Orders of the Day — Electoral Registers Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1949.

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Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North 12:00 am, 22nd November 1949

From this side of the House we have made clear our attitude towards the economy proposals of the Government, namely, that we do not regard the total saving on the Budget of £90 million in a full year as anything like adequate when considered in relation to a Budget figure of £3,400 million. It would be difficult, therefore, for us, maintaining as we do that the economies in total are quite insufficient, to take exception to a particular economy measure other than upon very good grounds. For that reason we support the passage of this Bill.

As the Home Secretary has said, in its detail the Bill follows the provisions of the 1948 Act, the only effective change being to abolish the compilation of the autumn register. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if we decide that it is necessary and desirable to abolish one of the two registers it would, in view of the alteration in the dates at which local government elections are to be held in the future, be preferable on balance to abolish the autumn register. Local government elections are held every year and it is right that they should be held upon a register as fresh and up to date as possible.

At the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that over the last generation a far greater number of General Elections have taken place in the autumn than in the spring, and the fact that in future we shall rely upon a register prepared in the spring is bound to mean that the register upon which Parliamentary elections will be fought will always be a considerable number of months out of date if elections in the next generation fall as frequently in the autumn as they have done in the past. This is inevitable if we are reduced to a single register a year, but I cannot challenge the decision that the proper register to be abolished by way of economy is the autumn register.

I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman the precise amount of the saving to be effected by the Bill. The Home Secretary gave us the figure of £800,000. I am not clear whether that is the saving which will fall upon the national Budget or whether it will be divided between the national budget and the expenditure of local authorities. The Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1926, provided for a single register annually in place of two registers previously. It was then estimated that the saving would be a quarter of a million pounds, and that figure was to be divided equally between the Exchequer and the local authorities. We ought to know whether the £800,000 saved by this Bill will be a saving on the expenditure of the central Government and whether there will be any further saving to be credited to the local authorities.

The only criticism I have to make of the Bill is that it is made permanent in form. While it is true that this follows the precedent of 1926, in 1948 when we passed the Representation of the People Act, Parliament decided that it would be desirable for the future to have two registers prepared each year if possible. Taking the view that we may one day emerge from the present financial crisis, I should have thought it might have been wise to draw this Bill in a temporary form, to enact that the Bill should last two, three or maybe five years, and to put in the Bill as we frequently do, provisions for renewal by Order in Council, or by including it in the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I ask the Government to consider between now and the Committee stage whether it would not be worth while putting a Clause into this Bill to make it of a temporary nature so that the matter will be brought up automatically for review by Parliament in three or four years' time.