HL Deb 06 December 1949 vol 165 cc1223-4

3.43 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking for a Second Reading of this Bill, I do not think it will be necessary for me to take up more than a very few minutes of your time. It is a short Bill and, as I think your Lordships are aware, the object of it is to abolish the Autumn Register. It is entirely an economy measure: it is estimated that in a full year the saving to the Exchequer will be something of the order of £650,000, and there should be a saving of a similar amount to local authorities. It is not in any sense a revolutionary measure; it is, in effect, simply a return to the practice which existed between 1926 and the outbreak of war, except that it is the Autumn Register which is now being put into abeyance, while at that time it was the Spring Register which was in abeyance, under the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1926. During the war, of course, no Register was compiled. In 1946 the Oliver Committee recommended that we should go back to the system which had existed before 1926 of two Registers annually. The Government were somewhat doubtful about the matter, because obviously it would lead to extra expense. On the other hand, it was considered better, if possible, to have the two Registers; and the Representation of the People Act of 1948 was based, among other things, on the recommendation of the Oliver Committee.

Since then the need for economy has been increasingly pressing. It is not only a question of the actual finance; it is a question of saving the time of the local government authority officials, who are hard pressed; and also there is pressure on the printing industry. Under the proposals in this Bill the situation will, in fact, be an improvement on that which existed between 1926 and 1939, because the three months qualifying period goes. The argument for having the Spring Register rather than the Autumn one is based largely on the fact that since the pre-war period, under the Act of 1948 local authority elections are now held in April and May; whereas before the war, as your Lordships will remember, some of the most important of them were held in November. Therefore, it has been decided that the Register which we shall have will be the Spring Register and not the Autumn one.

Those are the main aspects of the Bill, but there are two other points which I should like to mention briefly. There is a consequential amendment to the Juries Act of 1922. That is because the Register is used for the purpose of compiling the Jurors Book, which has been based on the Autumn Register, and it will be necessary to have this slight amendment in order that it may be based on the Spring Register. We are also proposing to introduce—if your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading—an Amendment in order to grant to those who reach the age of twenty-one years shortly after the qualifying date, and who otherwise would possibly be disenfranchised for a substantial period, the same rights as they would have had if the Autumn Register had been retained. A considerable point was made of this when the matter was under discussion in another place; and I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is only fair to people reaching the age of twenty-one that their rights should be safeguarded. I thought I should mention those two matters. I hope your Lordships will see your way to give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

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

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.