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Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : May we please have an early debate on the anxieties of teachers in my constituency in Leicester, and I am sure throughout the country, at the growing shortage of resources which is making life more difficult in all schools, but especially in schools in disadvantaged areas, and the shortage of speech therapists and other experts to help people not to suffer from unnecessary disablement? As our schools go into their holidays tomorrow, can they please have some hope of returning to better news?
Mr. Wakeham : I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise first that the teacher-pupil ratio at present is substantially better than it was under the Government that he supported. I recognise that it is not perfect and that there are shortages, particularly in certain areas. He will also agree that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has taken steps to improve the position, particularly in certain specialised subjects. I cannot promise an early debate,
Column 1132although I note that my right hon. Friend is answering questions on Tuesday, so perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will make his points then.
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : While we all enjoy hard work, will my right hon. Friend soon be in a position to announce the date of the summer recess, which might possibly be earlier this year, so that we can give our full attention to important matters like cricket and eschew politics for a while?
Mr. Wakeham : I promise my hon. Friend that I shall announce the date of the summer recess as early as I can manage. I promise my hon. Friend that it will be for as long as I can manage, but I am afraid I cannot tell him the date yet.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : In view of what the Prime Minister had to say about the Common Market, and her attitude to current issues such as the EMS, perhaps we could get rid of the Water Bill next week and have a debate on the Common Market. Then the Prime Minister could explain whether it is true that she said to the other leaders in Madrid when she was explaining Britain's social charter that she had introduced a new measure-- £7,000 for sacked Ministers. She could also explain whether the holding position on the Common Market will last only until she leaves the stage, let us say during the next 12 months, and hands over to another Tory leader. Perhaps we can then finish off with a Bill--the Single European Bill mark 2--so that some of us can vote it down. If that is what the Prime Minister wants, we shall give her a chuck on.
Mr. Wakeham : I had better delay before having such a debate. In that delaying time, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) who seems to have become a Euro-fanatic in recent weeks to see whether he can sort him out. Then we would have a consistent line from the Opposition who seem to have changed their tune.
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : I am aware of the replies from my right hon. Friend about the lack of time for debates, but will he bring pressure to bear on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on the rail strike? It is causing widespread dismay among people in all parts of the kingdom. We could look for some answers and some solutions to the future problems of the rail industry, and ascertain the views of Opposition Members who have remained absolutely silent on this highly difficult situation.
Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation requires us to consider policies, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's Question Time. However, I do not believe that it is the right moment for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House about the strike. It is a matter for those who are on strike and the management to resolve. I should have thought that many of the strikers would think carefully about whether they want to continue to inflict unnecessary suffering on so many commuters.
Column 1133testing scheme, and as the Labour party is now providing a three-hour debate on the subject next week, will the Leader of the House consider adding some Government time so that many unanswered questions can be resolved?
Secondly, before the right hon. Gentleman decides the date of the summer recess, will he arrange for a debate on the plight of British pensioners, particularly those who have to live on the basic pension? That would enable the Government to consider introducing a summer bonus to help pensioners cope with the increasing prices in the shops and water, electricity and gas charges and announcing that the Christmas bonus will be increased in line with the inflation that has occurred since it was first introduced. It is a scandal that British pensioners are living at the lowest standards of any pensioners in Europe. When will the Government provide time for us to discuss their plight and do something about it?
Mr. Wakeham : It is neither a scandal nor accurate. The hon. Gentleman does not understand what is going on. No pensioner in Britain is expected to live on the basic pension alone. Of course, 80 per cent. of all pensioners have income from private sources and the Government provide help for those on low incomes through income support and housing benefit. In October, 2.5 million pensioners will gain from the £200 million poorer pensioners' package. Therefore, what the hon. Gentleman says is just not correct. Perhaps he should do his homework before we have any such debate.
With regard to the debate on immigration rules and DNA testing on the day next week that I have allocated as an Opposition day, I find it rather strange that any important subject that the Opposition choose to debate on an Opposition day should be considered unreasonable. Opposition days are for debating matters that the Opposition want to debate. We provide the day and they provide the subject for debate. That is perfectly proper.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : To return to the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion No. 1023, which is headed :
"Industrial Action on British Rail"?
[That this House deplores the continuing misery and disruption to British Rail customers, notes that during last week's bus strike in London those bus services which have been put out to tender by L.R.T. and which are now run by private operators continued to run ; and therefore calls upon the Government to bring forward early proposals to denationalise British Rail and to consider also introducing legislation to ban strikes in essential public services.] Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is a need for an early debate on the subject because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield said, there has been a deafening silence from the Opposition and we want to know whether the Leader of the Opposition is the strikers' friend on this issue as well?
Mr. Wakeham : I appreciate my hon. Friend's understandable curiosity on these matters. Yesterday's rail strike was quite unnecessary and caused disruption for millions, especially in London. Such industrial action is pointless and, once again, I urge the rail unions to accept British Rail's offer of talks.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Does the Leader of the House recall that he has often promised that we would have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on toxic waste and the Government's response to it? As the Government are intending to introduce legislation later this year and there is increasing concern within county councils, will he give an assurance that he will hold the debate before the summer recess? In recognising the problems on that and to save him having to answer the same question every week, will he give a firm promise that a debate will be provided before the Government introduce legislation affecting waste disposal?
Mr. Wakeham : No, I will not give any such undertaking. The Committee reported on 8 March and the Government published a full response as a Command Paper on 27 April. The response described in detail the measures already in hand to meet most of the Committee's recommendations and firmly rebuffed the remaining recommendations. We have discussed many environmental issues in recent weeks. At this stage in the year, it is difficult to find additional time, so I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a further debate in the immediate future.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate and the opportunity to vote on the procedures of the House and on the facilities available to hon. Members to do their job in representing their constituents? I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows that when new Members arrive in this place and declare it a silly way to run a country and Parliament, we are told that after a couple of years we shall get used to it and like it. I have now been here a couple of years and I would not run a country in the way in which we do now. May we have the opportunity to change our procedures?
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is doing a great job in running the country and I congratulate him on his efforts. I am not sure that additional debates on improving the facilities of this place would get us very far. There are many steps being taken and we are doing our best to improve the facilities. I do not want to sound like an old hand, but the facilities are far better than they were when I came into the House and many hon. Members have been here far longer than I have. We are making some progress.
We had a debate the other day on procedure matters. It was not very well attended and only a few hon. Members were anxious to contribute. Those who did were mostly members of the Select Committee on Procedure, with a few others. However, it was a good debate and we shall come back to procedure debates later on for sure. There are several reports on procedure, but I cannot promise an early debate on them at present.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I want to take the Leader of the House back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about ministerial hand-outs. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether it is true that Ministers will receive redundancy payments? If so, will that money go to Ministers who jump as well as those who are pushed? If that is so, and something nasty happens to the right hon. Gentleman, will he opt to take the money or to go with dignity?
Column 1135believe sometimes. I shall do my best to explain the position to him. The Top Salaries Review Body considered the question of ministerial severance pay carefully, following support for its introduction from hon. Members of all parties. I told the House in May 1988 that the Government proposed to implement the TSRB recommendations when parliamentary time allowed.
I suppose that the hon. Gentleman might be singing a different song if he thought that he had a chance of ever becoming a Minister, so his comments are understandable. The position has not changed one iota since May 1988.
Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : Will my right hon. Friend find some time for us to discuss the important ramifications of the report into the brewing industry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, especially against the background of the extravagant campaign being conducted, I believe, by the Brewers Society and some of the major brewers and also against the background that some people are trying to turn logic on its head by suggesting that it is not monopolistic for six large brewers to control 75 per cent. of beer production, 74 per cent. of brewers' tied houses and 86 per cent. of loan ties? Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are some important ramifications for monopoly policy in that area and that the House should discuss them?
Mr. Wakeham : My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is continuing to discuss the issues with the national brewers and we should await the outcome of those discussions before we think about having a debate.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Is the Leader of the House aware that I am having great difficulty in winning the ballot for private Members' motions so that I can raise the question of the proprietorial
Column 1136control of The Observer newspaper by Tiny Rowland? Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to read the report of the independent directors of The Observer who were critical of The Observer's coverage of the takeover of House of Fraser, but equally whitewashed the activities of Mr. Donald Trelford, Mr. Adam Raphael, Mr. Rowland and his colleagues on the publication in The Observer of articles relating to Tornado? Is he aware that when the independent directors went in they did not interview the journalists? If they had done so, the report might have been very different. Should not Parliament be allowed the right to debate these matters, which are important to the freedom of the press?
Mr. Wakeham : I am not sure that I can help the hon. Gentleman very much. He may not be lucky in winning the private Members' ballot. If I were able to enter it and I won it, I should let him have my ticket, but unfortunately I am not allowed to do so, so I cannot help him this week.
Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) : My right hon. Friend is a reasonable man. May I ask him, therefore, to think again about providing time for a debate on the rail strike, in view of the strength of feeling among Conservative Members? Is it not important that Conservative Members are able to place on record their views on the troglodyte behaviour of Mr. Jimmy Knapp? Is it not equally important that the House and the country have the opportunity to learn the views of the Leader of the Opposition on this matter? As a result of his silence, if he is not the strikers' friend on this issue, he is certainly the invisible man.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is the usual whinge. We had a very important statement today. Given the great forest of people who sought to catch your eye, it was quite impossible that they could all do so. All I ask is whether, the next time we have a very important statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister after a Council of Europe meeting, it would be possible to take some sort of list of those who sought to get in today, but who, quite understandably, were unfortunate in not being able to catch your eye.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You cannot call every hon. Member. I was not called and I am not whingeing. I used a bit of ingenuity and raised the matter in business questions. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) could have done the same if he had been smart enough. On another point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have not raised the matter of the Rose theatre before because it has been left to others who deal with such cultural matters. It has been brought to my attention that it is high time that we had another statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Mr. Skinner : I hear my hon. Friend saying, "Hear, hear." He knows about this. It is important that we have a statement, because there are possibly some connections which are a little unsavoury, to say the least, namely
Mr. Skinner : It is a constitutional matter, Mr. Speaker. I want to know in what way I, or someone else, can raise this matter. A Member of the House of Lords, Lord McAlpine of West Green, treasurer of the Tory party and non-executive director of Imry Merchant Developers, may well be catching the ear of the Secretary of State for the Environment more than anyone else in this matter. Can I raise the matter here or should it be raised somewhere else? Is it a matter of privilege?
Mr. Tony Banks : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I will not whinge either about the ministerial statement. The Select Committee on Procedure is considering the scrutiny of EEC legislation and EEC matters. I know that, if there are complaints about timing, you will say that the business of the House is not your concern. It is, however, your prerogative to determine how long you will allow questions on a statement to continue. As the summits come up only once every six months, would not the ability of the House to scrutinise EEC matters be enhanced by allowing questions on those statements to continue for a sufficiently long time to enable all hon. Members--apart from me, of course--to ask the Prime Minister a question?
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member knows that on this occasion I allowed questions on the Prime Minister's statement to continue for an hour. There was then another statement, on which questions ran for 50 minutes. We are about to consider the Second Reading of a Bill. As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) correctly stated, it is impossible for every Member to be called. I do my best to be utterly fair. I do not think that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is a deprived citizen.
That the draft Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Rear Seats) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Education (National Curriculum) (Modern Foreign Languages) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 825) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in English) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 907) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 971) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Offshore Installations (Emergency Pipe-line Valve) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1029) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Education (School Hours and Policies) (Information) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 398) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]
That the matter of Broadcasting in Scotland, being a matter relating exclusively to Scotland, be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for its consideration.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]
Representation of the People Bill
Order for Second Reading read .
I apologise for the fact that I cannot be here for the wind-up speeches because of a commitment that I found difficult to escape. I have informed the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) of my proposed absence.
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the existing franchise for British citizens overseas and to set a new limit on candidates' election expenses at a United Kingdom parliamentary by-election. In 1985, the House decided that the right to vote for Britons abroad should no longer be confined just to members of the forces and other servants of the Crown. In building on those existing arrangements, as we did in the Representation of the People Act 1985, we showed, I hope, that our electoral arrangements can evolve and adapt, in a sensible and practical way, to changing social circumstances without losing their essential character and continuity. The House is rightly cautious in new legislation on the franchise. We set an initial time limit of five years on the period during which a British citizen resident abroad may register to vote. We also imposed, both in the Act and in regulations made later, a number of restrictions and conditions on the extension we were making.
The Government made a commitment, at the time that we agreed to these restrictions and conditions, that we would review them in the light of their operation. My predecessor said :
"as time goes on, many of the objections that have been voiced will be seen to be invalid. It is likely that a case for a further extension will be made out."--[ Official Report , 29 January 1985 ; Vol. 72, c. 217.]
After three years' experience of the overseas franchise, the time has come to make that case.
The arrangements made in 1985 have not proved attractive to our citizens abroad. Only 12,000 overseas British citizens worldwide were registered to vote in 1987, the first year of operation, and also a general election year. In 1988 the numbers registered in the whole of the United Kingdom fell sharply to just over 2,000. There has been little improvement this year, despite the opportunity for registered overseas electors to vote in the recent European parliamentary elections. There are 2,832 overseas electors on the register for England and Wales, 132 in Scotland and just six for the whole of Northern Ireland--a total of only 2,970 for the United Kingdom. We must, I believe, ask ourselves why this franchise is used by less than 1 per cent. of those of our overseas citizens eligible to vote here. Do the arrangements made in 1985 offer a fair deal to our citizens overseas?
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Voting is a voluntary activity. If overseas citizens are not voting, that is their right. Perhaps the Home Secretary will start looking at the number of people in this country who do not
Column 1141vote and change the way in which our voting procedures are organised. Perhaps he will think about supporting my idea for compulsory voting.
Mr. Hurd : That is not the issue. The question is whether, because of our caution, we have hemmed in these new overseas voters so that they are reluctant, because of restrictions, to exercise their right. We need to examine that question, just as the Bill does.
Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is a difference between registration and voting and that the Opposition parties have consistently and rightly supported drives against under-registration in the United Kingdom as a whole, so logically they should also support attempts to make registration easier for United Kingdom citizens abroad, too?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right. He has made his point neatly. We have received emphatic replies on the question whether the existing restrictions are excessive. Much of what the overseas voters say is borne out by the full response that I received to the consultation paper issued on the subject last spring.
Change is needed in two basic respects. The first is the discouraging five- year cut-off, with its automatic denial of democratic rights after an arbitrary period. The second is the cumbersome bureaucracy which, as a result of our caution in 1985, we have imposed on our citizens abroad who want to vote in our elections. Some of those bureacratic burdens, notably the requirement to seek attestation of all first applications from a British consular office, are in secondary legislation. We shall in due course seek the consent of the House to reduce those burdens and, where practicable, to remove them altogether. Where we can help our citizens abroad, for example, by sending them annual reminders of the need to register, rather as is done for domestic electors, we shall do so, and clause 5 would enable me and my right hon. Friends to require electoral registration officers to do that.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Has the right hon. Gentleman estimated the cost of imposing that duty on electoral registration officers? What is the basis of his assertion about the number of those people who might be entitled to vote if they registered?
Mr. Hurd : I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to deal with the hon. Gentleman's second point. On the first point, we have made a calculation--but it may not be exact. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to question it, he should do so. I doubt that he would seriously be able to undermine our estimate.
I turn to the main provisions of the Bill and the fundamental question of where the cut-off for overseas voting should be set : for how many years should a British citizen be able to reside overseas and still be able to cast his vote in our parliamentary elections? I readily acknowledge that there cannot be a precise or objective answer. A balance must be struck between the claims and interests of those who have been abroad for a long time but have retained close and continuing connections with Britain and those who cut adrift from such links much earlier.
Column 1142In 1985, we took an ultra cautious, tentative approach and set the limit of five years. Following our experience of the system, we can now see that many of the fears expressed at that time were misconceived. Perhaps they overlooked the extent to which a system requiring annual registration is self-regulating. Some hon. Members,. especially on this side of the House, who responded to our consultation paper strongly argued that there should be no time limit, as is the case in several other major democracies. That is an arguable point of view with which I have much sympathy. We should try to get a reasonable view after listening to as many opinions as possible. We should not ram through legislation against such strongly held views. I recognise the strength and sincerity of the view that we must draw the line somewhere and that the constituency link is not infinitely elastic.
The Bill proposes a limit of 25 years, which would enfranchise citizens working on longer-term contracts abroad who intend, as many do, to retire to the United Kingdom. The Bill will include, by and large, citizens who, encouraged by successive Governments, have gone abroad to work for international and world development organisations, to advance British economic interests as private business men or to pursue careers in European Community institutions. It will recognise the rights of thousands of British citizens across the globe who, through modern communications, cheaper air fares and a genuine affection for their country, maintain strong links with the United Kingdom. Many of them have family and friends, property, children at school and are often liable for payment of taxes here. They may be business men, journalists, teachers or officials, voluntary workers, missionaries or church workers.
I remember the first debate that I attended on this subject, when the Labour party held the view that such people were lotus eaters. I remember the former Labour Leader of the House, now Lord Glenamara, using that phrase. I hope that we have moved on and that Labour Members will not argue that the people whom we have enfranchised in a rather timid and tentative manner should be described and denounced as lotus eaters.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : The Secretary of State said that the limit is to be increased from five to 25 years. Given that within 25 years there will probably be at least two boundary changes in a constituency, is the Secretary of State satisfied that people living abroad will have sufficient links with constituencies to know in which constituency to register? Registration by overseas citizens is voluntary, contrary to the answer that the Secretary of State gave to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), whereas registration for people living in Britain is not. It is illegal not to register to vote in this country, so therefore there is a distinction. I accept the generality of the Secretary of State's argument for the 25-year limit, but will electoral rolls be accurate, bearing in mind the fact that registration officers do not keep them for 25 years?
Mr. Hurd : Registers are available. The hon. Gentleman is neglecting the fact that overseas citizens will have to register every year. The extent of contact will vary from case to case, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's objection is sound because they will be maintaining
Column 1143contact by registering every year. We should not disenfranchise them because they have lived abroad for 15 or 20 years rather than five years.
Mr. Tony Banks rose--
Mr. Hurd : I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I can understand the argument for having no time limit. I used to accept the argument for a tight limit, which was the mood of the House four years ago. I hope that we have moved on and that the House will agree, in the light of experience, that clause 1 strikes the right balance. I hope that it will be accepted in that spirit.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Many hon. Members believe that it is absurd that anyone who has been away from Britain for 25 years should be able to vote. Is there not also the question of their commitment to the United Kingdom? Under the law as it currently stands, for them to be able to vote they must show that they do not intend permanently to live outside Britain. That provision is to be dropped. Such people pay no taxes to the Exchequer, so why should they be entitled to vote here?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member has returned to the lotus-eating argument, which I hoped had been disposed of many years ago. His approach is deeply old-fashioned because it does not take into account changes in society. Thousands of people have been encouraged to move abroad by the Government and for business reasons. In the old days, it was thought that the only people who should be allowed to vote were diplomats and soldiers of the British Army of the Rhine. That is the old-fashioned concept to which the hon. Gentleman is sticking. Most overseas citizens have links here and will return to Britain at the end of their working lives. The world has moved on, and in future people will increasingly work overseas. To dismiss such people as having lost their connections with or loyalty to Britain is a deeply obscure and reactionary point of view.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : For tax purposes, what will happen if people sell their businesses overseas, thereby escaping capital gains tax? Has a determination been made regarding their tax liabilities or responsibilities? Does not the Bill have implications for final estate duties? Does registering to vote determine where one's heart or one's residence is?
Mr. Hurd : I shall not follow my hon. Friend down that byway. We made it perfectly clear in 1985, and we do so again now, that there is no connection between British tax laws and the provisions of the Bill.
I mentioned earlier the denial of democracy that is inherent in the present arrangements. That denial is especially obvious--I think that this is a quirk--in the exclusion from the right to vote of young people who, through no fault of their own, were not registered to vote when they went abroad or were taken abroad by their parents. It was clear from the consultation exercise that it is common ground that we can and should enfranchise that group of people. Clauses 2 and 3 seek to do just that.
Clause 4 deals with a matter that has already been mentioned in interventions--the requirement for the applicant to make a statutory declaration about his future place of residence. Many of our citizens abroad have objected, understandably, to making such a declaration. It
Column 1144was never connected with tax, but many of them thought that it was. That view was reflected by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). In the light of experience, we cannot see much point in having that declaration. It cannot be verified one way or the other by the person considering the application. It is a symbolic gesture, and if it has any effect at all, it is only that it might allow a dishonest person to vote while preventing an honest person from doing so. It adds only nuisance value to the procedures, and the Bill would abolish it.
Mr. Tony Banks : I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way because he will not be here at the end of the debate and I am anxious to push him on these points. Taxation is crucial. Ministers and the Prime Minister have stood at the Dispatch Box and, with regard to local government changes, have said that whether someone pays rates influences the policies for which he votes at local elections. One justification for the poll tax was the fact that so many people are out of the rating system. In other words, voting must accompany the payment of taxes. The Home Secretary's argument today is the reverse of that. People who do not pay taxes will still be able to vote for policies to which they will be making no financial contribution. That is a complete reversal of what Ministers have insisted should apply in local government and it is now to be applied to central Government.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is attacking the whole concept of overseas voting. But that concept has been established for several years and it is not seriously contested in the House. The hon. Gentleman is mounting a rearguard and reactionary opposition to something that has been on the statute books for some time. There has never been a connection between the existence of this franchise since 1985 and the taxation laws. The hon. Gentleman would be the first to object if we tried to make such a connection. That connection has not existed and the Opposition are not about to propose one. We are talking not about a new principle today, but about the ramifications and restrictions which in the past have hedged in the principle of the overseas franchise.
The Home Secretary referred to democracy and extending the franchise. Why will he not come clean with the House? Under the existing legislation, there are 500,000 target voters overseas. Under the new proposals in this Bill, there will be 2 million target voters. That is what the Bill is all about. The Government want to enhance the number of votes that the Conservative party will get at the next and subsequent general elections. All this stuff about democracy is a charade. Why will not the Home Secretary come clean?
Mr. Hurd : That is not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. I do not know why he is so defeatist. I thought that the Labour party was in a rather more confident mood. The assumption that Labour is going to lose, or fail to gain all the votes of the officials in the Commission, is strange. I thought that the Commission was now Labour's particular buddy. I advise the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) to have a little more confidence in his prospects and his capacity to enlist the votes of
Column 1145Commission officials and the children of missionaries. The hon. Gentleman's intervention has not really edified the House. The other main purpose of the Bill is contained in clause 6, which sets a new limit on candidates' expenses at by-elections for seats in this House. I gave an assurance in a written answer on the day that I presented this Bill that the new limit is without prejudice to the outcome of a longer-term review that I have set in hand, and I repeat that assurance now. I also repeat, as I said in the written answer that appears in Hansard of 21 June, that the review will cover general election expenses as well as by-election expenses. I am preparing a consultation paper which will enable me to seek the views of political parties and election registration officers on the question of election expenses at general elections, by- elections and European elections. We will need a little time to glean views and bring forward sensible proposals.
Meanwhile, the Bill recognises what all hon. Members recognise : the intensity of campaigning at modern parliamentary by-elections and the need to set realistic limits for them. The Bill does that. It applies to parliamentary elections throughout the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, proposals for some easing of the regulations covering consular attestation of overseas electors' declarations will be brought before the House in due course. At the same time, we will try to meet another point and seek the consent of the House to lighten the burden of attestation-- [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West is listening--which three years ago we placed on holidaymakers and others applying for the absent voting facilities provided by the Representation of the People Act 1985.
On those terms, I commend the Bill to the House.