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Mr. Barnes: That point is reasonable, especially if it is related generally to the overall problem of double registration. It would have been possible, therefore, to table different amendments that relied on the same principle, but tied my position to the declaration of local connection and the knock-on consequences.

Many other amendments form part of my argument for getting the missing millions on to the electoral registers and the measure before the Committee is part of that process. It is not appropriate for me to go into the detail of later amendments at this stage. The problem with Committee procedures is that amendments must be considered in relation to specific clauses. My arguments about the issuing of polling cards and the need for publicity tie in with the general structure that I am advocating.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said that he used to have a flat in the constituency of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. It was above my flat. The difference between us was that he placed himself on the electoral register and I did not. I took the attitude that was expressed earlier. Am I legally obliged to put myself on the electoral register, or is it sufficient to fill in a form as the sole occupant pointing out that I am not entitled to registration? Would I face a £1,000 fine for not registering?

The Under-Secretary claimed that the system was established with all-party consensus. That consensus was broken because the Liberal Democrats were willing to support my amendments Nos. 30 and 33 on parliamentary elections. This is an on-going argument. The Government will introduce legislation later that will establish an electoral commission, which will make recommendations to the House. I am happy that the arguments put in this debate will continue. We may come back to the issue, especially if other Government measures involve greater

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expenditure on electoral registration than those in the Bill. The Bill makes provision for expenditure by local authorities, but does little about the operation of a central roll, which will have to be addressed by an electoral commission. Some of these measures may become more appropriate at that stage.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Kaufman: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 44, leave out from "elector" to end of line 2 on page 3.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in clause 8, page 10, line 11, leave out ", 2".

No. 3, in page 10, line 14, leave out from beginning to "and" in line 15.

No. 4, in schedule 1, page 19, line 28, leave out from "declarations" to end of line 29.

No. 5, in page 26, leave out lines 28 to 31.

No. 47, in schedule 2, page 27, line 33, leave out "20" and insert "5".

No. 48, in page 27, line 33, leave out "20" and insert "10".

No. 49, in page 27, line 42, leave out "20" and insert "5".

No. 50, in page 27, line 42, leave out "20" and insert "10".

No. 82, in page 28, line 2, at end insert--

"(4A) The third set of conditions is that--
(a) he was included in a register of parliamentary electors in respect of an address at a place that is situated within the constituency concerned,
(b) that entry in the register was made on the basis that he was resident, or to be treated for the purposes of registration as resident, at that address, and
(c) he either, prior to ceasing to be a resident of the United Kingdom, signed a declaration stating an intention to return to the United Kingdom to live within ten years of departure, or, alternatively, he continues to pay income tax annually in the United Kingdom.".

No. 51, in page 30, line 23, leave out "20" and insert "5".

No. 52, in page 30, line 23, leave out "20" and insert "10".

No. 53, in page 30, line 32, leave out "20" and insert "5".

No. 54, in page 30, line 32, leave out "20" and insert "10".

Schedule 2 stand part.

No. 7, in schedule 4, page 34, leave out lines 52 and 53.

No. 8, in page 35, line 19, leave out from "connection" to end of line 20.

New clause 1--British citizens overseas--

".--(1) Sections 1 to 4 and subsections (1) and (2) of section 12 of the Representation of the People Act 1985, as amended by the Representation of the People Act 1989, are hereby repealed.

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(2) In section 3C of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 (as inserted by the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999), in subsection (2), paragraph (b) and the word 'or' at the end of paragraph (a) shall be omitted."

Mr. Kaufman: Listening to the debate on the previous group of amendments, it occurred to me that if the Opposition's requirement of a declaration of local connection were put into law there would be no need for me to move this amendment. It is an interesting fact that the Conservative party wants to place every obstacle in the way of homeless people being able to vote, whereas people living abroad as tax exiles who vote for a Government who create homelessness are not asked to provide any declaration of local connection.

The amendment would abolish the overseas vote in its entirety. The aim is to return the position to what it was before the Representation of the People Act 1985. It is an interesting coincidence that the Representation of the People Bill that became the Act of 1985 had its Second Reading on 10 December 1984, almost exactly 15 years ago tonight.

9.45 pm

On Second Reading, the Conservative party seemed to believe that those of us who were opposed to the overseas vote were using this provision to launch an attack on Michael Ashcroft. Mr. Ashcroft has simply hitch-hiked on to the provision in order to make donations to the Conservative party, and he can be left to his own devices, whatever they may be. I, however, have opposed the overseas vote since it was first mooted in the House. I argued against it in discussions with Leon Brittan when I was shadow Home Secretary; I opposed it in the debate on the White Paper in June 1984; I opposed it on Second Reading of the Bill in December 1984; and I opposed it in Committee in January 1985.

I have opposed the overseas vote for the same reasons that Conservative Members have adduced against the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). They say that there must be a local connection, that people must be part of the community, and that if they are part of the community they must have the right to vote. Yet they dragged through the House, opposed by the Labour party, a provision granting the vote to someone who for many years had had no connection with this country or any specific locality. What is more, the child of such a person, who had never even lived in this country, would be entitled to vote as an attainer. I have opposed this measure from the beginning, on the simple basis of no representation without taxation.

As I have said, my opposition dates back to the time when the overseas vote was first mooted. On 27 June 1984, the House debated the response of the then Conservative Government, in a White Paper, to a report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The Committee--it contained a substantial Conservative majority, because the Conservatives had a majority of 100 in the House--opposed the introduction of an overseas vote outright and unanimously. It said that such a vote could have far-reaching consequences, and ruled it out on practical grounds. It said that it might alter the whole character of British elections. It said:

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    Hitherto, in the great majority of cases, the candidate has been able both to speak directly to the elector either on the doorstep or in a public place and personally to ensure that his election literature is delivered to every household. Problems of communication could arise both between candidates and overseas voters at election time and, indeed, between Members and their constituents thereafter."

The Committee--a Conservative-dominated Select Committee--also said, in its unanimous report, that those who would be given this franchise forfeited their claim to participate in the country's affairs.

When I spoke from the then Opposition Front Bench, I supported the report of that Conservative-dominated Select Committee. I may as well quote from what I said in the House then, because it will save time and because--as I was better at these things then--it will be more eloquent. I said:

It is an optional franchise. It is a criminal offence for those who live in this country not to fill in the form, but those who do not live in this country and qualify for the overseas vote can choose whether they want it. That is a strange attitude to the franchise.

I went on:

I went on to point out that the proposals

    "could make it possible for tax exiles to decide the taxes that are paid by people living and working in this country. Property speculators living abroad could decide what pension should be paid to people who have worked all their lives in this country."--[Official Report, 27 June 1984; Vol. 62, c. 1029-31.]

That was the situation when the Conservative Government proposed an overseas vote for people who had been out of the country for seven years. It applies in spades to the current 20-year limit and would have applied to the 25 years that they wanted to introduce before those on our Front Bench persuaded them to reduce that a little.

On Second Reading of the 1984 Bill, I advanced further reasons. I said:

There are people who came on the register this year who have not been living in this country since 1978, yet they are able to participate in deciding who should govern the country.

I further argued:

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Our party's record has been clear from the start. It has assented to the idea only through force majeure and done its best on both Bills--the first introduced the overseas vote and the second expanded it--to limit the provision.

In Committee, I said that under our constituency system

Some hon. Members want people to have several votes in local election for those reasons.

I went on:

I went on further:

    "What makes this franchise fancier than any other fancy franchise that we have had for a long time--certainly since the abolition of the university vote--is that it is based not on residence but on option."--[Official Report, 29 January 1985; Vol. 72, c. 191-93.]

Every argument that Conservative Members advanced against my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire because of the local connection is totally traduced by the measure they introduced. I concluded that the Opposition were totally opposed to the measure. That is how the Labour party stood 15 years ago and that is what I am advocating that the Labour party should return to now that it is, happily, back in government.

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