HC Deb 05 November 1959 vol 612 cc1187-90
14. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce amending legislation to enable colonial civil servants and others serving overseas to appear on the Register of Electors and to have the opportunity of voting at Parliamentary elections.

Mr. Vosper

No, Sir. The accepted principle is that the franchise is based on residence in the United Kingdom. The law allows some departure from the strict application of this principle in the case of members of the Forces and United Kingdom Crown servants while serving abroad; but it would be hard to justify any further exception.

Mr. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his Answer is thoroughly unsatisfactory and that considerable numbers of people who are serving their country in Colonial Territories overseas and a considerable number of people who are serving on business, and their wives, are completely incapable of exercising their democratic privilege of using their vote at Parliamentary elections? If my right hon. Friend is not willing to give any more helpful undertaking, we will have to seek some other way of raising the matter later.

Mr. Vosper

My hon. Friend is quite right. This would extend to a large category of people far beyond those referred to in his Question. It would create a new army of voters from people not normally resident in this country.

Mr. Williams

In view of the nature of the reply and the importance of this matter, I give notice that I will try to raise it on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

23. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider introducing amending legislation to provide for the compilation of the Election Register twice yearly.

Mr. Vosper

No, Sir.

Mr. Chetwynd

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why not, in view of the fact that the last election was fought on a register almost twelve months out-of-date, that during that time there had been considerable movements of population, both within constituencies and from one constituency to another, and that a good many people were denied their vote at the election? Surely, the cost involved is trivial compared with the full democratic rights of people to have a vote.

Mr. Vosper

The cost involved is estimated at £2 million, a considerable sum. In the new form of register, there is provision for young people who reach the age of 21 after the register is compiled to vote, and, of course, postal voting is available for those who move into a new area. On my present advice, I do not feel that a twice-yearly register would be a feasible proposition.

Mr. Gordon Walker

It was so long our practice to have the twice-yearly register. It was changed for reasons of economy. It is much better to have a live register than to rely on postal votes and all these other things which go wrong and are difficult to organise. Now that there is not the same need for economy which gave rise to the original decision to cut it down to once a year, would it not be sensible to return to the old, original practice?

Mr. Vosper

The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct. That was stopped in 1949. I will note what he has to say, but I am not quite certain that the public would relish the idea of a twice-yearly register, which would inconvenience them in many respects.

Hon. Members


Mr. Bevan

Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest to his right hon. Friend next to him that they should now consult the political parties in the country to find out what complaints they have about the way in which the register has been compiled, because is it not particularly infuriating for citizens to find when an election occurs that they are not on the register at all? Should not inquiries be made not only about the twice a year but to see that when it is done it is done properly?

Mr. Vosper

I will certainly discuss with my right hon. Friend this and the related problems, which are very much in our minds at the moment.

25. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he has taken to explain the need for electors to check electoral registers and to the facilities open to them to claim to be included should they find they have, in the first instance, been omitted.

Mr. Vosper

Besides local publicity arranged by electoral registration officers, my right hon. Friend is arranging for the issue of suitable material about the electors' lists for the assistance of the Press and the broadcasting authorities. There will also be a postmark slogan this year calling attention to the lists.

Mr. Johnson

When will that appear? We are getting near the time.

Mr. Vosper

The list will be available from 28th November to 16th December for checking, and publicity material on postmarks will be used at the same time.

Mr. Gaitskell

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he will consult his right hon. Friend about the possibility of a twice-yearly register. This seems to me—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will confirm this—something which should, perhaps, be discussed between the parties, since it concerns us all.

Mr. Butler


Mr. Harold Davies

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the interest on both sides of the House shows that both the major parties—indeed, all of us—feel some dissatisfaction with the electoral system? Will the Government look into it, and also get uniformity in practice among returning officers, of whom some will give percentages of the total vote—that is all we ask—at the polling booths while others will not? I think that information should be available to all the political parties. Will the Government give instructions that this should be given to the party agents?

Mr. Vosper

I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Forward to