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Mr. Simon Hughes rose--

Mr. Howarth: I give way for the last time.

Mr. Hughes: I appreciate that the Minister has the Committee's support. Will he add to the list of requests the question--to which there must be an answer--whether there is any spot-check process? If people knew that the

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form, as submitted, might be subject to a check, the form might be submitted more honestly. Spot checks are carried out in the case of almost everything else in life, and would not be inappropriate in this case.

Mr. Howarth: As the hon. Gentleman knows, returning officers have a wide discretion. I am sure that, where there are grounds for suspicion, they will devise whatever checks are necessary. I am sure that any emerging pattern would be checked. However, obviously, the matter needs, and will continue to receive, attention.

I hope that, on the basis of the assurances that have been given, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley will feel it appropriate to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Evans: The debate has been useful.

I have said how depressing it is to walk along Victoria street at night and see the rough sleepers, especially given the weather this winter. We talk about the flu epidemic. It must be acutely depressing to sleep in a shop doorway in London in the present conditions--a dreadful existence.

I heard what the Prime Minister said before Christmas about continuing the excellent work that was started under the Conservative Government with the rough sleepers initiative; I support that wholly and fully. I am not saying that, even if we could double the amount of money spent, no one would sleep rough, but I believe that we must do more to help those who are sleeping rough. If that entails a multi-agency approach--as I believe that it does--that would be welcomed by every Member of the House.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend did not want to make a party political point. I disagree with him. Is he aware that Shelter says not only that 2,000 people are sleeping rough in central London, but that, sadly, that figure is now increasing?

Mr. Evans: I shall not make a party political point because I want to emphasise what we are trying to do to help rough sleepers. I am not saying that, even if the amount spent were doubled, there would not still be a problem, especially in London.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke to amendment No. 113. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) also spoke.

The hon. Member for Upminster said that he needed to be convinced that we were not placing unnecessary obstacles in the way of homeless people who wanted to register to vote. I hope that the addition of the two lines below paragraph (f) of amendment No. 13, which allow other documentation to be accepted as sufficient evidence, will give him and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome confidence that we are not seeking to set up obstacles that would obstruct people from registering. That is not what the Bill or the amendment are about. We are trying to prevent personation and fraud.

We accept that personation goes on at election times even though we do not know the extent to which it occurs. If we give people the opportunity to register more than once, those that personate may try to do so. We want to close a loophole before it comes into being. We want to

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make it easier for people to vote, but we do not want to make it easier for them to register fraudulently so that they can vote more than once.

Even if this provision allows 1,500 to 2,000 people to register, I do not know what percentage of them would use their ability to make a declaration of locality. It is not sufficient just to have that option available. We must ensure that people are able to use it. That means that social services, the Churches, which do a lot of good work, those who run soup kitchens and others who talk on a nightly basis with the homeless could become involved in the education process to encourage people to register and to tell them where to vote. Shelter and several other charities could also be used. Legislating so that the homeless are able to vote does not necessarily mean that one extra person will turn up at a local authority to register. People must encourage and educate them about what we are doing.

The charities, the police and the vicars and priests who regularly talk to homeless people would be able to provide the documentary evidence that someone sleeps in a part of London, be that outside McDonald's or round the back of the Army and Navy. For the first time, the Bill will allow people to use such places as an address if it is the only address that they have.

I hope that the amendment will reassure the Minister that we are not introducing any obstacles into the Bill. He talked about the integrity of the ballot box being important and that is right. The dignity of the homeless in being able to vote is also important. What we are trying to do would enable us to bring both aims together and to enfranchise those people who are currently unable to vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Evans: I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 8, line 38, at end insert--

"provided that, in determining this, no account shall be taken of time which he spends in any place in the course of employment or of the provision of services for pecuniary reward".

The amendment would ensure that where an elector is registered is based on where that person lives as opposed to where that person works. I do not believe that the Government intend the Bill to allow people to try to register where they work instead of where they live, but that point is not made clear. The amendment would clarify any confusion.

We tabled the amendment because some people work in different parts of the country at different times of the year. For example, transient and holiday workers regularly go fruit picking or hop picking for a short period of the year, but that could be just before a general election takes place. The Minister must say whether it is the Bill's intention that those who go fruit picking in different parts of the country could use the Bill so that they do not need to provide the address at which they live, but the address at which they stay for two or three months. The amendment would stop that happening.

There are many seasonal workers in the north-west, which is where my constituency is. Many people work seasonally in the tourist industry in Ribble Valley. Blackpool is not too far away. The Minister will have visited it for the Labour party conference. Speaking as a

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north-west Member of Parliament, I hope that it will not be too long before the Labour party returns to Blackpool. He will know from visiting Blackpool and other resorts that many people work seasonally in what passes for summer in our country, so they work in a resort for only a short period.

8.45 pm

Mr. Bermingham: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he, like me, falls into that trap? No doubt he has a home in his constituency; he may have a home in another part of the country, and he will have a home in London. Which one should he register at and vote from? Does he register for local government purposes in all three places, as one can, and vote occasionally or by postal vote, and choose one place to vote in general elections? That needs to be clarified.

Mr. Evans: Obviously, Members of Parliament come into that category. Students do too, because their parents may include them on the registration form at home, while the students may register themselves at university. Someone in a hall of residence may register all the students there.

To give another example, when I was a student I lived in Swansea but I came to London for short periods to work for Manpower, an agency. I could have considered that the constituency in London was more marginal and decided to register there.

My point is that the Bill will make it easier to register to vote. In the main, Members of Parliament have a home here and in their constituency, but seasonal workers may well live in a hostel or hotel accommodation. I simply lived with my brother in London when I worked here. Surely it is not the Bill's intention that people working in London for a few days a week over a short period should be able to register at home and in London. The Bill will make that easier. Is that what the Minister wants? I want him to clarify the position.

We have to recognise that we have a changing work force who are far more mobile. People can work all over the country for short periods. They seek work wherever they can find it. I hope that the Minister will consider our amendment carefully. There is nothing malicious in it. We are sincere about it, but we hope that he can assure us that there is no intention that people should be able to pick and choose where they vote and take advantage of the opportunity to register in a marginal constituency rather than where they live most of the time.

Mr. Bermingham: I shall be brief because my voice is not at its best tonight. I rather liked amendment No. 14, which was tabled by the Opposition, and I am sad that it was not called because it would have tidied up an anomaly in the current voting system.

I have a flat in London and I can register to vote there, and I have a home in Birmingham and I can register there, but the returning officer in London would not know that I was registered in Birmingham. I can register in my constituency. Where do I vote in an election? Do I vote for myself in my constituency or do I use my postal vote in--

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