HC Deb 15 February 1945 vol 408 cc376-8
18. Sir Harold Webbe

asked the Secretary, of State for the Home Department what steps have been taken to give publicity as to the procedure for lodging claims for inclusion in the May register in respect of the business premises qualification.

Mr. H. Morrison

Electoral registration officers and persons acting on their behalf have been instructed to publish in a newspaper, circulating in the constituency or area concerned, a notice setting out the procedure for making business premises applications, the closing date for receipt, which is 28th February, and stating from whom the forms required for this purpose are obtainable, and to whom they should be returned. They have also been directed to publish this notice in such other manner as they may think fit, when they consider this to be necessary—I understand that in fact posters have been issued in the constituencies primarily concerned.

In addition to this local publicity a Government announcement was issued to the Press and the B.B.C. indicating that the closing date for receipt of these applications was 28th February, that forms could be obtained on application from the town clerk of a Parliamentary borough, and the county clerk of a Parliamentary county, and that information would be available in the constituencies as to the detailed procedure for making these claims. I hope that this answer may give further publicity as to what should be done by those who wish to be included in the business register.

Sir H. Webbe

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Division I have the honour to represent there is, in fact, no effective local Press with a considerable circulation? In any further publicity which he is giving to this matter will he, in view of the fact that questions 4 (a) and 4 (b) on the application form will, in many cases, not be susceptible to an answer, explain what is required by question 4 (c).

Mr. Morrison

The last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary is too detailed for me to answer in response to a Parliamentary question. As regards his first point, I think the House will agree that I have taken all possible steps, in view of the fact that for the first time the business voter must claim, whereas before he was put on the register. My recollection is that in Westminster there are two or three newspapers circulating, which I rather thought were supporters of my hon. Friend.

Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas

Is it not a fact that newsprint restrictions stop newspapers from having their proper circulations?

Mr. Shinwell

There are too many Tory newspapers.

20. Mr. Woodburn

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has considered a circular, a copy of which has been sent him, issued by the London Municipal Society inviting the use of the franchise laws by directors and principal employees of companies to violate the spirit of the recent Act by artificial multiplications of the franchise by manufacturing leases of private lets within company premises; and what steps he is taking about it.

Mr. H. Morrison

I have considered the circular in question, which invites persons who are directors or in the employ of a company to enter into an occupational agreement with the company in order to secure the business premises vote. My opinion as to whether such agreements are a violation of the spirit of the law relating to the business vote would be of no value as my views on this matter are well known. As Home Secretary I can only consider whether they involve a breach of the law which calls for action. Not all the statements in the circular are accurate, but I am advised that in 1929, in the case of Frost v. Caslon, the Court of Appeal decided that a tenancy derived from a genuine agreement entered into between a company and a director, in order to enable him to qualify for a business vote is effective for that purpose. The question whether any particular Agreement entered into is a genuine agreement is a matter for the registration officer to decide, subject to appeal, on the facts of each case. In the circumstances no action on my part is called for.

Mr. Woodburn

Is it not reprehensible that a body setting out to be the Government of a city should take part in a slick and somewhat shady incitement to misuse the franchise law?

Mr. Morrison

I can only say that, legally, the answer is as I have given, but having read the leaflet, I thought it was a little bit near the line.

Sir Herbert Williams

Is it not the case that a great many Members of Parliament get themselves put on the register in respect of the offices occupied by their associations?

Mr. Morrison

If they have done it by questionable methods, and my hon. Friend will let me know of any cases, I will look into the matter.

Sir H. Williams

Is it not just as legitimate for a business man to make a contract with a company as it is for a Member of Parliament to make a contract with his association whereby he becomes the tenant of certain rooms and gets a vote? What is the difference morally?