§ Mr. Viggers
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the disfranchisement of civilians as result of the Representation of the People (Armed Forces) Act 1976".687 The Act had the admirable intention of allowing Service men and their wives to register more easily for voting purposes. It did this by allowing Service men and their wives, wherever resident, to register as Service voters. One registration sufficed for their whole Service career. But the Act also said that Service men and their wives must register as Service voters or they would lose their vote. They cannot register as civilians, and many Service wives bitterly resent this and have refused to register. Others have not realised the need to register in a special way, perhaps because their husbands have not passed on the relevant forms, and many wives have lost their rights. The result in Service areas is an electoral register that is so distorted that it undermines the very principle of democracy itself.
The provisional 1978 register of electors in my own constituency of Gosport became known to me only yesterday and will become operative on 16th February this year unless something is done in an urgent and special way to prevent this. I use the example of my own constituency, of course, but the problem is a general one.
It is now clear from the provisional register that thousands of Service wives will be disfranchised. My own constituency of Gorsport has 13 wards. In one ward alone 1,700 wives will be struck off the register despite the fact that a check has revealed that more than half of them are still resident in the houses where they were registered last year. The estimate for Gosport is that there are 15,000 resident Service men and wives who could be registered, but only 5,000 of them will in fact be registered and 10,000 will lose their right to vote.
Many of the people are wives who are making a deliberate gesture because they refuse to be regarded as Service personnel and wish to be regarded as civilians. Other wives, of course, do not realise that they are losing their voting rights.
These stark facts became known to me only yesterday, and only now has it become clear that there is a grave danger of electoral injustice. I submit that we cannot contemplate allowing a situation to continue in which so many civilians will be disfranchised. We run the risk of being thought complacent in the face of an alarming electoral problem which in due course will lead to anger and bit- 688 terness when the many individuals concerned realise the full implications of losing their right to vote.
It is not too late, even now, for this situation to be changed, but it can be done only by Parliament itself approving an alteration to the rules to allow Service wives to register as civilians. It is a reasonable request and we could grant it, but this change could only follow an emergency debate if you, Mr. Speaker, were to approve it.
There are few issues in which Parliament takes a more jealous interest than those of electoral representation, and I beg to submit that this issue is one on which the House of Commons should have an opportunity to give its considered views and judgment.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) gave me notice this morning before 12 o'clock that he would seek to make an application under Standing Order No. 9 this afternoon for an emergency debate.
The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have the hon. Gentleman's application, namely,the disfranchisement of civilians as a result of the Representation of the People (Armed Forces) Act 1976.The House will have listened, as I did, with great care to the hon. Gentleman. It is not for me to decide whether a matter is to be debated. I have to decide only whether it is to be debated today or on Monday, and the rest lies with others. I am afraid that I cannot grant the hon. Gentleman's application.