I beg to move, in page 16, line 39, leave out, "before the initiation of the election," and insert:
four clear days at least before the day fixed for nomination.
The Committee may remember that on the Second Reading I indicated that, notwithstanding the difficulties, the Government wished, and we were sure that the House would wish, to do everything possible to enable the Service-man who is now a prisoner of war to vote. This Amendment is designed to secure a longer period for the registration of prisoners of war. As printed, the Bill requires the prisoner of war's declaration to be received by the Registration Officer before the initiation of the election, which, under the 1943 Act, should come five and a half weeks before nomination. In the case of fixed registers, under the present Bill, the qualifying date for registration would be even earlier. This all tends, of course, against giving the prisoner of war an opportunity of voting. The Amendment secures that the prisoner of war may be registered up to less than a fortnight before the date of the poll. It is a special concession for the prisoner of war, who will presumably come back to this country, and we hope by this Amendment to get on to the effective
register of electors a far greater number of prisoners of war than would otherwise be possible. I am sure that the Committee will feel sympathetic, and I hope that the Amendment will be given approval.
I should like to thank the Home Secretary for this Amendment. This Amendment was recommended by the Conference on Postal Voting, and it does, in fact, bring the prisoner of war into the same position as the Service-man in his application for postal voting. Will the Home Secretary tell us how he is going to let prisoners of war in Germany and the Far East know of this concession? It is all-important that they should be advised that directly they are repatriated they will have this opportunity to register, and told how long that opportunity will continue. Is the Home Secretary getting in touch with the War Office, or with the Red Cross Society, who might well give this information in their Red Cross bulletins that go out to the prisoners of war? I regard this as a matter of great importance. It will apply not so much to men who have become prisoners of war in recent months as to men who were taken prisoner at Calais, Boulogne, Dunkirk, St. Valerie, and in the early stages of the war in Africa, who had not had the opportunity to make declarations under the former Acts. Could the Minister let us know what steps are being taken to let these men know how they can exercise their votes?
This Amendment is very nearly the same as that on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), and I think the hon. Gentleman has said all that he would be able to say on his own Amendment; so there will be no need for me to call that Amendment.
I ought to have mentioned that my hon. Friend has an Amendment down dealing with this point. We have considered the problem he has mentioned, and whether anything could be done to register these people while they were still prisoners of war; but, of course, the postal facilities are somewhat congested, and the men are much more anxious to get letters from their relatives and friends than on matters of this kind. I am afraid that neither the Nazis or the Japanese are altogether appreciative of our gentle processes of democracy, and that they would not be very co-operative. So we came to the conclusion that we could not do anything in that way. The War Office have arranged, however, that at the reception centres, to which the prisoners will go from their captivity, that they shall be immediately informed of the facilities available, and there will also be arrangements to ensure that directly the men come into British hands the machinery can start to function, with a view to their registration. I, therefore, think that my hon. Friend and the Committee can take it that everything possible will be done to help the men, and to enable them to be registered, and to vote with the greatest possible simplicity and completeness.
I spoke of the War Office because my hon. Friend mentioned it, but I imagine that the other Service Departments will do the same, in so far as they are capable of doing so. I am a little cautious about that, because the Navy may have special problems. But I will follow the matter up with the other Service Departments, and I have no doubt that they will do it, so far as it is practicable.