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Mr. Evans: Does the hon. Gentleman accept--in an attempt to further the consensual nature of our

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proceedings--that, if we were to allow people to join a rolling register, to begin the process, there would have to be a transitional period of perhaps 12 months in which those who are currently abroad were allowed to register on such a rolling register?

Mr. Stunell: It is always worth trying to push the limits in our debate. However, we really should consider whether the Bill's objective should be to include and continue on a register everyone overseas who is currently registered. That is one option in proceeding on the matter. Another option is to open registration to everyone who is currently overseas, even if they have not yet registered. That seemed to be what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting.

If there were an amendment proposing the first option, the hon. Gentleman might be able to tempt me to support it. People in that category not only have taken the trouble to register, but, as the right hon. Member for Gorton said, comprise a small group. There are only six such people in my constituency, and that number may be typical of the number in other hon. Members' constituencies.

I am less persuaded that we should throw open inclusion to everyone who is currently overseas. I do not think that hon. Members could be persuaded that those people have not registered because they have not been able to get round to it. I think that they have not registered because it is not an attractive proposition for them to do so.

The intervention by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has served one purpose--to divert me from my thread of argument--and I appreciate the spirit in which it was done.

New clause 5, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Battersea and to which I put my name, introduces the "use it or lose it" concept. It also contains an element of self-regulation, which I hope Ministers will take on board if they are at all tempted to adopt such a provision.

"Use it or lose it" is also the essence of amendment No. 176, which was tabled by Conservative Front Benchers. I think that, rather than providing a completely open-ended obligation or opportunity for those who live and work overseas, it would be appropriate to include a process of rolling re-registration.

I hope that Ministers will have listened to this debate and appreciated the concerns expressed by hon. Members holding various views on the issue. However, each of those views goes to the same point. Overseas, there is a group of United Kingdom citizens who have, and should continue to have, a role to play in the United Kingdom democratic process. In coming decades, the size of that group of people may well grow.

I do not overlook the fact that one of the reasons why the restrictions are being introduced is to stop the abuse of donations from overseas. I am well aware of that issue and of the fact that Ministers may feel that they should make only carefully judged and limited concessions on the issue. However, I ask Ministers not simply to shut the door on every overseas group and category, but to determine which amendments they are able to accept, or which specific provisions they might otherwise be able to import into the Bill. The amendments express feelings that are widespread in the House.

Mr. Miller: When the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was appealing at the Dispatch Box for

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consensus, he seemed to be defeating his own argument by adopting an aggressive style. I assure him that hon. Members who believe that the current principle is wrong--for the very reason outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)--do not intend to extend it to include people from his ethnic grouping. Despite the fact that he comes from south Wales, the hon. Gentleman will keep the votes in Ribble Valley. [Interruption.] I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton was going to intervene, to say that the hon. Gentleman will not keep those votes, but he is merely going to speak to the Minister.

I should like to deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. He mentioned Vauxhall Motors UK, in my constituency, which is an important player in both the regional economy and the British economy. Some super people are leading that company, not only in Britain but in Europe. However, in the context of the franchise, their position--they are answerable to the parent company, which is registered in the United States--is different from that of people who work for institutions of which Britain is a member.

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We shall come to clause 48 later. In Committee, the Conservatives tabled an amendment that would not have allowed donations from companies incorporated in the European Union. They cannot have it both ways. They have recognised that we do not have the necessary transparency.

My hon. Friend the Minister has a difficult judgment to make, because the line has to be drawn somewhere. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton has a clear idea about where it should be drawn. Others have said, "Yes, but" in various ways. With the exception of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, who, I think, would prefer the status quo to prevail, most of those involved in the debate want a consensus to be reached.

Mr. Evans: Does the hon. Gentleman think it ironic that those of Italian or French descent who work for Vauxhall in his constituency are encouraged to vote in elections in France and Italy--the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) mentioned other countries as well--while we are going in the other direction?

Mr. Miller: We are dealing with the franchise of those who work for Britain in institutions of which we are a member. There is some common ground. All of us, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, accept that diplomats, the armed forces and British Council staff are legitimately covered by the current legislation. However, other categories should fall within that broad definition. The facts that the mother of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is French, as we discovered in Committee, that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) lived in Finland, or that I happened to brought up in Malta are red herrings, although they made for a good debate in Committee.

The essential principle relates to institutions of which Britain is a member. I appreciate that lines have to be drawn somewhere, but as we attempt to reach a consensus, it is not illogical to include those who work for institutions such as NATO within the ambit of existing

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legislation, which incorporates the armed forces, diplomats and the British Council. It is ludicrous and unfair that a general or someone of diplomatic status in NATO is covered, but a civilian member of personnel is excluded.

Mr. Grieve: I seek clarification of the hon. Gentleman's views. He is talking about new clause 7, but I think he will agree that it would be unnecessary if new clause 5 were agreed to, because all the categories would be covered by virtue of the ability of individuals to continue provided that they re-registered. Would not new clause 5 deal with his points?

Mr. Miller: I am not a million miles from the hon. Gentleman. I accept that a line needs to be drawn somewhere. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley seemed to want it drawn too far from where most people in the country would regard as acceptable. If the principles that I am espousing were incorporated in the 10-year rule proposed by my hon. Friend the Minister or the five-year rule espoused by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, we could have a workable consensus.

I appreciate that some Conservative Members would say that that would not go far enough. I understand their point, but they have to understand that a line has to be drawn somewhere in an attempt to arrive at a consensus. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look for ways in which the line can be drawn slightly away from his current proposal. I would have no objection if the base line was that espoused by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, so long as there was a mechanism by which those who work for legitimate organisations of which Britain is a member could continue to be enfranchised.

Mr. Wilshire: Unlike the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who I am sorry to see has left the Chamber, I am very happy to support those on my Front Bench. I trust that they are suitably grateful. I note that a word about my enthusiasm is already going into the little blue book. I look forward to the result of that enthusiasm.

New clause 8 and amendment No. 176 are necessary to meet my concerns and those of some of my hon. Friends--and, by the sound of it, of some Labour Members. The Government's plans to cut the time available worry me. As far as I can gather, no valid reasons for the change have been given. I hope that the Minister will give us some. There has been a spirit of compromise around and I am prepared to listen. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will not give any reasons, but I shall give him the benefit of the doubt at least until he speaks.

Given that the proposal was not in the Neill recommendations, the Minister needs to explain why the Government now think it so important. I have heard no evidence of abuse of the current arrangements, and the Government have offered none. Abuse would be the most important reason for change. If there is any evidence of abuse, perhaps the Minister could give it to us.

As others have said, there are so few people registered abroad that I am at a loss to understand why the measure has become such a key part of a complicated Bill. This is a minor matter and there are many far better things to do,

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such as finding the money to ensure that my hospital does not have its accident and emergency unit closed by the Government. There are so many other more important things than messing about with this change. It will clearly cost money and I would rather that that money was spent on preventing cuts to my hospital. Why are the Government worried about such a small group of people?

I have tried to find out what research has been done. How many people will be affected? How many of the very few who register stay abroad beyond the period that the Minister is proposing? My guess is that only a minute number of people will be caught by the change. Why is the Minister making it? It is also important to know whether the Government have done any research on the sort of people who would lose their vote. That would allow us to see whether the proposal was even-handed, or whether an ulterior motive existed.


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