HC Deb 03 November 1983 vol 47 cc992-4
14. Mr. John Townend

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has now decided on the action he intends to take following the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee that voters on holiday should be able to apply for a postal vote.

20. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now bring forward proposals for the reform of electoral law.

Mr. Brittan

The Government are consulting the political parties represented in the House on the main recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee, including an extension of absent voting arrangements to electors who are away on holiday on the day of the poll. In the light of their views, and subject to the usual constraints on the legislative programme, it is the Government's intention to introduce legislation next Session giving effect to this and other changes in electoral law.

Mr. Townend

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that that reply will be widely welcomed? Does he agree that the removal of this iniquity is long overdue, and that the major responsibility for that lies with opposition from the Labour party? Will he confirm that the Government now intend to give holidaymakers the right to vote, even if opposition from the Labour party continues?

Mr. Brittan

Giving holidaymakers the right to vote is a natural extension of democracy. I therefore hope that all who support democracy will be in favour of it. I know that the Labour party has not been in favour of this step in the past, but I also know that the proposal is in line with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I therefore hope that when we discuss these matters it will be possible to find a way forward which commands consent, although obviously no one party can be allowed a veto in a matter of this kind.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

In proposing an extension of voting rights to qualifying British citizens who work abroad, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that that will apply to citizens working not just in Europe but throughout the world? Will he also consider reviewing his present opinion about voting by Irish citizens here, because many of us still believe that that is anomalous?

Mr. Brittan

Details of any scheme for voting by citizens overseas can be worked out only in the light of the comments of the political parties. A number of issues are discussed in the Select Committee's report. The degree of the extension is one that we shall need to consider. My hon. Friend will of course be aware of the views of the Select Committee on the subject of Irish voters.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many in the House and outside will welcome his undertaking to extend democracy in this way and so end this deprivation of voting rights affecting people who are away from their homes for two or three weeks a year? Is he further aware that the position has become more ridiculous because, from evidence available in many constituencies, it is known that people who simply say that they will be away on business received the vote as of right?

Mr. Brittan

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. In putting forward the view that I have today, I am reflecting the fact that public discontent with being disenfranchised at the last general election was substantial in all parts of the country and among supporters of all political parties.

Sir Paul Hawkins

Will my right hon. and learned Friend recognise, as I am sure he does, that my constituents will greatly welcome what he says? However, will he bear in mind the administrative difficulties that it will produce, both for the civil servants managing the work and for agents in the constituencies?

Mr. Brittan

I am glad that my hon. Friend makes that point. It is precisely because of the genuine difficulties that he has identified that action of this kind has not been taken earlier. I very much hope that we shall be able to reduce the difficulties, take care of the administrative problems, and thus put forward an extension of democracy that is practicable.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept the thanks of a large number of my constituents, on whose behalf I made representations? May I say how glad we are that he has agreed to act decisively? Will he see whether arrangements can still be made so that those who go on holiday to Benidorm can have the same rights as those who go on holiday to Blackpool?

Mr. Brittan

That would be the ideal and I hope that I shall be able to help.

Mr. Winnick

On the subject of electoral law, why should parties be able to spend as much as they like nationally while candidates are strictly limited, and rightly so, as to the amount that they spend in an election campaign? Is there not a clear contradiction here? Does the Home Secretary intend to clear it up?

Mr. Brittan

I do not think I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, but if he wishes to make further representations on the matter there is still time to do so before the matter is considered.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Home Secretary agree that giving holidaymakers the vote is, in effect, giving postal voting on demand? Surely, that would require more accurate voting lists than we have at present. What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman doing about that?

Mr. Brittan

We shall need to look at that issue in the course of the consultations.

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