HC Deb 24 March 1948 vol 448 cc3159-79
Mr. Mulvey (Fermanagh and Tyrone)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 33, to leave out from the beginning, to "register," in line 37, and to insert "the annual."

There is a further Amendment in page 5, line 40, which relates to the same subject. These Amendments seek to get an annual register of voters for Northern Ireland instead of the two provided for in the Bill. Circumstances in the preparation of voters' lists in Northern Ireland are entirely different from those in this country. We have no large industrial areas as there are in England and Scotland, and the country is largely an agricultural area. Great difficulty is experienced in the preparation of a voters' register, and greater difficulty would be caused if they were obliged to have two registers in the same year. There are many difficulties in the present arrangements for party agents and for the people entrusted with this work.

We have not had a biennial register in Northern Ireland. There are three registers of voters to be compiled in Northern Ireland—the register for this House; the register of voters for the Northern Ireland Parliament, in which the franchise law is entirely different from the law in this country; and the register of voters for local government purposes. The law regarding the franchise in Northern Ireland is entirely different from that in this country. People are deprived of votes and, furthermore, certain ex-Service men are deprived of votes under the local government franchise. All these matters mean that considerable time is taken in the preparation of a register. I would be in favour of two registers if my hon. Friends opposite would agree to a franchise on the same democratic basis as in this country, but I somehow feel that neither they nor the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland will agree with me on that point.

In the absence of agreement, I say that one register of voters could effectively be carried out in Northern Ireland The work could be well done with one register. I am satisfied that hon. and right hon. Members opposite agree with me on this matter—and we do not agree on many subjects, particularly with regard to governmental affairs in Northern Ireland. Taking into consideration all the matters I have endeavoured to mention, I ask the Home Secretary to accept this Amend- ment and provide for one annual register in Northern Ireland.

Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)

I rise to support my hon. and temporary Friend the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey). It is often said by people in England that they wish to see people in Ireland sinking their political differences. Why that view should be expressed by those who have so many political differences in England, I cannot follow. There are certain people who try to stir up as much trouble as possible between two parties. In this particular instance, we have what some people have looked for in vain—that is, complete unanimity between my hon. Friend who has just spoken and my hon. and right hon. Friends who represent the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

The position in Northern Ireland is indistinguishable, as regards the matter of registration, from the position in England. There is always said to be in Englishmen a regrettable lack of an appreciation that anyone could be different from themselves. It is always said that our difficulties in China are due to the inability of the Foreign Secretary to understand that it is inhabited by Chinamen. There is a difference on the part of English Ministers even on matters of detail on which we agree, and certainly we are sufficiently violently divided on political points that agreement should be considered rather remarkable.

It never was the practice to have two registers in Ireland until fairly recently. The 1918 Act provided for two registers in England, but only one in Ireland. That was at a time when the whole of Ireland was represented in this Parliament, and at that time no one even suggested that this practice should be extended to Ireland. It is still quite unsuitable, because the interesting feature about the register in Ireland is that it is taken very seriously. What unites the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone and myself is that we have each objected to the other appearing on the voters' register. The hon. Member would do his best to get me struck off, and I would equally do my best to get him struck off.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—If it cuts one way, it cuts the other.

11.30 p.m.

The point is, that this matter is dealt with far more strictly in Northern Ireland than here. There are quantities of objections, and also there are people in the polling booths to see that there is no dual voting. In the majority Report of the Committee on Electoral Registration there is a most curious feature. I would remind the Home Secretary that in the Report of that Committee there was a very marked difference of opinion, and that all those who had previous knowledge of Northern Ireland before they visited that country represented the position which is embodied in this Amendment. I do not think I am doing them an injustice, but I believe that those who wrote the majority opinion on this matter did not have any knowledge of Northern Ireland, or of any part of Northern Ireland, before they went there to inquire into this matter.

They take a most extraordinary attitude as regards the objections. They say that there is a large number of objections, far more than are ever made in England, and they say that many of those objections, they were told, are made on principle. They state that they do not think objections of this type deserve encouragement. I should have thought that objections made on principle deserved a certain amount of encouragement. A good many of these objections succeed, and a substantial proportion are genuine. They then proceed to enunciate their method of stopping the making of objections by having so many registrations that every one would be exhausted, and would not bother to make objections.

I would suggest, however, that they are taking too optimistic a view. The fact is that there has to be a secondary register for the Government of Northern Ireland. Therefore, this suggestion would mean making three registers in the year. The vast majority of the voters, Unionist and Nationalist, consider that one is sufficient. It was the practice for years while there were two registrations in England. There was never any objection to it. Therefore, it seems fantastic that, in the mere pursuit of uniformity, this should be suggested in the Bill. I quote a passage from the minority Report of the Committee on Electoral Registration: To require that in such circumstances the arrangements for Northern Ireland should be brought into step with those for Great Britain would be to exact uniformity at a quite disproportionate cost in labour and money, and would be of no sufficiently useful purpose. We are supported in our view by the evidence taken in Northern Ireland, where not only the two largest parties, the Unionists and the Nationalists, but also the registration officials, favour only one register a year. I cannot see any argument that can be usefully adduced to counteract that portion of the Report. Practically everybody associated with politics, and the disinterested parties concerned in the preparation of the register, consider that one is sufficient. It has been the practice for many years. The result of having two registrations, combined with the third, which is necessary because of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, would be that there would be an almost unending registration session. It would involve a substantial expenditure to no useful purpose. I hope that, in view of this unanimity, the Home Secretary will accept the Amendment, and that he will not tell us that those who do not know conditions in Ireland, know most about what is the best thing to do there.

Mr. Younger

I sympathise very much with the Irishman's well-known desire to be different. I am afraid, however, that this is an Amendment which my right hon. Friend feels he should not accept. As the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) said, this matter was discussed in some detail by the Committee on Electoral Registration, and there was a difference of opinion. The account which the hon. Member gave of conditions in which a register is compiled in Northern Ireland is perhaps alarming, but he said that the matter of getting on the register was taken very seriously. If that is the case, as I have no doubt that it is, I should have thought that all hon. Members who come from Northern Ireland, no matter what their political views may be, would have wished that the register upon which they would be elected to thi4 House should be as good and up to date as those for other parts of the Kingdom and for all other Members of this House.

The majority view taken by the Committee on Electoral Registration was that the need for a uniform and up-to-date register was paramount. They appreciated that there were certain difficulties peculiar to Northern Ireland, but there was a passage in the majority opinion, which was not quoted by the hon. Gentleman, in which the view was expressed that the administrative arrangements for compiling the register could be substantially improved, and that many of the objections raised on the ground of practical difficulty were objections which could be met if there was the will to have them met. I submit that it is reasonable that, as all hon. Members who come here are on an equal footing, no matter from what area they come, they should be elected upon the same basis. There is no reason why any area which elects Members to this Parliament should not make suitable arrangements to have an equally up-to-date register.

Sir. R. Ross

Because he is a member of the richest political party, perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not mind about money, but as both the Unionist and Nationalist Parties have a good deal less money at their disposal, he should consider their interests. Can the hon. Gentleman quote any instance when there was any complaint on the ground he has mentioned during the many years when there was one register in Ireland and two in England?

Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)

This is a unique occasion in the history of the House of Commons, because it must be almost the first occasion on which the Nationalists and Unionists have agreed together on a particular matter which they desired to set before hon. Members. It is, therefore, all the more regrettable to find the Under-Secretary, in a rather rusty and somewhat reactionary speech, rejecting their views and so, I suppose, dashing for ever any hope of unity in Ireland. This Amendment is put forward on serious and important grounds because in Northern Ireland the vote, unlike the vote in England, is regarded by these politically well educated people as an asset to be used, and not, as in England, to be lightly cast 'aside at election after election.

In fact in the constituency of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey) I am told that practically everyone votes, both the living and the dead. It was not so long ago that there were only six people in that constituency who did not vote and they were known in the constituency as the "six rusty voters." As you will see, Mr. Diamond, the matter of elections and politics in Northern Ireland is taken seriously and not, as in this country, flippantly and lightly, so that the matter of the register has to be seriously considered. It takes a considerable time to prepare a register because it is scrutinised carefully by each party to see that no person gets on to it improperly and so that objections may be taken in good order. It is not taken lightly as in this country, and speedily disposed of. We have to consider these matters because politics are important in our country, as we know that the government of ourselves is a matter which affects us.

As almost anyone in Northern Ireland would say, the preparation of a register at present is only just got through in a year by the time all the objections are heard. If we have to have two registers, it will put, not the parties—and this plea is not made on behalf of parties—but the unfortunate administrative officials who have to prepare the register in the greatest possible difficulty. It would be quite impossible to prepare two registers in so short a space of time. Therefore I hope the Government will reconsider the matter. 'There is a ground for drawing a distinction between the independent people of Northern Ireland and the rather dull apathetic voters in England, Scotland, and Wales. In Northern Ireland we should have one register in the year which we could consider carefully. Here, let them have as many registers as they wish, but in Northern Ireland all parties there who consider this matter carefully, desire to have one register. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, who is very reasonable in these matters, will consider it again and accede to our modest and reasonable request.

Mr. Delargy (Manchester, Platting)

This Amendment rather bewilders me, as a simple Member for an English constituency. Precisely why the people of Northern Ireland should want only one register instead of two I cannot possibly understand, but it seems they do. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) are of the same opinion I feel it would be most impertinent for this Committee not to concur. I am sorry that last week the hon. Member for Londonderry was not of the same opinion as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone, or he might have been allowed to speak in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. For once in a while, these two gentlemen for reasons which completely escape me, are in agreement, and why the Government should refuse this extraordinary agreement between the two really puzzles me. But there is a second reason why I am very much in favour of this Amendment. The Unionists in Northern Ireland have always pretended that they would march in step with whatever Government was in power in Great Britain.

Sir R. Ross

So long as it was a sensible Government.

Mr. Delargy

Yes, so long as it was a sensible Government, but what the hon. Baronet means is "so long as it was a Conservative Government." Now we have on the Front Bench a democratic Labour Government, the Unionists proceed to march out of step; so many laws on the other side of the Channel have decided not to be in step with what is agreed here. The Unionists wish to march in step with the Government for once in a while, and I am on their side and will support them in their reasonable demand for the people of Northern Ireland.

11.45 p.m.

Sir P. Hannon

I do not wish to detain the Committee but we must not lose this great opportunity of conceding the undivided wishes of Members from Northern Ireland constituencies. It is the first time in my long experience of the House of Commons that I have seen my fellow countrymen coming together and demanding, in unison, a concession from the Home Secretary. It has been called a reasonable demand. Why should these fellow countrymen of mine have imposed on them the expense of two registers. when one would secure a fair and square and honest representation of the people? Surely, we must not lose this opportunity of helping Irish affairs when they come our way, and I strongly support the appeal that this concession be made by the Home Secretary.

If I were asked to say to which of our leading statesmen I would appeal for common sense on a particular subject, I would select the Home Secretary as the exponent of that fine quality. I acknowledge the extent to which he enjoys the distinction of being known for always taking honest and just decisions on questions submitted to this House. I submit that here is an opportunity of taking an action which would be regarded as the most thoughtful we have taken for a long time for Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman recently brought forward his Northern Ireland Bill, and there were differences of opinion, but here is a different case, where both sides of the Committee are of the same opinion. This is a chance to test the right hon. Gentleman's statesmanship in doing something really worth while in Irish affairs.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

Representatives of Northern Ireland are unanimous on this subject, but as the Government will not accept it I would suggest a compromise. The problem is that it is necessary to have registers, one for the Northern Ireland Election, and one for the British Election. If we could have the same register for both, no more registers would be needed, but the one could be brought up to date every six months. But the party opposite depends on the business vote in Northern Ireland, and if I may, I would like to give some figures for the constituency of the hon. Baronet who sits for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross). In the Tory area represented by the Unionists in the British Parliament, there are 35 business votes on the register. For the Northern Ireland Parliament there are 1,072. This is because, in Northern Ireland, the business man or company is worth six votes. I' have no figures for Down. I am glad to see the junior Member for the County of Down (Lieut. Mullan). It is a pleasure to know that he makes a special point, when he is in London, of looking in at the House.

Sir R. Ross

To return the compliment, may I say how glad we are to see the hon. Member in our constituencies? He is always a great help.

Mr. Bing

I do not want to be distracted. I have just asserted a constitutional principle. It was laid down, and has since been confirmed that Members of Parliament have responsibility for the whole country, and the fact is that we have as much responsibility for Northern Ireland as any other Parliament. That is why I am intervening. It would be unreasonable to suggest that the Northern Ireland Government should abandon the advantage of the business vote as it would make far too much an inroad on their majority, but what I am suggesting is that any one worthy of voting in the British Parliament should also be entitled to vote in the Northern Ireland Parliament.

If we take the Derry side we find that there are only 27,007 residential electors registered for the Northern Ireland Parliament while for the British Parliament there are 28,350. It is a difference of only 1,350—ex-Servicemen and a few people like that, who cannot qualify for the rather strict list in Northern Ireland. 'Would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to appeal to the Northern Ireland Government to enfranchise these people who have some residential qualifications, and ask that there be a special business vote?

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Diamond)

I have allowed the hon. Gentleman considerable latitude, and I would be

Division No. 109.] AYES. [11.54 p.m.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V Dodds, N. N. Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Donovan, T. Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Alpass, J. H. Driberg, T. E. N. Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)
Attewell, H. C. Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)
Austin, H. Lewis Dumpleton, C. W. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Durbin, E. F. M. Janner, B.
Bacon, Miss A. Dye, S. Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Baird, J. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)
Balfour, A Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Johnston, D. H.
Barton, C Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)
Bechervaise, A. E. Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Evans, John (Ogmore) Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)
Berry, H. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Jones, J. H. (Bolton)
Beswick, F. Fairhurst, F. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
Bing, G. H. C. Farthing, W. J. Keenan, W
Binns, J. Fernyhough, E. Kenyon, C.
Blackburn, A. R Field, Capt. W. J. Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
Blenkinsop, A. Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E) Levy, B. W.
Boardman, H. Foot, M M Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
Bottomley, A. G. Fraser, T (Hamilton) Lewis, J. (Bolton)
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N Lindgren, G. S.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey) Longden, F.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Gibson, C. W. Lyne, A. W.
Bramall, E. A. Gilzean, A. McGhee, H. G
Brook, D. (Halifax) Gordon-Walker, P. C. McGovern, J.
Brown, George (Belper) Greenwood, A W. J. (Heywood) Mack, J. D.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Maclean, N. (Govan)
Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) McLeavy, F.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Gunter, R. J. Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)
Byers, Frank Guy, W. H. Marquand, H. A.
Callaghan, James Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Mathers, Rt. Hon. George
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Hale, Leslie Mayhew, C. P.
Chamberlain, R. A. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil Mellish, R. J.
Champion, A. J. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col R Middleton, Mrs. L
Chetwynd, G. R Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Mikardo, Ian
Cobb, F. A. Hardman, D. R Millington, Wing-Comdr E. R
Collindridge, F. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Mitchison, G. R
Collins, V. J. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford) Monslow, W.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'welt, N.W.) Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Moody, A. S
Crawley, A. Herbison, Miss M. Morley, R.
Crossman, R. H. S. Hewitson, Capt. M Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Daggar, G. Hobson, C. R. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Daines, P. Holman, P. Moyle, A.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. House, G. Nally, W.
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Hoy, J. Neal, H. (Claycross)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
de Freitas, Geoffrey Hughes, H D. (W'lverh'pton, W.) Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)

grateful if he would return to the Amendment.

Mr. Bing

I am sorry. I was only trying to seek a means of compromise. What I was suggesting was that we might postpone consideration of this matter until the right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of consulting the Northern Ireland Government, and asking them to admit to the franchise the people at present disenfranchised. In that case we could have the two registers a year, and no one would be disabused. I do not know whether the junior Member for Tyrone and Fermanagh (Mr. Mulvey) would accept that, but I hope the Home Secretary will.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 24o; Noes, 83.

Oliver, G. H Sharp, Granville Warbey, W. N
Orbach, M. Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes) Watkins, T. E.
Paget, R. T. Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens) Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Palmer, A. M. F Shurmer, P Weitzman, D.
Pargiter, G. A Silverman, J. (Erdington) Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Parker, J. Smith, C. (Colchester) Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Parkin, B. T. Smith, Ellis (Stoke) West, D. G.
Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Snow, J. W Wheatley, John (Edinburgh, E.)
Paton, J. (Norwich) Solley, L. J. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Pearson, A. Sorensen, R. W. Wigg, George
Peart, T. F. Soskice, Sir Frank Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B
Perrins, W Sparks, J. A Wilkes, L.
Piratin, P. Steele, T. Wilkins, W. A.
Poole, Cecil (Lichfield) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Porter, G. (Leeds) Stubbs, A. E. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Price, M. Philips Sylvester, G. O Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Pritt, D. N. Symonds, A. L. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Randall, H. E Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield) Williams, R. W. (Wigan)
Ranger, J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Rankin, J. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet) Willis, E.
Rees-Williams, D. R. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare) Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Reeves, J. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin) Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.
Reid, T (Swindon) Thomas, George (Cardiff) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A
Rhodes, H. Thurtle, Ernest Wyatt, W.
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Tiffany, S. Yates, V. F.
Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Tolley, L. Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Rogers, G. H. R. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G. Zilliacus, K.
Ross, William (Kilmarnock) Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Royle, C. Vernon, Maj. W. F TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Scollan, T Wadsworth, G. Mr. Simmons and
Segal, Dr. S Walkden, E. Mr. Richard Adams.
Shackleton, E. A. A. Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Mullan, Lt. C. H.
Amory, D. Heathcoat Gage, C. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. Odey, G. W.
Astor, Hon. M. George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke) O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H
Baldwin, A. E. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Orr-Ewing, I L.
Baxter, A. B. Grimslon, R. V. Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Harmon, Sir P. (Moselev) Peto, Brig. C. H. M
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.) Pickthorn, K.
Bossom, A. C. Hogg, Hon. Q. Prescott, Stanley
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Ramsay, Maj. S.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T Keeling, E. H. Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)
Bullock, Capt. M Kendall, W. D. Robinson, Roland
Butcher, H W Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H Ropner, Col. L.
Challen, C. Lindsay, M. (Solihull) Spearman, A. C. M
Clarke, Col. R. S. Linstead, H. N. Spence, H. R.
Clifton-Browne, Lt.-Col. G. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Lucas, Major Sir J. Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Studholme, H. G.
Cunningham, P. McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Cuthbert, W. N. Maclean, F. H. R. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N
Davidson, Viscountess Macpherson, N. (Dumfries) Touche, G. C.
Delargy, H. J. Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Vane, W. M. F.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Walker-Smith, D.
Drayson, G. B. Marlowe, A. A. H. Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Drewe, C Marsden, Capt. A. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Duthie, W. S Maude, J. C.
Erroll, F. J. Medlicott, Brigadier F TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Mellor, Sir J. Mr. Mulvey and
Sir Ronald Ross.
Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 6, line 3, at the end, to insert: and where any part of the register used at an election is a part continued in force by this Subsection this Act shall have effect in relation to the election and the area to which that part relates as if the qualifying date by reference to which that part was prepared were the qualifying date for the election. Clause 5 (3) provides that if the register is not published on the due date the old register continues in force until the day after the new register is published. That means that an election may, in certain circumstances, necessarily have to take place on an old register. It is, however, further necessary to provide that in that event those who are entitled to vote at an election are those who were resident on the qualifying date of the old register, and not on the qualifying date of the new one which should really have been used had it been available. That is owing to the provisions of Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 1. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that where the old register is used it is the qualifying date of the old register which is effective in respect of that election.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The Under-Secretary has referred to the old register. As far as I can see the old register may be very old indeed. It may be years old or it may be a register which is in force now. There is nothing, as I see it, under this Clause, to provide for the replacement of the old register other than by putting the duty on the registration officer to see that the register now in force carries on not only after the next election, whenever that may be, but for the election after that. Does not that mean that the qualifying date under this paragraph becomes entirely unreal, because when the election after this one takes place the electors entitled to vote under this Clause will be those who have qualified under the register now in force? This opens up a rather serious aspect. I may have overlooked it, but can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether there is any sanction that the existing register will, in fact, be replaced.

One would think, looking at this Clause at first sight, that the old register is merely one which is brought into existence under this provision at the time that an election takes place. It may be that that old register is often out-of-date. Is there a sanction to prevent that happening? Might it not be under this Amendment, that the qualifying date is three or four years before the date of the election? If that be so it may involve considerable difficulties. Can we be quite sure that the qualifying date will not be so far before the election can take place? This Amendment seems to provide that we can go on operating on a register no matter how old that register may be, and no matter how long ago the qualifying date may be.

Mr. Younger

If I correctly understood the hon. and learned Gentleman his suggestion was there is no sanction under this Bill to ensure that the register will be made up and subsequently kept up-to-date in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The provisions of Clause 5 put the duty on the registration officer, which is as much as can be done by statute. All the Amendment is doing is to ensure that if the latest register, which should, in accordance with the terms of the Bill, be ready at a certain date, has not become ready, and an election takes place, it will take place on the last available register no matter how old it may be. It seems reasonable to say, however, that the effective qualifying date should be the one relating to that register and not to some other register. The difficulty is rather unreal, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has admitted it will be quite unreal after the first register has been compiled under this Bill, so that it would only be a transitional difficulty. I do not think there is very much in it.

Mr. Solley (Thurrock)

I wish to speak not about the merits of the Amendment, but to complain that it is drafted in language which it is almost impossible to understand. It is right to draw attention to a legal rigmarole which is misleading to the ordinary person. In four lines the word "Bill" is repeated four times, and "election" three times. There is the phrase "this subsection this Act" without a comma between the first two and the second two words. I defy anybody, judge or lawyer, to understand this without detailed study. I think it is wrong in principle to bring before the Committee an Amendment of this sort which is not phrased in ordinary understandable English.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The Under-Secretary has, I am glad to say, uttered a few words about this rather obscure Amendment. If an election is to take place on the old register because the new one which ought to be prepared has not been completed, owing to the registration officer having been unable to fulfil the duty cast upon him, why is it necessary that the qualifying date under the old register should be the qualifying date under this Measure? Why is it necessary to add this when it is said that if the new register is not prepared in time, the old register will suffice?

Mr. Younger

The Amendment is necessary because of the provisions of Clause 1, (2) and (3). By Subsection (2), persons entitled to vote at an election are those resident in a constituency at the qualifying date, and Subsection (3) provides that the qualifying date is determined by reference to the date of the poll. In these conditions it was necessary to move this Amendment.

Colonel Gomme-Dunean

I appeal to the Minister in support of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley). This provision might be translated into English for the benefit of the ordinary reader. Why have we to put up with this stuff when we could have it in language which most people could understand?

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 6, to leave out "an elector" and to insert "electors."

If the Committee will read the words as they now stand they will see it reads: all persons who may be entitled to vote as an elector. That seems to be execrable English—if it has any sense at all. I suggest that the Home Secretary should use the same words as are used in Clause 24.

Mr. Younger

My right hon. Friend is prepared to accept this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Grimston

I beg to move, in page 6, line 15, to leave out from "registered" to the end of line 17.

The Committee will see that that will exclude the words in brackets in Subsection (5, a). If left in, these words in brackets will make it impossible for registration officers who are to carry out the house-to-house inquiry to make any inquiries at all about Service voters. We do not quite see the reasons this provision is inserted. Registration officers have a great deal of difficulty in keeping the Service voters list up-to-date. One of the difficulties they encounter is that these registers contain a large number of names of Service voters who will probably never return to that constituency again on their release, and those names clutter up the register. If in the house-to-house inquiry it were possible to look into this, it would considerably help in cleaning up the register.

There is another point about it as well; it would also be a help in getting removed from the Service register names of those who have been released from the Services, a matter in which there is delay at the present moment. Our object in seeking to delete these words is to make it easier for registration officers to keep the list up to date as regards the Service voters. Having put the position quite briefly, and I hope the Home Secretary will give the Amendment favourable consideration, or tell us why the inquiry is not allowed to deal with this matter.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Ede

This Subsection requires a registration officer to have sufficient inquiry made as to the persons entitled to be registered, excluding persons appearing to him to be entitled to be registered in pursuance of a Service declaration. So the words the hon. Gentleman proposes to leave out are confined to the Service voters. The duty of getting Service voters on the register is placed by Subsection (4) on somebody else. It is the duty of the commanding officers to see that Service voters have the opportunity of making their declarations, and they are registered in respect of their declarations.

It was found that under the 1918 Act Service voters were not excluded from the canvass. In fact, what happened was that there was a number of duplicate registrations. It is very undesirable that there should be duplicate registrations—duplicate entries on the register—and we feel that the duty placed upon commanding officers to see that the men under them have the opportunity of making their declaration, and of seeing that the declaration is forwarded to the appropriate registration officer, solves this particular problem. As a result of the canvass, some person resident in a house might claim that a certain Service voter should be registered there; but he might make his declaration, as he is entitled to do, in respect of some other place, and he would then be on the register for the place where his name had been returned for the canvass and for the place where he had made his declaration. Now, he is entitled to exercise his choice as to where he can be registered for a vote, and it would appear desirable, therefore, that we should rely upon his declaration, and not on the canvass, to ensure that he gets his name on the register.

Mr. Grimston

The Home Secretary, I think, has not quite grasped the point I tried to make in putting this matter forward. I quite see his argument from the point of view of getting the names on to the register. We consider that this inquiry would be useful in enabling the registration officer to see that the names on the register ought still to be there. The trouble, as I am advised, is that a great many names remain on the register far longer than they should do, either because the man has himself chosen to register somewhere else or has been registered from the Forces. If the registration officer were allowed to make some inquiry, he could probably save a great deal of trouble and assist in the register being kept clear of names that should not be there any longer. It is for that reason that I suggest there is no reason why the registration officer should not be required to make inquiries about Service votes.

Mr. Ede

I will see whether it is necessary to have, by canvass or other means, some arrangement whereby the registration officer can ensure that Service voters no longer entitled to vote by reason of residence can be removed from the register. I think the arrangement proposed in the Amendment would probably lead to Service voters being registered in more than one place. I admit that it is desirable to make sure that persons no longer having any connection with the premises should be removed from the register. If it is necessary to do anything in the matter, I will undertake to do it on the Report stage.

Captain Marsden (Chertsey)

I think that the Home Secretary has overlooked one or two other possibilities. The Service voter has to make a declaration as to where he would be living if he were in this country. He may be abroad, and his home may have been broken up. He may have no address anywhere. He puts down on the form an address, some street and number, of which he has at some time or other heard, or knows of, to qualify for the declaration. Therefore, if the registration officer goes to the house and finds that the people there know nothing of the Service man, it would appear, if the Home Secretary continues with what he proposes, that the man would be disqualified. I ask him to bear in mind the case of a man with no regular abode and no regular address, who, having to give an address on the declaration, casually puts down some address.

Mr. Ede

That reinforces the argument that I put.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 6, line 28, to leave out from "be," to "and," in line 29, and to insert: for any area, the person having the like duty for the purpose of elections of members to serve in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland. The intention of this Clause is that the same officer shall determine claims and objections both in respect of the Northern Ireland register and the Imperial register. This is really only a drafting change, made because it was found that the words which it is now proposed should be left out did not entirely cover the position as it is in Northern Ireland. It was thought that the wording of the Amendment was a better way to put it.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Mr. Piratin (Mile End)

The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and myself have an Amendment to this Clause which has not been called. This and other Amendments which will be found on the Paper in our names, deal with the same point. They all relate to a similar Amendment to Clause r which was not called. Therefore, I feel that I would like to make a few remarks on the matter, and I hope that the Home Secretary, or the Under-Secretary, will make some observations in reply to what I have to say. The point is a small one, but it is important. It will, I think, appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. In this Clause we are dealing with the question of the register. In one case the register will be published on r5th March. It will be based on a qualifying date, the previous 20th November. It could be used for an election on 16th March. In practice, that is not the case, but it could be used for an election within the usual period after that date. It could be used for an election, say, on 7th April.

I claim that this is unfair and difficult from the point of view of the operation of the local machine. Every hon. Member recognises that his electoral machine is prepared long before an election. According to the Bill, there could be an election on a register prepared the day before the election. This matter ought to be reviewed. I ask the Minister to consider the matter with a view to introducing an Amendment at a later stage. I recognise that an argument which could be advanced against my suggestion is that people will be on the register for one month longer than is the case at the moment, but I suggest that this Clause may cause tremendous difficulties.

Mr. P. Roberts

I have read the Clause as amended and I am not certain what would happen in certain circumstances. Let us assume that this Bill becomes law by 1st August of this year, and that there is a General Election for which the polling day is 29th September of this year. On what register would that election take place? The re-distribution of seats will take place after the passing of the Bill on 1st August. I would like to be sure that we are doing something which is practical, and that it is possible to have an election on 29th September.

Mr. Ede

An election on 29th September would take place on the register current at that date [Laughter.] I am not trying to say anything that appears to he slick. The first register to he published under this Bill will be the Autumn register for 1949. The new registration proposals do not come into force until then. In reply to the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin), the Spring register, which is published on 15th March, will be used for the municipal elections. The earliest date at which a general municipal election can be held under this Bill will be 31st March, so that there will be 16 days between the publication of the register and the date of the election.

I cannot help thinking that it would be very foolish for a municipal by-election to be fought on the day after the register came into effect. Of course, it would be possible to say that this might have happened with regard to Parliamentary by-elections, or that a Government might have declared for a General Election on the day after the register came into force, but these things are always arranged in this country in a better way than that. I do not think there is any fear that an election would be fought on 16th March. If it were so to he fought, I would think that all the parties to it were very much to blame for the way in which they had arranged the matter.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Piratin

The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed my suspicions in what he said in relation to the general municipal election. It can be held on 3oth March or after, and the register is published on 15th March. There is, therefore, a gap of 16 days. As every Member knows, that 16 clays coincides with the period of the election. The election is begun 16 days before polling day, and I think my argument still stands. The good electoral agent will want to see that his register is in proper order a week before the election campaign begins, not when it is in full swing, and all the activities arc related to the campaign. The 16 days, as the Home Secretary admitted, is too short a period after the day of publication. I would like to see a longer period than the one defined in the Bill.

Mr. Ede

At present, the municipal elections on 1st November are voted on the register that is published on 15th October, and, in addition to desiring to have a long time to prepare the canvass cards, most agents prefer to fight the election on a register that is not too stale. The greater the gap allowed here, the staler the register must be. In this matter we have to balance the advantages with the disadvantages. I think 16 days is long enough for the election machine to get working. It ensures that the register shall be as up to date as possible.

Mr. P. Roberts

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman answered the question I put to him. I appreciate that under Clause 5, which has to be read in conjunction with Clause 74, the operative date is 2nd October. The question I asked is on what register would an election be fought on 29th September this year? Would it be on the present register, which would have to be amended to cover the redistribution of seats after the passing of this Bill?

Mr. Ede

If there were a General Election on 29th 'September of this year, it would have to be fought on the register which will expire on 14th October of this year, and it would be necessary for the registration officers, in making up the registers to send out to agents to ensure that they were so compiled as to give effect to the electoral rolls for constituencies under this Bill. That, I have no doubt, would be a matter of grave inconvenience, and I think the hon. Gentleman may assume that it is not intended to have a General Election about that date. Hon. Members who have been enGaged in municipal life know that in a redistribution of wards in a borough or urban district the question of picking out pieces of the old register and old wards and putting them together to form a register for the new ward is not an uncommon practice. They have to do it, and it would be exceedingly inconvenient if at some time or other the same register had to be prepared to deal with the new constituencies created under this Bill. I hope it will be a register which has been compiled with the new constituencies in mind.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.