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Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): The point under discussion would have been clarified to some extent if my amendment to prevent double registration had been accepted. That would have made it clear that one is supposed to register where one is fully resident. It would have avoided having people flitting about--as MPs do--and being registered in different places. That was a worthwhile amendment; it would have helped to clarify new clause 1, which I hope to defend later.

Mr. Fabricant: I am not sure whether I shall vote with the hon. Gentleman--I shall listen to the arguments--but I have some sympathy with what he said last year. If the Government are to introduce, in due course, a national register of electors, that would be an especially effective way of ensuring that people do not vote twice in two constituencies for the same assembly--whether that be Parliament or one of the regional assemblies that I so abhor.

Mr. Bercow: I am sorry to trouble my hon. Friend again, but his speech is so interesting that it provokes interventions. As the law stands, and given the failure of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), is not the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) factually wrong? At present, it is perfectly legitimate for people to be on the electoral register at two addresses, so long as they vote only in respect of one of them.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, I pointed out that if the amendment tabled by the

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hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire had been accepted, it would have prevented someone from voting twice in two constituencies for one assembly. Perhaps we could have some clarification from Ministers of whether it is still legal for someone, such as a student, to vote twice for two different assemblies--that is, to vote at home with a postal vote for a local council and, in the same election, to vote for a different council in the university town in which he is living--I see that the Minister agrees. The hon. Gentleman's amendment would have ensured that there could not be multiple voting for the same assembly.

Mr. Linton: Just to ensure that the House does not suffer under a misapprehension, the definition of residence is not residing in a place for one night. According to the Inland Revenue, it is somewhere between residing there for more than half the year, which will guarantee that one is qualified for residence, and for a period from a quarter to one half of the year, which will entitle one to residence. That is why people can be resident in two places. That is why they can be resident overseas even though they spend a quarter of the year in this country. In an application for electoral registration, people can have dual registration--a practice to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and I would like to see an end--but one cannot be resident overseas and have a vote in this country.

The Temporary Chairman: Order. I make another plea to the Committee for brief interventions, so that we can make progress.

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) is right in the point that he makes about the Inland Revenue. That applies to the rules whether one is paying UK taxes, or paying only overseas taxes under a double taxation agreement. However, he is not correct in saying that just because that is the Inland Revenue's interpretation under finance legislation, it has any implication for residency rights under Representation of the People Acts. As I understand the matter--again I seek clarification from the Under-Secretary of State whose constituency almost abuts my own--it is the evening of 10 October that determines whether one is resident.

The measure is blatantly unfair. I have friends who have worked overseas for UK companies, in unpleasant climates and in unpleasant countries--I shall not say where--but who are very active in politics. Furthermore, the assumption that such people are always Conservative is patently wrong. I gave the example of the Minister who lived in South Africa, where he was brought up. He had an overseas vote and obviously voted Labour, or, in his case--for all I know--communist.

6 pm

Mr. Bercow: I think he was a Liberal.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend tells me that the hon. Gentleman is a former Liberal.

I have a friend from university who worked for Unilever and worked overseas, His father was general secretary of the north-east region of the Communist party. My friend used his postal vote. He told me that as there

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were no communists in the constituency in which he wanted to vote, he was forced to vote right wing, as he put it--he had to vote Labour. Therefore, the assumption that all overseas voters are Conservative is patent nonsense.

Nevertheless, the amendment is blatantly unfair. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, the whole test is that of citizenship. I firmly maintain that if one chooses--one does have choice in the matter--to remain a citizen of the United Kingdom, one has an interest in the United Kingdom. If one has an interest in the United Kingdom, one of the oldest democracies, with the second oldest Parliament--the oldest being the Althing in Iceland, which I have had the privilege of visiting several times--one has the right to vote, and that right should not be taken away.

The right hon. Member for Gorton says that it is wrong for Governments to ignore Select Committee reports. Unfortunately, Governments do. Some Select Committees are more listened to than others. A recent report by The Guardian gave marks according to the publicity that various Select Committees get, and it was interesting to note that every Select Committee got either nul points or one star, and only one Select Committee got four stars. That was, surprisingly, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. I suspect that both Conservative and Labour Governments listen to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee because it has the oxygen of publicity. The point that I wish to make, without going off the point, is that the Select Committees that seek obscurity sometimes deserve to be ignored by Governments.

I shall not try your patience any more, Mr. Winterton. Citizenship is the issue. If people choose to retain United Kingdom citizenship, they choose to belong to a mature democracy. A mature democracy offers its citizens voting rights, and those voting rights should not be taken away.

Mr. Barnes: I shall speak to the amendments that stand in my name, but first and foremost I want to support new clause 1 and the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), and to reinforce his opposition to schedule 2 standing part of the Bill. In fact, my amendments are merely fall-back provisions in case my right hon. Friend's attempts to abolish overseas electoral registration should fail. My fall-back provisions are to some extent pre-empted by clause 130 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, but they have been tabled in this Committee as fall-back measures and allow us to discuss the principles that they involve.

My name appears on the amendment paper in support of every one of my right hon. Friend's amendments. They show the clear, principled position to which we should adhere. I believe that people who move overseas become part of a fresh society, in the sense that they are subject to the laws and provisions of that society and will be linked with it by their family relationships. Their children are growing up in that society. Therefore the major things that happen to them depend on what is happening in that society--not on a few decisions on taxation taken in this country.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): That simply cannot be right, can it? It is the central feature of

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citizenship that one owes rights and obligations to the state in return for protection. If a person goes to live abroad and is arrested, that person continues to look to the British consular service for protection until he has taken the citizenship of another country. Surely that in itself is a justification for being allowed to keep the right to vote, and to influence elections, in the country whose citizenship one claims.

Mr. Barnes: That is not such a powerful argument. It is an argument about the nature of citizenship, links with this country and the services that a citizen expects, but why should a citizen who lives elsewhere expect the right to vote in his country of citizenship? Masses of other matters affecting a person's life are determined by the country in which he lives. Ideally, that is where the vote should be exercised while they are resident.

Hon. Members may remember that I introduced an amendment earlier to say that the names of overseas residents in this country, in addition to those from the Republic of Ireland and from the Commonwealth, should be on registers in this country. I believe that that applies to about 680,000 people. Therefore, the principle for which I am arguing is consistent with my earlier arguments. The argument that people should vote where their links and connections are is overwhelming. It overrides the arguments about citizenship. Citizenship is mentioned in a metaphysical sense as though it were the only thing that mattered in every set of circumstances and overrode every other consideration.

Under the rolling register proposed in the Bill, United Kingdom citizens who go overseas can immediately re-register once they re-enter the United Kingdom for residential purposes. If a citizen feels that he very much belongs to the United Kingdom, and is drawn to the United Kingdom at every opportunity but his work sometimes takes him elsewhere, that presents no problems. When he is in the UK, he can re-qualify again in order to register; the Bill allows that to be done very quickly.

We should not mix compulsory registration with a system of voluntary registration. Compulsory registration is democratically superior to voluntary registration. We should expect everyone in a society to be obliged to appear on an electoral register. It should then be their decision whether to exercise their franchise, but we should ensure that no one who is part of a society misses out.

Voluntary registers are obnoxious, because if we operated voluntary registers in this country, some groups would be included in the registers and others would be excluded. We would by no means have full democratic arrangements. Voluntary electoral arrangements overseas have the same failing. There is no mechanism by which we can oblige everyone who is overseas to register, and it is sensible not to mix up these two arrangements but to stick with the stronger principle--compulsory registration.

Compulsory registration ensures that those who are rootless, poor and alienated are incorporated into electoral systems. Voluntary registration would exclude them. If we operated such a system, it would be like the system that exists in America where there has been a massive lack of registration. The principle of compulsory registration rules out the arrangements for overseas registration.

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In 1984-85--when, finally, a period of five years was established--my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton vigorously fought against the establishment of overseas registration rights. In 1989, that period was extended to 20 years. I had entered the House by then, and was one of a small group of Labour MPs who, at every conceivable opportunity, opposed the measure to try to extend the period, first to 25 years and then to 20 years. In 1989, I studied the speeches that my right hon. Friend had made in 1984-85--speeches from which he has quoted--and was glad to see that the Labour party had put up a vigorous battle in the House of Commons on these matters. I was only sorry that that did not occur on the later occasion, because there was at least an opportunity to say, "We shall go no further than the five-year provision."

The Labour rebels who attempted to hold the line at five years were consistent in their voting. There were six Divisions against the measure, including in Committee, on Second and Third Readings and on the money resolution. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people who were the most involved in rebelling on those matters were all members of the socialist Campaign group. They voted four, five or six times against the measure. In fact, the only people who voted against it on six occasions were myself and Dave Nellist. People in the Labour party with democratic socialist principles that they extended to electoral arrangements were concerned by what was happening then. However, it might seem a strange alliance for someone from the socialist Campaign group to tuck in behind the amendments that were so vigorously moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton.

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