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Representation Of The People

Volume 526: debated on Monday 12 April 1954

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10.1 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Representation of the People Regulations, 1954, dated 17th March, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th March, be approved.
There are three sets of Regulations which arise out of the Electoral Registers Act, 1953, which was an agreed Measure. The first and third of these sets of Regulations cover broadly the same ground for England and Wales and for Scotland.

The Electoral Registers Act, 1953, changed the qualifying date for a person's inclusion in the Register and the date of publication of the register. To avoid wearying the House with unnecessary details, perhaps I might say, briefly, that the Act made the qualifying date the 10th October and the date of publication of the register the 15th February—uniform dates throughout Great Britain which are, broadly speaking, about one month earlier than the dates provided in the Act of 1949.

The Regulations make consequential alterations in the dates prescribed by the Representation of the People Regulations, 1950, for the intermediate stages. Regulations 1 and 2 alter the period for claims and objections to be made to the period from 28th November to 16th December in any year—a period of 19 days. The corresponding period has up to now been from 10th January to 24th January—15 days only. The new period had been agreed by the chief party agents and representative registration officers before the Bill for the Act of 1953 came before the House; but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed out during the debate, that was on the assumption that the qualifying date would be 15th October, and not 10th October as it was when the Bill eventually left the House.

My right hon. and learned Friend undertook to consider whether some further extension of the period for claims and objections could be made without raising any special difficulties with any of those concerned. He has had further dis- cussions in this connection, and it became clear during these discussions that an earlier start to the period would not be practical. The lists must be ready for publication on the date when the period begins, and for that purpose the registration officers must have time for an effective canvass.

The House will understand that the earlier start laid down by the Act necessarily means some added difficulties in this connection, because the canvass must start during the period when people have not yet come back from their holidays. Moreover, under the Act of 1953, the printers get less time than they have hitherto had for doing their share of the work. Under those circumstances, it has not proved possible to make an earlier start to the period.

Consideration was also given to an extension of the period beyond 16th December, but, of course, that would involve an impact on the whole time-table laid down in order to reach the date of final publication in due time. Moreover, a few days added after 16th December would really give no practical advantage because they would fall within the Christmas holiday time, when people's minds are turned on other things.

In those circumstances, my right hon. and learned Friend has felt compelled to keep the period as it was proposed at the time when the Bill was going through the House. The Regulations provide for 19 days, which is an improvement over the period which there has hitherto been. It is two days less than the pre-war equivalent, but, on the other hand, the register is somewhat simpler now than it was before the war so that, on the whole, there is probably relatively as much time. I am assured that the number of claims and objections nowadays is very small indeed and that the period really appears to be sufficient.

The other changes proposed in the Regulations are purely consequential on the one that I have explained. I hope that the House will see its way to agree to the Motion.

10.7 p.m.

The House will be grateful to the Joint Undersecretary for the care and detail with which he has explained the effect of these Regulations, which will bring into force the machinery which has had to be altered owing to the passing of the Act which has brought the register a month early into operation.

While we regret that some of the suggestions that we made when the Bill was going through have not been met, we realise that there are very great practical difficulties. In fact, I pointed out the way in which we should get involved in a clash with the various holidays. I feel that the result of the consideration given to the matter by the Home Secretary can be regarded as satisfactory.

It is true that in these days claims and objections seem to be far fewer than they were in the far-off days which some of us can recollect when the revising barrister's court was one of the events of the year in a good many constituencies and where it was sometimes contended that elections could be lost and won on the skill with which the various agents dealt with new lodgers and old lodgers and latch-key voters. In the much simpler franchise that we now have, those delights—for they really were delights—in the revising barristers' courts have now vanished and remain only as pleasant memories.

We can pay a tribute to the skill and the concentration of effort which the various registration officers throughout the country display, but I am quite certain that when the next General Election comes we shall find, two or three days before it, the same number of people trooping into the committee rooms to complain that they have not received their papers and producing evidence to show that if only they had been alive to the issues involved at the time when claims could be made they would have the vote which they are to be denied. One can only hope that there will be an increase in public interest in the publication of the register and a further effort made to ensure that every eligible voter is included.

The Opposition do not propose to divide on these Regulations. We accept them as carrying out the requirements of the statute, and we can only hope that they will make for the efficient working of the system.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Representation of the People Regulations, 1954, dated 17th March, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th March, be approved.

10.10 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1954, dated 17th March, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th March, be approved.
In the case of Northern Ireland, the Electoral Registers Act, 1953, provided for a qualifying date of 15th September and a date of publication of 15th February for elections to this House. It is necessary to make consequential alterations in the period for claims and objections, and this period in future will be from 11th to 27th December. It might appear that this is an objectional period, in view of what I have just said, since it is shorter than that for England and Wales and covers the Christmas holidays. I must, therefore, try to give a brief explanation of the reason.

In Northern Ireland, arrangements are substantially different from those in this country. They were evolved in connection with the preparation of the register for the Parliament of Northern Ireland and also for local government elections in that country. The electors lists are provided on a different basis, and there are no separate lists of electors newly qualified and no longer qualified. The practice is to have a complete draft register.

These lists are, in effect, published by being made available for inspection at the registration officer's office long before the printed lists are formally published. This practice is expressly provided for in regulations made by the Government of Northern Ireland in the case of registers within their particular jurisdiction.

I am informed that this preliminary publication takes place on 16th November each year. Thus, for practical purposes, there is a much longer period of access to the lists than there is in this country. The period in this case has been suggested by the Government of Northern Ireland, who have consulted the political parties there, and I understand that all concerned have agreed to the proposal.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1954, dated 17th March, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th March, be approved.

Resolved,

That the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations, 1954, dated 25th March, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th March, be approved.—[Mr. Henderson Stewart.]