Previous Section Home Page

Column 425

Warren, Kenneth

Watts, John

Wheeler, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Winterton, Mrs Ann

Winterton, Nicholas

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.


Abbott, Ms Diane

Alton, David

Beith, A. J.

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)

Clay, Bob

Cryer, Bob

Gordon, Mildred

Howells, Geraint

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Livsey, Richard

Loyden, Eddie

Maclennan, Robert

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Nellist, Dave

Pike, Peter L.

Primarolo, Dawn

Skinner, Dennis

Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

Wallace, James

Winnick, David

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Wray, Jimmy

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and

Mr. Harry Barnes.

Question accordingly agreed to .

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

11.15 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : As a result of the way in which the amendments have been called--and I make no criticism--the only way in which an alternative view can be expressed is by speaking against clause 1 standing part of the Bill.

I am one of those--and there must be others--who are anxious when the two Front Benches agree because the usual channels can become too easy a form of contact. However, when the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) speaks about democracy, it is right to put it on record that he was elected as a Labour candidate in the 1979 election and that the ballot paper said "Labour". When the hon. Gentleman deserted the Labour party, he tore up every ballot that was cast for him and served under another label for the rest of that Parliament. Therefore, I do not find it easy to take lectures from him on the subject of ballots.

However, I want to make the more substantial point that our parliamentary system rests on a constituency basis. We refer to, for example, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, or to the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup and for Finchley or whatever the constituency may be. Under this arrangement it is possible that several constituencies in which there is a narrow vote one way or the other might elect their Members of Parliament on the votes of those who have not lived in this country for 20 years. That is a substantial change.

When the franchise was extended in the 19th century, the concept of passports did not exist. The only meaning of "citizenship" was where one lived and worked. We are now departing from that. There are millions of people who create the wealth in this country and who have no vote but, as one Conservative Member has said, if one holds property here, one is entitled to vote. By making this change, we are shifting the idea of citizenship from those who have a commitment to the future of the country because they live and work here, to those who have property in this country but who live and work elsewhere. That is a substantial change.

Column 426

The poll tax has altered the basis of the vote because everybody who is on the register will be pursued for the poll tax--[ Hon. Members-- : "Community charge."] Those who live abroad will not be pursued for the poll tax. Indeed, it is called the poll tax because it is a tax attaching to those who are on the register--[ Hon. Members-- : "No."] I know that there will be others who pay the poll tax who will not be on the register, but nobody on the register will be able to escape the poll tax. Of course, people such as foreign residents living here will pay the poll tax.

Finally, the 20-year rule is retrospective. What about young people of 16 who pay taxation, who are at work and who have an interest in the next 20 years in this country because they live here, but who are not to be enfranchised?

I do not know whether the House will seek to proceed to another Division, but for those reasons, in my speech and in my voice, I wish to register my opposition to clause 1 standing part of the Bill. This is a big change and the fact that an agreement has been reached between the two Front Benches should not recommend itself to those who see the basis of our vote as constituency representation. Those who live and work in a constituency should have primacy in electoral representation over those who live abroad for whatever reasons. I make no charge against those who live abroad because they may have good reason to do so--but they have no direct commitment to, nor do they create wealth in, the society where they claim that they should have a vote.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : It is true that the parliamentary system rests on a constituency basis. It is also true that by "democracy" we mean extending the franchise to adult citizens. Sometimes those things can come into conflict. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) takes a narrow view in saying that people living overseas should not have a vote in a constituency where they have not resided for some time. That is incompatible with the view of a democratic society that I am putting forward. Because of that approach and that difference in interpretation, I advise the Committee to reject what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill :--

The Committee divided : Ayes 143, Noes 16.

Division No. 283] [11.23 pm


Alexander, Richard

Allason, Rupert

Alton, David

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Atkins, Robert

Beith, A. J.

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Boswell, Tim

Brandon-Bravo, Martin

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Chapman, Sydney

Chope, Christopher

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon John

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Curry, David

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Durant, Tony

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fishburn, John Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forth, Eric

Foster, Derek

Franks, Cecil

Freeman, Roger

French, Douglas

Garel-Jones, Tristan

Next Section

  Home Page