§ The Under-Secretary of State far the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I beg to move,That the Electoral Registration Regulations, 1944, dated 20th July 1944, made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department under the Parliamentary Electors (War-Time Registration) Acts, 1943 and 1944, a copy of which Regulations was presented on 20th July, be approved.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
On a point of procedure. I would like to ask, in view of the previous Debate having been 1313 adjourned so that other Members can speak, whether we should take these Regulations at this hour as they are complex and raise points which may have to be debated.
According to what was said earlier in the day, it seems best that the Minister should move these Regulations first and then the hon. Member's point of Order might be more properly put.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
After we have heard what the Minister has to say and if there appear to be important matters upon which hon. Members wish to express their views, would you then consider further points of Order with regard to the length of the Sitting?
If there is any desire on the part of the House, having heard the Minister's speech, to prolong the discussion, that will obviously be the time for the Government to make their decision on the matter.
§ Mr. Peake
The Regulations which I am bringing before the House require an affirmative Resolution, by virtue of Section 20 of the Parliamentary Elections and Meetings Act, 1943, which prescribes that all the administrative Regulations shall be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State, as soon as may be after they are made, and shall not come into operation until they are approved by Resolution of each House of Parliament. The provisional draft of these Regulations was laid before hon. Members in the form of a White Paper in October, 1943, at the time when the Bill was laid before the House, so as to enable hon. Members to have a very clear idea of what it was intended to do by means of Regulations under the Bill. These Regulations conform substantially to the draft contained in the White Paper which was issued in October last year.
They are rather voluminous in form, but I do not think they will be the subject of much controversy, because they do not raise any point of principle, and, to a very large extent, they follow the existing electoral law contained in the Representation of the People Act, 1918. They are designed in order to be suitable to the form of continuous registration which was prescribed in the principal Act last year. Part I of the Regulations sets 1314 out the machinery necessary for the compilation of electors' lists and the publication of a register, in accordance with the requirements of Section 12 (1) and (2) of the Act of 1943. Part II prescribes the procedure for voting by post and by proxy. A civilian can vote by post as an absent voter under Regulation 19, if a registration officer is satisfied that his occupation, service or employment may debar him from voting in person at an election; while Regulation 20 prescribes procedure for members of the Forces to vote by post, which procedure is, by Section 9 (3) of the Act, available to Service personnel who are in the United Kingdom at the time of an election.
Part III of the Regulations deals with miscellaneous matters, and I would only mention at this stage what I consider to be the two most important. Regulation 29 prescribes the constituencies where, by reason of the large number of persons qualified for the business premises vote, it would not be possible for an electoral registration officer, on the initiation of the election, to publish the notice, required by the first rule of the Third Schedule to the Act, containing his estimate of the number of persons qualified for registration in the constituency. The object of publication of that notice by the electoral registration officer is to enable candidates to decide and to ascertain how much money they are entitled to expend at the election. There are certain constituencies where there are considerable numbers of business voters, and the number of these business voters will not be known on the day when the election is initiated and will not become clear and settled until 14 days later. By an agreement between the three agents of the three principal political parties my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has selected the constituencies mentioned in Regulation 29 as being those constituencies in which it will not be possible for an accurate estimate to be formed, owing to the large number of business voters who were qualified for those constituencies in the year 1939.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I have not very much objection. Regarding the amount of money that may be spent, as I understand it, none of us in Glasgow ever spend anything like that sum. I think I spent £100 or £110 in the last election. As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, there are five of these constituencies in 1315 Scotland: that of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvin-grove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and mine in Glasgow, two in Edinburgh and another elsewhere. I wonder how a large business vote in Gorbals has been arrived at? What method was taken to ascertain it, because no one who knows my constituency would say it has a large business vote? I have no objection.
§ Mr. Peake
I will ascertain and reply later in the Debate to the point made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I expect we shall find that in 1939 there was above a certain proportion of business voters registered for the constituency. My hon. Friend may be reassured in regard to this Regulation, because its only effect really is to limit the amount of money which his political opponents may spend in trying to defeat him.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Do I understand that this was ascertained by inquiries made by the Home Secretary from the political agents of the three chief political parties?
§ Mr. Peake
May I make it perfectly clear? The number of business voters on the 1939 register is, of course, well known. The figures are available, and by consultation with the three chief political party agents, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland prescribed where the datum line should be drawn for the publication of the estimate on the later date rather than on the earlier date prescribed by Rule. I of the Third Schedule of the principal Act.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Was any intimation given to, or was there consultation with, the sitting Members of the constituencies? It seems to me a little, shall I say cavalier, to consult merely the agents of the political parties if the Members concerned had no warning of it. It may have been that such warning was given, but I do not myself recollect having had any communication.
§ Mr. Peake
I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend will acquit both my right hon. Friends of any intended discourtesy. I think it is perfectly clear that no amount of consultation could have affected the numbers of business voters registered in the year 1939 and it was 1316 simply a question, as I understand it, of saying there was more than a certain percentage of business voters in the constituency in 1939, and that a further period of 14 days ought to be allowed for the forming of an estimate by the registration officer of the number of electors who are likely to vote at the forthcoming election, and in that way to give to the candidates an indication of how much money they would be permitted to spend without incurring penalties.
§ Lieut-Colonel Elliot
My right hon. Friend will realise that we are watching the actions of his office in the laying of Regulations with a certain amount of trepidation. For all we know some small operation may have taken place which will invalidate the election altogether. I have had some experience in my constituency, both in by-elections and in elections, in which difficulties arose, and, believe me, I am not anxious that they should be unnecessarily multiplied on these occasions. I also might have been able to give some assistance, as well as the political agent.
§ Mr. Peake
I am sure that, if my right hon. and gallant Friend will read the first Rule of the Third Schedule to the principal Act, he will see exactly what is being done. This is only a question of dates. In the ordinary way the registration officer has to make an estimate on the day the election is initiated, approximately 53 days before polling day, of the number of voters in the division, in order to help candidates to know how much they can spend. The date of the initiation of an election is laid down in the principal Act, and it is necessary for candidates to know how much money they are to be allowed to spend before the election begins. In certain cases, where there are large numbers of business voters, it will not be possible to indicate the number of voters and the consequent amount to be spent until 14 days later, but there will still be something like four and a half or five weeks to polling day. I think I have satisfied the House upon that point.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
With regard to the business voters' registration, will it be a recommendation of the Committee that there is only to be one vote, instead of a man and his wife voting?
§ Mr. Peake
No, not under these Regulations, without grave risk of being called to Order. There is one other Regulation to which I ought to draw the attention of the House, and that is Regulation 35, dealing with the supply of copies of electors' lists and of the Service register to candidates or election agents. These documents will not be on sale, and will have to be corrected as the machinery proceeds; this together with the fact that at the time of publication of electors' lists, on the twentieth day after the initiation of an election, it will not be known who is to be a candidate, because nomination day is not earlier than the 44th day after initiation, it has been difficult to draft a Regulation so as to ensure that a person. who is a bona fide candidate will get a reasonable number of copies of these documents, and, at the same time, safeguard registration officers against last-minute demands for copies which they will be unable to supply. Therefore, the Regulation, which has been the subject of discussion, with the chief party agents, provides that any person who appears to a registration officer to be genuinely seeking nomination and who makes his request before the twentieth day after the initiation of the election, shall be supplied, in any event, with 8 copies of these documents. Any person who makes his request after the twentieth day—that is to say, after the date of the publication of the lists—will get a guaranteed minimum of two copies of these lists and he may get more if the registration officer should have any surplus after making the proper provision for the copies which are officially required.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that, if the application is made before the 36th day before the Election Register is published, he will still be deprived of getting eight copies of the Register but he will get his eight copies of the Service Register, under this Regulation?
§ Mr. Bellenger
With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to continue the point which I put to your predecessor in the Chair, who interrupted me while I was putting it. It is obvious, from the remarks already made by the Under-Secretary of State, that this is a most complicated subject. The Government have already adjourned the previous Debate on housing, and I want to ask the Patronage Secretary whether he does not think that at this hour it would be advisable to adjourn further consideration of these Regulations, which raise very complicated points, as it may take a considerable time if hon. Members want to raise questions on them?
§ Mr. Peake
Perhaps I may, briefly, answer that point. These Regulations are very urgently required. If the House were to adjourn for the Recess without approving these Regulations, none of the necessary work in connection with the preparation of electors' lists could proceed. We have already had to simplify the principal Act, in order to enable this work to be carried out, and it is really very urgent that we should have the Regulations before the House adjourns. In the second place, hon. Members cannot complain that they have been taken by surprise by this document, because a very similar document was available to Members, in the form of a White Paper, as long ago as October last; and, as I say, these Regulations, in fact, contain a great deal of what is existing law, settled by the Representation of the People Act, 1918.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
The House will recognise that these Regulations are, of course, of a temporary character, meant for a temporary situation, and, to that extent, 1319 they can be recognised as being generally satisfactory. There are, however, one or two points that I would like to raise regarding the working of these Regulations. I take it that if, before the Election takes place, there are sufficient staff and printing facilities available, even though at that time Part II of the Act is not brought into operation, the restrictions that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, regarding the supply of Registers, will not apply—that is, that enough Registers will be available at any time during the election, and that these restrictions included in the Regulation will not be adhered to in the strict letter of the law. There is a provision for flexibility, and I hope that that will be interpreted generously. I should like the right hon. Gentleman's assurance on that point. In regard to Article 13, which deals with the Service Register, the Register has to be compiled from applications received. When the original Act was passed an assurance was given that all the Service voters would be registered. Since then the arrangements seem to have brought in the provision that Service members, like business people, have to contract in. I represent a party which has had a great deal of experience in regard to contracting in, and when the law was changed with regard to the political affiliation of trades unions we realised the difficulty of getting people to contract in. The amount of labour and energy required was enormous compared with automatic registration. It would be wrong to let the Regulations pass without expressing great concern at the fact that the Services Register depends upon contracting in.
§ Mr. Peake
Once we get on to the question of the mode of registration of Service voters, and if we proceed with it, we may get into a very wide Debate indeed, but this question of the mode of registration and of voting by Service voters, was laid down in the principal Act of 1943, and the Regulations now before the House do not really touch it.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The Act is very clear, but when the Home Secretary was explaining it to the House, in reply to a question, he made it definite that the Government made themselves responsible for the Services being registered.
§ Mr. Turton
Does not the Act say that the Service voter shall be registered in 1320 any manner authorised by the National Registration Regulations?
§ Mr. Woodburn
The Home Secretary ought not to leave this in the way of odds and ends being handed in, but the whole Army and Air Force should be brought on to the Register automatically in the same way as civilians. I hope that this matter will be taken seriously, and the Government as a whole must make themselves responsible for the registration of the Forces, otherwise very serious difficulties might arise. At the moment far too much is left to chance and I suggest that the filling up of the form will be very difficult to the average member of the Forces and something should be done to make it as simple as possible.
I am not at all sure that the hon. Member is entitled to go into this question. The Regulations do not appear to deal with the detail of registration of Service voters. I have not a copy of the Act before me but to the best of my recollection that detail was dealt with rather in full in the original Act, and, if so, that would be the place in which to deal with it.
§ Mr. Woodburn
On page 29 it gives instructions to persons desiring to appoint proxies to vote at Parliamentary elections and the forms are all laid down for claims to be placed on the voters' list. Therefore I suggest respectfully that it comes under these Regulations. It is to these forms that I direct my remarks and therefore I suggest, with your approval, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I should be in Order. it is rather formidable to have to fill in these forms. A soldier may think it an Income Tax form and run for his life. What is required is that the very excellent explanation on page 29 should be made available to soldiers in a much more attractive manner than in the Regulations as they appear here. In fact, if I may say so, in this document there is a great deal of the essentials of modern democracy but no one could imagine that the modern democracy would buy this document and read it, and we would like some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman about the provisions that are to be made to bring this to the notice of the people who are going to vote—what 1321 are their rights, what are their duties, how they ought to proceed to obtain these forms.
If I might make a suggestion, it would be that the Press and the platform and the B.B.C. should he utilised to bring this to the notice of the people in the most popular way possible. The Ministry of Information is having difficulty in finding suitable topics for some of its meetings throughout the country, and there is no reason at all why some of its meetings should not instruct the people on the new procedure in regard to a possible election. On the B.B.C. there are talks to the Forces. I heard a Parliamentary talk to the Forces on Saturday night which suggested that Members of Parliament were breaking up for a Recess to dodge the flying bombs——
§ Mr. Woodburn
I can think of a better use of the Parliamentary broadcast than that, and a more honest one, and I protest against the B.B.C.—which is so careful in censoring everybody else who is going to speak—allowing things of that kind to pass. I suggest that the Parliamentary broadcast might direct some of its talks to making known to the Forces what are their rights and duties as members of a democracy, instead of casting aspersions on its principal machinery in this country. I hope it will be made easy for the Forces to fill in the form included in this document, and I suggest that the very fine educational organisation developed in the Army——
The hon. Gentleman is really getting on to another matter which has only a very distant relation if any to these Regulations. I do not think he ought to pursue the issue.
§ Mr. Woodburn
To keep in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask in what way are these forms to be brought to the notice of the Service voters; by what vehicle is the Service voter to discover that these forms exist; and will it be possible to use the very fine welfare and educational services developed in the Army to see that these documents reach the people who are to use them?
If I may come to a more detailed point connected with page 3, Regulation 2, I would urge the Department, if possible, to print the Registers in street order in the 1322 case of villages and towns where they are built up to any great extent. If they are not in street order great inconvienience is caused to everybody carrying on electioneering. We talk about the country as distinct from the town but in many cases these county constituencies are no longer villages, where everybody knows everyone else, but small towns, and have streets as in the urban areas. It would be a great facility in electioneering if the documents could be printed in street order.
One other great advantage would be if, in addition to the printing of the names, the designation—Mr., Mrs. or Miss—could be indicated in some way. Everybody who has taken part in electioneering knows the terrible trouble that arises by addressing a "Miss" as "Mrs." and a "Mrs." as "Miss." Sometimes other complications arise where you get a name that might be Mr., Mrs. or Miss. Therefore in case we miss any electors, I hope some indication will be given of the title which should be applied to the person concerned. The Regulations, as I said at the beginning, are interim and depend on an election coming before the facilities that are hoped for will be available. I would, however, like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether, in the event of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference being adopted by the House, and in the event of changes being made in regard to details of electioneering, the Government propose to bring in a new set of Regulations to cover these changes, because an Election may not take place for a considerable time and there may be ample opportunity of doing the job in a more thorough fashion than is possible under these interim provisions.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I would like to reinforce what has been said by the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) about Regulation 2, dealing with the order of names in the Register, and his plea that a lady who is unmarried should be so designated, in order to help canvassers. They are important factors. In this Regulation you are going away from the 1939 Register. The 1939 provisions made it easier for the Register to be put in street order, and you say that it shall be arranged in alphabetical order although not so arranged according to the order adopted for the corresponding parts of the 1939 Register. 1323 I hope that in due course the Regulations will be amended, and that provision will be made in all cases for the Register to be put in what I would call walking order, rather than street order. That is far more convenient for canvassers of all parties.
I have some committee points in mind, although whatever one says can have no effect because the Regulations cannot be amended at this stage. I should, however, like my right hon. Friend to explain two points on Regulation No. 11. I can find in this Regulation no procedure laid down for the calling of witnesses, although it is quite clear that in the hearing of claims and objections witnesses must be called, because in Regulation 10 (2) (c) there is talk about evidence. Therefore, we must have some provision put into the Regulation to allow witnesses to be called so that objections can be duly heard. Paragraph 4 of Regulation 11 is rather curious. It states:Any person entitled by this regulation to appear may appear either in person or by any other person, other than counsel, on his behalf.Why are members of the Bar not allowed to appear, although it would appear that a friend or solicitor, or anybody in the country except the only person qualified to present a case, can be heard? This is a surprising feature, especially when I recollect that my right hon. Friend is himself a member of the Bar. I wonder why he is trying to do down his profession at this stage in his career. Leaving the question of Service voters to the last, I would like my right hon. Friend to make clear what is really meant by Regulation 35. To the ordinary simple mind it is quite unintelligible. I think all will be grateful for the concession of allowing eight copies of the Register to a candidate but it is really in fact only six, because he would always require two copies written on one side of the paper only. In town areas six or eight may well be sufficient but in a rural constituency it is insufficient. I do not mind how many party agents have agreed on this but, if you get a large constituency of 20 to 25 miles, you require more than eight copies. In fact, you require 12.
I get much more worried when I read this proviso. An election will take place 53 days after it is initiated. If a candidate does not make his request to the returning officer before 33 days from the 1324 election, that is nearly a month before nomination day, he is only going to get two copies. I think that is extremely unjust. It will probably be giving a great advantage to the sitting Member over any candidate who is trying to turn him out. It would bode ill for the House of Commons if it was said that we had put in this Regulation which really debarred any candidate from fighting a sitting Member. No candidate can fight a rural constituency with only two copies of the Register. However rich he is, he cannot get more, because none are for sale. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this proviso in Regulation 35. I gather that part of it was not agreed upon by the party agents, and it has caused great consternation amongst those who have the business of conducting elections that in certain cases, if the candidate comes late on the scene, he has only two copies. As I picture the position, those who will be late in coming forward will be the men and women in the Forces. Why is it that these men, who will probably be coming from abroad and will be adopted rather late, are only to have two copies while the Member of Parliament, or the candidate who is at home or is not in the Services, will get eight? It is a terrible embarrassment for the Service candidate. I hope the Government will consider very carefully before they allow that Regulation to be passed.
I should like to refer to the fons et origo of the Regulations dealing with the Service voter, Section 8 (2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1943, which laid down that no person should be entitled to be registered in the Service Register for an electionunless there has been transmitted to the registration officer for that constituency in any manner authorised by the National Registration Regulations.Therefore it is clear that we have to rely on these Regulations for the manner in which the declaration of the Service voter is to be sent to the registration officer. I am very disappointed to find that it is dismissed so cursorily in Regulation 13 with no assistance in what is a most difficult problem in legislation that this country has ever faced. The results of the method by which it has been carried on with great zeal by all the Service Departments are causing grave disquiet. They are trying to co-operate in this matter yet we find that soldiers, sailors 1325 and merchant seamen are not getting registered. The Committee made a recommendation that the Record Office could help returning officers, yet in these Regulations there is no mention of any help being given by the Record Office.
§ Mr. Turton
I was actually quoting from Sub-section (2), which contains a reference to National Registration Regulations.
§ Mr. Turton
The matter becomes more complicated when we appreciate that the whole of the Service voting is something new. In the old National Registration Regulations the Service voter was put on automatically.
§ Mr. Bellenger
May I ask my right hon. Friend on this point, which is being so ably pressed by my hon. Friend, whether the House is entitled to see the Regulations made by the national registration authority, or does he simply make Regulations without consulting the House?
§ Mr. Turton
I gather that the scope of our discussion is even wider than before. The National Registration Regulations presumably would allow for automatic registration under Clause 8. In that case I was avoiding talking about automatic registration because I felt I should be out of Order, but from the explanation given by my right hon. Friend it appears that I would be in Order if I pressed the point that the Government should adopt the principle of automatic registration. I am reinforced in my plea by the fact that Mr. Speaker, in a recent letter to the 1326 Prime Minister, has put forward the view that his Conference felt that registration for Service voters would never be satisfactory until there was automatic registration. It seems to be most untimely that, when we have published at the week-end the report of the Conference on Electoral Reform and Registration which advocates automatic registration of Service voters, we should get these weedy, nebulous Regulations dealing with the Service voter. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary should, in his explanation of these Regulations, have made some comment on paragraph 20 of Mr. Speaker's letter to the Prime Minister. I could have understood my right hon. Friend saying that these Regulations, voluminous and unworkable in some respects, will have to be amended in view of the letter of Mr. Speaker. That, I believe, is the right way to look at this matter. This Conference has been sitting for some months dealing with some of the problems that are included in these Regulations. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend would not have had the time to bring in new Regulations to conform to what Mr. Speaker's Conference recommended, and I think it would have been at least, shall I say, polite, if, in moving them, he had said that he was going to amend some of them in conformity with the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference. May I beg of him to do that in his winding up speech? We have the fact that the Service voter is not getting registered and the other fact that the men in the Forces do not know what their obligations are under this Measure. We all realise that when they read these Regulations they will be none the wiser. After all, there is, in these Regulations, on pages 28 and 29——
§ Mr. Peake
I must raise a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. My hon. Friend is pursuing an argument as to the method of registration, and the method of voting of Service voters. Both of those matters are clearly covered by Sections of the principal Act, and the only respect in which these Regulations touch the question of the Service voter is in certain instructions which they give to electoral registration officers, as to how they are to perform their duty, in entering the names, and so forth. I submit that we cannot discuss upon these Regulations the whole 1327 question of how Service voters are to be put on the Register and how they are to exercise their vote.
§ Mr. Turton
On this point of Order, I would point out that I was pursuing this argument—and I think it is in Order—that these Regulations should not be passed in view of the fact that Mr. Speaker had reported only four days ago, saying that the present method should be changed. That seemed to be a good argument for saying that these Regulations should be amended.
I think that is so, and that the hon. Member's argument is therefore out of Order.
§ Mr. Turton
I feel that I have made my point and I will bow to your Ruling, Sir. I was going to draw attention to the form C, the proxy application form. Perhaps I shall be corrected on this point. Will it be available to the Service voter who wishes to have a proxy? If it is not, what is he going to have? Some information must be given to the Service voter as to what is required of him. The position of the Service voter is complicated by the fact that in the Army only eight months ago there was a general sweep up to get the soldiers to make proxies and of course the proxies they made were under the old 1939 Register. If it has not to do with soldiers, what has, I ask? There must be something in these Regulations to lay down to Service voters the instructions to those desiring to appoint proxies. I quite agree that this is intended for civilians. Therefore I ask whether my right hon. Friend anywhere in the whole of these voluminous Regulations instructs the Service voter how to prepare proxies. At the present time, too, Service men are in a considerable state of ignorance.
The hon. Member is referring to the proxy application on page 28 which applies to civilians only. There is no relation between it and the question of Service voters.
§ Mr. Turton
That is the point I was making. It is headed "civilian" and therefore there is no instruction to the Service voter how to make a proxy, yet the Regulations cover the making of proxies by Service voters.
If the hon. Member will look at page 22 he will see there a proxy paper for the Service Register.
§ Mr. Turton
That is the very point I am making and which you reinforce, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Here you have on page 22 a proxy paper for the Services with no instructions to the soldier how to make his proxy. Turn to page 29 and you find that the civilian is getting full instructions, six paragraphs of instructions, on how to make his proxy. The soldier is in considerable doubt. I was saying that last year he was asked to make a proxy on the 1939 Register. Many hundreds of soldiers filled up that proxy. They do not realise that that proxy is completely valueless, and that should be pointed out in instructions in the form of an appendix to these Regulations. Men are being asked, "Have you made your declaration and appointed a proxy?" They say, "Yes, we did that a year ago." That really means that they are going to lose their vote at the next Election. I ask my right hon. Friend to pay due attention to this question of Servicemen having their vote. We laid down, mistakenly in my view, in 1943 a method for giving them a vote. Let us see that that at least is carried out clearly, and that the men are given the opportunity of voting which was given to them by the 1943 Act, and that they are given instructions as to how to make their declaration, and are also given instructions as to the fact that the proxy they made last year is now quite valueless, and that they have to make a new one. May I make an appeal that the recommendation of the Vivian Committee that the record offices should be brought in to help in this question of the Service voter should be implemented by His Majesty's Government?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I think the House is entitled to complain at the methods adopted by the Government in bringing these Regulations before us at such a time and just before we are about to rise for the Summer Recess. It is quite obvious from the speech made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and the hon. Member for East Stirling 1329 (Mr. Woodburn) that there are many issues arising out of these Regulations which will in all probability result in a good deal of injustice being done, at any rate to one class of voter, namely, the Service voter. I think the House should have had a longer time and had an earlier period of the day to discuss these matters more thoroughly than we can possibly do at this late hour. The Under-Secretary has said that the Government must have these Regulations before the Recess if we are going to get on with the job of compiling the Register in preparation for an Election. I can well understand that, and all hon. Members will wish to assist, as far as we possibly can. But I think it would be a dereliction of our duty if we did not bring prominently before the Government to-day certain points, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has done, and as I propose to do in as short a space of time as I can.
Take Regulation 10 (1). Stated there is the method to be adopted by aggrieved persons for making and recording all claims and objections. I should imagine that may be possible without a great deal of difficulty in the case of the civilian Register. But I suggest that it is going to be practically impossible for the Service voter overseas, fighting this country's battles, or farther overseas, in an army of occupation, or still farther overseas, fighting against Japan, even to know whether his name is on the Register or not. He may assume that, because he signed a form, his name has been recorded, but he will never know whether that form reaches its destination; and if it does not, his name will not be on the Register. How is the Service voter to raise an objection if he does not know whether his name is on the Register or not? I do not think that this Regulation meets the case of the Service voter, the absent voter, or the Service man serving overseas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at this matter at some time, and see whether it is possible to make the Regulation more effective in the case of those objectors who happen to be Service men serving overseas.
In Regulation 14 it is stated that the registration officer shall make all the necessary corrections and do everything necessary to form the Register in time to allow the publication thereof, etc. I wonder what precisely that means. Does it mean, as we have been given to under- 1330 stand in answers to Questions in this House, that it will be possible for candidates to have a sight of the Register, in so far as it has been made up, before the actual date of its publication? My right hon. Friend may remember the point we put to the Home Secretary, that it would be desirable that candidates should be able to see, for example, the Service Register, which will always be in process of being made up, whether it is complete, or incomplete, or partially complete, before the freezing date, when no more names can be added. It may be that provision for that is made in the National Registration officer's Regulations, but I cannot see any reference in these Regulations to what, I understood, was an undertaking given by the Home Secretary, that candidates could have a sight of part of the register before the actual publication date. I have not got the column of HANSARD available at the moment, but, if my recollection serves me aright, the Under-Secretary will find if he looks into it, that that was the position.
I come to Regulation 22 (4), which deals with the employment of proxies. The registration officer, under this Regulation, has to keep a list of proxies, and to satisfy himself, at any rate in certain cases, as to the relationship of the proxy to the voter. He has to decide in his own mind whether the proxy is a husband, a wife, a parent, a grandparent, a brother, or a sister, because, except in these cases, no person can carry more than two proxies for absent voters—I think I am right in saying that, in the case of these near relations, they can carry More than two proxies. How is the registration officer to prove whether the proxy is a husband, a wife, a parent, a grandparent, a brother, or a sister? Will he want the birth certificate, or what evidence will he want? I come to Regulation 23 (1). I am putting these points rather quickly I am afraid, because I want to economise time. They are all substantial points, and, even if the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer them to-day, they have to be answered at some time if we are going to make these Regulations really effective, so that we get at a General Election as nearly as possible a complete record of what sort of House of Commons the country wants.
In Regulation 23, Sub-section (1), if the person nominated as first choice in the Service voters' application for the 1331 issue of a proxy paper fails, the Service voter, I believe, has two alternatives. He nominates first the proxy, and, if that fails, because of some legal disqualification or because of refusal to accept the proxy, he then has a second choice, and, in this Regulation, a very complicated machinery is to be set up in order that the registration officer shall notify the absent voter that one or other of his proxies has failed. The purpose of that, as I understand it, is to give the absent voter an opportunity of appointing another proxy. How is the registration officer to notify the absent voter that his proxies have failed for one reason or another? He must send notification to the absent voter, care of the National Register—the Central Register. How is the Central Register to find that absent voter? Supposing the absent voter happens to be a merchant seaman, I think the Central Register would have considerable difficulty in finding that absent voter and telling him that his proxies had failed. What I presume they will do is to send a notification to the Ministry of War Transport and leave it to them to do the work.
The same thing will happen in the case of the Service voter. It will lie with the Army, Navy or Air Force to find these men and to tell them that something which they wanted done cannot be done and to ask them if they will do something else. I think I have said enough to enforce the point put by the hon. Member for East Stirling and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that some better system for registering Service voters is necessary than that laid down in the Act and implemented by these Regulations. Obviously, I cannot develop the point, but I urge my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to these limited remarks we are able to make, because if, as the hon. Member for East Stirling said, there is any large proportion of Service voters disqualified, for whatever reason, there will be considerable discontent and dissatisfaction when the election arrives.
Under Schedule I, Sub-paragraph (5), there is set out something which I do not quite understand. It refers to the opening of the absent voters' ballot boxes and what happens if the contents are not quite all right and do not coincide with some- 1332 thing or other, but, quite frankly, I do not understand it, and, if my right hon. Friend can explain it, I should be happy to hear his explanation. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has referred to Regulation 35, which provides for the number of copies of the Register which shall be provided for various types of candidates. I think that if the reason is economy, as the Minister indicated, it would be well worth the Government's while to spend a little more money and to provide a little more paper—and they are spending a lot of money and utilising a lot of paper at the present time—in order to see that every candidate, Service candidate or otherwise, has every opportunity of providing himself with the particulars that he wants in order to present his case to the electors. In limiting the number of copies provided for candidates, the Government are doing a disservice to democracy.
On page 29, paragraph (6), it is stated that a proxy paper will only remain in force for the Parliamentary election pending at the time of its issue. I am wondering what is to happen if a by-election takes place in a certain constituency and then a General Election follows soon afterwards. That is a possibility. By-elections are taking place, and, although I would regret the circumstances very much, it might even be conceivable that quite a number of hon. Members of this House might be sent to eternity by one of the flying bombs and there might be a considerable number of by-elections. According to paragraph (6) it looks as if the Service elector or the absent voter——
§ Mr. Bellenger
Let us assume that the civilian, who is the only type of elector governed by this Regulation, has appointed a proxy. Why will he have appointed a proxy? Presumably because he is absent from his constituency. There is an earlier Regulation which gives the reason why he can appoint a proxy, and it is because he is not able for certain reasons to register his vote at a by-election in the constituency where he is registered, 1333 and to all intents and purposes he is an absent voter. If, after a man or woman has appointed his or her proxy, and the by-election has taken place, a General Election should follow, what is to be the position? I take it that the proxy is finished because it has been utilised for the by-election pending at the time of issue, and, therefore, a further proxy would have to be appointed for a General Election—or perhaps another by-election which might conceivably follow a previous by-election.
I have said enough to show that these Regulations, although they may be in accordance with the Act we passed last year, will, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has stated, be unworkable in many respects, and if they are unworkable, what sort of representation are we going to get at the time a General Election comes? I believe that I am right in saying that the General Election will be fought under the Act we passed last year and the Regulations which we are being asked to pass to-day. If that is so, the House of Commons ought to take every precaution and spend as much time as possible in considering how we can get the best possible interpretation of the peoples' wishes whether civilian, business or Service electors. I do not think that these Regulations, or indeed the Act itself, which we are precluded almost from discussing, will provide for that, and therefore I support what has been said by the two previous speakers, that these Regulations will have to be drastically amended at some time, if we are to achieve the results that we all desire.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I would like to reinforce very strongly what has been said by the two hon. Members on Regulation 2 about the alphabetical order and street order, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give us an assurance that there is no intention of making any substantial change as between what was in 1939 the street order and what may be the alphabetical order. One will not complain if a few places here and there, say, 1 or 2 per cent. in the entire country, which were in street order in 1939 are to be alphabetical in 1944 for some reason or other, but I hope there may be an assurance that there is no intention to take great blocks of the Register, whole wards, whole areas, which have been in 1334 street order almost since the 1832 Reform Bill and turn them into alphabetical order. In a village it may be difficult, but one can just manage it in alphabetical order, whereas if a thickly populated urban area is put into alphabetical order there will be an almighty difficulty in running elections. So I hope an assurance can be given that these words, necessary perhaps in certain cases, do not cover any intention of making a substantial change.
I will ask the Minister to consider one point in Regulation 35, which says that candidates have to make their requests for their eight copies of the Register by a certain date. The exact words are "The candidates or their agents." Strictly speaking, there cannot be an agent until after there is a candidate, but there will be many cases where, on the twentieth day after the initiation of a by-election or General Election there will be local organisations in a constituency—be they Conservative, Labour, Liberal or any other party existent or non-existent at the moment—with the bona fide intention to find and run a candidate which have not yet been able to select one. A somewhat similar case was suggested by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). This will be particularly so when, as will be the case in the coming General Election, they will naturally be looking towards the Services for the type of candidate they would like to select. Would the Under-Secretary undertake to look at this Regulation again to see if he cannot bring in a very small qualifying Regulation, so that representatives of bona fide organisations with the genuine intention of running a candidate should also be able to ask for their eight copies of the Register by the twentieth day? I think that would make a difference and meet a case of hardship of, say, a Conservative association, or some other party which had not chosen their candidate by the twentieth day.
On the general issue of the Service Register, I would only express my conviction that the Government will be obliged to accept the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference, and they will be asked to take much more trouble about this business than they seem prepared to take at the moment. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and to the Minister for Home Security that they should pay a call on the High Commissioners for Australia 1335 and New Zealand in order to find out what was done by those two countries to enable the soldiers to vote on the battle-field with lists of candidates in front of them. It only needed a little determination and a little trouble, and it was done. I see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that that is out of Order and I do not want to go further with that.
I want to make one point on the assumption, which I pray be not correct, that the present system is going to continue, and that we have to contest an election under it. I would also make one small point in relation to the Second Schedule, on page 19, where it will be found that certain days and times are fixed for publishing certain lists. For example, on the twentieth day you publish the civilian residents electors list, and on that objection is made, and on the twenty-fourth day you publish the business premises electors list and by a footnote on page 20 the Register itself is published on the thirty-sixth day. As I see it, the Service Register will not be published to anyone until the thirty-sixth day. Surely that is a mistake which need not be made, even within the framework of the present scheme, which I regard as unworkable.
The Service Register is constantly being compiled, or the raw material for it is constantly being gathered, as Army forms B626 and the corresponding Navy and Air Force forms come to hand. They are coming in slowly; they go to a central point and from there go out to the different constituencies. In so far as they have been received on the day when an election was initiated it would seem quite possible to publish what I would call a Service list on, shall we say, the tenth day after the initiation of the election and, therefore, some 43 days before polling day itself. That would not be a complete Service Register, because a few more Army forms might come in and would have to be added up to the thirty-sixth day, but without the earliest possible publication to the Services, of the Services list, which would be practically identical with the Service Register when it came out, there is no chance at all of the issues of the election, and the names of candidates likely to contest the election, being put before the Service man.
In the case of a soldier fighting in Burma— unless the Government adopt the 1336 Australian and New Zealand schemes—it is too bad. He appoints a proxy who has to be not only his hand, but his brain as well. In the case of a soldier serving in the Middle East, or with the Army of occupation in Europe, if we could persuade the postal authorities to do something special about it—and I think we could—it ought not to be impossible for large numbers of candidates to send election addresses, or brief statements, to them so that they could compare them with statements from other parties. The soldier would then take his air-mail card and write to his wife, or whoever he has appointed as his proxy, and say for whom he wanted to vote. If that could happen the soldier would feel that he had participated in the election. If the list is not published until the thirty-sixth day there is not time at all for this. I would, therefore, like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that there is no intention of making a change from street order to alphabetical order, that he will consider widening the scope of Regulation 35 and amending the Schedule in order to get the Parliamentary Service list published from something like the tenth day after the initiation of an election.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I would like to make a few general comments on these Regulations. I regret very much that there is such a sparse attendance to discuss such a matter as this; for the last hour only about 20 Members have been in the Chamber, and that is a sad reflection on Parliament. One is almost tempted to call a Count to see if we have 40 in the building. One does not like to do that at a time like this but something will have to be done or Parliament will fall into disrepute. If we cannot get more than a handful of people to discuss an important matter like this, attention will have to be drawn to it. It may be that it is not of much importance but it strikes me that more attention ought to be given to it than has been given.
I am amazed at one point that has been put forward by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). He tells us that candidates will not get more than two copies of the Register if they come into the field late. That seems to be a very unfair thing and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will clear it up. Clause 29 is headed, "Extension of time for notifying number of electors," and it gives 1337 a list of constituencies which will be entitled to it. I should like to know why there is a difference here and why there are only a few. Is it that the constituencies are widely separated? There ought to be some explanation. There are many more things that I have not been able to go through closely. In common with many others, I have not given the attention that ought to be given to it, but it appears to me very important and greater regard ought to have been paid to it. Whether it is the time or whether it is that we have not thought it important I cannot say, but I am very sorry to have to comment on a matter like this and draw attention to what I claim is a sad reflection on Parliament that a mere handful of people have to deal with what appears to be a very important matter.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
I want to add my support to those who have expressed the opinion that the scheme that we are trying to work by these Regulations is unworkable as far as the Service vote is concerned and that it will have to be altered. I am sorry there are not more Members of all parties here to reinforce that claim. There is one rather detailed point to which. I should like the Under-Secretary to give his attention. That is the necessity of notifying those in the Forces who have attempted to register that their registration has been made and is valid. It may quite easily happen, for instance, that a form posted overseas may get lost owing to enemy action or other means and the person concerned will imagine that he has made a good registration when he has not done so, or the form may not have been filled in correctly. There may be some particulars missing.
The hon. Member is not entitled to go into that matter on these Regulations. There is nothing in them relating to the filling-up of forms.
§ Mr. Lawson
I think it is desirable that registration officers should notify those who have attempted to register that their registration has been validly made. It could be done either by a new Regulation or by administrative action, so that those who have succeeded should be notified by postcard or some other means and then, if a man has not heard, he can inquire.
§ Mr. Peake
I will do my best to reply to the points which have been raised. 1338 Hon. Members have raised a great many, some of which are somewhat abstruse. I will reply to the more abstruse points by correspondence because they are points on which hon. Members require an explanation, rather than points on which they were seriously concerned in regard to the merits of the Regulations, My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), for whom I have a great respect, was a little unfortunate. He reproved us for being such a small body remaining here to discuss these Regulations, and went on to ask me for an explanation of Regulation 29. I rather bored the House by dealing with it in my opening remarks at inordinate length, and if the hon. Member had been in his place he would not have asked the question. I must refer him to HANSARD for an answer to the question. My hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) asked whether at the second stage, that is to say, when more printing facilities and so forth are available, we will make the Registers available in larger numbers. The difficulty about supplying large numbers of registers is this. If hon. Members will turn to paragraph 35 of the Regulations they will see what the registration officer has to do. He has to supply without fee, if requested by the candidate, for the use of the candidate, copies of the electors' lists and the Service Register, and a note, to be prepared by him, of the differences between the electors' lists and the civilian residents and business premises Register. That is to say, we are instituting a system of continuous registration.
The Register will not contain precisely the same names as the lists and, after the claims of objection have been heard during the process of the election, alterations will have to be made in the Register. It follows from that that these copies, to be accurate, must be supplemented by the registration officer after they have been supplied to candidates. It is, therefore, clear that we cannot supply unlimited numbers. Hon. Members have said that it would be unfair for a candidate who was late in the field to receive only two copies of the Register. I would make it clear that, the numbers of copies prescribed by paragraph 35 are the minimum, and every effort will be made to supply a larger number of copies. Eight is the minimum for a candidate who is early in the field, and two for a candidate 1339 who comes forward shortly before nomination, but there is the limiting factor that supplementary lists have to be prepared during the election, in accordance with the decisions taken upon claims and objections. We are working to a very tight time table and it would be extremely difficult under the time table to get the Registers published on the 36th day, which is the date required by the Act for publication; but I will undertake to see that efforts are made to try to supply additional copies. I do not think I can go beyond that.
My hon. Friend also asked whether we would try to achieve wide publicity on the rights which voters have under the Act. Yes, Sir, we will do what we can, and I will see that his remarks are brought to the notice of the Minister of Information. I agree with him that it is of importance that persons who have never voted before should have some guidance given to them as to the method of exercising their votes.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
There are also regimental and Service educational agencies which might be used.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Service men are very sore and bitter about the fact that other sections of education have been put across for them, but this matter has not been put across at all, and they do not understand it. I suggest that the Services should be given more information.
§ Mr. Peake
I will certainly bring my hon. Friend's observation to the notice of the Service Departments.
I was also asked with regard to the arrangement of the names in alphabetical order or in street order, and that point arises on paragraph 2, the first section of which states:The local authority may determine the order to be adopted for the names in any section of the register.
§ Mr. Peake
Yes, it is the present law. The Regulation goes on:Subject to any such determination"—1340 that is to say, if they do not make a determination—the names in each section shall be arranged either in street order, or in alphabetical order, or partly in one way and partly in another, according to the order adopted for the corresponding parts of the 1939 Register.The local authority can therefore determine this matter. I have no doubt that generally speaking, the method adopted will be that which is most convenient for Parliamentary elections. The hon. Member also asked whether ladies should be described respectively as "Mrs." or "Miss," so that unfortunate accidents should not occur in married ladies being addressed as "Miss" or vice versa. I am afraid I cannot give any guarantee on that point. These Registers are to be made up from material supplied from the National Registration system.
§ Mr. Peake
It may be. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) raised a point or two on paragraph II, which deals with claims and objections. He said that, under the paragraph, witnesses could not be called, and he complained that counsel were debarred from appearing before the registration officer upon the decision of a claim or an objection. My answer to that is first that there is nothing whatever in the paragraph to prevent persons appearing and giving evidence. In fact, sub-paragraph (3) says:On the consideration of an objection, the person making the objection and the person with respect to whom it is made, and any other person who appears to the registration officer to be interested, shall be entitled to appear and be heard.I am told it would be quite out of the question for the registration officer, who is only seeking to get at the facts, to refuse to hear anybody who came forward and said they had useful information to give. With respect to the exclusion of counsel my hon. Friend, I think my hon. and learned Friend, may well have a 1341 grievance, but it is not against these Regulations. It is against the Act of 1918, for ever since the passing of that Act counsel have been prevented from appearing on claims and objections.
§ Mr. Peake
My hon. Friend then went into the question of the mode of registration and of the voting of Service voters. I venture to point out that both these matters are dealt with in the principal Act of 1943, and do not arise on these Regulations. My hon. Friend then drew attention to Section 8 (2) of the principal Act, which states that no person shall be entitled to be registered in the Service Register unless there has been transmitted to the registration officer for that constituency, in any manner authorised by national registration regulations, and received by that officer, a declaration. Of course the Regulations which are intended to be made there are national registration Regulations, and deal only with the transmission of the declaration after it has been made, and my hon. Friend is misreading that Sub-section if he thinks that Regulations to be made under the Act, such as we now have before the House, are matters which prescribe whether or not the Service voter is entitled to be registered. That matter, and the method of registration, are laid down in the Act itself. I know hon. Members in many parts of the House are anxious about the operation of the system so far as Service voters are concerned, but I can assure them that these Regulations are in no way concerned with the complaints which hon. Members have. They are a separate issue, and if I had commented upon the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference I should have been going far beyond the province of the Regulations which are now before the House.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) complained, I think, that there was no provision for claims or objections 1342 in regard to Service voters. That was quite deliberate, and I think that was provided for by the principal Act. It would, obviously, be wrong that anybody should be able to bring forward an objection to a Service registration, when the man principally concerned is serving in His Majesty's Forces overseas. If we are to protect the Service voter from objections in that way, we, obviously, cannot admit claims. The machinery of Service registration, whether hon. Members like it or not, is complete in itself, and claims and objections have been deliberately excluded, in the interests of Service voters.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Therefore, a man serving at home—and there will be a considerable number of them—even though he knows that his name is not on the Register, cannot make an objection.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson
What about the case of a man overseas, who writes to his wife and says that he has applied to be placed on the Register, and she goes along and finds out that he has not been so placed? Surely there should be claims, without objections.
§ Mr. Peake
Certainly the Register is not to be published until the 36th day after the initiation of the election. I will look into the point as to whether lists of voters should be made available at an earlier date, but it is clear that the Register itself cannot be published until 17 days before polling.
My hon. Friend also asked, how was the registration officer to find out what was the relationship between the person holding the proxy, and the voter? The registration officers have to do the best they can in these matters, but, actually, the form of proxy will have to state what the relationship is, and there are penalties for false declarations in such matters. 1343 I think I have dealt with the main points that hon. Members have raised. I will certainly look further into the point raised by the hon. Member for Barnstaple, as to the publication of Service lists, and into the possible point of an agent getting hold of copies of the Register, although the party itself has not selected its candidate. I am sure that the hon. Member's party will be deeply concerned, because I can well understand that they may not select their candidates until rather late in the day. I will go through the Debate very carefully, and if there is any point I have overlooked, I will write to hon. Members, and explain why the Regulations have been drawn as they have.
§ Mr. Mathers
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the agent having the opportunity of getting the Register before the candidate is appointed, he must remember that, when it comes to an election, there can only be the agent of a candidate, not the agent of a party.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I take it that the normal practice will be pursued in such a case, of recognising the ordinary agent?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Electoral Registration Regulations, 1944, dated 20th July, 1944, made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department under the Parliamentary Electors (War-Time Registration) Acts, 1943 and 1944, a copy of which Regulations was presented on 20th July, be approved.