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Electoral Registration Regulations

Volume 441: debated on Wednesday 30 July 1947

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10.15 p.m.

I beg to move:

"That the Electoral Registration Regulations, 1947, dated 2nd July, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 3rd July, be approved."
This Order is to secure that the names which appear on the civilian residents electors' lists, which form the basis of the Civilian Register which will be published on 15th October, shall be treated in a similar manner to the way in which the lists were compiled in prewar days, that is to say, that the persons who are newly qualified, and those who have ceased to be qualified, shall be listed separately. That is necessary in order to facilitate the compilation of the jurors' list for 1948. The House will no doubt be aware that the rating authorities must, for the purpose of compiling a jurors' list, mark off the names of the people who have the requisite qualifications to act as jurors. Last year, which was the first year since 1940 in which a jurors' list was prepared, it was necessary for the rating authority to go through the whole of the names in the civilians' list for the purpose of ascertaining who had the right qualifications. That has already been done. Under the proposal contained in the Motion now before the House, it will only be necessary for the list of newly qualified people to be provided to the local authorities, who will then be able to see whether the newly qualified electors have the necessary qualifications. By that means, a considerable amount of labour will be saved.

10.17 p.m.

There is, in my view, a serious omission in this list. I do not know whether the House will recollect that about three weeks ago I presented a Petition on behalf of a large number of wives, daughters and sisters of serving men in Germany. I have since written to the Home Secretary upon the subject, and have not yet received his reply, but as that was only two or three days ago I could hardly have expected one. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State why it is when this Order, purporting to provide for electoral machinery over the course of the next few months or years, is brought before the House, no mention whatever is made of the position of those English people who are resident overseas, and who, during the General Election in 1945, were unable to vote? It is a serious problem, and the Government ought to give it consideration. I deplore the fact that it has not been found possible to include provision for these people in this Order. I ask that another Order be made to provide it for them.

In this Order provision is made for a Service electors' list, that is to say that every man of the requisite age is entitled to vote overseas. Since the end of the war, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of British women have gone overseas to join their husbands and their relatives. Are they not to be entitled to vote at any forthcoming by-election? We are told that there is a possibility of a General Election in the course of the year——

The noble Lord's proposal could not be carried out without amendment of the Act, and I am afraid that his speech is out of Order.

If it cannot be done by an Order, might I ask the Home Secretary for the amendment of the Act as soon as possible?

No, that is out of Order. We are discussing the Order: the Act cannot be discussed.

I understand that it is within the Act. If that is the case, can it be done by an Order?

I am afraid it is not. i gather that it is not within the Act, and unless the noble Lord can prove to me that I am wrong I am afraid he is out of Order.

I very much regret that I have not the necessary documents with me at the moment to prove that to you, Sir. Therefore, I accept your Ruling. I hope I have made my point and that the Government will consider it.

10.21 p.m.

As I understand it, this provision seeks to continue for one year, with some modifications, the wartime practice whereby the Register of Electors is, in effect, prepared from the food cards instead of from a house to house canvass as was the prewar practice. I would ask the Under-Secretary or the Home Secretary whether he will give an assurance that this is the last time this wartime procedure will be adopted and that in the next Session of Parliament we shall have something different, perhaps on the lines of the recommendations of the Electoral Registration Committee.

10.22 p.m.

I only wish to ask for an explanation of a point on which I am not clear; this is not a subject on which I can say much. On page 2 of this Order it is stated:

"Provided that where since the publication of the register in force the area of a registration unit has been altered, the area of that unit may for the purpose of the publication of the civilian residence electors list be deemed to be the area of the unit as constituted at the date of the publication of the register in force."
I have no particular wish to raise any point in regard to the last words, but I am not used to seeing the words describing the area of a registration unit. It may be that those words are always in these Orders. Is the area of a unit the area of a constituency or of a smaller portion, such as a parish or a polling district? If it is the area of a whole constituency, of a unit of electors, then a very much bigger and different question is raised. I think those words should be explained by a Government spokesman. If it merely means the area of a registration unit, such as a polling district, I think there is nothing really which we can say about it. Probably it is the ordinary alteration of a polling district which may take in rather more or less than before, but we ought to be perfectly clear that it is not referring to a wider area. If it does refer to the wider area of the constituency, I think there ought to be some further explanation. I do not see any great harm in having a new register. I think it is something we all want to have as soon as possible. I would like an explanation on the matter.

The area of a constituency can only be altered by Act of Parliament. Therefore, as there has been no Act of Parliament since the last Register was compiled which has altered the boundaries of constituencies, it is quite clear that this reference must be to some smaller unit, such as a parish, an urban district, a ward or one of those convenient units into which constituencies are sub-divided. I think the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) considerably underrates his powers when he says that this is a subject on which he could not say very much. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), it is not for me to anticipate the Gracious Speech which will be made from the Throne in the course of the next few weeks, but I should be disappointed if the present method of compiling the register and these orders were to continue for any undue length of time in the future. I will endeavour, so far as my powers will carry me, to see that we get a more satisfactory method of compiling the register at the earliest possible moment.

Has the right hon. Gentleman no word to say about the disfranchisement of those women to whom I referred?

Mr. Speaker ruled the noble Lord out of Order, and I do not want to get into bad company.

Question put, and agreed to.


"That the Electoral Registration Regulations, 1947, dated 2nd July, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 3rd July, be approved."