HC Deb 17 January 1945 vol 407 cc282-4

Provision shall be made by electoral registration regulations for securing that, where a ballot paper is issued to any person registered in the service register or the business premises register for the purpose of voting by post under this Part of this Act and, when the absent voters' ballot boxes are opened for the purpose of checking the envelopes therein and their contents, the declaration of identity sent to that person with that ballot paper is found to have been returned and is not rejected by the returning officer, any vote cast on that person's behalf by his proxy shall not be counted; and for that purpose the regulations shall in particular provide,—

  1. (a) for placing on the declaration of identity to be sent to any person so registered for the purpose of voting by post under this Part of this Act his number in the relevant register, and for rejecting any such declaration of identity if it is found that that number has been defaced or removed before it is returned to the returning officer;
  2. (b) for marking on a copy of the relevant register, from the numbers so placed on declarations of identity returned and not rejected, the names of the persons whose proxies' votes are under this section not to be counted;
  3. (c) for securing that ballot papers issued for the purpose of voting as proxy for a person registered in the service register or the business premises register shall be of a different colour or otherwise readily distinguishable from other ballot papers;
  4. (d) for enabling any ballot paper issued for the purpose of voting as proxy for a person so registered to be identified after it 283 has been marked (but so far as practicable without disclosing how it has been marked) by reference to the number of that person in the relevant register, for rejecting any such ballot paper if either—
    1. (i) it is not identifiable in manner provided by the regulations; or
    2. (ii) it is found, on comparison with the copy of the relevant register marked in accordance with paragraph (b) of this section, to be a paper which is not to be counted;
    and for rendering not so identifiable any such ballot paper which is not so rejected;
  5. (e) for making the said comparison immediately after the number of the ballot papers in the ballot boxes has been counted and recorded in accordance with paragraph 34 of the First Schedule to the Ballot Act, 1872, and (unless that comparison is not completed on the day on which the counting of the votes begins) for the adjournment of the counting on the completion of the comparison until the next following day which is not a Sunday, Christmas Day or Good Friday, or a day which under the Bank Holidays Act, 1871, as amended by any subsequent enactment (including Defence Regulations) is a Bank Holiday in the place where the votes are being counted;
  6. (f) for any other matters which appear to the Secretary of State to be incidental to or consequential on the foregoing provisions of this section, including such amendments of the First Schedule to the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other enactment as appear to him to be necessary for carrying those provisions into effect.—[Mr. H. Morrison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Solicitor-General

It might be convenient if I dealt now with the point which the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has raised, as it is this Clause, in general, which raises the point which he had in mind. As I understood my hon. Friend there were three points which he raised. The first was the question of the address. He regretted that the address was not included in the Service declaration and hoped that, if a new declaration were made, the address would go in. I shall certainly again consider that point with reference to all the considerations which I have just put before the Committee. The second point was with regard to continuance. It was hoped that this system of voting would be needed during the present year. I do not think my hon. Friend actually adumbrated the point, but he may have had it in mind, that we should have some provision to give power to continue it by Order in Council or Regulation or the like. I will again consider that point, and there will be an opportunity for intimating the decision come to. On the third point, that of maintaining the present position of the delay between the poll and the count, I shall not go into that, because it is the position put forward by the Government, and, unless any alteration is suggested, no alteration will be put forward from this Bench.

I am very glad also to have the opportunity of dealing with the points raised by the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale). The first of these was that the fullest possible steps should be taken to give information to the troops. That is certainly the policy of the Government, and everything that can be done will be done by the Service Departments, and everything will be done by the Home Office, who are in charge of electoral machinery, to inspire the other Departments to take that course. As my hon. Friend himself indicated, there is no question to the contrary. This ballot will be conducted with complete secrecy, and, of course, there will be no adverse reaction on the soldier in any way. I can give that assurance quite categorically. My hon. Friend knows that certain pieces of machinery had to be erected and other processes gone through with regard to the supersession of proxy-votes by postal votes, but that does not, as is quite clearly shown in the Appendix to the Report of the Conference, interfere in any way with the secrecy of the ballot. I am very glad to have had the opportunity of dealing with these points, and I am grateful to both hon. Members for putting them forward.

Question, put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.