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Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Meyer, Sir Anthony
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Morrison, Sir Charles
Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Pike, Peter L.
Porter, David (Waveney)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Waldegrave, Hon William
Column 1240Wallace, James
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. Michael Fallon.
Question accordingly negatived.
It is evident from a reading of the Bill that the amendment could gain the same result if rather different words were used. Those, however, are the words that we have chosen, and I am sure that they will meet the case in allowing yet another debate in the House on the voting rights of foreigners in the United Kingdom.
The Irish Republic enjoys a unique position in the United Kingdom. In raising the question of entitlement to vote in any United Kingdom election, I believe that we are doing the House and the country a favour, as although the matter is examined periodically, it is not examined in any great depth. Sadly, as is so often the case, there are relatively few hon. Members present, but no doubt the time will come when more will turn out to argue the pros and cons of such entitlement and to highlight the dangers posed to any country that allows foreigners to take part in its electoral process.
In my view, people are assumed to have a duty to the national territory in which they were born. Those who have subsequently worked against the interests of that nation, or are judged to have done so--especially in time of war--have always been branded traitors. Peacetime spies have been similarly pilloried. When certain individuals said recently that they had been part and parcel of the machinery that had sprung a Russian spy from prison in this country, there was an immediate and terrifying outcry in the press calling for their prosecution. I do not know how far the proceedings have gone, but no doubt action of some kind will be initiated if it proves possible.
I understand that those who try to diminish the sovereign's realm, territory or power in the United Kingdom are guilty of treason. In the United States only United States citizens are entitled to vote, and the class of citizenship is given to immigrants only after they have demonstrated a belief in the institutions of the United States and an allegiance to that country. They must forswear their allegiance to the nation in which they were born.
I appreciate that a number of people both inside and outside the House do not believe that that is right. They believe that anyone who comes to live in this country should be given the right to vote as soon as he has crossed the border. I do not adhere to that view, however. I tend to agree with the United States that those who wish to be given the precious right to vote in a state should declare their allegiance to that state. Whether they are coming into the United Kingdom or going to the United States, Australia, Germany or anywhere else is immaterial.
As I have said, the Irish Republic enjoys a special position in that its citizens can vote in this country. It enjoys such a position also in that, despite the best efforts of the Government, it has not been persuaded to extradite
Column 1241those whom the police in Northern Ireland and Great Britain would like to question and to charge with serious offences. It is different, of course, if their offences have no terrorist manifestation. If terrorism is involved, it is almost impossible to lay hands on them ; in other circumstances they are chucked over the border so fast that their feet do not touch the ground. There never seems to be anything wrong with the extradition warrant for the chap who has committed a burglary or thumped some poor soul over the head, but if he has murdered someone, acting on behalf of the IRA, all sorts of things go wrong when the warrant is being prepared.
I appreciate that some hon. Members will say that people from the Republic work in this country and pay taxes here : that they have taken part in the life of the community, perhaps for many years, speak the same language and share a common cultural experience with those among whom they live. I am not sure that all those born in Ireland would go along with that. Many of them think that they should speak a different language and that they have a different cultural background, and hold that there are reciprocal agreements with the Republic on voting rights. That, however, is not the point at issue. What is at issue is whether those who leave the Republic and come to what they see as greener pastures have any personal allegiance to this country and its welfare.
There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that such people have in no way changed their allegiance--that they still believe in looking after the interests of the Irish Republic, and carry that interest into the polling booth in the United Kingdom. As I have said, I believe that if they are to vote here they should demonstrate their allegiance by taking on the nationality and responsibilities of British subjects and British citizens, as well as benefiting from the privileges that they clearly see in this country, or they would not come here. I think that if we consulted the British public we should find that view widely shared, and we have often heard it expressed in private by many Conservative Members. It is a pity that they do not tell the Government that they have got it all wrong--that all foreigners are the same and should be treated in the same way in the electoral process.
What of the voting rights granted to United Kingdom citizens in the Irish Republic? That is a matter for the Irish Republic. I personally believe-- for reasons that I have already given in relation to the United Kingdom-- that the Republic was wrong to give United Kingdom citizens voting rights.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Is it not a fact that that concession was given to British residents in the Republic of Ireland because of the mounting reaction here about votes for Irish citizens in British elections?
Mr. Ross : Of course. That was one of the few cases when pressure from the British public had an effect on legislation in Dublin. Citizens of this country who reside in the Irish Republic can cast a vote there. However, we should consider one or two factors which this amendment raises. Within this group of British islands, England has been the destination of a vast amount of immigration from elsewhere in the island group. The people of England have increased in number not for generations, but for centuries, not only
Column 1242through a natural increase, but as a result of a tremendous amount of immigration from Scotland, large parts of which were depopulated, from Wales and from Ireland.
People came to England for the economic benefits and they are still coming. The result of the immigration to England from the rest of the British Isles has been to preserve a sense of Scottishness in Scotland, Welshness in Wales, and Irishness in Ireland which could not have continued if there had been emigration to those areas from England. The people who went to those countries from England always represented a small proportion of the total population and they became absorbed into the general society. However, as people left Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the Scottishness, Welshness and Irishness of the folk who remained behind was intensified and not diluted by the impact of the wider world in the British Isles as a whole.
The Irish Republic is still exporting many people to Great Britain and, to a much lesser extent, to Northern Ireland. Those people have an electoral influence on some hon. Members in this House. That is inevitable because they have the vote and they must be catered for. Hon. Members must look for their votes and sell cases to them. Suppose for a moment that the immigration course was reversed. Suppose that the 40 million or 50 million people living in Great Britain, specifically those in England, had a change of economic circumstance. I believe that there are certain straws in the wind which show that there might be changes in circumstances, not least with regard to 1992 and all that, and the change of relationships within the EEC. The Republic of Ireland might one day be a convenient and pleasant place for people from England to live.
Let us suppose that 2 million people, a tiny proportion of this wealthy and highly densely populated country of England, decided to emigrate to the Irish Republic. In fact, 3 million could easily go to the Republic without markedly changing the total population of England. Suppose those 2 million or 3 million people began to exert their opinions and wills by voting for the political parties in the Irish Republic. How long would the concession given to the United Kingdom electors in the Irish Republic last? The Irish Republic places a very high premium on its Irishness--its ethos and its cultural and national identity. It would believe that that was threatened.
I visited Wales for two days last summer. It is a very pleasant part of the United Kingdom. However, like every hon. Member in this place, I read the papers. I have read of cottages being burnt in Wales. That is a foolish activity, but the underlying reason for that activity--and this was revealed clearly in a television programme that I saw some months ago--is that the Welsh people see the Welshness of their community being overwhelmed by immigration from England. Exactly the same threat would apply if there was so much English emigration to the Irish Republic.
Two people from England recently moved within 10 miles of me in my constituency. They owned houses in the south-east of England, close to London, which had acquired phenomenal values. They sold those houses last year, moved over and bought equally good dwellings in my constituency and they have a large sum of money left over to invest. I am talking about people in their late 50s who
Column 1243have retired. One had a family tie as he had a daughter-in-law in that part of the world. However, the other had no family ties. If the Irish Republic wants to maintain its cultural and national identity, it would be wise to withdraw the concession to English voters. I believe that we have never adequately considered why we should restrict, like nearly every other nation, the voting rights in our elections to people who have an allegiance to the country in which they live and who have proved by their actions and attitudes over the years by taking out citizenship that they possess that allegiance. That is why this short and simple amendment is before the House. We should reconsider our views about this issue.
I have some qualms about saying that Commonwealth citizens who have allegiance to the Commonwealth, to the Queen as head of state and to the Britishness of their own environment should be allowed to vote in Northern Ireland. I believe that it is far better that citizens with an allegiance to a particular country should have the right to vote in elections in that country.
This is a serious matter, but I do not expect the Government to accept the amendments. I raise the issue so that the House can have another opportunity to consider it in the light of my remarks. If my words are read in the Irish Republic, and no doubt some people there will read what has been said here this evening, I hope people there will see the real danger for the Irish nation should circumstances develop there as they have developed in Wales and Scotland where there is large scale emigration from England.
Mr. Needham : One of the main purposes of the Bill is to bring the franchise for local government elections in Northern Ireland into line with the parliamentary franchise here. The amendment takes us in exactly the opposite direction. It would prevent citizens of the Republic of Ireland, who are not Commonwealth citizens, from voting at district council elections in Northern Ireland.
The amendment does nothing to address the problem of Irish citizens voting in United Kingdom elections. I am sure that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) accepts that that would produce a wholly anomalous position. Such people may live in Northern Ireland at the moment without any restriction. They can vote at parliamentary elections, European parliamentary elections and assembly elections in Northern Ireland. Where on earth is the logic in saying that citizens of the Irish Republic should be precluded from voting in district council elections only in Northern Ireland?
That would mean that an Irish citizen could vote in Bath, but not in Belfast. They can vote in Chippenham but they could not vote in Carrickfergus. They can vote in Great Britain but they could not vote in one part of the island of Ireland.
The proposal would be regarded as discriminatory and vindictive. It would deprive Irish citizens who currently are able to vote, in particular circumstances different from anywhere else in the country. Even Stormont, when it passed the Electoral Law Act in 1962, baulked at that. I can see absolutely no case for the amendment and I ask the House to reject it.