§ 2.36 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Lord Lloyd)
My Lords, the principal effect of these Regulations, which amend the English, Scottish and Northern Ireland Representation of the People Regulations, 1950, is to alter in each part of the United Kingdom the last day for applications to vote by post, or to appoint a proxy, or to vote by post as a proxy, or to cancel such application, at elections for the Parliament at Westminster. The Regulations do not apply to elections for the Northern Ireland Parliament or for local authorities in Northern Ireland, which are a matter for the Government of Northern Ireland. But with that exception, all three of these sets of Regulations are in similar terms.
Under the 1950 Regulations the last day for the applications I have mentioned is the last day for the delivery of the nomination papers—that is, at a General Election, the ninth day; and, at a by-election, a day fixed by the returning officer, from seven to nine days before polling day. I understand that this date was chosen after consultation with the chief Party agents and representatives of the registration and returning officers as the latest date which seemed practicable, and on the understanding that it would be subject to review in the light of experience.
634 Experience at the 1951 General Election showed that the day fixed by the 1950 Regulations was, in fact, too late, having regard to the great number of postal voting applications, which in England and Wales and Scotland increased by more than two-thirds, compared with the 1950 General Election. A large proportion of applications were received in the last two or three days allowed, and electoral registration officers found it impossible adequately to examine many doubtful applications, and extremely difficult to complete the absent voters list of those entitled to vote by post or proxy in reasonable time, and to check them properly, and inevitably there was some delay in getting all the postal ballot papers issued. It is clear that to obviate these difficulties the closing date for applications must be earlier; and, again after consultation with the chief Party agents and representatives of the registration and returning officers, it is proposed that the date should be altered to the twelfth day before polling day. Under the Regulations, of course, Sundays are excluded, so, in fact, that amounts to fourteen days before polling day.
Regulations 1, 3, 4 and 7 of the English and Northern Ireland Regulations, and Regulations 2, 4, 5 and 8 of the Scottish Regulations provide accordingly. When the Regulations were discussed in another place last week, there was agreement on all sides that this change was necessary and desirable. Regulations 2 and 5 of the English and Northern Ireland Regulations, and Regulations 3 and 6 of the Scottish Regulations, require a registration officer to supply on request to every candidate or his agent a free copy of the list of absent voters. It was suggested in another place that more than one copy should be supplied. This may not be practicable in all cases. The lists are not printed, and while many registration officers have them duplicated, not all can do so. The Government do not feel, therefore, that we could place a legal obligation on all registration officers to supply more than one copy, but I can give your Lordships the undertaking that we will see what can be done to meet this point wherever possible by administrative action. No alteration is proposed in the last day for absent voters' applications at local government elections, which in England and Wales is already twelve days before polling day, and in Scotland the 635 third Tuesday before polling day. The requirement about the supply of free copies of the list to a candidate on request will, however, apply to local government elections in England and Wales and in Scotland.
The only Regulations not concerned with the matters I have mentioned are Regulation 6 of the English and Northern Ireland Regulations and Regulation 7 of the Scottish Regulations. These Regulations merely make drafting corrections to the 1950 Regulations, consequential on the abolition of National Registration and of the office of Central National Registration Officer. I do not think I need add anything to this brief explanation I have given, and I beg to move that the Regulations be approved.
§ Moved, That the Representation of the People Regulations, 1953, the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1953, and the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Thursday the 11th of June last, be approved.—(Lord Lloyd.)
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, we offer no objection to these Regulations, which are in accordance with the agreement which was entered into.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.