HC Deb 14 November 1918 vol 110 cc3069-71

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time.

This is a quite simple and short Bill in two Clauses. It is designed to remedy certain facts which have emerged regarding the Representation of the People Act. The first Clause of the Bill provides for an extension of time between the close of the poll and the counting of the votes from eight to eleven days, and the purpose of that is to secure that as many ballot papers as possible filled up by soldiers who may be in France or Belgium may be returned to the returning officer, and included in the count. I am sure the House will agree that that is a desirable end to achieve. Under the existing Act, the poll must take place on the ninth day after the day fixed for nomination, and accordingly if an Order in Council wore made giving the maximum allowance given by the Representation of the People Act, for the reception of the ballot papers, there would be a period of seventeen days in all between nomination and count. During that time ballot papers have to be printed, they have to be sent out to soldiers who may be in France and Belgium and they have to be returned to the returning officer. The view of the Postmaster-General is that the period is insufficient to allow the papers to be sent to soldiers and returned to returning officers and included in the count. In his opinion eleven days are required to secure that result instead of eight. Clause 1 of the Bill gives effect to that view. Advantage has been taken of this opportunity to remove doubt as to the meaning of the word "day" in Subsection (3) of Section 23 of the Representation of the People Act. The doubt is whether "day" means clearly to exclude Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day as the Ballot Act provides, and I think the House will agree it is better to have that matter settled beyond all doubt here and now than to have it settled afterwards by reference to the Law Courts. Section 2 of the Bill deals with the Rules Publication Act, 1893. The provisions of that require that in respect of statutory rules they shall be published for forty days in the "London Gazette," and that during that period opportunity should be afforded to public bodies to make representations regarding the proposed Order. On that point I would like to say to the House that, in the first place, that provision does not apply to Scotland. In the second place, it will readily guess the "London Gazette" is not widely studied by persons who reside in the country, but, moreover, as the Representation of the People Act provides under Clause 40 that all those Orders which are issued should lie on the Table of the House for a specified period in order that representations may be made against them if that is thought fit, it will be seen that the protection afforded by the Bill as it stands is sufficient. The operation of this Act has been excluded in the Military Service Act of 1918, in the Trades Board Act and the Munitions of War Act, and, inasmuch as it was not intended that the Act of 1893 should apply to Orders under the Representation of the People Act, and as there is certain doubt as to whether they do or do not apply it has again been thought desirable to avoid controversy by excluding the application of that Act to the Representation of the People Act, 1918. There have been certain administrative inconveniences which have followed upon the compliance of the terms of the Act of 1893, and accordingly Section 2, following precedents which I have already referred to, proposes that the Act of 1893 does not apply to Orders issued under the Representation of the People Act. I do not desire at this late hour to detain the House with a more elaborate explanation of this simple Bill, and I hope that with this the House will give it a Second Reading.


I am sure the House will welcome this Act if it will enable soldiers at the front to vote more efficiently than under the original Bill. Many of us who have studied this absent voters provision are aware how many pitfalls it contains, and how small a percentage of votes will be polled, and we welcome anything that will enable votes to be in the ballot box. I am afraid this will have one unfortunate result, first of all, to keep the candidates in suspense, and will not aid them to enjoy Christmas as much as they otherwise would. I am afraid it may upset postal arrangements, although I am afraid that that is not really serious, as in time of war unfortunately the Christmas post will be interfered with, and it is one of the many inconveniences which the General Election will impose.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill.—[Mr. Munro.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.