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Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that I am the only Member of Parliament ever to have lost a seat in a general election when the majority of votes cast by constituents resident in the constituency supported that candidate. He may not be aware of the sense of outrage in the constituency after the 1992 result, which I believe was reflected in the 1997 election, at which I gained the largest majority ever seen in the seat.

Mr. Kaufman: That experience illustrates the illegitimacy of the fancy franchise introduced unilaterally by the Conservative party and multiplied by four in the periodicity deliberately to suit itself: not to enfranchise the electorate but to enhance its own electoral prospects, as can be seen by the incidence of application to be registered.

5.30 pm

It is not simply that the services of my hon. Friend were denied to the House for five years, but that--given a tiny quirk of the vote in other constituencies--the overseas vote could have affected the government of the country. In the 1992 election, the overall Conservative majority was only 21. Eleven seats the other way and the Conservative party would not have had a majority. It would have lost the election and probably been replaced by the Labour party, even though it did not have an overall majority.

The overseas vote can decide not only who wins or loses in an individual constituency, but who governs a country in which large numbers of people who apply for the vote have chosen not to live for a generation and in which their children may never have lived at all. Tax exiles can decide the Government who decide what the taxes are. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who was an Under- Secretary at the Home Office when the second piece of legislation went through, admitted the position. He said that it might be true that the legislation would extend the franchise to a number of people who might be described as tax dodgers and thus were perhaps unworthy. Of course, the Conservative party may draw its most devoted support from that sort of person.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Before we leave the subject of the Vale of Glamorgan example, can the right

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hon. Gentleman tell us whether the overseas voters in that constituency in the 1992 general election had never had a connection with the constituency? Is that also part of his case, or had they had a connection but left to live overseas? There is a huge difference between the allegation that votes were cast in Vale of Glamorgan on behalf of people who had no link with the area and the allegation that the right to vote was exercised, under the rules of the time, by people who lived abroad but had a secure link to the area.

Mr. Kaufman: I do not accept the distinction that the hon. Gentleman seeks to draw. He may regard my view as banal and elementary, but I believe that if one wants to decide the Government of a country, one should at least have the courtesy to live there. The hon. Gentleman earlier raised the case of his brother. Although I know that the Liberal Democrat party has a different policy for every street, having a different policy for every brother would be taking things too far.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am especially interested in this point because two relatives of mine live in Palma, although as far as I am aware they do not live there because I live here. They have both contributed substantially to this country over a long time and have paid, and continue to pay, taxes in this country. They are not worthy objects of the right hon. Gentleman's waspish denigration. Why should not they have an opportunity to contribute to the democratic process in this country when they have contributed substantially to its fortunes?

Mr. Kaufman: I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman's relatives wished to get away from him they would have moved further than the Balearic islands, and perhaps they should consider that in their future residential dispositions.

The vote in this country is based on residential qualification. People who live abroad and have some sentimental or fiscal connection with this country are not in the same position as those who live here and are subject to the decisions of Parliament and the Government.

My approach to the matter is extremely simplistic, which makes me impervious to interventions such as that from the hon. Gentleman. If I were to approach the matter on an "if and but" basis, I would be vulnerable, but the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) pointed out that my position on the matter has been consistent for 16 years. I intend to maintain that position until my colleagues on the Front Bench--so brilliant in so many other ways--learn the appropriate lesson on this issue.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman as, before he came into the Chamber, I was pointing out that he sought to intervene when I was speaking four weeks ago.

Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is right to say that I tried to intervene on him in the previous century. However, he cannot have it both ways. He said that, given the small numbers involved, he was not trying to make a party political point,

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but then he gave the example of the 1992 election result in the Vale of Glamorgan constituency, which he clearly considers to be a party political matter.

How does the right hon. Gentleman know the outcome of that election? It was a secret ballot. How does he know that the overseas voters in the Vale of Glamorgan election all voted Conservative? After all, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), was born in South Africa and lived there for a long time. He used to be so left wing that it is doubtful that he would have been able to get into the new Labour party. However, he certainly is not, and has never been, a Conservative. Is the right hon. Gentleman making an uncharacteristically spiteful political point, or not?

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I urge hon. Members who intervene to do so briefly and succinctly, so as to ensure an orderly debate.

Mr. Kaufman: I am interested that the hon. Member for Lichfield assumes that, if a point is political, it must be spiteful. As far as I am concerned, I am making a party political point. I often make such points, and have spent a lifetime doing so. The case that I am arguing has natural justice on its side, but I am also putting it forward on behalf of the Labour party. I was elected by my constituents to act on behalf of the Labour party, and I shall continue to do so.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduced the Bill on Monday, he said that he was going to reduce the period of the overseas vote from 20 years to 10 years. He then said that the Select Committee on Home Affairs had recommended a reduction to five years. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State knows the amity that I bear for the Government--if amity can be regarded as a synonym for grovelling sycophancy. However, as Chairman of a different Select Committee, I sometimes wonder what the point of Select Committees is if Governments are able to ignore their recommendations.

The previous Government ignored the recommendation of a Select Committee and introduced the overseas vote. This Government saw what a Select Committee of this House, in this Parliament, said on the matter, and decided to ignore it. I do not see the point of Select Committees doing all the work that they do if Governments then brush their conclusions aside.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Kaufman: I will certainly give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.

We should be clear that we are considering a franchise which the previous Conservative Government introduced, despite strong opposition from Labour. The period initially proposed was seven years; under pressure, the then Government proposed to reduce that period to five years. Now my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believes that he is doing justice to the issue by reducing the period to double what the Conservative party originally regarded as acceptable. That simply is not satisfactory. Ten years is far too long--there could be three general elections during that period.

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Is clause 130 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill set in stone, or will the Government consider amendments to it on their merits? If so, I shall seek to table an amendment to that Bill comparable to the one before us. Are the Government at least ready to consider the five-year period recommended by the Select Committee and originally introduced by the Conservative Government 15 years ago? I would like to be able to work with the Government on this issue, but one needs a certain amount of flexibility if their most loyal supporters are not to become--on one issue, at any rate--a little disenchanted with them.

I hope that the Minister will respond in a way that will allow me to withdraw the amendment and seek to table another one to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. Before I sit down, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton), as I said I would. One must be courteous to one's colleagues.

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