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More important than that, I understand that if a person whose name is included on an electoral register through a local declaration is subsequently registered in the normal way, the Government's intention is that the local declaration registration should be void. In other words, if the person acquires a permanent residence--within that, or another, constituency--the local declaration would fall, as he would now be properly registered because he had a residence and a permanent address. I realise that I am straying somewhat from clause 1 by making that point, but it has an important bearing on the Conservative amendments in the group--amendment No. 14 also relates to clause 6.

The Government amendments seem to offer only a halfway house. If I have correctly understood the matter, once a person is properly registered, a local declaration registration would fall. However, it is not clear whether someone who is already on a register, by virtue of having a permanent address, can subsequently make a local declaration. That is why we have tabled amendments Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14. They would ensure that people who make a local connection declaration must inform the electoral registration officer if they are already registered elsewhere. In such cases, it would be sensible not only to remove people from one of the registers, but to ensure that there is effective cross-reference between electoral registration officers.

Although the wording of our amendments might be improved, I ask the Minister to give some thought to the matter in his winding-up speech. We need to clarify the position of a person who is on the electoral register in a part of the country from which he has moved. An example might be a person in his late teens or early 20s who lives at home with his parents and is included on the electoral register because his dad filled in the form. The person might then leave home to go into digs--perhaps as a student. He might fall on hard times, become homeless and live in some local hostel. He could thus take advantage of the local declaration so as to register in the constituency where he is living--albeit as, in effect, a homeless person.

It would be inappropriate for people to be disfranchised, with no prospect of voting in the area in which they live, simply because their names were on an electoral register somewhere else. However, if people are already registered, they should declare it, so that the earlier registration can be nullified.

Mr. Linton: Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that, under amendment No. 10, people who have to make a

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local declaration of residence because they are homeless--because they sleep in a shop doorway--should be removed from the register in the place where they lived previously, while people who have a flat in town and a house in the country should continue to enjoy the benefit of double registration? I am rather alarmed that he should hold those apparently contradictory views, especially since the Conservative party and Conservative members of the Home Affairs Committee were in favour of an end to dual--

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is far too long.

Mr. Greenway: My views are not contradictory. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--through nods and winks--clearly acknowledges that the Government's intention is that there should be only one declaration of local connection and that, if someone is added to an electoral register, any such declaration would be nullified. I am sure that the House would recognise that that is a realistic and reasonable position.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) asked about people who have more than one residence, but he will see from amendments Nos. 10 and 12 that we also suggest that anyone who makes an application for registration, when he is going on the register in the normal way, should specify and declare whether he is on another register. We agree with the Select Committee on Home Affairs--I have read its views with care--that there is a problem with double registration. We do not want to prohibit the prospect of double registration, but we want electoral registration officers to be aware of those individuals who are on an electoral register in another constituency or who may be--this is unlikely, but technically possible--on the register twice in the same constituency in respect of the same address.

The Home Affairs Committee concluded that there is no way of checking whether the law is being properly upheld; it is clearly not being enforced. I am registered to vote in Ryedale in north Yorkshire and in Vauxhall by virtue of my home in Kennington. I am a public figure, so I suppose that it is not unreasonable to think that electoral registration officers may have twigged that I may be registered in both places--heaven forfend that any Member of the House would seek to vote twice in a parliamentary election. However, in the case of many thousands of others, it may not be obvious to an electoral registration officer that someone is on another register. Although we cannot in any way accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) that people should be on only one parliamentary register, the Government should consider whether electoral registration officers should be aware of dual registration so that people are more confident that the registers are secure.

I wish to make two final points. First, we shall have a rolling register and not the annual register that we have been used to until now. We are happy to support the proposal for a rolling register, but it would be utterly chaotic--this prospect has been suggested in the debate--if people with two or three residences because of their work came on and off the register each time they moved from one part of the country to another. I am sure that the Minister would agree that, even with the best will in the

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world, we are a long way from having the information technology in place to enable such procedures to be encouraged or to be secure.

My second point relates to the introduction of the concept of local declaration. I assume that we shall debate this issue again on the next day the Committee sits, but it is vital that the new declaration procedure be secure and that any potential abuse be closed off. I take it from the fact that the Government have tabled amendments No. 56 and 57 that they recognise that that issue must be dealt with.

I suggest, however, that the Minister has only half answered the question. The way we read it is that people who are on a register by virtue of a local declaration will automatically have that registration nullified if they then come on to the register by normal means. However, other people will already be on the register by normal means and they should be required to declare that--whether they are on the register or not--when they apply for a declaration of local connection. Our amendments, or something similar, would help to deal with that issue. We hope that the Minister will take that on board.

Mr. George Howarth: As the Committee would have expected, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who has--I repeat the point--an honourable and long tradition of raising concerns about the electoral system, has again raised an important issue. I am grateful to him for doing so. The issue is, I am sure, close to the hearts of many right hon. and hon. Members because many of us, as has been conceded, appear on the electoral register in our constituencies and in respect of our midweek residences in London.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned several hon. Members who lived in his constituency for a brief period. When I was first elected in 1986, I lived in that constituency, but I assure him that he did not get my support on any of the occasions when I was eligible to vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire has led us to have a reasonable debate. However, there are reasons why I cannot, on this occasion, support him.

Perhaps I should at this stage deal with one query that was raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey: whether, because of the wording of the form, people were allowed to be resident in more than one place.

Mr. Simon Hughes: On a particular day.

Mr. Howarth: On a particular day. The form asks whether the person is a resident on the relevant date, rather than if that person is physically present. The courts have ruled--the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made the point--that it is possible to have more than one residence at the same time. On the basis of the courts' interpretation, on this occasion we have to accept that that is the case. The point that was raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has thus been covered.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield gave a good example. One could wake up in the morning in one residence and go to bed in the evening in another. In my

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case, not that I intend to register there, this morning I woke up in the Belfast, East constituency and will go to bed, I hope at a reasonable hour, in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency. It would not be my intention, come a general election, to vote in either place.

Mr. Greenway: You will vote for yourself?

Mr. Howarth: Unfortunately, the Boundary Commission will deprive me of that opportunity, but I will, when the next election comes, God willing, vote for my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara).


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