§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD BLANESBURGH
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to secure for blind voters the secrecy of the ballot so far as is possible having regard to their affliction. My association with the Bill is due to this, that for some years now I have been Chairman of the Minister of Health's Committee which is appointed to advise him with regard to the Blind Persons Act. In the course of our work we have more than once had brought before us the demand of the blind people that this further facility should be given to them in order that they might be satisfied that they were recording their votes without that fact becoming public property. They have asked that the measure which is now before your Lordships' House should become law. The Bill has come from the other House, where it received the support of all political Parties and was passed without opposition. I hope that it may receive the same treatment at your Lordships' hands.
The proposals are very simple. Under the present law the blind person has to tell the presiding officer, in the presence of the local representatives of the candidates, for whom he wishes to vote. It is true that the presiding officer and the representatives of the candidates are sworn to secrecy, bat it has been found that many blind persons are nervous lest, in the presence of them and of others who may be in the room without their knowing it, the way in which they vote shall become known, and it has been in the experience of many of them a matter of serious importance. The Bill does not propose to interfere with that manner 1062 of recording the vote if the blind person so desires, but it provides for an additional method of recording the vote by enabling the blind person to take a relation or a friend to the polling booth to assist him in marking' his paper. The Bill provides, lest there should be any danger of somebody becoming a professional friend and assisting many blind people, that no one shall at any one election be allowed to help more than two blind people, and there are, of course, provisions in the Bill imposing penalties upon the friend if he makes disclosure of the confidential information with which he has been entrusted.
It may be that one or two Amendments will have to be introduced in Committee, but these will, I think, be of a purely formal character. We have had the benefit of the advice of the Home Office in considering the Bill as a whole, and the terms of the Amendments which they would wish to nave introduced will, I think, present no difficulty when the Committee stage arrives. The Amendments will be formal, and will in no way interfere with the principle of the Bill. We must all feel that, if we can do so, it is a privilege to be able to reduce the calamity of blindness by removing as far as possible the handicap and burden which blind people have to bear through their life.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Blanesburgh.)
§ LORD SANDERSON
My Lords, I should like to say a few words about this Bill, and I should like to thank the noble Lord who has introduced it for the very kind way in which he has done so. I am sure that blind people will very much appreciate what he has done on their behalf. I am afraid that in this matter I naturally speak with a certain amount of bias in favour of the Bill, but that your Lordships will pardon. As the present law stands, in the case of a blind person voting the officer in charge of the polling station ought, strictly speaking, to clear the room of officials and of any other voters. That is a little trying for the blind people. We are all, rightly or wrongly, perhaps wrongly, rather sensitive about having preferential treatment of any kind, but we, of course, recognise that we have to have it very often, and when we have to have it we like it to involve as little fuss and 1063 as little inconvenience to other people as possible. I think there is a general feeling—I have had it myself—that it is rather disagreeable to be the means of having a room cleared for one's own convenience. I should like to say I have, in the very many times I have voted both at Parliamentary and municipal Elections, always received the greatest kindness and consideration from those in charge of the polling station. But one has a feeling of causing a certain amount of trouble to everybody in voting under the present Jaw, and I should like very much to support the Bill on the ground that, while it will be a great advantage to the blind people, one for which they will be very grateful, it will also be an advantage to the public, as the election proceedings will not be subject to rather troublesome interruptions from their point of view.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, I have only to say, on behalf of the Home Office, that they desire to raise no objection to this Bill. As the noble Lord said, it passed through another place without any opposition; and it is understood that it will be welcomed by the blind, and that, when it is passed, they will feel more secure of the secrecy of their votes.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.