HL Deb 14 February 2000 vol 609 cc918-55

3.6 p.m.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [New system of electoral registration]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 17, after first ("a") insert ("British citizen or a").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 1 simply states that the words "British citizen" ought to be added to the Bill. I was surprised when I came to read the Bill to find that the legislation setting out the right of a citizen of this country to be on the electoral register did not include the words "British citizen". It says, either a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland".

The words, "British citizen" do not appear.

At Second Reading I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, how it came about that those of us who are British citizens managed to get a vote. He said that we were subsumed in the words, "Commonwealth citizen". I do not feel that that is satisfactory. I wager that there are few countries in the world where the voting rights of its citizens do not appear on the face of the legislation which sets up its democratic system and where its citizens are subsumed in a wider definition, such as the definition of "Commonwealth citizen".

That was the first point that struck me as odd. A second point about which I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, was the position in reverse. In other words, if I went to a Commonwealth country, would I be able to register immediately on their electoral roll and therefore have a vote in their elections? The noble Lord kindly wrote to me listing the countries where I would find that I had reciprocal voting rights. It is an interesting list but it hardly includes the major Commonwealth countries.

It seems to be the case that the countries of the Caribbean—Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines—give us those reciprocal rights. Can the Minister say whether they give us those rights on the same basis? In other words, if any of your Lordships were to go to those countries, would we be able to register immediately or would there be some other qualification? For example, in Malawi only after seven years' residence would your Lordships have the right to vote, in contrast to a Malawian citizen coming here who would have immediate rights to vote. I understand that a four-year residence period applies in Namibia.

However, I gather that the system in New Zealand—and I should like the Minister to confirm this—operates on the same basis as our system; in other words, if a noble Lord were to go there, he would be entitled to vote immediately as a Commonwealth citizen and if a New Zealander were to come here he would also be entitled to vote immediately. The position in South Africa is qualified by the words "in certain circumstances", but I am not sure what they may be.

Members of the Committee will notice that I have not mentioned those great Commonwealth countries, Canada, Australia, India and Pakistan, to name just a few, many of whose citizens come to this country. It seems to me that we do not have reciprocal rights. I wonder whether we are continuing with a pretty out-of-date concept in allowing those citizens to come here—that is, people who are not citizens of the United Kingdom—and register immediately. Indeed, are we not being rather foolish in not demanding a quid pro quo?

However, there is more to it than that. Indeed, if that had been all, I probably would not have tabled these amendments. We should think back to the referendum legislation at the beginning of this Parliament when we had great discussions as to who should be eligible to vote in the referendums on setting up the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Noble Lords will remember that we had quite a heated debate as to whether overseas voters on the British electoral register—in other words, British citizens who live overseas and are registered on the register—would be allowed to vote in those referendums. The Government decided that they should not be allowed to do so and chose to use the local government register for the referendums.

We have two registers. We have the parliamentary register, on which overseas voters are included, and we have the local government register from which they are excluded. It is the same register, but there are "marks in the margin". Of course, noble Lords are allowed to vote only in local government elections and not in parliamentary elections; indeed, noble Lords have a "mark in the margin". One day soon—that is, if the Government can ever pluck up enough courage—we may have a vote on whether or not the United Kingdom should join the euro. It seems to me fairly pertinent to ask: who should be entitled to vote in the referendum as to whether this country joins the euro? I can see the argument that would say that no citizen of the Union who is not a British citizen should be allowed to vote. Why should a citizen of France or Italy (countries which are already members of the euro) who is resident in this country have the right to decide whether we should join the euro?

Should overseas voters—people who live in European countries and have a right to vote in British elections because they are British overseas voters, like my daughter who lives in Italy—have the right to vote for or against the euro? They may actually know more about how the euro works than anyone in Britain. That could be a good thing or it could be bad, depending on their experience of how the euro is working in the European country in which they live. It is a very pertinent question. Moreover, should someone who is a citizen of any one of the Commonwealth countries I have mentioned—India, Pakistan, Australia or New Zealand—have the right to decide whether we give up the pound sterling and join the euro? I submit that they should not. The only people who should have the right to decide whether or not we join the euro are those British citizens who are currently resident in Britain, not the other groups that I mentioned.

When and if we come to a euro referendum, we could only deal with such a situation if there were a clear delineation on the register specifying who is a British citizen, who is a Commonwealth citizen and who is not so much a citizen of the Republic of Ireland but a citizen of the Union. As far as I understand it—at least it was so this morning when I checked the position —the Republic of Ireland is a member of the European Union. In fact, I think it is also quite keen on the euro. I certainly do not think that citizens of the Republic of Ireland should have any say as to whether or not the UK joins the euro. After all, by the time we come to vote, the experiences of the Republic may be so dreadful as regards the euro that they will all vote against it. That would seem quite unfair. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats would not like that as a possibility, nor perhaps would the Government. As I said, I am puzzled as to what is the Government's current view on the euro.

It seems sensible that we should have some signal on the register to enable us to see clearly who are British citizens. It is right that the citizens of this country should know why they are on the register: they should not be on the register simply as, "Commonwealth citizens". But, much more importantly, if we have a referendum on the euro, whether the Government like it or not it seems to me that we shall be discussing who should be allowed to vote, just as we did when we discussed the referendums in Scotland and Wales. When we reach that point I shall be advocating, as the Government may wish to, that British citizens currently resident in this country ought to be the only people who can vote. If that is the situation, we need to have a register that identifies that particular group perfectly clearly. Therefore, I suggest that we add to this part of the Bill the words "British citizen". The consequential amendments will then ensure that the register is made up in such a way that one can identify who are the British citizens for that potential euro referendum. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I would not in any way object to Commonwealth citizens having voting rights within the United Kingdom. I hope that the noble Lord will agree will me that there is a contradiction here when it comes to passport control, especially at Heathrow airport. There is a fast-track entry process for British and European Union passport holders, but Commonwealth citizens—even those with ties to this country, having been born within the UK—are herded through yet another channel, with all the consequent delays.

Lord Goodhart

In our view it is wholly appropriate that anyone who is on the register and entitled to vote and who can, therefore, vote in a parliamentary or local government election should be entitled to vote in a referendum in that part of the United Kingdom where he or she lives. Otherwise, the situation would be seriously discriminatory. I should add that the indication of Commonwealth voters on the register, however well intentioned, is something that could lead to an increased level of racism.

Lord Jopling

There is another issue which my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish did not quite cover. Those of us who have lived a political life in the years since the Second World War can remember occasions when, to put it mildly, the countries of the Commonwealth were not best pleased with the policies of the British Government. Indeed, like many noble Lords, I recall times when it was not an impossible thought that the countries of the Commonwealth might have voted to exclude Britain from the Commonwealth. It is to be hoped that those awkward days are behind us. I certainly hope so. However. if it was not impossible in the past, one is entitled to say that it is not impossible in the future.

Perhaps I may put to the Minister the following possibility. With an election pending, if it were a decision of the nations of the Commonwealth to expel the United Kingdom, it seems to me on reading part of Clause 1 of the Bill that that would at a stroke make it impossible for British citizens to vote in a parliamentary election. I say that because if British citizens were no longer Commonwealth citizens, they would be automatically excluded. Surely it would be wise for us to insert these words into the legislation so that, if such an unthinkable and awful prospect were to arise, a whole lot of changes in the law would not need to be made to ensure that British people could vote in a British election. Can the Committee think of a more absurd situation? However, this seems to me to be an implication which we ought to think about. I hope that the noble Lord will take this point on board and will accept the amendment, or at least tell us that he will think carefully about it.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I think that this is something, with respect, that one has to think about. One has to distinguish on the one hand quite clearly between the allegiance of Commonwealth countries—which is sometimes in question—and Commonwealth citizenship. I begin to wonder whether in the context of the purpose of this Bill, Commonwealth citizenship is well conceived as a qualification to register.

Lord Naseby

My noble friend Lord Jopling is right to put his finger on this matter. When I was first in the other place a Motion was, I believe, tabled by Rajiv Gandhi to the effect that Britain should be excluded from the Commonwealth. Sadly, that gentleman—I say this sincerely—is no longer with us. However, it is conceivable that that situation could arise. Therefore, it seems to me that the Minister will need to take the point seriously. I support my noble friend's amendment.

I refer to the sensitive subject of asylum seekers. I travel to Sri Lanka later this week and I am conscious of the number of Sri Lankans who seek asylum at this time. As I understand the Bill, we are moving towards a rolling register. Presumably someone who is in this country seeking asylum would qualify to go on the register almost from the date on which he or she arrived. I imagine that the Minister will be able to reassure us that that is not the case. However, that situation may not have been foreseen.

Lord Biffen

I support my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish in the caution that has been expressed with regard to the nomenclature of the Commonwealth embracing the United Kingdom and all other countries within the Commonwealth. We are, after all, talking about a sensitive designation; namely, the electoral roll. It implies an underlying community and shared commitment which is rather strained. The reality of the Commonwealth is of a diverse collection of countries and of historical coincidences largely related to a phase of British imperialism which has now passed away. What is left behind is potentially dangerous if it is invested with a potency and a collective identity that it clearly does not possess. It may be a gesture of good will or of convenience to use the term "Commonwealth" as proposed in the legislation. However, we are perfectly entitled to utter a word of caution in that regard. I welcome the debate.

Lord Stallard

One simple question puzzles me; namely, why we are so keen to advocate representation from Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa when we flatly refuse to introduce reciprocal agreements for Commonwealth pensioners. Any British citizens who live in Commonwealth countries receive only the pension to which they were entitled when they left Britain. The sad fact is that many such pensioners are in dire straits as they have never received the increases in their pensions to which they are entitled. Therefore, I am puzzled as to why the British Government are so keen to spend thousands of pounds on producing leaflets to canvass them on election matters. Will the Minister comment on the possible introduction of a reciprocal agreement for the pensioners I have mentioned?

Lord Dholakia

I am fascinated by this discussion. If I recall correctly—I stand open to correction—the British Nationality Act 1948 conferred certain rights on Commonwealth citizens and British subjects. Those who came to this country after that date are entitled to participate fully in the government of this country. When lain Macleod was colonial secretary, he confirmed that he intended to enable Commonwealth citizens to come to this country and to participate fully in the government of it. I hope that we shall not create two tiers of citizenship which discriminate between those who are here permanently and those who have come here to settle on a permanent basis. There is a residential qualification in this regard. No one flies from Ceylon, India, Pakistan or any other country and automatically goes on the register. They have to satisfy certain residential qualifications in this country to go on the register. Some of the arguments that have been advanced as regards the rights of people who come to this country are far fetched.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

This has been a rather more fascinating debate than I thought it would be. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has spoken to his amendments with his customary vigour and entertainment value. I believe that we all enjoy that. However, the debate has strayed rather wider than I thought would be the case. Reference has been made to the euro referendum—I do not think it would be entirely appropriate for me to be drawn into that discussion this afternoon—and to reciprocal arrangements for Commonwealth pensioners. However, we are discussing the Representation of the People Bill. I shall attempt to address my remarks to that Bill.

When I consider some of the amendments that we shall discuss later, and what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has said, I believe that he takes a rather narrower view of the Bill than he did at Second Reading, and than was taken by his colleagues in another place and, indeed, his party when considering the Bill and the proposals that have emerged from the all-party working party on which there was fairly unanimous agreement on most of those measures. As a consequence, we seem to have rather a large set of amendments before us this afternoon and I believe that the debate will range rather more widely than we had all anticipated.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps I can help him in this regard. Parliamentary scrutiny means scrutiny. There may be many amendments on the Marshalled List, but many of them are designed to tease out exactly what the Government mean by a measure. The noble Lord will have to get used to that if he is to continue to be a Minister and to present Home Office legislation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reminder. I have no problems with scrutiny; the Government have no problems with scrutiny. However, I am concerned that some of the matters we are likely to discuss today go rather wider than that point.

The provisions in Clause 1 of the Bill, setting out who is entitled to vote in parliamentary and local government elections, simply replicate the existing rules. However, a necessary change is being made to reflect the fact that, with the introduction of rolling electoral registration, there will no longer be a single annual qualifying date. Among those entitled to vote in both parliamentary and local elections are Commonwealth citizens. Let us be quite clear that that includes British citizens. Indeed, given our key role in the Commonwealth, I do not believe that there could be any doubt on that point.

Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 7, 23, 63, 77, 121 and 122 seek to add the words "British citizen" before all references to Commonwealth citizens. That would imply that British citizens were not citizens of the Commonwealth. Apart from casting doubt on any other enactment, the use of the term "Commonwealth citizen" would also, I suggest, send a negative and unwelcome message to our Commonwealth partners. The term "Commonwealth citizen" has served us well for many years. Indeed, it has found its way into legislation brought before Parliament by both of the major parties in government. I urge the noble Lord to consider that there is no reason to depart from that term today.

Finally, Amendment No. 38 would require all non-British citizens to be identified on the electoral register with a special mark. I simply ask: why? Given that these people have the right to vote, they should be treated in the same way as everyone else. A special mark on the register would serve no purpose except to single them out. Worse, I suspect, certain far Right groups may find considerable use for lists which specifically identify non-British citizens. Do we really want to introduce that? The noble Lord opposite should think long and hard before he presses that particular point.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, raised questions about the countries with which we have reciprocal arrangements. As he quite rightly acknowledged, I have written to him extensively on that matter. As I set out in some of the correspondence, most of them do not—

3.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am grateful to the noble Lord. With the utmost respect, the Minister is not addressing his mind to the question. He is saying "as they have the right to vote" but, for the reasons that have been given, it is very much in question whether they should have the right to vote. The Minister referred to the existing rule; is not our function to examine the existing rule? He appears to assume that we have to accept that "what is, shall be".

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention.

We take the view that Commonwealth citizens should have that right. Historically, they have always had that right; it has been established before in legislation. I am grateful that noble Lords opposite wish to spell out a difference on this issue. We have reciprocal arrangements with most Commonwealth countries and they work in a similar way. All the countries listed in the correspondence allow voting on much the same basis as we allow Commonwealth citizens to vote.

Although noble Lords opposite may take a different view, we believe that it is right that Commonwealth citizens should exercise the right to vote in the UK. I trust that, in the light of our discussions this afternoon—

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Before the noble Lord finishes, perhaps he can tell the Committee about those countries I mentioned which are not on the list—Canada, Australia, Pakistan and India—which are, dare I say it, the major players in the Commonwealth. Do we have no reciprocal arrangements at all with them?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

As I have set out in the correspondence, as far as I understand it, there are no reciprocal arrangements with the countries to which the noble Lord referred. But there is a fairly extensive list of countries with which we have reciprocal arrangements. I am happy with that; the Government are happy with that; and the party opposite was happy with those arrangements when it was in government: it did not raise any questions about those reciprocal arrangements. I trust that the noble Lord will now see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Jopling

I am sorry, but, as far as concerns my earlier comments, the Minister's reply is 100 per cent inadequate. I raised a serious point and the Minister gave my comments about as much attention as he did at Second Reading. I insist that he responds to the point I made. If he did not understand it, I shall try to explain it a little more clearly and perhaps a little more slowly.

Let us assume that a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government was to be held during the autumn—such meetings often occur during the autumn—and that that meeting was to take place after Parliament had been prorogued for a general election. I and other noble Lords will know that the period of prorogation for a general election can often be for up to a month. If, during that month period—when Parliament was not in existence—a somewhat unhappy situation arose whereby the Commonwealth Heads of Government, in their wisdom, decided to exclude the United Kingdom from the Commonwealth, that would mean, as I understand it, that, at a stroke, British citizens would cease to be Commonwealth citizens because Britain was no longer a member of the Commonwealth. That would mean, as I understand it, that the law could not be changed to take account of that new situation because Parliament was not sitting and there would be no Parliament. Perhaps I may complete my argument as I am into the flow of it. As I understand it, that would mean that the only people who would be entitled to vote at a general election would be either non-British Commonwealth citizens or citizens of the Irish Republic.

Can the Committee imagine a more absurd situation than a British general election where the only people able to vote are citizens of the Irish Republic or citizens of all the other countries in the Commonwealth except the United Kingdom? I am happy to give way now.

Lord Borrie

I did not want to interrupt after the noble Lord indicated that he did not wish me to. It seems to me that his premise is incorrect. British law and the British courts would follow the British Nationality Act 1948, whereby Commonwealth citizens are so defined as to include all British subjects and all citizens of the United Kingdom. Therefore, even if the Commonwealth Heads of Government did do what the noble Lord suggested, all citizens of the United Kingdom would be entitled to vote under United Kingdom law at the general election posited by the noble Lord.

Lord Jopling

I am intrigued to hear that. It is a somewhat legalistic situation, of which I was not immediately aware because I am not a great expert on British nationality laws. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. However, I should like to hear it from the Minister, with the authority of a government stamp behind it. It is a serious problem.

Although there may be a legal explanation, if the scenario I have mentioned were to occur, there would be the greatest possible consternation in the middle of a general election campaign among the British media and among the average British voters who, like myself, are not experts in nationality laws.

The Minister must apply himself to what is, in my view, a serious question—a question which he totally ignored in his reply.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I entirely support the words of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish in expressing some surprise at the Minister's surprise. We are at Committee stage and, if I may say so, the noble Lord on the Front Bench is not the first to find these procedures something of an ordeal. I know that this is the first time that he has gone through these kinds of exchanges. On the whole, your Lordships' House is an extremely kindly place, given to mercy and pity on all occasions, but if the Minister cannot do better than his opening defence against these amendments, he will be in some difficulty.

When he rose to reply, the Minister said that the debate had been fascinating and had gone much wider than he expected. I cannot understand why he did not anticipate that or, if he did not personally anticipate it, why his advisers did not anticipate it. I hope that when he gets back to his private office he will address some stern words to his advisers and tell them that he found himself in a very embarrassing position in your Lordships' Committee and that in future he requires better advice and better briefs than he has had today. I am assuming that the words spoken by the Minister came from his brief—in which case he suffers from the appalling misfortune of extremely bad advice.

I should like to make another small point. Just because the matter has been accepted since the year dot, it does not mean to say that when a Bill is being read Members of the Committee may not suddenly be seized with a desire to change something. My noble friend Lord Mackay has tabled some simple, easily intelligible amendments, as one would expect. To quarrel with them, or even to appear to quarrel with them on the basis that they attempt to achieve something new and strange which the Minister's advisers did not expect, is rather meagre.

The Minister is fortunate in having the benefit of the advice of the Government Chief Whip so easily available. We all have profound respect for the Government Chief Whip and we have absolutely no reason to doubt the quality of his advice. The only matter on which I can congratulate the Minister this afternoon is his near proximity to the Government Chief Whip. If he would like to have a quiet word with him now—oh, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, looked as if he were going to depart. That would be an act of gross and gratuitous cruelty to his noble friend in his hour of need.

Lord Carter

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I was leaving because of the noble Lord's speech.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his explanation. Perhaps he will respond to my invitation and give his noble friend advice about the procedures we go through during Committee stage and what Ministers really must accept from Oppositions. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me and not believe that I am being at all rude to him when I say that this Opposition have so far been distinguished by their kindliness and patience in a way that the previous opposition were not. If the position had been reversed and a Minister had confronted the Committee with the kind of reply that we have had so far to the amendments, there would have been an uproar, not only from the Front Bench but from the gathered legions behind them. Today, I can say only that my noble friend has behaved with his characteristic civility and politeness, as have all other speakers from this side of the Committee.

If proceedings continue in that way, the almost legendary patience and tolerance of this side of the Committee will be tried almost to breaking point. I had not previously believed that there was a breaking point.

Lord Biffen

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may say in a spirit of relaxed charity that one point has risen in the debate on which I should be grateful for elaboration; that is, the talk of Commonwealth membership being the subject of entitlement to vote and the discussion of reciprocity.

New Section 1(1)(c) states that eligibility is conferred upon: either a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland". Does "a Commonwealth citizen" refer unconditionally to Commonwealth citizens, or does it result from reciprocity between this country and some Commonwealth countries?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Perhaps I got off on the wrong foot earlier on the matter. I shall take the admonishments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to heart. I am grateful to him for his advice as to how Ministers should conduct themselves at the Dispatch Box. No doubt I shall learn my lessons quickly and, if I do not, he will come back and remind me for not doing so. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for his kind words of support. These things always come in spades.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for being less than full in my response. I have had some researches undertaken since I sat down. My understanding is that, when, for instance, Nigeria and Fiji were suspended from the Commonwealth, their citizens did not lose their rights to vote as Commonwealth citizens. My understanding of the law in relation to the term "Commonwealth" is as my noble friend Lord Borrie ably explained in his intervention. I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that the situation would be fairly absurd if his interpretation were correct. I am grateful to him for his intervention. It has focused our minds neatly on the range of issues that this set of amendments seeks to address. I am grateful to Members of the Committee for the debate. It has been valuable for that reason, if not much more.

However, I have some concern about the amendments. We shall resist them. They would not serve much good purpose, but they would suggest a narrowness on our part. Commonwealth citizens have historically had the right to vote here. Members opposite clearly take a different view, but we hold to that view since the situation has been thus since the post-war settlement. I therefore suggest that it would be right and proper for the amendment to be withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

We have certainly had an interesting little debate. I can remember at the beginning of this Parliament arguing against the concept of referendums. I was told by Ministers that I was being old fashioned and that I had to enter the new world—I gather that "new" is the most commonly used word in Mr Blair's speeches—that referendums were part of the new world; and that I had to accept them. Then came Scottish devolution, in which we were to tear up a constitutional arrangement that had been in existence since 1707. But that was not good enough; it had to be questioned and abandoned. I was told I had to get used to the new world. When the Government turned to your Lordships' House, it had to be changed to as near as they could possibly make it to a "quango House".

When we said that we believed that was perhaps not quite the right way to go about it, we were told that we had to get into the new world. Today the Minister tells us that we must accept what has always been the case in the past. We must not even ask why. We must not say that it is time to change, or anything similar. I must say to the Minister that the convincing arguments for change advanced by his noble friends on previous occasions—largely by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn—were rather more compelling than his defence of the status quo.

His defence was made worse by the fact that he failed totally to address the point I made about a possible euro referendum. That is not theory. The Minister may not have been here in the summer of 1997, but we spent a long time then discussing the question of the legitimate register to use on referendum votes. The Government decided on that occasion that overseas electors should not be allowed to vote. Some of us believed that that was wrong, but that was the Government's position. The Government would not have been able to take that position if those people had not been so marked on the register. Indeed, if Members of your Lordships' House had not been so marked on the register, Members such as myself who live in Scotland might not have been able to vote. It was because the register had marks on it regarding people who were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, including overseas voters, that the Government were able to limit the franchise for the referendum.

The Minister has failed miserably to explain why I should not be concerned about a referendum on the euro and the possibility that we may want to limit the franchise. We may want to decide that European citizens who have a vote here at local elections should certainly not be allowed to decide whether this country joins the euro. It is an arguable case—I put it no higher than that—that citizens of Commonwealth countries such as Australia or Canada should not be allowed to decide whether we join the euro. They may be absolutely opposed to us joining the euro. When the day comes, the Government may in fact want to knock them out of the register—out of voting—in order to try to ensure they achieve the result they want. It was not good enough for the Minister simply to dismiss a major part of my argument about wanting to make sure that British citizens were included clearly on the register by saying that he did not want to become involved in discussing the euro.

I should have thought that the euro is the most important issue currently before the British people and will be so for some years to come. Whether one is for it or against it, it will be the major issue of the first decade of the 21st century. Who decides will be an important issue for us to address on the day the Government come forward with their referendum Bill on the euro.

We may come back to residential qualifications later. Perhaps I may give the Minister some advance warning. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, says that residential qualifications are necessary. We should like to know what those residential qualifications are. For the moment I shall seek to withdraw the amendment, but I cannot say that I am satisfied with the replies I have had from the Government on the substantive issue of referendums. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 6, leave out (", a citizen of the Republic of Ireland").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to delete the words, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland".

Before the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gets on to his soap box, this is not me deciding to have a tilt at the Irish. I move the amendment simply because I want to know why the words are any longer necessary. With regard to voting in local government elections, new Section 2(1)(c) refers to, a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the Union".

The Republic of Ireland is a member of the European Union. Therefore, I should have thought that, just as citizens of Italy, France or Germany resident in this country are entitled to go on to the register as local government electors, so too are citizens of the Republic of Ireland. Why do we need the words "a citizen of the Republic of Ireland" there and further on? Surely, those words are unnecessary.

If the Minister says, "Oh no, we must not change anything", I ask him this question. Can he tell me who might be likely to qualify as "a citizen of the Republic of Ireland" but not as "a relevant citizen of the Union"? I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

I must point out to the Committee that, as Amendment No. 8 is being spoken to with this amendment, there is a misprint in Amendment No. 8 as it appears on the Marshalled List. The word "the" has been missed out. It should read, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland".

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I must confess to being somewhat puzzled by Amendments Nos. 3 and 8. As I understand the position, their effect would be to deny citizens of the Republic of Ireland the right to vote in our local government elections.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am sorry, but the Minister really must listen to my argument. I asked him this question. Can he name a citizen of the Republic of Ireland who is not a relevant citizen of the Union and therefore entitled to vote as a relevant citizen of the Union? That is what I asked.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. The term "relevant citizen of the Union" may help us. That is defined in Section 202 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and refers to the citizens of all EU member states apart from Britain and Ireland. The right of nationals of other EU member states to vote in the local elections of the country where they reside is enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht, so this amendment would put us in breach of our treaty obligations. Just as important, there are good historical reasons for the voting rights that Irish citizens enjoy, which I stress are fully reciprocated. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Swinfen

Before the Minister sits down, he says that the voting rights of citizens of the Republic of Ireland are fully reciprocated. I was not aware that subjects of Her Majesty from the United Kingdom had voting rights of any kind in the Republic of Ireland.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

If, by the deletion of these words, citizens of the Republic of Ireland would be denied the reciprocity which they have enjoyed over the years, I shall withdraw the amendment. But I am still puzzled to know why "relevant citizen of the Union" does not cover a citizen of the Irish Republic. After all, the Irish Republic is a member of the European Union. It is almost as daft as the situation of students from England who go to Scottish universities. This will give the Minister time to find a reply that may satisfy the Committee. Those students have to pay £4,000 when citizens of every other European Union country will be able to defer payment. They will have to pay £2,000 once they graduate. The answer from Mr Brian Wilson to that question was that England as a state is not a member of the European Union. For this legislation, perhaps the Republic of Ireland is not a member of the European Union. However, the Minister may have the answer by this time.

Lord Goodhart

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him this question. Whereas Irish citizens now have the right to vote in parliamentary elections, the effect of removing the specific reference to Irish citizens would be that they would only have the same right as other European citizens; namely, to vote in local and European elections.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The noble Lord is trying, as do all noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, to help the Government. If the noble Lord looks at where we are in the Bill he will see that new Section 2(1) begins: A person is entitled to vote as an elector at a local government election in any electoral area if on the date of the poll he … is a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the Union". We are talking about local government registers, not parliamentary ones.

Lord Goodhart

Yes, but the effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be that the reference to European Union voters would mean two different things in two different parts of the Bill.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

That is actually the case. That is why at the outset I made the point that if we were to pursue the line taken in the amendment, we could end up denying citizens of the Republic of Ireland the right to vote in local government elections.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, asked about reciprocation with Ireland. That is the case. We have reciprocal rights to vote in Ireland's general elections and local elections. That has been the case for a long time. To pursue the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, could have a most confusing effect. On that ground I urge him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Perhaps I am just stupid but I am still totally puzzled by that answer. With regard to voting in parliamentary elections, new Section 1(1)(c) states, is either a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland". They have special rights. Other citizens of other European Union countries do not have the right to vote in our parliamentary elections. That is fine and simple. I think that I have it right at that point. We then come to the next part, which is about local government elections. Under that part, Commonwealth citizens are allowed to vote but also—because, as the noble Lord said, of Maastricht—in addition to Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland, relevant citizens of the Union are allowed to vote. I do not understand why the Bill needs to mention the citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the relevant citizens of the Union. Unless something has happened in the past hour, Ireland is a member of the European Union.

The noble Lord has failed to explain—perhaps I have misunderstood him—how a citizen of the Irish Republic would not qualify for a local government vote here if he lived here as "a relevant citizen of the Union". If I can have that explanation, I shall be quite happy. If I do not have that explanation, what I might call "the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, mood" will come over me with regard to having unnecessary words in the legislation, words which make me wonder why we have them. It is a simple question. Perhaps I may have a simple answer at the third time of asking.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

"A relevant citizen of the Union" is defined, as I said, as a citizen of one the 13 EU countries apart from Ireland, which is why it is necessary to refer specifically to Irish citizens. That is the explanation.

4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am obliged to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. Is it the same argument— because it is, it has to remain? No reason is given. Will the noble Lord make it plain why the reference has to remain?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

It is a question of definition; namely, citizens of the 13 EU states. That is the working definition.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I think the Minister is telling me that the Maastricht Treaty makes the Republic of Ireland different from the other EU member states. I shall take advice on whether that is the case. It seems an odd situation to have got ourselves into at the time, but perhaps there was some good reason for it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, although, frankly, once I have checked the Maastricht Treaty I may decide to return to the point.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Jopling moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 27, leave out ("Northern Ireland") and insert ("the United Kingdom").

The noble Lord said: I hope that in this debate we shall be able to avoid the unhappy discomfort through which the Minister appears to be going. I hope that these amendments will give him the opportunity to be helpful to the Committee and to accept them.

Before going into detail, perhaps I may repeat the comments I made at Second Reading. I said that we must always remember, when changing the law relating to electoral procedures in order to encourage more people to vote—which I think everyone wants—that it is essential that we do so without significantly opening the door to electoral abuse in one form or another.

New Section 4(2) adds to the Bill a provision dealing with potential abuse in Northern Ireland. The subsection states that people cannot be placed on the register in Northern Ireland until they have been resident for the whole of the three-month period prior to the relevant date. As I understand it, the provision is included to avoid a situation in which people could pop over the border from the Irish Republic in considerable numbers and attempt to register as voters in Northern Ireland and declare either a temporary address or local connection under the guise of being homeless.

I hope that I have got the right end of the stick and that this is the main reason why the Bill includes special rules for Northern Ireland. I hope that, in responding, the noble Lord will tell us why the special provision has been included. Following the remarks of my noble friend Lord Peyton, I imagine that the Minister's brief will contain a full explanation.

Given that background, and assuming that I can start from that point, my amendments are intended to extend the special provision of three months' residence to the whole of the United Kingdom. Surely there is merit in that. It is right to attempt to treat the whole United Kingdom as one. My amendment seeks to apply the provision to new registrations within the United Kingdom. It applies only to people who have never previously been on the electoral register.

There are a good many reasons for tabling the amendments. First, while providing for those who tend to wander from one place to another, possibly sleeping rough or occupying squatter properties, the extension of the register to homeless people clearly gives rise to potential opportunities for abuse, and electoral abuse in particular. The second reason is that, in recent times, as the Government know only too well, there has been a huge increase in those coming to this country seeking political asylum. Therefore, the possibility of potential abuse arises.

I began by saying that I hoped the Minister would be able to accept these amendments. Since the Bill was printed and, indeed, since it came to this House from another place, two events have occurred which should make the noble Lord considerably keener to see my amendments incorporated. The first is the experience of the past few days; namely, the emergence of hijacking as a means of seeking political asylum. We must be aware, having followed the events of the past week, that there is a real danger of the United Kingdom becoming a target for considerable numbers of asylum seekers—economic and political refugees coming to this country, using the newly found device of hijacking aircraft as a means of doing so. My amendment attempts to go some way to delay those entering the United Kingdom illegally in that way from obtaining the right to vote without at least a three-month pause.

I make this point following the Minister's attack last week in response to my noble friend Lord Rotherwick. I have still heard no explanation from the Minister or any justification for the attack on my noble friend, saying that his points were fictitious. I hope that the Minister today will give a full explanation. It seemed to a good many Members of this place that my noble friend had used official figures. If he did not, we ought to be told. I hope that the Minister has considered his remarks and that he has become a good deal more conscious of the real trouble that we are in in this country given the dramatic rise in the numbers of asylum seekers already here waiting to have their applications considered.

Now that the Minister has had time better to understand the problem, I would have thought that the Government would welcome the extension of the provisions relating to Northern Ireland to the whole of the United Kingdom and insist that somebody cannot register unless he has been resident in the United Kingdom during the whole period of three months ending on the relevant date, provided only that it is a new registration within the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

Lord Naseby

I support my noble friend. I ask the Minister to reflect on what happened at Great Yarmouth during the Millennium. As one who lives in the eastern part of the country, to the best of my knowledge well over 1,000 New Age travelers—or whatever terminology is used to describe them—remained in Great Yarmouth for about two and a half weeks, not just a few days. One may have a situation—it is not entirely hypothetical—in which a by-election is pending in a marginal seat and, for one reason or another, the government of the day decide to delay it. Over the years, Great Yarmouth has been a marginal seat. The situation may arise in which a flood of homeless people decide to stay, register and vote. That seems to me to be a weakness. In their wisdom the Government have, rightly, decided that for a part of the United Kingdom a period of three months should apply. My noble friend makes a very powerful case that the arrangement should be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Biffen

I too support the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Jopling. It is fascinating that in this particular instance legislation, which on the whole is designed to widen access to voting, imposes a restriction. One is entitled to ask what lies behind the bald print of this part of Clause 1. What is it about the situation in Northern Ireland which persuades the Minister to make this provision? Where do the dangers arise, and to what extent are they organised or spontaneous? One can elaborate this matter to a considerable extent to realise that the whole approach of more open electoral registration is one which, although in many ways commendable, carries dangers. These amendments give the Committee an opportunity to examine the dangers and, above all, an idea of what may develop in other circumstances over a longer period throughout the United Kingdom, as my noble friend suggests.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

As expected, in putting his points to the Minister, my noble friend Lord Jopling made his case clearly. I hope that we can look forward to a reasonable reply. My noble friend Lord Biffen raises the interesting question: if for Northern Ireland, why not for the United Kingdom? I can hazard a guess why it has been done for Northern Ireland. I suggest to the Minister that, given increased mobility, the problems in Northern Ireland which brought about the need for the three-month period may also migrate to the United Kingdom.

One of the problems of my noble friend's amendment is that, for example, UK citizens who returned to this country from abroad, perhaps having worked in the European Commission or for British companies around the world, would have to wait three months before they could vote. If they had registered as overseas voters there would not be a gap between registration and the right to vote; if not, they would have to wait for three months. We must bear in mind that point when considering my noble friend's amendment. The same is true for somebody from Northern Ireland who had gone abroad to work. Many companies in Northern Ireland send people abroad to work. Currently, if they go home to Northern Ireland they will have to wait three months before they can register, which seems to be rather unfair to them. I look forward to the Minister's reply to my noble friend's points.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The Committee must consider these amendments in the context of the whole Bill. Although the Bill is a long one, a good part of it makes no change to existing law, and the matters on which these amendments touch are a case in point. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, made an interesting case in relation to asylum seekers. We shall turn to that matter in later amendments. I hope that he will take some comfort from what I say later when the Committee debates the amendments which are relevant to that issue. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, spoke about the possibility of migrating electors. We shall turn to that matter in later amendments. The noble Lord may find some satisfaction in what I say later when the Committee deals with those amendments.

As the law currently stands, those who wish to register as electors in Northern Ireland are required to have been resident there for a minimum of three months. There is no corresponding requirement for the rest of the UK, and the Bill makes no change in that regard. I believe most Members of the Committee accept that there are good reasons for the application of special conditions to Northern Ireland, which are widely supported by the political parties in that part of the UK.

The Home Office has carried out some research and detected no evidence that abuse of the kind that the extra conditions are designed to prevent takes place on the mainland. As far as I am aware, there is no real clamour among mainland political parties for similar extra conditions to be imposed there. Certainly, the Working Party on Electoral Procedures made no such recommendation when it looked at these matters. The working party had time to consider these issues at length and to make new proposals if it wished.

If these amendments were accepted, people who registered for the first time, or who changed their registration, would face an additional hurdle in trying to vote. With the best will in the world, sometimes it is difficult enough for people to understand the registration process and become involved. Given that we want to encourage more people to register and vote—after all, that is what the legislation is about—the amendments place another hurdle in their way, and we believe that that would be unwise. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made the point for me when he spoke about those who returned from abroad. Students and those returning after working abroad would find it particularly difficult to register. For those very good reasons, I do not believe that these amendments should be accepted. I see no reason why we should seek to place additional obstacles in front of people who return from working abroad having performed good service there.

I also do not believe that, as a matter of principle, we should treat those who register by means of a declaration of local connection any worse than those who register in the normal way. I see no justification for Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 35. There is already a perfectly satisfactory mechanism whereby people who believe that a name should not be included on the electoral register can appeal against it. That seems to me to be a much better avenue than to put in place unnecessary obstacles that make it harder for people in Britain to register. In view of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Lord Jopling

One should put the gap between registration and coming on to the register in its proper context. The amendments which I have tabled mean that people from overseas who had not previously been registered would have to wait three months to get on to the register. However, at the moment people still have to wait three months, so there is no change. As my noble friend Lord Mackay said, it is open to individuals who have been registered previously in the United Kingdom to register when they are abroad. A rule of this kind would encourage them to register as overseas voters.

I am not convinced by the arguments. I wish to consider the issue and perhaps return to it on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 8 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 44, at end insert— ("(ii) compliance with any prescribed requirements; and").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move government Amendment No. 9 and speak to Amendments Nos. 53, 59, 67, 80, 128 and 130. I make clear that the Government believe that none of these amendments makes any substantive change to the Bill. They are—although I hesitate to use the word, I do so—"technical" in nature.

Amendment No. 9 makes it clear that in order to be registered a person needs to comply with the appropriate regulations. Amendments Nos. 53 and 59 are drafting amendments which ensure that decisions on the alteration of registers are taken in accordance with regulations.

Amendments Nos. 67 and 80 are technical. They remove the requirement that regulations should cover the time at which a register is published since that is already dealt with in the Bill.

Amendment No. 128 is a drafting amendment to include a definition of local government area. Amendment No. 130 is also a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

These are fairly technical amendments which change some of the words. I am intrigued to know the difference between a registration officer determining something and a registration officer becoming satisfied about it. I wonder why the change is made in legislation which has already passed through the other place requiring the registration officer simply to be satisfied. I do not know whether the Minister can help me or whether I shall have to go to the dictionary.

Lord Bach

We think that it is a better choice of word. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 10: Page 3, line 2, at end insert— ("() The date on which any application made for registration shall be entered against his name in the register; and until the date given in the entry he shall not by virtue of that entry be treated as an elector for any purposes other than those of an election the date of the poll for which is the date so given or date thereafter.").

The noble Lord said: We are moving to a new concept of electoral register: a rolling register. There will be additions to the register by way of an update. I imagine that some kind of document will be produced every month for 10 months—it may be nine months—adding to and deleting names from the electoral register. As at present, a wholesale review of the register will be made in the autumn. However, it will not be published at the beginning of the next year, as at present, but on 1st December. The register will become a rolling register. At present a correction register is published in December in which those names which have been added to or deleted from the register are indicated. People can check the register to see whether their names have been added. Political parties can check, as they do, to see which names have been taken off and which added. They can ensure that the names of their supporters—I was going to say "electors" but in reality I do not believe that the parties check all the electors but only the names of their supporters—are on the electoral register. That may sound awful to the Government but I believe it to be the reality. If anyone tells me that the Labour Party does not do the same, I shall not believe him.

With rolling addendums a different situation will apply. It will be clear month by month which names have been added to or taken off the register. But I understand that the changes made to the register published in the autumn will not be marked. Of course, the names taken off the register cannot be marked; but those added to the register will not be marked either. In the past, people have been able to check new additions to the register to ensure that they are correct and legitimate. The position will be more difficult with rolling registers. It will not be so easy to challenge entries and that is part and parcel of getting the register correct. If one says to the register officer, "Our information is that Mr and Mrs Bloggs do not live at that address. You have that wrong", he can do something about it.

On the major review of the register published on 1st December, there should be an indication as to when a person comes on to the register. We do so already with the dates of birth of 18 year-olds. No one seems to have a problem with that. One's date of birth is known. Eighteen year-olds are like Members of this House: they can never hide their age. I suspect that 18 year-olds are prouder to be their age than some of us are to be our age. Some of us may prefer to draw a veil over our age until, I gather from my mother, one reaches a great old age when one is happy to boast about it.

There is no problem about putting dates of birth alongside names on the register. There would seem to be no problem about entering a mark or a date beside new entrants so that those who check the register can concentrate on the new entrants without having to check the entire register for additions and deletions. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Initially I was somewhat baffled by the amendment. However, having heard the noble Lord's argument, I am a little wiser.

If I explain how the new electoral registration scheme will work, perhaps the noble Lord will feel satisfied with what we seek to do. There will still be an annual canvass conducted in the autumn but, in addition, people will be able to apply to be added to the electoral register throughout the year. This will, of course, be of particular benefit to those who move during the course of a year. That is the principle underlying a rolling register.

Once an electoral registration officer receives an application for registration he will need to consider it and decide whether it meets the prescribed requirements. If it does, he will include the name of the person concerned in the monthly list which he publishes on the 1st of every month (other than the months when the annual canvass is taking place) giving details of the additions to and deletions from his register. At the same time he will add the name of the person concerned to the register.

So the position is quite clear. There will be a monthly list. Names added and deleted will be published in that monthly list. On that basis, it should be clear to everyone how the register is working and how it will apply. Therefore I cannot envisage that the mischief the noble Lord hoped to deal with by the amendment will arise. I should have thought that the publication of the monthly list with additions and deletions would satisfy most of those concerned with and interested in the new register. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Naseby

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him to clarify one point. At the moment the ANC list appears, if I am correct, at the February date after the October registration. I understand that there will be, in effect, a monthly ANC list. However, is there still to be a summary at the end of the year? Otherwise, I suspect that unless everybody is fully computerised, which a number of smaller, local charities will not be, they will have to go through the whole 12 months and work off the end-year register, whereas at the moment all they have to do is take the summary form in either October or February. I cannot remember when the summary is issued.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am not quite sure that I can help the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, this afternoon on that point. My understanding is that the draft register is currently produced in December and the full register is produced in February. What we will have in December, of course, is a full register with the new system, and then additions and deletions thereto. Addressing the point that the noble Lord has raised, my belief is that the new arrangements will probably be more helpful than the current ones to those who have a concerted interest in the register, because the period to which it applies is continuous, rolling and updated, so that all the information will be there at some point during the course of the 12 months.

Lord Naseby

The question that I am asking is whether there will at any point in the year be a summary of all changes in the register, as there now is, or whether the public have to work from 12 individual returns.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My understanding is that there will not be a summary. They will have to work from the published register in December and then the updated supplementaries to it. That should provide almost up-to-the-minute accuracy. As I have said, I believe that that will be more helpful than the current arrangements.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful to my noble friend of intervening. He has spared me the effort of looking in the Bill for something else that I shall not be able to find. The Minister will no doubt be able to help me. My understanding is that a list will be published on the 1st of each month, clearly with the exception of 1st December, because that is the day on which a full list will be published. However, am I not right in thinking that that will apply also to 1st November? My recollection was that only 10 of those lists would go out. I am not sure either about 1st October or 1st January. I had understood that no addendum would be issued on 1st January and 1st November.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My understanding is that apart from the month when the annual canvass takes place and the publication of the register in its December form, there will be monthly updates and supplements to the register.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am not disputing the logic of it. I am simply trying to work out which months we are talking about. The canvass is in October, but my recollection is that there is not one on 1st November, nor 'would I expect there to be, quite frankly, because at that stage the main register is being redone. What I cannot remember is whether it is simply 1st November, with the publication of the full register on 1st December, or whether it is 1st October and 1st January, one or other, as well. I can see the logic of 1st October.

However, that is not quite the point that I want to make. The point is that during the months of January, February, March, April, May, June, when we know that there will be a monthly published list of additions and subtractions, it will be easy for people to see who has been put on and who has been taken off. The problem will occur in October and November, when in the 1st December register it will not be easy at all, because there will be no indication. If it is right that there should be a dear indication for nine or 10 months of the year, it would seem sensible that there should be some indication on the 1st December register of who has been added. It is not a state secret. We shall know who has been added in the rolling register as the months of January, February, March and April proceed. Therefore, it would be convenient on 1st December. If the Minister can help my memory with regard to the months when the rolling additions will be published, I will then withdraw the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

There certainly will not be a monthly update in October, and I can advise the noble Lord that neither will there be one in November. If it will help, I shall take on board the point made by the noble Lord in his argument and give it further thought between now and Report stage. I should not like to be held to that, but I shall try to be as helpful as possible.

Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful to the Minister and I am pleased to hear his assurance that he will look at this. He takes the point, as I am sure all your Lordships do, about new entrants on to the register. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Disfranchisement of offenders detained in mental hospitals]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 11 : Page 4, line 12, leave out ("or 71").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I also speak to Amendments Nos. 12 and 20. These are technical amendments, I hope short ones, to clarify to which categories of persons under Sections 70 and 71 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 the new Sections 3A (Clause 2) and 7A (Clause 5) of this Bill apply.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 ensure that under the new Section 3A (Clause 2) a disfranchisement of offenders detained in hospitals in Scotland under Section 71 of the 1984 Act applies to persons serving a prison sentence who have been removed to hospital on mental health grounds.

Amendment No. 20 ensures that the provisions in the new Section 7A about residence of persons remanded in custody apply to those persons awaiting trial who have been transferred from prison to hospital under Section 70 of the 1984 Act and to those persons who are transferred under Section 71 of the 1984 Act from prison, where they are detained under the Immigration Act 1971, to a hospital on mental health grounds. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 12: Page 4, line 13, after ("1984") insert ("or section 71 of that Act (being a person to whom that section applies by virtue of subsection (2)(a) of that section)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Jopling

May I be allowed one query on Clause 2? I cannot understand the wording on page 4, lines 12 and 13, which, as far as I can understand it, appears to go into the Welsh language. I wonder whether the Minister can help me with this. I shall not attempt to put it in the Welsh language. It refers to the "Mental y yn Health (Scotland) Act 1984". Could we have an explanation of what this is about?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Lord has made a perfectly respectable joke! It is undoubtedly a typographical error. I do not believe that I have ever known "Mental y yn Health". We apologise for this and we will make sure that it is accurate in the next print.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Residence for purposes of registration: general]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 13: Page 5, line 7, after ("purpose") insert (", lawfulness").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 13, I shall speak to a number of related amendments. They are all concerned with the residence for purposes of registration. Members of the Committee will notice that every time that is referred to in the Bill, I have insisted that the lawfulness of the registration be marked as the test. My amendments are designed to ensure that only a lawful residence is a qualification for the purposes of registration. That would greatly help to reduce the risk of fraudulent registration, a problem experienced more in urban areas.

We have no problem with the principle that homeless people should be able to register. Special provision has been made and I shall deal with that later. However, understandably, we want to be sure that that special provision is tight because we want to ensure that there is no abuse of the right.

That change in the law has highlighted the point in Clause 3 to which I want to draw the Committee's attention. What is the position as regards squatters? If someone is squatting at an address, they are not legally supposed to be there. Therefore, they are doing something illegal at that address. Are they then classed as homeless or are they recognised as squatters? Do they come under the residence test or under the later clause relating to homelessness? We must get the position clear. It seems to some of us that if people are staying at an address illegally, they should not be able to register at that address as electors. If we allowed them to do so, we should be encouraging a contravention of the law.

I hope that we shall see much less of homelessness, but it is interesting that after two-and-a-half years of rhetoric all we have seen is an increase. It is not obvious to me, as I go about the streets of London or Glasgow, that there has been any great reduction in homelessness. Therefore, I am not surprised that the Government have decided to give such people a vote. I thought that they were going to remove homeless people from our streets, but trying to give them a vote suggests that they reckon they will fail in meeting that commitment.

Giving homeless people a vote is one thing, but giving people who are squatting illegally a vote on a residency qualification is entirely different. Perhaps the Minister will explain the present position. Do people in a squat have the right to be registered at that address to vote? If so, should that right continue? If they do not, should they be given that right? My amendments would ensure that squatters who are illegally resident in a house would not be able to use that residence as the basis on which they could vote. It is a simple and straightforward issue. I beg to move.

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

I have a problem with the way in which the amendment is framed. I understand that no one wants fraudulent registration, but many squatters have been on the register for many years. In a recent case in Lambeth, it took the High Court many years to determine whether the person was legally at an address.

I am particularly worried because the amendment proposes that a person who it is alleged is illegally in the premises should be unable to register or have his or her registration removed. I am not a lawyer and know little about the law, but I believe that squatting is a civil offence and I am worried that we are moving into forbidden realms.

Furthermore, I recall that, in relation to a number of people who were squatting at Greenham Common, the courts decided that they were legally entitled to register at that squat. Therefore, that is another complication which needs examining before we go down this road.

I am worried about the proposal that people who might be legally registered would be removed under the amendment. If they were found to be illegal, surely they would be evicted. The whole problem would then go away because they would no longer be living in the premises and would, unfortunately, come under the homeless category which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, believes is acceptable.

I also have a problem with Amendment No. 93. I cannot believe that anyone in our democracy is suggesting that the police should knock on doors to check whether the residents should be registered there. We would soon have cases, and quite rightly, of police harassment. I wonder whether, in tabling the amendment, the noble Lord has thought through its consequences. I am sure that he would soon be complaining that the police were not doing enough about crime because they were too busy going from door to door checking whether people should be on the electoral register. I hope that he will reconsider both amendments. Certainly, there is a case for ensuring that there is no fraud, but the amendments as they stand are not acceptable legally as well as morally, and I hope that he will withdraw them.

Lord Jopling

I very much hope that my noble friend will not reconsider the amendments because they carry with them a great deal of sense. I fully support them. I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said; that many people illegally occupying squats are already registered. I am indifferent to whether they are or are not, but all we are proposing in the amendments is that they ought not to be.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Is he saying that it should not be proven that they are illegal before the registration is removed, or that he takes it for granted that they are squatting and that therefore registration should be removed?

Lord Jopling

The noble Baroness took the next words out of my mouth and I am grateful for her prompt. I draw her attention to my Amendment No. 34, which states: A declaration of local connection shall be of no effect if the lawful owner of the premises at the required address can show that the declarant is occupying that address unlawfully". He would have to show that to the registration officer. In my experience, most registration officers are local council officials and lawyers. They have access to legal advice within local authorities and it would be for the local council to satisfy itself that the owner of the property had shown that there was an illegal occupation. I imagine that it would then be open to the person illegally occupying the premises to appeal to the court. However, it is important that the owners of properties which are illegally occupied, having discovered that the occupants have registered on the electoral roll, should have the opportunity of going to the registration officer and saying, "Look, these people are occupying my property illegally. Here are the deeds which demonstrate that I am the owner. Come round with me and I shall show you the people who are occupying my property and show that I can't get rid of them. What else need I do to show you that my property is being occupied unlawfully?".

I hope that my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish will not mind my saying this, but I believe that my amendment is one of the most important in this group. I hope that the noble Baroness feels that this particular amendment provides a satisfactory way of demonstrating to a registration officer, through the legal advice which is at his disposal, that this situation occurs, that it ought not to occur, and that such registration should be removed.

Lord Goodhart

We on these Benches regard this group of amendments as mean-spirited and, indeed, frankly absurd. As we know, squatting is a trespass but not a crime, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, quite rightly said. Of course, this amendment applies not only to squatters. It applies, for example, to people who have taken possession of property perfectly lawfully, or people whose tenancies have been terminated but who remain in occupation because that gives them a better chance of being rehoused. We all know that that is a very common practice. Until the court makes a possession order and they leave, they are occupying that property unlawfully. Therefore, they, too, will be disfranchised.

However, the main point is that we should not, without good cause, deprive people of their civil rights, including the right to vote, which is one of the most important of those rights. Detention in prison after conviction is plainly a good cause. But why should squatters be deprived of their vote? They have not committed a breach of the criminal law. They are simply trespassing on someone else's property, and that seems to me to fall far short of anything that would justify depriving them of the right to vote.

How does one prove that someone is an unlawful squatter? Of course, many squats now are lawful because they are licensed. Where they are not, there are fast-track powers for removal by court order. With all respect to what the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said about Amendment No. 34, I believe that most owners will be much too busy getting the squatters out of their property to bother to look at the electoral register and to go to the registration officer to make sure that the squatters do not get a vote. That is not what the owners are interested in; they are interested in getting back their property.

Finally, and worst of all, Amendment No. 93 proposes that everyone who applies for a vote on the basis of a declaration of local connection will be checked by the police. That does not apply to people who register not by virtue of a declaration of local connection but because they are squatters who register as residents. Amendment No. 93 does not apply to them. However, the police will have to check everyone who is homeless and makes a declaration of local connection. What a waste of valuable and short police time. Coming from the party which always claims to be particularly strong on law and order, I must say that I find that completely ridiculous.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

In my view, these amendments confuse two important issues: on the one hand, the unlawful occupation of property; on the other, the right to register and to vote. I believe that those two issues should be kept separate. I have read the amendments and given the matter some thought over the weekend. I have also read some press reports on the issue of squatters and voters. One would imagine that the Government are about to introduce a law which gives squatters the right to vote. It is clear, and has been apparent for a long time, that squatters have always had the right to vote. This amendment seeks simply to take away that right.

However, this is a broader issue. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made the case perfectly well. These amendments are in danger of leading us into an oppressive situation. Frankly, I believe that noble Lords opposite are in danger of being accused of wasting police time: sending police officers round in the middle of the night to check whether someone is bona fide for electoral purposes seems to me to be somewhat heavy-handed.

Who is to say ultimately whether or not someone occupies property lawfully? In circumstances where someone is licensed to occupy premises, there may be some uncertainty. It may well be the case that someone's tenancy has come to a conclusion and, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, they are attempting to exercise their rights as a homeless person and seek accommodation from a local authority. Therefore, I believe that these are heavy-handed amendments and, for the reasons which I have given, I believe that they should be rejected.

It is clear that the party opposite is, again, trying to narrow access and the civil right to the franchise. I cannot believe that that is right and proper. In general with this legislation, we are trying to make it easier for people to vote and to exercise their civil rights. That is the system which we have always had. We are trying to open up access and to create a more inclusive society. That is the purpose of this legislation: to bolster, and to give greater confidence to, our electoral system. It seems to me that, in these amendments, Conservative Members are trying to close that down. That cannot be right and it cannot be good for local democracy. We should be encouraging people to register and to exercise their right to vote. Whether they are lawful or unlawful occupants of a property is neither here nor there. That is a separate issue to be tackled. The noble Lord was a member of the government who did just that. In the past, Labour governments have attempted to close down opportunities for the illegal occupation of property. However, as I say, that is a separate issue.

I believe that in principle we should give people the right to vote and that we should try to extend that wherever possible. This legislation attempts to do that. I believe that noble Lords opposite are trying to create a kind of "squatter shock horror" story where it does not exist. I believe that they should consider most carefully before they move amendments, particularly those such as Amendment No. 93. I suggest to noble Lords opposite that they should reconsider their position and withdraw the amendments.

The Earl of Onslow

I suspect that the noble Lord may be able to help us more than most members of the Government Front Bench on this particular issue. When one receives one's voting paper to fill in, in squatter households how is the head of the household described?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

It is for those who live in that household to determine that issue. I have never had to fill in a form and it is a long time since I have been in that position. However, I believe that we are discussing the important issue of someone's right to vote, and that is the issue on which we should concentrate. I believe that noble Lords opposite are trying to narrow that right and access to it. That is regrettable.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The real issue here is that the clause is headed "Residence … general". It refers to residence for the purposes of registration. It seems to me perfectly pertinent to ask whether the residence is legal or illegal. In an impassioned defence of the Government's position, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that, from the point of view of registration, it did not matter if someone trespassed on someone else's property. However, it is precisely because they are trespassing on that property that they are asking for registration to vote. It is not unrelated to the fact that they are there illegally. They are saying, "Here I am. I want the right to vote from here".

Therefore, I do not believe that we have received an entirely satisfactory response. I believe that it is a little exaggerated to conjure up pictures of police being sent round in the middle of the night. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said that it is difficult to evict squatters. That, indeed, seems to be the case, particularly people who are squatters for political reasons as, for example, is the case at Faslane nuclear base in Scotland. It seems amazing that it should be suggested that they are legally entitled to a vote if they are in a squat of that nature.

5 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

Does the noble Lord not accept that it was a court of law which allowed the Greenham women in a similar situation to register and vote?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It may well have been, but I do not agree with that decision any more than I agree with the recent decision at Greenock sheriff court which said that three women who had vandalised property of the British Government at Faslane nuclear base were guilty of no offence at all. That was an amazing decision. I presume that the Government whom the noble Baroness supports have also decided that it is an amazing decision because they have decided to appeal against that decision. Sheriffs are not infallible and can make wrong decisions as, indeed, I think the Government would agree the sheriff at Greenock has done.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Does the noble Lord accept that if we were to deprive people of the right to vote in the way in which his amendment suggests, we might also begin to fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights? Does he not believe that that is an important consideration in these matters?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The Government should not tempt me down the road of the European Convention on Human Rights because, for the third time in just about as many months, the Government are about to be found wanting in Scotland for having legislation which infringes that convention. Frankly, we shall have severe difficulty with those decisions if they stand up in the appeal courts.

That was not a good point to make on a day when I gather that the whole system of children's panels in Scotland, which we have heard being lauded on many occasions, may be found, to my mind in a quite crazy way, to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It will be amazing if that convention becomes the tool by which that excellent method of dealing with young juveniles who have committed crimes must be changed adversely because of that decision.

I digress principally because the noble Lord invited me to be careful of the convention on human rights. I suggest that he should take that warning back to his friends in government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 14: Page 5, line 10, leave out ("for example.").

The noble Lord said: My amendment seeks to leave out the words "for example". Much as I have searched, I do not believe that I have ever found before in legislation the words "for example". I have asked a fair number of my noble friends and they too are fairly puzzled. I suggest that it is an extremely bad example to set. I suggest that the Government should accept my amendment and delete those words so that the clause reads without the words "for example". I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the reasoning behind the amendment. I hope that I can reassure him.

It is a long-standing principle that electoral registration officers determine who is resident in their area and, therefore, who may be entered on their electoral register. In the overwhelming majority of cases, that is a straightforward exercise. It is quite a simple matter of fact whether or not a person is living at a particular address.

But there is also a grey area. There are cases, perhaps involving people who are only temporarily in residence, which are less clear cut. In such cases, registration officers must reach a judgment. They must decide whether they are satisfied that a name should appear on the register. To make that decision, they must take account of knowledge of the circumstances, common sense and, indeed, the considerable volume of case law which now exists on this question.

Registration officers must also take account of whatever guidance the relevant legislation gives and the words of new Section 5(2) of the 1983 Act are to be inserted by Clause 3 and appear at line 10 on page 5. They are there to help them. But—this is the crucial point—the words in the Bill are not the only factor which must be taken into account. If local knowledge leads the registration officer to believe strongly that there should be a different decision, he should clearly do what he thinks right. Equally, if a court decision were to suggest that a different decision should be reached, we should expect that to be followed.

The words in the Bill are simply one of the factors which must be taken into account. That is why they are qualified by "for example". I trust that with that explanation, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I am puzzled by this. What do the words "for example" do? With respect, I do not believe that the Minister has explained that. It really had not crossed my mind, until my noble friend was speaking, that "for example" is rat her unusual in statute law. If my noble friend is quite wrong about that, I am sure that the Minister will correct him immediately and say that "for example" appears frequently in many Bills and Acts of Parliament.

I have the impression that that is not the case. I do not quite know what a court of law would make of those words when it came to interpreting the will of Parliament. It would be a very odd idea if, in legislating, the government of the day were to illustrate what is meant by examples in the wording of the Bill. The Minister would be well advised to take this back to his legal advisers and ask them what they mean by it and what is its value.

Lord Borrie

I do not know whether it will help the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but I recall that in the Consumer Credit Act 1974, there is a whole schedule—if not more than one schedule—in which, deliberately, the draftsman has given examples of factual situations to which certain basic provisions of the Act apply. Most people looking at that legislation have found it extremely helpful.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that it is an unusual situation. But being unusual is one thing; being unhelpful is another. As I say, most people thought that that example was extremely helpful.

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has tabled further amendments which I have not yet noticed, but if the words "for example'. are omitted, it does not make sense because the words following the words "for example" are simply an example of the words which precede them. I should have thought that that was helpful rather than otherwise, even if unusual.

Lord Naseby

In his answer, the Minister did not differentiate between primary and secondary legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, is right that it is not unusual to find "for example" in a schedule. But as one who in another place was responsible for five years for secondary legislation, I am mystified as to why the Law Officers have recommended that there should be a "for example" in this primary legislation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Surely a schedule is part of primary legislation. It is part of the Bill.

Lord Naseby

It may be, but this is not in a schedule. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that we have seen it in a clause of a Bill. My noble friend on the Front Bench is asking why this has appeared in primary legislation in a clause. Is it on advice from the Law Officers that that is to be the way forward now in the new age, or is it that it has just appeared as an example? It will be incredibly difficult for the courts to interpret those matters. I suggest that the Minister should either tell the Committee that the Law Officers are recommending that it should be done in primary rather than secondary legislation for reasons given; or that they are not. Perhaps if we had an answer to that, we should accept it.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I am very glad to have provoked the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, to his feet because I am always interested to hear his contributions. But on this occasion he did rather invalidate the point he was making by quoting a schedule. I was asking whether there is a section of an Act of Parliament which uses those words "for example". If that is the case, I shall be very interested and I shall have had an educative day, which I do not always have. I am sure that my noble friend is correct to say that it is highly unusual to use these words in a clause. If I am wrong, perhaps the noble Lord will say so and I shall then be happy to withdraw my argument. However, if my noble friend is right, I believe that the Minister ought to look again at the advisability of using such a form of words here.

Given the huge volume of legislation that churns its way through Parliament, drafting is not usually famous for being immaculate. Indeed, it can be rather uneven and spotty.

The Earl of Onslow

I regret that the reply given by the Minister rather missed the point made by my noble friend. Either this is a new departure in legislation—and if it is a new departure, then why has it been done?—or the words have been put in only because someone thought they ought to put them in just for fun. We all know that such mistakes can happen. All we are asking for here is clarity and precedent. If precedent is to be broken, it should be broken for a reason. The Minister's response did not even attempt to respond to that point.

Will the Minister please answer the following two questions? First, is my noble friend right when he says that this form of words is unprecedented? Secondly, if he is right, why has it been put into the Bill? If the Minister does not know the answers to those questions, could he take them away and find out?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am puzzled by most of the Minister's reply. I thought that I had attempted to delete lines 10 to 14. However, it appears that I have not done so and that they would remain in the Bill. Indeed, they are qualified by the beginning of subsection (2) where it states, Regard shall be had, in particular". When I was a Government Minister I recall that I had to make the point constantly that I was reluctant to give examples because it then would be assumed that anything else would not be an example and would not fall within the scope of the legislation. For that reason, I find the use of the words "for example" most odd. Removing the words would not change the meaning of the following subsection; indeed, nothing would be changed.

When, nearly two hours ago, I suggested that certain unnecessary words should be removed from the Bill, the Minister persuaded me that I should not attempt to do it because of the Maastricht Treaty. I have now had an opportunity to look at the first Maastricht Treaty and it appears, so far as concerns the first treaty, that the position as the Minister explained it would not be the case. However, it may well be the case as regards the second Maastricht Treaty.

I do not believe that we should return to this matter, but I think that it is an important point. Why put in the words "for example" when there is no indication that they have been used elsewhere in primary legislation? They add nothing to the meaning of this part of the Bill. For that reason, I shall seek the opinion of the Committee.

5.13 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 14) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 134.

Division No. 1
Aldington, L. Jopling, L.
Alexander of Weedon, L. Luke, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Lyell, L.
Astor of Hever,L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Biffen, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Blatch,B. Monson, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Montrose, D.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Bumham, L. [Teller] Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Buscombe, B. Naseby, L.
Byford,B. Northesk, E.
Caithness, E. O'Cathain, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Onslow, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Palmer, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Courtown, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Rawlings, B.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Rees. L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Rees-Mogg, L.
Elliott of Morpeth,L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Ferrers,E. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Fookes, B. Seccombe, B.
Gardner of Partes,B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Geddes,L. Shrewsbury, E.
Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Glentoran, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hanham, B Stewartby, L.
Hanningfield, L. Strathclyde, L.
Hayhoe, L. Swinfen, L.
Henley, L. [Teller] Tenby, V.
Hogg, B. Trefgarne, L.
Holderness, L. Trumpington, B.
Hooper, B. Vivian, L.
Howe, E. Weatherill, L.
Howell of Guildford, L. Young, B.
Addington, L. Dholakia, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Diamond, L.
Amos, B. Dixon, L.
Archer of Sand well, L. Donoughue, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Dubs, L.
Bach, L. Eatwell, L.
Barnett, L. Elder, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Blackstone, B. Falkland, V.
Blease, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Borrie, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Bradshaw, L. Filkin, L.
Bragg, L. Gale,B.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Gavron, L.
Brookman, L. Geraint, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Burlison, L. Goodhart, L.
Carlile of Berriew, L. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Carter, L.[Teller] Goudie, B.
Christopher, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Gregson, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Hardy of Wath,L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Crawley, B. Harris of Haringey, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
David, B. Harrison, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Hayman, B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Desai, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Plant of Highfield, L.
Howells of St Davids, B. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Rea,L.
Hoyle, L. Rendell of Babergh,B.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Rennard, L
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Richard, L.
Islwyn, L. Russell, E.
Jeger, B, Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Sandberg, L
King of West Bromwich, L. Sawyer, L.
Lea of Crondall, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Levy, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Lipsey, L. Shepherd, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L Simon, V.
Longford, E. Simon of Highbury, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Smith of Gilmorehill,B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Steel of Aikwood, L.
[Teller] Stone of Blackheath, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, E>. Strabolgi, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
McNally, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Maddock, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Mallalieu, B Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Thornton, B
Massey of Darwen, B. Tope, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Tordoff,L.
Methuen, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Milner of Leeds, L. Uddin, B.
Mishcon, L. Varley, L.
Molloy. L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Whitty,L.
Orme, L. Wilkins, B.
Paul, L. Williams of Elvel,L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Pitkeathley, B. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.22 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 17: Page 5, line 32, at end insert— ("() Subsection (3) above shall apply in relation to a person's absence by reason of his attendance on a course provided by an educational institution as it applies in relation to a person's absence in the performance of any duty such as is mentioned in that subsection.").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 17 and 120 and part of Amendment No. 140 are designed to rectify an anomaly. Students now routinely obtain absent votes, even though, strictly speaking, the law does not include attendance at an educational establishment as one of the grounds on which an absent vote may be granted.

We should be doing everything we can to enable this group of electors, particularly young electors, to vote. Allowing students who are studying at an establishment some distance from their parental home to vote by proxy is one way of doing so. I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree that this is something which they should continue to be able to do.

The amendments, therefore, simply allow for attendance at an educational establishment to be included as ground for obtaining a proxy vote. Postal votes will, of course, in future be available to all.

Amendments Nos. 131, 137, 138, 139, 142 and the rest of Amendment No. 140 are purely technical. They are consequential on the decision of the Scottish Parliament that provisions on absent voting in Scottish local elections should be included in the Bill. That is a matter with which we shall deal in more depth when we reach Amendments Nos. 118 and 119. A consequence of this is that references to local government elections in Sections 5 to 9 of the Representation of the People Act 1985 can be repealed as they will apply only to Northern Ireland but not to local elections. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Residence: patients in mental hospitals who are not detained offenders or on remand]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 18: Page 6, leave out lines 3 to 9 and insert— ("(3) A person registered in a register of electors in pursuance of an application for registration made by virtue of subsection (2) above is entitled to remain so registered until—

  1. (a) the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the date when the entry in the register first takes effect, or
  2. (b) another entry made in respect of him in any register of electors takes effect (whether or not in pursuance of an application made by virtue of subsection (2)),
whichever first occurs. (3A) Where the entitlement of such a person to remain so registered terminates by virtue of subsection (3) above, the registration officer concerned shall remove that person's entry from the register, unless he is entitled to remain registered in pursuance of a further application made by virtue of subsection (2).").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 18, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 19, 37, 62 and 73.

The amendments are technical in nature. It is hoped that they will serve purposes which will be appreciated by the Committee. They either make matters explicit on the face of the Bill rather than leave them to be settled in secondary legislation or simplify the drafting of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 bring Clauses 4 and 5, which provide for the registration of mental patients and remand prisoners, into line with the new Section 7C, which is inserted by Clause 6 of the Bill. The effect of the amendments is to make entitlement to be registered for a 12-month period explicit on the face of the Bill as opposed to being included in regulations.

Amendments Nos. 37, 62 and 73 simplify the drafting. They relate to registration by means of a declaration of local connection by service voters (Amendment No. 62, to Schedule 1) and overseas voters (Amendment No. 73, to Schedule 2). I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Residence: persons remanded in custody etc.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 19: Page 6, leave out lines 41 to 47 and insert— ("(3) A person registered in a register of electors in pursuance of an application for registration made by virtue of subsection (2) above is entitled to remain so registered until—

  1. (a) the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the date when the entry in the register first takes effect, or
  2. (b) another entry made in respect of him in any register of electors takes effect (whether or not in pursuance of an application made by virtue of subsection (2)),
whichever first occurs. (3A) Where the entitlement of such a person to remain so registered terminates by virtue of subsection (3) above, the registration officer concerned shall remove that person's entry from the register, unless he is entitled to remain registered in pursuance of a further application made by virtue of subsection (2).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 20: Page 7, line 15, leave out from ("order") to end of line 16 and insert ("under section 70 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 or a transfer direction under section 71 of that Act made in respect of a person to whom that section applies by virtue of subsection (2)(c) of that section").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 21: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—