HL Deb 15 December 1958 vol 213 cc248-52

2.55 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Withdrawal of restriction on use of motor cars at parliamentary elections]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I indicated on the Second Reading that, of course, we did not wish to vary the practice which the two sides of the House have so often upheld of not voting against a Bill on its Second Reading. But I am bound to say that in listening to the debate on the Second Reading I found little to console me in the explanation of Her Majesty's Government for introducing this Bill at the present time. The whole operation of the Bill is under Clause 1, and the only possibility that we have here of making any political protest against the action of the Government is to vote against that clause. There is no possibility of examination of it or of making a fundamental amendment to it; but I myself should regard it as a neglect of duty on my part as Leader of the Opposition to let Clause 1 go into this Bill, in view of its operation, at this stage, without making our protest.

I do not think it is necessary for us to debate the matter at any length, but we feel it was by no means an exaggeration of the position when one of my colleagues said on the Second Reading—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds—that this Bill is really a piece of political chicanery. It is brought in at this time because, in the present political circumstances, it is no doubt felt that there would be some advantage to the Government who are introducing this Bill and their supporters at the next Election. A great deal has been said about the extent to which the ownership of cars is now spread among different classes in the community. But what stands out a mile in respect of the difficulty of getting people to the poll, especially the working classes in scattered areas, is that we have never yet been able to obtain anything like an adequate supply of cars for the purpose if there was going to be no limit at all placed on the other side. We shall have to see how the measure operates in practice before we attempt, maybe, amending legislation, when perhaps the balance of power in Parliament will be the reverse of the present situation. Nevertheless, I feel that this is a point upon which we this House have every right to record our vote against Clause 1, because we think it is unnecessary and we think also that it is likely to give bias in favour of one Party in the State instead of fairness to all the Parties.


I intend to follow the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition in not enlarging at all on the arguments which I think were thoroughly canvassed in the debate we had on the Second Reading. Therefore, I simply state in headline form the points on which we rely. We rely first on the fact that the number of cars has increased from something under 2 million to something like 4½ million in the time since the section was inserted in the 1949 Act at the request of certain Labour Back-Benchers. That number of cars is amply sufficient for both of the major Parties. Even making all allowances for the different parts of the country, if the average number of cars is 1,300 per constituency, it is really unthinkable that there would not be enough for the Labour Party in any constituency. The number of 1,300 per constituency is the number of supporters among the car owners which, on the Gallup Poll figures would inure to the benefit of the Labour Party.

The third point is that too much time is spent at elections at the moment watching whether this provision, which has become ridiculous, is complied with; and that time could be much more profitably spent in getting electors to the poll. The fourth point is that, as has been said by my right honourable friend the Attorney General, the law cannot be enforced; and it is very unfortunate if you have an unenforceable law because that merely brings the law into contempt. The last point is that this provision is, as I have said, contrary to the general desire and the principles to which we all should adhere—namely, that everything should be done to enable all electors to vote, and anything which stands in the way of their voting is to that extent bad. That is the argument the other way. As I say, I have put it simply in headline form because I wanted to deal with it as the noble Viscount dealt with it. There is a difference between us, and I fully appreciate that he wants to mark that difference by a Division.


I am much obliged. I do not think that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor would expect me to accept the heads that he has submitted, but I want to make one point. The comparative numbers of those, in different sections of the political community, who own cars can have no sort of relation to the use of those cars for elections on the basis laid down by the Lord Chancellor. The occupations of the owners in the respective spheres and their ability to give the time—and at the right time—are simply not comparable. If the Government had at the same time said: "We think more cars ought to be used, and we will see that each side gets an equal opportunity in each constituency", there would have been something in it. However, they have not done so. I therefore ask my colleagues to go to a Division on this matter.


I wonder whether I, as a Backbencher, might say one word in regard to what has just been said. It was stated the other day, during the debate on the Second Reading, and has again been stated to-day, how few are the cars (particularly in rural areas, it was stated in the debate the other day) which are owned by people belonging to the Labour Party. But perhaps I may quote my own experience at the moment. I have just had built around me a large housing estate of 2,500 houses. If I say that there is at least one motor car to every three of those

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 1 agreed to accordingly.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed. Bill reported, without amendment.

council houses, I am probably underestimating. Therefore, I really cannot let that statement pass again to-day without a respectful contradiction. The cars in these rural areas belonging to the Party opposite are quite sufficient.


I am glad to know that the noble Lord assesses housing estates as containing practically all Labour voters. Perhaps that is the bee in his bonnet. But I must repeat that those people have not the time to give such as you find can be given by other classes of car owners.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-Contents, 17.

Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Bridgeman, V. Elliot of Harwood, Baroness.
Hailsham, V. (L. President.) Devonport, V. Ferrier, L.
Lambert, V. Fraser of Lonsdale, L.
Atholl, D. Soulbury, V. Grenfell, L.
Templewood, V. Hampton, L.
Ailsa, M. Hawke, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Aberdare, L. Jeffreys, L.
Lansdowne, M. Ailwyn, L. Kinnaird, L.
Airedale, L. Merrivale, L.
Bathurst, E. Amulree, L. Moyne, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Auckland, L. Moynihan, L.
Home, E. Chesham, L. [Teller.] Newall, L.
Howe, E. Colyton, L. Ravensdale of Kedleston, Baroness.
Munster, E. Conesford, L.
Perth, E. Derwent, L. Sandford, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.] Dovercourt, L. Strang, L.
Selkirk, E. Dynevor, L. Strathclyde, L.
Ebury, L. Teviot, L.
Bledisloe, V.
Attlee, E. Stansgate, V. Ogmore, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Pakenham, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Burden, L. [Teller.] Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Shackleton, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Silkin, L.
Hall, V. Henderson, L. Stonham, L.
Wootton of Abinger, Baroness.

Then Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of December 11), Bill read 3a, and passed.