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Mr. Linton: Yes indeed, but the Bill will make it much easier for people to get postal votes. There will also be pilots in other voting systems, which could allow students, or anybody else, to vote in any post office, library or town hall anywhere in the country and have their vote registered in their home constituency. Distant voting will no longer be difficult. I cannot predict how successful the pilots will be or how soon they will be rolled out across the country, but I have every confidence that the Bill will ensure that it is no longer difficult to vote from another part of the country. On Second Reading, I cited the example of Sweden, where it is possible to vote at any post office in the country until 5 pm on election day and have the vote transferred to one's local polling station by the close of the polls at 8 pm. There is no reason why we cannot introduce such a system under the Bill, taking all the pain out of postal voting.

The Liberal Democrat representative told the Select Committee:


    "should be able to vote in either place in local elections"--

and that takes up the point made by Conservative Members. He continued:

    "I do not think they should have a right to choose though which of those two giving them the entitlement to vote in Parliamentary elections."

In other words, in parliamentary elections, there should not be dual registration even if it is permitted for local elections.

The Labour party representative said:

Whatever may be the case with local elections, at parliamentary level, all three parties support an end to dual registration.

The Home Affairs Committee recommended that there should be an end to dual registration in parliamentary elections and said that people should be required to specify their main residence. That recommendation was misinterpreted by the Home Office working party on election procedure, which studied all these issues before they were put in the Bill. That working party read it as a requirement for people to make a declaration about the constituency of their principal residence, as if they had to sign a form when registering to vote. The working group concluded that it would be complex to administer and would discourage, rather than encourage, voting.

That is making far more of the proposal than was intended. Without dual registration, it would be perfectly simple for people to register only once for parliamentary elections but to register twice for local elections. That is perfectly possible now. European nationals and Members of the House of Lords can register for local and European elections. Their electoral number is usually appended with a G, a K or an L in the electoral register. It is an accepted

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device now, and this change in the law would mean that, as a parliamentary elector, one could register only once while continuing to register twice for local elections.

The next test of the amendment is whether the law as it stands creates any mischief. I argue that it does. There is a clear advantage to people who have the option of dual registration in that they can cast their vote in the more marginal seat. That point was made strongly in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee by one of the academics. He said:

We know from experience that those who are dual registered cast their votes in a tactical way, giving them an advantage possessed by nobody else. The academic continued that a choice of constituency in general elections applies most commonly to our more affluent citizens by virtue of their ownership of two or more houses and said:

    "It would be preferable to remove this element of electoral chicanery which has systematically favoured the better-off."

I do not know how true it is that double registration helps the more affluent, but I am sure that we all agree that it does confer an unfair advantage on some people who can choose to vote in the constituency in which their vote makes more difference.

The Home Affairs Committee identified two groups who benefit from dual registration and said that constituencies that can be influenced by dual registration are those with large student populations and a large number of second homes. The Committee's report said that in probably very few constituencies was the result influenced by the votes of double-registered voters. However, I am not sure that we were right on that. The student vote is substantial in many constituencies, and the election date is essentially a lottery for candidates in those constituencies, many of whom wait to discover whether students will be able to vote at university or, in the vacation, at home. Under the new system, although students will still have the choice of registering at their university or home address, they will have to make that choice in advance, rather than tactically at the election.

I urge the Government to accept this group of amendments. There is cross-party support for change in the law. The anomaly was never intended by Parliament; it has simply developed, and is unfair electorally.

Mr. Simon Hughes: There are several propositions: the first is on choosing representation at parliamentary elections; the second is on choosing representation at local government elections; and the third is on registration for both types of elections.

On the first proposition, and for reasons that have already been elucidated, Liberal Democrat Members are minded to support amendment No. 30. In parliamentary elections, everyone should have one vote, and everyone's vote should have equal worth. The Government are to be congratulated for ensuring that "everybody" now encompasses more people--including those without permanent places of residence, such as those who are homeless, in mental hospitals or on remand.

Everyone has one place to which they are more closely tied. If people have more than one place of residence, they are entitled to choose where to vote. Therefore, some

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people have the advantage of deciding where their vote might be more useful. As long as we have a constituency-based system--regardless of whether it is first past the post or multi-member--those people will have an additional advantage.

The advantage is as available to students--it was when I was a student--as it is to hon. Members. Some hon. Members live in my constituency. Until recently, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) lived there; I do not know whether he still does. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) lives in my constituency, as does the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). If they thought that they had a safe seat and decided not to vote in their constituency, they could vote in the constituency in which their parliamentary residence is located, perhaps affecting the outcome in a less-safe seat. It is terribly wrong--[Interruption.] I shall not embarrass the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham by saying how he voted.

Mr. Hogg: I vote for my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh).

Mr. Hughes: It is terribly wrong to give people an additional advantage. Moreover, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) said, that advantage is the result of an anomaly. When I was a student, I remember being aware that I had the choice of where to vote, and I exercised that choice by being on the register in the place where I could most intelligently use my vote.

Current electoral law is the aspect that baffles us all. The most recent electoral form, and previous ones, sent to me asked me to state where I resided on the relevant date, which was 10 October. One certainly cannot reside at more than one place on one date. Does the Minister think that it should be possible for people to register in more than one place?

Both the electoral form and the law state that, by signing a form in one place, one is declaring that that place is one's normal or regular place of residence. It is probably not proper for people to fill in forms in two places--although it is commonly accepted that, if one has two homes, one probably is able to fill in two forms.

8.45 pm

Thirdly, there are different arguments about local elections. Although they are not conclusive, there are arguments to suggest that, because one is electing the administration for local government services for that area, one should have a vote in more than one area if onecan register. The elections are at different times. Theoretically, they are different elections. Also, one is contributing in each area. That argument is difficult to sustain because it was the argument for the old business rate--one contributed and, therefore, one got a business vote. Although that parallel exists, it cannot be put in the same frame as local government and parliamentary elections.

There is a strong case for saying that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), for example, has a London and a Somerset residence, is entitled to fill in the form for both--he has simply to fill in a form to say that he is resident in both, not that he has a principal, main or sole residence--and has a council tax

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obligation in both, as one would have if one had two homes but no more than, he should be entitled to vote in both places.

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