Clause 12. — (Registers which are to be in force for local government and Parliamentary elections.)

Orders of the Day — Representation of the People Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th January 1945.

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Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston 12:00 am, 17th January 1945

I beg to move, in page 11, line 43, to leave out "fifteenth" and to insert "first".

I move this Amendment, to bring into Order five other Amendments which cover the same point. I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we took all together.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I gather that they are largely consequential. I think we might take them together.

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

The object of the Amendment is to have the register published on 1st October instead of 15th. The view has been expressed for many years past by members of all parties that publication of the register on 15th October allows far too little time to enable candidates at local government elections to get into touch with the electorate before the date of the municipal elections on 1st November. The Amendment will give candidates and party organisers a further fortnight in which to allow for the necessary communications to be made.

2.15 p.m.

I understand that this point has been raised on many occasions, and the official answer has always been that an alteration in the existing law would be needed in order to effect the change. It seems to me that, since under this Bill we are proposing to fix annual registers, this is a suitable opportunity for raising the matter and for making this necessary alteration. It will meet the views of many persons who are experienced in local government elections. To nobody can that description be more adequately applied than the Home Secretary, who has played an important part in local government, both as organising secretary of the London Labour Party for many years and as a prominent member of the London County Council. Those of us who have worked in local government have always thought that it is very unfortunate that, generally speaking, the percentage of electors who go to the poll at municipal elections is so small. I have no doubt that one contributing factor to the small polls is that candidates have so short a time to make the necessary communications with the electors whom they seek to represent. I hope that the Government will see their way to make this alteration, which will mean that there will be a month's interval between the publication of the register and the date of the municipal election.

Photo of Mr John Henderson Mr John Henderson , Leeds North East

This is a matter which affects all parties equally. It is ridiculous that the register, which is to the advantage of those conducting the election, should be produced at such a late date that full advantage cannot be taken of it. If my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is accepted, it will mean that there will be an interval of a month instead of 14 days as at present. In a great many towns arrangements are made by courtesy to have the register produced on 1st October, and there is no reason why it should not be produced on that date and why it should not be made statutory. Many wards have 20,000 electors, and if there are only 14 days in which to prepare canvass cards and so on it means that the efforts of people who are trying to conduct their campaigns and to get as many electors as possible to go to the poll are rendered abortive. The register is produced with the object of having the information in it made available to the public, and I cannot think why 1st October should not be made statutory. If some Act of Parliament stands in the way it should be got out of the way. I hope that the Government will give consideration to this request, which I know is desired by everyone in every party who has to deal with this problem. Local elections are difficult enough, and the Committee should see that they are not made more difficult.

Photo of Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby

I will gladly accede to the request of my hon. Friend that the Government will give this point consideration. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the feeling with which both speeches were made, and he will have an opportunity of reading them himself. I would like to put to the Committee the position as the Home Office understood it before this Amendment was proposed. October 15th was the date for the publication of the annual register under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, as amended, and the Home Office have received no other representations in favour of departing from this well-established rule. To-day we have had the speeches of my hon. Friends, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) said that there was considerable feeling on this point. In these circumstances, I think the Committee will agree that it is proper for me, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to say that we will consider the matter. We will consider the special difficulties which are bound to exist in 1945 and the reactions of this change on the other parts of the somewhat complicated machinery which it has been necessary to bring into operation. I cannot go any further, and I hope that, on that undertaking to consider the point, my hon. and gallant Friend will not press the Amendment.

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

I do understand that in 1945 there are likely to be exceptional difficulties in getting suitable people for making up the register, but I do not believe that that reason will exist after 1945. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will make adequate representations to the Home Secretary to ensure that, at any rate after 1945, this change will be made. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.