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Commons Chamber
21 November 1945
Volume 416

House Of Commons

Wednesday, 21st November, 1945

The House met at a Quarter past Two o' Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Old Age Pensions (Petition)

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Mr. Speaker, Sir, I submit a petition on behalf of the British Federation of Old Age Pensioners Associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Petition is signed by approximately 6,000,000 adults over the age of 21 and calls for the speedy introduction of legislation to ameliorate the suffering and hardships now being experienced by over 4,000,000 old age pensioners.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that legislation should be passed forthwith for the relief of old age pensioners, and of those who may hereafter become entitled to old age pensions, by raising the basic rate of the old age pensions to the extent necessary to meet the essential amenities of life, and your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.

Petition to lie upon the Table.

Oral Answers To Questions

Royal Air Force

Demobilisation

2.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air the number of ex-aircrew personnel who have become redundant in their own trade and have been forced to remuster as equipment assistants; if he is aware of the discontent caused by this in view of the fact that by the latest promulgation the release of equipment assistants will only have reached Group 22 by the middle of January 1946, whereas the majority of other trades will be released up to Group 27 by this date.

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About 3,075 aircrew have been reallocated to the trade of equipment assistant. They have not been remustered and are therefore released in accordance with their aircrew status—not as equipment assistants. I think that this help to the hard-pressed equipment branch is fully justified.

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Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that there are men who, as the result of war injury, are being remustered from their trades to general clerical duties and so losing their place in the "demob" queue? Will he allow them to retain the "demob" place that they would have had if they had not been remustered as a result of war injury?

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There may have been some remustered earlier on when re-mustering was in force; that, of course, has been stopped.

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I understand that.

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If the hon. Lady will give me instances, I will look into them.

10.

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asked the Under secretary of State for Air why, in calculating the period of service in the R.A.F. of those men or women formerly serving as civilians in the meteorological office, a distinction is drawn between those who were given commissions in the R.A.F. and their former assistants who hold non commissioned rank.

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Meteorological assistants once called up did not revert to civilian status. The ordinary rules for reckoning service therefore apply to them. Meteorological officers who held civilian appointments have served as mobilised officers or as civilians during war-time depending on their place of work. At one time a meteorological officer might be in the Air Force, later a civilian again. We therefore think it was fair to count all their war-time service in determining their order of release. There were also a few women who first served as civilians in the meteorological office and who later became officers in the W.A.A.F. They were not liable to revert to civilian status as a result of posting and so there was no need to vary the normal rule for them.

11.

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asked the Undersecretary of State for Air when he expects that the reallocation of manpower in the R.A.F. will allow complete parity in demobilisation between the different trades.

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I cannot say, Sir. That depends on the speed of general demobilisation in the New Year. The faster we are able to go the more difficult it will be to achieve complete evenness between trades.

18.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many men over 40 years of age in groups whose release has been suspended are still overseas serving in the accounts section of the R.A.F.

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I am afraid that we could not get these figures without imposing an extra load on those very statistical sections which are already overburdened with work on the release programme. But in all, 2,864 men in the accounts section of the R.A.F. have had to have their release postponed in a greater or less degree.

26.

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asked the Undersecretary of State for Air why physical training officers are not allowed to take advantage of the Class B release.

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Physical training officers are not barred from Class B releases, and a few have actually been released under Class B. But their rate of release under Class A has had to be somewhat retarded. So we try to find our Class B releases from other trades, in order to help in bringing up the Class A releases of physical instructors to the average.

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Has the hon. Gentleman received any representation through the Ministry of Education on the shortage of physical training instructors?

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Not to my knowledge.

32.

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asked the Undersecretary of State for Air what percentage of teachers as meteorological officers have been released under Class B and, taking release as a whole under Class A and B, what has been the percentage loss to the meteorological service and the percentage released to return to other jobs, respectively.

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Four per cent. of the teachers who during the war entered the Service as meteorological officers have been released in Class B. Up to the end of November, releases under Classes A and B are 7 per cent. of the wartime entrants. I am unable to divide this percentage between those returning to the teaching professions and other occupations since I have no information as to the jobs to which men released in Class A have returned.

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Is the hon. Gentleman aware that these meteorological officers state that, at both home and abroad, they are more liberally staffed than they need be; and is he aware that a number of these officers are being sent out—who ought to be doing useful work in this country—when they are likely to be demobilised about January, and is not this a waste of time and energy?

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The shortage of meteorological officers means serious difficulties in the air trooping programme, and I do not think that the facts bear out the view that there is any overstaffing.

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That is my information, from men on the spot.

87.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that Transport Command are holding back aircrews from release under Class A after their release groups have been promulgated, and will he make inquiries and take steps to stop this.

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I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply on 14th November to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). These aircrews are, of course, being held under the Military Necessity Clause.

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Was it shortage of aircrews which made it necessary for the Prime Minister to travel in an American plane?

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That is another question.

Air Trooping Route (Spare Parts)

3.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he is satisfied that the supply of aircraft spare parts sited along the air routes between Britain and the Far East is sufficient to avoid delay in the operation of the air transport service on that route; and, if not, what action he proposes to take.

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It has been difficult to accumulate adequate supplies of spare parts all along the 5,000-mile air trooping route; but on the whole the services have been maintained.

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Can the Minister say whether this reduction in spare parts has reduced the rate of demobilisation? If so, to what extent, and, more important still, has it led to any insecurity in regard to the air transport position on these lines?

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No, Sir. The difficulty has been to get the spare parts properly distributed along the long route at the staging posts, and that is certainly one of the things we have had to face in the trooping programme, but safety has certainly not been sacrificed.

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Does not the Minister think that any insecurity which arises is much more likely to come from the strain on personnel?

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I think that is a very possible cause of it.

Turnhouse Aerodrome

4.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he is able to indicate the future of the aero drome at Turnhouse in relation to the capital of Scotland.

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I expect that No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron will retain Turnhouse as its peacetime home. I understand that the Ministry of Civil Aviation is also examining Turnhouse as a possible civil airport for Edinburgh.

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Can the Minister expedite a decision on its possible use as a civil airport, as this matter is one of great importance and interest to the corporation and people of Edinburgh?

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No, Sir. I am afraid that is not within my province.

Singapore (Conditions)

5.

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asked the Under secretary of State for Air whether mosquito nets and bush hats have now been issued to 5714 M & E Flight, R.A.F., Singapore, S.E.A.A.F.; whether he will inquire into the measures taken on 12th October at Tanga aerodrome to establish order in a queue for tea; and whether he will take action in order to improve conditions at this airfield, particulars of which have been sent to him.

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The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's Question is, "Yes, Sir." I have already told the House that I am well aware of the very rough conditions which met the R.A.F. Units which on the collapse of Japan were diverted to Singapore, and that active steps have been taken to improve matters.

Compassionate Applications

7.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he will ensure that disciplinary action is taken against commanding officers who fail to deal promptly with applications for compassionate release from the R.A.F.; and what is the normal time elapsing between the unit's receipt of the completed C Class release application form and the decision of his department.

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The average time before we reach a decision on an application for complete Class C release is one month, as reference has to be made to the Air Ministry before release is granted. Temporary release up to three months may be granted locally, while waiting for a decision on complete release. The necessity of dealing quickly with these cases is emphasised in the regulations, and failure to comply with the regulations would, of course, entail disciplinary action.

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Is the Under-Secretary aware of the considerable amount of hardship caused by unnecesary delay in handling these matters? Is he also aware of the fact that some of these applications remain at these levels for periods of over two months, and will he ensure that disciplinary action is taken against commanding officers who infringe these regulations?

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I think we can only take this up on individual cases, but if the hon. and gallant Member will submit these, I will certainly deal with them.

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I have done so.

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Is it often the case that the Air Ministry turn down a recommendation that has been put forward by a commanding officer?

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I really want notice of that question, but I should imagine it is rare.

33.

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asked the Undersecretary for Air if he will give an immediate answer to the relatives of Corporal 1410403, who requested his presence at home on compassionate leave on 22nd October.

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The airman concerned is serving in Air Command, South-East Asia. We have referred his case to the Air Commander-in-Chief and have told the airman's mother that the decision reached will be made known to her as soon as possible.

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In view of the fact that it is now a month since this request, and that he who gives quickly gives twice, can we have an early decision?

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The decision will have to be made on the spot.

41.

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asked the Undersecretary of State for Air at what level in the Service applications for compassionate leave, posting or release can be finally rejected; what standards have been laid down by his Ministry as a guide to those subordinate commanders who have power to reject applications; and if there is any method of appeal against the rejection by an intermediate commander of a compassionate application.

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Applications for compassionate leave or posting can be rejected by the applicant's commanding officer; applications for compassionate release only by an air officer commanding. Great care has been exercised in framing instructions for the guidance of R.A.F. officers. I will send my hon. and gallant Friend extracts from these instructions. Anyone who regards himself as wronged by the rejection of a compassionate application may seek redress under the procedure laid down in King's Regulations.

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Can the Under-Secretary say what is the right course for a Member of Parliament who has been approached by a constituent whose application for compassionate release has been rejected? What course should I recommend him to take?

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The course taken by hon. Members is to write to me, which they do at the rate of 200 a day.

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I was seeking to save the hon. Gentleman some trouble.

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Will the Undersecretary consider increasing the period which can be granted by commanding officers for compassionate leave? That would help considerably.

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I will consider that.

Personal Cases

8.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he will reconsider forthwith the decision announced in his letter of 7th November, regarding the release to his peacetime occupation of Mr. Henry Wright, who, at 52 years of age, three times wounded in the 1914–18 war, and discharged with the loss of part of his right hand as totally unfit, fears that he may lose his peacetime employment to a younger man unless he is promptly released; and why this man discharged from the Army as totally unfit is indispensable to the maintenance of Kelstern aerodrome.

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As I said in my letter to the hon. Member, we have always intended to release Mr. Wright as soon as we could find or train another man to take charge of the labourers at Kelstern airfield. Another man is now under training and should be able to take over by the end of the month, thus releasing this experienced rabbit catcher. [Laughter.]

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Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that because this man is a rabbit catcher, it is no cause of amusement to him that he is being held in the Air Force against his will?

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I quite agree that the function of this man is an important one, and we are releasing him.

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It is not a cause for amusement.

82.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that 1178084 A.C. Hawkins, G., made five applications through the usual channels before action was taken to secure his remustering to a trade in which he had civilian experience, such remustering having been authorised on 9th May last and that he has now been unemployed for four weeks in a transit camp in the Middle East awaiting a posting to enable him to proceed to a unit stationed one mile from this camp; and whether he will investigate the circumstances of this delay and expedite this airman's remustering.

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In spite of an acute shortage of equipment assistants—his R.A.F. trade—this airman was given special permission to be misemployed as a printer, which was what he wanted. I am inquiring into the alleged delay in his posting.

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Will my hon. Friend bear in mind this evidence that the usual channels do not always work as expeditiously as Ministers hope they will, and will he do all he can really to make them channels and not brick walls?

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Certainly, Sir.

89.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how far the undertaking given to Sergeant N. E. Carr, R.A.F., Bombay, dated nth September, 1945, a copy of which has been sent to him, has been implemented; and whether he expects to be able fully to implement this undertaking by the end of the year.

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Sergeant Carr was sent a copy of the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) on 22nd August saying that there was a real prospect that the unevenness in the rate of release as between trades would greatly diminish by the end of the year. As I have since told the House, this hope will not quite be fulfilled, although there has been a real improvement, owing to the speed-up of the general rate of release.

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By how much does the hon. Gentleman think that his expectations will fall short of his previous undertaking?

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It entirely depends upon how much the rate of release can be speeded up.

Jodhpur Station (Incident)

9.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he has yet received a report on the recent refusal of men of a R.A.F. unit in Central India to obey orders and on the action taken in the matter by the authorities.

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As the answer is rather long, I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions.

Later

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A report has now been received on the incident at Jodhpur on 13th October. A commanding officer's inspection parade was ordered for 08.00 hours that morning, but when the time came the airmen of two maintenance units stationed at Jodhpur refused to attend this parade and went direct to the technical site for work. The commanding officer sent for 12 airmen to voice the grievances of the men, which they did in an orderly manner.

The airmen had three main complaints:

  • (i) The apparent wide discrepancy between the rate of release in the R.A.F. as compared with the other services as announced by the Minister of Labour on 2nd October.
  • (ii) The quality of the food at the R.A.F. station Jodhpur, where catering difficulties arise owing to the ban on beef in this Hindu State and the fact that frozen mutton and vegetables have to be flown from the nearest ration depot 350 miles away.
  • (iii) What the men considered un-necessary drill parades in an extremely hot station.
  • The commanding officer called upon a detachment of Jodhpur State forces to stand by. This step proved entirely unnecessary, and I much regret that it was taken. There was no hint of violence during the whole incident. The Air Officer Commanding 226 Group visited Jodhpur on the following morning and addressed the men, pointing out the seriousness of their action, but undertaking to represent their grievances in the proper quarter. He also addressed the officers and called attention to their responsibilities. He issued instructions in respect of improvements in messing and arrangements for parades. The airmen were quiet and orderly, stating that they had no mutinous intent but felt bound to draw urgent attention to their complaints. Normal work was resumed on the Monday morning.

    The Air Marshal Commanding Base Air Forces South East Asia is satisfied that no further action is necessary or desirable. I believe that a major reason for the anxiety of airmen in India about release and repatriation has been a lack of adequate information among the men about the progress of the release scheme. As to that I am satisfied that the DEMOBFORM Signals to which I referred in my speech on 22nd October are having a good effect. Another cause of the trouble was undoubtedly the fact that as originally announced the R.A.F.' s rate of release in the New Year did fall several groups behind that of the Army; but that has now been corrected.

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    Is it true that armoured cars were employed by the Jodhpur State Forces?

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    No, Sir. My information is that they were brought up in ordinary lorries;

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    Can the Minister say whether the officer who ordered the Jodhpur State Forces to stand by is still there, or whether he has been replaced?

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    I should require notice of that question.

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    Is it not obvious to the Minister that there must have been great neglect of the ordinary interests of these men to cause them to take such action as this?

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    I think that misapprehension about the rate of release was the main cause.

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    Would not the Undersecretary agree that intelligent leadership at that station would have prevented any such public incident from taking place?

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    I cannot judge that, not having been on the spot, but we very much regret the action that was taken.

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    Is the Minister prepared to take every proper action in the event of finding that faults were there? Will he remedy them?

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    I think we shall find remedies.

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    :Does not this incident emphasise the importance of getting on with demobilisation?

    Dependant's Allowance

    12.

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    asked the Undersecretary of State for Air, when a man joins the R.A.F., how many persons normally prepare or examine some or all of the relevant papers, before his wife receives the proper allowances; and how many separate operations are required.

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    A total of six persons are involved, three at the local unit and three at the Air Ministry. There are six jobs to be done.

    Azores

    13.

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    asked the Under secretary of State for Air what are the present functions of the R.A.F. station, Azores; how many R.A.F. personnel are stationed there; and how soon this station is to be closed and these airmen repatriated.

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    The Royal Air Force in the Azores provides meteorological, reconnaissance and air/sea rescue services, staging post facilities and navigational aids. Our commitment there is declining, but we cannot give a definite date for closing the station, nor would it be in accordance with present policy to give the numbers of our Forces in particular places overseas. I can, however, say that before long we hope to repatriate the majority of the Royal Air Force who are now. serving in the Azores.

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    Can my hon. Friend also give an assurance that there are not now more men there than are needed. to do those special jobs he mentioned?

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    Yes, Sir, I think I can give that assurance.

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    What conceivable objection is there to giving the number of men in the Azores today?

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    There has been a Government decision that the number of men in particular fields or areas all over the world should not be given.

    Requisitioned Land

    14.

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    asked the Under secretary of State for Air if he will consider derequisitioning land on Poplar Grove Farm, North Somercotes, at present used as a football ground, which the owner desires to plough for the growing of corn.

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    The final disposal of the airfield as a whole has not yet been decided, but I will see whether we cannot free this piece of land for agricultural use at once. I will communicate with the hon. Member.

    27

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how and to whom his Department makes available airfields which can be used for farming.

    28.

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    asked the Undersecretary of State for Air whether he will give an undertaking that, when aerodromes on requisitioned land become available for agricultural use, they will be offered in the first place to the occupier at the time of requisition, and that they will not be put up to public tender until the previous occupier has been given the first refusal.

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    When an airfield is derequisitioned the land, of course, reverts to its owners, but at a number of airfields we still hold on requisition temporary arrangements for farming are being made. In these cases we have hitherto put the land up to public tender for letting. We have done this because all the hedges and tenancy boundaries have been obliterated in the making of an airfield, and it would not be practicable to offer the land for temporary farming divided up into its various tenancies. In future such airfields will not as a rule be offered for public tender, but we shall place them at the disposal of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries who will arrange their temporary agricultural use.

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    Is this the beginning of collective farming, and the liquidation of the Kulaks?

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    No, Sir.

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    Will the hon. Gentleman undertake that, wherever practicable, those whose land is derequisitioned will be given the first choice?

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    That is a question of permanent derequisitioning. It comes back automatically to that.

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    I was not directing attention to permanent derequisitioning, but I was asking that, where there was temporary derequisitioning for farming purposes, those whose land has been derequisitioned ought reasonably to be given the first choice, where practicable.

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    In future that will be a question for the Minister of Agriculture.

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    In the case of airfields that have not concrete, but only grass runways, would the hon. Gentleman consider handing them back first?

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    I think that is another question.

    Ex-Warrant Officers (Commissions)

    15.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he will state the approximate number of ex-warrant officers commissioned who have reached the ranks air vice-marshal, air-commodore, group-captain, wing-commander and squadron-leader, respectively.

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    To produce this information would mean at least three days' diversion of men and machines in the statistical section, which is at present working all out on the release scheme. Perhaps the hon. Member would put down his Question again when this special pressure of work is over

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    Is the Under-Secretary aware that the pensions of these promoted ex-warrant officers is a matter of great concern to them, and will he have an inquiry made into their conditions of pension when they are released?

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    I think I know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has in mind, and I have asked him to communicate with me on the subject.

    16.

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    asked the Undersecretary of State for Air the number of airmen commissioned on or before 3rd September 1939 and of warrant officers commissioned before 3rd September 1939, who are at present in the service, at the latest convenient date.

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    One hundred and forty-one ex-airmen and 483 ex-warrant officers who were commissioned on or before 3rd September, 1939, were serving in the Royal Air Force on 1st November, 1945.

    19.

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    asked the Undersecretary of State for Air, if he will state the estimated cost of increasing the retired pay of ex-warrant officers promoted to commissioned rank to that of direct-entry officers.

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    We cannot give any useful estimate at present, while decisions have still to be taken on the future conditions of service, including pensions, of the Regular Armed Forces. Comparative figures under the old system are not readily available, and in these circumstances I do not think I can add to the information I gave to the hon. and gallant Member in my reply of 7th November.

    Missing Personnel (Far East)

    17.

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    asked the Undersecretary of State for Air how many of the 38,000 airmen missing, presumed killed, were engaged in operations in the Far East at the time when they were reported missing.

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    Approximately 2,500 members of the Air Force are missing as a result of operations in the Far East.

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    Can the Under-Secretary say how long machinery for tracing these men has been functioning, and whether any of them have been found alive?

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    The machinery for tracing them is only now getting into its stride—the special search party machinery. I should want notice of the second part of the question.

    Retired Pay

    29.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what is the policy with regard to the settlement and payment of retired pay to Regular officers.

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    Our policy is to ensure the minimum interval between the end of full pay and the start of retired pay.

    Aerodromes (Erection Of Buildings)

    31.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether instructions have now been given to stop the erection of hangars on the cliff at St. Mawgen aerodrome; and whether he will assure the House that, in future, both the local authority and local planning committee will be consulted before any such work is put in hand at St. Mawgen or elsewhere.

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    Yes, Sir. Moreover, now that the war has ended we shall consult local authorities and local planning committees through the Minister of Town and Country Planning whenever the development of new building sites affects natural amenities.

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    Will the hon. Gentleman also consult the appropriate authority in Scotland, because the Ministry of Town and Country Planning does not cover Scotland?

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    Certainly, Sir.

    Siam (Conditions)

    34.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware of the complaints being received by their relatives from airmen in Siam woth regard to lack of food, soap and boots; that many had not been paid any money for at least five weeks; and what steps are being taken to remove the legitimate grievances of these airmen.

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    I am making inquiries, and will communicate with the hon. and gallant Member as soon as we hear from the command.

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    In the meanwhile, while these inquiries are being made, does the Minister realise that these complaints are widespread in Siam, and that these airmen, when I got the letter, had not had pay for five weeks, and that they were short of much of the most essential things?

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    I would like to say, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, that 22 Questions on yesterday's Order Paper were addressed to us, a great many of them involving inquiries in Siam and distant fields overseas. Almost inevitably I have to give Members the rather unsatisfactory answer that inquiries are being made. If they could give us even 48 hours' notice of putting questions down, we should be able to give them a more satisfactory answer.

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    When the Minister finds himself in this position, has he not an excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary who could ask for the Questions to be postponed?

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    Yes, Sir. We should be very happy if Members would postpone their Questions when there is a chance of giving them better information if they do so.

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    Are we to understand from what my hon. Friend has just said that he only had notice for the first time yesterday of the particular Question which he is now answering?

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    I think that is so.

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    Are inquiries of overseas commands made by signal or by overseas mail?

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    By signal.

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    In that case why should it take a month to get an answer?

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    It does not, but it takes more than 24 hours.

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    This Question was put in last Thursday to the Clerk at the Table, and the Minister must have received it last Friday morning.

    Air Defence (Balloons)

    35.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether it is proposed to maintain balloon squadrons of the A.A.F. in the future, and if as a separate command or not.

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    We have not decided yet.

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    When will the Minister do so?

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    This is a question which involves the whole future disposition of the Air Defence of Great Britain. It is a most important question, and I cannot give the hon. and gallant Member a definite date.

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    Can the Undersecretary say whether it is proposed to make any statement on this matter in advance of the general statement on Defence policy by the Government, or whether it will be made as part of the general statement?

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    The question is whether balloons are to play a part in the Air Defence of Great Britain. I cannot give any notice that an advance statement will be made on that subject.

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    The hon. Gentleman does not know?

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    Of course I do not know. The right hon. Gentleman does not know either.

    Auxiliary Air Force

    36.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he is now able to make a statement about the future status of the A.A.F.

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    The squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force are in process of reverting to their auxiliary status and plans are being considered under which they would form a substantial part of our first-line air defence within an operational command. As and when squadron commanders have been appointed and headquarters opened, announcements will appear in the Press.

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    Is the Minister aware that a statement appeared in the Press six months ago on this subject, and that the Government are losing many volunteers who want to give their services to the country? Will an early decision be made?

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    We are well aware of the importance of an early decision on this matter. It is, of course, involved in the whole shape and disposition of the postwar Air Force. We hope to be able to make a decision at a very early date.

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    Can the Under-Secretary interpret what an early date means?

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    I cannot give the hon. Member the exact day of the month.

    Students (Exchanges With United States)

    39.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether, in the interests of Anglo-American co-operation in the air, it is proposed to continue the exchange of students between R.A.F. and American staff colleges.

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    As the hon. and gallant Member is aware, there are a number of American officers at the Royal Air Force Staff College and several Royal Air Force officers are attending the Staff College course in the United States. The future of these arrangements is under the consideration of my Noble Friend.

    Staff College Course

    40.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what plans have been made for the future development of the R.A.F. staff colleges.

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    The wartime Staff College course has recently been extended from three months to six months. We intend to return to the full normal course as soon as possible, and plans to this end are being developed. We are in touch with the War Office and Admiralty with the aim of ensuring the maximum coordination in training of staff officers for all three Services.

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    Can the Under-Secretary tell us what the present position is with regard to finding a permanent home for this Staff College?

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    We regard that as a matter of great importance, and we are certainly pursuing it.

    Iceland

    44.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he is aware that 250 airmen in an airfield construction squadron, consisting of skilled and semiskilled building-trade workers, are engaged in maintaining an airfield in Iceland which is now used by few aircraft; and how soon these men, or most of them, are to be repatriated.

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    We are bringing nearly all these men back in the next few months.

    Accounts Clerks (Training)

    84.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many accounts clerks have finished their training in the past three months to replace men whose release has been postponed in spite of their age and length of service; and how many more, is it anticipated, will have completed their training in the next three months.

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    The figures are 1,413 for the last three months. They will be 1,760 over the next three months.

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    Is my hon. Friend aware that there is still great feeling amongst accounts clerks, and is it possible to speed up training above the figures he has announced for the next three months?

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    I am well aware of the feeling among accounts clerks; the hon. Member keeps me informed and is quite right to do so, and we are doing all we can. It is the most hardpressed section of the Royal Air Force.

    Instructors (Training)

    85.

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    asked the Under-secretary of State for Air what is the percentage of trainees who pass the courses on organisation and method at the R.A.F. school of training at Cosford; how many men are now under instruction whose demobilisation group is 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30, respectively; and what are the reasons for sending men in these low demobilisation groups for training as instructors when they expect to be demobilised within the next few months.

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    An average of 85 per cent. of the trainees pass the Instructors Technique Course at Cosford. None of the men now under instruction is in Group 26, 28 are in groups 27–30. We urgently need instructors and so we must train all suitable men even though their period of service may be limited.

    Tropical Kit

    88.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether it is still the policy of the R.A.F. to issue Wellesly helmets to airmen as part of tropical kit when embarking for India and collect them again on disembarkation.

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    No, Sir.

    Air Travel Permits

    25.

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    asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what system is in operation to decide who is entitled to priority permits to travel by air where services now exist.

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    The allocation of space in British air transport services is the responsibility of the Air Priorities Board which is under the joint chairmanship of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and myself. Its members include representatives of the Board of Trade, the Foreign Office and the other interested Departments.

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    Will the Under-Secretary agree to look into the position to see that this air space is allocated in proper priority?

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    I assure the hon. Member that we do look into that at every meeting of the Board, and spend many hours allocating it. There is very heavy pressure on it, and it is extremely difficult to allocate priority to the best advantage.

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    Would the hon. Gentleman make clear, what is not clear in his answer, to which Member of the Government Questions on this matter should be addressed, and whether they should be addressed to him or the Parliamentary Secretary for Civil Aviation?

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    I should think to either.

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    Could the hon. Gentleman be more definite?

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    Certainly then: to either.

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    Surely that cannot be the position. Are we not entitled to know what Minister to address on matters of official policy?

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    Would the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the Board of Trade covers the Department of Overseas Trade as well?

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    Yes, Sir, certainly.

    Bills (Explanatory Memoranda)

    45.

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    asked the Prime Minister if he will give instructions that all Bills of a technical character shall have a clear statement in layman's language stating the purpose the Bill is intended to accomplish; and to have it printed with the Bill in every case.

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    I have been asked to reply. As the hon. Member is no doubt aware the practice of the House imposes certain restrictions on the character of the explanatory memoranda which may be printed and circulated with Bills, and such memoranda are subject to revision in the Public Bill Office. It is already customary to circulate memoranda of the kind referred to with Government Bills whenever it is thought that an explanation within the permissible limits will be of assistance to Members. It seems, therefore, unnecessary for me to give instructions on this subject.

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    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that only last week a Member of the Government who was responsible for a certain Bill in this House, gave an. explanation, and then, when the Bill got upstairs, he had to apologise because he had not given the right interpretation of it? If the Government do not know their own Bills how are other people expected to know?

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    That does not seem to me to be an appropriate supplementary question.

    Demobilisation System

    47.

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    asked the Prime Minister whether in view of the dissatisfaction in the Forces, industry and the general public, he will move for the appointment of a Select Committee to review the existing demobilisation system, to report on the causes of delay and to make recommendations to expedite the release to industry and civilian life of a larger number of Service men and women than are at present scheduled.

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    No, Sir. Decisions on these matters should be taken by Ministers responsible to Parliament.

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    Can we be assured that the Prime Minister is quite satisfied with the method of working of the demobilisation scheme, or has he some other method of reviewing it?

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    There are plenty of methods of reviewing it. The only question raised in this Question was whether it should be dealt with by a Select Committee of Parliament. The view of my right hon. Friend is that that would be unwise.

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    Surely because a Select Committee of Parliament is only appropriate when the House of Commons is gravely displeased with His Majesty's Government?

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    We have no reason to believe that the House of Commons is gravely displeased with His Majesty's Government. What we do know is that the hon. Gentleman is displeased with his own Front Bench.

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    We have no reason to believe that the House of Commons is gravely displeased with His Majesty's Government. What we do know is that the hon. Gentleman is displeased with his own Front Bench.

    War Leaders (Thanks)

    48.

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    asked the Prime Minister in what way His Majesty's Government have conveyed their gratitude to the British Service chiefs for their leadership of the Armed Forces during the world war of 1939–45.

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    I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) on 8th November, in which I said that the gratitude of this House to the principal leaders of our Armed Forces was expressed in the Motion of Gratitude to the Forces which was passed on 30th October.

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    Would the right hon. Gentleman consider following the excellent Socialist example in the Soviet Union of not only congratulating its generals for each individual victory in special Orders of the Day, but also giving large money grants to their families?

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    We have considered this matter, and, with regard to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we considered that this was inappropriate. It has been done in times past, but we considered that it was inappropriate at the present time. I also consider that in a war which involved almost the whole of the population, general thanks are better than making particular distinctions in which there is always a danger of leaving out some individuals.

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    When the right hon. Gentleman uses the term "at the present time" does he mean that the situation is not finalised and that His Majesty's Government are still open to consider suggestions on this matter?

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    No, Sir. With regard to money grants, I was taking it as referring to the present epoch in which we are today, rather than any future time.

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    I would point out that the matter raised in this Question was the subject of Debate about a fortnight ago.

    High Sheriffs (Nominations)

    49.

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    asked the Lord President of the Council from whom nominations are received for the office of high sheriff of a county; and if he will consider the desirability of making it possible for future nominations for this and other high and honourable offices to include those from all sections of the people.

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    The names of persons submitted for nomination as high sheriff under the Sheriffs Act, 1887, are proposed in the first instance by the serving high sheriff. While I sympathise with my hon. Friend's wish that in the case of appointments of this nature, persons from all sections of the community should be available for nomination, I must point out that legislation would be required, at any rate in the case of high sheriffs, and I can hold out no prospect of such legislation being introduced for the time being.

    Eastern Europe (Evacuation)

    .50.

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    asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what reports he has received from the Allied Commission as to the rate of expulsion from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary; and whether he is now satisfied that these expulsions have stopped, in conformity to the terms of the Potsdam Conference.

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    About four-filths of the emigrants crossing into the British zone of Germany from the East are people who were evacuated during the war and are now returning to their homes in the West. The remaining fifth consists of people who, though formerly domiciled in the East now want to go to western parts of Germany. Of these, again a small fraction comes from the countries named in the Question, and, so far as the British element of the Control Commission are aware, none of those now crossing into the British zone have been expelled from their countries of origin.

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    Really, that is not an answer to my Question. Has the attention of my hon. Friend been drawn to the statements this morning from the Allied Control, and is he satisfied that the Allied Control themselves are satisfied that, having regard to the circumstances of the winter and the number of people milling about with houses to go to, the proposed evacuation expulsions now announced will be carried out humanely?

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    The Question asked what reports have been received from the Allied Commission. I have given the reports received up to the last minute today. I have also indicated that, while there are people moving into our zone, four-fifths of these are returning evacuees.

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    Are we to understand that information has apparently been given out to the Press by the Allied Commission, but not to His Majesty's Government?

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    I have not seen the information in the Press. I have given the information received from our authorities this morning.

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    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is not concerned so much about displaced persons as about displaced landowners?

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    Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Potsdam Agreement in regard to this issue has been broken or not?

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    If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read the answer, he will find that point was answered. If I may give the answer again in clearer terms, so far as our information goes the terms of the Potsdam decision are being followed.

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    Can my hon. Friend give us any help in determining the source of this continual flow of highly mischievous rumours, which on inquiry turn out to be untrue?

    Food Supplies

    Profit Margins (Wholesalers)

    53.

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    asked the Minister of Food if he will reconsider those profit margins allowed to wholesalers which on certain classes do not cover distributive costs.

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    I have no information to suggest that any group of wholesalers is receiving margins which are not adequate to cover the costs of their businesses necessarily incurred in distributing the commodities for which I am responsible.

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    If I produce some specific cases will the right hon. Gentleman look into them?

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    I am always willing to look into any case that the hon. Gentleman will send to me. I am perfectly willing to go into it.

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    If I give the Minister information to the contrary, will he also look into that?

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    Yes, Sir.

    Sardine Tins (Openers)

    55.

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    asked the Minister of Food whether he will in future arrange for key openers to be provided with the quarter pound tins of sardines imported into this country.

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    I am afraid that it is not possible to arrange at present for a key opener to be provided with each tin of sardines. I hope, however, that keys may soon be available.

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    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large number of tins of sardines recently imported are still on the shop shelves owing to the natural reluctance of the housewives of this country to attack them with a hatchet?

    Fish Prices

    56.

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    asked the Minister of Food when he proposes to announce the winter schedule of fish prices.

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    I announced the winter fish prices on 13th November.

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    As the Minister made this arrangement six weeks later than he did last year, and as the winter prices represent a considerable advantage to the fishermen, will he make the new prices retrospective?

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    No, Sir.

    Allocations

    57 and 63.

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    asked the Minister of Food (1) whether, in connection with the quantity of food and. equipment which has been placed in the girls' school in St. John's Parish, Worcester, and which was to be used in case the building was required as a rest centre, he will give the necessary authority to the local authorities to utilise these foodstuffs, which are now deteriorating, with special regard to the food shortage both at home and abroad;

    (2) whether, in connection with the quantity of food and equipment which has been placed in the girls' school in St. John's Parish, Worcester, and which was to be used in case the building was required as a rest centre, he will now give the necessary authority to the local authorities to utilise these foodstuffs.

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    These foodstuffs were taken into the Ministry's general stocks on 9th November, 1945.

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    Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to tell the House that these foodstuffs are no longer deteriorating as indicated in the Question?

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    The right hon. Gentleman wishes to convey the correct answer to the hon. Member, and that is that they were returned to my stocks on 9th November.

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    There still seems to be a good deal of it there now. It is very disturbing.

    62.

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    asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, consequent upon the removal of large numbers of the population from various towns in England and Wales, the amount of food being allocated to these towns is now excessive; and what action he is taking to reallocate these supplies.

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    Rationed food supplies are automatically adjusted to population trends. I have no evidence that manufacturers and other distributors of points rationed and unrationed foodstuffs have not adjusted their distribution in accordance with population movements. If my hon. Friend has in mind any particular commodity, I shall be glad to cause investigations to be made.

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    Is that adjustment made by the manufacturers or by the Ministry?

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    By my Ministry.

    Tomato Imports

    58 and 59.

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    asked the Minister of Food (1) why he will not grant trading licences to importers of Canary Island tomatoes, with a view to solving the existing deadlock in the buying and disposal of these tomatoes, which is preventing promised supplies from reaching this country;

    (2) whether he is aware that importers are willing to buy Canary Island tomatoes on the Spanish authorities' terms, but unwilling to agree to the proposals of the wholesale trade obliging importers to sell all tomatoes through a monopoly of wholesalers who will take no risk; and what steps he proposes to end this position and fulfil his undertaking to supply tomatoes this winter.

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    In deciding whether to grant licences to would-be importers of Canary Island tomatoes, I am advised by a committee of the trade. The great majority of the trade are of opinion that tomatoes should not be purchased on the terms hitherto offered, and I do not share the view of my hon. Friend that the present deadlock could be satisfactorily solved by the grant of trading licences to a small number of importers who are willing to operate on these terms.

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    Is my right hon. Friend aware that under the present arrangements the importer who is also a wholesaler makes a gross profit of £250 per 1,000 boxes of tomatoes, whereas firms who are only allowed to import can only sell at cost and must also bear any losses due to wastage, and will he reconsider the matter?

    Gift Poultry, Northern Ireland

    60.

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    asked the Minister of Food why there is a prohibition applied to Northern Ireland alone against dispatch of poultry as a gift without licence when above seven-pound weight; and whether, in order to avoid discrimination, he will cither apply it to the United Kingdom as a whole or rescind it.

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    I prohibited the despatch from Northern Ireland, except under licence, of gift poultry weighing more than 7 lbs., to ensure that the largest possible number of Northern Irish turkeys become available to consumers in Great Britain through retail shops. It would be impracticable to impose a similar restriction on gifts of poultry produced in Great Britain in the absence of any bottleneck such as is afforded by the Northern Irish ports. The answer to the second part of the Question is "No, Sir."

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    Does not the Minister know that the Ministry of War Transport control the railways and that the Post Office control the post, and that it is perfectly practicable, therefore, to put on this control? Is he not aware that otherwise there is an unfair discrimination against Northern Ireland people, where his party will have fewer friends than there are turkeys.

    Soap Rationing

    61.

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    asked the Minister of Food if he is now able to dispense with the modification of soap rationing recently announced, as this imposes additional clerical work upon the trade.

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    No, Sir. While I appreciate the volume of extra work involved, I am afraid that it will be necessary to maintain the recent changes in soap rationing so long as soap is in short supply.

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    Is not the Minister aware that if the industry could get a few more men it could produce enough soap?

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    The hon. and gallant Member is no doubt quite aware that oils and fats are among the things which are in the shortest supply in this country at the present moment.

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    What steps is the Minister taking to secure that oils and fats which previously went to the armaments industry are made generally available?

    Fish Frying Fats

    64.

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    asked the Minister of Food whether supplies of frying oils and fats have improved sufficiently to enable him to increase the present ration to fish caterers in the near future and particularly to ex-Servicemen who have been granted licences to commence this type of business but who are finding it difficult to make a living on the present allocation for such new licences.

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    There is no prospect of an early increase in the quantities of oils and fats allocated to fish friers. Any ex-Serviceman who has been granted a licence to open a new business receives an allocation of fat which, I am advised, is sufficient to ensure a reasonable living.

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    Is the Minister aware that the allocation permitted to ex-Servicemen having a licence justifies them in opening only on two nights per week, when they may be surrounded with fish caterers who are open for four or five days a week?

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    An ex-Serviceman, being granted a licence to open a new business, gets 56 lbs. of fat per week. I am assured that that is sufficient for an annual turnover of £1,000.

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    An annual turnover of £1,000? How on earth can a man make a living on a gross turnover of £1,000 a year?

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    Why not give him a square" deal?

    Brewers (Cereals)

    66.

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    asked the Minister of Food what quantity of malted barley, unmalted corn and other grains or food materials were used for the distillation of potable spirits in each of the war years.

    52.

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    asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the latest statistics available to the House for the amount of foodstuffs diverted to the use of the brewers are those for the year ended 30th September, 1939; and will he now give statistics or estimates for any more recent period which have assisted him in allocating to the brewers their share of barley and other cereals, and of sugar, molasses or other equivalents.

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    I understand that the Annual Report of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, to be published shortly, will give the statistics to which the hon. Member refers for each of the six years to 30th September, 1944. Final figures for the year ended 30th September, 1945, are not yet available, but it is estimated that the brewing industry is at present using cereals at the rate of about 760,000 tons per annum, and sugar at the rate of 96,000 tons.

    Meat Parcels, Eire (Import)

    The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. SKEFFINGTON:

    35. To ask the Minister of Food, whether he is aware that individuals in the Irish Free State are canvassing in England by letter for orders for meat, which can apparently be imported up to a maximum of four pounds; and what steps he is taking to stop this practice.

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    On a point of Order. Is it in Order to address Questions to Ministers referring to the non-existent Irish Free State when the country is known as "Eire" and is recognised in a Bill passed through this House? I do not see why Members should use such a name as "Irish Free State" in a Question, when the name does not exist any longer.

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    It is not for the Table to inquire into the accuracy of hon. Members' Questions. This is the Question as it was passed by the Table. I have no doubt that it is in Order.

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    I am not aware of this practice, but if my hon. Friend would supply me with particulars, I should be glad to look into the matter.

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    Is it not a fact that bacon is being sent here?

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    I have no knowledge of it. If the hon. Member will give me the particulars I shall be very happy to look into them.

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    Are such importations allowed?

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    Does the Minister object to meat being sent to this country?

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    Offhand, I should say "Yes, unless I control it."

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    Why should there be no rationing of meat in Eire?

    Trade And Commerce

    Telecommunications (Servicing)

    68.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will consider the desirability of taking over the R.O.F. in Newport and the Standard Telephone and Cable Company, Limited, for the purpose of servicing the work required as a result of the decision of the Government to bring under public ownership the telecommunication services now operated by Cable and Wireless, Limited.

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    No, Sir.

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    Has the Minister considered introducing such a provision in the Bill for taking over the organisation?

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    That is another question.

    Film Studios

    71.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade how many film studios are available to the film industry and how many still remain requisitioned.

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    Ten film studios are available to the film industry and two further studios have been derequisitioned but are not yet ready for film production. Sound stages remain under requisition at six film studios, of which four are actively in process of clearance. The remaining two are small studios, one of which should be cleared between March and May next year, and the other is the subject of negotiations still proceeding.

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    Will the Minister take immediate steps to expedite the derequisitioning of the remaining film studios, as requisitioning has been a very serious handicap to the industry in this country?

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    Yes, Sir. I was able to assure the House in the Debate on Friday that this matter was proceeding with the maximum speed.

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    We want deeds, not words.

    Motor Vehicles

    72.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has any statement to make regarding his discussions with the motor-car manufacturers and motor trades last week.

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    No, Sir.

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    Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. and learned Friend whether increase in the export trade is not better achieved by co-operation than by waving the big stick?

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    The hon. and gallant Member is not asking a question but is asking for the Minister's opinion.

    Industrial Working Parties

    73.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade what further working parties he proposes to set up.

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    My right hon. and learned Friend is holding preliminary discussions with representatives of the wool and cutlery industries before the end of the year and hopes later to have similar discussions with representatives of other industries.

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    Will the Parliamentary Secretary give a categorical assurance that it is not the intention to nationalise any of the industries covered by the working-parties, either in this Parliament or in any other Parliament?

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    Had the hon. Gentleman been following the discussions which took place prior to the working parties being set up, he would be satisfied with the manner in which my right hon. and learned Friend has dealt with the matter.

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    Is it not better to try to get increased production by cooperation than by waving the big stick?

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    The policy that has been adopted by this Government has secured the maximum co-operation— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] —of all people who have the national interest at heart.

    Pianos

    74.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that British piano manufacturers are being handicapped in their efforts to export by 'reason of the fact that they are not allowed to manufacture for the home market, as a result of which their costs of production are kept unduly high; and how soon it will be possible to relieve them of this disability.

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    My information does not bear out the hon. Member's suggestion. I understand that the export orders received by the piano manufacturers require more labour and materials than are at present available. My right hon. and learned Friend is doing his best to assist the industry in these and other matters. As soon as the manufacturers are able to cope with the export orders which they are getting, the question of production for the home market will be reconsidered.

    75.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that British piano manufacturers are un able to export to Australia because, owing to the sales tax, duty surcharge, etc., levied by the Australian Government, a British piano cannot be landed for less than £146, as against £93 which an Australian piano costs to produce; and if any representations have been, or are being, made to the Australian Government with a view to securing a reduction in these imposts and a better chance for British pianos in the Australian market.

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    Yes, Sir. I am aware of the points mentioned and of the need for removing as far as possible the difficulties which British manufacturers are experiencing in the export of pianos to Australia. I had already asked His Majesty's Senior Trade Commissioner in Australia to inquire into the question of prices at present being fixed for imported goods and have now arranged for a special report about the import of pianos.

    Retail Licence Application

    76.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will re consider his decision to refuse a retail licence for a secondhand clothing stores to Mr. W. Causton, 1, Torriano Cottages, London, N.W.5, seeing that Mr. Causton was disabled as a soldier in the Boer War, the 1914–18 war and from the CD. service in the last war, and that he was also compelled to terminate his secondhand clothing stores when the Government closed down the Caledonian market.

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    I have again looked at Mr. Causton's application and, in view of the very special circumstances, I have decided to grant him the licence he needs to open his shop.

    Tobacco Pipes

    77.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is yet permitting the importation of French briar pipes in quantity; and if he will give the figures of these imports for three months to the last convenient date.

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    Yes, Sir. The number of pipes of briar and other woods for which licences have been granted during the months of September, October and November up to date for importation from France is 6,743 gross, valued at £111,338. Of these, only 150 gross were of briar. It has not been possible in the time available to obtain figures of actual arrivals.

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    Is the Minister taking steps to control the prices of briar pipes, which seem to have reached astronomical figures in recent months? The old 6d. Woolworth's is now 10s. 6d.

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    That is quite true, and attention is being paid to the matter.

    78.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade whether supplies of briar and vulcanite can now be released in sufficient quantities to permit of a substantial number of pipes being available for the Christmas market or early in the new year.

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    It is still difficult to get sufficient quantities of briarwood, which has to be imported. There is no special difficulty with regard to vulcanite pipe stems. A considerable number of pipes will shortly be available, but not necessarily by Christmas.

    Cotton Mill Sales

    79 and 80.

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    asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether he will make a statement upon the acquisition of a Lancashire cotton mill by a London financial company at a price equivalent to nearly £4 per spindle; and whether he is aware of any other offers being made by London financiers for Lancashire cotton mills;

    (2) whether he is prepared to take steps to prevent a recurrence of the experiences during the years following the 1914 to 1918 war, when London financiers started a recapitalisation ramp in the Lancashire cotton industry with disastrous results to the industry and the country.

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    ; -I am aware of the transaction to which my hon. Friend refers, but not of any others. The situation in Lancashire, and in regard to the measure of control which the Government can exercise, is very different from that existing after the 1914–1918 war, and I will watch that the abuses of that period are not repeated.

    Persia (British Interests)

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    (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of latest developments, he will reaffirm the assurance given by his predecessor on 6th June last that it is the intention of His Majesty's Gov-

    Division No. 26.]

    AYES.

    [3.25 p.m.

    Adams, Capt. H. R. (Balham) Binns, J.Champion, A. J.
    Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Blackburn, A. R.Clitherow, R.
    Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Blyton, W. R.Cluse, W. S
    Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Boardman, H.Cobb, F. A.
    Allighan, GarryBottomley, A. G.Cocks, F S.
    Alpass, J. H.Bowden, Fig.-Offr. H. W.Coldrick, W.
    Anderson, A.(Motherwell)Bowen, R.Collindridge, F.
    Anderson, F.(Whitehaven)Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Collins, V. J.
    Atllee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'p'l, Exch'ge)Colman, Miss G. M
    Austin, H. L.Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Cook,T. F.
    Awbery, S. S.Brook, D. (Halifax)Corlett, Dr. J.
    Ayles, W. H.Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Cove, W. G.
    Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Brown, George (Belper)Grossman, R. H. S.
    Bacon, Miss A.Brown, T. J. (Ince)Daggar, G.
    Baird, Capt. J.Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Daines, P.
    Bartlett, V.Buchanan, G.Davies, A.E.(Burslem)
    Barton, C.Burden, T. W.Davies, Clement (Montgomery)
    Battley, J. R.Burke, W. A.Davies, Ernest (Enfield)
    Belcher, J. W.Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Davies, Harold (Leek)
    Benson, G.Byers, Lt.-Col. F.Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)
    Beswick, Flt.-Lieut. F.Callaghan, James.Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)
    Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.)Castle, Mrs. B. A.Deer, G.

    ernment in all circumstances to safeguard our imperial interests in South Persia and the Persian Gulf.

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    It is the intention of His Majesty's Government to safeguard British interests in whatever part of the world they may be found.

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    Will the right hon. Gentleman say how he proposes to carry out this assurance in this particular case?

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    I cannot divulge to the hon. and gallant Member, in answer to a Question, all the strategy of the Chiefs of Staffs and everybody else concerned

    Message From The Lords

    That they have agreed to—

    Amendments to—

    War Damage (Valuation Appeals) Bill [ Lords], without Amendment.

    Business Of The House

    Motion made, and Question proposed,

    "That the proceedings on Government Business be exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House). [Mr. II. Morrison.]

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    Will the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House tell us why the Government wish to suspend the Rule tonight?

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    This Question must be put without question or Debate.

    The House divided: Ayes, 279; Noes, 120.

    de Freitas, GeoffreyLevy, B. W.Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M.
    Diamond, J.Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)Shurmer, P.
    Dobbie, W.Lipson, D. L.Silverman, J. (Erdington).
    Douglas, F. C. R.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
    Driberg, T. E. N.Logan, D. G.Simmons, C. J.
    Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)Longden, F.Skeffington, A. M.
    Dye, S.McAdam, W.Skeffington Lodge, Lt. T. C.
    Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.McEntee, V. La T.Skinnard, F. W.
    Edelman, M.McGovern, J.Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Rotherhithe)
    Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)Mack, J. D.Smith, Capt. C. (Colchester)
    Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)McKay, J. (Wallsend)Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
    Edwards, John (Blackburn)McKinlay, A. S.Smith, T. (Normanton)
    Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Maclean, N. (Govan)Snow, Capt. J. W.
    Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)McLeavy, F.Sorensen, R. W.
    Ewart, R.Macpherson, T. (Romford)Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
    Fairhurst, F.Mallalieu, J. P. W.Sparks, J. A.
    Farthing, W. J.Mann, Mrs. J.Stamford, W.
    Follick, M.Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Steele, T.
    Foot, M. M.Marquand, H. A.Stephen, C.
    Forman, J. C.Marshall, F. (Brightside)Stewart, Capt. M. (Fulham, E.)
    Foster, W. (Wigan)Mathers, G.Stokes, R. R.
    Fraser, T. (Hamilton)Maxton, J.Strachey, J.
    Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)Mayhew, Maj. C. P.Stubbs, A. E.
    Freeman, P. (Newport)Messer, F.Summerskill, Dr. Edith
    Gallacher, W.Middleton, Mrs. L.Sunderland, J. W.
    Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Monslow, W.Swingler, Capt. S.
    George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)Montague, F.Symonds, Maj. A. L.
    Gibbins, J.Moody, A. S.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
    Gooch, E. G.Morley, R.Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
    Goodrich, H. E.Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
    Gordon-Walker, P. C.Morris, R. H. (Carmarthen)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
    Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)Thomas, George (Cardiff)
    Grenfell, D. R.Moyle, A.Thomson, Rt. Hon. G. R. (E'b'gh, E.)
    Grey, C. F.Murray, J. D.Thorneycroft, H.
    Grierson, E.Nally, W.Thurtle, E.
    Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Neal, H. (Claycross)Timmons, J.
    Gunter, Capt. R. J.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Tolley, L.
    Haire, Flt.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Usborne, H. C.
    Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby).Vernon, Maj. W. F.
    Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Noel-Buxton, LadyViant, S. P.
    Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Oliver, G. H.Walkden, E.
    Hardy, E. A.Paget, R. T.Walker, G. H.
    Hastings, Dr. SomervillePaling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
    Haworth, J.Palmer, A. M. F.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
    Henderson, J. (Ardwick)Parker, J.Warbey, W. N.
    Herbison, Miss M.Parkin, Flt.-Lieut. B. T.Watkins, T. E.
    Hewitson, Captain M.Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)Watson, W. M.
    Hobson, C. R.Pearson, A.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
    Holman, P.Peart, Capt. T. F.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
    House, G.Perrins, W.Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
    Hoy, J.Popplewell, E.Wilkes, Maj. L.
    Hubbard, T.Porter, E. (Warrington)Wilkins, W. A.
    Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Porter, G. (Leeds)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
    Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Proctor, W. T.Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
    Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Pryde, D. J.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
    Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Randall, H. E.Williams, Rt. Hon. E. J. (Ogmore)
    Jeger, Capt. G. (Winchester)Rankin, J.Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
    Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)Rathbone, Miss EleanorWilliams, W. R. (Heston)
    Jones, A. C. (Shipley)Reeves, J.Williamson, T.
    Keenan, W.Reid, T. (Swindon)Willis, E.
    Kenyon, C.Rhodes, H.Wilson, J. H.
    King, E. M.Richards, R.Wise, Major F. J.
    Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Woodburn, A.
    Kinley, J.Robens, A.Woods, G. S.
    Kirby, B. V.Roberts, Sqn.-Ldr. E. O. (Merioneth)Wyatt, Maj. W.
    Kirkwood, D.Roberts, G. O. (Caernarvonshire)Yates, V. F.
    Lang, G.Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)Young, Sir R. (Newton)
    Lavers, S.Rogers, G. H. RYounger, Maj. Hon. K. G.
    Lee, F. (Hulme)Royle, C.Zilliacus, K.
    Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)Sargood, R.
    Leonard, W.Scollan, T.

    TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

    Leslie, J. R.Scott-Elliot, W. Mr. R. J. Taylor and
    Captain Blenkinsop

    NOES.

    Amory, Lt.-Col. D. H.Boyd-Carpenter, Maj. J. A.Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C,
    Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.
    Assheton, Rt. Hon. P.Bullock, Capt. M.Cuthbert, W. N.
    Astor, Hon. M.Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)Darling, Sir W. Y.
    Baldwin, A. E.Challen, Flt.-Lieut. C.Davidson, Viscountess
    Baxter, A. B.Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.De la Bère, R.
    Boothby, R.Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Digby, Maj. S. Wingfield
    Bossom, A. C.Cooper-Key, Maj. E. M.Dodds-Parker, Col. A. D.
    Bower, N.Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)Donner, Sqn.-Ldr. P. W.

    Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)

    MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Robinson, Wing-Comdr Roland
    Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)McCallum, Maj. D.Ropner, Col. L.
    Drayson, Capt. G. B.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Ross, Sir R.
    Drewe, C.Maclean, Brig. F. H. R. (Lancaster)Sanderson, Sir F.
    Eccles, D. M. MacLeod. Capt. J.Savory, Prof. D. L.
    Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Macmillan, Rt. Hon. HaroldScott, Lord W.
    Fletcher, W. (Bury)Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Shephard, S. (Newark)
    Fox, Sqn.-Ldr. Sir G.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
    Gates, Maj. E. E.Marlowe, A. A. H.Snadden, W. M.
    Glyn, Sir R.Marples, Capt. A. E.Spearman, A. C. M.
    Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G.Marshall, Comdr. D. (Bodmin)Spence, Maj. H. R.
    Gridley, Sir A.Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)Stanley, Col. Rt. Hon. O.
    Grimston, R. V.Maude, J. C.Stoddart-Scott, Lt.-Col. M.
    Hare, Lt.-Col. Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Mellor, Sir J.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J.
    Harvey, Air-Cmdre. A. V.Molson, A. H. E.Sutcliffe, H.
    Hinchingbrooke, ViscountMott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
    Holmes, Sir J. StanleyNeven-Spence, Major Sir B.Teeling, Fit.-Lieut. W.
    Howard, Hon. ANicholson, G.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
    Hulbert, Wing.Comdr. N. J.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.Thorneycroft, G. E. P.
    Hurd, A.Nutting, AnthonyThornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
    Hutchison, Lt.-Cdr. Clark (Edin'gh, W.)Osborne, C.Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
    Hutchison, Lt.-Col. J. R. (G'gow, C.)Peake, Rt. Hon. O.Vane, Lt.-Col. W. M. T.
    Jarvis, Sir J.Poole, Col. O. B. S. (Oswestry)Walker-Smith, Lt.-Col. D.
    Jeffreys, General Sir G.Prescott, Capt. W. R. S.Ward, Hon. G. R.
    Jennings, R.Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie
    Keeling, E. H.Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.Wheatley, Lt.-Col. M. J.
    Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.Raikes, H. V.Williams, C. (Torquay)
    Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)Williams, Lt.-Cdr. G. W. (T'nbr'ge)
    Lindsay, Lt.-Col. M. (Solihull)Renton, D.York, C.
    Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E).Roberts, H. (Handsworth)
    Low, Brig. A. R. W.Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)

    TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

    Lucas, Major Sir J.Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)Major Sir A. S. L. Young and Commander Agnew.

    Orders Of The Day

    Elections And Jurors Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    3.35 p.m.

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    I beg to move, "That this Bill be now read a Second time."

    "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." Yesterday I was subjected to severe but unmerited criticism by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for introducing a Bill that was they said, too large, and that was inspired so they believed, solely by the Lord President of the Council. I would have been well advised, they suggested, to have considered it a great deal longer before introducing it. Today I am told that this Bill is too small, and that while I have escaped from the domination of the Lord President of the Council, I ought to legislate ahead of a Committee which was promised by the Coalition Government. Well, I realise that in the difficult position in which hon. Gentlemen opposite are placed with their Press, they have to make as much small capital as they can out of these matters, and I shall not, therefore, be unduly distressed by the weight of the metal which is to be brought to bear on me when the Amendment on the Paper is moved.

    The problem of elections, or rather of the preparation for elections during the past three to four years, has been a very difficult one for succeeding Governments, and Bills have been passed in 1943, 1944 and 1945, varying the enactment that was passed in 1918. I have to ask the House today to pass another Measure that will make temporary provision for elections that will be held during the coming year 1946. In 1943, an effort was made to link up the national registration records with the electoral register, and to produce a register that would have some relation ship to a residence qualification over a period of time, two months. It became very complicated. The operations between the national registration officer and the electoral registrations officer were so detailed that, with the shortage of staff, it became clear that the Act could not be operated under the conditions that then prevailed. The Act also contained a pro vision that once a person was qualified for a constituency, he was not removed from the register for that constituency until he had acquired a new qualification. In 1944, in order to remove some of the complications that arose under the 1943 Act, and which had made it quite unworkable, a new Act was passed. That Act got back to the principle of the fixed date, and a register had to be compiled which could be brought into operation on the initiation of an election.

    The 1944 Act really enacted this, that when an election took place—that is, when the writ was received in the constituency—the register should be that which was in the electoral registration officer's possession on the last day of the last month but one before the election was initiated. That is to say, if the writ was received in the constituency on, let us say; 3rd April, the register was that which was in the possession of the electoral registration officer on 28th February. The register did not move a month forward until the month of May was reached. An election initiated on 1st May would have been fought on the register that represented the compilation in the possession of the electoral registration officer on 31st March. That Measure was, again, found to be too complicated to work and the 1945 Act was passed, which had a qualifying date, 31st January, and the register was due to be published on 7th May. That was the register on which the General Election of 1945 was fought, and I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen in various parts of the House found that, although the enactment was that the register was to be published on 7th May, it was not in fact until some weeks after that date in certain cases that the register was actually available.

    The view of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House always was that having regard to the circumstances in which that register was compiled, it would be an unsatisfactory register, and what occurred in the General Election has not altered our view, for it is obvious that the present register is considerably more satisfactory. Otherwise how could one account for the Labour Party polling 3,000 more votes at Bournemouth in November than they did in July. There is a new register now in operation which came into force on 15th October and relates to the national registration address on 30th June. That register will remain in force under the 1945 Act for all local government elections during 1946, and for all Parliamentary elections initiated before 1st January, 1946. That is to say, that any writ that is received in a Parliamentary constituency between now and 31st December, will cause the election to be fought on the register that was compiled on the national registration address on 30th June. The present law would enact that, for Parliamentary elections after 31st January, 1946, there would have to be an ad hoc register compiled very much on the basis of the register that I have described in connection with the Acts previous to the 1945 Act.

    We were warned by the registration officers throughout the country that it would be quite impossible to compile this ad hoc register with the staffs at present at their disposal, and that the printers would be unable certainly to deal with a General Election that had to be fought on an ad hoc register of that description. Therefore, we ask the House to pass this amending Bill, so that we may be able if necessary to have a General Election during 1946 because, quite clearly, it would be wrong to place either the Government or the Opposition in a position where the mere machinery of electoral registration would prevent a General Election. I do not want anyone on either side of the House to think that we contemplate that a General Election would be necessary, although on recent figures we should not shrink from it, but I think it would be constitutionally wrong to put the Government, or anyone else responsible for having a General Election, in a position in which the mere machinery of electoral registration made an Election impossible. Therefore, we have brought in this short Bill, which deals with two or three matters, and which will, I hope, enable us to have by-elections fought on registers which will be reasonably up to date, and, if it should be necessary, to have a General Election.

    There are three principal matters dealt with in this Bill. Clauses 1 to 5 deal with alterations to the existing registration arrangements. Clauses 6 to 8 deal with the extension of postal voting facilities, and Clauses 9 to 12 deal with the compilation of fresh jurors books for England and Wales. In Clause 1, we propose that the register now in force shall remain in force until 14th October next and that all Parliamentary elections during the intervening period shall be fought on that register. 1 have given the reasons why we do not think it is possible to carry out the more elaborate machinery provided for in the existing law, which will come into force on 1st January next if this Bill does not become law before.

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    I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House in any way, but as 1 read the Bill, and the Explanatory Memorandum which prefaces it, Clause I appears to be without any duration in point of time whatever. It provides that the register of electors to be in force for a Parliamentary election shall be the register, which is the annual register, last published in accordance with the Act of 1945

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    I was coming to the question of the duration of the Measure later on. It is true that, on the face of Clause 1, this is an arrangement which, if not altered, would get back to continuing the annual register published on 15th October of this year.

    We propose by Clauses 3, 4 and 5 to arrange for a supplementary register to be published on 28th February, 1946, and on that supplementary register, it will be possible for members of the Forces, seamen, and war workers, as defined in the previous Acts and in this Bill, whose declarations for registration have been received since 30th June and up till 31st December this year to be entered, and these persons will possess the existing rights of Service voters as regards both postal and proxy voting. That means, that where a man sent in an application to be registered as a Service voter and it had arrived two or three days too late to be included in the existing register, that application will now hold good to enable him to be on the supplementary register, which will come into force and which will be published on 28th February. Members of the Forces and seamen who are discharged between 30th June this year, and 1st January, 1946, will also be entitled to be registered in respect of the address for which they are registered in the national register on discharge. This may very well lead to a number of duplicate entries on the register. A man may make application as a serving man to be entered on the register of a particular con- stituency. On discharge, he may, in fact, go to some address and be registered there, outside the constituency in which he asked to be registered as a Service voter, and we are, therefore, asking registration officers, as far as possible, to avoid duplication of entry. But where it does occur, the man, of course, can only vote once in respect of these two qualifications and he must choose which of the two he proposes to use.

    We propose also to extend postal voting facilities, and in Clause 6 we provide that a person who has removed from his registered address may apply to be entered on the absent voters list and, therefore, be entitled to vote by post, if the address to which he has removed is not situated in the same area as his registered address. I regret that it has been necessary, in this connection to arrive at a somewhat arbitrary decision of what is "the same area." The Government would have liked a reasonable discretion in this matter left to registration officers, because it is clear that mere removal from one side of a street to another, while it might take a person out of one area into another, may not be as serious as a removal from one side of a county borough to another— from the extreme North to the extreme South and so on. But the registration officers of the country represented to us that leaving them with a discretion in this matter might involve them in controversies from which they would wish to be spared, and in a closely contested election, when the majority either way was perhaps ten or a dozen, there might be accusations that the result had been achieved because the registration officer had, or had not, exercised his discretion in this way. I am sure that we would all desire that public servants who endeavour to discharge their duties in these matters with complete impartiality, should 'be spared being involved in controversies of that kind.

    Therefore, we have regretfully, but I think, rightly, included in the Measure a quite arbitrary definition of what the same area is. In London this will be the combined area of two contiguous Metropolitan boroughs; elsewhere in England and Wales, the area of the same county borough, non-county borough, urban district or rural parish; in Scotland, the area of the same electoral division of a county or of the same burgh; and in Northern Ireland, the area of the same county borough, borough, urban district or rural district. We have applied this same regulation to people who are appointed as proxies for Service voters; that is to say, if a proxy appointed by a Service voter is not within the same area as the registered address of the Service voter concerned, the proxy voter can claim to vote by post.

    We also have taken the opportunity of accepting the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference that persons physically incapacitated should be able to vote by post. This is a matter which has been urged, I think, by all parties for some years. It is a recognition of the citizen's right to exercise his franchise, and I hope that the measures we propose in the Bill will be satisfactory to the House. The detailed provisions for making these postal voting applications will be prescribed by Regulations, which in accordance with Clause 18 (1) will require an affirmative Resolution of the House; that is to say, they will have to be placed upon the Table and then the Secretary of State for the time being will have to move that the House accepts them, and a similar Resolution will have to be passed in another place. Thus there will be every opportunity for Members becoming acquainted with them, and of knowing that they are being brought before Parliament.

    Section 32 (1) of the 1945 Act applied the postal arrangements that were in operation during the recent General Election to a General Election initiated before 1st January, 1946. In this Bill a later date is prescribed, and by Clause. 8 we extend the date to 1st January, 1947, and that means that, if those arrangements are to be continued beyond that date, and no action has been taken in the meantime to pass permanent legislation, we shall have to ask the House for authority to extend them.

    The Amendment that has been placed on the Paper alludes to the question of the Speaker's Conference. We have not implemented all the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, and for this reason, that I announced in the House, on nth October, that I proposed to appoint a Committee, which would consist of Members of the House, the chief agents of the political parties and certain Departmental representatives, to examine the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference and make a report, on which the appropriate legislation could be passed. I think that we shall be well advised to await the result of that Committee's work before we proceed with any further legislation on these matters. It is the intention of His Majesty's Government, when we get the report of the Committee, to base legislation thereon, and to submit it to the House as soon as Parliamentary time can be found thereafter; and we regard ourselves as bound during the lifetime of the present Parliament to submit to the House the necessary legislation to give effect to these recommendations. I do not think that it would have been at all polite to the hon. Members of the House who have been asked to serve on the Committee and the other people, if, having announced the appointment of the Committee, we had then proceeded to put the legislation we asked them to consider into this Bill.

    Clause 13 deals with an entirely Scottish point, of which I hope the House will not expect me to give any elaborate explanation. My hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland will be speaking in the course of the Debate, and, if there should be any difficulties with regard to Clause 13, he will deal with the matter.

    I come to the third of the principal things that we do in this Measure. We compile fresh jurors' books for England and Wales. The jurors' books now in existence are those that came into force at the beginning of 1940. They are very much out of date. It is, in consequence, necessary for the officers who summon jurors, in order to be certain that they will have enough jurors, to call upon a very much larger number of people, at any rate by name, than they would in ordinary circumstances. The consequence is that some people are now called up who are well entitled to exemption on one of the numerous grounds for exemption, and that when the officer happens to have made a particularly fruitful selection of names from the jurors' rolls people are called up and kept hanging about the courts, sometimes without being called upon to discharge any of the duties of a juror.

    We feel, therefore, that it is desirable that the jurors' books should be brought up to date, but it is not possible merely to revert to the method in operation under the Juries Act, 1922, for the compilation of jurors' books, because that method was based on information obtained in the course of the canvass which preceded the compilation of the electoral register, nor would the timetable in operation under that Act be generally applicable to existing registration arrangements. Therefore we propose in Clauses 9 to 12 that jurors' books shall be compiled, effective for 1947 and subsequent years, and based on the electoral register published in the previous October. This procedure will not operate for the compilation of a jurors' book for any year if in the previous year the register has been compiled by a canvass. The procedure we now propose entails the sending of the relevant civilian residence electors' list to the appropriate rating authority, who will mark thereon the persons who, by reason of the necessary rating qualification, appear to be liable for jury service. An electoral registration officer will be required to inform everybody who comes on to the Jurors' List for the first time that it is proposed to mark him as a juror so that he can if he thinks he is entitled to benefit by any of the exemptions from jury service, make the necessary appeal, and the existing right of appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction is retained in this Measure.

    That is a brief account of the proposals in this Bill. We would very much like to get back, as we hope we shall at a fairly early date, to the compilation of a register by canvas, but the electoral registration officers throughout the country say that in the case of the register to be compiled during next year it is improbable that they will be in a position either as respects canvassers or printers to comply with the law that would exist unless this Bill were passed. We hope that it will be possible, as far as the years after that are concerned, to ensure that we may get back to the normal practice. After the experiences of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council in the statement, which I thought was quite reasonably guarded, to which attention is drawn in the Amendment, I do not intend to make any precise prophecy. All I can say is that the Government are working in the hope that, certainly in the case of the register that will be compiled to come into force on 15th October, 1947, they will be able to rely upon the canvass, publication, claim and objection method, which was the practice prior to the difficulties into which the war brought us.

    I hope the House will recognise that this is an effort to deal with a situation that arises out of the conditions of the times, that we are taking steps to introduce those improvements in the law which it is possible to make at this time, and that as soon as we get the report of the Committee, whose names I hope to be able to announce in the course of the next three or four days, we shall be able to proceed with a permanent Measure of legislation which will bring us back, I hope, to the compilation of the register by canvass, publication, claim and objection, and will enable us also to implement the remaining recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. I hope the House will feel that in these circumstances it can give a Second Reading to this Measure.

    4.6 p.m.

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    I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

    "this House, whilst welcoming the proposal to extend facilities for absent voting to persons who have changed their residence, and to blind persons and persons physically incapable of voting, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which ignores many of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference and, notwithstanding the assurances given by the Lord President of the Council on 27th June, 1944, continues the suspension of any qualifying period, and perpetuates a system of registration which has resulted in many persons being deprived of the franchise."
    The right hon. Gentleman, in opening his speech, suggested that he had been subject to severe but unmerited criticism yesterday because he had introduced a Bill inspired by the Lord President of the Council. Today, if the criticism is again severe, no doubt it will bring certain comfort to the heart of the Lord President of the Council, who invited severe criticism, if it brings no comfort to the right hon. Gentleman. I may tell him in regard to the hope he expressed that he would not be distressed by the weight of the metal brought against him that the bulk of the metal I propose to use today is provided by the Lord President of the Council. I am not sure from what the right hon. Gentleman has said whether it is intended that this Bill should only be for the purpose of elections in 1946, because the actual terms of the Bill are far more extensive than that, and, indeed, on that point it seems to me that he has not dispelled much of the fog that now exists in this Chamber. I appreciate, as I am sure all on this side of the House will appreciate, from all that he has said that there are some good points in this Bill, but it is our regret that the good is so overladen with bad that we have no alternative but to move its rejection for the reasons stated on the Order Paper.

    Many hard things were said about the register on which the last election was fought. Every one of us on all sides of the House, I think, had brought to his notice cases of persons long resident in a constituency, persons who had been resident there throughout the war, whose names were for some unaccountable reason omitted from the register. In my division I had some cases of duplication brought to my notice, the names of persons having been entered twice on the register. What the right hon. Gentleman omitted to draw attention to was that the October register, which he has praised so highly, is a register which was compiled in precisely the same fashion as the register on which the General Election was fought, and whether the October register contains fewer or more extensive defects than the register on which the election was fought has not yet been tested in the country. Hon Members opposite were not slow to take advantage of those defects by representing that we on this side of the House were responsible for them. The Minister of Fuel and Power said at Leith on 8th July:
    "Our experiences of the past two weeks show that the register is an insult to the British electorate."
    The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning said in his election address:
    "With our incomplete register of voters many thousands of electors, including numerous Servicemen, will be denied the right of voting."
    Therefore, it is with astonishment and some amazement that I see the right hon. Gentleman introducing a Bill providing for the registers to be made in exactly the same way as the register on which the General Election was fought. It is aston- ishing now that they have secured their return to power—and if controls are necessary I would suggest that control over the exercise of that power might be justified— that they should introduce a Bill which perpetuates for an indefinite period, because there is no limitation in the Bill, the precise system of registration which they themselves so loudly condemned and attacked this Summer. This register is still to be based on where a person happens to be drawing his food ration on a particular date. If he should be registered in that division on that date he will remain on that register till the October of the ensuing year. There is no qualifying period of residence at all, and in my view that is a grave and serious defect.

    May I remind the right hon. Gentleman when he refers to setting up a Departmental Committee that a Departmental Committee was set up before the 1943 Bill was introduced? It was a Committee on which each of the parties was represented, and it was set up by the Lord President of the Council. That Committee recommended a two months' qualification period and there was no dissentient. It was only after they reported that a Bill was introduced providing not only for the two months' period of qualification but also for the continuous registration to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech. All that has been thrown overboard. That system of continuous registration has never been tried. Under this Hill, as I see it, if you move immediately after 30th July to another constituency— it may be miles away, may even be in Scotland—you will be on the register of the division from which you moved but where you were not living on 15th October of that year, and you will remain on that register without a chance of getting on to the register in Scotland until 15th October of the ensuing year. Your only consolation will be the extension of postal voting which will enable you, if you apply in time, to get on to the absent voters' list and to record a vote for a candidate whom you have probably neither seen nor heard. I do not regard that as very satisfactory. When the Lord President of the Council introduced the Act of 1943 he said its purpose was
    "to provide an efficient and effective system of registration despite the difficulties which had been brought about by wartime conditions."
    and he went on:
    "I think that proposals made in this Measure will solve those difficulties and give us perhaps a more up-to-date register than we had in the period before the war."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October. 1943; Vol. 393. c. 58.]
    I am sorry that we are not apparently to try that continuous system of registration. What happened after that? In 1944 the same right hon. Gentleman had to come back to this House and introduce another Measure. He had to confess then that owing to staffing difficulties during war it was impossible to operate the two months' qualifying period contemplated by the Act of 1943. The Act of 1944 provided for one qualifying day, and that is carried on by this Bill. In introducing that Measure in 1944, the Lord President said:
    "I know that Members in certain parts of the House are rather averse from abolishing for the time being this qualifying period. I sympathise with them. I like some attachment to the soil on the part of the electors in a constituency, and I do not in any way dispute the sentiments of those who feel rather unhappy on this point.'
    This is the particular passage which I commend to the right hon. Gentleman:
    "I have taken the greatest pains to see that this Bill is temporary and that it will be brought to an end as soon as possible."
    Again, he said:
    "Because the Government and I recognise that the' Bill is not ideal, and, because we ourselves would have preferred to preserve the modest residential period of two months if we could have done so, I have taken the greatest care to see that the Bill is temporary. There are a number of points designed to meet that end. In the first place, the word 'temporary' appears in the Bill; in the second place, there is a mandatory direction to the Secretary of State that, as soon as he is satisfied that" sufficient staff and facilities are available for the operation of the 1943 Act, he will make an Order bringing the Bill to an end."
    This is what I would like the right hon. Gentleman to note:
    "I can assure the House, not only will there be no wish on my part to avoid that obligation, but the conscientious officers of the Home Office will see to it that I do not avoid the issue, even if I wanted to." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, I944; Vol. 40I, c. 3.]
    Here, in this Bill we find that the temporary provision of that one— clearly his undertaking or pledge to regard this provision of one qualifying day as a very temporary one, which is to be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment. That view, I have no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman sincerely holds, and, in view of the strength of his conscientious objections, I hope that this afternoon or evening we shall find him accompanying us into the Lobby.

    I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, when he talks about the difficulty put forward by registration officers, and says that they cannot, in peacetime, operate the 1943 Act, that we were told in 1944 that the objection then was the impossibility of operation due to lack of staff—an objection in the country, but not in the boroughs. We were told then that it would only require 1,200 clerical assistants and 400 persons competent to instruct and supervise to enable that Act to be implemented. Does the right hon. Gentleman now tell us that demobilisation will be so tardy, and so tied up in red tape that 1,600 people will not be available next Autumn, for making a register with a two months' qualifying period, as contemplated in the 1943 Act? Because, as I see it, that is really what the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to accept. I find it difficult to believe that it is really impossible to carry out the provisions of that Act, when we were told in 1943 that the system which the 1943 Act envisaged, could be carried out in wartime.

    This Bill is not only bad because it perpetuates the absence of any residential qualification at all. It is also bad, in my view, because it prolongs the unsatisfactory system of the Service voter having to contract in. Hon. Members opposite have frequently indicated how much they dislike the principle of having to contract in, in the case of a political levy, but, apparently, they are quite content to record their votes to make it compulsory for the Service voter to contract in, if he wants to exercise his right of voting. I take the view that the registration of his vote should be automatic, and that was one of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, which I should not have thought required consideration by another Departmental Committee. The Service authorities surely know the name of each man and woman in each Service. Why should they not be charged with the duty of seeing that every man and woman in the Services is registered? That might not have been possible in war, but, surely, it can be done now. Surely, the difficulties about securing compulsory returns from each branch of each Service are not insuperable. When we look at the supplementary register, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, one can see the principle that the Service man and woman have to contract in, to vote being carried into practice.

    Incidentally, the expression "war workers" is not defined in that Clause, or elsewhere in the Bill, and I think the right hon. Gentleman made a slip when he said that it was. I am sure that the intention of the Bill is that it should be limited, as it was in the earlier Acts, to war workers abroad, but there is no word here to say that it should be war workers abroad. Under that Clause, Servicemen, war workers and those demobilised before the end of the year will all have to contract in, if they are to get on the register before 15th October of next year. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if this system is going to work at all, what steps are to be taken to bring the existence of these rights conferred by this Clause to the notice of those who may exercise them. The time within which applications have to be made under Clause 3 is very short indeed, and it is no use our making provision in a Bill for machinery to get Service voters, war workers and people who are demobilised, on to the register when they apply, if no proper steps are taken to inform them of their rights.

    This Clause, I think, will require most careful consideration in Committee. It contains the obnoxious phrase "as soon as may be," and it seems to me to make no clear provision for those released from the Forces under Class B or under compassionate release. They are still technically members of the Forces. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, for the purpose of this Clause, they are to be regarded as civilians—soldiers who have been demobilised—or as Service voters? If they come in either category, it is quite true that if they make the necessary application, they can get on the register, but that point ought to be put beyond doubt, and again I ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps are to be taken to bring to the notice of those concerned their rights under this Clause.

    I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with one or two other points on this Clause. As I see it, a man who joined the Army at 18 and was discharged after 30th June, 1945, for medical or other reasons, and who comes of age before December, cannot get on the supplementary register. He will not get a vote until he is nearly 22. The cases may not be numerous, but the responsibility for that will rest upon hon. Gentlemen opposite. Clause 6 also provides a complete loop—hole for the registration officer, for it provides that, "so far as is reasonably practicable," he has to secure that there is no duplication of entry. I take the view that, as far as possible, there should be no double entry, and I think the insertion of those words in an Act of Parliament is really providing adequate cover for a multiplicity of mistakes. I put this further point. Would a man now on the civilian register, who is called up after 30th June, 1945, have to apply to be placed on the absent voters list under Clause 6, in order to record his vote, or will there be some way of transferring him to the Service register? If he is to be treated as a civilian absent voter, although in the Services, what machinery will there be for getting all the election documents to him? I regard that part of this Bill as entirely unsatisfactory. I think we should go back to the 1943 Act, which the Lord President commended so highly, with its two months' qualification period and its continuous registration. Alternatively, I think we should go back to the prewar system where the registration officer had to make, in the words of the Statute a

    "house to house or other sufficient inquiry " before compiling his list. I hope that we shall soon be able to go back to that system, which did not lead to such criticisms as came from all sides, about the register during the last General Election.

    In addition to that, I ask the right hon. Gentleman, even now, to take some steps to make the Service register a matter of automatic registration. I take the view that this Bill, with its complexities—and it really means that you have to understand the 1943, 1944 and I945 Acts to see where you stand—does nothing to help the Service voter, but puts a series of obstacles in his path. How is he to understand where he applies for the supplementary register? How the Minister is going to get the information across to him I do not quite know, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether, even now, he could not make it automatic registration, as recommended by the Speaker's Conference.

    I want to say a word or two about the temporary provisions for voting by post and by proxy. There is, apparently, no provision for voting by post when absent on holiday. Are we to have again unduly prolonged elections in different parts of the country because of absence on holiday? Clause 6 has to be read with Clause 20, and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman confirmed that in introducing the Bill. While I welcome the extension of facilities for postal voting and for voting by proxy, I must confess that I think that Clause 6, coupled with Clause 20, will lead to extraordinary anomalies and difficulties, especially for the registration officer. As I understand these two Clauses, if a person moves from one rural parish to another in the same division, that person will be entitled to record a vote by post/ but if a person moves from one metropolitan borough to another, although his two houses may be miles apart, that person would not be able to vote by post, but would have to travel to vote.

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    That is not quite accurate. The Bill says that "two contiguous metropolitan boroughs" make an area. If we take Wandsworth and Battersea, they are contiguous, and anyone removing from any part of Wandsworth to Battersea would not have the right to vote by post. But, in the case of a removal from Wandsworth to a borough not contiguous to Wandsworth, although a metropolitan borough, the voter would be able to vote by post.

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    I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I had made a slip about that, and I appreciate that they have to be contiguous metropolitan boroughs. I hope that, in the Committee stage, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us whether the influence of the Thames has any effect on this distinction, and whether, in law, Wandsworth or Battersea could be regarded as contiguous to Westminster or Chelsea, though that, I think can be reserved for another day. With regard to Birmingham, there will be no facilities, as I see it, for anyone still residing in the city of Birmingham, to obtain facilities for postal voting, although it is a very large city. But, if you are living on the edge of Birmingham and move 100 yards into another borough beside it, you will be able to vote by post. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated the difficulties, but the fact that these difficulties arise under this Bill do not make one very much in favour of the Bill on that point, I do however welcome any facilities provided for blind and physically incapable people and I am sure that part of the Bill will meet' with support from all sides of the House. At the same time one must ask why are not these facilities extended to local elections? Why are not the blind and physically incapable given the same facilities for voting in local elections? Perhaps we can have an answer on that some time today.

    I appreciate the full force of what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to jurors' lists. One knows the great difficulties there have been in summoning jurors, but these books will again be based on the register compiled in the way the General Election register was made and I cannot believe that these books will be extremely reliable or very accurate. Bearing in mind that the real content of this Bill is to make provision for the extension of a system of registration, which has met with nothing but criticism since it was introduced, a system of registration not based on residence, but based solely upon where you happen to be registered for buying your food rations; bearing in mind that that is the purpose, and that no provision is made here for the Service man being placed on the register without a lot of trouble to himself; also bearing in mind that although the right hon. Gentleman has selected one of the Speaker's Conference recommendations, he has omitted to implement now any of the others—for all these reasons I desire to move the Amendment on the Paper.

    4.33 p.m.

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    My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has put forward a great deal of constructive criticism of this Bill. The criticism I have to put forward relates entirely to form and is, I must confess, destructive. I have a bad headache, caused entirely by attempting to understand this Bill. I suggest that the form of our work in this House should be perfect, and this foggy Bill appears to be very far from perfect. It is especially important, bearing in mind the subject matter with which it purports to deal, that the wording of this Bill should be made as clear as possible. The Bill deals with important democratic rights, including the right to vote, which is the very essence of democracy. To that extent, this Bill, although it may not have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that it is so, is the lineal descendant of the great Reform Act. It contains a penal Clause, by which people can be punished for failure to obey its provisions and if they do not know exactly what its terms are, attempts by the courts to punish them are likely to be made entirely nugatory. In regard to jurors it is the lineal descendant of Magna Charta—and is in parimateria with it.

    The form of this Bill is bad. I am supposed to be learned in the law and I have made really serious attempts to understand it, but I find that it is unintelligible and muddling. It does not even say what the right hon. Gentleman intends that it should say. Take as an example Clause I. Clause I, according to the right hon. Gentleman, is intended to have the effect that the registers should remain in force until 15th October, 1946. No scanning by the ordinary citizen of the Clause would give him such information, or anything like it. The criticism which these days can be levelled on those lines at this Bill is criticism which can be made of, at any rate, two-thirds of the Bills which come before this House; and I am perfectly conscious of the fact that the speech I am making now is one I might have made on almost any Bill introduced since I had the honour to become a Member of the House. But this particular Bill appears to me to provide an outstanding example of this unfortunate symptom. It is mainly for this Government to decide, aided and criticised by the Opposition, whether they are to go down in history as the Government which restored the health of the body politic or as the Government which gave headaches to the citizens by the inferior quality of its legislation. Almost every jurist and every judge who has sat on the bench, and that eminent student of Parliamentary procedure, Dr. C. K. Allen, have agreed that one of the worst vices of legislation is legisation by reference.

    Of the 24 Clauses of this Bill 19 contain legislation by reference. Having pointed that out to the right hon. Gentleman, I suggest he may care to think once again, before he presses forward with the Bill in its present form. Not only is there legislation by reference, but legislation by reference to no less than eight previous Acts of Parliament; and anyone who solved the jig-saw puzzle which the right hon. Gentleman has created and correlated this Bill with all the previous legislation indicated, would be a genius. Indeed I admire the mental agility of those who drew up this Bill, and had to think out its details.

    The question we have to consider is whether the rights and obligations the Bill creates are likely to be understood by the people who will have to obey them, or will benefit by them; and in particular whether these rights will be understood by the seafaring men who are intended to benefit by them. One realises that there must occasionally be legislation of a technical or temporary kind; and when there is such legislation an Explanatory Memorandum might possibly seem to be justified. Surely the subject matter of this Bill is, however, of such fundamental importance that it should not be made the subject of temporary legislation. In speaking of the Explanatory Memorandum, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, not only for this occasion but for others as well, that these memoranda have no binding effect in law, that judges are not bound by the law of England to take judicial notice of them, and that it is possible they may cause confusion. Surely, it would be far better to ensure that each Statute, as it becomes law, is in itself intelligible.

    I make no apology for criticising only the form and not the substance of this Bill, for the very simple reason that they arc one and the same thing. Unless the form is intelligible the Bill will have no substance, or at any rate no one will be able to tell what the substance is. I hope it is not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this whole matter. It is a vastly important matter; and if he will in this outstanding case of an unfortunate piece of legislation, so to speak, "come clean" —I am sure that in his present office he will understand the expression—the public will appreciate it and will be reassured that Parliament is not going to inflict this sort of thing upon them indefinitely and that we are intent upon ensuring that when we do a job, we do it well.

    4.41 p.m.

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    I do not propose to detain the House a long time but there are one or two observations which I wish to make on this very important Bill. I support the Government wholeheartedly in the main provisions of this temporary Measure, and I would like to emphasise, in view of remarks of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) that it is in this Bill stated, as he said it was stated in previous Measures, that the provisions are temporary. He will find, in looking at the Bill, that the heading of Clause I of the Bill is:

    "Temporary provisions as to electoral registration."
    As regards the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, it also states that Clause 2 is to extend Section I of the Parliamentary Electors Act, 1944, until 31st December, 1946. Therefore, I hardly think it can be said that this Bill is brought forward, extending these wartime temporary Measures for an indefinite period, because in its main provisions, it is stated that they are temporary.

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    One looks at the content of the Clause. Is there one word in Clause I which puts a time limit on it?

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    I quite agree with the hon. Member that in Clause I of the Bill no date is stated, but he remarked that in previous Measures dealing with the question of registration it had been stated that they were temporary. I am pointing out that it is stated in this Bill that the provisions as to electoral registration laid down in Clause I are temporary provisions and in Clause 2 that it is to continue up to December, 1946. I, think the Government are right in making these temporary provisions in view of the difficulties which are going to exist, up to the end of 1946. I consider it would have been unwise in that period of resettlement and reconstruction, in the initial period after the war, to reintroduce immediately the residence qualifications. I think it is quite clear that in the period in which we are living, and particularly in the next 12 months during the period of demobilisation from the Armed Forces, there will be considerable movement of population in the country. People have not settled down in the places in which they intend to live; there are still large numbers of evacuees who are going back to their home towns; large numbers of men and women are being demobilised from the Forces; people are compelled to live in places in which they do not in the future intend to live because of the difficulties and prospects of accommodation. Therefore, the reintroduction of the residence qualification would have been a bad thing in this immediate period.

    However, I am glad that a time limit has been put on in Clause 2 with regard to the method of making up the electoral register, namely 31st December, 1946. In addition, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stated, there is the difficulty of clerical staff in regard to the making up of the complete register along the old lines and I think it is questionable, particularly as put forward by some hon. Members, whether we should decide that staff—even though it should be a very small number of clerks involved— should, at this period, be put on to the job of making up the register in a more complicated way, when industry and so on are crying out about the great need for their assistance in reconstruction.

    One point which I would put forward very strongly to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in regard to the register on which the General Election was fought this year, and the type of register that is now to be made up under this Bill in 1946. There were many problems and grievances arising out of it, not so much because of the provisions or methods by which it is made up, but because of sheer administrative inefficiency, or what I regard as administrative inefficiency, in matters of detail. It was a widespread scandal in regard to the register on which the Election was fought in July that on a host of matters of detail small mistakes had been made by those who made up the register. Children in their teens, well under the age permitted by the law to vote, were included on the register; there were many duplications, misspelling of names, and a host of minor details which showed that the register had been made up in a great hurry without due attention to detail. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will see to it that, when the next register is made on the same lines in 1946, special instruct- tions are issued to see that more attention is paid to the detailed matters which were overlooked in very many cases in regard to the last register.

    There is one final point on which I feel very strongly, and on which I agree with some of the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Daventry, namely, on the Clause dealing with the Service voters. I think the greatest scandal of all in regard to the register on which the General Election was fought was the fact that the vast majority of the Servicemen did not get on to the register, that they did not understand how the register had been made up, that large numbers of them were never given the opportunity to get on to that register, that many of them took the opportunity and the correct ways of getting on that register and still never got on to it, and never found out why they did not get on; and there was no means of redress for the Serviceman who, although he had taken all the correct actions in filling up Army Form B.2626 and sending it off to the registration officer, still found that something had gone wrong in the process and his name was left out. In the constituency I represent, much less than 50 per cent. of the Servicemen actually got on to the register. It is proposed in this Bill to continue the same methods in regard to the Service register and the supplementary register under Clause 3 of the Bill as were laid down for Servicemen to get on to the last register. I consider that an unfortunate aspect of this Bill and I agree with the hon. Member for Daventry when he says that it should not be a method of contracting- for the Serviceman, at any rate when there is no longer a wartime situation, to be able to get his vote, but it should be administratively possible for the Serviceman, from all the records which the Services have of him, which every unit has, which the Army records offices have, to get his vote without having to fill in a postcard and send it off.

    What I am particularly concerned about is that for the purposes of the register next year there is now, with the announcement of the Second Reading of this Bill in this House, only the period between now and 31st December of this year for a Serviceman who was not on the register in July, 1944, to get on to the register which will be made up in February, 1946. Otherwise he "will have had it," as they say in the Army, up to the end of Decem- ber, 1946, unless he gets a postcard and fills it in. What about the man far away in the overseas Forces, in S.E.A.C., in the C.M.F.? What about units who have not got any Army forms B. 2626 when the man applies? There is a very short period of time allowed, and I feel that some special effort should be made, as this decision has been taken to continue the supplementary register for the Serviceman along these lines, to give publicity immediately to those people. For those Servicemen who did not get on to the register for the General Election, special measures will have to be taken by the Service Departments to see that the necessary forms are available and publicised as being available, so that within the next month we may have some assurance that the Servicemen will get on to the supplementary register to be made up next year. Otherwise, we shall have exactly the same grievances in 1946 in the case of elections affecting Servicemen as we had in the General Election of 1945. As the Government have not found it possible to come to the conclusion that some other administrative method should be devised to put Servicemen on to a Services supplementary register without their having to fill in forms and make application to get on that register, I appeal to the Home Secretary to start immediately a publicity campaign, particularly for the overseas Forces, to see that the forms are made available, and to see that it is made clear to the Servicemen that they have to fill in those forms and get them to their registration officers by 31st December, 1945, if they are not to lose any opportunity to vote which may be their privilege in the year 1946.

    5.55 p.m.

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    Like the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Captain Swingler) T and all other hon. Members have had hundreds of complaints from people who thought they ought to be on the register and found at the time of the election that they were not. However, I shall not pursue that point but deal with rather a different question. It is this, that any register set up under this Bill will, like all registers in the past, be, so far as hundreds if not thousands of electors in the North of Scotland and the Highlands and Islands are concerned, a complete and utter farce. The truth is that their names are put on the register but they are left in a position in which it "is absolutely impossible for them to exercise their vote.

    I must explain to hon. Members that the machinery in Scotland is slightly different from that in England. Under Section 43 of the Representation of the People Act, 1945, the Returning Officer in Scotland has the duty of dividing the constituency into polling districts so as to give all the electors as reasonable facilities for voting as are practicable. Under Section 31 (2) a local authority in Scotland, or a body of not less than 30 electors, may represent to the Returning Officer that the polling districts do not meet the reasonable needs of the electors in the constituency. Furthermore, if the Returning Officer does not give them satisfaction, the Lord Advocate—I am sorry he is not here for the moment—has the power to direct the Returning Officer to make such alterations as he considers necessary. That does not mean that 30 electors in a community, however isolated it may be, can automatically get into the polling booth by discretion of the Returning Officer, or even by invoking the aid of the Lord Advocate. That is far from being the case because, lurking in the background, is the Treasury, which keeps a very watchful eye on the Consolidated Fund, out of which has to be borne the cost of setting up polling facilities.

    I do not know if it is laid down in any Statute or in any public Regulations what number of electors is held to justify the setting up of a separate polling district. I have been told that the Treasury looks very closely at any proposal to set up a polling district with less than 500 electors in it. I know that exceptions have been made, however, and that there are districts with a smaller number, but, in spite of this, there are many areas in the Highlands and Islands where the electors are, and always have been, virtually disenfranchised. This is particularly the case in certain parts of the Highlands and Islands and in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, the islands of Orkney and Shetland, which consist of some 60 inhabited islands, large and small, spread over a very wide area of the ocean. It happens more particularly where a polling district comprises more than one island, in which case the electors have to cross the sea to record their votes. The Corrupt and Illegal Practises Preven- tion Act, 1883, has a great deal to say on the subject of the conveyance of voters to the poll, Section 7 of which says:
    "No payment shall, for the purpose of promoting the election of a candidate. … be made—
    (a) on account of the conveyance of electors to or from the poll; whether for the hiring of horses or carriages, or for railway fares, or otherwise;"
    If a candidate pays any of these expenses, he is guilty of an illegal practice which entails certain consequences. Amongst others, his election becomes void, he is precluded from standing again for an election during the life of that Parliament, his name is struck off the register of electors for five years, and he is liable to a fine of £100. All of which goes to show that Parliament, in passing that Act, took a very serious view of what was or was not an undesirable practice. Having established that very salutary principle, Section 48 of the same Act proceeds to drive a coach and horses through it, by the way it deals with the conveyance of electors who have to cross the sea to record their votes. Section 48 says:
    "Where the nature of a county is such that any electors residing therein are unable at an election for such county to reach their polling place without crossing the sea or a branch or arm of the sea, this Act shall not prevent the provision of means for conveying such electors by sea to their polling place, and the amount of such payment for such means of conveyance may be in addition to the maximum amount of expenses allowed by this Act."
    In other words, candidates are permitted to indulge in a practice which, elsewhere in the Act, is condemned, and rightly condemned, as illegal.

    There are some points which I want to bring to the notice of the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland with regard to Section 48. It is one of the most extraordinary provisions that has ever found its way on to the Statute Book. He will note that provision is only made for the conveyance of voters to polling places across the sea. In one case in my constituency it is 25 miles across the sea, and in another case, 16 miles. Having conveyed them across the sea to the polling place, you have done all that the Act permits. You are not permitted to take them home again; so presumably, having commandeered the only steamer available, and having taken voters from Fair Isle to Sumburgh to record their vote, you leave them there to find their own way home, which would have to be by swimming, as you have got the only steamer.

    Another point to which I would draw at tention is that under Section 48 there is no limit upon the amount which a candidate may spend in providing transport for the conveyance of voters across the sea. There is no limit except the length of the can didate's purse, because Section 48 says that the amount paid for the provision of such transport may be added to the maximum expenses allowed by the Act. The worst thing of all I think is this: In the Act as it now stands, it is perfectly legal for a wealthy candidate to hire the only available steamer, or other means of transport, and to use it exclusively for the conveyance of his own known supporters. I think that is a shocking thing, and one of the reasons why I am intervening in this Debate is, because I think it ought to be stopped, and that something should be done under this Bill to deal with that matter.

    All sorts of interesting situations have arisen since that Act was passed. What would be the position if I could get hold of a few ducks,'' or amphibious vehicles as a means of conveyance for electors in my constituency? I would be doing something illegal while the vehicle was going over land, but when we got to the sea, everything would be all right. Then again, what is the position in regard to aircraft? Am I allowed to hire an aeroplane to convey voters from one island to another? I think that the law ought to be made absolutely equal for everybody in this respect. In no circumstances, what so-ever, should a candidate be allowed to pay any part of the expenses of conveying voters to the poll either by land, sea or air. Neither should any candidate be expected to bear the cost of conveying voters to the poll across the sea, just because the returning officer, backed up by the Lord Advocate and the Treasury, thinks that it would cost too much, or that it would be too difficult to provide people with facilities which they ought to have for exercising their vote, by setting up separate polling stations on islands containing less than a certain number of electors. Equally we ought not to have any body of electors disfranchised solely because of their geographical situation.

    The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will want to know whether there is any practical solution to these difficulties. I certainly do not advocate a solution by setting up polling stations on every island. There are certain practical difficulties in connection with that, with which I am very familiar, but it is not necessary to my argument to go into them now. It would not be a practical solution. Nor do I think the difficulty could be got over, in every case, by providing transport. In the last election, had it not been for the good offices of the Admiralty, and the Admiral commanding in the Orkney and Shetland, a great many more of my constituents would not have been able to get to the poll. There happened to be a large number of craft available at the islands, and the Admiral very kindly placed them at our disposal, but in normal times we cannot command enough transport in the islands to see that these people get to their polling places. There is another objection to transport, and that is the distance between some of these islands—in some cases a 25-mile journey each way. A 50-mile journey across the North Sea in something not much bigger than a herring boat in mid-winter is not a pleasing experience, nor is it one to ask women to undertake. In any case, small boats of that kind, even if they work throughout the day, cannot convey all the electors; it is physically impossible to do it. The real solution, I think, is to embody in this Bill a provision that when the nature of a county is such that any electors re-siding therein are unable, at an election for that county, to reach their polling place without crossing the sea, or a branch or arm of the sea, they shall be entitled to vote by proxy or by post.

    That is a simple practical solution and I see nothing in this Bill to prevent that provision being incorporated, and it would be a very good thing. It would relieve candidates of a very heavy expense. It costs a lot to hire a steamer, and it should be no part of a candidate's expense to provide transport for electors. It would prevent the possibility of candidates, under Section 48 of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, from indulging in practices entirely contrary to the real spirit of that Act. Section 48 of that Act puts a doubtful and very dubious legal respectability on the candidate in regard to matters which ought to be considered as entirely illegal. Finally, if this could be done, it would redress a very long-standing grievance with which the Scottish Office is perfectly familiar and about which nothing has been done to put it right. It would remove a grievance affecting hundreds or thousands of electors who are permanently disfranchised at the present time.

    5.10 p.m.

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    While giving general approval to the Bill, there are two or three points upon which I would like: to have a reply from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I must support the plea of the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Captain Swingler) for further simplification with regard to the registration of Service voters. I can, as one of His Majesty's "other ranks," speak with some authority on the difficulty of Service voters. It might interest the Joint Under-Secretary to know that for a period on the Continent, I served under the command of the hon. Member for Stafford, and so I can vouch for the statement that was made.

    The Bill makes it appear to be a very simple matter. It would appear from Clause 3 (2) that all a Serviceman had to do was to fill in a card, and that no other duties were necessary. I want to inform the Under-Secretary that that is not the case. Servicemen on many occasions made application for this particular form— B.2626—only to find that it could not be obtained at their company office, and on many occasions when the forms were filled in, and the cards returned, it was found that a Serviceman was not on the electoral register. There was some mix-up, which was reflected in the voters' register on which the last election was fought, and I think that it was a fair plea made by the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) when he asked that we might have a simplification so far as the register of. Service voters was concerned.

    It does say, that unless the Serviceman makes his application by December of this year he will not be included in the new roll. I would like some assurance from the Minister that failing that registration, or failing a supply of forms, Servicemen will be placed on the roll subsequent to December of this year. I think that is only asking what is fair to the Serviceman, because I can assure the Minister that conditions are not always such, that registration of a vote is the first concern of the ordinary Service man or woman.

    My next point is with regard to hospital patients. I welcome the effort to register people at present incapacitated, but it is not always possible for even the wisest voter to know when he is going to be incapacitated, and that means that thousands of people in this country, in hospital on a given date, are prevented from registering their vote. When one considers how few opportunities there have been in recent years for recording votes, I think it becomes the duty of the Government to introduce legislation which would give an opportunity to people in hospital to vote on the day that polling takes place. I would like a reply from the hon. Gentleman on that point.

    There is one other point which is purely a Scottish matter, to which, I trust, the Lord Advocate will give some attention. It is that part of the Bill dealing with sheriffs and their duties. There is one problem we have in Scotland which is not applicable to England, that is, the rigidity with which we enforce the matter of the cross only being on the exact place on the ballot paper. The Scottish Office has had its attention drawn to the fact that in my constituency of Leith 375 papers were spoiled by the incompetency of a presiding officer, who marked the voters' numbers on the ballot paper, instead of on the counterfoil. We paid that person £3 3s to sit and spoil the votes of every voter who came to his polling station that day.

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    For whom were the votes cast?

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    I can safely assume that 75 per cent. of them were votes for me. Inasmuch as the majority was 9,500 it was not serious at that time, but it might have been serious if Leith had had its old Member back, instead of myself. I suggest that when the Minister replies he should certainly have something to say on this point. I am not complaining about the returning officer of that day, who was very scrupulous and fair in every detail, and who attempted to have his staff as competent as it was possible for any one man to make it. But I suggest that where a voter has made his intention known, it should be left to the discretion of the returning officer to see that his vote is not declared invalid.

    5.17 p.m.

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    There are many provisions of this Bill with which I and my hon. Friends are in general agreement, but it is quite clear, although I dislike saying so, that it is a slipshod Bill and it does not go far enough in many ways. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and I welcome the information, that a Departmental Committee is to be set up to deal with other recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. I hope that that committee will not confine itself to all the matters of the Speaker's Conference, but that it will go a little way outside those terms. In particular, I hope that the committee will notice that Proportional Representation seems to have had a great success in Europe during the last few weeks. Even in Norway there was, under that system, a success which hon. Members opposite would appreciate—a clear Labour majority. I would ask the Minister to watch how Proportional Representation is working in other countries of the world, because it is a thing to which we shall have to turn our attention. From my own position as a Liberal, it appears to be unfair that 2,225,000 votes should be cast, to be rewarded by only I0 seats in the representative Assembly of the people. We make no plea as a minority, but it does indicate that the present system is unjust and unfair. We can draw the conclusion that each seat cost the Liberal Party 220,000 votes, as against 30,000 or 40,000 in the case of other parties; but we do not want to draw the conclusion that we are four or five times better than anybody else.

    Turning to the contents of the Bill, it has been stated by the Home Secretary that the present register, under the present arrangements, will be valid only up to 31st December of this year, and that every election after that would, under the old arrangements, have required the provision of an ad hoc register for the purpose of any by-election or General Election which was to take place. I believe I am right in saying that when these ad hoc registers were introduced in 1943 they were generally welcomed as being a method of dealing with the problem of the stale register. The problem of the stale register and the disfranchisement of the people of this country is one which I do not feel this Bill tackles adequately. I emphasise the word "adequately." The Bill does attempt to solve the problem, but it does not go far enough. I believe I am also right in saying that under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, provision was made for two registers a year. Under the economy measures of 1926 this was again put back to an annual register system. This Bill, as I understand it, reverts to the 1926 principle, and that means that, normally, we shall have a new register every year, although in the case of the first so-called year the period is approximately I5 months; so that under these arrangements as contemplated by this Bill, we shall have with us the problem of the stale register and the problem of the disfranchisement of the people.

    I would reinforce what has been said from these benches today already, that the vote is a very precious thing, and I believe that all Members will agree that it was a delightful thing to see the value which the electorate of this country placed upon this vote in the General Election. It was something which, coming back after many years overseas, cheered me immensely, and gave new strength to my belief in democracy. We must regard the vote as a precious thing, and accept the responsibility we have, as representatives of the people, to make certain that they obtain their votes with the minimum difficulty in the places in which they reside. This Bill makes provision to assist certain classes of people to obtain their vote. First, there are the persons who have ceased to be members of the Forces or seamen between June and December, 1945. They can be put on a civilian supplementary register in the constituency in which they reside. Secondly, we have been told that members of the Forces, seamen and war workers from abroad can make declarations in the same period, which is getting very short now, and they too can be put upon a supplementary register. Thirdly, persons who are incapacitated or who are blind can be given the privilege of absent voting. On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself I welcome those provisions very much indeed. But we do not feel that the fourth provision, namely, that of allowing people who have moved from one part of the country to another, to be placed upon the absent voters list, is any solution to the problem at all. It is not nearly good enough.

    On the last qualifying date for this register, which was 30th June, the war in Europe had scarcely ended, and the Japanese war was not over. Since then, war workers and evacuees have been moving from one part of the country to another. It is fair to say that this movement of population will inevitably increase, or at least it will continue for a considerable time. If this is a temporary Bill that fact is no argument, for over the next year or two, this movement—as the result of the conversion of industry, the switch-over of jobs, the housing problem, men coming back on demobilisation, picking up their wives and families who have been staying with relations, and going to another town—is bound to continue for a considerable time. It is no solution whatever for those civilians who move from one place to another, war-workers in this country, etc., to be told that they can still vote in the place which they have left, the place where they have been living perhaps for part of the war, a place in which they have no longer any interest.

    There is a further anomaly where a demobilised man comes back, and takes his wife from the town in which she has been living to reside elsewhere. As I understand the Bill, he can get on to the supplementary register without difficulty and can vote where he is residing. It is difficult to understand this Bill but I take it that his wife is only entitled to vote by post in the constituency which they have left. That seems to me to be a very wrong situation, which it would not be difficult to put right. This Bill, as it stands, is designed for static conditions, and a Bill which is to deal with the next two years must cater for this great problem of movement from one part of the country to another in order to ensure that the vote, which is a very precious thing, is given to every person entitled to it, with the minimum difficulty. I, therefore, suggest that every citizen who moves from one part of the country to another should be included on the supplementary register in the same way as Service men and women. I cannot see that any great difficulties would be involved in such a system. After all, one still has to make an application if one wants to be put on the absent voters list but that application, as I understand the matter, is made at the place which one has left.

    We are asking that one should make a similar application to be put on the supplementary register of the place to which one has gone. I cannot believe it would be difficult to confer such a privilege upon people who are moving round. If necessary, it would be a good idea to confine the qualifying period to two months residence in the new place. It will undoubtedly be advanced as an argument against this proposal that there will be duplication of the registers. I do not feel that that is a problem which cannot be solved. I believe it is an administrative detail, which I believe can be dealt with by a system of cross-checking, such as will be undertaken in the case of the other supplementary registers. The desire to achieve this will depend on the value which the Government set upon the citizens of this country having their vote in the right place, at all costs.

    The ideal solution, if we are to get over this question of stale registers, is to have two registers a year, as we had before the 1926 economy enactment, and that all people who have moved during that period should be entitled to inclusion in a supplementary register compiled more frequently than the present one. I say that is the ideal solution. I put it forward in order to emphasise the importance which we on these benches attribute to the possession of a vote. I believe the minimum we should accept is one register a year, but that all people who move should be entitled, instead of being relegated to the absent voters' list, to be included in a supplementary register that enables them to have a vote in the constituency in which they have resided for a two months qualifying period. That would solve a great many of the problems which will, inevitably, arise.

    May I say, finally, how strongly I reinforce, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, the pressure which is being put upon the Home Secretary to do away with this contracting-in system in the case of the Service votes, and to get down to an automatic system? It ought to be possible to introduce such a system when one considers that it is a matter of administration. I do not believe that this Government need be frightened of administration, but. I hope they will not in any way refuse to give the people the very best possible service and every opportunity for using the votes to which they are entitled in places where they reside, and that matters of administrative detail will not prevent any of the people of this country from having the right to vote.

    5.30 p.m.

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    The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down will, I am sure, forgive me if I do not follow him in all that he has said, although, if I may say so, he has given a very lucid and remarkably well reasoned speech upon this Bill, and has said something which many of us— perhaps most of us—were very glad to hear. I was very glad to hear his plea that the Committee set up by the right hon. Gentleman might go a little beyond what seemed to be its terms of reference, and inquire into the question of voting. After all, this Bill deals with very important matters— the right of every citizen to vote for the Imperial Parliament, and the right of every man to be tried by his peers under the jury system. A more important Bill introduced into this House one could scarcely conceive, and I hope that, in the spirit of the times, the Bill will be interpreted liberally, and that those responsible for it will find themselves able and willing to accept the strong views of the House.

    The last matter to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, and which was eloquently dealt with earlier by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Captain Swingler), is that Service men and women should be able to exercise their right to vote. They did not have that privilege during the recent General Election, and it was by no means entirely their fault. There were plenty of cases in which Service people went to the trouble of filling up the prescribed form, and yet were never given the opportunity to vote. It would be a tragedy, if an opportunity were not afforded to every Service man and woman to vote. That is the desire of the country and of the House. There is another thing to be said about it. No matter how far the system of demobilisation is accelerated, if it were much more speedy than it is, and as speedy as I wish it to be, there is bound to be a certain sense of frustration among those who are awaiting their turn, and if, by any chance, in addition to their extended service with the Forces, they found themselves deprived of their rights as citizens the position would be a grievous one indeed. Here, then, is an opportunity for reducing that possibility.

    Then I would like to refer to classes of people who have not yet been mentioned in this Debate in connection with the subject of absent voters. Perhaps I may state my own case. I had the privilege of fighting five Parliamentary elections, but I have not had the privilege of voting at one. I was obliged to be away from the constituency in which I live, in order to contest my seat. I do not see why it should not be arranged that Parliamentary candidates who have to be away contesting constituencies, should be able to exercise their votes by post. I think it ought to be permissible, as indeed it ought to be for learned judges and barristers on circuit, and even for people who are engaged in travelling for commerce. They are not the least intelligent section of the community. If the intention is, as it ought to be, that everybody who is entitled to vote should be able to vote, I believe it is the duty of the Government to make it easy for those people to vote, even if there were some errors in the registration list. If within a few days of an election a person can validly prove that he is entitled to vote, I cannot see why it is not possible to enable him to do so. Surely these matters ought to be subject to common sense as well as to all kinds of legal formulae.

    I desire to say one word about the second part of the Bill, and about something which, unfortunately, is not in it. The compilation of the jurors' list is, again, a very important matter, and people are called upon to render great service. We have every reason to be proud in this country of our system of justice, and recent events in other places have, I think, made many of us more thankful than ever for the broad, fair and incorruptible system of justice that is administered for us and to us. Jurors obviously have to play a great part in that, but it is a very difficult part for a large number of people. Take, for instance, the average court of justice. The only persons whose expenses are not paid in that court, apart perhaps from an accused person, are the members of the jury. The judges, the legal people engaged and the reporters receive salaries. there are witnesses' expenses, and even the messenger boys are paid, but business men who are often compelled to close down their businesses or engage additional help, have to be in the courts for many days to discharge their duties without any kind of recompense or out-of-pocket expenses. They, and perhaps they only, in the court are the people who might have a rankling sense of injustice. I know it is customary at the end of a long trial for the judge to give exemption to the jury for some years, but I would point out that jurors may actually be in court for much longer periods than that. They may be called at the beginning of an assize; they may have to attend each day and yet not go into the jury box until three or four days have elapsed. If they only sit two days, their period of service and of being away from their business is longer than that of people who may sit at a noted trial.

    I not only want the jury service to be continued as an integral part of the administration of justice, I want it to be cheerfully given. Some of us are aware of the way in which great bodies of trades-people at their conferences have, now and then, pressed for exemption from jury service. I have never thought that to be the way out. I want these people to have the opportunity and the privilege of serving upon juries, but I believe there is a case for paying them reasonable expenses. In these days nearly everybody is paid for everything he does. Why should not these people, who render very important and indispensible service, be recompensed for out of pocket expenses? I hope that at some time that matter can be dealt with.

    That is all I desire to say upon this Bill. I hope some of the points that have been pressed by Members of this House will be conceded. I am quite sure they will be considered, but that is not enough. I want every Service man and woman put on the register. They have more right than anyone. We owe to them a debt which, as long as we live, we shall never be able to pay, and the least we can do is to see that they have their opportunity of deciding who shall represent them and what policies they want to be the policies of the country. I hope something may be done to give to those who, like myself, have to fight elections a good way from home an opportunity to register their votes. It will be a great day when I can register my first Parliamentary vote. I hope it will not be suggested that those of us who had the privilege of being voted for by scores of thousands of people are themselves not competent to vote. Why a Parliamentary candidate should not be able to send his vote by proxy or by post I do not know. I hope at some time— not in this Bill, perhaps, but at some time—the service of jurors to the community will be recognised, and a reasonable reinbursement of their expenses granted.

    5.40 p.m.

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    I will not detain the House long, but I want to put in a plea for a very special class of person. I refer to nuns in enclosed orders —nuns who have taken vows of perpetual seclusion in a convent. I speak entirely without prejudice in this matter because I am a member of the Established Church, and I have not been approached by any Catholic interest. It so happens that there is a nunnery in my constituency, and all the candidates at the Election were approached to see if anything could be done to get proxy votes for the nuns, who are unable to leave the convent. Of course, we were not able to do anything about it. I imagine the number involved is very small. I cannot understand any principle which draws a distinction between those who are trying to cure our bodies, and those who are trying to cure our souls. I would like the hon. Gentleman who replies to give some indication of whether he will put in an Amendment so that this special class of people can be included in Clause 6.

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    Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there are communities of women in the Established Church, and that such communities are not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church?

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    I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised that point. I hope these communities will be included in the manner I have indicated.

    5.42 p.m.

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    It seems to me there are two things about this Bill which are bad, and one which is good. The two things which I regard as bad are that we are continuing with this very unsatisfactory register, and that once again we are continuing without a qualifying period. The point which I regard as satisfactory is the fact that the method of postal voting has at last been extended. I am sure the lack of it inflicted great hardship in the past. With regard to this question of the register, on which we fought the last election, we are today being asked by the Home Secretary to continue that system. I very much doubt whether there is in any part of this House any Member who during the election did not have some complaints about that register and the omissions from it. We all know, from our own knowledge, a number of cases of men and women who have lived in places all their lives and reached advanced years, and yet were left off the register. I myself know one polling district of considerable size in which all the people whose names began with "H" were automatically left off the register. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs, and I suggest that this House should be very slow to perpetuate a system of that sort. It was the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Health who said, when the Act of 1944 was being debated in this House:

    "Yes, if a Labour Government cause conditions which make people dissatisfied, that dissatisfaction should find expression in the election. It is essential that we should arrange our system of election so that no considerable body of citizens is prevented from having a vote at an election." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, I944; Vol. 40I, c. 633.]
    That is exactly what we are being asked to do today. We are being asked to continue this system which, we know from the experience of the election, will result in a large number of citizens being disfranchised.

    Although I agree with a great deal that was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Captain Swingler), especially concerning Service voters, I am afraid I was not in agreement with him on one matter. He suggested that at times like these, when we are short of men for many tasks, it would be asking rather a lot to put on the extra men to enable us to go back to the old system which we know was satisfactory. I consider, and other hon. Members feel the same, that the right of the citizen to vote is very important and should not be taken from him lightly. I suggest that this House needs extremely good reasons before it decides to go on with a system which we know has deprived a number of citizens of their democratic right to vote.

    Now, let me come to the question of the qualifying period, which does not find a place in the Bill. Once again, the qualification to vote depends upon an appointed day. In this country we have long relied upon a system of territorial representation, the Member of Parliament representing a certain area. Other ways have been tried in other countries. There has been a system of Proportional Representation where there is a pool of Members of Parliament, each of whom is not necessarily identified with any particular geographical area. We have had in certain States in Europe, the very objectionable attempt to establish the corporate State, which is representation according to vocation. I am sure that is objectionable to most hon. Members of this House. I believe that our system, by which one man represents a particular area, very often lives there and is well known to most of the people living in that area, is very good. If we are to go on with the system of having an appointed day, and not a residence qualification, we arc endangering our whole system. I regard it as most important that we should re-establish at the earliest possible moment the residence qualification.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) quoted at some length from what the Leader of the House said during a Debate a year ago. I would like to add one further quotation from what he said on this subject, which was:
    "It is only because of the urgency of putting the new arrangements into effect for by-elections that the Government have been prepared to suspend, even as a temporary measure, the requirement of the two months' continual residence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, I944; Vol. 401, c. 613.]
    Hero again, a General Election has been fought on this register. We are asked again today to continue this system which many of us believe to be very bad.

    I should like to come now to what I consider to be good in the Bill. I am glad that the Government have included in it at least one recommendation of the Speaker's Conference, and that is the extension of the personal and proxy vote. Many invalids in the past have been disfranchised and many have come to me or have written to me and asked: "Is there any way in which I can record my vote?" I think it is an excellent thing that this grievance has now been remedied and that those people will now have an opportunity of recording their vote, and of exercising their rights as citizens. There are, however, other recommendations of the Speaker's Conference which it has not been possible, I am very sorry to say, to include in the Bill. We have just heard that a Committee has been set up to consider the matter, and that is very satisfactory, but I do not understand why, if it was possible to include one recommendation it was not possible to include more. After all, the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference are clearly laid down and they were agreed upon at that time. There is not very much controversy about them. I could deal at length with matters which I should like to see included in the Bill. There are, for example, the expenses incurred by outside organisations being included in election expenses. That seems to be to be a very necessary provision. Again, it was suggested by the Speaker's Conference that poll cards should be issued by returning officers. There is also the question of speakers' expenses being allowed.

    One matter which is of the greatest importance, especially in rural areas, is the recommendation about the use of schools and other institutions which are partially or fully maintained. It was recommended that they should on all occasions be made available for political meetings. In the country districts we have considerable difficulty in finding suitable halls or other places in which to hold our meetings. We have felt the difficulty during the war, on account of the large measure of requisitioning, but the difficulty is always there. We cannot tell that the next General Election will be fought in the summer time, as was the last, when we shall be able to make full use of the open air. It is most important that we should have proper places in which to put our views before the electors. Then there is another matter which is equally important for rural areas, the provision of more polling facilities. I believe that those who live in cities and towns do not generally-realise how far some of the unfortunate country voters have