New Clause. — (Business premises applications by service voters.)

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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  1. (1) A person qualified to be registered in the business premises register to be comprised—
    1. (a) in the register for any parliamentary election initiated in March, nineteen hundred and forty-five;
    2. (b) in the May, 1945, register; or
    3. (c) in the annual register;
    may, if at the time of his application he is a member of the Forces or a seaman, apply to be so registered on the form applicable in his case for the making of a Service declaration, giving the address of the business premises occupied by him on the qualifying date instead of the address at which he was, or but for his service as a member of the Forces or a seaman would have been, residing.
  2. (2) Any person registered in the business premises register in pursuance of an application made as aforesaid shall not be entitled to vote in person in respect of that registration, but shall be entered in the absent voters' list and entitled to appoint a proxy, and shall be entitled to vote by post or by proxy accordingly.
  3. (3) The provisions of the Second Schedule to the Act of 1943 shall apply in relation to the appointment and voting of proxies under this Section:
  4. Provided that any such appointment and any cancellation of such an appointment by any person shall be made on the form applicable in his case for the appointment of a proxy to vote for him at an election for which he is registered in the Service register or for the cancellation of any such appointment, as the case may be.
  5. (4) Any such application, appointment or cancellation shall be marked with the words "business premises application" or words to the like effect and any form which may be used under this Section for making any such application, appointment or cancellation shall be taken to relate to the business premises register if but only if it is so marked.
  6. (5) Where, within the time allowed for the receipt of applications to be registered in any such business premises register, the registration officer or other officer concerned receives a form of Service declaration duly filled in and the declaration is—
    1. (a) attested as a Service declaration;
    2. (b) marked as aforesaid; and
    3. (c) dated on or after the qualifying date by reference to which that register is to be prepared;
    then it shall be conclusively presumed that the person signing the form was on the qualifying date a member of the Forces or a seaman and it shall be presumed until the contrary is shown that he is entitled to be registered in that business premises register in respect of the premises referred to in the form.
  7. (6) Paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) of Section fifteen of the Act of 1943 (which penalises persons improperly attesting Service declarations) shall apply to an application to be registered in the business premises register made on a form of Service declaration as if it were a Service declaration.—[Mr. H. Morrison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This, the first of the new Clauses on the Paper, should, I understand, be taken separately, and after that would you, Mr. Williams, be good enough to consider whether the remaining Clauses might be grouped as far as discussion is concerned? This Clause deals with the Service man who wishes to become registered as a business voter and the procedure set up enables Service voters to make application for registration in the business premises register. It has been necessary to devise machinery which could be easily and speedily operated because business premises applications must be received by 28th February, 1945. Accordingly, it has been necessary to adapt for this purpose the existing Service declaration cards, since these are already obtainable by those concerned. Time would not allow, firstly, for the request to an electoral registration officer for the transmission of a business premises application form, secondly, the receipt of that form, and thirdly, its completion and return to the electoral registration officer. On the declaration card to be used, the Service applicant will insert the particulars of the business premises in respect of which he is claiming a business vote. The first Sub-section requires that a fresh application should be made in respect of each business premises register compiled.

Sub-section (2) is to enable Service voters to vote by post in respect of a business premises qualification, and any such application will also entitle the applicant to be entered on the absent voters list. Inclusion in the absent voters list is a condition precedent to postal voting in respect of a business premises qualification. The declaration may also, under Sub-section 3, be used for the appointment of a proxy in the same manner as it can be so used by a Service voter obtaining a proxy in respect of his Service vote. The same procedure will also apply in respect of the cancellation of a proxy appointment. In order to identify business premises applications made in this manner, this Sub-section requires that the declaration card shall be marked with the words "business premises application" or similar words.

There is a fourth Sub-section which provides that on receipt of an application notice form duly attested the electoral registration officer is to presume that the applicant is entitled to be registered in respect of the premises stated, unless the contrary is proved. It is recognised that as the form of application does not permit of the insertion of particulars of these premises, there may in theory be some difficulty on this point. On the other hand, very few of these applications are likely to be received and it is not expected that in practice there will be any difficulty in a registration officer making the necessary inquiries in admittedly doubtful cases. That is the case for the new Clause.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

When, 14 months ago, I objected to the fact that Service voters would find it difficult to get on the business premises register, the Under-Secretary said that arrangements would be made to allow a wife to get the husband registered and that the Amendment would be made to that Act to allow for it. May I ask the Home Secretary whether, under this new Clause, that provision will still be possible? tt would be a pity if the effect of the new Clause would be to make it harder than ever for a Service voter to get on the business register. It would be difficult for a man serving in the South East Asia Command under this Clause to get included in the business register in time. Therefore, I shall be grateful if the Home Secretary will see that the concession given 14 months ago has been retained in this new Clause.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

There was a concession, but I am afraid that this point is a little novel to us at the moment. There is another new Clause further on which deals with another aspect of the matter, but my understanding is that there was a provision under which a wife could claim a vote for herself, because at that time she had a business vote as well as her husband. That cannot survive, because the business man's wife no longer has a vote under the new Bill and therefore that concession must fall with the taking away of the vote of the business man's wife. Whether arrangements can be made to save the arrangement in a slightly different way is a subject we have been considering closely and on which we have not yet reached a conclusion.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I am in some difficulty on this matter because reference has been made to the new Clause standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) on page 44. I am not quite sure whether we can discuss the two points together. They are very nearly the same, and the Lord Advocate has just touched on the point in the new Clause on page 44. Would the Committee agree to take the two Clauses together so to speak? We cannot take them together but we can deal with them together.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I am at fault, Mr. Williams, for not having noticed that new Clause, and I ought to have reserved my right until that new Clause was introduced.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

In these circumstances I think it would be better if we dealt with it here, as we have begun to do so.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir George Hutchison Lieut-Colonel Sir George Hutchison , Edinburgh West

I would he agreeable to that course, Mr. Williams. Am I permitted to move the new Clause now?

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

No, the new Clause cannot be moved now, but I think we can deal with the point, which seems to be art extension of the point here, in the one discussion. The new Clause will have to be moved later.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir George Hutchison Lieut-Colonel Sir George Hutchison , Edinburgh West

The point which my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has made was really sought to be made by me on the Clause which appears in my name on the Order Paper. I felt that it would be very difficult for a good many people who might he qualified for a place on the business register to get in their applications in the time permitted. I do think that it is up to us in this House to ensure that everybody who is entitled to a vote should have a fair opportunity of filling in the necessary form of application. In October, 1943, when the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Bill was being discussed, I raised this particular point during the Second Reading Debate, and asked whether it would be possible for a wife of a man in the Forces serving overseas to make application for her husband's name to be put on the register as a business voter. My right hon. Friend the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who was at that time the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department undertook to look into that point. As the Lord Advocate has mentioned, an Amendment was incorporated in that Bill, and if hon. Members will look up the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act, 1943, Section 6, Sub-section (2), they will find it reads as follows: Where a husband and wife are qualified to be registered in respect of any business premises by virtue of the foregoing provisions of this Section, the said application may be made by either of them on behalf of both of them. Of course the position is different now in that the spouses' vote has been abolished by the present Bill, but at the same time I feel that having regard to the present exceptional circumstances, consideration ought to be given by the Government to allow a spouse, or some agent of the absentee potential business voter, to put that person's name on the business register. It may be that my Amendment is not worded very well because this is a rather difficult point to cover, but I would ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Lord Advocate to look into this matter and see how we can overcome the difficulty. I do feel, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton feels, that a good many men will be disfranchised from the business vote unless we can do something along these lines.

3.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

There is undoubtedly a great deal to be said for allowing the spouse at home, or even the others mentioned in the subsequent new Clause, to act on behalf of the serving man, but the new Clause would have to be a great deal more elaborate than it is before it would work. The new Clause which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has moved is elaborate enough, and that deals with the man claiming for himself. If we are to bring in the additional qualification of the wife claiming on his behalf, it would have to be still more elaborate. We have been considering this matter for some little time but we have not yet been able to devise anything that would fit.

There are several points. First, we have to be satisfied that the man on whose behalf the wife is claiming really is a Service man. Then this is no use unless the business voter is put on the absent voters' list, and it may be that the business man himself would not want that; he might be thinking he was coming home. It is necessary to provide for that. Then it is impossible that the wife should appoint a proxy on behalf of her husband; that at least would have to go to him for approval, and she cannot very well give the postal address to which the postal vote is to be sent. There will have to be some reference to the husband on Service in any event. We thought that, on the whole, the new Clause which my right hon. Friend has proposed met the point, but we are prepared to look into the matter again. However, I cannot hold out a great deal of hope that we shall find a satisfactory solution, and obviously it is better to leave things as they stand than to introduce some complication about which we have great doubt as to whether it will really work.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I do not think that is a very satisfactory way in which to leave the matter. Let us remember that in 1943 there was a clamour in this House that in the case of Service men serving far overseas it should be made easier for them to get on to the business premises register. The present Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who was then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, calmed down the House by saying that he would make a concession under which the wife of the Service voter could claim to have her husband put on the register. I must confess that I had overlooked the new Clause which stands in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend, and it may be that the new Clause is not sufficiently well drafted. If, however, it is not sufficiently well drafted to be accepted, it is the obligation of the Government to honour the promise given by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and to provide a new Clause which will enable Service men far away from home to get on the business register as a result, and I think that the new Clause should be put in this Bill before this Bill leaves the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

In calling upon the Home Secretary to move the new Clause [Postal voting by Service voters at parliamentary elections other than university elections] I should point out that I have been given to understand that the next new Clause and the one following, down to page 39, are all practically the same in purpose, or at least they follow one upon the other. If it is agreeable to the Committee, I propose that we should discuss them together, and put them separately afterwards. Is that agreeable to the Committee as a whole?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

The Committee is, of course, in your hands, Mr. Williams, but I thought that all these Clauses down to page 41 were broadly related, and that if we could have had a general discussion on them, and then they were put separately thereafter, it might perhaps meet the convenience of the Committee.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I should have said "down to the middle of page 41."