HC Deb 22 November 1949 vol 470 cc223-41

Order for Second Reading read.

4.20 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Its purpose is to give effect to the Government's decision to abolish the autumn register of electors as one of the measures of economy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced this in the statement which he made to the House on 24th October. It is expected to result in an annual saving estimated at approximately £800,000.

This is not the first occasion on which the number of registers has been reduced from two to one a year in the interests of economy. The Representation of the People Act, 1918, provided for the publication of a spring register and an autumn register in every, year, but the spring register was abolished in 1926 by the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of that year. From then until 1939 there was one register every year. During the war years there was none, and although in the exceptional circumstances of 1945 there were two, the May register which was used for the General Election, and the October register—

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

It was a very imperfect one.

Mr. Ede

Like myself, the hon. Member was a supporter of the Government which passed it and so we must share the responsibility for its imperfections. The October register of 1945 was prepared for the municipal elections which were held in November of that year for the first time since 1939. Since then there has been only one register a year up to last year.

In 1946 a Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver), on which the three principal parties were represented, considered and reported upon future arrangements for electoral registration. Among other things they recommended that there should be two registers a year. They said: We take the view that the importance of having a fresh register for Parliamentary elections fully justifies the preparation of a canvass register every six months. The Government sympathised with that view and decided to give effect to this recommendation, although not without some hesitation on the score of expense. Parliament endorsed their decision and accordingly the Representation of the People Act, 1948, again provided for the publication of a spring register and an autumn register in every year.

Since that was decided the need for economy has become increasingly pressing, with the result that in the course of their recent review of national expenditure the Government came reluctantly to the conclusion that the expense of preparing two registers a year could no longer be justified. They were influenced, however, not only by financial considerations but by the continuous burden placed upon the staff of registration officers and upon the printing trade by the necessity to prepare and publish two registers every year. The Government also took into account the fact that the register will still be more up-to-date than those between 1926 and 1939 because a three months' qualifying period of residence was then required before a person could be registered, whereas there is no such requirement now. The requirement now is normal residence in a particular place on a certain day.

In deciding to abolish the autumn rather than the spring register, apart from the possibility that the spring register now in course of preparation may well be needed for the General Election, the Government had regard to the fact that whereas before the war the autumn register was needed for the municipal elections in November as well as for the county and district council elections in the spring, the spring register under the 1918 Act was not published until 15th April, which was after the holding of the district and parish council elections in those days. AH local government elections are now held in April or May in accordance with the new provisions of the 1948 Act, and consequently every spring register will in future be used when it is fresh for the local government elections.

On the other hand, if we were confined only to the autumn register, it would be rather stale by the time the local government election came round in April and May, and it would otherwise be required only in the comparatively infrequent event of a Parliamentary election being held between October and March. For these reasons it seemed clear that in the circumstances of today March rather than October is the appropriate time to publish an annual register.

In addition to dealing with the problem of the single register, the Bill makes certain consequential amendments to the Juries Act, 1922. These apply only to England and Wales. Briefly, the effect is that whereas hitherto the register published in the autumn has served as the basis for the jurors book in the year beginning 1st January after its publication, it is now proposed that in future the annual register to be published in the spring shall serve as the basis for the jurors book for the year beginning 15th August.

I ought to say a few words on the reasons for selecting that date. I considered at one time selecting 1st June or 1st July as the date for the new jurors lists coming into operation, but that might result in a trial being started at the end of the previous month and a juror being summoned whose name did not appear on the list which came into effect on the 1st of the month.. I am told that it is rather doubtful what effect that might have on any decision reached by the jury if it remained empanelled, whether it would be legal to get a verdict from a jury which contained a person or persons who had not retained their qualification on the new jurors lists. By fixing 15th August as the date we choose a date which is in the Long Vacation when it is unlikely that there will be any jury actions which will be affected by the coming into force of the new register.

This is a short and quite simple Bill. It carries out quite clearly the purpose which the Government have in mind, and it is, in fact, a re-enactment of the existing law, except for the abolition of one register and for altering the date on which the jury lists come into effect. It does not alter anyone's qualification. It ensures a substantial economy not merely in money but in the strain which is put on the officers of the registration officer's department twice in the year.

One of the difficulties confronting us in connection with the compilation of the existing register is that in these days of full employment it is not so easy to get canvassers who are willing to give up a few days to carry out the canvass required by the registration procedure. It frequently means that persons in the local government offices have to do this work in their evening time, and it is not easy to ask them to do this twice in the year.

I do not think there is any serious ground for objecting to the Bill. I would remind the House that the disadvantage of a single register as compared with two registers is very largely discounted by the provision for postal voting, which is a feature of the 1948 Act. People who move now will be able to vote by post, so that the old problem of the large number of removals on a state register will not be as acute as it was and people will not be under the same disadvantages, as they used to be in being disfranchised because they move.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

From this side of the House we have made clear our attitude towards the economy proposals of the Government, namely, that we do not regard the total saving on the Budget of £90 million in a full year as anything like adequate when considered in relation to a Budget figure of £3,400 million. It would be difficult, therefore, for us, maintaining as we do that the economies in total are quite insufficient, to take exception to a particular economy measure other than upon very good grounds. For that reason we support the passage of this Bill.

As the Home Secretary has said, in its detail the Bill follows the provisions of the 1948 Act, the only effective change being to abolish the compilation of the autumn register. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if we decide that it is necessary and desirable to abolish one of the two registers it would, in view of the alteration in the dates at which local government elections are to be held in the future, be preferable on balance to abolish the autumn register. Local government elections are held every year and it is right that they should be held upon a register as fresh and up to date as possible.

At the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that over the last generation a far greater number of General Elections have taken place in the autumn than in the spring, and the fact that in future we shall rely upon a register prepared in the spring is bound to mean that the register upon which Parliamentary elections will be fought will always be a considerable number of months out of date if elections in the next generation fall as frequently in the autumn as they have done in the past. This is inevitable if we are reduced to a single register a year, but I cannot challenge the decision that the proper register to be abolished by way of economy is the autumn register.

I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman the precise amount of the saving to be effected by the Bill. The Home Secretary gave us the figure of £800,000. I am not clear whether that is the saving which will fall upon the national Budget or whether it will be divided between the national budget and the expenditure of local authorities. The Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1926, provided for a single register annually in place of two registers previously. It was then estimated that the saving would be a quarter of a million pounds, and that figure was to be divided equally between the Exchequer and the local authorities. We ought to know whether the £800,000 saved by this Bill will be a saving on the expenditure of the central Government and whether there will be any further saving to be credited to the local authorities.

The only criticism I have to make of the Bill is that it is made permanent in form. While it is true that this follows the precedent of 1926, in 1948 when we passed the Representation of the People Act, Parliament decided that it would be desirable for the future to have two registers prepared each year if possible. Taking the view that we may one day emerge from the present financial crisis, I should have thought it might have been wise to draw this Bill in a temporary form, to enact that the Bill should last two, three or maybe five years, and to put in the Bill as we frequently do, provisions for renewal by Order in Council, or by including it in the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I ask the Government to consider between now and the Committee stage whether it would not be worth while putting a Clause into this Bill to make it of a temporary nature so that the matter will be brought up automatically for review by Parliament in three or four years' time.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

Before the House parts with this Bill may I deal with one problem which arises by reading the Bill in conjunction with the 1948 Act? Looking at Section 1 (2) of that Act, it will be seen that the people entitled to be registered are those who are resident in the district on the qualifying date who on that date, and on the date of the poll, are of full age. As the qualifying date must always precede the date of the poll it seems at first sight that this provision is not really necessary unless it is intended against my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench who are continually growing younger and younger. However, if one looks at the Act again one sees that the section contains a zeugma, as I think the Home Secretary would have said in his schoolmaster days. Those who are qualified by age must be of age on the qualifying date. The qualification on the date of the poll applies only to those who may be subject to legal incapacity.

What the Bill means, read with the 1948 Act, is that only those people will be able to vote who were 21 on 20th November or, in Scotland, on 1st December, in the year proceeding the issue of the register. That will always mean that there will be about a quarter of a million people—who are 21 years of age and, therefore, entitled to vote—who will not be entitled to vote because, although they were 21 when the register came out in the spring, could not get their names on it in November. If I am right in my calculations, there might be at some time as many as 1,200,000 young people over 21 who will want to vote but are not registered because they cannot get their names on the register. In fact, one could place one's birthday in such an unfortunate way as to be over 22, three months before one could even get on to the register.

Would my right hon. Friend consider making the date of the publication of the register also the date on which a person must be 21 in order to appear on the register? Or. alternatively—and this would not involve much more expense—having a supplementary list which could come into force, say, every six months providing for people who have then become 21 years of age? There is a somewhat similar provision dealing with Service voters who can make their Service declaration before 21. This is not just a lawyer's point and I did not think of it; it was called to my attention by one of the ward parties of my own Labour Party and it concerns both sides of the House.

In these times it is desirable to give as many people as possible the opportunity of sharing in the government of the country, and it would be unfortunate if, owing to a technicality, people are kept out whom everyone expects to be entitled to vote because they are 21. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will see if something can be done to get them on the register.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

The Home Secretary made the interesting statement that the register to be issued on 15 th March, which will come into force on that date, may well be needed for the next General Election. Now that both the Parliament Bill and the Iron and Steel Bill look as if they will reach the Statute Book before Christmas, may I suggest to the Government that it would be a very great advantage to the public, to business and to other interests, if the Government did not keep us much longer in suspense as to whether the Election will be fought on the register which comes into force on 15th March, or on the register which came into force last month? I can hardly expect the Under-Secretary, if he replies, to make a pronouncement about the exact date of the General Election.

Mr. Peake

Why not?

Mr. Ede

People do make such announcements.

Mr. Keeling

I hope that the Home Secretary, with the leave of the House, may do so, or failing that, that he will represent in the proper quarter that there is no reason for keeping the public any longer in suspense, if not about the actual date, at least as to whether the Election will be fought on the present register, which came into force last month, or on that which comes into force on 15th March.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)

Everybody will agree with the Government's proposal that, as far as possible, money should be saved, but if we agree that it is practicable to have a register only once a year, we need to satisfy ourselves that it is a good register and that no one is omitted from it. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned the difficulty of canvass work in the compilation of the register. Recently, all householders have been asked to submit details of people resident with them who are qualified to vote. No doubt this information is for the guidance of local registrars. I want to assure myself—and some of my friends in the country are equally anxious about this—that the register will be built up in such a way as to give the maximum opportunities for everyone's name to appear on it.

Let me give an illustration. Suppose that somebody, having filled up a form a few months ago, imagines that it does not very much matter if he does not complete the more recently issued form. What action is taken by the office of the registrar to check returns in comparison with the existing register in order to include people who have omitted to complete the questionnaire? This may sound a somewhat mollycoddling attitude, but there will be many people who are under the impression that, because they have already completed one return, there is no real need for them to submit further details to their town hall.

When the next register is being compiled, will there be some system or measures taken by registrars to see that everybody is included? If there is to be only one register annually, it is important that it should be the best possible register we can compile. We do not want people, to whatever party they belong, to awaken to the fact that when an Election comes along, whether it is in March or in June, they are not on the register. There are many simple people who may not take the precaution of completing their forms, and this is a point about which we ought to be satisfied.

4.44 p.m.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I support wholeheartedly what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) regarding the necessity for having a little more enlightenment before this Debate ends upon the possible date of the Genera] Election. Whilst I express that hope, I am not at all sanguine that the Under-Secretary or the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—whoever replies—will be in a position to give that information.

I know from personal knowledge and observation what very great care and trouble have been taken, at any rate by registration officers in Scotland, in preparing the register which is to come into operation on 15th March. Only last Saturday I happened to be talking to one of the registration officers. He seemed a little disconsolate because he thought, owing to what has happened recently in the House, that the General Election might take place before the new register comes into operation. Quite naturally, he felt that a lot of his trouble and meticulous care might have been all in vain so far as the next appeal to the country is concerned. However, I am not very sanguine that anyone from the Government Front Bench will be in a position during this Debate to enlighten my hon. Friend or me on the date of the next Election.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing)—who, I am sorry to say, has now left the Chamber—referred to the numbers of those of the younger generation who are about to attain the age of 21 and who may be left out of any future register. I congratulate the hon. Member on having applied his mind to that point and on his general arithmetic, but he and those who agree with him—no doubt some of those sitting behind the Government Front Bench agree with him—will also agree with me that in the compilation of any register there will always be a number of people who perforce must be omitted for some reason or other.

The Home Secretary, in presenting the Bill, alluded to the 1945 Election and the register upon which that great and historic contest—we all agree upon that, whatever view we take about its lamentable results—was waged. I ventured to interject that it was a very imperfect register. The right hon. Gentleman, hearing my intervention, saw fit to say that he and I must both take joint responsibility for that because he was Home Secretary in the National Government which was responsible for the compilation of that register. That was scarcely a good or fair debating point.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

I have let the Debate go rather wide in respect of the speeches of every hon. Member who has spoken, but it does boil itself down to a question of whether we shall have one register or two. I think that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) was relevant in discussing the effect of the spread-over for one year. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) was just in Order, but only just.

Mr. McKie

I did not wish to transgress, but was only replying to the point which was made by the Home Secretary, which I answer by saying that we all agree that the 1945 register—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member must not refer to that.

Mr. McKie

You having ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I must not refer to that again, although the Home Secretary did so in his speech, I must leave it at that, and I must take it that the right hon. Gentleman was going rather wide of the argument in alluding to that at all.

Having said that, I express the hope that the coming register will be much more perfect than the last one and that in consequence of the very meticulous care expended upon it very few people will be omitted. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) will be on the next register, for he was not on it in 1945.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member will now resume his seat. Mr. Skeffington-Lodge.

Mr. McKie

On a point of Order. With very great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I sincerely hope that you will allow me to proceed with my speech, because you had not ruled me out of Order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member does not know what he is saying. Twice I have told him that he must not refer to the 1945 register, whether it is a good or a bad register. The third time he did so I asked him to resume his seat.

Mr. McKie

I was going to make another point. May I not continue?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That must be quite final.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)

The object of this Bill will find agreement on all sides of the House, but there is a difficulty in regard to the register of electors about which I should like my hon. Friend to say something. At present forms are sent to people at their different residences. I have had one at my residence in London and one in respect of my residence in Brighton. That means that if I filled in both I would appear on the register both in Kensington and in Brighton, and, unless I happened to know, as a great many people do not know, that the principle is one man, one vote—

Mr. McKie

On a point of Order. With very great respect—and I hope, Sir, you will recognise that this is not in any way a transgression of the Rules of Order—may I say, Sir, that you never warned me, but asked me to resume my seat without a warning.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not know what the hon. Member's argument is now. Does he always require warning three times before he obeys the Ruling of the Chair?

Mr. McKie

I have been in this House many years, but have never heard an hon. Member requested to resume his seat before being warned by the Chair that if he persisted he would be asked to resume his seat.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is a very good precedent that I have set.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

These constant interruptions by the hon. Member opposite are a little trying if I am to develop my argument, and I hope he will do me the courtesy of keeping his seat during the rest of my remarks. If the principle of one man, one vote, is to be respected, some machinery ought to be devised whereby a person's name appears only on one register for one constituency. It would be possible as I have said for me to be on the register in Kensington and in Brighton and it would, therefore, be possible to cast a vote in both places. There are some people who have three residences and whose names therefore will feature on the registers in three constituencies.

This is an anomaly to obviate which I cannot suggest machinery, but it is something to which my hon. Friend should address himself. It might be possible for voters to be asked to take an oath that they have only voted once. There are people in the country who at all costs are determined to get rid of His Majesty's Government and for those people the arrangement I am describing would definitely present a very real temptation to break the law. I would not trust a good many of them not to take advantage of it.

Mr. Peake

On a point of Order. May I have a Ruling as to whether this speech has any reference to the question of whether there should be two registers, or one register?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) is talking about the next register and the compilation of the autumn register. He is now asking that when the Committee stage is reached, some amendment should be made to the Bill as it now stands. That is a perfectly good Second Reading point.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Yes, Sir, I was trying to make the point that the new register which will be compiled under this Bill should be a good and proper register for the whole country and should not feature the names of people more than once. I have already stated that there are people who are anxious to take advantage of every opportunity of getting rid of the Government. I think they are most mistaken and stupid, but I feel that a temptation would be presented to them to do the wrong thing if they could get round the regulations as they so easily can in the way I name.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member must not bring in political bias here. This is purely a machinery Bill and he must keep to the point about the fairness of the register.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

I am sorry. I think I have made the point and I should like my hon. Friend to address himself to it in his reply. I put a Question to the Home Secretary on this matter in the House the other day and he merely told me that the law would deal with people who did not put into practice the rule of one man, one vote. It is all very well to say that, but there should be some means established whereby the law can if need be be enforced.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)

I fully understand the question raised by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) of one vote in Kensington and one in Brighton. I can quite understand his sense of utter futility in using that vote in either place.

I should like the Under-Secretary to explain a point in subsection (6) of Clause 1. That Clause, in effect, says that if the register has not been printed at the time an election takes place, the old register may be used, and if parts only of the new register have been printed, I understand that parts of the old register and parts of the new register might be used. Either of those contingencies seems utterly absurd. We could not possibly have an election in those circumstances. I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell the House why this Clause is in the Bill and whether it is really necessary. I understand that it was in the 1948 Act. It is understandable that it should be in that Act, but is it really required now, or is the provision merely duplicated because it was in the 1948 Act? It seems to me that no one can contemplate contesting an election on a register in circumstances such as are envisaged by this subsection. The House would like to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say in explanation of that.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could also inform the House whether the subsection means that there is any doubt whether the register will be printed in due time. Unless there is any doubt, there is no sense in having the Clause. Will the hon. Gentleman say why the Clause appears and whether it does not convey even the risk that the register might not be printed at the proper time? As I have to go to a public meeting and must leave in order to catch a train, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous in any way if I am not here to hear his reply, for which I shall look in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

4.59 p.m.

Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)

It may be that a young man or woman reaches the age of 21 on the day after the closing of the register, and this may mean that that young person will be unable to vote at a General Election for five years. I suggest that we should adopt some method of dealing with them. Under the Bill there is to be one register a year, but I suggest that consideration should be given to those young people and that the list should be laid open periodically—say every three or six months—for young men and women reaching the age of 21 to sign on a supplementary register, which could be used when a municipal or Parliamentary election takes place. I ask the Under-Secretary to give consideration to that point.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

I am in full agreement with the general purposes of the Bill to abolish the autumn register and to have one register in each year. I should, however, like to express the hope which has been expressed by other Members that this one register will be a good one. I apologise to the Home Secretary for not having heard the concluding remarks in his speech. I telephoned my constituency to get the latest figures of their electoral register for October, 1949. I found that in the register for October, 1948, there were 53,060 names, whereas in October this year the number is 51,042, a discrepancy of over 2,000 voters in a year. I am convinced that 2,000 people have not left my constituency during the past 12 months.

I do not wish what I say to be regarded as any reflection on the electoral registration officer, whom I know personally. These officers are, in many cases, local government officials who have many other important duties to carry out, and whose staff is not always fully equipped to deal with this additional burden. The Government might well look into the question of whether some extra clerical assistance could not be forthcoming on these occasions.

One of the reasons why the current register which we have is so deficient, is that it is compiled from Form A, which is sent out on the basis of the previous register. If a mistake occurred in the previous register, and it happened that perhaps a number of houses in a street and their occupants were completely omitted through a typographical error or some other cause, those people will fail to receive Form A when that return has to be made for the March register. I know that there are provisions in the other Act whereby these errors can be put right by calls being made at the houses in question, but if those houses are not recorded on the previous register how can the persons who are employed to make the necessary calls know when an error is likely to arise? In rural districts, and I represent a vast rural area, it is impossible for these individuals to visit all the outlying farms, cottages and hamlets where the occupants may have failed to fill in Form A and return it.

I wish the Government would look at this point because I am sure that many of the 2,000 names which are now missing from the electoral register of my constituency are those of people in the rural districts. Form A has just been sent out once again in connection with the March register, and I can imagine many people saying, "I filled in this form in the summer," thinking that the latest form has been sent to them on the mistaken assumption they failed to fill it in on the previous occasion. As they had sent it in on that occasion, however, they think that there is surely no need to bother further about it.

I wish that it were possible to include in this Measure some tightening-up of the procedure. I believe that those who fail to fill in Form A and return it to the registration officer are liable to a fine. There might be some advantage in reversing the procedure and fining the registration officer for every individual he fails to put on his register, because the machinery is at his disposal and it is up to him to see that his canvassers go round and do the job thoroughly.

There does not appear to be any real check on this system. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) desired checks to be applied as he felt that members of his party might, in their unbounded enthusiasm, be tempted to vote in more than one place at the election. I am sure that they will resist his highly improper suggestion. I ask the Government to look at this matter and see if they cannot achieve a system whereby we have greater accuracy in this new register which is to be compiled in March.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I wish to deal with one small point which is worrying some of my constituents, and which will have particular force now that we are to have one register annually instead of two. A few names have, by reason of printers' errors, been omitted from the new register which is now in force. The canvass was correct, the names went correctly into the registration office, but owing to printers' errors these electors do not now appear on the list. That is causing some concern and of course disappointment to those persons. I ask the Home Secretary, if he is considering the preparation of any kind of supplementary register, to take account of those who reach the age of 21 just after the compilation of the register, etc.; also to arrange for the inclusion in that supplementary register any bona fide mechanical slip which is not the fault of the elector or the canvassers.

5.6 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

Every one on all sides of the House has accepted the principle of this Bill albeit no doubt with reluctance. We all appreciate that if the expense and work involved had not to be considered it would be better to have, as we decided in the 1948 discussions, two registers a year. No one has disputed that the proposal in this Bill is a reasonable form of economy. Some of the Rulings on Order which you have given, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, indicate that this is indeed a Bill with a narrow purpose. It is intended only to provide for the change from two registers per year to one and for any detailed consequential Amendments.

Most of the points which have been raised by hon. Members on all sides have been essentially Committee points, although I am bound to say that my right hon. Friend might be somewhat reluctant to look with a kindly eye upon some of them, even if they are proposed at a later stage, because it would not be appropriate, so soon after the passage of the major Act, to enter into a series of minor matters of electoral administration many of which were considered at that time.

I shall begin by answering first the question asked by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) about the saving which, is anticipated. The figure of £800,000 which has been given covers both the local and the central expenditure; it is the total saving which is anticipated.

Mr. Peake

Is that divided equally?

Mr. Younger

Yes, 50-50.

The second point which the right hon. Gentleman raised was whether it would not be better to include a Clause putting this Bill on a temporary basis. That is a matter which can be considered, but in thinking this matter over and after experiencing the administrative difficulties since the major Bill was passed, my right hon. Friend feels that the drain on manpower which is caused by making two registers a year is considerable. Moreover, my right hon. Friend called attention in his remarks to the postal voting arrangements, which make it perhaps rather less important—I would not put it higher than that—that there should be two registers than it might previously have been. At the moment I do not think that my right hon. Friend is inclined to favour the possibility of putting this Bill in a temporary form.

Nearly all the other points were concerned with the anxieties of hon. Members that this register should be as good as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies) asked what sort of checking is done by registration officers and their staffs if they have received the first preliminary forms to which reference has been made. I am informed they do a great deal of checking by canvasses, particularly where a return has not been received from an address where persons have previously been registered or where there have been changes in the register. How much checking they can do must be a matter for the discretion of registration officers. They can only do what the extent of their staff permits them to do. No doubt the matter is not quite uniformly dealt with throughout the country, but I am assured that every possible step is taken to check up on the particulars given in these forms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol Central (Mr. Awbery) both raised questions relating to young persons becoming 21 after the qualifying date. The House may remember that when the Committee on Electoral Registration considered the whole of this matter it did, among other things, consider whether it was possible to find some method of keeping the register up to date from week to week or month to month as an alternative to having a revision once or twice a year. Reasons were set out in the report showing that administratively there was a good deal of difficulty, and because they were unable to devise machinery of that kind they recommended a register every six months. I am afraid that many of those administrative objections apply to the sort of suggestions put forward by my hon. Friends.

The objection of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) that persons should not be registered as residents at more than one address is not a new matter arising out of the proposal that there should be one register instead of two. It is not connected with any particular feature of this Bill. It raises considerable administrative difficulties, particularly as regards enforcement, when one considers that if a particular person's name is put down in more than one place it may not always be that person who fills in all the forms. Therefore that makes it exceedingly difficult to check.

The only other point to which I was asked to reply was that raised by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) who asked about Clause 1, subsection (6) which provides against the possibility that there might be some part of the register not published on the necessary date. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will agree that it is necessary in drafting a Bill to make provision for every eventuality. It is unlikely that a date would be so chosen for an election as to make this provision necessary, but if in fact it did occur that the printing of a particular part of the register was late it might happen that an election was taking place. I think it is right that there should be some machinery in the Bill for dealing with such a situation, though I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that one would hope such a contingency would never arise. One certainly does not anticipate that the printing of these registers generally will be in arrears. But I think that the recent register was at any rate in some areas, some days late. and one has to provide against that sort of contingency. That explains why it was put in, and it is, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, no more than repetition of what has been in previous Acts, including the 1948 Act.

Mr. Keeling

Did we corectly understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the saving of £800,000 which will flow from this Bill is only half a saving to the Exchequer and the other half a saving to the rates? If so, why were we told by the Prime Minister when he announced this cut that there would be a saving of £800,000 to the Exchequer?

Mr. Younger

I cannot say without notice precisely what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did say in that respect. I was asked a question to which I have given an accurate answer. Without looking it up, I cannot accept what was said on a previous occasion.