HC Deb 15 June 1948 vol 452 cc348-51

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page line 43, to leave out "or as nonresidents."

This Amendment can be taken together with the Amendment in line 36 and the Amendment to leave out lines 42 to 47. These Amendments have the effect of leaving out of the Clause the provisions enabling a person to vote by post at a local government election in respect of a non-resident qualification which is in a different area from the home address. The non-resident voter will be entitled to vote by post on any of the other grounds set out. This was subject to some discussion in Committee, and it was felt, on balance of reasonableness, that while it was right that this vote should continue in this form, if a non-resident voter had a close connection with the area in which he was not a resident, it would be no hardship for him to be without the right of a postal vote.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page27 line 34, at the end, to insert: (3) Where—

  1. (a)a person is registered at the same qualifying address both as a parliamentary and as a local government elector, and is not so registered as a service voter; and
  2. (b) there is in force an appointment of a proxy to vote for him at parliamentary elections in respect of that registration, being an appointment based on the general nature of his occupation, service or employment;
then, in respect of that registration, at local government elections at which postal voting is allowed he shall be treated as an absent voter and may vote by proxy and not otherwise. (4) Subject to the last foregoing Subsection As the Bill now stands, Clause 8 (3) will enable a civilian elector to apply to vote by proxy at Parliamentary elections if he is likely to be unable to vote in person by reason of his occupation, service or employment, or of his service in the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces, and if in addition he is likely to be at sea or out of the United Kingdom on the date of the poll. An Amendment was moved by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) to make similar provision in respect of local government elections, but it was thought that to meet that in full in local government elections would be too difficult from the administrative point of view. My right hon. Friend said, however, that he would try to meet the position in respect of the resident voter, and this Amendment carries out that undertaking.

The effect is that where a civilian elector has had a proxy appointed for Parliamentary elections in respect of a resident qualification which is also a local government qualification, he may vote by that proxy and not otherwise at local government elections. The Amendment will apply only where the elector is entitled to vote as an absent voter by reason of the nature of his occupation, service or employment, and not, as at Parliamentary elections, where he is so entitled by reason of service in the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces. The reason for this distinction is that an absent voter application on the ground of service in the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces is to be made for a particular election only. If, therefore, civilians were allowed to vote by proxy on this ground at local government elections, it would be necessary to enable them to appoint proxies specially for local government elections. This would involve an administrative complication for which there appears to be insufficient justification having regard to the very small number of cases likely to be affected.

Amendment agreed to.

Consequential Amendment made.

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 27, line 36, to leave out from "section," to "may," in line 37.

The object of this Amendment is to enable the Service voter to vote by post at a local government election in the same way as at a Parliamentary election. As the Clause stands he has only the alternative of voting by proxy or in person.

Mr. Younger

There are considerable administrative difficulties about this. As I mentioned on the previous Amendment, a Service voter's application to vote by post must relate to a particular election. In Parliamentary elections the arrangement which operates whenever a vacancy occurs, or when a General Election is announced, is that all Service establishments in the United Kingdom are notified and the Service voters Register for the constituency concerned, or all the Service voters in the event of a General Election are invited to apply to the registration officer for postal ballot papers. It seems clear that such an administrative provision would be impracticable for local government by-elections.

In these circumstances, I do not think an important administrative measure like circulating all Service establishments should be undertaken for every vacancy. It is true that it would be less difficult in the case of ordinary local government elections, but nevertheless it would still add substantial complications, and we are not anxious to complicate this Measure still further. The House will agree that the number of persons who would wish to take advantage of a provision of this kind is not very great in the case of local government elections. I believe it is the experience, in Parliamentary elections that the amount of use made of this provision by Service personnel, except at a General Election where interest is naturally widespread, is relatively small. I suggest that this would introduce a complication which would be virtually impossible to operate in respect of casual elections in local government, and that it would not be worth while.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

We are somewhat disappointed with the reply we have had. We feel that the Service voter is entitled to every possible consideration, and that simply to rule the matter out because of administrative difficulties is not treating the matter fairly. I should have thought that it would have been possible to have a notation on the register whereby, automatically, there would go out to Service voters a postal ballot form. When the hon. Gentleman says that matters of grave importance or interest do not arise at municipal elections I believe he is wrong. There is at the moment great interest in housing questions, with which men who are leaving the Services are very much concerned. They would, I know, desire to have the opportunity of recording their opinion about the way in which the housing problem is tackled. The Service voter does, I believe, attach great importance to the recording of his opinion at local government elections. If the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland looked into this matter I am sure they would find means of overcoming the difficulty. Service men could get the vote if only the will was there to enable them to record it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 27, leave out lines 42 to 47.—[Mr. Younger.]