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Mr. Kaufman: As my hon. Friend will know, I was at that time a member of the shadow Cabinet and, therefore, bound by collective responsibility. Had I not been, he would have had my company in the Division Lobby.

Mr. Barnes: I believe that that is the position that my right hon. Friend would have taken. I know that he was quite upset at the deal that Labour shadow Home Office representatives were engaged in. A low-level deal was reached to extend the provisions for postal and proxy votes and to increase the amount that could be spent on by-elections by allowing the Conservatives to increase the time that one could be out of the country for up to 20 years. That was entirely unacceptable.

Mr. Bercow: I am listening intently to the hon. Gentleman, but I am anxious about his call for compulsory registration. What would he say to someone who felt at risk of violence and chose, however unfortunate it might be, to come off the register?

The Temporary Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is not in order as it does not relate to the amendment. Unless he can prove that it does, I trust that the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) will continue his speech.

Mr. Barnes: May I just say briefly that we have compulsory electoral registration in this country? That is

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the basis of our system. If Members do not agree with that system, they should table amendments to the Bill and use the other procedures of the House to change it.

Mr. Shepherd: In what way do we have compulsory registration in this country? My local authority makes inquiries and prints the register out on a pretty rote basis. However, there is no compulsion to register.

Mr. Barnes: If someone fails to register, he can technically be fined £1,000 for failing to fill in a registration form. Millions of people are missing from the electoral register, so it is obvious that this aspect of the law does not work all that effectively. I am not in favour of bearing down heavily on those who are not on the register. I support the Bill, which is trying to get the people who are missing from the register back on it.

The Temporary Chairman: Order. Bearing in mind the number of amendments that have been selected for debate, it is important that we have an orderly discussion. Will the hon. Gentleman please return to consideration of the amendment?

Mr. Barnes: I will now consider the amendments tabled in my name. So far, I have spoken to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, but to which my name has been attached.

6.15 pm

My amendments would restrict the period of the operation of the overseas vote to five or 10 years. The Select Committee on Home Affairs suggested that the period should be five years, and 10 years is the proposal which the Government have made in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. That proposal has been supported by the Liberal Democrats. However, I have also attached my name to amendment No. 82, which the Liberal Democrats' tabled and which would not allow someone who is not initially registered in this country to be registered overseas. At present, a babe in arms can be taken overseas and is able to vote in this country on his or her 18th birthday. The Liberal Democrat amendment would not permit that. Furthermore, a declaration should be signed by a person overseas to say that he or she intends to return to this country at the end of the 10-year period.

I have adopted the Liberal Democrats' proposals, in connection with the five-year provision, in amendment No. 119. It is a starred amendment, because I tabled it only yesterday. However, I want the principle in the Liberal Democrats' amendment to operate in connection with the five-year as well as the 10-year arrangement. I am a bit disappointed that the Government have chosen a separate Bill to deal with that item. It is perverse that we should discuss overseas votes and the period of time in which one can have an overseas vote under this Bill when the decision will be made in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which has the objective of amending this Bill. The House has yet to decide whether it will pass this Bill.

I hope that the Government will respond to my right hon. Friend's case and will end such undemocratic and unacceptable arrangements. If not, I hope that we shall provide for a shorter period for registration overseas that

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will contain the necessary checks. That will act as a staging post in clearing the matter up until my right hon. Friend's views win the day.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) referred to amendment No. 82, which was tabled by my hon. Friends and myself. However, it is not the lead amendment, which we began to debate last month and last year, if not to say in the previous century or millennium. It would not result in a trivia quiz question if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) were involved, but he has probably made the longest interrupted speech that Parliament has heard for a long time. It began a month ago today and only finished this afternoon. I understand his position, but I disagree with it and take a different view.

When I intervened earlier, I was not special pleading on behalf of my older brother who was abroad but who has now returned to the United Kingdom. I used that case as an example of someone who had lived in the UK for a considerable part of his adult life and who had been sent by his employer to work abroad. He had no choice in the sense that that was there the job was; he could not go anywhere else. When the job finished, he returned. He never changed his intention to come back, but the question of how long he was outside this country was not in his hands. He happened to be in a Commonwealth country--Cyprus--but his case is replicated throughout the country. Anyone on any pay grade in any constituency could find himself in that position.

My hon. Friends and I reflected on what is not a theological position; there is no absolute view of what is right or wrong. Each country legislates appropriately. Commonality of legislation is an issue when it comes to voting for the European Parliament. If there is one set of rules in one country and another set in another, one begins to have a varied process for choosing representatives. However, let us put that issue aside for a moment. We are concentrating on elections in the UK and we are free to choose our own rules.

The right hon. Member for Gorton reminded us that we went from no overseas voting to it being allowed in a period of five or 10 years. A period of five years was decided on, but that suddenly shot up under the Conservative Government to 20 years. In the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, the Second Reading of which we debated on Monday, the Government now suggest that the period should be 10 years. I want to explore two or three issues in relation to that and urge the Minister to reflect that the distance between the Government's current position and ours is very small. If it is appropriate, I am happy for the matter to be considered under the other Bill and I hope that we can reach maximum consensus.

I intervened earlier on the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the history of this issue. I refer to the relevant and interesting example of Vale of Glamorgan, where the right hon. Gentleman's colleague was clearly turfed out by people who were not in the constituency at the time of the election. There is no suggestion that those people did not have a connection with the constituency. They voted by proxy and the evidence showed that many of them had declared themselves to be Conservatives, and clearly the

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majority determined the result. However, it appeared that they fell within the rules because they had a link with the constituency and were calling on someone local to act for them.

That is not nearly as awful as people looking at a map of the United Kingdom, choosing Vale of Glamorgan because it is a very marginal seat, and saying that they would exercise their franchise there, even though they had never had a link with the constituency. We must have a system in which people cannot pervert the normal process by choosing where they place their vote because that right is not open to everybody else. People who have one home or who qualify to vote on the basis of one home do not have freedom to choose where they vote, and no one else should have that freedom either.

Those who are abroad must have their vote in the place where they last had a link--this is where the argument about young people applies--otherwise there will be abuse of the system and the people who are resident in this country all the time feel that they are not equally valued.

Mr. Fabricant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: Yes, but I want to keep my contribution brief.

Mr. Fabricant: Is the hon. Gentleman implying that at the moment there is a mechanism whereby one does not have to have a local link? Surely the point is that to vote in a constituency one has to have a connection, and there is no way that someone could, as he said, scan the map to find a marginal constituency in which to vote.

Mr. Hughes: That point raises several issues. That should be the position, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the law is not entirely clear about that. Secondly, we are debating what the law should be, and I want us to make sure that at the end of this process we make the law as clear as possible.

Thirdly, if we are to be fair and have a system that does not allow arbitrary choice, we cannot have a rule that allows people living in Cyprus or India, for example, who have not lived in this country since birth, suddenly to come on to the register at age 18 and pronounce where they will have their vote. I am flagging up the need to end up with an Act that makes sure that that problem is solved.

It is perfectly proper to have a debate about whether the criterion for voting should be citizenship or residence at the time of the election. If, at the end of the day, we decide that someone who is abroad and can vote nowhere else has sufficient connection with this country to vote here, we need to define that connection. There are several ways of doing so. The first is that the person concerned is a UK citizen and that he keeps his vote here no matter whether he has a right to vote elsewhere.

The second definition is that the person has a residence here and is based here, even though he may not be here very often. As the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) mentioned, that means that the person has a choice. That criterion would be discriminatory on the basis of property and wealth and should be rejected.

The third way of defining a connection is to ensure that before they leave the country people make a statutory declaration that they are leaving for a limited period.

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Although that is not a perfect system, the declaration could be taken into account in other matters such as tax. There is every difference between people who leave this country to live somewhere else and say for tax purposes that they are not a UK resident, and people who have lodged in a public place a declaration to return. That declaration clearly has tax implications, so it is likely that people would not make it without thinking seriously about it.

The fourth way is to introduce a mechanism by which people can attest to the impermanence of their move abroad.

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