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Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): Was the registration of university students considered? I have a university in my constituency. The 6,000 or 7,000 students there do not register individually. There is a mass registration--as they come in, they are registered. That could be another stumbling block to the measure.

Mr. Howarth: I shall cover that point when I deal with amendments tabled by the Opposition, so if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall deal with her question later.

If we accepted the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire, it would run counter to the views of the working party on electoral procedures. On the basis of the consensus achieved there, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his amendments.

I shall deal now with the amendments to which the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) spoke on behalf of the official Opposition. I am a little surprised by them. I do not mean that in an unhelpful way, but I assumed that the hon. Gentleman and his party, being familiar with electoral procedures, were of the same view as I am--that our procedures were in some ways cumbersome and old-fashioned, and that we should endeavour to make it easier for people to vote. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman said as much.

However, it is clear, although perhaps unintended, that the Opposition amendments would make it harder for people to put their names on the register. The amendments would place an additional burden on people registering as electors, whether they were registering in the usual way, or by means of a service declaration or a declaration of local connection.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 12 would create a requirement to provide details of all previous registration in the past 12 months. That would place a particular burden on the

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most mobile members of our society, who are already among those least likely to register. It would also be a particular nuisance for students who, as the House knows, may move several times during a year.

The electoral registration form would need to be redesigned and made much larger to contain all that information. I remember Opposition Members protesting vigorously about the size of the ballot paper when we discussed the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. I am sure that they would not want an unwieldy document for registration purposes.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) in an intervention, the House would have to consider how large a form would be necessary, for example, to cater for a house shared by six students, let alone an entire student hostel where mass registration takes place. It would be a difficult process.

9.30 pm

Although the amendments are well intentioned, they do not serve a useful purpose. The introduction of a rolling electoral register would enable people to change their registration during the course of a year. The form will require people to give details of their previous registration to prevent dual registration. Why is anything more required? Why does a registration officer need details of earlier registrations? What would the electoral registration officer be required to do with that information?

Mr. Greenway: I do not understand the Minister's point. In one breath, he claims that it is too cumbersome to ask people who apply to go on a register--it could now be a rolling register--to give details of other places where they are registered, yet he accepts that there will have to be a mechanism to enable a registered person to be put on a new register and removed from a previous register. How will that be done other than through a request for details of other current registrations?

Mr. Howarth: Individuals would simply make a declaration of where they intended to cast their vote in, for example, parliamentary elections. That does not require information about other places where they may be registered. The difference between the amount of information that the Opposition and the Government would require is considerable.

Mr. Greenway: I am sorry to intervene again, but can we agree on two points? First, does the Minister accept that rolling registration will create a greater prospect of people being on more than one register? We need a mechanism whereby their names are removed from previous registers. Secondly, will he deal with the issue of people who are already registered somewhere, but who seek to make a local declaration registration?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman makes a theoretical suggestion. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will consider his point. Without prejudging my hon. Friend's consideration, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's fears are unfounded. I am in a good position; as a visiting Minister, I can make commitments on behalf of hon. Friends without

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necessarily having to follow them up. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend has now helpfully handed me a note, which states that he will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth: I shall give way for the last time; I need to make progress.

Mr. Hughes: I am prompted to intervene by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor), who asks another question to be passed to the Minister's left. Will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department take evidence from places such as Cornwall, where the second home issue has caused problems over the years and where there is a widespread view that associated abuses have distorted the system? I do not expect the Under-Secretary to reply tonight, but I ask the Home Office to consider the problem and to invite Cornwall electoral registration officers to submit evidence.

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend suggested offstage that he would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that issue. After every general election, the Home Office undertakes a review of any anomalies or difficulties in election procedures. Electoral registration officers in Cornwall and elsewhere can make use of that. I do not know whether they did that after the last general election, but methods of raising problems exist.

I hope that those who are not yet fully convinced of the force of my arguments will not believe it necessary to divide the Committee. Doubtless my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire, who is a doughty campaigner, will continue to raise registration matters, and, in due course, he may even persuade us of the merits of his argument. I fear, however, that we are not far along that road tonight.

Mr. Barnes: I had support in the debate for certain amendments, especially for ending double registration for parliamentary elections. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) supported those provisions, but--unfortunately for me--my suggestions for changes to local government elections are part and parcel of the whole package of arguments that I am making. I have yet to convince those hon. Members who gave me partial support that they need to go somewhat further.

I am a bit disturbed by the response of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) to my arguments. He claimed that I am in some way attempting to restrict electoral registration rights, but I have argued for years in the House about the need to advance electoral registration provisions. In the next debate, he may think that I want to restrict those rights further by eliminating overseas votes. The Bill goes part way to starting to place the missing millions on the electoral registers and I assure him that if he looks at the balance of numbers, the arguments and the evidence--for instance, that which I gave to the Home Affairs Committee when it was producing its report--he will see that there are good,solid arguments for my amendments, which would considerably improve electoral registration in this country. We need a modern, up-to-date rolling register rather than the limited version suggested by the Government.

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The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) claimed that my amendments were in some way improper compared with his own, which he said related to the Bill, but that is obviously not the case. My amendments would not have been selected if they had anything improper about them and they are highly germane to the provisions before the Committee. He is concerned about the problem of double registration of homeless people. I am concerned generally about the problem of double registration, which I referred to in connection with people's residences. He was in danger of supporting double registration for toffs, but objecting to it for down and outs. That position is not viable. My position is that I am against double registration across the board. His amendments would be much more appropriate if they were combined with my package of amendments. I should perhaps have given further thought to the people he is concerned about, but he stands alone on the platform in respect of his position on registration of the homeless.

Mr. Greenway: The hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton), are missing the point completely. The argument for making a declaration of local connection is to enable people to vote who otherwise would have no right to do so because they have no permanent residence. It must follow that if they make such a declaration to enable them to vote they should not be on any other register.


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