HC Deb 17 January 1924 vol 169 cc251-2

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the employment of incompetent or unreliable presiding officers in a number of Parliamentary constituencies at the General Election held on 6th December, 1923; is he aware that in certain polling stations in certain constituencies certain presiding officers omitted to stamp a very large number of ballot papers with the official mark, as required by the Secret Ballot Act, 1872, thereby making void a very large number of votes, and thereby disfranchising the electors affected and seriously diminishing the votes otherwise legitimately cast for certain candidates; and will he state what steps he proposes to take in such cases?

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson)

I understand that there were some cases of rejection of ballot papers owing to the absence of the official mark, but I have no information as to the circumstances. The appointment of presiding officers rests with the returning officer, but in a circular which my right hon. Friend issued to acting returning officers before the election, he asked them specially to call the attention of presiding officers and poll clerks to this matter.

I may add that the question of abolishing the stamping of ballot papers at the polling stations has recently been discussed by the Home Office with representative acting returning officers and the agents of the several political parties. The conclusion has been reached that there is no advantage in retaining the present arrangement, and the preparation of legislation to amend the Ballot Act in this respect is now under consideration.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in quite a number of Parliamentary constituencies at the last General Election not only occasional ballot papers, but hundreds of ballot papers were not officially stamped although the voter had marked the paper properly, and thus the vote was rendered void. That is a very serious state of things. It has not occurred in one or two cases. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it has become so prevalent that he ought to set up a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the whole position ready for the coming of the Labour Government?


As I said in my reply, we have no information at the Home Office of what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.


Is there any machinery that will bring any fine or punishment to bear upon a presiding officer who has received his fee and has been guilty of gross incompetence or negligence?


I should like notice of that question.


Does the Home Office contemplate the abolition of the stamping of the ballot papers altogether; if so, have they devised any other safeguard for preventing forgery?


I understand that the practice of stamping is going to be done away with altogether, as it is considered that the fact that the ballot papers are numbered is a sufficient safeguard, and makes the stamping unnecessary. I would also remind the hon. Member that there is a number on the ballot paper, and if it is easy to forge that it is as easy to forge the stamp.


Not so easy!