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Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). The Bill is far more complicated than it seems at first sight, as this issue has begun to unravel as a great public problem. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred to the corruptions of the 1780s and the 1880s. Those of us who enjoy our Trollope will know that buying seats and being dismissed from a seat were key issues in all his great novels.

In his reply to my intervention, the right hon. Gentleman talked of people living in glass houses. I patted my wallet trying to think of what he might mean. His former right hon. Friend, to whom I referred, Mr. Jonathan Aitken, was once Chief Secretary, which is a superior, modern form of Paymaster General. I do not want to be partisan, but the plain fact is that the creation of the Neill committee and this extremely complicated Bill stem from the financing of the Conservative party as revealed in the past decade, although I could include the whole of the last century. We have not mentioned the occult financing from Greek shipping millionaires and Hong Kong millionaires. We know about Neil Hamilton and Mohamed Al Fayed. I regret the fact that Mr. Michael Ashcroft has capitulated to The Times and has not had his day in court. I expect that the trial would have led to the same humiliation that has been visited on the former hon. Member for Tatton.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman's comments have been typical. Why does he not also mention Mr. Bernie Ecclestone and that well-known gentleman, Robert Maxwell, who was a donator to the Labour party? The Labour party might give back some of the money to the Maxwell pensioners.

Mr. MacShane: As is well known, the Labour party returned Mr. Ecclestone's cheque. The huge difference is that, the more isolationist the Conservative party has become in recent years, the more it depends on foreign funding and offshore money of one sort or another. That is the political reality, and it has led to this extremely complex Bill, about which I have some questions to put to my hon. Friend the Minister. It is a long Bill: it has 175 pages. Moreover, schedule 19 specifies no fewer than 106 offences for which members of the public involved in politics might be fined or put in prison. I think that the office of party treasurer, nationally, regionally or in constituencies, will become extremely sensitive.

I want to focus on just three elements of what is a long and complex Bill. I strongly believe that this is not the last word. I think we all salute the work of the Neill committee, although I disagree with its recommendations on tax relief for political donations. Let me repeat what I have already said. In my constituency, wages are low, and many people are on benefits because of the wicked policies implemented by the Conservative party over the past 20 years. In South Yorkshire the chances of raising money for either party are slim, but I think that a tax-relief incentive would benefit, mainly and unfairly, the Conservative party, and I consider that, rather than administrative complexities, to be a good and principled reason for rejecting it.

I fear that we shall have to search for Solomons to sit on the Electoral Commission. Party politics is a passionate business, involving not just sums of money in connection

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with the conduct of elections, but for the winners of an election the control of some 40 per cent. of the total wealth of any modern nation. That is why the question of party political funding has been so sensitive in all the advanced democracies. It has done huge damage to politicians in all parties. One example is Chancellor Kohl. I broadly support increased public funds for democracy. In Germany, there is almost limitless cash for party political operations--for political parties and their foundations--yet Chancellor Kohl faces criminal charges because he took secret funds from different donors, and spent them without any public accountability. I therefore welcome the acceptance of the principle of transparency, which I think is reflected throughout the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Minister may not reply to this point tonight, but I hope that he will consider the issue of overseas voters. I feel uneasy about the decision to reduce the franchise for the first time in decades, if not hundreds of years. I was going to say that I felt uneasy about voting in favour of that, but it appears that there is to be no division. A huge number of British citizens live overseas, and feel passionately that they are British. They feel that they have a strong connection with this country, and that the defining moment of citizenship is the moment when they can cast their vote.

The House of Commons Library has done some research for me. According to the latest estimates, which date back to 1993, there are 8.6 million British nationals living overseas, 650,000 of whom are in Europe. In 1997, 214,000 United Kingdom service personnel were posted overseas, and 840,000 United Kingdom state pensions are paid to pensioners living in countries throughout the world.

It used to be said that there should be no taxation without representation. I am not sure whether we should now say that there should be no receipt of welfare benefits without representation. Many British men and women go abroad to work for international organisations. They may be employed by a British company, and have been posted overseas, or perhaps to work for a non-governmental organisation. Such people may marry and live overseas for 10 or 15 years. The House should think carefully before telling them suddenly that their key, core citizenship right of voting is to be taken away.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Has my hon. Friend observed that, regrettably, the Bill has not been used to remedy the wrong whereby people living in Gibraltar, who are European Union citizens, must still suffer the democratic deficit--both in relation to the EU itself, although the European Court of Justice has found in their favour, and in another regard? Ultimately, their Government are here, and this is their Parliament. If we go to war, the people of Gibraltar cannot say, "If you don't mind, we will sit this one out."; they are committed. Yet, unlike comparable territories connected with the Netherlands, France, Spain and the United States, they have no representation.

It is shameful that we should call ourselves a democracy while people peppered around the globe have no vote and no representation in this place. I am sorry that

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the Government did not use this opportunity to recognise the existence of a wrong and remedy it, and I hope that they will think again soon.

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend has made some fascinating points. I am pleased that I have the confidence of constituents, and hope to retain it in order to continue to be the hon. Member for Rotherham. However, there may be those who would like to be hon. Members for Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands, St. Helena, Belize or other leftovers from the British empire. My hon. Friend was right to draw our attention to the anomalies involved, although I am not sure whether the Bill will resolve them.

The question of the removal, or reduction, of the right of overseas British citizens to vote is important. Other Bills being considered extend the right of members of the Irish Republic, a sovereign foreign state, not just to vote but to participate, as candidates, in our political procedures. We have extended the right to vote in local and European elections to the many hundreds of thousands of European Union citizens who live in the United Kingdom. I agree with that entirely. In his new year address, the Prime Minister said that Britain would never succeed as a nation isolated from Europe and the rest of the world. We would send out quite the wrong message if we told our citizens who live overseas, temporarily or in the longer term, that, after 10 years, they could not vote. If something is wrong in principle, it should be stopped immediately. The 10-year cut-off makes no sense.

Later in the year, some of us will attend parties organised by the Democrats abroad to promote candidates in the US presidential election. Supporters of the Opposition may attend parties organised by the Republicans abroad. The United States, that great democracy, encourages American citizens living overseas to participate fully in the American electoral process. Each country has different rules, and I do not wish to generalise but, on the whole, the trend is in the opposite direction to that proposed in the Bill. As we begin to live in a more international community, other countries are trying to involve their citizens overseas by allowing them to vote.

I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to give me a direct reply tonight, but perhaps the Government will agree to consider this again in Committee. Although few of those concerned register or vote, I know that there will be immense disappointment about the removal of this connection with Britain.

In regard to the financing of referendums, the Neill committee seems to have strained at gnats, while being prepared to swallow camels. The plain fact is that the great referendum campaign in regard to whether Britain remains a full member of Europe is already under way.

Earlier, I showed the Home Secretary a rather flattering picture of me that Mr. Paul Sykes has caused to be circulated in my constituency: he has put up huge posters of a young, better-looking Denis MacShane. Friends of mine in Rotherham have telephoned me to say "Gosh! Who is paying for all this? I did not realise that the Labour party had all this money." A young chap is beaming down at the good voters of Rotherham. I do not really look like that any more, do I?

The big print simply says "Denis MacShane". The small print contains the anti-European diatribe from Mr. Sykes, who, according to the Yorkshire Post, has said

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that he is prepared to spend £235 million on his campaign against Europe. He is not alone: the entire foreign-owned press in this country campaigns, day after day, against Europe, or specifically against the European currency. They have a right to do so, but let us have no nonsense that a public debate will start only when we come to a referendum, whenever that is after the five economic tests and so forth have been met. There are a number of anti-European bodies. One is headed by Lord David Owen and seems to have people allocated to it from The Times. These outfits are working assiduously and already occupy a huge amount of terrain. I am not quite sure how one can effectively counter that, but the idea that the Bill will in any way aid parties and organisations that are not anti-European is plain nonsense. I do not think that the Neill committee can deal with that matter; nor can the Bill completely.

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