§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I beg to move Amendment No. 1 in, page 1, line 18, at end insert—'(c) British passport holders having the right of abode in the United Kingdom who—
I hope that the amendment meets, as far as possible, the objections given by the Lord President in the debate on Tuesday, when we were seeking to extend the franchise to all those overseas, with the qualification that they had to have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and no right to vote in any other foreign country.
- (i) are resident in a country outside the United Kingdom, but are employed by the Government of the United Kingdom or by an international organisation of which the United Kingdom is a member;
- (ii) are at the dates of the referendum of the age of 18 years or over; and
- (iii) are not entitled to vote in the referendum under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of this subsection.'
We listened to the objections raised by the Lord President. They were strong objections—ones which we could well understand. I do not think they were sufficient, but the Committee thought they were sufficient and our amendment was rejected. We are still anxious that some franchise should be granted to those who are working either for the Government of the United Kingdom or for an international organisation of which the United Kingdom is a member. We have accordingly framed this amendment to cover those people.
Looking back to the five reasons which the Lord President gave to oppose our argument last Tuesday, it seems that we have met, so far as is possible, those five grounds. I should have thought that in those circumstances those who would be covered in this amendment can never be described, by any stretch of the imagination—whichever Minister replies to this debate—as "lotus eaters" or as those "swanning around" in the Mediterranean without any intention of returning to the United Kingdom. Those people, by the very nature of their occupation, are excluded from those offensive definitions and, therefore, there cannot be, in any sense, any moral exception to this.
§ Mr. Goodhart
The House will recall that following our first debate in Committee we made special arrangements to allow our Armed Forces to vote in this unique referendum. We welcome that concession. At that time it was pointed out that many servants of the community —indeed, servants of the Crown—who were equally worthy, would be unable to cast a vote on this occasion.
The Leader of the House, in a speech that was, I fear, sadly characteristic, constantly referred to lotus eaters and suggested that many of those who were living abroad were unworthy of taking part in the referendum. In order to meet the objections of the Leader of the House, we have drawn a very narrow amendment indeed, confining the right of those abroad to have special arrangements made for them to vote to those who are working directly for the Crown or for international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member.
The number of people involved is much smaller than the number of people whom we were trying to help in the amendments in Committee. Then it was estimated that the number of people to whom we were trying to give the right to vote in this referendum might be as large as 300,000. I suspect that this amendment would enfranchise no more than 50,000 people.
§ Mr. Goodhart
It would be difficult for me or for the Minister at short notice to list all the international organisations of which this country is a member. One can think, for example, of the European Economic Community. About 100 of our citizens work for that organisation. One thinks of NATO, the OECD, the United Nations, UNESCO, and so on. Certainly there are a considerable number, which I would estimate to be about 50,000. If there is a single lotus eater to be found among them, it could only be some research worker studying the nutritional value of lotuses at the Food and Agriculture Organisation's research laboratories.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister of State will recognise that there are a con- 1798 siderable number of British citizens working abroad for the Crown and the Community who wish to have the opportunity to take part in this unique electoral experience for the British people. Our amendment is a worthwhile attempt to meet the difficulties which have been set forth.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) will know that I, for one, have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment, but I ask them to reflect on the fact that in the light of the vote in Committee the will of Parliament on this matter has been declared. However regretful we may be about the will of the Committee, we should accept it. Rather than continuing the debate and forcing a Division, we should continue with the Report stage and Third Reading.
§ Mr. Tim Renton
While I have great admiration and support for the various amendments moved by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) during the Committee proceedings, I must correct the hon. Gentleman on the remarks he has just made. I tabled an amendment in Committee which was somewhat wider than this one. It was to give the vote to those who were abroad—either for business reasons or on behalf of the Government—last October and were unable, therefore, to get their names on the present electoral register. The scope of that amendment was somewhat larger than that of this amendment. I spoke to it in Committee, but the Chairman did not call it for a vote, although I particularly requested that he should. I am very pleased that Mr. Speaker has selected this somewhat smaller and more restricted amendment for debate today.
It gives me great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) because I have often disagreed with him in the past on the principle of referenda. It is, therefore, pleasant to find ourselves for once, speaking with one voice. The whole House owes my hon. Friend gratitude for having written a book on referenda two or three years ago. It has been an invaluable source of information for all of us. I am pleased to hear that it is now out of print—or at least, not available for sale 1799 at Harrods—such has been the demand for copies.
On Sunday last the Secretary of State for Social Services, when talking about those Conservatives in Parliament, such as myself, who oppose the principle of the referenda, said,It is part of the hysteria which is being built up to try to convince the British people that they cannot do what they want to do.Not one word that I have heard in this debate convinces me that the Prime Minister or the Lord President care one fig for what the people want to do in terms of this referendum. Indeed, I am myself made particularly humble about the referendum by the fact that when I drove back from London Airport in a taxi yesterday, I was engaged in conversation with the taxi driver and, as I got out of the taxi, I said to the driver "Now, the really important thing ahead is the referendum", to which he replied "Oh. Is that today?"
What has happened in these debates is that every attempt that we have made —with the exception regarding Service men—to widen the vote, in response to pressures from British people—constituents, holiday makers, and those who work abroad on behalf of Britain—has been resisted by the Government. The reasons that they have given have almost always been centred around the impracticability of making exceptions within the very tight timetable they have set themselves in order to get off this particularly uncomfortable hook as soon as possible.
However, those are not reasons which will in any way convince the British people that the Government are trying to do what the British people want them to do.
Now, at this late stage, we come back to seeking the vote, in this vital referendum, for a very small category indeed. When I spoke to my amendment in Committee on Monday evening I referred to it as a "de minimus" amendment. Whatever is the category which is even smaller, below de tninimis, this is the amendment for them. It is specifically to help those who are abroad for good reasons, working for the British Government, with an important job to do, and whose opinions in relation to the future of this country must be important.
1800 I hope, therefore, that by accepting this very modest amendment the Government will at last show some inclination that they are trying to broaden the scope of the referendum for a small group who are really entitled to take part in it.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
While having considerable sympathy with the intention behind the amendment, I cannot share the view of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) that this is what the British people want—or at least, if that be the case, he produced no evidence to support it. His taxi driver, it appears, did not even know when the referendum was likely to take place. It is certainly no evidence that the taxi driver also took the view that certain categories of Britons abroad should be allowed to vote. I have not had one letter from any of my constituents about the matter. Despite my sympathy, I believe that we should not mistake this amendment with the will of the British people.
I take the point of the amendment. There are difficulties of definition with regard to international organisations. I do not think that only the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) would be in difficulty in answering the question of what constitutes such an international organisation. I note the careful attempt that has been made, however, to define the qualifications so as to exclude those lotus eaters and others who were discussed in Committee. Of all the qualifications specified, perhaps the essential one is the fourth qualification. I ought to point out that the first part of that qualification—namely, that of beingemployed by the Government of the United Kingdom or by an international organisation of which the United Kingdom is a memberis, strictly, unnecessary. Under existing electoral law—and this seems still not to be universally understood—servants of the Crown resident overseas are entitled to make a service declaration and to be registered in that way. Crown servants whose overseas residence began before the qualifying date for the current register will accordingly be registered in accordance with the service declaration. Crown servants whose residence overseas has begun since that date will be on the current register by virtue of their ordinary United Kingdom residence and will, therefore, of course, be entitled to a vote 1801 by proxy. This group of voters would be cut out by the sixth qualificaion set out in the amendment, on the ground that they are already covered by the Bill.
There is some difficulty, too, about the nationality requirements as specified in the amendment. There are, of course. many British subjects from Canada. Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries who are working for international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member, who have no links with the United Kingdom, and many of those whose fathers or grandfathers were born in the United Kingdom would have the right of abode under the patriality provisions of the 1971 Act. The limitation of the right of abode by itself would not be effective in excluding such persons and would produce some curious anomalies.
§ Mr. Fowler
I am coming to that. I assume that it is precisely for that reason that the amendment specifies that such persons should also be British passport holders. I can only assume, too, that the wording is deliberate, so as to exclude persons entitled to a British passport but who do not possess one. This seems an unsatisfactory test. It is not clear why that formula has been chosen rather than the simple one of citizenship of the United Kingdom. It is true that citizenship covers a large number of people who have no direct connection with the United Kingdom, but there would not be many of them working for international organisations of which the United Kingdom was a member. Those who were would necessarily have passports as a result of the nature of their work.
In any event, the phrase "British passport holder" is not a term of art. Used in a Bill it is somewhat objectionable. The basic objection to the amendment is one of principle. We decided in Committee to reject any extension of the franchise to persons who would not be entitled to register to vote under existing electoral law. Whatever the claims of international civil servants, with whom I have every sympathy, there are other categories of British subjects overseas, business men in Europe, for example, with equally strong claims which have been pressed upon us and rejected. If endless anomalies are to be avoided the 1802 only defensible position, in our view, is to confine the franchise to persons entitled to be registered to vote under the Representation of the People Acts. That is where we must take our stand.
§ Mr. Peyton
I shall not detain the House for long. I had no intention of speaking in this debate originally. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), moving the amendment, was supported ably by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton and Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), in a sound case. The purpose of the amendment is to meet, so far as possible, the objections put forward by the Leader of the House to an amendment we moved in Committee. I can only assume that the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), in his intervention, was desperately trying to get back his stripes after the offence he committed yesterday, when he helped save the Government from themselves and dug them out of some of the consequences of their folly.
This amendment was drafted with great care to meet Government objections. When the Minister of State, at the Dispatch Box, says that it is not the will of the British people, I do not know what he is talking about. He has no evidence for such an assertion.
§ Mr. Peyton
Almost every time the hon. Gentleman intervenes he succeeds brilliantly in prolonging the debate. Does he still wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman might, in honour, recognise that I did not say that. What I said was that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) had produced no evidence that that was the will of the British people. That is somewhat different.
§ Mr. Peyton
That is a wholly bogus point. All along the Government have said that they want as many people as possible to take part in the referendum. We have consistently said that those who are working overseas—in this case, those who are bound by their duty to the State to be working overseas—should be given the opportunity to vote. But the Government take a narrow, dogmatic, doctrinaire view.
1803 The Government try to get one or two rather grubby and fly-blown principles to cover the nakedness and poverty of their arguments. They rely upon that tattered, meretricious old creature "administrative convenience"—so often dressed up in this House as a principle in a desperate attempt to make the old so-and-so look respectable. I cannot believe that the Government are justified in their narrow-minded attitude.
I would have been quite willing to see this amendment withdrawn if the Government had shown a readiness to meet
§ us in practice by tabling an amendment in another place which would in some way help to widen the franchise. They have not done so, and the only remedy we have is to vote for the amendment so that the Government and their supporters can suffer the mortification of walking through the Lobby trying to defend the indefensible once more.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 142, Noes 231.1805
|Division No. 189.]||AYES||[6.26 p.m.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Nelson, Anthony|
|Alison, Michael||Grylls, Michael||Neubert, Michael|
|Arnold, Tom||Hall, Sir John||Newton, Tony|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Normanton, Tom|
|Awdry, Daniel||Hannam, John||Osborn, John|
|Baker, Kenneth||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Banks, Robert||Hastings, Stephen||Pardoe, John|
|Benyon, W.||Havers, Sir Michael||Penhaligon, David|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hawkins, Paul||Percival, Ian|
|Biffen, John||Hayhoe, Barney||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Heseltine, Michael||Raison, Timothy|
|Blaker, Peter||Holland, Philip||Rathbone, Tim|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hooson, Emlyn||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Hordern, Peter||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Brittan, Leon||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hurd, Douglas||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Buck, Antony||Jessel, Toby||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Budgen, Nick||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Carlisle, Mark||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Silvester, Fred|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Kirk, Peter||Sims, Roger|
|Cockcroft, John||Lamont, Norman||Speed, Keith|
|Cope, John||Lane, David||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Costain, A. P.||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Crouch, David||Lawrence, Ivan||Stanley, John|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Lawson, Nigel||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stokes, John|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Luce, Richard||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Durant, Tony||MacGregor, John||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Emery, Peter||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Madel, David||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Mates, Michael||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Mather, Carol||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Mayhew, Patrick||Wakeham, John|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Miscampbell, Norman||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Fox, Marcus||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Monro, Hector||Younger, Hon George|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Morgan, Geraint||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Mr. Phillip Goodhart aad|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. Tim Renton|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Abse, Leo||Atkinson, Norman||Bean, R. E.|
|Anderson, Donald||Bain, Mrs Margaret||Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)|
|Archer, Peter||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Blenkinsop, Arthur|
|Ashton, Joe||Bates, Alf||Body, Richard|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Bradley, Tom||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||Hunter, Adam||Radice, Giles|
|Buchan, Norman||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Reid, George|
|Buchanan, Richard||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Richardson. Miss Jo|
|Butter, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Campbell, Ian||Janner, Greville||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Cant, R. B.||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cartwright, John||John, Brynmor||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Selby, Harry|
|Corbett, Robin||Kaufman, Gerald||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Kelley, Richard||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Kerr, Russell||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Cryer, Bob||Lambie, David||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lamborn, Harry||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Lamond, James||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Lee, John||Silverman, Julius|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Deakins, Eric||Lipton, Marcus||Small, William|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lltterick, Tom||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Lomas, Kenneth||Spearing, Nigel|
|Delargy, Hugh||Loyden, Eddie||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dempsey, James||Luard, Evan||Stallard, A. W.|
|Doig, Peter||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Stott, Roger|
|Dunn, James A.||MacCormick, Iain||Strang, Gavin|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McElhone, Frank||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Edge, Geoff||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|English, Michael||Maclennan Robert||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thompson, George|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||McNamara, Kevin||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Madden, Max||Tierney, Sydney|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Magee, Bryan||Tinn, James|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mahon, Simon||Tomlinson, John|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Marquand, David||Tomney, Frank|
|Flannery, Martin||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Torney, Tom|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Ford, Ben||Maynard, Miss Joan||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Forrester, John||Meacher, Michael||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Ward, Michael|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mikardo, Ian||Watkins, David|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Milian, Bruce||Watt, Hamish|
|George, Bruce||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Weetch, Ken|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, lichen)||Weitzman, David|
|Ginsburg, David||Molyneaux, James||Wellbeloved, James|
|Golding, John||Moonman, Eric||White, James (Po11ok)|
|Gouid, Bryan||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Whitlock, Willlam|
|Graham, Ted||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Newens, Stanley||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Oakes, Gordon||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Ogden, Eric||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Hardy, Peter||O'Halloran, Michael||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Harper, Joseph||O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|>Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Orbach, Maurice||Woodall, Alec|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Ovenden, John||Woof, Robert|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Owen, Dr David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hatton, Frank||Padley, Walter||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Palmer, Arthur|
|Hefter, Eric S.||Park, George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Henderson, Douglas||Parry, Robert||Mr. John Ellis and|
|Hooley, Frank||Pavitt, Laurle||Mr. David Stoddart|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Huckfield, Les||Perry, Ernest|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Emery
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 11, after 'members' insert: 1806 'or civilians who are holders of a British passport and attached to units serving over-Seas'.This is a fairly simple amendment, and one which I feel certain the Government will have pleasure in accepting. The 1807 situation is quite clear. The Government went to great trouble in Committee to ensure that special provisions could be brought into existence so that the people defined in Section 46 of the Representation of the People Act 1949, or the spouses of such people would have the right to vote. I welcomed the amendment, but I said that it was wrong to leave out one class of people, namely, civilians who are attached to units of Her Majesty's Forces serving overseas, and for that reason I think it important to cater for this section of our military society.
Those whom I have in mind often work in welfare services. The NAAFI immediately comes to mind, but there are the Church Army and other organisations. There are civilians who may, technically, be attached to units for mechanical purposes—and I think particularly of the Royal Air Force—but a growing number of civilians are replacing men in uniform and doing some of the non-sharp end jobs, both at home and overseas. These people should be able to vote.
There are those who come under Section 46. If they are abroad on training, whether they are in the Middle East or in Europe, they will not necessarily be able to vote. I thought that I was beholden to see if it would be possible that this small category would not be deprived of the right to vote in the referendum.
There may be a drafting error in my amendment. It had to be drawn up at ten past three this morning and made as near perfect as possible so that it could get to the printers in time for consideration today. It is not the best way of drafting British legislation, that Members are forced to draft amendments without having the reprinted Bill before them and when the Report stage is taken only a few hours after the Committee has been concluded. I make no apology for any drafting error.
The Minister of State may argue that the phrase "citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" would be better thanholders of a British passport".This is a technical matter which I could have attempted to have got right if I had had legal advice but, sensibly, at 3 o'clock this morning the legal luminaries 1808 were in their beds and were not to be disturbed by a Member who wanted advice on a minor drafting point.
I had a word with Mr. Deputy Speaker a few moments ago and said that if the Government's only argument were to be that the amendment is less worthy of acceptance because of the wordsholders of a British passportthe words "citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" should be considered for inclusion. I ask that only if the Government should see fit to accept the amendment.
I hope that the Government will want to meet the aims of the amendment. It will not be good enough for them to say that the matter is difficult. Of course it is difficult. If it was not, the matter would not have been left out in the first place. I am sure that the Minister would wish to cover everybody serving with or attached to a defence unit overseas. This simple amendment is an easy way of achieving that.
I hope that the Minister will not say that the Government do not want to extend the franchise to anybody who might not be franchised in an ordinary election. Everybody has decided that this is not an ordinary election. That has been said by the Government, their supporters, the official Opposition, and the fringe parties.
Surely, the Minister would desire that any difficulties which might arise should be overcome. I hope that the Minister will not say that if the Government were to yield on this point a special category would be created—those serving with or attached to defence units overseas—and that that would open the door for those away on business in Europe and that they would become a special category. I should not mind that. It would be better to bring in a few extra people than to exclude them merely because we cannot cover everybody. A counsel of perfection will never succeed. It is better to enlarge the electorate as much as possible even though we cannot cover everybody. I believe that the Minister will want to meet the principle of the amendment.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. William Rodgers)
The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) was at his most persuasive. I should like to respond by 1809 being at my most sympathetic, particularly in view of the hon. Gentleman's devotion to duty late last night which led him to table the amendment.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I say that I thought that his argument was occasionally somewhat circuitous. He said that he hoped that I would use no argument which was convincing in case it should convince. I know those were not his exact words, but that was the burden of what he said.
I can give no such undertaking. Although I may not convince the hon. Gentleman, I must tell the House that I am convinced by what I find it necessary to say.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the argument on this amendment, as on others, turns on two very important sections of the Representation of the People Act 1949. Section 10(1) brings in all categories under the heading of "Service qualification". In other words, it is a very wide-ranging section.
On the other hand, Section 46 narrows the area considerably and refers to members of the Forces rather than to the wider Service qualification in Section 10. It is this section which we used in the amendment which was accepted by the House on Tuesday to make special arrangements for members of Her Majesty's Forces and their spouses.
I am sure that this was not the hon. Gentleman's intention, but the amendment splits Section 10 of the Act—the heading "Service qualification" and unfortunately blunts the principle which is clear within that section without adopting the principle embodied in Section 46 which was at the heart of the amendment accepted on Tuesday.
The justification for our amendment was both the question of principle—Section 46 plus spouses—and the question of practicality. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know the answer to his question whether we would allow the problem of making satisfactory arrangements to put us off. It would not put us off, and the very fact that we introduced the amendment on Tuesday was evidence of a great deal of persistence on the part of Ministers to meet the wishes of the House. The safeguards which I was able to spell out on Tuesday could not be spelt 1810 out on this amendment. There would not be the same control and discipline as everyone would regard as necessary and it would be very difficult to cancel the proxies for these groups of people—those at present qualified under Section 10—in the way that we intend to cancel the proxies of the Service voter and his spouse.
In case there should be any misunderstanding, I referred in c. 1309 of Hansard on 22nd April to circumstances in which proxies would continue. I had in mind then those who come under Section 10 of the Act, who have a Service qualification, but who do not come under Section 46 whose proxies will be cancelled. Whereas we have considerable evidence, which the House accepted, of a low rate of registration, one in four, among Service men and their spouses, there is no evidence in practice of a low rate of registration in the other categories within Section 10. In other words, if Ministry of Defence people are abroad serving with units, they will retain their proxies as hitherto. We have no evidence that a large number of them who are qualified are not registered and will not have proxies.
§ Mr. Emery
I follow the argument that the hon. Gentleman is propounding. The exclusion of everybody because somebody might cheat is not the best way of enlarging the whole of the electorate. Therefore, if the real worry concerns only the proxies, let us insert in another place an addition to this amendment to the effect that anybody holding a proxy would not be eligible. I accept that some hon. Members may say that it will be difficult to prove. However, the number of people who are likely to cheat in this way is so infinitesimal that I am willing to run that risk.
§ Mr. Rodgers
There is a question of balance and certain risks must be run. It depends on where the House would like to draw the line. The hon. Gentleman will concede that, although I mentioned the difficulty of cancelling proxies, I did not, in major part, rest my case on that point. I have rested my case on the provisions of Section 46 of the 1949 Act and the extent to which persons might have their proxies cancelled if we adopted the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman, but nevertheless now have proxies, 1811 because they have registered as they were eligible to do under Section 10.
I should like to believe, because this would be entirely what I would expect of the hon. Gentleman, that he has proposed a helpful exploratory amendment. He moved it reasonably and he has given us all great cause to reflect on the curiosities of the 1949 Act and the fact that perhaps one day circumstances may occur when the House will wish to amend it. In the meantime, I hope that he will feel it is not right to press his amendment.
§ Question put and negatived.