Clause 6 - Offences
Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight, Conservative)
I rise to support new clause 8, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, and amendment No. 9, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. However, I have some concerns about amendment No. 8. The first of them—whether it refers to one parliamentary constituency in Northern Ireland or in the United Kingdom—may be less important than the others, but it needs to be clarified.
I am sure that we all frequently grapple with the law on registration in our political lives, and it sometimes seems absurd to the layman. However, it is perfectly legal for someone to vote in two parliamentary by-elections held on the same day. As I understand matters, in Great Britain—certainly in England—it is possible for people to vote in two different local authorities in local government elections held on the same day. I am a little confused as to whether a local government area in Northern Ireland means a local authority or what we call a ward or county division.
It is clear that it is not possible in England for someone to vote twice in an election for one district, and amendment No. 9 would make that unlawful if not impossible in Northern Ireland. People can vote in elections for two different districts held on the same day, but cannot vote twice in an election for one district. Similarly, amendment No. 9 makes it unlawful for people to vote twice in a parliamentary general election, but not for them to vote in two parliamentary by-elections held on the same day.
It is tempting to head towards a ban on multiple registration altogether. It benefits some groups in the community unfairly, such as those fortunate enough to be able to afford a second home and to live in it as much as they live in the first. We are among those who benefit from that. It benefits students, who can register at home and at their place of study. It may be argued to disbenefit certain politicians in areas with high student populations or high numbers of holiday homes.
It is difficult, however, to say that multiple registration is wrong in Northern Ireland when it is permissible in Great Britain. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire suggested that it should be unlawful in Great Britain. That is another matter and requires another measure on another day. I support the Minister's view that we cannot have different qualifications for voting in different parts of the UK, which is why I find it hard to support amendment No. 8.