Clause 25 - Use of candidates' common names

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:30 pm ar 15 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I know that Committee members are hoping for our proceedings to reach a conclusion at some stage in the near future, but this is an important point. I welcome the Government's suggestion   regarding the use of candidates' common first names. It always was nonsensical that we had things like ''Dick commonly described as Harry'' on the ballot paper, and if we can change that nonsense, it is good that we do so.

I am less than totally convinced about surnames. As I understand it, in law, surnames are adopted by people as their principal descriptor; surnames have less status in law than first names to a certain extent. The commonly held misapprehension is that a deed poll is necessary to change one's surname. It is not; it is simply a matter of whether one is attempting to defraud or deceive. If one is not, one can adopt any surname one chooses, and that becomes the name by which one is commonly known. Therefore, I have to ask how it is that within electoral law we shall now have a person with two apparent surnames? It is a sort of Elton John amendment: he would have to describe himself not as Reg Dwight, but as Elton John. My contention would be that he could describe himself as Elton John anyway because that is the name by which he is commonly known and there is clearly no attempt to deceive.

I would be grateful if the Minister explained why it is felt appropriate to change both components rather than make the simple administrative change that gets rid of the common descriptor, which is often a nickname or a diminutive of a first name by which people are known. For example, if someone is known by everyone as Bob rather than Robert, why is he not called Bob on the ballot paper?

On another issue, subsection (4) has a form of nomination paper, which refers to Arthur Seymour Sullivan, who wishes to be known for the purposes of the ballot paper as W. S. Gilbert. That may raise a question in the mind of the elector as to whether he writes music or words, if he is known by both names. I am slightly surprised that the commonly used forename given as an exemplar in the Bill is the less-than-commonly used forename ''W. S.'' Is that an acceptable forename? Can one just have any combination of letters or even numerals as a commonly used forename?

''W. S.'' is not a name, but a set of initials. Are initials acceptable for the purposes of electoral law as a forename? If they are, what is the limitation? Could one have a logarithm or a logo or some other descriptor as a commonly used forename? The artist formerly known as Prince, as we famously know, once adopted a squiggle as his name. Is that squiggle now acceptable in British law as a commonly used forename?

I am sorry if that is a reduction to the absurd of the argument, but the exemplar used raises more questions than are answered. I am slightly surprised. Perhaps the Minister can explain—or not.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Roman alphabet must be used—so no squiggles or any letters from other languages.

Clause 25 allows candidates to use their common name on a ballot paper instead of their official name, so long as that is given to and accepted by the returning officer at nomination. The important point is   about common names and common usage, which is what I would ask hon. Members to focus on.

If somebody is known in a particular way, letting the description by which they are commonly known in their area go on the ballot paper is fair enough. For example, they might be known by a single name—I hesitate to mention the example appearing in my briefing note, which is Sting—or a shortened version name of a forename like Bob, instead of Robert. If somebody has been known all their life as Bob, or as Tony rather than Anthony, then people will recognise them more easily as such.

People could have a different name that they always used as their professional or stage name. That name might have nothing to do with the name on their birth certificate. I will not use any more of my examples, although we all know that Cliff Richard's name was not Cliff Richard—for those who are not old enough, his name was Harry Webb. The point is that nobody knows him as Harry Webb, except his mum.

There are names where initials are used, which some people are known by—for example, A. A. Milne, John H. Stracey or Malcolm X. I am using provocative examples, for which I apologise.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

P. J. Proby. There are archaeological layers here.

If hon. Members look through the parliamentary books, they will find that the name they think they know for a lot of people in the House is what they are commonly known as, but not their real name. I am sorry that we did not do that for the Committee, but hopefully we will do so promptly. A whole load of hon. Members have names different from those that they go by. For example, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) is known as George, but his real name is Gideon. We might have Dave instead of David for the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron).

The point is what one is commonly known as. Putting that name on the ballot paper makes sense—why refer to something on the birth certificate? Refer to what one is commonly known as.  

If the name is not commonly known and people are just trying to be misleading, confusing, obscene or offensive to voters, returning officers will decide that in their judgment that is not on and will give notice in writing of their reasons for refusing to use a name. The clause is sensible and brings the law into line with a lot of the situation that exists at the moment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.