HC Deb 04 December 1945 vol 416 cc2195-215
Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, to leave out "as soon as may be," and insert "immediately."

It was with some astonishment that I found, on reading this Bill, that it contained the mystic, magic and completely inexplicable and undefinable words, "as soon as may be." I was particularly astonished when I recollected the trouble that the Lord President of the Council had had with those words when he was Home Secretary in connection with fireguard regulations. Yet we find that the Home Office, not learning from experience I regret to say, brings forward to Parliament a Measure containing those words. I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite attaches some importance to the use of the English language, and I should indeed be obliged to him if he could explain to the Committee what those word's mean, if anything. The same words occurred in another Bill, the Statutory Instruments Bill, more than once, and when the Solicitor-General was asked to explain them he moved or accepted—I have forgotten which—an Amendment to insert the word "immediately," which not only has the advantage of being one word instead of five, but also of having some meaning. I am therefore hopeful that the right hon. Gentleman will attempt the task of finding out what the words "as soon as may be" mean, but I hope none the less, whether he attempts that task or not, that he will accept the Amendment and insert the word "immediately." That was the word which the Solicitor-General thought was the right replacement for this curious phrase.

Mr. Ede

Of course the meaning of this phrase depends, in its legislative sense, upon the Government that is in office, and in this particular connection I regard "as soon as may be" and "immediately" as synonymous. I, therefore, propose to accept the Amendment, which does not alter the meaning of the Bill but which does insert a word of Latin origin in place of five words of English origin. I see them disappear from the Bill with regret, for I prefer English even to English derived from Latin, but I hope that there will be no ill-feeling between us on that score. The hon. Member may rest assured that by inserting the word "immediately" the purposes of the Bill will be brought into effect at exactly the same second of time as they would be if the words "as soon as may be" had remained.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I should like to thank the right 'hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has met this Amendment, while regretting that he has not faced up to the task of defining with precision what the words "as soon as may be" mean.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, leave out "December" and insert "January."

I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee to take, along with this Amendment, the next four Amendments on page 316 of the Order Paper, the last Amendment on page 316, and the fourth and fifth Amendments on page 317 The points raised in all these Amendments are really similar, and I think it would save the time of the Committee if we took them together. The one upon which the others are to some extent consequential proposes in line 36, to insert: (3) Arrangements shall be made—

  1. (a)as respects members of the Forces, by the Admiralty, Army Council or Air Council, as the case may be;
  2. (b) as respects seamen, by the Minister of War Transport;
for securing that every person appearing to be qualified to make a Service declaration shall have an opportunity of making one and for so transmitting such declaration to the registration officer in any manner authorised by electoral registration regulations that it is received by the registration officer before the end of January, nineteen hundred and forty-six; and where a declaration so received by the registration officer is made by a person already entered in the Service register for that constituency, the registration officer shall make no entry in the supplementary register in respect of that person. The first point that one appreciates on looking at Clause 3, which deals with the supplementary register, is the fact that there is no provision in that Clause for an automatic registration of Service voters, a provision that was recommended by the Speaker's Conference and a provision which, in view of the figures published in the White Paper, I should have thought it was desirable to implement. The second point is that Section 10 of the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act, 1943, provided that Arrangements shall be made, as respects members of the Forces, by the Admiralty, the Army Council or Air Council, as the case may be; as respects seamen, by the Minister of War Transport; for securing that (so far as circumstances permit) every person appearing to be qualified to make a service declaration shall have an effective opportunity of exercising from time to time as occasion may require the rights conferred upon him by this Part of the Act in relation to the making and cancellation of Service declarations. I am not quite clear whether Section 10 of the 1943 Act has any application with regard to entry in the supplementary register under the Bill now being considered, because that Section specifically referred to the rights conferred upon a persons by that part of the Act—which means the 1943 Act—but in 1943 Parliament was of opinion that it was necessary and desirable to put in a Statute a provision to the effect which I have just stated, casting the responsibility upon the Army Council, the Admiralty and the Air Council, and in the case of seamen, upon the Minister of War Transport. As far as I can see this Bill omits any reference to that Section, and that is why the Amendment was put upon the Order Paper. If Section 10 of the 1943 Act applies to the supplementary register, of course I concede that the Amendment is in part unnecessary. But Section 10 of the 1943 Act applies only where it states that arrangements shall be made for securing that so far as circumstances permit. 8.15 p.m.

That was done in wartime and it was as far as one could go in wartime, but I submit that now we should put a slightly greater obligation upon the Army Council, the Air Ministry, the Admiralty and the Ministry of War Transport in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will, therefore, see that we have made a slight alteration, in the wording of our Amendment, from that which was contained in Section 10 of the 1943 Act. When one looks at the figures of Service votes at the last Election and the numbers of people who were in the Forces and who wanted the right to vote, but whose declarations were rejected on one ground or another, it becomes clear that if we are to prepare a supplementary register for Service voters that will be more than a cause of dissatisfaction, we should try to produce machinery which will render their inclusion in the Register as automatic as possible. Therefore we seek to provide that every Serviceman shall be given an opportunity of making a Service declaration. We omit the words so far as circumstances permit, because the situation in regard to getting these declarations to men in Burma and elsewhere has, of course, changed. We seek to put a duty upon the authorities who see that every Serviceman makes a declaration. What happens then? The declaration comes back to the registration officer of the area concerned, who will have to make a check to see whether that Serviceman is already entered on the Service Register. If he is already entered, we provide in our Amendment that he shall not be entered on the Service Register. If that machinery were used, it seems to me we could get a Register in force at the end of February of next year which would include all those who are now serving the country in the Forces and who were omitted from the Register on which the General Election took place.

This brings me to the other Amendments which are being taken together with this Amendment. Obviously, it would be too short a time for the fulfilment of that obligation by the Army Council, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry if the time were limited to 31st December. It could not be done in that time. What we seek to do, while not seeking to delay the production of the supplementary register, is to give a further month for the making of these declarations. That is why, in all material places, we have altered the date from 31st December to the last day of January, 1946. I think the point raised in these Amendments is one of considerable importance. I do not think the Committee should be satisfied with any Bill which does not provide for the automatic registration of a Service voter and which leaves it still to the Service man to contract in, without ensuring an opportunity that he will be able to contract in, to exercise his right of voting in any election that may take place —and, of course, an election may take place far sooner than hon. Members opposite expect.

Major Digby

It seems to me to be important that this date should be extended from 31st December to the end of January. If we are to have a supplementary register, it seems to me to be most important that it should be made a real success, and that we should get in some of these Service and ex-Service people who were left out of the last register. Those of us who have served in the Army during this war have some idea of the time it takes for any instructions from the War Office to reach the unit, and, if the time allowed is only until the end of December, I do not see how those instructions can be fully effective. For that reason, I support the Amendment.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

A few minutes ago the Home Secretary was so obliging to us that he changed the phrase "as soon as may be" for the word "immediately," and he is now being asked to change December, 1945, which might be regarded as "immediately," to January, 1946, which might be regarded as "as soon as may be," in order to ensure that the members of the Services shall have an effective opportunity of registering their votes. If I may say so with great respect, the right hon. Gentle- man took the first somersault very gracefully, and I hope he will take the second equally successfully.

Mr. Ede

It is, of course, always difficult to make a concession in Committee, because that is, at once, made the reason for a second-concession, I regret that I am not able to meet the wishes of right hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite on this particular Amendment. With regard to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham- Buller), I am informed that Section 20 of the Parliamentary Electors (Wartime Registration) Act, 1943is still in operation, and that all the obligations that were placed on various people by that Section remain in force. Therefore, in so far as the main Amendment among those which we are discussing —

Mr. Manningham-Buller

And will "apply to the supplementary register?

Mr. Ede

Oh, yes, and will apply to the supplementary register. So far as the main Amendment which we are discussing is concerned, that is, repetition of Section I0, it would appear to be unnecessary. When we come to the question of the date, I would point out that, immediately after the General Election, a notice was sent to all commands and similar people who are responsible for transmitting information to the troops, drawing attention to the failures that had occurred with regard to the registration of certain people and informing them that they could now make a fresh declaration. That has been repeated during recent weeks, so that we have made every effort to bring to the attention of the troops the power they have of getting on to the supplementary register, and, of course, that is a concession that is peculiar to the troops and which, does not apply to the civilian population.

I think there will be some later Amendments dealing with one or two of the smaller details with regard to that, and I do not think I need anticipate what I may be asked to say later on, that I think it will be generally accepted that people in the Forces and in the Mercantile Marine are, in fact, in a better position with regard to the supplementary register than are the civilian population who cannot get on it—people who have been civilians all through. I am bound to say that, as an ex-Serviceman myself, I would very much like to have made a point of placing a duty on the Army Council, Admiralty and Air Council of seeing that all people will, in fact, be placed on the register, but, when I tried to do that, I found there were serious practical difficulties in the way. It is not easy for the Army Council to find out in which constituency a man actually resides. There arc plenty of people who give an address which they believe to be quite genuine—a postal address—but which may, quite seriously mislead the Army Council when they try to get that person placed on the register. I think the arrangements that are now made, until we can get down to a permanent basis for the register—and that is one of the things on which my hon. Friend's Committee will have to report—until we get permanent machinery and a far better staff to deal with these matters, we shall be compelled to leave the responsibility where it is at the moment.

I hope that, when we get the permanent legislation, we shall be able to ensure that the man in the Forces will be registered automatically. I hope that, by that time, there will be far less movement of troops than at the moment takes place, and that it will be found within the competence of these three Service Departments to undertake the duty. I have been in correspondence with the Service Departments in an endeavour to get them to undertake this duty, because I am exceedingly anxious that every Serviceman shall, in fact, be on the register, but, at the moment, the Service Departments feel that it would not be possible for them to discharge the duty that this Amendment would place on them if the Committee were to enact it. I must, therefore, ask the Committee to await the permanent legislation, when I hope we may be able to have something which will be more satisfactory to me than the present arrangements.

I could reject what the hon. Gentleman called the main Amendment and still, of course, accept the other Amendments for making this date 31st January instead of December. That would leave only 28 days within which the supplementary register would have to be compiled and passed, and there I was confronted again with the view of the registration officers that it would be impossible for them in that time to comply with the requirements under the Statute. Therefore, I regret that it is not possible for me to accept the two main Amendments to which the hon. Member referred.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

For an Amendment which has elicited such a valuable and important statement from the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure no apology is necessary. I am sorry, and I am sure he is, that he has not found it possible to ensure in this Measure automatic registration for the Servicemen, but one welcomes the hope that he has expressed that it will become possible in the near future. In view of what he has said about the obligations under Section I0 of the I943 Act, which was somewhat obscure, and the compilation of the supplementary register, and in view of his other observations, I beg to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, leave out "was" and insert "will have reached."

It may be for the convenience of the Committee to consider this Amendment and the other Amendments on the Paper which relate to the same point. I have a certain amount of optimism that the right hon. Gentleman will accept them, because, in lines 30 to 36, it is provided that, where a man makes a Service declaration between the end of June and the end of December, and where at the time he makes the Service declaration, he is 21 years or over, then the effect of the Bill is to treat him as 21 years of age and put him on the register. That is all very well, but may I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman? Suppose someone makes a declaration on 30th November and he is not 21 at that time, but he will be 21 before the end of December? As the Bill now stands, that individual will not be on the register because he will not be 21at the time he made his Service declaration, although he will be making his Service declaration within the time limit for making it under this Clause.

8.30 p.m.

What we seek to provide is that it does not matter whether he makes his Service declaration before he is 21 or waits until he is exactly 21 before making it, so long as it appears from that declaration that he will have reached 21 years or over by the end of the period—I ought not to have included the second Amendment, Major Milner; I ought to have mentioned only the one I am moving and the last one to line 33, because the second one was an alternative in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would accept the last Amendment. If he makes his declaration between the end of June and the end of December, it will not matter if he is 21 or over at the time he makes the declaration; he will get on the register if he has reached 21 or over by the end of December, 1945. I hope I have made the object of this Amendment quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman in those few words, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment, which is merely designed to ensure that those, for instance, who may be far overseas, say in Burma, who know that the last date on which they can make a Service declaration and get it back here is a date which will come before they are 21 although they will have reached 21 by the 31st December, who would now be struck off or not be on the supplementary register will in fact get upon it. I am sure it is the intention of both sides of this Committee that that should happen, and that in my view will be achieved if this Amendment is accepted.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

The hon. Gentleman is trying to take us really too far with this Amendment. The purpose of the supplementary register was to bring in those people who were inadvertently left out of the previous register. We hope they are going to come in now, but the hon. Gentleman asks us to give cover to the Serviceman who has become 21 between 30th June and 31st December. We confess straight away that some Servicemen who have become 21 between 30th June and 31st December will not come into this supplementary register, but I think it will be agreed on all sides that it would not be right to give a specific cover to the Serviceman who becomes 21 between June and December.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Why not?

Mr. Fraser

There is no suggestion that a similar advantage should be given to the civilians. The Serviceman does not look for an advantage over civilians; he only asks to be given the same right as a civilian in this regard. But the hon. Gentleman has asked that the Serviceman should be given a very obvious and specific advantage—

Mr. Manningham-Buller

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am merely trying to put in order a facility which is given in this Bill. If the hon. Gentleman will refer to it, he will see that in this Bill the facilities are given to some of those who have become 21 in the Services between 30th June and the 31st December. All that I am trying to ensure by this Amendment is that there should not be a series of anomalies in the selection of those who can get in the register just depending upon the date when they make their declaration.

Mr. Fraser

I have just said that some Servicemen who attain 21 between June and December will come on under the provisions in this Bill, providing they are 21 at the date on which they make their application, but if they are not 21 at the date at which they make application, they will not come on, and we do not think that it would be right to make specific provision for their coming on if they were able to say on their declaration that they will attain the age of 21 before the 31st December. As I said, there is no suggestion that a similar advantage should be given to the civilian voter. Furthermore, even were the Amendment accepted, there would be no provision for the man who comes out of the Services into "civvy street," to use a colloquialism, before he reaches his twenty-first birthday, even though that should be between the date of his release and 31st December. There is no cover for that man and it would not be the intention of the Committee to give specific cover to the man who continues to serve without giving it to the man who may have to be discharged from the Services because he has met with some serious incapacity. I think it must be appreciated that there will be anomalies in so far as some men who attain their 21st birthday between June and December will come on, and I think that this Committee would not press for such a specific cover to be given to the Service voter.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

I am indeed surprised at the line which the hon. Gentleman has taken. If he had said that there was some grave administrative difficulty—we know that this is not a very satisfactory Bill at all, that it is not what we would like it to be for many practical reasons—about accepting this Amendment, and that we were jeopardising the scheme in some way if we tried to insist on it, he would be making a case, but I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman saying that it is not right—because that was the word he used—that certain people who have attained the age of 21—

Mr. Fraser

I said "to make substantial cover."

Mr. Reid

I understood the hon. Gentleman to take a matter of principle—that it was not "right" to give to these people the right to vote for some reason or other. That I cannot understand. I should have thought the right line of approach here was this: We will give the vote to every man we can bring within the scheme without going into too great administrative complexities. Everybody ought, we agree, in theory, to have a vote, but we agree that in practice there are difficulties about bringing certain people in. Very well. As far as you establish the practical difficulty, you have to leave them out, regretfully but inevitably, but why we should leave out people when there is no administrative difficulty about bringing them in, I do not understand. I agree there have to be anomalies whatever happens, but surely, recognising that position, we ought to stretch a point as far as ever we can to bring in the maximum possible number. That is all this Amendment is asking, and I. really cannot understand why, on any other ground than administrative difficulty, the hon. Gentleman should be so sticky about it. I would ask him to think about it again.

Major Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

I would appeal to the Minister to have a look at this Amendment again and see if, between now and a later stage of the Bill, he cannot do something to meet what is required. What is asked for is something which is very elementary and perfectly simple, and it will remove what may be very serious anomalies. For instance, if a soldier stationed in this country reaches the age of 21on 24th or 25th December, he can fill up his 2626 and be on the register, but the poor devil who is out in Burma, who may be 21 in August, has to fill his up perhaps in June or July and does not get on the register. If I remember my Army Form B.2626 rightly—and I have not seen one since we had the awful hullabaloo to complete it in time for the last Election, and which was responsible for so many men being deprived of their vote—I do not think there is any space on the 2626 to declare his age—

Mr. Fraser: There is.

Mr. Ede

You were well over the age.

Major Poole

Yes, I know. Then my memory is at fault. Be that as it may, I do not think it justifies us in depriving a man serving overseas of a vote and giving it to the man who is fortunate enough to have a home posting because he can get his 2626 into his returning officer and the other man cannot. I hope, too, that the Minister will endeavour to form some assessment of the extent to which facilities have been made available between June and December for men to get on to the supplementary register because my information is that there are very few No. 2626 forms completed. Therefore, the supplementary register bids fair to be as big a farce as the Service register was at the General Election. We can make it less of a farce if we endeavour to include every man. This register is operative from February to October, 1946. This being so, a man may be 22 years of age and still not have a vote. We cannot justify such a situation. We arc giving nothing away. What we are saying is that a man, if he be 21 by 31st December this year, shall have a vote. It should not be beyond the wit of man, or the Minister, to devise means whereby that can be done.

Mr. Ede

I have listened to the argument put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lichfield (Major Cecil Poole) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid), and I think it is a point on which the Committee would like the Government to meet them. I am prepared to put words into the Bill on the Report stage that will do that, but I am advised that the exact wording now proposed would make very awkward reading in the Clause. I hope, therefore, that on my giving this assurance the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment will be willing to withdraw it on the understanding that I will find words between now and Friday, when we have the Report stage, that will enable the desire of the Committee to be carried out.

I would point out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lichfield that among the declarations that Service men make is one in the following form: I hereby declare that I … am a British subject and am (am not) 21 years of age or over. (If under 2: years of age) was born on… … … … … … … Therefore, a man who signs his form today, and whose birthday is on Christmas Day, could make a perfectly truthful declaration that he is not 21 years or over but was born on the 25th December, 1924, and would, therefore, be entitled, when the supplementary register is made, to be placed on it.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I would like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we on this side of the House accept his assurance, and that my purpose in moving this Amendment has been met. In view of the assurance given and the way in which he has met the point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lieut.-Colonel Byers (Dorset, Northern)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, leave out paragraph (a), and insert: (a) that between the end of June nineteen hundred and forty-five, and the end of December in that year, the said person ceases to reside in the constituency for which he or she is registered in a civilian residence register as a parliamentary elector or that said person ceased to be a member of the Forces or a seaman between the end of June, nineteen hundred and forty-five, and the end of December in that year. The purpose of this Amendment is very simple. On the Second Reading of this Bill I put forward this same suggestion, but I would say, with respect, that it was given very little consideration by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who dismissed it as impracticable. It was probably my own fault for not making the matter clear to him. I put forward two suggestions at the time, one an ideal which was discarded as impracticable in the circumstances, and the second that which is now on the Order Paper. Unfortunately, the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland fastened on the ideal and discarded it. In this Bill there are two very great improvements—the provision of supplementary registers upon which those ceasing to be members of the Services or of the Mercantile Marine can be placed, as can, similarly, those serving in the Forces or war workers abroad. The purpose of this Amendment is to include on the supplementary register civilians who have moved from one area in England, Scotland or Wales to another. This Committee should not accept the excuse from the Government that this is administratively impossible, because the vote is a very precious thing and it is our duty as Members of this House to ensure that as many people as possible who are eligible to vote are included upon the register. This is one method of improving the situation. I am glad to see the Government have accepted the idea and put people who move from one area to another on the absent voters' list. That is an improvement, but it does not go far enough. Therefore, I put forward this suggestion which will enable civilians to be placed on exactly the same footing as members of the Forces and seamen.

8.45 p.m.

Within the last hour the Minister has said that civilians are worse off under this scheme than those in the Forces. The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that they shall not be worse off, and that they get the same benefits as the serving men and women and those who have been demobilised. In other words, they are included not upon the absent voters list with the questionable advantage of being able to vote in the constituency which they have left, but are included in the supplementary register of the constituency to which they have moved. There has been a tremendous amount of movement in this country since 30th June of this year, and it will continue. The only provision made, which I admit is better than hitherto, is to give those people the right to go on the absent voters' list. I suggest that the right answer is to accept, not necessarily the actual wording of this Amendment, but its intention. We have not the advantage of the Parliamentary draftsman. This Amendment endeavours to see that people who have moved during the war—many hundreds of thousands of them—are not debarred from voting in the constituencies in which they reside. This Committee cannot accept the excuse of administrative difficulties. To get on the absent voters' list a person must apply; what we are suggesting is that instead of applying to get on that list in the constituency in which a person lives, he should be able to get on the supplementary register in the constituency to which he has moved. This is not a matter of party politics; it is merely an honest and sincere attempt to see that more people are given the opportunity to use their votes in the constituencies in which they have a living and a vital interest at the moment. We could, without much difficulty, incorporate the intention of this Amendment in the Bill and see to it that a considerable number of people who would otherwise only have the privilege of absent voting by post, are given a real live vote in the constituency in which they are actually residing. Therefore, I would press the Minister to give serious and sympathetic consideration to this Amendment.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Oliver)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite right when he said that if his Amendment were accepted a large number of civilians would come upon the supplementary register. That would enormously widen the intention of that register which is primarily intended to cover persons not previously registered. The men who have been demobilised from the Services between June and December very rightly will come onto the supplementary register but that would hardly be appropriate for civilians who had merely left one constituency to go to another.

Lieut.-Colonel Byers

Why not?

Mr. Oliver

Because facilities have been provided in cases of that kind for the civilian to record his vote. The matter to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred with regard to postal voting was to overcome the difficulty where the civilian, moving from one part of the country to another, desired to exercise his vote, and provision in the Statute is made to enable him to do that.

Lieut.-Colonel Byers

I made that specific point in my speech, that postal voting arrangements are not nearly as good as they were suggested to be.

Mr. Oliver

That is a matter of opinion, because to come on to the supplementary register the person who was registered in the constituency would require, I think, to have removed before January, 1946, but that does not apply to postal voting. Therefore, he has a much greater extended power by the provisions of the Statute than he has under the proposals of this Amendment. One other difficulty in this Amendment is that there is no provision in it for removing the names from the register in the constituency in which they were first registered. Therefore, it is important if a large number of civilians should be placed on the supplementary register that there should be corresponding provision for the removal of names, which would be permitted to remain there unless machinery is provided for their removal.

Lieut.-Colonel Byers

That is in the consequential Amendment.

Mr. Oliver

For those reasons it would not be possible for the Government to fall in with the suggestion by accepting the Amendment.

Mr. Renton (Huntingdon)

I wonder if it is clear to the hon. Gentleman that there is a very grave disadvantage in not making provision as suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Lieut.-Colonel Byers) for this reason: Whether we like it or not, both the intentions of the Government and the circumstances of the time will mean that a great many people will be disturbed from their normal place of residence. For example, the direction of labour is apparently going to continue, the existence of flying squads, the lack of housing in some areas which will cause people to move to others, and the question of the re-allocation of industry in the conversion from wartime to peacetime production—all these matters may cause people to be disfranchised unless some kind of provision is made in this Bill. It would appear that this Amendment covers these cases, and that the consequential Amendment would avoid the difficulty of people having possibly two votes. I would, therefore, seriously ask the hon. Gentleman to consider this matter again before taking a final decision.

Squadron-Leader Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

What we are asking for is not merely the greater exercise of the use of the vote. We want to achieve the result that a man can vote in a constituency in which his interest lies, and where he wants a voice in its representation. The absent voters' list does not achieve that a man can vote in the constituency where his interest lies. The soldier when he goes on to the civilian register can be registered in the area where he is going to live, but assume that his wife, as is so often the case, is living with his mother in another constituency and goes to live in the new address with her husband, the result is that the wife has a vote in her old constituency and the soldier a vote in the new constituency. I think the point is involved that people should have a vote in the area where they have an interest, and I, therefore, ask the Minister if he will reconsider the matter.

Amendment negatived.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, after "of," insert "or was released from."

I think that it would be convenient to take together the Amendments:

In page 2, line 41, after "or," insert "ceased to be,"

In page 2, line 44, after "ceasing," insert "or being so released," and

In page 2, line 47, after "ceasing," insert "or being so released."

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to deal quite shortly with this point which emerges from the Bill in its present form? What is the position of those who are released under Class B, or on indefinite release, or on compassionate release with regard to the supplementary register? Are they to be deemed to be entitled to be put on the Service register? It may be difficult for them to be informed of their rights of making a declaration before the end of the year if they are members of the Forces. The difficulty with regard to the Clause is that people released under Class B are still, in one sense, members of the Forces, because if they do not take the work to which they are directed they are recalled to the Colours. I am sure it was not the right hon. Gentleman's intention to leave those released under Class B or released under any other conditions in a state of suspense, not knowing whether they came under Subsection (3) or Subsection (2), and it was with the intention of clarifying their position that we put down these Amendments. It would then be clear that those released under Class B would have to go on to the civilian side of this supplementary register.

Mr. Ede

I am pleased to be able to give the hon. Member the assurances for which he asks. The people to whom he alluded, persons discharged under Class B or persons indefinitely released from the Forces, get an identity card under the National Registration Regulations, and where they get this card between 30th June and 31st December their names will be passed on to the electoral registrar for inclusion in the supplementary register, so that all those for whom he spoke will, in fact, get on to the supplementary register under the Clause as it is drafted.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am glad to have received that assurance, but in view of it I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider between now and Report stage, whether it is apt to have the words ''cease to be a member of the Forces" when, in fact, anyone released under Class B or on indefinite release does not cease to be a member of the Forces. Would it not be better to put in "or was released" as a matter of drafting? The right hon. Gentleman may not want to give an opinion now, but in view of his assurance I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 3, line I, leave out from "shall" to "secure" in line 2.

Under Subsection (4) of this Clause the registration officer has not the positive duty of securing that there is no duplication of entries in this supplementary register to the Service register and supplementary register to the civilian register. It is only provided that he shall, "so far as is reasonably practicable," secure that there is no duplication. Those words would appear to provide adequate cover for a multitude of errors and omissions on his part, and I can see no reason why they should be included when it is a question of securing that there is no duplication of entry in the supplementary register. It will not be a difficult thing for the registration officer for a constituency to look down his entries for his supplementary register and see that a person is not entered twice over. Therefore, with regard to that register, the words "so far as is reasonably practicable" are unnecessary.

Similarly, it must be a comparatively simple matter in a constituency to compare the Service register, which is in force now, with the Service part of the supplementary register, which will come into force in February of next year. We are comparing two lists of Servicemen and I should have thought that there again there was no reason why the registration officer should be given this protection for errors in a Statute. I agree that comparing entries on the supplementary register with entries on the civilian register is likely to cause considerable difficulty and may lead—one hopes it does not—to a number of errors of duplication. Therefore, in these Amendments on the Order Paper we have sought to provide that the registration officer should be under the positive duty of seeing there is no duplication between the Service register and the Service part of the supplementary register, and no duplication of entries in the supplementary register and, as far as is reasonably, practicable, that there is no duplication between the civilian register and the supplementary register. If the right hon. Gentleman would accept the Amendment, he would make a considerable improvement in the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Ede

I do not know what is to happen to a registration officer if these words are left out and then accidentally, through circumstances over which he has no real control—a duplicate entry actually occurs in the register.

Mr. Manningham - Buller

Nothing would happen.

Mr. Ede

There are no sanctions and I do not know that anyone could take action against him. If he malevolently left a person's name off the register that person, if he could prove malevolence, might have some action against him. I do not think that the putting of the name of a person on the register twice would involve any sanctions at all, either civil or criminal. It is impossible to lay down a definite requirement that there should be no duplication. A man may have been registered while in the Forces for a particular address. He returns to the same borough or constituency, but on discharge from the Forces he proceeds to another address and that is the one he gives to the national registration officer, who then sends his name and that address to the electoral registration officer, who enters it on the supplementary register. It might be that the name goes on to a section of the register distinct from the one in which he has previously been registered.

Take what may be a very common case, that of a soldier who is registered, having given his own parents' address as the address in respect of which he wishes to be registered. He has been married, and as happens in so many cases at the moment, his wife is still living with her parents, and he decides that for the time being, immediately on discharge, he will go and live with her at her parents' house. Although it may be only a very short distance away, it may be very difficult, especially if the man has a name which is fairly common, for the registration officer to spot that the John Smith whose name is sent to him for this new address is the same John Smith who was registered for another address while in the Services. It would be rather foolish of a registration officer to strike the name off the first address because he had got a duplicate name on some other part of the register.

Practical reasons like that make it impossible to make this duty mandatory and absolute on the returning officer. When this Bill becomes law we shall issue a circular to registration officers, asking them to exercise all the ingenuity they can in an attempt to prevent duplication, because nobody wants a swollen register. I hope that they will be successful in keeping duplication down to a minimum, but I would not like to put on them an obligation which might in certain places lead to a person being inadvertently struck off because he happens to have the same name as someone who had made a claim to go on the supplementary register.

Mr. Peake

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and in view of the fact that this supplementary register will only be in force for elections between 1st March next year and the ensuing 15th October, we shall not object if, as a result of this Subsection, some Servicemen, many of whom were deprived of a vote at the last Election, get two votes at a by-election.

Mr. Ede

In protection of the ex-Servicemen I would say that while their name may be twice on the register, there will be serious trouble for them if they seek to exercise both in an election, though I doubt if many of them would be tempted to do so.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

In view of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.