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Mr. David Heath: I do not register both for my address in the east end and for that in Somerton and Frome because I read the form and I understand the wording of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which states that one is required to be resident on the qualifying date. I take it that the normal meaning of those words is that I can be living only at one place on that date. That is why I am mystified by the state of the present law.

Mr. Hughes: Clearly, the rolling register would allow people to move their vote. The easier that that is, the better, but it is not the complete answer. Will a student who is based at the family home in the holiday and at college or university in term time think about changing the vote from one place to the other? I realise that people could do so and that the theory of the system is that they will, but I am not persuaded that it will necessarily follow that people will think, "There is an election. I am on the list in Caithness and I want to transfer to London," and that they will re-register.

We should be clear about the first principle on parliamentary elections and sort out the law, as the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire suggests. However, we should be more careful about the second, because local government elections raise different issues. As a precondition to our conclusions, the Minister will help us all if he can confirm--as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome prompted him to do--what the law is at present. If it is meant to be that one can register only in one place, the sooner that that happens, the better.

Mr. Grieve: I do not want to take up much time and I endorse the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), in particular those on local government elections and the consequences of the amendments on people's ability to vote in those elections when they have a clear interest in the outcome. Those arguments were also endorsed by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

The problem goes further, and I shall concentrate on the way in which it concerns parliamentary elections. The hon. Gentleman hit the nail on the head. He was the first person to introduce into the debate the notion of parliamentary representation and what it is about. That is where the dividing line appears between the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), myself and, I suspect, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

To have a first-past-the-post system and, above all, to ensure community representation, we have to tolerate a substantial number of anomalies that derogate from the principle that everyone's vote is equal. It is apparent that constituency sizes vary. One person's vote in a constituency with a small electorate carries proportionately more weight than that of a person in a constituency with a larger electorate. We accept that for two reasons. The first is because we want the first-past-the-post system. I know that views differ, but I think that the majority ofhon. Members believe that that is essential. Secondly, we believe that people should be involved in their local communities and should elect their local community

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representative. I know that, in reality, it is often a question of choosing between parties, but the link between the Member of Parliament and his constituency is considered important. The link between the elector and his involvement in the local community is also considered important.

With those principles in mind, I do not find the idea of someone being entitled to choose where he casts his vote, because he happens to have an involvement in two locations, at all difficult. I accept that he should not be able to exercise a vote in two places at once, but, provided that he makes his choice, I cannot see the problem. Indeed, there is much to be commended.

University students often get as involved in their local communities as in studying. They should be encouraged to choose whether they vote where their university is, or at home. Those who have two residences, whether for pleasure or business, are often involved in both communities. They, too, should be entitled to that choice, and I do not follow the arguments of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire that it is in the interests of parliamentary democracy for that choice to be removed.

Mr. Barnes: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that my proposals would in no way limit the choice to decide where someone should be registered? People with a number of residences can choose which they consider to be their sole or main place of residence. There would be no problem about choice under my proposed system. People would put down one place and, if they decided to move because the influence in their life had changed, they could register elsewhere and have their name deleted.

Mr. Grieve: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I disagree with him. First, I do not believe that the rolling register would be able to cope with the number of variables that would be introduced if people constantly announced to the electoral registration office that they were changing location.

Secondly, I do not see why people should not be entitled to make their choice at a by-election and say, "It is my good fortune that I happen to have business interests in another part of the country and I have a residence there. I will be able to contribute to the election of the local candidate, even though at the general election I would prefer to vote at another location where I have another residence."

Finally, I have never understood residence to be a sole or exclusive concept. It is perfectly possible to reside in two places at once. After all, on the electoral registration day, people may be in one of their homes in the morning and somewhere else in the afternoon, or in a hotel that is outside either place. I see no difficulty in that, but I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments.

I would leave well alone. The arrangements contribute to the variety of participation. An issue that has been raised time and again in this House recently is the diminution of participation in the electoral process. This

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proposal would be another nail in the coffin of participation. I do not think that what we have causes distortions that should create anxiety for individuals.

Mr. Linton: The hon. Gentleman asked why students should not have a choice in where they cast their vote. Lord Parkinson, when chairman of the Conservative party, said to the Select Committee on Home Affairs:

Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Mr. Grieve: No, I do not agree, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. In Kensington and Chelsea, where there has recently been a by-election, I think that some 30 per cent. of the electorate changes annually. It is an enormous percentage, but I cannot remember the precise figure. Is it to be said that people are to be deprived of the vote because it so happens that they will be moving house subsequently?

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

Mr. Grieve: No. I must bring my speech to an end.

I disagree with the reasoning of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire. I would leave the matter well alone. It helps our democratic process.

Mr. Greenway: The comment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) provokes me to say that at general elections I vote for myself. I dare say that most right hon. and hon. Members do the same. At the 1992 general election, a good personal friend of mine who is a member of my party confessed to me at the count that he had not voted for me. It was a practical joke. When I went a whiter shade of pale he added, "Because I voted for Mr. Dudley Fishburn in Kensington."

It has become an accepted part of our electoral arrangements for parliamentary elections that people can be registered to vote in two different places, but that they must vote only in one of those places. If there is an issue for the Committee in tonight's debate, it is whether we should strengthen the Bill or clarify its provisions to ensure that the law that states that one can vote only once in a parliamentary election is more strictly monitored and enforced. I hope that the Minister will give some thought to that.

If I may be provocative myself, I suggest that it is really time, after almost five hours of debate, for us to get down to debating some of the issues pertaining to what is in the Bill rather than to what right hon. and hon. Members think ought to have been put in the Bill in the first place.

By way of a preface to the way in which we shall approach this Committee stage, I want to say that all the amendments that have been tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends have the express purpose of improving, clarifying or strengthening the provisions in the Bill on which there is consensus. We had our partisan arguments on Second Reading and I dare say that when we come to Report there may be some further partisan arguments, but our purpose in the Committee is to promote ideas that we believe will clarify, improve or strengthen the Bill.

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There is an important double registration issue for the Committee. We will deal with it chiefly when we consider clause 6, but the structure of the Bill means that we need to consider whether changes are appropriate to clause 1. Five amendments in the group--amendments Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14--deal with the double registration issue. We are pleased to see that the Government have clarified their position, especially on the declaration of local connection.

The Bill does not make it clear whether a person can have more than one current local connection declaration at any one time, but I see that the Government have tabled amendments Nos. 56 and 57 to clause 6 to clarify the issue and make it abundantly clear that there can be only one local declaration at any one time.

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