HC Deb 03 December 1954 vol 535 cc465-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for Inverness in the room of Malcolm Avondale Douglas-Hamilton, esquire, O.B.E., D.F.C., commonly called Lord Malcolm Avendale Douglas-Hamilton, O.B.E., D.F.C., who, since his election for the said constituency, hath accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]

Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)

This is a debatable Motion, and I want to ask a question. As far as I am aware, this vacancy was known to the world only this morning, and it would appear to me to be a little sharp to move for the Writ at once. It leaves only 17 days for the constituency to choose candidates and make up its mind and go through all the machinery of by-election.

Of course, if one party knew that the application was likely to be forthcoming and had its candidate prepared and ready, as was the case in the West Derbyshire by-election in 1944, when I made a similar protest in this House, that would perhaps explain what has happened. I do not want to carry the Motion to a Division, but simply to put the matter on record. I should have thought there was matter for protest, if I am right in thinking that the public at large has heard of this application for the Steward or Bailiff of this Office only this very morning, for moving the Writ on this day. I should have thought it was democratic practice to allow a rather longer interval than that. I hope that that practice will be observed in future, unless, of course, I am mistaken, in which case I apologise for wasting your time, Mr. Speaker, and the time of the House.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, what protection we have against a thing like this being rushed upon us? None of us has any information about it. The constituency is probably the most widely scattered in Great Britain, and you, Mr. Speaker, are probably very well aware of its nature. It is grossly unfair to the people in these widely scattered areas to have had no notice whatever before a Writ was issued. I want to know what we can do about it and how we can lodge an objection.

Mr. Speaker

As far as the rules of order are concerned, the seat is now vacant, as this Office, which is presumed to be one of profit under the Crown, has been accepted. Therefore, it is quite in order to move the Writ at any time when a seat is vacant.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

May I say, in case it helps the hon. Lady, that the fact that we were going to move this Writ today was known, through the usual channels, to the Opposition.

Sir R. Acland

When did the general public know that a vacancy would occur in this constituency? If the Chief Whip was informed last night, that is no notice to those who within 17 days will have to have made all the preparations for contesting a by-election in this widely scattered area. When did they know about it?

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

Most of us learned of this in the columns of "The Times" only this morning. I submit very strongly that it is sharp practice on the part of the Government to rush this matter in the House concerning a large constituency, with no notice to any Opposition party. If the Government act in this way, it is unfair not only to the Opposition party but to the electors in the constituency.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

Is it not the fact that the difficulties which afflicted the historic and very large constituency of Inverness in regard to its Member have been common knowledge for over 12 months? Is it not also known that the hon. Member has not been in his place here since the House met again after the Summer Recess? If hon. Members opposite are considering the people, is it not their duty to enfranchise this constituency again at the earliest possible moment? Some of us, myself included, have been trying to deal with the correspondence from the division of Inverness, and it is becoming an intolerable burden.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) is quite wrong in thinking that we on this side want to disfranchise the constituents of Inverness. We are anxious that they should be enfranchised. What we are protesting against is the shortness of the notice concerning this by-election and what seems to be rather sharp political practice.

I happen to be the Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, and I certainly have known nothing about this election. I have heard nothing about it except a whisper yesterday that there might be a by-election in this constituency. This is probably the largest constituency in the country, and to give such short notice as this of a by-election is really quite unfair. It is unfair to the political parties and it is unfair to the electorate, and I certainly think we ought vigorously to protest against what undoubtedly is rather sharp political practice on the part of the Government.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I wish to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), knowing, as I do, the difficulties of carrying out a by-election in a very large agricultural constituency.

Sir R. Acland

All over Christmas, too.

Mr. Hughes

I know what it is like from my experience in Ayrshire. To cover a constituency of that kind means long weeks of very careful preparation and very difficult organisation so that the electors of the constituency can have the opportunity of voting. Even my constituency, however, which is one of the largest in Scotland, has not the very great difficulties of the constituency of Inverness. There are parts of Inverness, as you, Mr. Speaker, know as well as anybody in the House, that can be reached only by long journeys by sea—and we shall not be using helicopters for the election.

In this election there will be some very grave issues, and the electors in this constituency will have to meet very serious difficulties in any case, made all the greater by the shortness of the time allowed for preparation. At present the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Crofting Conditions is before the constituency, as it is before the country. This may seem a very remote matter of very small interest to the Chief Whip, but it affects intimately the life of a very large number of constituents in Inverness.

The whole question of the representation of Scotland in this House is now under consideration as a result of the reports of many commissions, and this is not an issue which can be adequately examined by the electors in a rushed election. I therefore say that these attempts to rush an election are not in the fundamental interests of democracy in Scotland.

Mr. Speaker

These considerations have nothing to do with me.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes 41; Noes, 28.

Division No. 1.] AYES [11.14 a.m.
Alport, C. J. M. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Armstrong, C. W. Gough, C. F. H. Renton, D. L. M.
Baldwin, A. E. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Robertson, Sir David
Braine, B. R. Heath, Edward Russell, R. S.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Sharples, Maj. R. C.
Brooman-White, R. C. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Tilney, John
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hutchison, James (Scotstoun) Turton, R. H.
Bullard, D. G. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Campbell, Sir David Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Cary, Sir Robert Longden, Gilbert Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Woollam, John Victor
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Neave, Airey
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Nicholls, Harmar TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Errington, Sir Eric Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Mr. Richard Thompson and Mr. Legh.
Fell, A. Page, R. G.
Acland, Sir Richard Plummer, Sir Leslie Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Probert, A. R. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Brockway, A. F. Reeves, J. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Deer, G. Reid, William (Camlachie) Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Rhodes, H. Willis, E. G.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Yates, V. F.
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Skeffington, A. M. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
McKay, John (Wallsend) Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Sorensen, R. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mellish, R. J. Stross, Dr. Barnett Mrs. Mann and Mr. Emrys Hughes.
Owen, W. J.

Question put, and agreed to.

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