HC Deb 12 June 1945 vol 411 cc1606-11

9.19 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, That the Electoral Registration(No. 2) Regulations, 1945, dated 29th May, 1945, made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department under the Parliamentary Electors (War-Time Registration) Acts, 1943 and 1944, and the Representation of the People Act, 1945, a copy of which Regulations was presented on 30th May, be approved. These Regulations are submitted in accordance with Section 20 of the Parliamentary Electors (War-Time Registration) Act, 1943, and Section 37 of the Representation of the People Act, 1945. These Regulations deal with the October register. They set out the timetable, and provide for the compilation of the lists for claims and so on, and they make the necessary adaptations of the existing code for the purpose of the compilation of that register. The October register, as the House knows, covers not only Parliamentary but local government elections, and these Regulations contain the necessary provisions for the local government aspect of the matter. In drawing up the Regulations we have taken the opportunity of making one or two alterations in the existing code, to which I. will refer shortly, and we have endeavoured to simplify what is necessarily a complicated form, namely, the form of application to be placed on the business premises register. I think I can best put the matter before the House by going briefly through the paragraphs in order to draw attention to those to which I think attention ought to be drawn.

The first three paragraphs are formal. They contain the definitions and apply the existing code, subject to modifications in the Regulations themselves. In Regulation 4, sub-paragraphs (a, b, c, and d) of paragraph (1) set out the timetables, with the various dates for the compilation of the October register. Paragraph 4 (1, e) extends the time for making applications to be entered in the absent voters' list from nine days after publication of the electors' lists, which is the existing rule, until the date of His Majesty's Proclamation in the case of the General Election and until the date on which the writ is received in the case of a by-election. There will, of course, be very considerable movements of population in the months to be covered, and therefore we thought it right to make this extension of time. Paragraph. 4 (ii) makes adaptations and repeals a section which is no longer required. Paragraph 5 deals with an important matter on which I should like to say a word or two and tell the House of instructions which I am having issued. It deals with the notice inviting applications for registration on the business premises register. As the House knows, on the existing register there were a number of cases in which those applications were not made in time. This paragraph provides that the notice inviting applications is to be published within eight days of the qualifying date, that is, 30th June, and instructions have been given to registration officers that in the case of those who are at present on the business premises register, the necessary form should be sent to them without waiting for them to apply.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

Is that a reversal of the recent policy of contracting in, so to speak?

Sir D. Somervell

I am not sure I follow the hon. Member. This started in the May register, which is the one which is now operative. We then had to ask everybody to apply. There were some cases where applications were not received in time. We are now dealing with October, and there will be already on the existing May register a number of people who have been registered in respect of business premises. The instructions to which I have referred are that in those cases where someone is already on the May business premises register, he is to have the form sent to him instead of having to write for it or come and get it. It is to be sent to the address at which he is registered and it will be a reminder to him to fill it up and return it.

Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)

What about those people who have failed to get this vote because they have applied to the wrong place?

Sir D. Somervell

I think my hon. Friend is raising a point with regard to the existing Register. These Regulations deal with the October Register. There are two steps that I propose to take which I hope will lead to many fewer omissions than exist at present. First, the form is to be sent to those at present on the Business Register. The second point is that applications to toe on the Business Premises Register must be in by the end of July, and I am proposing to take steps to see that attention is drawn to this by notices in the Press. I hope that that will assist in seeing that, as far as this part of the Register is concerned, it will be much more complete than it is at present.

Mr. Driberg

The onus will still be on the business voter to apply.

Mr. Wootton-Davies

Take my division, in which there are four places with a returning officer at one place. The applicant applies to one of these places, and the notice is passed on and passed and passed on and the time goes. What happens in a case like that?

Sir D. Somervell

If my hon. Friend will communicate with me I will certainly see whether, in the publicity which I propose to give, I can give guidance to prevent that sort of case occurring.

Mr. Wootton-Davies

My right hon. and learned Friend knows—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

We are not in Committee, and it hardly seems relevant even then.

Sir D. Somervell

In answer to the hon. Member opposite, the man must apply. That is necessary, because otherwise we shall not have the information we require. Paragraph 8 enables applications to be on the Business Premises Register to be made either by the spouse or, if there is no spouse, the business manager of the person entitled if that person is a member of the Forces or a seaman. Paragraph 9 also deals with a point to which I think hon. Members will like to have their attention drawn. It enables claims that a name has been wrongly omitted from the list to be made either by the person himself or on his behalf. This restores the old position, where claims of this kind could be made by agents or others on behalf of the person putting forward the claim. Paragraphs 13 and 15 deal with the ratepayers' register. Under the 1945 Act anyone who is on the Register as a Parliamentary voter automatically has a local government vote in respect of the premises on which his registration was based, but of course he may have qualifications as a local government voter in some other area. In such a case these paragraphs provide that he must make his application on the form contained at the end and, broadly speaking, the applicable code is the same as that which applies to applications to be on the Business Premises Register. Paragraphs 16 to 18 deal with peers. Peers do not, of course, have a Parliamentary vote, but they have a local government vote. As regards this, we have applied to peers in the Forces the same sort of principle as is applied to others in the Forces in respect of their Parliamentary votes, which I am sure the House will consider reasonable.

Mr. Driberg

In paragraph 18 there is a provision that a peer's name is to be marked with an L. Does that indicate that he is a learner?

Sir D. Somervell

No, it indicates "local government," and it was thought right, in order to prevent possible mistakes arising, to mark the distinction in that way.

9.31 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert Acland-Troyte (Tiverton)

I would like to draw attention to a point in connection with the way in which the registers are made up. People are often registered in parishes according to their postal addresses and not according to the parishes in which they live. The result is that on tie present register there are people who live in my constituency but who will have to vote in a different constituency. That will happen much more in the case of local government electors. Something ought to be done to prevent this by putting on people with local knowledge to make up the registers; otherwise, people will be registered in the wrong local government areas.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Driberg

We hope that the October register will for considerably more complete and accurate than the May register. I should like to know what steps the right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking to see that that shall be so. Is he, for instance, pressing the Service Departments for any further releases of the staff needed by the registration officers to assist them in compiling the register. We have been assured by those who have been working oh the May register that they have only just been able to get it done and that their machinery has been strained almost to breaking point. Can we take it that the October register will be more complete and thorough?

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

These Regulations do not apply to Scotland. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say anything about the Scottish Regulations?

9.33 p.m.

Sir D. Somervell

With the leave of the House, I would like to reply to the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tiverton (Sir G. Acland-Troyte). The point about the local government vote is one that we have in mind. It would be impossible to alter the general principle that the Parliamentary register, which is also the local government register, is to be based on national registration. That is provided for by the Act, and we cannot alter it. I agree that there may be cases where a man is registered at a particular address, but is qualified as a local government voter in respect of some other address. I will certainly consider whether in the publicity which, as I said, might be useful with regard to business premises we might also draw attention to that.

Sir G. Acland-Troyte

It is very often in the wrong place.

Sir D. Somervell

That may not be wholly the fault of the Government, because one puts forward one's address for registration. With regard to the other point, I agree that the people concerned have been very hard pressed, and I will certainly consider whether steps can be taken to meet this point adequately. We are trying by these Regulations and by various other steps which have been taken to see that this October register is accurate and as complete as may be. In reply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), these Regulations do apply to Scotland.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Electoral Registration (No. 2) Regulations. 1945. dated 29th May, 1945, made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department under the Parliamentary Electors (War-Time Registration) Acts, 1943 and 1944, and the Representation of the People Act, 1945, a copy of which Regulations was presented on 30th May, be approved.