HL Deb 24 March 1981 vol 418 cc1054-5

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the review of the electoral laws of this country has been completed, and whether British citizens living abroad are to be granted voting rights.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has now completed his review of electoral law and procedures and hopes to make a Statement about his conclusions before long. This will deal with, among other things, the proposal that United Kingdom citizens resident abroad should be able to vote at elections in this country.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I am sure that the citizens living abroad will be grateful for it. May I ask the Minister whether, during his review, it was found that the number of United Kingdom citizens living abroad for a short or long spell has greatly increased and therefore this matter is of double the importance it was before?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I must make it clear to my noble friend that the Government are sympathetic to the case for permitting United Kingdom citizens resident abroad to vote at elections in this country, particularly elections to the European Parliament. But there are issues of principle as well as a large number of practical problems which must be resolved before such arrangements can be introduced. So far as the numbers question is concerned, we must await the Statement which my right honourable friend hopes to make.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, did the review deal with the question of whether we might change to a sensible electoral system?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the review did not deal with the question in the way that the noble Lord has put it.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is suggesting that voting rights will be extended to those British subjects who have made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of returning to this country?

Lord Belstead

This, my Lords, is of course one of the matters of principle which would have to be considered seriously.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that this point raised by my noble friend is one of particular significance to Scottish people? Would he agree that it is probable that there are more guidgaun Scottish men and women living and working abroad than there are resident in Scotland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am sure that this is a point which will be well taken by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, will the question whether British citizens living abroad are paying taxes to this country be a relevant consideration?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that again would be among the many considerations to be taken into account.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a genuine question as a matter of information? What other nations, particularly European nations, go in for this practice?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, may I give the noble Viscount a genuine answer? I do not know the answer to that one.