asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many cards were sent out to men and women in the three Services notifying them that they were not entitled to vote by direct postal ballot in the recent election because their original applications to be placed on the Service Register had not been received; if he is aware that in a substantial number of such cases there is evidence that the Servicemen concerned had completed the necessary application forms many months previously; and what steps he is taking, in co-operation with the Service Departments, to trace those responsible for this disfranchisement of Servicemen.
I regret that it is not possible to supply the information in the form desired without specially circularising all electoral registration officers who are very busily engaged in preparing the October Register, but I have taken steps to obtain figures indicating how far Service postal voting was effective and these will be laid before the House as soon as available. I am aware that some postal voting qualifications were not effective, but where Service declarations made by applicants had been received before 15th March, which was the last date for receipt, this was in some cases due to the fact that the address to which an applicant declared was not stated on the postal voting application, or was stated incorrectly, with the result that the application could not be linked to the applicant's entry in a Service Register.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in very many cases the application form was filled up perfectly correctly, but seems to have gone astray none the less, and that this was a widespread scandal? Although retrospective action cannot put it right now, will he make inquiries to find out if there was any wilful obstruction, and, if so, take some action?
I am, as I stated in the answer, making the fullest possible inquiries and I hope to be able to make a statement to the House when those inquiries have been completed.
Local Government Elections
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many votes it is possible for any one person to have for local government elections by taking advantage of the business premises, ratepayers' and other qualifications.
In a borough, other than a metropolitan borough, a person is only entitled to be registered once as a local government elector. Elsewhere a person is entitled to be registered for any ward or electoral division of the local government area for which he has one or other of the necessary qualifications, but he can only vote once at a general local election for the area. At an election to fill a casual vacancy he is entitled to vote if he is registered for the ward or electoral division concerned.
Proxy Votes (Ballot Paper)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will issue instructions to ensure that at future elections the detachable counterfoils of the ballot papers for proxy voters are not printed on the reverse side of the space where the vote is cast.
The printing on the perforated slip of a ballot paper used by a person voting as proxy for a Service voter is for the purpose of inserting on the slip the number of the Service voter in the Service Register. This information is required in order to eliminate a proxy vote in cases where the Service voter had voted by post. If a voter's number in the Register were to be inserted on the front of the slip the checking process could not be carried out without revealing the manner in which a voter had voted.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will examine the existing machinery for preparing the Electoral Register; and whether he will arrange for the continuance of B.B.C. broadcasts and newspaper publicity during the period when the lists are open for inspection, in order to remind electors to ensure that their names are included in view of the forthcoming local government elections.
I will consider what steps are practicable in existing circumstances to examine the machinery for electoral registration. With regard to publicity I am grateful for the co-operation which has been shown by the B.B.C. and the Press and which will, I am sure, be maintained as effectively as in recent weeks. The B.B.C. announcements as to the need to inspect the electors' lists will be continued for the present and Electoral Registration Officers have instructions to insert appropriate advertisements in the local Press in the constituencies concerned.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will endeavour to see that these lists are made available for inspection, instead of only one copy being available at the central registry of the different constituencies?
I will look into' that matter. We are exceedingly anxious that these registers should be available for inspection conveniently, and that persons who desire to see whether they have been registered shall be able to ascertain it with as little trouble as possible.
May I ask what machinery is in operation so that the Service men as well may see that they are on the register?
Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the position in the area where this honourable House is situated, because he will find that a copy of the list is not available?
I will certainly look into that specific case. With regard to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Anderson), it is difficult to see how one can ensure that people serving in the Far East who wish to do so can see a list which is to be published in this country, and is available for inspection for so limited a time. We are taking every step we can to ensure that the registration arrangements, which were admittedly faulty for the last Election, will be improved on this occasion.
Is it not possible for this register to be sent out to the various commands, so that Service men can see whether they are on it or not?
If they were sent out it would be almost impossible for a claim to be received in this country in time.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in view of the precedent set by the introduction of the proxy vote in the Armed Forces during the last election, whether he is prepared to examine the possibility of introducing, at future elections, similar facilities to bedridden persons and those who can produce medical certificates giving just cause for their inability to proceed to a polling station and, by such action, reduce the disfranchisement of so many electors.
The Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform recommended that persons physically incapacitated should be allowed to vote by post at a Parliamentary Election. It is intended in due course to ask Parliament to implement this recommendation by legislation.