Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. Barnes: Even in Afghanistan I believe it would be possible to register people in the party.

Mr. Robinson: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the position in Northern Ireland, but I am multiple registered in a constituency in London. That was in the past few weeks. It is a seat held by a Labour Member, so it is possible for that to occur. I will make sure that I vote at least once in the next council election here and in Northern Ireland.

The issue is clear. The only benefit is for the purposes of carrying out an activity that the Committee would not consider legitimate. The Minister could therefore have gone a little further in agreeing that not only the dissemination, but the recording of that information, should be made an offence. However, even if I won a vote, which is an unlikely experience in this Committee, I recognise that in its existing terms the new clause would put inappropriate wording into the legislation. I will not therefore push it, but I may consider at a later stage putting it in the form that the Minister suggests.

I was remiss in not commenting on the second new clause in my name, which relates to marked registers, but thankfully the hon. Member for South Down helped me out. Here again, I must ask whether mischief is being caused by the publication of a marked register. What are the corresponding benefits that would make it worth while not to make the changes suggested in the amendment? I have not received much enlightenment. The Minister said that it would prove that the poll was conducted in a proper manner. I just wonder. How many of those who purchased the marked register in Northern Ireland did so to determine whether the poll had been conducted in a proper manner? We are fooling ourselves if we believe that is what is happening.

The marked register is undoubtedly being used for the purposes outlined fairly graphically by the hon. Member for South Down and again emphasised by the hon. Member for Reigate. It shows the people who tend not to come out to vote. They are the easy targets, because other people can take their vote as there is not much chance of them having been out earlier and voted. There is also less chance of being caught. Some other changes would make it more difficult for people to personate. Nevertheless there is no valid reason why political parties need to have the marked register.

I heard the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) tell the Minister from a sedentary position that she used the marked register. She did not say how she used it. I am sure that it was to encourage people who did not vote to do so the next time. I would not feel too intimidated if the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) came to my door to urge me to vote if I had not done so before. However, I might feel more intimidated if a fellow in a hood came to my door and told me that I had not voted last time, but I might like to consider doing so on the next occasion.

Although there is a strong case for the measure, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Procedure on close of poll

    `(1) Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 (parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.

    (2) In rule 43 (procedure on close of poll), after paragraph (2), there is inserted—

    ``(2A) The marked copies of the register of electors and of the list of proxies shall be returned to the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland and shall not be made available to any member of the public.''.'.—[Mr. Peter Robinson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 9.

Division No. 5]

AYES
Robinson, Mr. Peter

NOES
Barnes, Mr. Harry
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Farrelly, Paul
McIsaac, Shona
Merron, Gillian
Munn, Ms Meg
Purnell, James
Salter, Mr. Martin
Stringer, Mr. Graham

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 6

Voters: specified documents

    `(1) From 1st April 2003, paragraph (1E) of rule 37 of the parliamentary election rules applicable to elections in Northern Ireland, imported into schedule 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 by section 1(2) of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 1985 (c.2), is amended in accordance with sub-section (2).

    (2) Sub-paragraphs (a) to (g) are omitted and the following are inserted:

    ``(a) the plastic photographic card which is, or forms the counterpart of, a current licence to drive a motor vehicle;

    (b) a current passport issued by the Government of the United Kingdom or by the Government of the Republic of Ireland;

    (c) a senior citizen's concessionary fare pass issued by the Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development;

    (d) a current electoral identity card issued under section 13C of this Act.''.'.—[Mr. Blunt.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Division No. 6]

AYES
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Hayes, Mr. John
Robertson, Hugh
Turner, Mr. Andrew

NOES
Barnes, Mr. Harry
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Farrelly, Paul
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
McIsaac, Shona
Merron, Gillian
Munn, Ms Meg
Purnell, James
Salter, Mr. Martin
Stringer, Mr. Graham

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Mr. Browne: I am mindful that the hon. Members present may be the only people in Parliament who are still working, and I am anxious not to detain them any longer than necessary. However, it would be remiss of me to allow the proceedings to close without saying a few words—and they will be very few.

On behalf of the Committee, I thank you, Mr. Amess, for the humorous and helpful manner in which you have presided over the proceedings. I also thank the people who have assisted you, and Mr. Hood. The Committee is grateful to those who have recorded the proceedings and guided hon. Members in relation to procedure.

6.45 pm

I also wish to record my appreciation of the manner in which the debate has been conducted, especially as it dealt with a complex issue. That has been of considerable assistance. All hon. Members will leave the Committee better informed.

I was glad that I was present on the one occasion when the hon. Member for Belfast, East had the opportunity to say no, but was the only person in the Committee to say aye. I look forward to re-engaging on these issues on the Floor of the House in the not too distant future.

Mr. Blunt: I associate the Opposition with the Minister's remarks and express gratitude to him for the way in which he conducted proceedings. I hope that he continues in that vein when the Bill is on Report and Third Reading. I am sorry that we are here at a quarter to seven. If the majority had been persuaded by my timetable motion, we would by now be well home.

Mr. McGrady: I also thank you, Mr. Amess, and all your staff for the help that has been provided to me and my party during our consideration of the Bill. I thank the Minister and his predecessors and those who are here from Northern Ireland for their help in formulating amendments, which I found confusing even after they were formulated—but that is another story. I thank all the members of the Committee for their participation and their kindness to me during the debate.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Not as a matter of form but as a genuine desire, I express my thanks to you, Mr. Amess, and to Mr. Hood in his absence, for your excellent chairmanship of the Committee. I, too, thank the Minister and all his officials for their assistance over the period leading up to our Committee sittings and for the information with which they provided us during those four sittings. The Minister has taught us well; I am not sure whether that will be altogether to his advantage when the next stage of the Bill reaches the Chamber, as we will go there better informed as to his position on the issues and as to the factual position—if, indeed, there is a difference between the two.

The Chairman: I thank hon. Members for their kind and generous remarks. I thank the Committee for its indulgence as I fluffed my lines on many occasions, and for keeping in good order. I thank all the staff but, most of all, I thank our Clerk for his wisdom and guidance.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

        Committee rose at twelve minutes to Seven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Blunt, Mr.
Browne, Mr.
Farrelly, Paul
Hayes, Mr.
McGrady, Mr.
McIsaac, Shona
Merron, Gillian
Munn, Ms
Öpik, Lembit
Purnell, James
Robertson, Hugh
Robinson, Mr. Peter
Salter, Mr.
Stringer, Mr.
Turner, Mr. Andrew

 
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Prepared 18 October 2001