Written evidence submitted by Dame Marion
Roe DBE, Member of Parliament for Broxbourne 1983-2005 (PVSCB
I wish to submit my view to the Committee that
only British Citizens should be eligible to vote in the Referendum
on the Alternative Voting System proposed in the Bill. Any decision
to alter the process of electing the political party which will
govern the United Kingdom should lie soley with the citizens of
the United Kingdom, without the intervention from citizens from
other countries around the world.
I have come to this conclusion for the following
A. The proposal on "who votes"
in the referendum
1. The reply received to the Written Parliamentary
Question put to the Minister, Mark Harper MP by Graham Brady MP
on 26 July 2010, asking if he would bring forward proposals to
provide that only British citizens may vote in referendums stated:
The Government has no plans to restrict the franchise
for referendums in general so that only British citizens are eligible
to vote. Although the legal requirements for referendums are set
out in the Political Parties and Referendums Act 2000, the question
of who is entitled to vote in any particular referendum will be
considered and determined in the light of the subject matter of
that referendum. The franchise for the referendum on the Alternative
Vote System is set out in the Parliamentary Voting System and
Constituencies Bill, which the Government published on Thursday
22 July. Anyone who is entitled to vote in Westminster Parliamentary
elections will be entitled to vote in the referendum; this means
that British, Republic of Ireland and qualifying Commonwealth
who are aged over 18 and who are registered to vote in parliamentary
elections can vote in the referendum. In addition, those members
of the House of Lords who are eligible to vote in local or European
parliamentary elections will be eligible to vote in this referendum.
2. The question that would rise automatically
on this issue is, how many Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth
citizens are deemed to be resident in the United Kingdom and are,
therefore, entitled to vote in Britain currently and how many
are registered on the electoral rolls throughout the UK? Are their
names systematically removed from the electoral register when
they (eg students/specified-term workers) return to their own
countries, thus preventing possible postal or proxy vote fraud
3. The reply received to the Written Parliamentary
Question put to the Minister, Nick Hurd MP on Monday 26 July 2010,
by Graham Brady MP asking what recent estimate he has made of
the number of citizens of (a) Commonwealth countries and (b) the
Republic of Ireland on the electoral register, stated:
The information requested falls within the responsibility
of the UK Statistics Authority. I have asked the Authority to
4. The response from the Office for National
ONS does not hold specific data on the number
of Commonwealth citizens or Republic of Ireland citizens registered
5. This is an odd reply when the motto
of the ONS is, "Trusted statisticsUnderstanding the
UK", particularly when in the Spring of 2008, Lord Goldsmith
QC, the Labour Attorney-General, published a paper on Citizenship
Review entitled, Citizenship: Our common bond, in which
he stated the following (on pages 75-6):
14. "Voting is all elections, along
with holding a passport, is the ultimate badge of citizenship.
That view is reflected in the rules of most other countries around
the world which do not permit anyone but citizens to participateor
to standin national or often even local elections.
15. Clearly in the UK we do not have the
same clarity around the significance of citizenship. Those other
than UK citizens may vote in UK elections, ie Commonwealth and
Irish citizens, as well as citizens of other EU member states.
Hence citizens are not distinguished from other in terms of their
16. Of course, there are very clear reasons
why this is true for citizens of EU member states. The issue of
voting rights in European and local elections across the EU is
an element of a common European citizenship. I do not propose
that this is re-examined.
17. However, I do propose that government
gives consideration to making a clear connection between citizenship
and the right to vote by limiting in principle the right to vote
in Westminster elections to UK citizens. This would recognise
that the right to vote is one of the hallmarks of the political
status of citizens; it is not a means of expressing closeness
between countries. Ultimately, it is right in principle not to
give the right to vote to citizens of other countries living in
the UK until they become UK citizens.
18. Turning citizenship into a more explicit
statement of political membership in this way will also provide
a clearer rationale for why acquisition should be marked by a
ceremony or depend on learning about life in the UK".
6. Naturally, under Lord Goldsmith's recommendations,
Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens would not be eligible
to vote in referendums, EU citizens would not qualify either.
B. Hidden Data
1. Bearing in mind the recommendations of
Lord Goldsmith QC in 2008, why did the Electoral Commission or
the Office for National Statistics not immediately set out to
discover the numbers of Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens
involved, ie (a) the approximate number of Commonwealth or Republic
of Ireland citizens living, working or studying in the UK, who
were eligible to register on the UK electoral rolls and (b) the
exact number that had done so at a specific date, eg 1 January
2. This exercise would have been very simple.
Nowadays, following a speech I made in Westminster Hall on 5 May
2004 on "The integrity of the electoral register", there
is a "nationality" column on every householder voter
application form that is sent to the parliamentary constituency
electoral registration officer. There is, therefore, a computer
record held by each constituency ERO throughout the UK on the
nationality of every voter on the electoral register. This practice
is essential in order to identify EU citizens who can only vote
in local government and EU elections.
3. Under the Freedom of Information Act,
I have ascertained the numbers of British, Commonwealth, Republic
of Ireland and EU citizens on the electoral registers in certain
parliamentary constituency areas of the UK. For example, at the
beginning of 2010 in Birmingham, there were 24,760 Commonwealth
citizens on the electoral roll, 17,930 in Croydon, 15,694 in Greenwich,
13,243 in Westminster and 10,966 in Leeds.
4. There is no doubt, therefore, that the
Electoral Commission or the ONS can discover the figures relating
to British, Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland, EU citizens registered
to vote in each Westminster parliamentary constituency for the
whole of the United Kingdom for a specific date, say polling day
for the 2010 general election or the 31 October 2010, without
The question that must be asked is why the numbers
of citizens from other countries voting in all UK elections, general,
local government and sending representatives to the European Parliament
are kept hidden? Perhaps the members of the Political and Constitueional
Reform Committee could request that this information is put into
the public domain? This would counter any possible claims that
the British public is being hoodwinked into believing that they
are alone electing the government that rules at Westminster or
making decisions through a referendum which would affect the future
democratic format for electing a national government. There is
no doubt that the vast majority of the British people are totally
unaware of the intervention of a large number of citizens from
other countries in electing the UK government at a general election.
5. One must remember that Commonwealth and
Republic of Ireland citizens are also able to vote in elections
and referendums in their own countries, as well as in every election
in the UK.
C. Commonwealth Citizens
1. There are 54 Commonwealth countries,
including the UK. This means that, at the moment, citizens from
53 countries around the world, living, working or studying in
the UK have the right to vote in all our elections and in the
referendum proposal to change our democratic infrastructure by
introducing the Alternative Vote System, even though some of them
have only arrived in the UK recently and cannot speak English
very well, let alone understand our democratic procedures. Between
April and June 2010 official figures published by the ONS at the
beginning of August 2010, showed that over 51,000 Commonwealth
citizens started work in the UK.
2. Of the 53 Commonwealth countries, two
have had no colonial connections with the UK in the past (Mozambique
Portugese and Rwanda Belgian). Some might even argue that the
Cameroons also have a significant French history! At the bi-annual
Summit in Uganda in November 2007, five other nations, including
two former French colonies, expressed interest in joining the
Commonwealth: Algeria, Cambodia, Yemen, Sudan, Israel and the
Palestinian Territories. Will citizens from all these countries
be able to vote in all elections and referendums in the UK as
well in the future?
3. In the speech I made in Westminster Hall
on "The integrity of the electoral register" on 5 May
2004, I drew attention to the fact that only 14 out of 53 Commonwealth
countries offered reciprocal arrangements for British citizens
to vote in their countries. They are mostly islands in the West
Indies: Barbados, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St
Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Domenica, Grenada,
Guyana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa. Even citizens
from countries that have been suspended from the Commonwealth
are still entitled to vote in the UK.
4. For example, in reality, this means that,
if I were an Australian citizen, I could come to the UK, buy/rent
a property or reside with family/friends, add my name within months
to the electoral register, through the rolling register system,
and start adding my vote and influence on which political parties
govern at local, mayoral, general and European elections, and
as it would appear within the Bill, participate in a referendum
on the UK voting system. However, I as a British citizen, could
not go to Australia and vote on the same basis, as there is no
reciprocal arrangement. The same applies to the remaining 38 British
Commonwealth countries: Canada, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya
etc, I cannot vote there either. It also seems bizarre that Commonwealth
citizens are permitted to vote in European Parliamentary elections,
choosing the UK representatives in Europe!
5. I think that the vast majority of our
Commonwealth cousins are displaying very clearly that they believe
the umbilical cord with the Mother Country has been cut in this
respect and that we should accept that this is their desire.
6. In fact, I fully sympathise with their
view on this matter. I am a strong supporter of the Commonwealthour
Family of Nationsand the role that our Commonwealth cousins
play within the Organisation and on the international stage, a
family of independent nations and equal partners working to a
common set of values, many originating from our historic past.
7. However, in the 21st century I think
that it would be inconceivable to suggest that Commonwealth citizens
from all over the world should have the right to vote in elections
and referendums in every other Commonwealth country where they
may be living, working or studying. This would totally undermine
the right of the citizens of each independent country to determine
which political party governed them in the best interests of their
country. Their citizens' voice would be muffled by such an intervention
and I would consider it to be a breach of the meaning of true
democracy. As Lord Goldsmith said, "Voting in all elections,
along with holding a passport, is the ultimate badge of citizenship.
That view is reflected in the rules of most other countries around
the world which do not permit anyone but citizens to participate,
or to stand, in national or often even local elections".
8. Is it not time to consider that this
outdated relic from British's Empire and colonial past, which
enables Commonwealth citizens to vote in all UK elections or referendums,
should be removed?
9. Surely, British citizens should enjoy
the same rights that Commonwealth citizens enjoy in their own
countries during a referendum which is posing significant questions
that refer to the future administration of the democratic process,
the results could have serious implications for the political
stability of the British nation in the long term?
D. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland
1. Because of the Consolidated Act under
the Representation of the People Act 1983, citizens of the Irish
Republic can vote in the UK and a reciprocal arrangement exists
for British citizens to vote in the Republic of Ireland, subject
to a residential qualification of three months.
2. It must be remembered that the Republic of
Ireland is a Member State of the EU and their citizens, therefore,
would always have the automatic right to vote in local government
and European elections in the UK.
3. It should also be remembered that the
Good Friday Agreement confirms the right of the people of Northern
Ireland to take British or Irish citizenship or both. Anyone who
exercises their right under the Agreement to identify themselves
as Irish and to take up Irish citizenship should not lose their
right to vote in Westminster elections as a result of any change
made to restrict voting rights to UK citizens.
4. Subject to the above, I still feel that
our Irish friends would understand why I believe that only British
citizens should vote in a referendum relating to proposals that
would change the UK democratic infrastructure. However, it would
be interesting to research whether British citizens have been
eligible to vote in referendums in the Republic of Ireland in
the past. This could give a guide on how our Irish friends have
handled this type of issue and how the UK should now respond to
this question. I therefore, raise the query that consideration
should be given to the honourable way to proceed in this particular
A. Photo-identity at the polling
1. I believe that it is vital that on Polling
Day, whether for an election or a referendum, photo-identity should
be shown by every voter before they are handed a ballot paper,
in order to prevent personation.
2. This policy already exists in Northern Ireland
and as a result, has established greater confidence in the election
results in that corner of the UK. If this policy operates successfully
in one part of the country then why is it not covering the rest
of the UK? If one collects a letter or parcel from a Royal Mail
sorting office because, for one reason or another, it could not
be delivered to the addressee, one has to show photo-identity
before the item is handed over to the person collecting it. If
this policy is in place to secure that the correct person receives
a letter or a parcel, surely a ballot paper is just as precious
and precautions should be installed to ensure that the legitimate
voter uses it.
3. The Bill relating to a referendum should ensure
that only those entitled to vote on the proposals should receive
a ballot paper and that there is no opportunity for fraud.
B. Individual voter registration application
form to be submitted to the electoral registration officer
1. It is vital that legislation is introduced
as soon as possible for the householder voter registration form
to be replaced by an individual voter registration form with six
identifiers: name, address, date of birth, nationality, National
Insurance number and signaturesas now practised in Northern
Ireland. In order to prevent serious fraud at all elections (as
well as at a referendum) there should be no delay in implementing
this proposed legislation.
2. For any citizen who is not British, there
should be a column for their passport number and place of birth,
so that appropriate checks can be made on the validity of the
3. One has read of many complaints in the
national newspapers of alleged fraud concerning people voting
who are not eligible or do not exist, which demonstrates that
this issue needs to be addressed urgently in order to restore
confidence in election results throughout the UK. The speech that
I made on 5 May 2004, relating to the "Integrity of the electoral
register" and the subsequent written evidence that I have
given to the former Constitutional Affairs Select Committee in
their later inquiry on this issue provides plenty of evidence
that this is an urgent matter.
1. The good sense of the British people
in the past has guaranteed that we have not had a dictator for
over 350 years in our country, Cromwell was our last dictator,
nor have we engaged in violent revolution during that time. Long
may that last!
2. Our choice of our democratic infrastructure
has served our country well over hundreds of years ensuring that
we live in an environment that values and supports freedom of
speech, as well as reasoned argument and political challenge.
Peoples from all parts of the world respect our tolerant society
and some may even wish that they could enjoy the same in their
3. If any part of our democratic system
is to be reviewed and changed, it is my contention that it must
be the citizens of the UK alone who should be consulted in a referendum.
It is they who should decide if a new approach is in the best
interests of the UK, nobody else. History reveals that the British
have "got it right" over centuries on how the elections
of governments are organised and respected and, therefore, they
should be given the opportunity to cast their votes in this referendum
without the intervention of citizens from other countries around
4. I believe that our Commonwealth cousins
will understand this desire and will realise that this is not
intended as a slight against their goodwill towards Britain nor
their contribution to our country in many ways, this is not a
denigration of their status in British minds, they are viewed
with deep affection, which our sporting links emphasise constantly.
However, I believe that many will recognise "fair play"
on this special and unusual occasion of a referendum in the UK
and will, I hope, acknowledge the argument.
5. As reasonable people, I trust that the
vast majority of Commonwealth citizens will appreciate that the
rights that they enjoy in their own countries should also be available
to British citizens in the UK.
6. A final quote from Lord Goldsmith, "...
the right to vote is one of the hallmarks of the political status
of citizens; it is not a means of expressing closeness between
10 September 2010
42 Qualifying means not requiring leave to enter or
remain in the United Kingdom, or having been granted it. Commonwealth
citizens are entitled to vote in all UK elections under the Representation
of the People Act 1983, placed on the statute book nearly 30 years
The British Commonwealth was renamed the Commonwealth of Nations
in 1949. Back