HC Deb 27 April 2004 vol 420 cc745-6
22. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the entitlement of nationals of EU member states to vote in UK referendums. [168405]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The franchise for different referendums can differ on a case-by-case basis. For example, the draft Single European Currency (Referendum) Bill would not allow other European Union citizens to vote in that referendum, whereas the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 provides for European Union citizens to vote at the forthcoming regional assembly referendums.

Mr. Turner

The national electorate of the United Kingdom do not include EU citizens, whereas the local electorate do. What possible argument can there be for EU citizens having a say in the powers of our Government, when they have no say in who should form our Government?

Mr. Leslie

I am not quite sure of the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. He is right that there are different franchises for different purposes, including local elections and general elections, and different types of referendum that depend on the nature of the question at hand. That is an appropriate way to look at the matter—on a case-by-case basis. I do not see that there is a problem in the way that he does.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab)

May I bring to my hon. Friend's attention the Constitution for the European Union (Referendum) Bill, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) on Friday? The Bill specifically advocates extending the franchise in such a referendum to EU citizens. The hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and for Stratford-on-Avon should get their act together and agree a common line.

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend expects the Opposition to get their act together, and I expect that the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) will talk to each other one of these years.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

In welcoming the Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), I ask him to consider this constitutional principle, which is so straightforward and simple that it is undeniable: when a nation is asked to vote on its relations with other nations, only the nationals of the voting country should be able to exercise that democratic right. If citizens of other countries were to vote in such a referendum, it would be illogical nonsense and distort the process, and it should not be permitted.

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman's point is taken up in the draft Single European Currency (Referendum) Bill, which proposes a franchise of the Westminster electorate plus peers. We will examine different referendums on a case-by-case basis, which is the rational way forward.