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Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Do we not encounter certain logical difficulties and contradictions when departing from the principle of one person, one vote, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has referred? Must not the logic applying to the making of financial contributions in more than one area also apply to those making contributions under the Child Support Act 1991? Such people might legitimately argue that the same principle of buying votes should apply to them, in the same measure.

The Temporary Chairman: Order. I feel that some interventions are almost becoming speeches.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, which I shall try to answer.

When we are dealing with Parliament, we are talking about the composition of one body. Giving the individual citizen a right to cast more than one vote means giving him or her a disproportionate weight in terms of the composition of, say, the House of Commons. That is why we argue for only one vote in parliamentary elections. The same principle would apply to the granting of more than one vote to an individual elector in regard to the composition of one local government area: undue influence would be conferred. That is probably why we did away with the business vote, as well as what would then have been the ratepayer's vote. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made a valid point about that. In this instance, however, we are dealing with another issue--the composition of different local authorities. The local government elector can have only one vote in respect of each authority; he therefore does not have a disproportionate say in the composition of that authority.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): In a sense, I am reluctant to prolong this discussion, but has it occurred to my right hon. and learned Friend that a disadvantage of the arrangement proposed by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) in respect of local government is the fact that local elections take place in different ways in different years in different parts of the country? It is highly likely that someone with two or three residences could change his main residence to ensure that it was in the right place for the purpose of the current local election.

Mr. Hogg: I am sure that that is factually correct. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the ingenuity of his conclusion, which had not occurred to me.

I must end my speech, which has only been prolonged by interventions--although I do not grumble about interventions that were entirely serious. Let me finally say

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that it is wrong to deprive an individual of a vote in respect of the composition of an authority that taxes him and regulates his activities. I hope that we shall not change the present law in so far as it relates to local government elections.

Mr. Linton: I urge the Government to support amendment No. 33, which suggests that a person should be able to register to vote in parliamentary elections in the constituency that contains his or her sole or main residence. I cannot speak to the amendment that I tabled, because it is starred, but it is couched in similar terms, suggesting that a person should be registered to vote in parliamentary elections only in the constituency that contains his or her principal residence. It bears no relation to what the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said about local government, and does not impinge on the amendment relating to registration for local elections.

I am speaking in pursuance of a recommendation by the Home Affairs Committee, and also because I feel that the perfect amendment to a Representation of the People Bill, from the Government's point of view, would have cross-party support, and would deal with an anomaly in the law that was not created by the present legislature, but has appeared for other reasons. This amendment falls into that category. Certainly, it deals with an anomaly in the law.

People speak as though dual registration had always existed. In a few cases that may be true, but it has existed to any real extent only since the 1970s. Very few students voted until the 1970 general election--although I seem to remember voting in the 1966 election, which happened to occur during a university vacation. At that time, however, few students tried to "double register", because few were of what was then voting age. Only in 1970 was the issue tested--in a case called Fox v. Stirk, the outcome of which confirmed that people could register to vote in parliamentary elections in two constituencies. Before that, the position was uncertain.

As a result, it had to be spelt out in the Representation of the People Act 1983 that it was illegal to vote in two constituencies in parliamentary elections. It was not that anyone had believed before that it was legal; the situation simply had not arisen, because it was assumed that people registered their principal residence in any one constituency. The matter really became an issue because of the lowering of the voting age.

When he made his ruling, Lord Denning said:

I think that Lord Denning was thinking mainly of people like the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who was used to having two residences even before the lowering of the voting age. There may have been cases before the 1970s of people who registered in their London house and their country house, but the main reason why the provision was spelled out in the law was that it was regarded as a new phenomenon and the law had to make it explicit that double voting was illegal.

It is an anomaly that people can register in two constituencies. It was never intended by Parliament and has never been passed in a Representation of the People Bill. The anomaly emerged because people started to do it and the law held that it was not illegal.

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At the same time, a case in Scotland--the name escapes me; I think that it was called Phillips--came to the opposite conclusion that a voter should register only in the constituency of his or her principal residence. Many Scots are under the impression to this day that they are not allowed to double register. In fact, that is probably not true, because Fox v. Stirk was heard in a higher court and therefore takes precedence. The Scottish law's answer was that people could not be double registered and the English law's was that they could. Both legal rulings had nothing to do with the intention of Parliament.

There is cross-party support on the issue. The Home Affairs Committee heard evidence from representatives of the three main parties, all of whom made it clear that they would like an end to dual registration. Chief amongthose giving evidence was the then chairman of the Conservative party, Lord Parkinson, who said that students and second-home owners should nominate their principal place of residence. He clearly opposed the two main kinds of dual registration.

8.30 pm

Mr. Robathan: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest. I had understood that the purpose of the Bill was to make it easier to vote. That seems to be the idea behind the rolling register and other proposals. The Minister is nodding. If I were a university student and had nominated the university as my place of residence but was at home when the election was called, I would have to get a postal vote. We all know that postal votes are not the easiest way of voting, and that the Government want to make it easier to vote. How will people be encouraged to vote if they cannot register in both the places where they live during part of the year?

Mr. Linton: This is a good time to correct the anomaly because the Bill's main proposals, which I applaud, are a rolling register and postal voting on demand. Those provisions will make it much easier for students who live in two places to vote in elections. It is difficult at the moment. Students who are registered in only one constituency do not have much time after an election is called to apply for a postal vote. They cannot apply for a permanent postal vote. They have to apply at each election. In 1974, for example, students had only a few days to apply for a postal vote to ensure that they could register their vote in the other constituency.

The Bill will introduce postal voting on demand. It will be possible to have a permanent postal vote for any reason. Students who live in two places will find it the easiest thing in the world to get a postal vote in the other constituency. It will be open to students to decide which constituency to register in, because they will still have a claim of residence in both. The amendment would merely force them to choose which should be their principal residence where they want to be on the parliamentary register. In the current circumstances, the amendment might lead to more difficulty, but, given the other proposals in the Bill, voting would not be more difficult.

Mr. Robathan: Voting will be easy in theory. The hon. Gentleman came to the House in 1997. In my limited experience, postal votes are not a panacea, because the whole business is very complicated. Postal votes sometimes do not arrive. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to

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say that it would be easier for students to vote. I think that fewer people would vote, not more. We are trying to encourage more people to vote.

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