HC Deb 21 April 1948 vol 449 cc1863-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Amory

Subsection (1, c) of this Clause deals with the time for delivery of notices of withdrawals from candidates. What it amounts to is that there are only 24 hours between the dispatch of the notice of acceptance of nomination and the time of withdrawal. That does not seem to be long enough, particularly in rural areas in which many people have to go to work before the arrival of the morning post. In these days of bottlenecks and breakdowns that post often arrives without bringing the letters which have been despatched the previous afternoon. That being so, a candidate who wished to withdraw might have to make a special journey to town to present his withdrawal, in person, to the returning officer. I ask the Home Secretary whether he considers that 24 hours are sufficient? I hope he might regard 48 hours as being the necessary minimum.

Mr. Ede

I hope the Committee will realise that by what we have already done in this Bill we have considerably increased the strain on the administrative machine which will deal with this type of election. After candidates have been duly nominated, and it is evident that there has been no withdrawal, the staff have to get on with the job of getting the papers ready for those who will have the postal vote. I went into this matter very carefully with my administrators and, as one who has had considerable experience of local government elections, I came to the conclusion that we must allow every moment of time that is set down in the Bill. Cutting off one day might well mean that a number of people entitled to the postal vote would not be able to exercise it. I cannot think that candidates at elections could not, within 24 hours of the time at which they were nominated, make up their minds whether they wanted to be candidates or not; I am not so sure that a man who could not make up his mind in 24 hours would be very much helped if he were given 48 hours. It would only make him miserable for a longer time while he was trying to make up his mind.

The acting returning officer for the county council election is in the locality in which the election is being conducted. Generally, he is the clerk to one of the local authorities in the constituency. If it covers an area of more than one local government body—say, two rural district councils—he will probably be the clerk to the larger authority. It is not a question of the candidate having to go to the county town; he has to go to the clerk's office. If we are to extend the facilities for postal voting, and make other elaborate arrangements for proxy voting in local government elections, we must recognise that the administrative staffs, between the close of nominations and polling day, will be very fully occupied. To cut a day off the time we have allowed might in certain cases impose an impossible burden upon them.

Mr. Amory

I was concerned with the question of conveying the decision to withdraw. In rural areas men are at work all day, and that is where the difficulty might arise.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.