Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Dame Marion Roe DBE, Member of Parliament for Broxbourne 1983-2005 (PVSCB 29)

  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 reasons:


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 citizens[42] 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 by others?

      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 reply.

  4.  The response from the Office for National Statistics stated:

    ONS does not hold specific data on the number of Commonwealth citizens or Republic of Ireland citizens registered to vote.

  5.   This is an odd reply when the motto of the ONS is, "Trusted statistics—Understanding 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 participate—or to stand—in 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 political status.

  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 2009.

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 any difficulty.

  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[43]

  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 Commonwealth—our Family of Nations—and 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 situation.


A.   Photo-identity at the polling station

  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 signatures—as 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 application.

  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 own country.

  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 the world.

  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 countries".

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 ago. Back

43   The British Commonwealth was renamed the Commonwealth of Nations in 1949. Back

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