asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has now been able to investigate the causes of the extensive disfranchisement of service men at the General Election, including many who had taken the necessary steps to be included in the register; and if he will make a statement.
Figures to show the proportion of the service electorate who voted either by post or by proxy will be available shortly, and as I indicated in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend on 23rd August I intend to lay this information and will include with it an explanatory statement.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider providing in all polling booths a table, pen and ink, and registration forms, so that would-be voters who discover that they are not registered as voters can at once put their names forward for inclusion on the next register.
As electoral registration is dependent on the address for which a person is registered in the National Register on the qualifying date this proposal would require legislation. It would, furthermore, cause considerable inconvenience to presiding officers in the discharge of their statutory duties at a polling station.
Arising from that answer, is it not a fact that now people are allowed to go to registration officers and put their names down?
My experience of polling stations between 7 and 9 p.m. is that this would cause very considerable additional congestion and might lead to the practical disfranchisement of a number of people whose names are on the register.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in the light of experience gained in the preparation of the Registers of Electors under war-time legislation, any changes in the procedure and machinery of registration are contemplated.
As the answer is rather long and detailed, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
Following is the answer:
The conclusion of hostilities has made it necessary to review the arrangements of electoral registration with a view to deciding what changes if any are needed to meet peace-time requirements and to lay the basis for a permanent peace-time system of registration. For the purpose of this review, the Government proposes to appoint at once a representative committee consisting of Members of Parliament, the chief party agents, electoral registration officers, and Departmental representatives, to consider and advise what, if any, changes should be made in the machinery of electoral registration, and to what extent use should continue to be made of postal and proxy voting. It is hoped that this Committee will report at an early date.
In the meanwhile, there are certain matters in regard to electoral registration on which, in the light of experience, immediate legislation is required. Under the Representation of the People Act, 1945, the register to be produced on the 15th October will last for twelve months for local government purposes, but for parliamentary purposes it will last only until the end of the year. If a Parliamentary election or by-election were initiated in the period between January and September of next year, an ad hoc register would have to be prepared under the Parliamentary (Elections and Meetings) Act, 1943, and would have to be prepared on the basis of a two months' residence qualification unless the amending Act of 1944, which expires at the end of this year, were continued by Parliament. This amending Act had to be passed because it was found that with the staff at their disposal, electoral registration officers could not under-
take the complicated procedure necessary to prepare the register on the basis of a two months' residence qualification. The Government are satisfied that it would be quite impracticable next year to prepare a register on this basis. Electoral registration officers have other urgent local government duties to perform and, experience gained in the preparation of the May and October Registers, has shown that with the shortage of printing facilities, which may continue for some considerable time, the preparation of an ad hoc register between January and September of next year would be out of the question.
The Government propose, therefore, to introduce at once a Bill to give the October Register a twelve months' validity, and to provide for the preparation of a Register in October next year on the same basis as the present October Register, viz. the qualifying date will be the 30th June, and the Register will be published on the 15th October, 1946. As the Register will have a twelve months' validity, and in order to avoid disfranchising persons who move from their registered electoral address after the qualifying date, it is proposed to meet this difficulty by an extension of postal voting facilities. The opportunity will, at the same time, be taken to give effect to the recommendation made by the Speaker's Conference that persons physically incapacitated should be enabled to vote by post.
The Government are also anxious to enfranchise at the earliest opportunity members of the Forces and merchant seamen who will not be included in the October Service Register, either because a declaration was received subsequent to 30th June, which was the qualifying date, or because no declaration was made prior to a person's discharge subject to that date, with the result that he would not be included in the October Civilian Residence Register. Accordingly, the Bill will provide for the compilation of a supplementary Service Register to be published in the early part of next year, which will contain the names of persons whose declarations were received between 30th June and the end of 1945. This Register will also contain the names of persons discharged between these dates, if they are not already entered in the October Service Register.
One further item must be included in this Bill. Increasing difficulty is being experienced in ensuring the attendance at the Courts of a sufficient number of jurors, because the present jury lists are completely out of date having been compiled in relation to the Register published in November, 1939. A provision will, therefore, be inserted in the Bill for the compilation next year of fresh jury lists to be effective in 1947. This is a brief outline of the Bill which the Government consider must be passed before the end of the year to cover the period while the details of permanent peace-time legislation are being worked out. It will be introduced as soon as it can be drafted.