HC Deb 06 March 1951 vol 485 cc208-11
4. Mr. J. Langford-Holt

asked the Secretary of State for War, in view of the widespread ignorance on this matter, whether he will consult with the British Broadcasting Corporation with a view to arranging to use its services again to bring to the notice of all ranks the steps necessary to ensure their inclusion on the electoral register and the absent voters' list.

5. Mr. Keeling

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that only 67 per cent. of qualified Service voters in the Army placed themselves on the new electoral register, as compared with 79 per cent. of the qualified airmen and 95 per cent. of the qualified seamen; and whether he will reconsider the suggestion that every commanding officer of a military unit should be required to report annually how many qualified persons have and have not been registered.

13. Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that a large number of private soldiers are still not given adequate information about the facilities under which they can be registered as electors; and whether he will take steps to improve the present arrangements.

22. Brigadier Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for War if all Service personnel will be given an opportunity to register their vote by proxy either prior to going overseas or immediately on arrival at their overseas destination.

24. Mr. Steele

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement as to how the arrangements for the registration of Service voters as laid down in Regulation, 1950, No. 1250 (S88), under the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, worked.

Mr. Strachey

All eligible personnel who had not already submitted the Armed Forces declaration cards, which provide for the electoral registration of the soldier and for the appointment, if he wishes, of a proxy, were given the opportunity of doing so shortly before the qualifying dates for the 1951 spring register. Instructions were issued to all commanding officers, who were required to submit a certificate that the prescribed procedure had been carried out, and all ranks were informed of the matter by an information leaflet posted on notice boards throughout the Army. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred specially to the arrangements made for Service voters in a broadcast on 11th November, 1950. Similar arrangements, which it is hoped will include publicity by the British Broadcasting Corporation, are contemplated for the coming year. All ranks about to proceed overseas are reminded to appoint a proxy if they have not already done so.

Approximately 67 per cent. of Army personnel will be included in the 1951 spring register as compared with some 48 per cent. in the existing register, so we are making progress in this matter.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Can the right hon. Gentleman let the House know what percentage of those who were eligible availed themselves of the opportunity when it was last given?

Mr. Strachey

I think 67 per cent. is the number of eligible personnel.

Mr. Langford-Holt

But what percentage of the 67 per cent. availed themselves of the opportunity?

Mr. Strachey

Of voting in the last election?

Mr. Langford-Holt


Mr. Strachey

I cannot give that information.

Mr. Keeling

As there is no reason to think that the soldier is less anxious to exercise his voting rights than the seaman and the airman, and as the Minister of Defence promised on 26th July last that the procedure which the Secretary of State has just outlined would be reconsidered if it failed—and I think it has failed, as the figures given in Question No. 5 show—will the Secretary of State say whether any further action is proposed, apart from that which he mentioned in his answer?

Mr. Strachey

I would not agree that the procedure has failed. It has raised the percentage from 48 per cent. to 67 per cent. between the two registers, and we very much hope to raise it further by the next register.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the instructions given to commanding officers in Army Council Instruction 561 of 29th July, 1950, have been carried out, and if so, how does he account for the fact that approximately one-third of the Army will not be registered?

Mr. Strachey

We go on pressing commanding officers to bring it to the notice of all ranks in the Army, and take the other steps of general publicity which I have detailed, and I am certainly willing to consider any further steps, but that is all I can do.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can my right hon. Friend say whether units in the home commands have completed the forms at a greater rate than units overseas, and if so, can something be done to make extra propaganda about it overseas?

Mr. Strachey

Not without notice.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

In view of the very wide disparity in the percentages shown in Question No. 5, which seems to be a measure of the relative efficiency of the three Fighting Services, which is in inverse ratio to their representation in this House, could not the right hon. Gentleman consider the automatic registration of these men on reaching the age of 21 by the Army authorities, who have all their papers and know all about them?

Mr. Strachey

I should have to consult the Home Secretary about that.