|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 1165entertainment for our children. We do not wish to encourage people who are interested only in making a quick buck at the expense of our young people and without concern for their safety. The Bill will deal with such people. I commend my hon. Friend's efforts and I hope that all hon. Members will rally round to support it and ensure that it reaches the statute book.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) : I shall intervene only briefly in this important debate. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his enterprise and good sense in producing the Bill and thank him on behalf of my constituents, because in west Kent we have suffered as severely as any other part of the country from the so-called parties that were held last year.
All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have referred to the disruption that was caused, which was absolutely acute. The noise disturbance was frankly horrendous, stretching over miles of countryside as a result of the use of amplifiers turned up to sextuple forte so that the sound carried a huge distance. There was any amount of high-powered lighting revolving, blinking and flashing and any amount of traffic. I also received abundant first-hand evidence from parents in my constituency of their teenagers having been approached by people seeking to peddle drugs. Other hon. Members have spoken about the attendant risk of violence to persons, theft and so on. Those occasions are extremely undesirable and I am delighted that the Bill has been introduced.
I wish to refer to one aspect that was not mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. I recognise that it bears on the particular responsibilities of another Government Department, although it relates directly to the issues addressed by the Bill. As we all know, large sums of money are being made out of these occasions. In principle that money is subject to tax. Last year I asked my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer what action the Inland Revenue was taking to establish the taxable income being obtained by farmers and landowners allowing their land to be used for such purposes, by those allowing their buildings to be used for such purposes and by the so-called party organisers. Undoubtedly thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds are being made as a result of those activities.
I sought an assurance from my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor that the full resources of the Inland Revenue would be applied to make certain that those sums were properly declared in the tax returns of the individuals concerned and would be made fully subject to the tax regime. I received a somewhat po-faced reply to my inquiries. I understand that the Treasury tends to give such replies, particularly on issues concerning people's personal tax liability. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister and the officials in his Department will liaise most closely with Treasury Ministers and Inland Revenue officials. I hope that positive and active steps will be taken to identify the farmers, landowners, building owners and party organisers concerned and ensure that a full declaration of income is made and full liability to tax achieved from the large sums of money which are being coined.
Mr. John Patten : I give an undertaking to my right hon. Friend that I will, at the beginning of the pay-party season--as spring comes, so the numbers of parties will multiply--draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall tell him of my right hon. Friend's strong view on the need for the Inland Revenue to take action. I suppose that that feeling is reflected not only in the House but among many ordinary citizens in the country at large.
Sir John Stanley : I ask my right hon. Friend not to defer making representations until the start of the party season. The point I made has equal validity in relation to the past season. I hope that when those concerned complete their tax returns for the financial year 1989-90--the year we are talking about--the full panoply of the Inland Revenue's investigatory powers will be applied to ensure that full declarations are made and the full amounts of taxation are assessed, on those concerned.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South for allowing me to make this brief intervention, I congratulate him on his Bill and wish him success in carrying it through to receive Royal Assent at the earliest possible date.
I repeat that the Bill is designed not to stop parties, but to make them legal and, therefore, safe for young people to enjoy themselves, and to prevent one person's freedom from interfering with that of another. It is all about balance, as I said earlier.
One hare almost got out--the idea that perhaps the Bill would have some effect on the village fete. I am pleased that outdoor garden fetes, bazaars and other similar entertainments are not required to be licensed as open- air, public, musical entertainment under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, because the music is incidental to them. I hope that will assure vicars, scout masters and women's institute presidents that their fetes are not under threat.
I thank my colleagues in the House, particularly the sponsors, my right hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) for their support and for allowing the Bill to achieve its Second Reading today. I also thank the Home Office staff for their advice and work in helping to draft this difficult and complex Bill. I thank the Essex police for briefing me and giving me the opportunity to see, on the ground, how these parties are organised.
I also thank my staff : my office has been brought to a standstill during the past couple of weeks because of the burden of work on the Bill. I thank Dr. Christopher Thompson, my researcher, who has worked so hard in helping me to draft my speech and briefing me on my various interviews. I paticularly thank my secretary, Barbara Kyriakou without whom I would not have been able to come here today and propose my Bill as I have. I commend the Bill to the House. Question put and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Order for Second Reading read.
This is an unusual occurrence for me because, for the first time in six years, instead of being among my constituents in Birmingham, I have the honour of being here in the House of Commons on a Friday afternoon. It is even more of a shock to my system that I am proposing a Bill that has all- party support, including my own. Still more of a shock to my system is the fact that the Whips have asked me to speak to the Bill. That will not happen very often, any more than will my presence in the House on a Friday.
This simple Bill, which is proposed by me as a complex person, is also laudable and straightforward. Instead of those who are registered to vote having to apply for a vote whenever they move--whether it be for a local election, a by-election or a general election--they would be so registered. The Bill has no implications for public expenditure. The present arrangements have been criticised by all parties equally, by the electoral registration officers and--much more importantly--by the electors themselves because at the moment people cannot vote if they move except by using a cumbersome and unnecessary procedure.
Therefore, I urge the House to adopt this sensible Bill, which will reduce the potential work load on the registration officers, who do an excellent job on behalf of all Members of Parliament. It will also remove a bureaucratic burden from the electorate and--amazingly enough for a Bill of mine--its provisions have been widely welcomed and not criticised by anyone. I shall hang on to that.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I wish to support the Bill, and shall speak only briefly because I do not wish to delay our proceedings, and other hon. Members also wish to speak. Any Bill that is entitled "Representation of the People Bill" and that affects the franchise also has an impact on the poll tax. The electoral register and the poll tax are interlinked and overlap. If someone lives in Lambeth and moves to Wandsworth, or vice versa, the Bill would allow that person to exercise his or her franchise rights in local government elections in the area from which they have moved. That is contrary to the provisions of the poll tax legislation. Although that poll tax legislation is based on principles with which I disagree, those principles state that accountablility should operate and that a citizen should pay his or her poll tax money in one specific area and vote within that area. Although I favour this Bill, it cuts across that specific principle.
The electoral register is compiled from the registrations that take place in October. It is then published in February and the rate payments or poll tax payments begin to be payable from the April of that year. Therefore, by February someone could have moved after registering in October. In that entire period, that person could then be entitled to vote in local government elections in another area. That is what the Bill proposes. Indeed, the Bill makes that easier for people and it is, of course, a right to which
Column 1168they should be entitled. Nevertheless, the provisions fall foul of the Government's silly principle about the nature of accountability. They say that under their notion of accountability one is entitled to vote by paying the tax. It should be the other way round. We should have the right to vote as residents living in an area and we should collectively decide our tax arrangements after that.
I could say much more about the inequities of the electoral representation provisions that are hit by this Bill, but other hon. Members wish to speak.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : I shall be extremely brief. Opposition Members support the Second Reading of the Bill because of the anomalies that crept into the Representation of the People Act 1985. I refer especially to the provisions about absent voters, which affect people who have moved house. It is absurd that the 1985 Act did not simplify the absent voting procedure, especially bearing in mind that those automatic rights existed in the 1983 legislation.
The Opposition regard the Bill as attempting to correct the anomaly of the 1985 Act, the operation of which relies on the discretion of registration and returning officers in deciding whether a person can get to a polling station easily or whether they should have an absent vote.
We support the Bill for two two main reasons. First, we want not only to remove inconvenience for electors but to reduce bureaucracy for returning officers and those who conduct elections. There is nothing partisan about the Bill. The House is merely correcting an error of misjudgment, or perhaps a case of the House of Commons, not doing its job properly. We are attempting to enhance our democracy and the representation of the people of Britain. For that reason, we shall give the Bill as much support as possible to ensure that it receives a Second Reading.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : It is clear that the whole Chamber welcomes the measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark). Selly Oak's loss this Friday is the House of Commons' gain and the gain of the electors whose lives will be made easier by the important measure that my hon. Friend has introduced. It has been a most remarkable day for me. I never thought that I would see the day when the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North -East (Mr. Barnes) would publicly support my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak. I am glad to have witnessed that remarkable occasion. I shall tell my children and grandchildren about it, but they will probably not believe the tale. I am glad to have been here when the Bill was introduced. It is a rare pleasure for me as a Minister to have the opportunity to speak on a Bill that is entirely uncontroversial, and which has the full support of all of the major political parties. It is also unusual that its provisions have been welcomed by the various local authority associations representing those who deal with electoral matters. Electors who wish to exercise their democratic rights will be most suited by my hon. Friend's important Bill. Characteristically, his eagle eye has lit on something that the Government and the House had failed to spot--an error which we allowed to creep through in 1985. That is entirely typical of my hon. Friend.
Column 1169The problem that the Bill addresses is simple. It arises from the way in which the electoral register is prepared each year by reference to a single qualifying date. It is important that people understand the arrangements.
The register comes into force on 16 February following the qualifying date and remains in force for one year. The problem is that a person who has qualified for inclusion on the register by virtue of residence in one electoral area on 10 October, and who subsequently moves house to another electoral area, must wait until the subsequent register comes into force before he or she can vote at elections in the new district or constituency. It is therefore necessary for such people to apply for an absent vote-- either a postal vote, or a vote by proxy if they want to continue to vote in their old electoral area.
The problem arises because under the Representation of the People Act 1985 any elector whose circumstance on polling day is or is likely to be such that he or she cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person at the allotted station is entitled to an absent vote at that election. At the time we thought that a person who had moved house and was therefore no longer close to the polling station allotted to him on the basis of his qualifying address, would be able conveniently to apply as and when necessary under that provision. But I am afraid to say that an error crept in, which my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak has spotted some five years later.
Unfortunately, under the existing legislation, the elector has to make an application on every occasion on which there is an election. As my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak said, previously one application covered all elections during the remaining life of the register. Understandably, the new arrangement was unpopular with the electors. The difficulty was brought into sharper focus at the 1987 general election. We had a local government election and a general election close to each other. People who had applied for an absent vote at one election thought that that application was extant for both elections. Unfortunately, it was not. People did not have the chance to vote for the party of their choice on that occasion. The Government, with the agreement of other political parties, looked at this issue and decided to seek all-party support and support from the local authority associations for this change. The Bill will overcome those problems because it provides for people who have moved house during the currency of the register, in future to be able to make a single application for an absent vote at all elections until the new register is in place. It also provides that an application made under the provisions of the Bill will apply not only to parliamentary and European parliamentary elections, but to local government elections. One application will cover local and national franchises, and international franchises within the European Parliament. That seems sensible and we believe that it will be extremely popular with the country.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak said, applications made under the Bill will gain assent from an electoral registration officer provided that the applicant produces evidence of present residence. Applications made
Column 1170under the Bill will not need to be attested and perhaps I should bring that to the attention of the House. Such a requirement would be onerous to the applicant and burdensome to the electoral registration officer. Attestation would serve no useful purpose. Furthermore, it would be unnecessary, as it will be self-evident from an applicant's address whether or not he qualifies.
If an electoral registration officer has any doubts about the bona fides of an application, it can always be checked. It would be illogical to have abandoned attestation for most domestic absent voting applicants, but to retain if for this category of house movers. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that it would add nothing to have an attestation requirement in the Bill. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I have not sought to introduce any amendments to insert such a requirement. It is important that electoral registration officers and others know that that is why we have not sought to introduce an amendment on attestation. It would add nothing to the provisions of the 1985 Act. The whole House should be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. If his Bill passes through the House--let us hope that it will pass swiftly--it will simplify the system and reduce the bureaucratic burden on the large number of electors who move house each year. For that reason it will be warmly welcomed by the House and the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend and want him to know that on this occasion the Government fully support him.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Beaumont-Dark.]
The House divided : Ayes 27, Noes 2.
Division No, 111] [2.14 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Patten, Rt Hon John
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Rossi, Sir Hugh
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Wheeler, Sir John
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Kenneth Hind and
Mr. Ian Taylor.
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Harry Barnes and
Mr. John Hughes.
It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than 40 Members had taken part in the Division, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- declared that the Question was not decided.
Bill accordingly committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Order for Second Reading read.
I intend to speak briefly because I want my Bill, as happened with the two previous Bills, to make progress.
The purpose of my Bill is to provide employment and training for all who have been out of work for two years or more. The Bill would oblige the Secretary of State for Employment, for the first time, to take the necessary steps to tackle the problem of the 400,000 long-term unemployed. Most hon. Members would agree that that is an unacceptable figure ; it is bad for our economy, and bad socially. It is therefore essential that society does something about the long-term unemployed. The time has come for a fresh initiative. That is why I am putting forward this Bill, which will be supported by a package of measures, including counselling, training, Government support schemes and grants to enable employers to take on the long-term unemployed. We need such a package if we are seriously to tackle the problem of the long-term unemployed.
I believe that my Bill offers hope and opportunity to the long-term unemployed. It has the support of more than 100 hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), and because of the importance of the subject it deserves a Second Reading.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I am delighted to be called to speak. It has been a long wait, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) is anxious to speak. If he wants to intervene in my speech, I shall be delighted to give way to him.
This debate is important because it underlines the success that the Government have had in reducing unemployment. Indeed, our record in that respect is the best in Europe. I am pleased that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members are present today to underline that fact. Employment has risen by almost 2 million since 1983. The British economy has created as many jobs as the rest of the European Community put together. That is a record of which to be proud. I take a considerable interest in these matters in my constituency. Only this month I visited an employment training centre in Gainsborough in which work is being conducted every day of the week to train people for the jobs of the 1990s. The benefit of the reduction in unemployment has been widely spread. It has not been confined to certain types of employment or to particular regions. For instance, long -term unemployment has fallen by about 450,000 in the past two years and is now below 900,000. Unemployment among workers aged under 25 years is now at its lowest level for more than five years.
I commend the Government on the work that they have done in encouraging employment and employment opportunities through training our young people. No Government in the history of our nation have had as good
Column 1172a record in reducing unemployment among our young people and providing training opportunities for the future. I believe -- It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Friday 16 March.
Private Members' Bills
Order for Second Reading read