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House of Commons Hansard
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Overseas Electors Bill
22 March 2019
Volume 656

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Prompt to register as an overseas elector

‘(1) If the registration officer receives information that leads him or her to believe that a registered elector has moved, or is going to move, outside the United Kingdom, the registration officer shall contact that elector to prompt him or her to register as an overseas elector.

(2) The Electoral Commission may issue guidance for contact under subsection (1).’—(Philip Davies.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 3—Report on awareness of how to participate in elections as an overseas elector

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State must publish a report on levels of awareness of how to participate in parliamentary elections as a UK elector among—

(a) persons entitled to vote as an overseas elector under the provisions of this Act, and

(b) overseas electors in general.

(2) The report shall consider awareness of—

(a) the law governing entitlement to qualify and vote as an overseas elector,

(b) the processes of registering and voting, and

(c) other matters as the Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State sees fit.

(3) The report shall set out any steps the Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State intends to take to increase awareness of—

(a) how to participate in elections as an overseas elector, and

(b) the provisions of this Act.’

New clause 4—Report on effects of extension of franchise

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State must publish a report assessing the likely effects of the extension of the franchise in section 1 of this Act and any measures necessary in response to those effects.

(2) The report must contain assessments of—

(a) how many British citizens currently resident overseas are eligible to register as overseas electors, and how many are likely to be eligible if the 15-year time limits under sections 1(3)(c) and 1(4)(a) of the Representation of the People Act 1985 were removed;

(b) any possible increased risk of electoral fraud by those purporting to be overseas electors related to the provisions in this Act;

(c) whether current election timetables are of sufficient duration to enable the full participation of any increased numbers of overseas electors.’

New clause 5—Report on the representation of overseas electors

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State shall, within 12 months of this section coming into force, lay before Parliament a report on the representation of overseas electors.

(2) That report shall include—

(a) consideration of how well overseas electors are represented by their MPs and any related consequences of the provisions of this Act,

(b) an assessment of any additional demands that may be placed on MPs and their resources as a consequence of the provisions of this Act,

(c) any plans the Government has to monitor the representation of overseas electors, and

(d) an assessment of alternative models of representation of overseas electors, including the creation of overseas constituencies.’

New clause 6—Review of absent vote arrangements

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State shall—

(a) review absent voting arrangements to consider whether they allow sufficient time for overseas electors to participate adequately in parliamentary elections, taking into account the likely effects of the provisions of this Act;

(b) consult the Electoral Commission, local authorities and the Association of Electoral Administrators as part of the review; and

(c) lay before Parliament a report on the review and any steps to be taken as a result.’

New clause 7—Report on postal voting arrangements for overseas electors

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State shall publish a report on postal voting arrangements for overseas electors.

(2) The report shall set out—

(a) any barriers to the participation of overseas electors in parliamentary elections, including in—

(i) the availability of pre-paid postal services for returning ballot papers,

(ii) the financial resources of returning officers, and

(iii) capacity in the specialist print and production markets to meet absent vote and ballot paper requirements;

(b) whether any such barriers are likely to become more significant or widespread as a result of the extension of the franchise in the provisions of this Act, including in particular countries and regions;

(c) any steps to be taken to make it easier for overseas electors to participate in parliamentary elections.

(3) The report shall, in particular, consider the effectiveness and cost of the International Business Response Licence for postal votes and any associated implications of the provisions of this Act.’

New clause 9—Evaluation of the effects of the Act

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State must, within 12 months of the provisions of this Act coming into force, lay before Parliament a report evaluating the effects of the Act and the extent to which it has met its objectives.

(2) That report must include assessments of the effects on numbers of overseas electors registered in each parliamentary constituency.’

New clause 10—Closing date for electoral registration applications by overseas electors

‘(1) The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 are amended as follows.

(2) In regulation 56, after paragraph (7), insert—

“(8) This regulation does not apply to applications by overseas electors.”

(3) After regulation 56 insert—

“56A Closing date for electoral registration applications by overseas electors

(1) The provisions in this regulation relate to applications to vote by post or proxy by overseas electors in parliamentary elections.

(2) An application by an overseas elector under paragraph 3(6) or (7) of Schedule 4 shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election and an application under paragraph 4(3) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.

(3) An application under paragraph 3(1) or (2), or 6(7) or 7(4) of Schedule 4 shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.

(4) An application under paragraph 4(1) or (2) or 6(8) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(5) An application under paragraph 7(7) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(6) An application under—

(a) paragraph 3(5)(a) of Schedule 4 by an elector to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 3(4) of that Schedule, or

(b) paragraph 7(9)(a) of Schedule 4 by a proxy to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 7(6) of that Schedule,

and a notice under paragraph 6(10) of that Schedule by an elector cancelling a proxy’s appointment shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election if it is received by the registration officer after—

(i) 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at that election in the case of an application by an elector who is entitled to vote by post to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 4, and

(ii) 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at that election in any other case.

(7) In computing a period of days for the purposes of this regulation, the same rules shall apply as in regulation 56.”

(4) The Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001 are amended as follows.

(5) In regulation 56, after paragraph (7), insert—

“(8) This regulation does not apply to applications by overseas electors.”

(6) After regulation 56 insert—

“56A Closing date for electoral registration applications by overseas electors

(1) The provisions in this regulation relate to applications to vote by post or proxy by overseas electors in parliamentary elections.

(2) An application by an overseas elector under paragraph 3(6) or (7) of Schedule 4 shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election and an application under paragraph 4(3) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.

(3) An application under paragraph 3(1) or (2), or 6(7) or 7(4) of Schedule 4 shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.

(4) An application under paragraph 4(1) or (2) or 6(8) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(5) An application under paragraph 7(7) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(6) An application under—

(a) paragraph 3(5)(a) of Schedule 4 by an elector to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 3(4) of that Schedule, or

(b) paragraph 7(9)(a) of Schedule 4 by a proxy to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 7(6) of that Schedule,

and a notice under paragraph 6(10) of that Schedule by an elector cancelling a proxy’s appointment shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election if it is received by the registration officer after—

(i) 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at that election in the case of an application by an elector who is entitled to vote by post to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 4, and

(ii) 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at that election in any other case.

(7) In computing a period of days for the purposes of this regulation, the same rules shall apply as in regulation 56.”

(7) The Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2001 are amended as follows.

(8) In regulation 57, after paragraph (6), insert—

“(7) This regulation does not apply to applications by overseas electors.”

(9) After regulation 57 insert—

“57A Closing date for electoral registration applications by overseas electors

(1) The provisions in this regulation relate to applications to vote by post or proxy by overseas electors in parliamentary elections.

(2) An application under section 6(1) or (5), 8(6) or 9(4) of the 1985 Act shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular election if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the twenty-first day before the day of the poll at that election.

(3) Subject to paragraph (4) below, an application under section 7(1) or (2), 8(7) or 9(7) or (8) of the 1985 Act shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the twenty-first day before the day of the poll at the election for which is made.

(4) Paragraph (3) above shall not apply to an application which satisfies the requirements of either paragraphs (6) and (7) or paragraph (8) of regulation 55 above; and such an application shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the day of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(5) An application under—

(a) section 6(4)(a) of the 1985 Act by an elector to be removed from the record kept under section 6(3) of that Act, or

(b) section 9(11)(a) of that Act by a proxy to be removed from the record kept under section 9(6) of that Act,

and a notice under section 8(9) of that Act by an elector cancelling a proxy’s appointment shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular election if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the twenty-first day before the date of the poll at that election.

(6) In computing a period of days for the purposes of this regulation, the same rules shall apply as in regulation 57.’

New clause 11—Offence of registering to vote as overseas elector in more than one constituency

‘(1) A person commits an offence if he or she is an overseas elector and is simultaneously registered to vote in more than one constituency.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.’

New clause 12—Report on electoral offences, overseas electors and the extension of the franchise

‘(1) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or Secretary of State must publish a report on electoral offences, overseas electors and the extension of the franchise.

(2) The report must include assessments of—

(a) the effects of the extension of the franchise under the provisions of this Act on the incidence of—

(i) reports of electoral offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983, and

(ii) prosecutions for such offences,

(b) the capacity of appropriate authorities to investigate and prosecute such alleged offences,

(c) the number of reports of electoral offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 alleged to have been committed by overseas electors—

(i) in the period since the provisions of this Act came into force, and

(ii) in a comparable period before the provisions of this Act came into force,

(d) the number of prosecutions for electoral offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 by overseas electors—

(i) in the period since the provisions of this Act came into force, and

(ii) in a comparable period before the provisions of this Act came into force,

(e) any steps to be taken to reduce the incidence of such electoral offences.’

New clause 13—Expiration of Act after five years

‘This Act shall expire five years from the date on which it receives Royal Assent.’

New clause 14—Expiration of Act after three years

‘This Act shall expire three years from the date on which it receives Royal Assent.’

Amendment 40, in clause 1, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

‘(5A) An overseas elector’s declaration shall be disregarded for the purposes of registration to vote in a particular parliamentary election if it received by the registration officer after 5pm on the nineteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.’

Amendment 49, page 3, line 42, at end insert—

‘(ea) state that the declarant is aware of the voting offences under sections 60 and 61 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and associated punishments under sections 168 and 169 of that Act,’.

Amendment 50, page 3, line 42, at end insert—

‘(ea) state whether the declarant intends to make absent voting arrangements or to vote in person at a polling station,’.

Amendment 66, page 6, line 15, at end insert—

‘(da) state that the declarant is aware of the voting offences under sections 60 and 61 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and associated punishments under sections 168 and 169 of that Act,’.

Amendment 67, page 6, line 15, at end insert—

‘(da) state whether the declarant intends to make absent voting arrangements or to vote in person at a polling station,’.

Amendment 75, in clause 3, page 8, line 11, after “State” add

‘but no sooner than 12 months after section 3(5) comes into force’.

Amendment 23, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report setting out the effects of the provisions of this Act on processes for controlling political party donations.

(2B) The report under subsection (2A) shall consider—

(a) the ability of political parties and campaigners to determine the permissibility of donations from persons resident overseas;

(b) the ability of the Electoral Commission to take enforcement action where the rules on such donations have been breached.’

This amendment requires the Government to prepare a report on processes for controlling political party donations before the provisions of this Act can come into force.

Amendment 24, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report setting out on the likely effects of the provisions of this Act on the number of registered electors.

(2B) The report under subsection (2A) shall consider—

(a) the number of overseas electors registered to vote in Parliamentary elections in each constituency and the policy implications of any such changes;

(b) whether any differential effects on the electorates of constituencies necessitates a review of constituency boundaries; and

(c) the merits of creating one or more overseas constituencies.’

This amendment requires the Government to prepare a report on the effects on the number of registered electors before the provisions of this Act can come into force.

Amendment 25, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report setting out the effects of the provisions of this Act on the extension of franchise.

(2B) The report under subsection (2A) shall consider—

(a) likely demand for online registration services and how this demand should be met;

(b) the effects of removing the 15-year time limits on the workloads of local authorities, including demands on electoral registration officers, and how any consequent resourcing requirements should be met;

(c) how the electorates of existing UK constituencies will be affected; and

(d) how the electorates of new constituencies recommended by the most recent reports of the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be affected.’

This amendment requires the Government to prepare a report on the effects of the extension of the franchise before the provisions of this Act can come into force.

Amendment 26, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report setting out the effects of the provisions of this Act on the representation of overseas electors by MPs.

(2B) The report under subsection (2A) shall consider—

(a) how well overseas electors are represented by their MPs and any related consequences of the provisions of this Act;

(b) an assessment of any additional demands that may be placed on MPs and their resources as a consequence of the provisions of this Act;

(c) any plans the Government has to monitor the representation of overseas electors; and

(d) an assessment of alternative models of representation of overseas electors, including the creation of overseas constituencies.’

This amendment requires the Government to prepare a report on the representation of overseas electors by MPs before the provisions of this Act can come into force.

Amendment 27, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report setting out the effects of the provisions of this Act on the creation of a consolidated register of overseas electors.’

This amendment requires the Government to prepare a report on the effects of creating a consolidated register of overseas electors before the provisions of this Act can come into force.

Amendment 68, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report on awareness of how to participate in elections as an overseas elector.’

Amendment 69, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report on absent vote arrangements.’

Amendment 70, page 8, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (2) until the Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office has laid before Parliament a report on postal voting arrangements for overseas electors.’

Amendment 76, page 8, line 16, leave out

“on the day on which”

and replace with “12 months after”.

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I am sorry that my duties here will prevent me from attending the memorial service for Paul Flynn, but I am sure we all remember him with a great deal of affection and fondness.

I hope you, Mr Speaker, and Members of the House will forgive me if I come across at any point during these proceedings as being a bit disorganised. I only got the selection of amendments at just after 8.30 this morning, and given that there are so many down, it has been a bit difficult to get them all marshalled into the right groupings. If there is a delay or anything like that, it is simply because I am trying to work out which are the right amendments in the grouping, and I hope you will be patient with me in that regard.

Before I begin with new clause 1 and get into the nitty-gritty, I should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on his success in the private Members’ Bills ballot and on getting his Bill to this stage. We all know that it is not an easy task to get a Bill even to this stage, but my hon. Friend has done it with his customary charm and panache, and I congratulate him on doing so and on securing the support of the Government for his Bill up to the present.

Unfortunately, this has not been a total triumph, as far as I can see. While I am not opposed to the principle of the Bill, which is laudable in many parts, I have concerns about the way it is drafted in particular areas. In Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) said something with which I entirely agree, and which is therefore worth repeating. He said that

“we should always be very sure about the changes we make to our democracy. Anybody who knows anything about the rules of political parties knows that the little amendments that are made for whatever reason at some point have a habit of creating all sorts of different conclusions later down the line. We ought to ensure that we play out the scenarios that they might present, but also ensure that the changes we make are proportionate to achieving the goal. If we can achieve the same goal by being more surgical, we should seek to do so.”––[Official Report, Overseas Electors Public Bill Committee, 17 October 2018; c. 22.]

I agree with those sentiments entirely not just for this Bill, but, I might add, for many other Bills that come to the House on a Friday.

I have looked through the amendments tabled by others at earlier stages of the Bill and, as far as I could see, some of them seemed worth exploring again to see whether the whole House shares the view of the Committee. I believe that some of my amendments are absolutely critical to making this Bill supportable, and some affect issues that should be examined more closely. I accept that it was manifesto commitment of the Conservative party to change the overseas voting rules, but this Bill extends not just to the existing set-up to remove the 15-year time limit and give votes for life, but the range of those eligible for votes for life. There is a problem in that, because it goes beyond what we said in our manifesto.

I will turn to the new clauses and amendments in a bit more detail. What is now new clause 1 was actually discussed in Committee. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) in his place. If I may say so, he did an excellent job in Committee in tabling some amendments that were very worthy of debate and are worthy of further consideration today, and this was really one of his greatest hits, so to speak.

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There have been many.

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As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, there have been many, and I am certainly not going to disagree. We probably should not have a Division on that, because I am certainly not going to disagree. In all seriousness, I think he made some very good points in what is now new clause 1. When he suggested the change in Committee, he said that the purpose behind it was

“to ensure that people register at the outset so that we avoid spikes in registration in the immediate lead-up to an election period when, given everything else that is going on, electoral registration officers are at their busiest, their work is at its most hectic and they are under the most careful of examinations.”

He pointed out that as we very much saw

“in constituencies across the UK at the previous general election, there was not just a flurry of late registrations, but in certain constituencies there were complaints afterwards that people had not been allowed to vote, even though…they had registered in time.”––[Official Report, Overseas Electors Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2018; c. 103-104.]

He also said that, in some circumstances, they had confirmation that they had been registered, but then found that they were not on the register, and that the new clause is intended to avoid those problems happening again.

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At the start of his remarks, my hon. Friend said that we must be careful about repercussive measures. My concern is that the new clause is repercussive and will lead to calls for similar prompts for other kinds of people—new citizens, for example, or those turning 18. My other slight concern is about what kind of information registration officers are likely to receive about those intending to leave, or who have left. Surely if such a provision is to work, the email addresses of many more people would need to be available to registration officers, otherwise we will have no way of knowing that people have left or are intending to leave.

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My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I do not argue with much of what he said. If he thinks that the registration officer will not have much information, that is not a problem with the new clause. His argument seems to be that there is not much point to the new clause—in the second part of his remarks he did not point out a problem with new clause; he said that he did not think it would be used very much, but that is not an argument against it. He might be surprised at what the registration officer finds out. The fact that the provision might not be used often does not mean that it is bad to slot it into the Bill—it just might not be used very often.

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I must have expressed myself badly. My second question was about what would need to change on the forms and the things that we use to get people’s information. If someone is a new tenant in a property and the previous tenant has moved out and gone overseas, unless we have some other process or forms, often those new tenants will not know that the previous tenants moved to another country. They will therefore have no way of providing the information that the registration officer needs to provide the prompt suggested in new clause 1. My question was about the process that would be needed to support the new clause to make it work.

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Just as the hon. Member for City of Chester did in Committee, I have avoided being too prescriptive about what should be involved. The new clause will be used if someone becomes aware of something, although that might be something we cannot currently envisage. New clause 1 advocates the principle that, should someone become aware of something—I do not necessarily know how, and I cannot be prescriptive about such things—there should be a mechanism to try to make the system easier, and to avoid the problems that we all accept took place in the previous general election, when people were turned away—it was a shambles in many constituencies. This may not be the most important piece of legislation the House has ever passed, and it might not be used a great deal, but it cannot do any harm. Even if it does a little to alleviate some of the problems that we faced previously with late registrations, it cannot be a bad thing.

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My hon. Friend is generous with his time. Will he address my first point about the repercussive nature of new clause 1? He says that it cannot do any harm, but it will surely prompt people to say, “Ah, we now need similar prompts for those who turn 18 or who are new citizens of this country”.

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I do not accept that that is a necessary extension. We are dealing with new clause 1 of this Bill, and if somebody wanted to extend it to something else, they would have to find a Bill in which to do that, and argue for that extension. That would be a matter to consider at that time, and it has nothing to do with this Bill. My hon. Friend could be right—I do not say he is wrong—but I ask Members to consider the new clause in the context of this Bill, rather than thinking about its repercussions on other legislation

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My hon. Friend is generous, as ever, in taking interventions. Is it the case that the earlier people register, the less of a bottleneck and a jam there is, and the more likely we are to ensure a robust system, and that those who register are bona fide and legitimate? We have seen in more recent elections that people voted in one place when they should have been in another.

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I am delighted to be scoring more runs with my hon. Friend than I did with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), and I welcome his intervention.

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rose

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rose

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That intervention appears to have prompted a stampede from across the House, so I will give way to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens)

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One way round the problem would be to have automatic voter registration linked to the issue of a national insurance number at age 16, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will support the Automatic Electoral Registration (No. 2) Bill.

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I am accused of many things when discussing private Member’s Bills on a Friday, but I think it best if I stick to one at a time. If we get on to the hon. Lady’s Bill, I am sure we can go through its merits, or otherwise, and I look forward to that. I hope she will forgive me if I resist the temptation to start that debate prematurely. Mr Speaker would probably rule me out of order if I started discussing her Bill in a debate on this one.

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May I probe the hon. Gentleman on the wording of the new clause? It mentions those who are “going to move”, and those who have moved, which are two different groups of people. I can foresee that measure being included in the annual canvass that every local authority has to make, so that those who are likely to move within the next 12 months are prompted to register as an oversea elector if they are leaving the UK. Those who have already moved, however, are a different group of people, and the local authority might not have information about where they have moved to. What guidance does the hon. Gentleman suggest the Electoral Commission should provide regarding those who have moved? The matter is simple for those who are going to move, but how does he intend to track down those who have already left the country, given that nobody keeps that information?

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Clearly, I have more faith in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for City of Chester that the hon. Gentleman does. I do not seek to take over the responsibility of people who are more expert in these matters than me. It is not the job of hon. Members to be prescriptive to experts in this field about how they should go about their job—I am happy to leave it to them. The hon. Member for City of Chester can correct me if I am wrong, but I see this as a matter of principle, and not really about the nitty-gritty and practicalities, which I am happy to leave to the experts.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) may or may not be right to say that the new clause will not make a massive difference, but that is not a reason not to include it, because it might help. Indeed, as he acknowledged, the new clause will help with one group of people, and that is an argument for taking a step forward, rather than saying, “Let’s not bother because I don’t know how many people it will benefit or how it will be used”.

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My hon. Friend is generous in giving way. Has the new clause taken into account the situation of people such as those who work in the City who have to move at short notice? What he has described admirably covers those who are planning to move quite a long time in the future, but it does not take into account those who need to move at short notice. How will he deal with that?

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The new clause does not exclude that category of people, and the same principle applies. My hon. Friend seems to suggest that perhaps the new clause does not go far enough, and I am happy to take that criticism on board. Others say that we should not include it at all—I think I now have the full gamut of opinion in the House. Some say it is a bad new clause, some say it is good, and some say that it does not go far enough.

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Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting—if so, it will be a first—that he is now a fully signed up practitioner of the third way?

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I had not looked at it that way, and I would be slightly horrified if that is how it was perceived. New clause 1 is merely enhancing my reputation as a moderate; I will put it no stronger than that. I appear to be slap-bang in the middle of the debate, as I so often find myself.

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I wholeheartedly agree that my hon. Friend is a moderate on this issue. [Interruption.] On this issue. Does he agree that, for example, members of the armed forces will welcome this Bill? When I have visited members of the armed forces serving overseas, as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, they have told me how disconnected they felt from the franchise in this country. Does he agree that such a system could be a simple way for them to continue to take part?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am going to take her comment that I am a moderate on this issue as a compliment. I am not sure whether it was meant as such; I would like to think that I am on all issues, but it is best that we do not have a Division on that, too. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but if she will forgive me, we will come to the merits of the Bill as a whole on Third Reading. I am rather anxious to get to the merits or otherwise of my amendments.

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rose

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rose

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My hon. Friend has had a good knock so far, so if he will forgive me, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

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The point that the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) made is surely erroneous, in the sense that members of the armed forces will not be overseas for 15-plus years. They will be serving overseas for short periods. The people overseas for 15-plus years are those who have divorced themselves from the United Kingdom for a long period.

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I think the right hon. Gentleman is also referring to the merits of the whole Bill, and I had just said that I did not really want to get into that at this stage. Third Reading is probably the best time to deal with that. Indeed, I am sure that we can save up all these points for then. I am rather anxious to get back to new clause 1, but I will first give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough.

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My hon. Friend is further burnishing his credentials as a centrist with new clause 1, so I hesitate to introduce a European dimension into the debate, but is he confident that it is compatible with the general data protection regulation? He is imposing a new duty on registration officers. Let us suppose that someone comes to an electoral registration officer and says, “My next-door neighbour is planning to move to another country. You should contact them and send them the forms to register overseas.” Can such information, not gleaned by the registration officer for any particular purpose, be turned into a list under GDPR and used for a different purpose, such as to send the prompts that my hon. Friend is proposing? Is that compatible with European law?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am not a lawyer and I do not know the answer, but I am sure that we have plenty of qualified people in this place—we tend not to be short of them—who may be able to offer an opinion. However, new clause 1 is not limited to the registration officer finding out from a third party. It will apply if they find out from the person themselves, so my hon. Friend might be right about that circumstance and he might be wrong—I do not know; that might need to be tested by the courts—but the new clause is not limited to that group.

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I appreciate the sentiment behind the new clause, but I have moved house on numerous occasions and have never found a way to tell anybody in authority where I was moving to, nor would I have wanted to. Will my hon. Friend explain a bit more how the new clause would work in practice?

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I am sure that many other people are like my hon. Friend in that regard. It is not a question about how the new clause will work in practice. It seems to me that it is self-explanatory, in that it says:

“If the registration officer receives information that leads him or her to believe that a registered elector has moved, or is going to move, outside the United Kingdom, the registration officer shall contact that elector to prompt him or her to register as an overseas elector.”

How it would work in practice would seem self-explanatory. If the registration officer finds something out, he will contact the person concerned and say, “Will you register as an overseas elector?” I am not sure that I can add much to what the new clause already says.

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I thought earlier during my hon. Friend’s speech about the GDPR issue, which our hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) has raised, but the truth of the matter is that, throughout government, people find ways to comply with GDPR. I do not think it is beyond the wit of registration officers to find a way for my hon. Friend’s new clause 1 to be operable within the confines of GDPR. We should not fear GDPR in that respect. We should always try to find ways to work within it, but at the same time it should not stop us making law.

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My hon. Friend is right. The other point is that if we find that the new clause is useful but is being stymied by the general data protection regulation, there would be nothing to stop this House amending it to make it easier for the new clause to operate, so I agree with him. I do not think we should fear doing anything because there might or might not be a problem further down the line. If there is, we can deal with it when it appears.

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I acknowledge the important point that the hon. Gentleman is making: it is important that we properly scrutinise legislation that comes before us. However, it appears from the interventions that there is not much explanation for these new clauses, nor has any thought been given to their implications. For instance, has he thought through the practical implications of amendment 50 in this group and what it might mean for returning officers?

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If I could come on to my new clauses, the hon. Gentleman might get to hear my explanations. To be perfectly honest, I have not yet had a chance to get going on my explanations of my new clauses, so it is bit curious to be accused of not giving them before I have even started. That is new one. However, I am delighted to hear at least one Labour Member state clearly on the public record that it is important to scrutinise Bills that come before us on a Friday. I am sure that is welcome, and I hope that view will spread like wildfire across the Opposition Benches, because we are usually told that we should not scrutinise them at all, so that is a step in the right direction. If we keep going, we will be on to a winner.

I am also surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman make what I consider to be a criticism of his hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson).

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He’s my best mate!

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Well, with friends like that, Mr Speaker, you do not need many enemies in this place. The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) basically stood up and said that the hon. Gentleman’s amendments were a load of old cobblers, and then the hon. Gentleman says that he is his best friend. Goodness! I knew things were bad in the Labour party, but I did not know they were that bad, with infighting even among friends.

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rose

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I will give way again. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain himself a bit better this time.

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I am very happy to explain myself in more detail, but I should also say that my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) has many friends in this place. In amendment 50, the hon. Gentleman is asking electors to declare whether they intend to be an absent voter or to vote at a polling station. What are the practical implications of somebody saying, “I won’t be an absent voter abroad; I want to vote at a polling station.”? Which polling station would they vote at? What are the practical implications of amendment 50?

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I knew it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman for a second time after his first effort. I am not entirely sure which new clause he was referring to, but I am still on new clause 1, and new clause 1 is not about whether someone should vote here or vote there or vote at a polling station. It is about what a registration officer should do if he finds out that someone is going to move abroad. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was ahead of me or somewhere else, but let me say, just for the record, that I am still on new clause 1. I hope that that is helpful to Members.

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It is indeed new clause 1 that I wish to discuss. Does my hon. Friend think that the information that registration officers would be able to obtain could then be available to political parties to further encourage people to sign up and to vote? In the past, parties have, for example, sent cards encouraging people who have just turned 18 to do so.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for putting us back on track. Yes, I do think that that would be the consequence. What we are trying to do is encourage people to register as overseas electors, and to do so as early as possible. The earlier they register, the earlier that information will be available more widely, and will enable party representatives to campaign. Not only will it solve the problems that we have had with late registrations—as the hon. Member for City of Chester made clear in Committee—but it will help people to engage with the political process. The sooner they are registered, the sooner everyone can engage with them. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting a point that I must confess I had not really considered.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way, on that last point?

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I will indeed, as long as the hon. Gentleman sticks to new clause 1 and has not been affected by the person sitting next to him.

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Order. We cannot have both hon. Gentlemen on their feet at the same time. I believe that Mr Davies is giving way, and Mr Rodda is going to intervene. Mr Davies, are you giving way?

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I will give way.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate that he has a great deal of interest in a wide range of potential amendments. Does he agree that there is a certain rich irony in the fact that he is devoting so much effort to considering issues relating to overseas electors—and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) mentioned earlier, there are deep technical problems for local registration officers trying to take ballot boxes to a large number of overseas locations—that he may be neglecting the much more pressing need of local British residents who move house regularly, such as the young people who move regularly in my Reading constituency?

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I am not entirely sure what is up with that part of the Opposition Benches. The hon. Members for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) and for Reading East (Matt Rodda) seem determined to talk about anything other than the Bill and the new clause that we are discussing. The hon. Member for Reading East appeared to be saying that it was all very well for me to talk about new clause 1—and I took it from what he said that he agreed with it, not least because it is the new clause that his hon. Friend the hon. Member for City of Chester introduced in Committee, so I would like to think that even on that basis he has a bit of trust in it—but that, notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of new clause 1, I should be talking about something completely unrelated to the Bill, namely the issue of domestic voters. I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that if I launched into a speech about how we should deal with UK voters who happen to move to another UK location, it would not be long before you told me, “You are out of the scope of the Bill, and you are deviating from the subject,” and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to do so.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way, on that point?

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I will give those on that Bench one last go.

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It is clear that a great deal of effort and money is going into dealing with overseas voters, while the large number of people in this country who could be registered much more easily are being totally ignored. Thousands of people have completed part of the forms but may not have included their national insurance numbers, for instance, but little effort has gone into ensuring that they get on to the register.

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It was clearly a forlorn hope to expect the right hon. Gentleman to stick to the Bill. All I can say, to try to clear the matter up, is that I did not table this Bill. It is not my Bill. Whether he thinks that we should be concentrating on this Bill or that some other Bill would have been a better use of the House’s time, this is out of my control. I found out that this Bill was top of the pops for today, and I decided to try to do what I think is the duty of Members. Explanations are usually aimed at people outside the House, but it seems that today we are having to give them to people inside the House. The purpose at this point—the Report stage—is to scrutinise the merits or otherwise of this Bill and to see whether it can be improved in some way. It is not to decide whether or not this Bill should be first on the agenda, which is a question over which I have no control.

Whether or not this is the most important Bill that should come before the House is a matter of debate that is not particularly relevant on Report. It is not my Bill. I did not choose for it to be debated. I am simply picking it up and trying to make the best of it and trying to improve it, and the improvements that I am suggesting have largely been suggested by Labour Members. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be encouraging me to try to improve it in the way that his own party wants it to be improved.

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rose

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rose

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I am certainly not going to give way to the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton again. I will give the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central another go.

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My question pertains to new clause 1.

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Thank you!

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In this country, 17-year-olds can currently register as attainers so that they will be on the register when they turn 18. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting in the new clause that those who are prompted to become overseas electors will be able to register as such while they are still resident in the United Kingdom and that the registration would only become active if they choose for that to happen? How will he get around the double registration issue if they are already registered as domestic voters?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That was a very good and sensible intervention, if I may say so. I do not envisage people registering before they have moved, because something might change and they might not do so. I think that that would be quite improper. The purpose of the new clause is to prompt them to be sure to register as soon as they have moved overseas. However, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which I think was very helpful.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is being customarily generous with his time.

May I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), who raised the prospect of helpful neighbours sending information to registration officers about people moving? Is not the more pertinent issue that some parts of the Government machine—Departments and officers—may become aware that someone is moving away for work and may choose to share that information with a registration officer, and new clause 1 would then give that registration officer the agency to act?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. He has made a very good point. I think it has long been a policy of everyone in the House—certainly a policy of Members on both sides of the House—that we should do what we can to encourage more people to register to vote. I have never known anyone to argue against that principle. As my hon. Friend says, this measure could easily help more people to register, which I would expect to be a welcome move.

The hon. Member for City of Chester touched on this when he moved his new clause in Committee. He said that it was likely to engage more people in voting. He referred to the Electoral Commission’s overseas voter day on 10 May 2016, which was supported by embassies and consulates around the world and which was intended to encourage British citizens who were eligible to register as overseas voters to do so in time to vote in the EU referendum. The commission ran a public awareness campaign for overseas voters between 17 March and 9 June, and more than 135,000 overseas voters registered during that period.

As the hon. Gentleman made clear in Committee, the new clause could go some way towards making overseas voters aware of their voting rights at an early stage. I think we should all welcome that, because presumably we want more people to register and we think that the earlier they do so, the better.

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On that point, surely it might also be a function of our diplomatic teams abroad fulfilling their consular duty in that when a family moves abroad they tend to register with British embassies in order to receive consular support and such a prompt could easily and ordinarily be set up from the British embassy.

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My hon. Friend is right.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) has done a better job than me of teasing out one of the problems this new clause might cause for registration officers. My example of the helpful neighbour was in one sense unhelpful, because a more real difficulty for ROs would be on the question of what it is to be aware that someone is planning to move overseas, but as my hon. Friend pointed out, many other parts of Government might hold information that implies someone is about to move overseas.

My fear is that there will be differences in practice around the country in that some ROs will be quite effective and determined to seek out that information from other parts of Government, including local government, while others will not be, at which point there will be a row, because this is not an entirely unpolitical subject: some people are keener on registering overseas electors than others. We can imagine a world in which people say, “Look, in Rutlandshire we are using a data sharing system to pull information from this part of local government that people are about to move overseas in order to send out these prompts, but you over in Blodchester are not doing that. Why are you not doing that? You are failing in your duty to send prompts to people who parts of Government have become aware are about to move overseas.”

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My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I do not agree with the thrust of where he is coming from. I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that he is criticising the fact that there could be a postcode lottery, to put it in common jargon. Therefore, it seems to me that he is basically advocating that, to avoid that, he would rather nobody could do something, rather than have some people doing something. I would sooner some people did something and we encouraged the others to follow suit than say, “Because I can’t guarantee everyone is going to do it I would rather nobody did it.” So I have a slight difference of principle.

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My fear is not so much that there would be a postcode lottery—I do not necessarily have a problem with differences in treatment around the country—but that there would be a legal problem for ROs who might be told by ROs elsewhere in the country, “You are not following best practice; you are not following the duty set out in new clause 1, and therefore you are legally failing in your duties.” What would their response be?

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If an RO was failing in their duties they absolutely should be pulled up on that. If this new clause were to enter into law and an RO was made aware that somebody was about to move overseas or had done so and did nothing about it, in effect they would be in breach of what was expected of them, and it would not be unreasonable for them to be pulled up for that. I would like to think that if this was put into law, ROs would be more than capable of complying with it.

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I want to return to the question of a future referendum, because although we do not have any of our Scottish nationalist friends here today they are continually pushing for a future independence referendum in Scotland. The last time we had a referendum there were 800,000 Scots disenfranchised because they were living either south of the border or in Wales or overseas. Does my hon. Friend think this new clause could be used in the future to ensure that Scots who chose for a short or longer period to live in another part of the UK would be included in a future independence referendum in Scotland?

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My hon. Friend makes a good case. I had not given that point a great deal of thought before now, but I am finding her very persuasive; I always find her very persuasive, but particularly on this point—and it is great to see her in her place doing her duty, which is to represent her constituents in Parliament, unlike those who occupy the Scottish Nationalist party Benches opposite, who are absent without leave. She could teach our friends from the SNP a few things about how best to represent their constituents in Parliament.

We could be in for a long morning here because I have only just covered new clause 1 and have barely got going to be perfectly honest. We still have quite a few new clauses to go through as colleagues will see from this group, and we have three groups of amendments to go through, notwithstanding the urgent questions and so on, so if Members will allow I will—

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rose

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As I mentioned the hon. Gentleman at the beginning of my remarks it is only fair that I give him a go.

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The hon. Gentleman has been very generous with his time and I am grateful to him for quoting what I said in Committee. He has mentioned on a couple of occasions his confidence, which I share, in electoral administrators’ abilities to fulfil what he lays out in the new clause, but does he have any concerns about their resourcing to do so? There is only £8.8 million in this for implementation and 10 years of operating. Would new clause 1 bring any other financial burdens?

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The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point, and clearly if we are placing requirements, particularly on public bodies, it is only reasonable that they are given the resources to implement them. I am not entirely sure that this would be an onerous burden on ROs, however, although he and his hon. Friends might have a different view; I am pretty sure ROs could readily do this.

I agree, however, that if my new clause were brought into law and it proved to be more effective and popular than even I had anticipated, it would be right for the Government to follow that up with the resources needed to make sure its requirements were followed effectively. There is no point having good ways to help people to register and then ROs just not having the wherewithal to do it, so I would sooner do it that way. We should see how it goes, but the hon. Gentleman is right that if it proved to be effective ROs should get the resources.

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rose—

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I am anxious to move on, but I will give way to my hon. Friend.

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I thank my hon. Friend. I share his confidence that ROs and administrators in local government would be fully capable of implementing new clause 1 if it were put into law. I used to have great confidence in Andrew Colver in Rushmoor who was given an OBE for his contribution to democratic services in Rushmoor. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the burden of this new clause should fall not just on the point of departure, but on the point of arrival, and that if this is to be done effectively consular officials and our diplomatic teams will need to have a public awareness campaign, so when people arrive at their new place of residence they are encouraged to register?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I certainly do not see this new clause as an excuse for embassies or people abroad to say, “We don’t need to do anything now.” On the contrary, I think it would complement the work they already do, and hopefully assist them in that, because he is right that that is just as, if not much more, important.

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rose—

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I was about to move on, but as my hon. Friend went to the same school as me—he is a far better advertisement for it than I am—I will give way to him.

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Yes, we did go to the same school and I was at the prize-giving last summer where I was reminded by the chairman of governors that in my final year I had won the Philip Davies prize for debating no less—so very big shoes to fill.

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend’s new clause would be both effective and popular. In the third line it says

“the registration officer shall contact that elector”;

it does not say “may” contact or, as our right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General might put it, “use best endeavours” to contact. This clearly would create a legal duty, therefore, so has my hon. Friend given any thought to what might count as the reasonable steps that one would expect ROs to take, and what remedies might be available should they fail to use them?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point and highlights once again why he is a far better example of our school than I am. I am sure that it uses him on its advertising brochures in a way that it does not use me. The point he makes goes without saying, and I like to think that that is how the law would be treated. People can only do what they can do; by definition, they cannot do what they cannot do. He might be right to say that the new clause would have been better drafted to include the words “use their best endeavours”, but personally I take it to mean that anyway, as it is written, because by definition someone cannot do something that they are not physically able to do. However, he is as eagle-eyed as ever, and I am grateful to him for highlighting that point.

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I am going to move on now, or else we could be here all night. I shall move on to new clause 3, and I will try to crack on a bit; otherwise, we could be here forever. New clause 3 in effect requests a report on the awareness of how to participate in elections as an overseas elector. Again, I have taken this from the hon. Member for City of Chester, who mentioned it in Committee. I commend him again for doing that. When he introduced this change in Committee, he said:

“We heard in the discussion of previous clauses about the dangers of overseas electors piling in as soon as an election is called. We discussed with the Minister the importance of electors participating early by registering as early as possible. Based on the 2016 survey conducted by the Electoral Commission, it is clear that there remains widespread confusion about what it means to be an overseas voter and the eligibility criteria necessary to vote.”

This is no doubt one of the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire brought forward the Bill in the first place. I think we can all agree that that is the case. The hon. Member for City of Chester went on to say:

“This lack of awareness has the potential to create a significant barrier to casting a ballot. The survey found that there was widespread lack of awareness about eligibility requirements, with 31% believing that eligibility required receiving a UK state pension and 22% believing that it required owning a property in the UK.”––[Official Report, Overseas Electors Public Bill Committee, 17 October 2018; c. 67.]

Those were particularly pertinent points that he highlighted when he brought forward his new clause. We should all be concerned about the level of confusion that that survey revealed. The purpose of new clause 3 is to raise awareness among overseas voters of how they can participate in elections. Given that we are trying to get more overseas electors to participate in elections, the new clause, helpfully suggested by the hon. Member for City of Chester, would be a pretty important way to ensure we did that.

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I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said so far about new clause 3, but I have a question about his new clause 5, which we will come to later. In it, he specifies that the report must be produced

“within 12 months of this section coming into force”,

yet in new clause 3 there is no timetable to guide the Minister or the Cabinet Office on the publication of the report. Such a report could be published 10 years later and be of absolutely no use. Is there a particular reason my hon. Friend has not suggested a timetable in new clause 3?

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My hon. Friend again highlights the importance of the scrutiny of Bills, particularly on a Friday, and I am grateful to him for doing that. He makes a very good point; I am sure that a date would have been beneficial to this proposal. As it happens, I am not trying to pass on responsibility, because that is not the purpose of the new clause. I have merely taken what the hon. Member for City of Chester tabled before, because that was a good proposal. However, I obviously take full responsibility for the new clause that I have tabled, and my hon. Friend is right to say that it would have been better with a timetable. I hope that, if new clause 3 is passed, pressure could be brought to bear on the Minister to speed things up in the usual way that we do in this House.

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I do not regard the absence of a date as in any way fatal to new clause 3, or as an argument against it, but for the benefit of those who have to implement it, I wonder whether my hon. Friend could guide them by specifying now in this debate, which they will read, whether he expects this to be done prior to commencement or in a progress report sometime later, and indeed whether he expects there to be a regular report produced every year or every couple of years?

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I think that it should be done as soon as is practical, and my hon. Friend is right to suggest that it should not just be a one-off. It should be something that the Cabinet Office does on an ongoing, regular basis. I am grateful to him for picking up on that particular flaw.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He is being remarkably generous with his time. I appreciate that we will not debate amendment 50 until later, but it is part of this grouping. In it, he talks about declarants wanting to vote “at a polling station”. New clause 3 talks about assessing ways in which overseas electors could participate in elections. In French presidential elections, overseas electors from France who are in the UK can physically turn up and cast their vote in a ballot box here. Is it his understanding that, as part of the assessment that he wants the Cabinet Office to carry out, it should consider the introduction of physical polling stations in overseas areas for overseas electors?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Obviously I will come on to my amendment 50 when I get to it. I do not really have a particularly strong opinion on whether such polling stations would be useful. It may well be that in areas with a large concentration of overseas voters, that might be more convenient for everybody and it might encourage turnout. I do not have a strong opinion on this, however. I am not necessarily disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman, but I would not want him to take it that I was necessarily agreeing with him either—

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Story of my life.

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I hope that he will accept that.

New clause 4 is again one of the hon. Member for City of Chester’s greatest hits. He proposed this in Committee, where he made these points:

“It is essential that there is appropriate evaluation and investigation of the effects of passing the Bill on the number of registered electors in each constituency. We must have a clear idea about the sheer volume of people we are enfranchising in order to establish the necessary procedure to register and deal with the inevitable administrative bedlam that will result from the change.”––[Official Report, Overseas Electors Public Bill Committee, 17 October 2018; c. 69.]

I want to cite some of the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave during that debate, because they were very interesting. He said:

“Under the 15-year rule, the number of registered overseas voters in the June 2017 general election reached just over 285,000, surpassing the December 2016 record. The Government have estimated that that is about 20% of eligible expats under the current 15-year limit, giving a potential electorate of around 1.4 million. Indeed, the figure has the potential to increase fivefold with the passing of the Bill. The number of overseas voters registering to vote has risen exponentially over the last 10 years and continues to rise. That can be attributed to the general increase in awareness by overseas voters about voter registration. Until 2015, the number of overseas voters registered to vote had never risen above 35,000.”––[Official Report, Overseas Electors Public Bill Committee, 17 October 2018; c. 70.]

I thought that that difference was quite telling. What made the seismic difference was the EU referendum in June 2016. I mentioned earlier the amount of work that was done in embassies around the world to try to encourage people to register for that referendum.

New clause 4 therefore has merit if we are to deal with the scale of the increase in numbers that we are talking about. I am not saying that I would press it to a vote, but I certainly think that it has merit and requires further consideration today, because the points that the hon. Member for City of Chester made in that debate were striking and something that we should all consider.

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That is a very interesting point, and I am quite staggered that 7 million people overseas could be enfranchised long term if the 15-year rule falls. That is very telling. Is it not true, in terms of my hon. Friend’s reflection on the EU referendum, that when the establishment wants to do something it will put its shoulder to the wheel and get it done? Is it not the case that with this Bill, should it come about, we will find a way to overcome any logistical issues?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is amazing what can be achieved when the Government and the powers that be set out their stall.

The point that the hon. Member for City of Chester was making, as I see it, was that this measure could make a big difference to elections in this country and ultimately elections could, and might well be, decided in future by people who do not live here. Is that something we want to see? People might well be happy for that to happen, but I brought the new clause back after the hon. Gentleman tabled it in Committee because I think that the people should at least properly consider whether they want to put in place legislation that could in effect mean that the deciding votes in elections in this country are cast by people who do not live here. What might people living here think about that? We need properly to consider it and to ensure that we are content before we go ahead with it. I brought the new clause back so that people could be aware and could think about whether that was what they really wanted to happen with elections in this country.

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Before we raise our sights to the question my hon. Friend has just raised, may I press him on the question of new clause 4(2)(c) and

“whether the current election timetables are of sufficient duration to enable the full participation of any increased numbers of overseas electors”?

I was not clear when I read it why there was any fear about this and why there might be any problem with timetabling. If we can get postal ballots out, I cannot see what the problem is that my hon. Friend is trying to address. Perhaps he could enlighten me.

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As I mentioned earlier on the new clauses, we have experience in this country of things being a bit of a shambles during elections, with people not being able to vote when they thought they were able to, with people not having time or with things not arriving in time. We have it at the moment. I am sure that like me—this happened at the last election—my hon. Friend must have had voters get in touch and said they did not receive their postal vote at all or in time for the election. That is the problem I envisage. It is just a general one, and the fact that we might have so many more people involved—the increased volume—means that it seems to me that the chances are we will have even more complaints. That is the purpose of new clause 4(2)(c).

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The most significant point about new clause 4(2)(c) is that electoral administrators themselves have expressed concerns about the timetable. I was very enthused to see it on the amendment paper, as we were unable to get it in Committee. We really ought to listen to the experts and make sure that the system is workable.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, and I do not disagree. It was a helpful point to make.

New clause 5—I am on a bit of a roll now—is another one that I have to thank the hon. Member for City of Chester for, as he prompted me to table it. When he tabled it in Committee, he said that the

“new clause requests a detailed report on the representation of overseas voters, including how they might be ‘represented by their MPs’ and ‘any additional demands that may be placed on MPs and their resources as a consequence of the provisions of this Act’.”

The guidance provided to MPs regarding constituency correspondence with expatriates is also vague, probably because there are not that many of them at the moment. The Bill does not define the responsibilities of Members of Parliament towards their overseas voters, and the assumption is that the current position and precedents will be maintained. The code of conduct says that Members of Parliament have a special duty to their constituents.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say:

“Given the Minister’s insistence…on treating overseas voters with the same importance as UK-based, domestic voters, there needs to be a…discussion about how best to achieve democratic representation”

before we open it up to many more people, and he asked:

“What assessment have the Government made of the representation of overseas voters by Members of this House?” ––[Official Report, Overseas Electors Public Bill Committee, 14 November 2018; c. 112-113.]

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Would my hon. Friend accept that some others in this House represent the views and interests of overseas voters, irrespective in some cases of whether they are constituents or not, and find that it does not place an intolerable burden on us? I am quite sure that my hon. Friend and his staff could manage.

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that point, and his first point is absolutely right. I do not think that anybody in this House does more to champion overseas voters than he does, and I pay tribute to him for what he has done over a sustained period of time. I will take his second point as a vote of confidence in me, and I am grateful to him for that.

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I am worried that my hon. Friend might be setting a dangerous precedent as regards the idea of measuring how well MPs represent any of their electorate; the idea of a scorecard is perhaps one that he might consider for the future.

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Certainly not. I think the best measure of our ability to represent our constituents is shown at an election by whether or not our electorate wish us to continue to represent them. That is the best scorecard I can think of.

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The hon. Gentleman is being exceptionally generous with his time. He has touched on the question of how MPs represent overseas electors as being quite important, but does he share my concern that if we have constituencies with an increased number of overseas electors putting burdens and strains on Members’ time, offices and staff, the ability of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to recognise those unique circumstances will be zero and we will spend most of our time battling with IPSA for the resources we need to do our job rather than actually doing it?

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The hon. Gentleman might be right. I am not one of those people who bashes IPSA; it has its job to do, it makes its decisions, and our job is frankly just to get on with whatever it determines. However, he might be right. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) is right that this largely would not be a problem. I accept that, but there might well be examples of a certain group meaning that the Bill affects certain constituencies a lot. I do not think it would affect mine, frankly, but it might have a disproportionate effect on others. One thing that IPSA finds it difficult to do is to deal with situations where there are different pressures in different areas. Things are usually done on a more across-the-board basis, understandably, but that can cause some problems, so on that basis the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central makes a fair point.

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Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), it seems to me that in new clause 5(2)(a) we are asking for something that is impossible, as it is simply a radically subjective measure. Is the Minister supposed to measure the turnaround time of correspondence, to look at a Member’s contributions in the Chamber or measure their eloquence? I am afraid that it simply seems impossible.

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I do not see it in those terms. I will accept that it is not particularly well drafted if that is the conclusion that my hon. Friend has drawn from it, but I do not see it measuring the success of MPs in that sense. I see it as more about whether constituents are getting the service that that MP provides to other constituents in the same way. I do not see this duty being placed on the Government or MPs in the same way as my hon. Friend does.

As for new clause 6, I appreciate that in a moment or so—

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Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy. How fitting it is, colleagues, that the Chamber is as well attended as it is at this time, on this very significant day—thank you. Colleagues, we shall now observe a minute’s silence in memory of those who died in the Westminster attack on 22 March 2017.

The House observed a minute’s silence.

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Colleagues, thank you. Thank you, also, to all present in the Palace of Westminster today who have joined in that very proper display of respect.

Proceedings interrupted (Standing Order No. 11(4)).