem (and how marvellous it is) of finding car parks for the workers who drive up to work—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Not in the middle of an admirable passage like this, surely! I think the noble Lords who have spoken are living in a lost age and are really dreaming about an outmoded world. Now I will give way.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
All the "fizz" has gone out of what I was going 124 to say. I was going to remind the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that in 1910, when no doubt he was at college, the fight was absolutely vital. It was the Parliament Act that was at stake, and if Lord Bearsted (Mr. Samuel Samuel, as he then was) had in fact done what he said, namely, brought down trainloads of cars, he would have been using the power given in this Act to win a victory which might have been a vital victory at a vital moment in our history.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who has absolutely emphasised and stressed and underlined my point. The Labour Party are living in 1910; they cannot get away from 1910. All we are asking them to do is for the moment to forget 1910 and look at the country, which is teeming with prosperity and car owners in 1958. In fact, I will help them on the way—and I hope the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will agree with me in this. If that great author to whom he owes so much—I mean Karl Marx, not Groucho or Harpo, but the original Karl Marx—were alive to-day, he would not have time to write Das Kapital or preach the class war; he would be so busy looking for some place in Highgate to park his car that he would not have time for anything else. It is really in that situation, when motor cars have come to that extent, that we ask noble Lords for a moment to be forward-looking and to support this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, before the noble Viscount the Lord Chancellor puts the Motion to the House, I should like to say that we have been most entertained by the manner in which, in the main speech on behalf of the Government, he has conducted the debate upon this Bill. It is, of course, the occasion for Second Reading and therefore it is not an occasion upon which we should seek to divide the House. Nevertheless, I must make this passing comment: that it seems to me that there was no answer from him to the quotation made from the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council. Moreover, to wipe out the restrictions which more modern thought than that of 1910 decided were necessary to make fair elections—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt the noble Viscount? If he thought so, why did he not see that it was put in the Bill by the Government when the Bill was introduced in 1948? Why was it only Back-Bench pressure in his Party which opened his eyes to this great piece of justice?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am not at all sure I remember the whole details of the discussions that went on about that particular Bill, but I think it was an excellent occasion on which to give way to the teal experience of the Back-Benchers in fighting elections in their constituencies and raising the matter in the proper place—in the House of Commons. I am merely going to comment that the tendency is to want to get back to the days of freedom, of wealth and wealthiness and of liberty to exploit the general community. We have all heard so much about setting the people free, and nobody talks about anything except the great prosperity the Tories have brought, whereas we see day by day the mounting fear of unemployment and the great difficulties that face the people in the country.
The modern application of that kind of freedom in these matters means that the controllers of accumulated, concentrated wealth, the big companies, the big industrial enterprises, will in a General Election be able not to put in single cars but to put in whole blocks of capitalistically-owned cars into any particular area they like—there is not the slightest difficulty about that. They will be able to take any district they like and do what they like, provided they get the Conservatives in. We will have something more to say upon the matter when we move an Amendment in Committee; but in view of our practice we should not think of dividing on the Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.