HC Deb 15 December 1949 vol 470 cc2907-9

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. KEELING:

133. To ask the Minister of Defence whether, in view of the fact that the number of Service voters on the 1949 electoral registers is only about one-third of the estimated number who have a Service qualification, he will appoint a committee to consider what further efforts can be made to induce men and women with a Service qualification to register.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. William Whiteley)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the consent of the House, I would like to answer Question No. 133 on behalf of my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Defence.

Members of the Forces and their wives form the great majority of those with "Service qualifications and the most strenuous efforts have been, and will continue to be made to encourage them to complete the necessary declarations for inclusion in the Electoral Register. In the circumstances a Committee on the lines suggested by the hon. Member would serve no useful purpose, particularly as the qualifying dates for the Spring 1950 Register have now passed.

The latest information indicates that approximately 50 per cent. of Service voters have already been included in the Spring 1950 Register and appreciable numbers of qualifying declarations are still being received.

Mr. Keeling

But as it is clear, even on the expected 1950 basis, that something like 200,000 men and women entitled to claim the Service vote have failed to do so, and as it is also a fact that the ordinary householder is under a statutory obligation to register, should it not be considered whether Service men and women should be placed under a like obligation, either statutory or disciplinary?

Mr. Whiteley

We are making this matter as widely known as possible and using every effort to get everybody on to the register, but we think that at this time a committee, such as the hon. Gentleman suggests, would not really be effective because the work is being pressed forward as rapidly as possible.

Lieut-Commander Braithwaite

Was particular care taken to see that these documents followed the Service men on posting to overseas and elsewhere?

Mr. Whiteley

Yes, that has been attended to very expressly.

Mr. Paton

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether consideration should not be given to including Service men on the register automatically, without formal application?

Mr. Whiteley

That is a matter which we shall consider. I will convey that point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Hare

Would the right hon. Gentleman give some assurance that commanding officers of units will be reminded that they should make these facts known to men serving under their command?

Mr. Whiteley

So far as I am informed, everything is done in that respect and proper notices are placed so that these people know exactly what their position is.

Mr. Keeling

As the Service vote can now be claimed by all civil servants abroad who are paid by the Treasury, and also by their wives, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any similar steps have been taken about them?

Mr. Whiteley

No, I cannot give any information about that, but I will make inquiries.

Mr. Tolley

Will my right hon. Friend press his right hon. Friend to take all possible steps to see that the tragedy which occurred in 1945—[Interruption]—does not repeat itself—a tragedy whereby thousands and thousands of men and women were prevented from receiving their voting papers and, therefore, prevented from voting?

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