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Mr. Grieve: Persons who go abroad to serve international organisations--I have previously given the example of a person known to me--do not necessarily come back to this country afterwards. How does the right hon. Gentleman square that with the principles that he is trying to enunciate?

Mr. Kaufman: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea are too generous, I am ready to accept his strictures. When the Select Committee on National Heritage, as it then was, went to Barcelona, we found that our consul general intended to retire to that place. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that, if that were his choice, he should not have the vote any more, I agree. I thank him for being so acute in his political perception.

Mr. Grieve: It might be possible to argue that it should go the other way--that the distinctions that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to introduce between people working for international organisations and people who are abroad for business reasons are non-existent and that one should simply accept that those who wish to have the franchise when they are abroad should be allowed to have it.

Mr. Kaufman: I was not trying to introduce any distinctions whatever. I was commenting on what my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea had proposed.

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My amendment is the purest, most straightforward and most logical amendment that anyone could possibly table. It changes one figure for another with no exemptions. I was saying that, because I am flexible, good-natured, helpful and basically wish good will to most of my fellow men, I am ready to entertain the principle on which my hon. Friend was operating, but my amendment is clear.

I come--I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me--to an area where I disagree with him. Commendably, he has thought a great deal before introducing the "use it or lose it" concept, but that concept entrenches still further what I object to most about that franchise: it is a voluntary franchise, not a voluntary exercise of the franchise, which should be available to any citizen in a democracy. People choose whether to have it.

All the rest of us in this country are committing an offence if we do not register to vote. We do not have to vote once we have registered, but we are committing an offence if we do not register.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. Does his argument about the voluntary franchise and the distinction between that and a compulsory one mean that he is in favour of making it compulsory to vote?

Mr. Kaufman: Certainly not. I wish that it were compulsory to vote from one point of view: my puny majority of 17,000 would probably double. That is an attractive proposition, but I believe that democracy entitles people not to use the franchise, although I wish that they would, particularly if they are Labour voters. I am considering the fact that it is a voluntary franchise. People decide whether to take it up--they decide not whether to use it but whether to take up the right to have it.

6.45 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has sensibly made himself scarce. When we debated the matter on the previous occasion, he added up the monumental millions whom we would punish by depriving them of the vote, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea pointed out in the Standing Committee--just as I did the last time we voted--the figure is 13,000. This huge subject revolves around 13,000 people: the number who have decided to take up that option.

We are talking not about democracy as a right but about democracy as an option. I do not believe that the vote is an option. Either people are entitled to it or they are not. Although I disagree strongly with Conservative Members about the matter, there might be an argument that it should be granted in perpetuity, rather than being time-limited. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) talked about a compromise between 20 years and nil. I am not a compromiser on the issue. I want nil.

My five is there to chop the period down still further. The reason why I propose five is that, except in unusual circumstances, it would mean that someone qualifying for the franchise would be able to exercise it once. I would be ready reluctantly to accept that, but the 10-year period, which the Government, with sentimental generosity, have decided to abide by, will allow someone to vote in three

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general elections. There were three general elections between 1979 to 1987. That is a great deal more than is acceptable.

I am not going to divide the House against the Government. They know that I will not do so because I am subservient to their wishes on most occasions, but I have to tell the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office that I am looking forward to a response in which he says that, on the basis of the way in which the measure operates, he will consider in a future Bill whether he can reduce the period to five years.

I intend to stay in the House for a very long time. I assure my hon. Friend that, in Parliament after Parliament, I shall table amendments on the matter. I warned Ministers early in this Parliament that it was one of my obsessive interests. I do not let my obsessive interests rest, whether they be related to the film "Singin' in the Rain" or to the overseas franchise.

Mr. Wilshire: I warm to a man of courage, conviction and principles. Why on this occasion is the right hon. Gentleman not prepared to push his convictions, which he holds so strongly, to a vote, and to stand up for what he believes in?

Mr. Kaufman: Before I finish--I have spoken for too long--I shall tell the House of a conversation that I had with Denis Healey. His full name is Denis Winston Healey. I asked him how he came to be called Winston. He said, "I was born during the first world war and my father was a great admirer of Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty. He gave me the name Winston because of his huge admiration for Winston Churchill. He did it as a gesture." I said, "But Denis, if your father admired Winston Churchill so much, why did he not call you Winston Healey?" He said, "Hell. A gesture is a gesture." That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Stunell: It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).

I shall speak primarily in support of amendment No. 180, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), not Gorton, but I have added my name to two of the new clauses that have been proposed by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton)--5 and 7--and I find myself in considerable sympathy with some of the others. That perhaps shows, as the hon. Gentleman said, that an all-party view that something needs to be done is at least beginning to emerge. The Government may take the view that some of the shells have landed somewhat randomly, but the fact that they have been bracketed by a variety of amendments shows perhaps that some progress could be made to the advantage of the Bill, as well as to the groups of British citizens about whom we are concerned.

Amendment No. 180 was, in essence, drafted at the Committee stage, before it broke into the parallel universe of the new clauses created by the hon. Member for Battersea. To a large extent, it overlaps his new clauses. Without repeating all the arguments that he deployed, let me say that the intention is to ensure that we provide not

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only a continuing benefit for those who work in international institutions, but a benefit to the UK. Amendment No. 180 defines such international institutions as

    any organisation set up pursuant to any treaty or convention of which the United Kingdom is for the time being a signatory.

It would therefore remove doubt and ambiguity in defining such organisations and make the relevant definition sufficiently wide.

The hon. Member for Battersea touched on the matter of the benefits that might accrue to the United Kingdom from extending the franchise to the employees of such organisations, but I should like to expand on those benefits. There are not only many such organisations but, in many cases, treaties require that United Kingdom citizens comprise part of those organisations' staff and provide support to those organisations.

More to the point, there is a very strong UK interest in our playing an active part in those organisations. That interest is not only wide ranging, but potentially long lasting. Through our participation in them, we may gain not only diplomatic advantage but perhaps economic and even linguistic and cultural advantage. Those benefits should not be thrown away.

As the hon. Member for Battersea said, we may lose those benefits in two ways. They might be lost, first, if we were to inhibit the participation of UK citizens in those bodies. People might be reluctant to play a part in those organisations if they were forced to forgo the wider benefits of United Kingdom citizenship.

Secondly, the issue of disengagement from the United Kingdom could affect people currently working in such organisations and those who will one day work in them. The popular description of people who have been affected by disengagement is that they have "gone native". In many organisations, people can go native pretty quickly, and the Government might think that, for the general benefit of the United Kingdom, it is worthwhile trying to slow down that process.

The case for amendment No. 180, therefore, is based not simply on the rights and obligations of citizens working for such organisations, but on the United Kingdom's pure self-interest as a player on the international stage. Such a realpolitik argument may appeal to the Government, even if other arguments fall on deaf ears.

Some of the other amendments in this group address broader issues which Ministers should consider. It is sensible to allow family members of people working overseas to vote at 18, allowing them essentially to get on the bottom step of the escalator of our democratic process. Those people are expected to move, if not involuntarily, certainly without resistance. I should think that such a proposal could not be criticised on the basis that those people will subsequently become perfidious donators to United Kingdom political parties and undermine democracy in the United Kingdom. The issue is one of ensuring that they are able to develop roots in and links with the United Kingdom and to exercise their United Kingdom citizenship.

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