HC Deb 31 May 1945 vol 411 cc373-7
The Prime Minister

In order to meet the problem arising from local mass holidays which will be in progress on 5th July, the Government are prepared to consider legislation under which in constituencies to be specified in the Bill polling day would be postponed to 12th July, In order to legislate on these lines there must be general agreement. We already have a good deal of information, and I am circulating this evening a list of constituencies which has so far been drawn up. The Home and Scottish Offices will be glad to receive further information from hon. Members and from the town clerks of other towns similarly affected in order to draw up the schedule of constituencies.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Has it been brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman that in some constituencies like mine, in which there are five townships, there are three separate wakes holidays?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that is one of those points which it is beyond the wit of man to remedy.

Sir Percy Harris

Is the Prime Minister aware that people who go away for a holi- day commence the week on a Saturday, and that Thursday, in the middle of the week, is therefore very inconvenient as an alternative day? Will he reconsider that point?

Mr. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in a number of constituencies there is more than one local authority, and that in the different local authority areas the traditional holiday week is not the same, and that it will be perfectly easy to meet that position by giving the returning officer a discretion not merely to postpone the polling day in all those local government areas but to postpone it only in those of them that are affected? There is not any difficulty at all about doing that.

The Prime Minister

Well, Sir, the idea is a very simple one. Take the Lancashire case. If you look at those who have their wakes in the week which includes 5th July, they can have their wakes and fake their poll in the following week—that is perfectly simple—and there are some others who can be dealt with in the same way. I should think that round about 20 constituencies might be affected. We have not got the list absolutely perfect. I am putting out some of the most clearly marked cases in a note this evening. I do not think there is a better day for voting than Thursday; it is more convenient for everybody and I do not propose to alter these dates. If we try to complicate the matter too much and provide for everything, then undoubtedly we shall not be able to do anything, because it can only be by general agreement that a Measure like this can get through.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the Prime Minister whether this point will be looked into? In Lancashire there are constituencies which include a number of boroughs or urban districts which take their wakes week at separate times. Will there be provision for one part of the constituency to vote on the first day and the other part on the second day, not only provision for postponing voting in the whole of the constituency till the next week, because otherwise it will be very difficult for a large number of Lancashire people?

The Prime Minister

Nelson and Colne is a difficult case, I know, and there may be some very hard cases which are left over and which it may not be possible to deal with satisfactorily. We shall have to fall back on the maxim that hard cases do not make good law, but, none the less, the Home Secretary is looking into this matter, and if it is humanly possible to meet the difficulty it will be met.

Miss Ward

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the annual race week holiday on Tyneside has been staggered firm by firm, and will he kindly see whether that position can be met? That arrangement was made in order to keep the people working on war production.

The Prime Minister

That illustrates very well the point I was making.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the point which has been put about Nelson and Colne and Lancashire constituencies is fairly common in mining areas too—that there is a staggering of holidays so that one section of the division is away on holiday while the others are not? Will the Home Secretary take note of that fact?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. and learned Friend says he will take note of it, but whether he will be able to produce a satisfactory solution is another matter.

Sir Cyril Entwistle

May I ask whether the alteration of the date to 12th July will affect the dates for nomination and for the announcement of the poll?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, not at all. The constituencies where polling is postponed to the week ending 12th July will have the advantages of a longer contest, greater opportunities and, no doubt, outside help from all sides from those Members who will have already passed through their ordeal.

Mr. Loverseed

In view of the fact that 19 days are to elapse between polling day and the declaration of the results, during which time the ballot boxes will be open for the Forces' vote to come in, will it not be possible for a ballot box to be kept open in each local government area for people returning from holidays to vote?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is under an illusion, and a delusion, if he thinks that the ballot boxes remain open. On the contrary, they are hermetically sealed and closely guarded, and the idea of a returning officer and all the apparatus of an election sitting waiting on week after week for stray voters is one for which I could not really hold out any hope.

Mr. Gallacher

Much has been said about wakes weeks, but is the Prime Minister aware that in Scotland, which is always neglected, we have as holidays either 10 days or two weeks, and in view of the fact that there are three weeks intervening between polling day and the return of the soldiers' votes, would it not be much better if there were a fortnight in between the two polling days?

Captain Prescott

If certain constituencies do not appear in the list to be published are the Government prepared to receive representations, before the Bill is introduced, on why other constituencies should be included?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, within reasonable proportions, but I must remind would-be applicants that it may become rather tedious maintaining the election for an additional seven days after the others have finished.

Mr. Bowles

Could the right hon. Gentleman give us some indication, even approximately, of what percentage of holiday makers will qualify in the constituencies?

The Prime Minister

I should think our proposal would remedy the bulk of the evil. Of course Dissolutions have sometimes struck difficult moments and that is a fact which has to be faced. If we had waited much longer we should have run into the harvest, and so forth.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

Is not my right hon. Friend persuaded by the number of questions which have been put to him that the only possible thing to do is to make two definite dates and not to extend this thing, or otherwise it will become unworkable?

Mr. Hugh Lawson

Would not the simple way of solving the problem be to reopen the absent voters' list, so that people going away could vote?

Mr. Silverman

I appreciate that nobody desires to make this matter more complicated than it is, and that if the returning officer had a fettered discretion instead of an unfettered discretion that would only make it more, complicated. What I am suggesting is that in areas such as I have referred to the returning officer's discretion should be sufficiently unlimited to enable him to postpone the polling date only in that part of the constituency where it was necessary and not in the constituency as a whole—that is in constituencies which comprise several local authorities?

The Prime Minister

I do not think it would be possible to do that. It is not so "perfectly easy"—as some Member has just remarked—when you come to deal with it. I thought it was perfectly easy yesterday, but when I sat up last night and talked with the Home Secretary I saw there were a great many difficulties. In order that there should be no misunderstanding I want to say that our proposal does not throw the burden on the returning officer but throws the burden on this House, which specifically states the constituencies in which the date may be altered.

Following is the list of places with mass holidays clashing with 5th July, showing constituencies:

Places. Constituencies.
Carlisle Carlisle P.B.
Bolton Bolton P.B.
Farnworth Farnworth Division
Nelson Nelson and Colne P.B.
Turton Darwen Division
Westhoughton Westhoughton Division
Barrow-in-Furness Barrow - in -Furness P.B.
Ulverston Lonsdale Division
Crewe Crewe Division
Edinburgh (including Leith) Edinburgh—Central, North, East, South, West
Midlothian and Peebles—Northern
Greenock Greenock
Falkirk Stirling and Falkirk District of Burghs.
Port Glasgow Renfrew—Western
Bonnyrigg and Laswade Midlothian and Peebles—Northern, Peebles and Southern
Cockenzie Berwick and Haddington
East Linton
North Berwick
The Camelon, Stenhousemuir and Larbert Districts of the County of Stirling Stirling and Clackmannan—Clackmannan and Eastern