HL Deb 14 June 1945 vol 136 cc587-9

2.5 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I move the Second Reading of this short and interesting Bill. Your Lordships will be aware that it has been arranged that when the General Election comes the polling day is to be July 5. The count, I think, is to take place on the 25th and 26th of July, and the results will be declared on the 26th and 27th July. That is the time-table to which everybody has been working. But it has been pointed out that in the case of a number of constituencies which are named in the Schedule—there are about twenty of them altogether—it would be very inconvenient to take the poll on July 5. It is possible to meet the convenience of these constituencies and to do better justice by the special arrangement contained in this Bill, which, in the case of these constituencies, will provide that the poll is to be taken at rather later dates.

If your Lordships will look at the Schedule you will see—and it is interesting to note—what are the constituencies which would be likely to be prejudiced if we did not make this change. In the North of England, and also in certain parts of Scotland, there is a very ancient and well-established practice in certain industrial towns that they take, in the summer, a mass holiday. The mills stop, the chimneys cease to smoke and everybody, who at other times is engaged in the daily work of the town, is free to go, and usually does go, with his family to a neighbouring seaside resort or watering place. I remember that this situation was the subject of an interesting dramatic play called Hindle Wakes some years ago. Since it would be asking a good deal of the holiday makers, who surely have deserved their holiday, to make their way back, somehow or other, in order that they might present themselves at the polling booths in their own towns on July 5, it is thought batter—I am sure your Lordships will agree, and the House of Commons was unanimous upon the point—to move the day of the poll in those cases to a later date.

July 5 falls on a Thursday, and for reasons which I will not attempt to state—and which I do not, in fact, in the least know—Thursday is supposed to be the ideal day for polling. You will, therefore. recognize that it is convenient to say: "Let us move the day forward from July 5 to July 12"—a date in the calendar which has some other associations also. That is all right in most of these cases, but in the case of one Parliamentary borough, Nelson and Colne, in Lancashire, the different parts of the area take this mass holiday at rather different times. This means that there would be likely to be a portion of the inhabitants away both on July 5 and July 12—one portion on one date and the other upon the other. But, fortunately, there is still time to spare, and in the case of Nelson and Collie the difficulty has been solved by arranging that the poll shall be taken on July 19. Your Lordships note that we always keep to a Thursday, but which Thursday depends on circumstances.

I do not know if many of your Lordships have actually seen the nature of this mass movement to which I have referred. It is a truly remarkable instance of collective bargaining in the most extreme form. Everybody goes away, greatly to their own satisfaction and, of course, greatly to the satisfaction of the salubrious maritime areas which receive them. I should say that there has never been so wholesale an exodus since the time when the Israelites moved out of Egypt, but there is this difference, that whereas the Israelites moved into a wilderness for forty years, these people move into a paradise for only seven days. But the principle is the same. That being so, I hope that your. Lordships feel that the arrangement which I have outlined is a most suitable one. I cannot see that it gives rise to any inconvenience unless it be that after July 5 the whole electoral machinery of the country will have to be concentrated upon this very limited number of constituencies. The ultimate situation in a constituency such as Nelson and Colne, if campaigners of Paraies from all parts of the country concentrated for the last seven days on that single area, is something better imagined than described. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (in pursuance of the Resolution of May 29), Bill read 3a, and passed.