REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE BILL

Standing Committee C

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE BILL

2nd May 1990

PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Standing Committee C

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE BILL

Wednesday 2 May 1990

CONTENTS

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes before Eleven o'clock.

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1

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Patrick Cormack

Barnes, Mr. Harry (Derbyshire, North-East)

Beaumont-Dark, Mr. Anthony (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Cartiss, Mr. Michael (Great Yarmouth)

Cousins, Mr. Jim (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

Faulds, Mr. Andrew (Warley, East)

Fields, Mr. Terry (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

King, Mr. Roger (Birmingham, Northfield)

Litherland, Mr. Robert (Manchester, Central)

Lloyd, Mr. Peter, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Norris, Mr. Steve (Epping Forest)

Porter, Mr. Barry (Wirral, South)

Randall, Mr. Stuart (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Stevens, Mr. Lewis (Nuneaton)

Wallace, Mr. James (Orkney and Shetland)

Wardle, Mr. Charles (Bexhill and Battle)

Warren, Mr. Kenneth (Hastings and Rye)

Mr. R. J. Rogers, Committee Clerk

2
3 Standing Committee C Wednesday 2 May 1990

[MR. PATRICK CORMACK in the Chair]

Representation of the People Bill Clause 1
ADDITIONAL GROUND FOR GRANTING ABSENT VOTE FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD

10.30 am

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I find myself in the unusual position of proposing a measure that will have the whole support of the Committee and of the House, and which is non-controversial. That is rather a heady situation to be in. The Bill makes a small but important improvement to electoral law because it will help everyone who needs a postal or proxy vote when they have moved house. At present, people who move home must apply for an absent vote every time that there is an election, until they qualify to go on the electoral register at their new address. The Bill will give them the right to apply for an automatic absent vote in all elections during that period, which should reduce the bureaucratic burden on many thousands of electors and on electoral registration officers. I inferred from the Second Reading debate that we had on the Floor of the House that the Bill commands cross-party support. The need for it became apparent following problems during 1987, when there was a general election and local elections. With those few words, I commend the Bill to the Committee.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): I apologise for the absence from our Front Bench of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), who is ill. There certainly is cross-party support for the Bill. I understand that an item was omitted from the Representation of the People Act 1985, which is corrected by the measure before us. It is non-partisan, and we welcome anything that helps to extend and to improve the franchise, which is particularly desirable in circumstances in which the franchise is under attack. Poll tax has considerably affected electoral registration—and the Bill has some relevance to poll tax and local elections. People who move from one local council area to another can establish proxy and postal voting rights in both parliamentary and local government elections. However, they will pay different poll tax moneys from those that they paid where they lived previously—and they might be voting in a district in which they are not paying any monies. That conflicts with the Government's principle of accountability—which is itself under attack from poll tax capping. I do not accept the Government's argument about accountability. I should not want to do anything to make the Government change their minds at the last minute 4 about supporting this measure, but any matter relating to representation of the people legislation, however small, has links with measures such as the poll tax. We now have legislation that seeks to interlink payment of taxes with voting procedures, and there is a considerable overlap between the two registers concerned. The poll tax is also reducing the extent of franchise. Figures for Liverpool for the current year show that although the franchise for the whole of Liverpool has increased by 10,000 that is merely a correction of a fall of some 35,000 in the number eligible to vote that occurred the previous year. Since the poll tax legislation has been campaigned against and argued about in Liverpool, 25,000 people have gone missing from the electoral register. While we are making it easier for people who move to have enfranchisement rights and to make use of them, we should also be concerned about other wider, aspects.

The Chairman: Order. Not this morning. The hon. Gentleman must speak to the Bill. As he began with an explanation of relevance, I have allowed him to develop his argument up to a point, but he must not develop it further now.

Mr Barnes: The question of accountability is relevant to the point that I was making about people moving from one electoral areas to another. Other legislation affects the franchise because it extends the expatriate vote, which must be exercised by postal arrangements. I might not be able to develop that argument—

The Chairman: No.

Mr Barnes:—because it would perphaps conflict with the Bill. We are trying to ensure that people have various enfranchisement rights, and we should examine the principles underlying that aspect. Other legislation, such as that involving the expatriate vote, might be a democratically dangerous measure, because people overseas who no longer have any links with Britain could swamp those voting in the same elections in this country.

Mr Michael Cartiss (Great Yarmouth): I cancelled an important engagement to support my hon Friend's endeavours this morning. I have years of experience as a party election agent and know that, sometimes, the public do not understand the labyrinthine ways in which electoral registration and returning officers work: The electorate appreciate the right to vote, and I fully support my hon. Friends attempts to eliminate the problem of people being unable to exercise that right because registration has not been made in time. Having applied for one absentee vote, they thought that it was valid also in a subsequent election, county council and by-elections. Many people who have been inconvenienced in trying to exercise their vote will welcome this measure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Peter Lloyd): I want to make three points. First, the Government welcome the Bill. It enables people who move away from the area where they were registered to vote in person, or by post or proxy, at all elections until the new register comes into effect in their new area. They will have to apply only once to the electoral registration offices, and not continually for each election as was the inconvenient previous practice. 5 Secondly, I will answer the point about accountability raised by the hon Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr Barnes). By the nature of the arrangements, individuals will have votes in the areas where they formally lived and where they paid rates—now the community charge. The change from rates to the community charge makes no difference— the hon Gentleman implied that it does. I confirm again that the register is quite separate from any community charge register. Anyone misinformed enough not to register on the electoral register because they thought that they could evade the community charge will be left in no doubt that that is a foolish move under the new registration scheme. The two are separate—one is not connected with the other. Thirdly, I congratulate my hon Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr Beaumont-Dark) for picking up this problem, introducing the Bill and on his success in getting it this far. I hope that he will achieve his aim of getting it on to the statute book.

6

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes before Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Cormack, Mr Patrick (Chairman)

Barnes, Mr Harry

Beaumont-Dark, Mr

King, Mr Roger

Litherland, Mr

Lloyd, Mr Peter

Porter, Mr Barry

Stevens, Mr