HC Deb 22 July 1982 vol 28 cc521-2
8. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Representation of the People Acts.

Mr. Mayhew

There are a number of matters with which we are not satisfied, but we cannot promise legislation in the near future.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that thousands of people in Britain who are entitled to vote in our elections are not British nationals and do not want to be? When the British Nationality Act comes into force next year, should we not restrict the suffrage to British citizens?

Mr. Mayhew

My hon. Friend is right about the numbers. I note his point, which he also made in the Daily Mail today.

Mr. Skinner

How much was he paid for that?

Mr. Mayhew

In that article my hon. Friend said that only British citizens should have the right to vote and that not even Commonwealth citizens resident here should have that right. To discontinue the Irish vote would be consistent with that, but such a policy would give rise to wider considerations than those for which the Home Secretary is responsible.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Leaving aside the totally unfair concept adumbrated by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), does the Minister agree that it is in the interests of all electors that statutory notices relating to local and national elections should be as widely read as possible? Why are there no plans to ensure that such notices are published in ethnic minority languages in areas where large ethnic minorities reside?

Mr. Mayhew

Nobody can disagree with the principle that when it is necessary for people to have a notice of something important that is to happen the notice should be effective. I am prepared to consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but one must draw a line somewhere. When people come to live in Britain and wish to exercise civic rights and responsibilities, they must make an effort to learn the language.

Mr. Edward Gardner

When the British Nationality Act comes into force on 1 January next year and for the first time allows plainly identifiable citizenship to be enjoyed by those who want to live here—British citizens—why should anyone without that qualification be allowed to vote in a British general election?

Mr. Mayhew

That would involve requiring Commonwealth citizens resident here who have had the right to vote in our elections for many years to become British citizens by naturalisation. That policy can be considered, but it has wider implications.

Mr. Hattersley

May I ask the Minister about a different amendment to the Act? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that Members on both sides of the House are bewildered by the recommendations that are from time to time made by the Boundary Commission?

Will the Minister consider requiring the Boundary Commission to express its reasons when making recommendations?

Mr. Mayhew

No, Sir. I believe that the arrangements that Parliament has made, which have stood for many years, governing the allocation of seats by a wholly independent body—the Boundary Commission—are the best. I shall not give the assurance requested by the right hon. Gentleman.