19 MARCH 1943, Page 2

The Stale Register

Sir Richard Acland hit on a novel device for calling attention to the staleness of the electoral register when he divided the House of Commons on the motion for the issue of a writ for the Eddisbury by-election last Tuesday. His proposal that the writ should be moved a month later to enable the register to be brought up to date was not, of course, taken seriously, but it did serve to remind everyone that the register is becoming more and more unsatisfac- tory, that millions of civilians and soldiers are temporarily dis- franchised, and that the recommendations of the Committee on Electoral Machinery have not yet been the subject of a Government announcement. The Committee was not concerned with by-elec- tions, and confined its recommendations to arrangements for a post-war general election, or for an election during the war—an emergency which it hoped would not occur. The present register excludes everyone who was under 21 in June, 1939, and in addition some 5,000,000 people have moved from the constituencies when they were registered. The matter is further complicated by the dispersal of men and women in the armed Forces, a large number of whom are likely to be overseas even when a post-war election is held. Such an election could not be put off for long after the war, for if it were many millions of persons would be left uncon- suited on the great issues that will then confront Parliament. The Committee has suggested means of " continuous registration" in order to enable the floating population to vote, and the preparation of measures for servicemen's votes. No procedure that has been devised is wholly satisfactory, but nothing would be worse than the retention in the post-war period of a Rump elected on pre-war and indeed pre-rearmament issues. Measures must therefore soon be taken with a view to registration. Whether it is wise or neces- sary to amend the register for by-elections is another matter.