HC Deb 19 January 1984 vol 52 cc431-2
4. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has completed his consultations with political parties on changes in electoral law.

Mr. Brittan

My colleagues in the other Home Departments and I wrote to the leaders of the political parties represented in the House on 1 November seeking their views on the principal recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. We are now considering the replies we have received and expect to announce our conclusions shortly.

Mr. Beith

Does the Home Secretary recognise that the proposal for a £1,000 deposit represents a requirement on a national political party to deposit more than £500,000 for the duration of a campaign? Will that not be seen as an attempt by a wealthy political party to undermine its opponents?

Mr. Brittan

One has to consider not only the level of the deposit but the threshold at which it is forfeited. We shall need to consider all those matters in the round, taking account of the fact that when the deposit was fixed in 1918 it was set at £150. The Select Committee said that there was a very strong case for change. The Government's views will be expressed in a White Paper which will be published shortly.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that the White Paper should mention those on holiday who are at present unable to vote and also those—and in some parts of the country they are quite numerous— who were prevented from voting at the previous election because of local government error? That important point should be considered, and there should be a way of rectifying that error.

Mr. Brittan

I shall look into that point about error. I have long made it clear that it is my view and that of the Government that there is no reason why going on holiday should be regarded as something that leads to one being disfranchised.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is the Home Secretary aware that the Ulster Unionist party would be very happy to enter into discussions with him, at his convenience, on electoral law issues in general, in addition to the more limited discussions that we have had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that indication.

Mr. Adley

I return to the question on the Order Paper and the subject of postal votes for holiday makers. Although everyone obviously hopes that agreement can be reached with the political parties, will my right hon. and learned Friend give a categorical assurance that, in the absence of any such agreement, that matter—about which many of our constituents feel very strongly—will be dealt with separately, and immediately?

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the desirability of reaching agreement, but, equally, after engaging in consultations we shall have to take a view and decide what action to take. Obviously no one expects any one interest group to have a veto on proposals which otherwise seem right.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Home Secretary aware that the Home Affairs Committee invited some parties—but not all the parties in the House—to give evidence? Would it not be wiser to recommend holding a Speaker's Conference before going on with any such changes? If there are to be changes about holiday voting, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that the registering of votes in more than one location is banned, as that practice will not be necessary if people have the right to vote when on holiday?

Mr. Brittan

On the question of a Speaker's Conference, I rather agree with Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, who did not think that the practice was a satisfactory way of considering changes in electoral law. We have the Select Committee's view and I have engaged in consultations with the leaders of the political parties in the House.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

With some of them.

Mr. Brittan

That process began on 1 November and the time has come to take the matter forward. I do not believe that a ban on multiple registration could be put into practice, but I agree that plural voting is, and should remain, a criminal offence.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that most people do not agree with the Select Committee's suggestion that citizens of the Irish Republic and other non-British citizens in this country should be entitled to vote at United Kingdom elections?

Mr. Brittan

I am aware of what my hon. Friend says, but I should not care to express a view on majority opinion in this country.

Mr. Skinner

How will the Secretary of State react when he hears the different views of the different party leaders? If, as seems likely, to judge from their actions on other issues, the Liberal leader's version of what he wants differs from that of the leader of the Social Democratic party, will the Secretary of State take into account the fact that if he stretches the consultations over a long period there is a fair chance that both will change their minds during that process and finish on opposite sides of the fence again?

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is better able than I am to gauge these matters. We must proceed as best we can.

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