“I share your anger. I can’t think of a better illustration of how broken our politics is.”

One thing I think we can say for certain about our Deputy Prime Minister is that understatement is definitely not his style.

4.30 pm

The problems experienced on 6 May 2010 did not illustrate a broken politics, as the Deputy Prime Minister suggested, but they do illustrate a need to change the law to make sure that this never happens again. I hope and believe that Members of all parties will recognise that and support new clause 4. Given its cross-party

27 Jun 2012 : Column 367

elements and cross-party support for its provisions, I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister and his Government will feel able to fulfil at least one of his promised to his constituents. I conclude on that note and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute. I rise with some trepidation to debate “clause 4”, but it nevertheless has my wholehearted support. I want to provide a few anecdotes in support of the new clause. In my view, the issues it deals with are not confined to the last general election, as they have been going on for many years. On the basis of experience of fighting elections in my part of London over 38 years, I know that turnout will double between the opening of the poll and 6 o’clock in the evening and the period after that until the close of the poll.

In my part of the world, many people travel long distances or have small shops that they keep open for quite extended hours. At the conclusion of their work, they travel back and join long queues to seek to exercise their right to vote. This is not confined to one or two polling stations, as it applies to many. This has been a problem for a long time.

The 2004 London mayoral election and the European elections were held on the same day, causing dramatic confusion in polling stations and leading to serious problems, with long queues forming—certainly in my neck of the woods. Some people were confused about what they were voting for, but the need to issue them with large numbers of ballot papers caused extensive delays.

In the London mayoral elections of 2008, the number of Londoners wanting to vote for Boris Johnson as Mayor and to kick out Ken Livingstone was so overwhelming that it led to huge queues in polling stations, particularly in areas where large turnouts were not expected, causing further problems. In the general election of 2010, because of the activities of both political parties—certainly in my constituency—people regularly had to queue for an hour to exercise their votes during the day.

The presiding officer has discretion over what constitutes a polling station. If it is a Portakabin, it is fairly straightforward, but if it is a school the question arises of where the polling station begins and ends—is it the school gates or the school hall? That causes further consternation.

The key point is this, however. When people are keen to go to the polling station to express their views by voting, it is vital for them to be able to get there and to queue for however long it takes for the ballot papers to be issued, and for however long it takes those ahead of them in the queue who have also sought to be there validly before the 10 pm watershed to register their own votes. I can think of nothing more frustrating for someone who has travelled a long distance back from work, has arrived at home, has said “Oh yes, I must go and register my vote”, has reached the polling station at 9.45 pm, and has joined the queue than to be denied his or her vote because the queue is so long, and to be told by the presiding officer “Very sorry; you arrived too late.” We can imagine the reactions of people who have travelled long distances or closed their shops quite late in the day in order to go and vote.

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The problem has been raised with me many times in connection with polling stations in north-west London. I think it important for us to set in stone in the Bill that if someone has reached the polling station, validly, before 10 pm and is in the queue, that person’s vote will be recorded. I do not think it acceptable for presiding officers throughout the country to be able to interpret the position in different ways. If a presiding officer says “According to my watch it is 9.59 pm so I shall allow you to vote, although the time is actually 10.10 pm”, that is not a valid way of operating.

It cannot be right that elections could be won or lost on the basis of a presiding officer’s judgment of what the time is. That is clearly not what Parliament wants, or what the people want. What we want is absolute clarity, so that there is the minimum wriggle room for a presiding officer in the interpretation of the rules and the maximum capability for people to register their votes validly in the way that they wish.

Bob Stewart: Does my hon. Friend agree that presiding officers should be given a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to deciding exactly where their polling station is, and should have enough flexibility to be able to say “In the interests of democracy, I should make this decision”, or does he believe that the legislation should be so prescriptive that it lays down in black and white exactly what should happen? I tend to think that it would be quite good for the presiding officer to have a bit of wriggle room, and to have a say in what should happen when unforeseen circumstances occur.

Bob Blackman: I ask my hon. Friend to imagine this scenario. A person gets home late, arrives at the polling station, parks in the school car park and dashes through the doors of the school at 9.59 pm, but of course the polling station is in a hall further on. The person then gets lost because the signage is not good enough, or, worse still, is misdirected and goes to the wrong polling station, because there is often more than one in the same building. Whose fault is that? It is the person’s fault, because he or she is the voter.

Such questions are difficult, but what is clear is that the law should say that if the voter has arrived in the polling station, or in the queue at the polling station, his or her vote should be recorded. What should not happen is that a person arrives at the place where the ballot papers are issued, only to be told “I am sorry, but it is one minute past 10 and we have closed the polling station, so you are not allowed to vote”—although the person has been in the polling station and validly queuing for 15 or 20 minutes, or perhaps even half an hour. That is what needs to be clarified. There should be the minimum discretion in that respect, but the maximum discretion for the voter.

Mrs Laing: I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s description of the incident that might occur. I should make it clear to the Committee that new clause 4 is not intended to help someone who runs into a polling station at one minute to 10. Each individual has a responsibility to leave enough time in which to find the polling station. The new clause is intended to help people who arrive at the polling station at 10 minutes to 10 thinking that they have plenty of time, but, as a result of some incident that then occurs—there may, for

27 Jun 2012 : Column 369

instance, be too many people or bad organisation—the ballot paper is not issued at 10 minutes to 10. I think my hon. Friend would agree that that is quite an important distinction.

Bob Blackman: I agree. The most important thing is that people who have arrived at the polling station well before the time deadline and have formed a queue and are waiting for their ballot papers to be issued should be allowed to register their vote.

We are not only talking about general elections. In 2014, for example, there will be European and local elections, probably on the same day. There are often multiple elections, and further problems can arise in such circumstances. In a general election, turnout tends to be high, of course, but these problems can occur even in local elections, when turnout is lower. We, as democrats, must seek to ensure that people are given the optimal opportunity to register their votes.

It is often not appreciated that we have huge numbers of differentials in elections, in that different people are entitled to vote in different elections. In the 2010 elections, in my constituency 10% of the voting population were from eastern Europe and were not eligible to vote in the general election but were eligible to vote in the local elections. That caused substantial confusion at certain polling stations, particularly later in the day. People were arguing about whether they should have a ballot paper. That can add to delays in issuing ballot papers to others, so people who have left sufficient time to cast their votes can find that they are not issued with ballot papers. That is fundamentally wrong. I want us to give a strong steer in law to returning officers about what they should do in such circumstances, and there should be the minimum of discretion for interpretation.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Sadly, in the 6 May 2010 elections my constituency was seriously affected by events that were similar to those that unfolded in other constituencies, and people were, understandably, very upset. I am a strong supporter of new clause 4, therefore. As there is cross-party support for it, I hope the Government will agree to add it to the Bill.

Three elections were taking place in Hackney South and Shoreditch on that day. Our elected mayor was up for re-election, and we had the local council elections and the general election. As a result there were three different ballot papers, each of a different type. One required electors to vote for three individuals, the general election was a first-past-the-post election with one vote to be cast, and there was a preferential system for the mayoral elections. That sometimes required some explaining. Hackney has learned lessons from that experience, which I shall discuss later.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) suggested that general elections should always be held as stand-alone elections. I disagree. Although we are all democrats and are fond, especially in this House, of people voting, we have seen in respect of the timing of the European elections, which are usually held a month after the May elections, that it can be difficult to persuade people that it is in their interests to come out and vote twice in quick succession. There is also a huge additional cost attached to holding elections

27 Jun 2012 : Column 370

at separate times when they could be doubled up. There is therefore much sense in holding elections at the same time.

Of the six polling stations that were affected in the borough of Hackney five were in my constituency: the Ann Tayler children’s centre, which experienced some of the worst problems, the Trinity centre, St John the Baptist primary school in Hoxton, the Comet day nursery, and Our Lady and St Joseph Roman Catholic primary school in De Beauvoir. Those polling stations did not have a huge number of electors, however. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) suggested some polling stations were over-optimistic and covered a larger number of electors than they could cope with, but that was not the case in Hackney. In my constituency, in each instance the total number was less than 2,500, which falls well within the tolerance levels.

In some polling stations there had been queues at other times of the day, but by about 9 o’clock—and certainly by 9.15 or 9.30—there were serious issues. One extra staff member was deployed at the Ann Tayler centre at 9 pm, where there were particular problems, but, a whole hour before the close of polling, that was not enough to deal with the scale of the difficulty or the queues. That is why I will discuss what Hackney council has done more generally to try to solve this problem.

4.45 pm

Any estimate of the number of those affected is just an estimate, because some people went home disappointed and may never have told us about their problems. However, between 200 and 300 people seem to have been affected at these six polling stations, the vast majority of whom were at the Ann Tayler centre, where 134 people were turned away. A small protest took place. Happily, there was no violence, but there was a sit-in by some of the electors who were, understandably, very frustrated that they had not been able to exercise their democratic vote.

Of course the presiding officers were approaching the returning officer for advice, and the only advice that could be given was that where someone did not have a ballot paper, they could not vote. I will not repeat all the excellent arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, but clearly that advice makes no sense. After all, these people were in the polling station, which is quite a big one. There is a long distance between where people enter the building and the actual polling booths, as there is at Our Lady and St Joseph. It made no sense to those people that they lost their vote and they were understandably very upset.

Hackney’s handling of the situation did raise some issues. I was impressed that the returning officer gave up some of the money he normally receives; returning officers, as chief executives, get extra money for managing elections. He acknowledged the errors, and I give him credit for doing so. He met me—I believe on the Monday after the election—to put up his hands and say, “We got some things wrong and this is what we are now doing to resolve them.” From the moment that the election problems started, he began planning for the next set of elections.

The returning officer has introduced changes, for which I give him credit. He is increasing the number of staff recruited who are trained and accredited properly

27 Jun 2012 : Column 371

to work on elections. He has been looking outside the town hall as well, to bring in Hackney residents, and has been overwhelmed with people’s interest in participating in our democratic process. That is a good thing. He is also increasing the number of polling stations, doubling the number of some stations and limiting the number of electors per station—my hon. Friend said that that was important. He is also allocating more staff to each station, with more on standby to be deployed if there is an evening rush. There are other procedural measures associated with keeping in touch with presiding officers at polling stations.

Let us examine the impact of this situation. In Hackney, it caused distress to those who were unable to vote. My majority is substantially higher than 200 or 300 votes, so it did not have a material impact on the outcome of the election. Even in the local elections, the majorities that the councillors achieved meant that the outcome of any one of the ballots would not have been affected. However, we all know that there are Members in this House whose majorities are considerably lower than 300, 200 or even 100, and in some cases 92 voters not being able to vote could have had an impact on the outcome. What happens if we do not change the law and that happens in a parliamentary seat?

Angela Smith: In Sheffield Central, which fortunately did not have a problem even though all the other constituencies around it did experience problems, the majority is only 165. That totally underlines my hon. Friend’s point.

Meg Hillier: I thank my hon. Friend for that. We need to ensure that we tighten this law now to make it fairer for electors. They would be upset that, having gone to the expense of another election and having come out to vote again, the election result and the will of the people could be affected by such a situation. That is indeed a serious concern. Rather than repeat the excellent arguments made, I rest my case there. I hope that the Government will introduce this change in this Bill to ensure that electors in my constituency never have to have this terrible experience again.

Mr Kevan Jones: I congratulate the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) on tabling the new clause. She explained clearly that what we need to do is include in this Bill—we have an opportunity to do it—what is “reasonable” and “practical”, as she put it. We are not asking for any major changes to the system we use for elections in this country, but it was quite clear in 2010 that large numbers of people in some constituencies were denied the right to vote even though they intended to wait in queues to get into the polling stations, as the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said.

One issue that needs to be clarified is that the new clause would help returning officers to know exactly what the law is, as there were different responses in different parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) mentioned Sheffield. In the Sheffield Hallam constituency, long queues of students waited to vote for the now Deputy Prime Minister. I doubt they will have that problem at the next general election, but if they have such problems when they turn up to vote him out, those who have turned up to vote in reasonable time should be able to cast their ballot.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 372

One issue mentioned by the hon. Lady, with which I agree, concerned the preparation for elections. For nearly 11 years, I was a councillor in Newcastle upon Tyne and in 2010 I went back to help with the general election in my old ward of Walkergate. I was shocked by what the Liberal Democrat administration had done to that ward by reducing the number of polling stations. Not only did people have to travel large distances to get to the polling station, as I mentioned the other day, but there was a capacity problem in trying physically to deal with the number of electors. Making the law clear would be helpful. As I understand it, in one polling station in Newcastle the returning officer took what was referred to afterwards as a “practical” and “common sense” step by allowing people into the polling station if they had arrived at 10 o’clock, locking the doors and allowing them to vote. If the law was clear, it would, as the hon. Lady said, be quite simple to know where the end of the queue was.

The new clause is long overdue and would help not only returning officers but the many thousands of constituents who were denied their vote in 2010. As we have said on numerous occasions during the passage of this Bill, that vote is the core of our democracy.

Mr Heath: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Evans, and am grateful to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) for tabling her new clause. We have had a valuable debate involving the hon. Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for North Durham (Mr Jones).

It is simply unacceptable that significant numbers of electors are unable to cast their vote due to the organisation of a polling station. It should never happen again and we must take steps to ensure that it does not. Those Members who have expressed their concern and even anger on behalf of their constituents are perfectly in order to do so, as such things should not happen.

I should also point out that only a small number of polling stations were involved: only 27 out of 40,000 across the country. That is not a representative sample of electoral arrangements in this country, and there were not many large queues at polling stations at close of poll that left people unable to cast their vote. That in no way reduces the impact on those who were affected, but it at least puts it in context.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), has made it clear in everything he has said on this issue in Committee and in this House that the primary cause of the problems was a lack of effective planning by returning officers. That will be effected not by legislation but by administrative action to make sure that they do the job better in future to avoid those unacceptable scenes. They should ensure that enough polling stations are provided to accommodate the electors in each area. It is not acceptable for there to be too few polling stations. They should ensure that polling station staff have sufficient time and training to manage the flow of electors well, as they generally do in most parts of the country and in most elections. In some ways, the firm closure of the poll at 10 pm should concentrate returning officers’ minds to ensure that, given that it is hardly news that the poll will close at 10 pm, they have the right

27 Jun 2012 : Column 373

arrangements in place to ensure that a complete and smooth passage for those arriving seeking to vote is effected at that hour.

Meg Hillier: I am concerned by the tone of the Minister’s remarks. If this was simply an administrative error, why did we see it across the country in such a widespread way? There had not been problems before in my constituency but there were on this occasion. The council acknowledged that there were things it could do better but this could still happen again. I cannot see what the Government would lose by backing this new clause.

Mr Heath: I am sorry that the hon. Lady asks why this happened in such a widespread way given that we have just established that it happened at only 27 polling stations out of 40,000. I do not think we can say it was a widespread problem. It was a significant problem but not a widespread one.

Angela Smith: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Heath: No, I really do not have time if I am going to do justice to responding to the debate.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest did an excellent job with her Select Committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. I know that she chaired many of the sessions in the absence, unavoidably, of the Chair and that she took great care to make sure that my hon. Friend the Minister was quizzed by the Committee, when it took evidence and brought forward its responses. That is why I was a little surprised when she said that her Committee backs these changes to the legislation because that suggests that I have completely misread paragraph 98 of her Committee’s report, which was produced under her chairmanship, which states:

“On the issue of close of poll the Minister set out the Government’s position that the issues around close of poll in the 2010 election were ‘largely around poor planning, poor resource management’ and that an attempt to legislate in this area could create more problems than it solved. We agree with the Minister that in this area careful planning and allocation of resources are likely to be more effective in ensuring all those who are eligible can access their vote without resorting to legislation.”

That was the view of the Committee at the time.

Mrs Laing: The Minister is right to read out that part of the Committee’s report, but since then the Electoral Commission has looked at this matter in greater detail, has taken further evidence and has recommended very strongly that new clause 4 should become part of the Bill. I have listened to the Electoral Commission and that is why I have brought this new clause before the House.

Mr Heath: I do not think the Electoral Commission has changed its position. [Interruption.] I do not think it has. It took evidence but it took no further evidence after the hon. Lady’s Committee took its evidence and came to a conclusion. I am grateful to her Committee for supporting the view that the Minister took.

Any changes that we introduce create more potential for problems. For example, this is not what the hon. Lady has proposed but if we were to introduce discretion on the part of returning officers they would be open to challenge because of the way in which they applied that

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discretion. I am glad that she has not gone down that road.

[

Interruption.

]

She says, “No one suggested it,” but that was suggested by one of her colleagues. That is why I am responding to that point in the context of this debate.

There is a suggestion that the problem could be addressed by reference to the limits of the curtilage of the polling station, but that would be extremely difficult because it varies enormously among polling stations. The hon. Lady’s proposal is probably the least bad option, but the queue itself presents problems with definition and management, which is why it is extremely difficult to accede to such a measure. The situation did not happen widely before 2010 and has not happened widely since, but we must ensure that it is not allowed to arise, and the key to that is proper management.

5 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 23 May).

The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83D), That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 211, Noes 284.

Division No. 32]

[5 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bell, Sir Stuart

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman, Bob

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Philip

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Hendrick, Mark

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Stewart, Bob

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Susan Elan Jones and

Nic Dakin

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Clappison, Mr James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hunter and

Jeremy Wright

Question accordingly negatived.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 375

27 Jun 2012 : Column 376

27 Jun 2012 : Column 377

27 Jun 2012 : Column 378

The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Clauses 22 to 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Commencement

Amendment proposed: 31, page 14, line 17, at end insert ‘with the exception of Schedule 5, Part 2, which shall come into force by order only once—

(a) the data matching pilots for pre-verification purposes established by the Electoral Registration Data Schemes Order 2012 have been completed,

(b) the Electoral Commission has reported on these schemes as under the terms of that Order, and

(c) the Electoral Commission believes that the completeness of the register will not be negatively affected.’.—(Wayne David.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee proceeded to a Division.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Evans. The Division bells in the immediate vicinity of the Chamber do not seem to have rung, and I am not sure whether that means that they have not rung elsewhere.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and shall ask for the matter to be investigated immediately.

The Committee having divided:

Ayes 204, Noes 293.

Division No. 33]

[5.15 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bell, Sir Stuart

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Hendrick, Mark

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Nic Dakin and

Susan Elan Jones

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hunter and

Jeremy Wright

Question accordingly negatived.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 379

27 Jun 2012 : Column 380

27 Jun 2012 : Column 381

27 Jun 2012 : Column 382

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment (Standing Order No. 83D(6)).

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I now have to announce the result of Divisions deferred from a previous day. On the motion relating to the draft Sexual Offences Act 2003 (Notification Requirements) (England and Wales) Regulations 2012, the Ayes were 478 and the Noes were 9, so the Question was agreed to. On the motion relating to the draft Sexual Offences Act 2003 (Remedial) Order 2012, the Ayes were 290 and the Noes were 197, so the Question was agreed to. On the motion relating to European documents on European Semester in the United Kingdom, the Ayes were 285 and the Noes were 203, so the Question was agreed to.

[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]

Third Reading

5.30 pm

Mr Heath: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank Members from all parts of the House for their contributions to this debate. I speak not just as a Minister who is interested in the Bill, but as a business manager in saying that I am particularly gratified that we did not over-programme the Bill. We allowed the House the discretion to use the time sensibly, and it has done so responsibly. We have covered all the issues that are contained in the Bill and done them credit. I am grateful to Members from all parts of the House for that.

I believe that the electoral register is a key building block for our democracy. It is important that it is accurate and complete. I hope that my responses and those of the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) in Committee have answered all the concerns and questions that have been raised, and shown that the Bill will make the register more accurate and at least as complete as it is now. I hope that it will make it more complete.

On the conduct of the Bill’s passage, I thank hon. Members who have taken the time to write explanatory statements on the amendments that they tabled. That will have helped to ensure that the pilot is useful to the Procedure Committee in deciding whether to adopt the change in the longer term.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 383

At the risk of this sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech, I also thank members of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee for scrutinising the Bill before it was introduced to the House. They did an excellent job. The Bill is much better for their comments and the care they took over their work. That would not have been the case were it not for the receptive interest shown by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean, and the team of officials who supported him, in responding sensibly to the suggestions that were made. That shows the value that pre-legislative scrutiny can add to the development of legislation. The way in which the House has debated the Bill has shown that it has responded to that approach, and it has dealt with the Bill in a timely fashion.

I look forward to the debate continuing in another place. I reaffirm that it is the Government’s intention to publish further draft secondary legislation by the time Parliament returns in the autumn so that we have all the necessary tools to understand what is proposed as we take the Bill forward.

The Bill will tackle electoral fraud by speeding up the introduction of individual electoral registration, which will require electors to register individually, rather than by household. In moving to that system, individuals will have to provide information to verify their application. The Bill will modernise our electoral registration system, thereby facilitating the move to online registration, and make it more convenient for people to register to vote. Our aim is to take steps to tackle electoral fraud, increase the number of people who are registered to vote and improve the integrity of the register. The safeguards that the Bill puts in place, such as the use of data matching to confirm and automatically retain about two thirds of electors on the register, the moving of the 2013 canvass to early 2014, and the introduction of a civil penalty for those who fail to make an application when required to do so, will help us to achieve that aim. As we have debated today, the Bill also includes provisions to improve the administration and conduct of elections, which will serve to increase voter participation and make a number of improvements to the running of elections.

The fact that we have elections based on the highest integrity, with registers that are as complete and accurate as possible, is the bedrock of our democratic system. It is incumbent on all hon. Members to make that a reality, and I commend the Bill to the House.

5.35 pm

Wayne David: Like the Minister, I commend the programme agreed for Committee, which was sensible and appropriate—all hon. Members have had plenty of opportunity to air their support or concerns. I hope that that sensible approach is continued for the next constitutional legislation that we will discuss, namely the House of Lords Reform Bill, and that there will be plenty of time for Members to consider all the more important issues.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I do not want to risk your wrath, Mr Deputy Speaker, but will the hon. Gentleman tell us how much time he wants to debate that Bill?

27 Jun 2012 : Column 384

Wayne David: As I thought I had made clear, the Opposition want plenty of time to discuss all the important issues, so that the House can come to a natural consensus. We do not want to be rushed in our consideration of a Bill that many believe is flawed. We support the principle of a referendum—want movement on it and will achieve it, despite the Government’s unreasonableness. [Interruption.] There will be plenty of time to discuss other matters.

A great deal of concern was expressed by many in the House and beyond when the Government published the draft Bill on individual electoral registration. I am pleased that, after some argument, a lot of discussion and much debate in this place and beyond, the Government proposed a number of changes. First, there were originally no proposals for an annual canvass in 2014, which would be the last opportunity before the 2015 general election. That has changed, and there will be a canvass in that year.

Secondly, there was a suggestion that there should be a permanent opt-out for individuals from the electoral register. It was proposed that, from 2014, an individual could indicate to an electoral registration officer that they did not wish to be chased during the canvass, which would mean that they could essentially opt-out of the rolling programme of registration. I am pleased that that proposal was reversed.

Thirdly, on civil penalties, to begin with, the Government said that engaging with an electoral registration officer was a matter of personal choice. Some interpreted that as saying that inclusion on the electoral register was a lifestyle choice. I am pleased that they relented on that and recognised the groundswell of opinion that registration is a civic responsibility and duty. They have also recognised that there should be not simply a criminal fine for a head of household who does not co-operate, which is the current penalty, but a civil penalty for individuals who do not co-operate. We welcome that, not because we want the large-scale introduction of civil penalties, which we do not, but because we need to underline the importance of registration to the individual, and a civil fine for non-co-operation would be an effective way to do that. All those things we welcome.

I am disappointed, however, because despite our in-depth consideration over the past few days, the Government have not relented on our other areas of serious concern. When in government, we legislated for individual electoral registration, which clearly shows that we were fully committed to the principle of IER, and we still are committed to it. We introduced the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 and were keen that it be introduced gradually to ensure that everyone entitled to be on the register was included on it. It saddens me greatly that the Government have not carried forward that approach.

As expressed by several Members on many occasions, we are particularly concerned about the boundary changes and the fact that the carry-over to the 2015 boundary changes will not happen. The boundary changes will be based on the new IER register. Our concern is that many might see that as a partisan measure. It is at precisely that point that independent commentators believe the register will be most vulnerable and that there will be the greatest possibility of a relatively small number of people entitled to be on the register not being on it.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 385

I underline the point that I and other Members made earlier about when the results of the second round of data matching will be evaluated. Let us not forget that the first round of data matching was not wholly successful. The Government’s view of how successful it had been differed significantly from the Electoral Commission’s, but they agreed to a second round to prove whether their proposed systems were water-tight. However, the second round will not be evaluated until spring and early summer 2013—after the legislation will have reached the statute book. That is a concern. It is a clear case of putting the cart before the horse. We should have all the evidence in place first, and then move to the best possible system on the basis of that objective evidence. So that is a concern that I and many Members share.

I have referred to several academics who support my contention, but I must make one other citation. Professor Ron Johnston of Bristol university is one of the most eminent, if not the most eminent, political geographers in the country. The constitutional reform Minister and I attended a seminar at the British Academy at the end of last year. It was a Chatham House occasion, and afterwards a document was published giving a reasonable summary of the contributions from many eminent people. The contribution from Professor Johnston read:

“If, as many at the British Academy Forum suggested, the 2015 register differs significantly in its completeness and accuracy from the current one, it could have a major impact on the next new map of constituencies”.

He continued:

“These changes arising from the interaction of the new rules for defining constituencies with the introduction of IER will contribute to a considerable alteration in the nature of British representative democracy.”

That, in essence, is why we are concerned. We are concerned about the legitimacy of the next boundary review in 2015, when many people who should be on the electoral register will not be on it, so a distorted electoral map will be drawn up. That will not be good for democracy—certainly not for representative democracy, as many people will effectively be removed from the electoral process.

We expressed in Committee our concern about the lack of full carry-over for postal and proxy votes. Many disability charities, including Scope, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Mencap and Sense have expressed concern about transitional arrangements for proxy and postal votes as they are worried that many of the people they represent and work for may be disfranchised. The Government rightly carried out a pre-legislative consultation and made some changes, but I really wish they had taken more heed of the people who work closely with those who are disabled and those who are members of disabled charities. I reiterate the collective response of the organisations I mentioned, which were concerned about the

“need to ensure that the requirement for absent voters to be registered under the new system does not inadvertently disenfranchise disabled voters who rely on postal votes to mitigate the inaccessibility of polling stations.”

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): If I recall correctly, the words in the box that has to be ticked for postal voting include “at all future elections”, but that

27 Jun 2012 : Column 386

will not apply at all future elections unless Parliament decides to play around and change the rules. Does my hon. Friend agree that this might disadvantage a great many people who would wish to vote in the elections but who have, quite frankly, been led down the garden path on this issue?

Wayne David: Yes, that is a real concern. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was present when I referred to my own mother of 86. She ticked the box and assumed she would have a postal vote for the rest of her life. She will be surprised if she does not get through the data-matching exercise and finds she has to fill in a complicated form to be able to exercise the vote she thought she always had.

Those are our two real concerns, which loomed large in our Committee debate. We have other concerns as well. The role of the Electoral Commission has been referred to many times by a number of Members in debating different clauses and amendments. We think that the Electoral Commission should play a pivotal role in achieving the move towards individual electoral registration. We are concerned that the Government as a whole seem intent on undermining and degrading the Electoral Commission’s role.

We are also concerned about the lack of ring-fencing of moneys for electoral registration officers—

Chris Ruane: Before my hon. Friend moves on to ring-fencing, I would like to say that the Electoral Commission has been pivotal over the past year or so in putting the case for the proper introduction of electoral registration. Does he think that that has upset the Government and explains why they want to reduce its role, as the Electoral Commission has come up with the facts and figures and supported the arguments of the civic societies and, indeed, my hon. Friend’s position as shadow Minister?

Wayne David: I cannot, of course, speak for the Government, and unfortunately I cannot read the Government’s mind, but I believe that there is some concern in Government circles about the role of the Electoral Commission. We strongly believe that the whole electoral process needs to be firmly depoliticised—that it needs to be outside and above the short-term interests of party politics—and we think that the Electoral Commission is the key organisation that can ensure that that happens. We therefore think it important for the commission’s role to be defended and enhanced whenever possible.

I was going to say something about the ring-fencing of resources. The chief executive of the association of electoral registration officers, whose views I have quoted previously, says that there should be a firm demarcation and ring-fencing of what resources are available, so that EROs know exactly where they stand when it comes to the resources they need to introduce a new system. It is not just a question of ensuring that the right systems are in place; it is also a question of ensuring that EROs themselves are trained and retrained, and are competent to make the system work effectively. We fear that the money may not be sufficient, and it certainly is not ring-fenced.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 387

Chris Ruane: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. About five years ago, when Labour was in office, I asked the Government to specify the amount spent per elector in each local authority area. The figure for England was not available, but I managed to obtain the figure for Wales from the Welsh Government, and lo and behold I found that the more a local authority spent on registration the greater the registration rates. I think that funding is crucial to proper implementation, and that ring-fencing the funding is crucial to the actual spending of it.

Wayne David: My hon. Friend makes his point forcefully and clearly. I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done locally and among his colleagues here in Parliament in raising awareness of an issue that is central to our democratic process. We have all come round to his point of view that it is a vital issue, but he was the trailblazer, and I want to record our particular and general thanks, as a House, for his efforts.

Let me list, very briefly, a number of other matters that concern us. In its present form, the Bill gives Ministers the power to cancel the annual canvass at any time. The Government’s reasoning is based on the idea that an annual canvass will not be required as the register becomes more complete and accurate. We believe that, although a Minister might push that through Parliament, it gives Ministers far too much power to intervene in a crucial aspect of the electoral registration process. Removing annual canvasses risks causing a marked deterioration in the quality of the electoral roll.

If we are fortunate enough to move eventually—as I think it may well be, rather than straight away—towards an electoral register that is pretty complete, we need to ensure that it remains complete. That is why it is so important that we do not rest on our laurels but ensure that the annual canvass is in place, that as many people as possible are on the register, and that they stay there.

On the first day of the Committee stage, the Minister made great play of the publication of secondary legislation. He told us that some had been placed in the Library before the Committee stage had begun. Well, that was partly true. I went to the Library and found that some secondary legislation in draft form had been placed there minutes before the beginning of the debate, so that it had not been possible to have sight of it beforehand. There were only two pieces of draft legislation there anyway, both of which refer to verification. One addresses what alternative evidence might be required if an individual were unable to come forward with a national insurance number or a date of birth. The Government suggest that there should be a list of alternative documents. The first list mentions a utility or landline phone bill, a Post Office, bank or building society statement, a debit or credit card statement, and a mortgage statement. The individual will be asked to provide two or more documents from that list. It is perfectly possible that an individual will be unable to provide two such documents, however. As we all know, ever fewer people are using landline telephones, so they would not be able to produce that document—people increasingly rely solely on mobile phones. They may not have a bank account, or own a house either, so they will not have a mortgage statement, and they might not have a Post Office account. Such a person would have a moral right to claim they ought to be on the register even though they were unable to fulfil the criteria the Government have asked of them.

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In respect of the second list, it is stated that:

“Proof of name and date of birth will also need to be provided. Currently our view is that this will involve one document from the list below”.

That list consists of Commonwealth or EU passport, Commonwealth or EU identity card, and a British passport. Again, it is perfectly possible that a British citizen might not have a passport. Therefore, yet again, the Government are being too prescriptive and are not allowing people to exercise their democratic right to be on the electoral register. I have concerns about the secondary legislation, therefore.

It is a pity that the constitutional affairs Minister, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), has just left the Chamber, because I was hoping he would stay to hear about my next area of concern; I hope he returns before we vote. It is unfortunate that, despite his earlier utterances, he said that in his view, “Secondary legislation isn’t that important because we’re considering primary legislation here.” A key point we have been making throughout this entire debate is that this area of legislation is highly dependent on the fine detail of secondary legislation, as the Electoral Commission has said on numerous occasions. Therefore, the secondary legislation should have been produced in full for proper consideration, so we could have had comprehensive democratic scrutiny of what has been suggested. It is a great shame that the Government have not done that, despite our repeated requests over many months.

I welcome the fact that the legislation is to include a civil penalty, but the Government have not come forward with details about how much that civil penalty might be. We have moved forward slightly, as I was told I was not far wide of the mark when I referred to parking fines, but no specific details have been given.

We had an important debate about university accommodation and sheltered accommodation in particular. We are worried that multi-occupancy buildings such as halls of residence present a particular challenge that is not effectively met by the Government’s plan for individual electoral registration. The National Union of Students, among others, has expressed concern about the drop in electoral registration levels in university halls of residence. We share those concerns, and the Government have not come forward with any proposals that have convinced us that this potential problem will be effectively tackled.

Our very last debate was about queues at polling stations. My final disappointment is that, despite a cross-party consensus on the Floor of the House uniting, dare I say it, all reasonable people, the Government were unable to offer any convincing argument about why they did not accept the reasonable suggestion to ensure that all people could vote in general elections. I find that very disappointing.

As I have said time and again, we welcome individual electoral registration, as we legislated for it and we are convinced it is a sound principle, but we are concerned that the Government have not moved beyond their initial concessions and have not responded to the concerns that hon. Members have expressed in Committee. Therefore, I feel that we have no alternative but to vote against Third Reading. We believe that completeness and accuracy are important concepts, and we certainly support them, but the Government have not done anything near enough to make them into meaningful reality. The Bill is flawed and therefore it is unable to command our support this evening.

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6 pm

Mr Mark Williams: First, may I emphasise how different the Bill that we have deliberated on in Committee is from the one that was first initiated and from the Bill that was expected to be initiated when we had the Opposition day debates earlier in the year? The Government have made this Bill better. The opt-out would have made it difficult for my party to support the Bill. Concessions were made on the annual canvass and the penalty, matters that were also of great concern to those who served with me on the Lib Dem Back-Bench constitutional reform committee. I thank the Government for those huge concessions, as they are significant. They illustrate the fact that the Government have listened, that the pre-legislative scrutiny process has worked and that we have had the necessary response. To be fair to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), throughout the Committee stage he has acknowledged the extent of those concessions, appreciating and applauding them. I, too, have concerns about the release of the draft secondary legislation, although I applaud the fact that it came, albeit a little late in the day. We are told by my hon. Friend the Minister that that draft legislation will appear before the deliberations in another place.

The aspirations of completeness and accuracy are shared by all of us, on both sides of the House—or they should be. As the Bill leaves this place, I wish to make some observations. I welcome the fixed penalty. We had a good debate on the scale of the penalty and whether it should be £100—we had a probing amendment from the hon. Gentleman on that. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), dared to suggest that it should be as much as £500. For the people who may stumble into the prospect of having to pay this—some of the hard-to-reach groups we are talking about—a £500 penalty would be dangerous. The debate should be much more about the prominence of the penalty notice, the extent to which the invitations to register reach the people they should and the messages on those invitations, rather than the size of the fine. To some extent it has been about those things, but it should be about the size of the font, rather than the size of the fine. We wait with interest to see what figure the Government come up with, but I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Caerphilly that it should be of the order of a parking fine.

I wish to discuss the position of the annual canvass. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I still think there is a huge premium in politicians and agents of Government or local government actually knocking on people’s doors. The annual canvass is not just about those poignant messages on the literature or about reminding people of those all-important implications of non-registration and their civic duty; it is about getting out to those hard-to-reach groups in practice.

We talked about the student community, and the houses in multiple occupation, and my area’s 147 villages mean that there are challenges of rurality that make groups hard to reach. Someone with a serious physical disability who lives in the Cambrian mountains has added difficulties. More prominence should be given not only to their difficulties in accessing polling stations but to the means by which they register. It is important that those in the other place focus on those questions, too.

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We debated the dissemination of good practice and the role of the Electoral Commission. I am glad that the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) is in the Chamber. He has been in the Chamber a lot, but every time I have tried to congratulate Denbighshire on the excellent work it has undertaken, which he has brought to the attention of the House, he has not been present. I am glad to be able to say again that some really good work has been undertaken in Denbighshire and I look forward to the Electoral Commission’s being in a position to spread that practice around the country.

Had we made it a little further through today’s business, we would have reached my new clause 10 on ring-fenced resources. I hesitate to call it a probing amendment, because I am quite aware of what happened to my last probing amendment at the hands of the Opposition. New clause 10 was an intentioned attempt to have a debate on the significance of ring-fenced resources. If we agree on the goal and the aspiration, it is that this is about guaranteeing and ensuring that local authorities have the means to undertake the job they need to do.

Finally, I paint a scenario that is a worry, but it is not a worry that leads me into the hands of the Opposition or into the Lobby with them tonight. My worry leads me to remind the Government, as I support them, that it is urgent that we get the resources, responsibilities and delivery of accuracy and completeness right. I have 12,000 students in my Ceredigion constituency, largely living in HMOs and halls of residence. Some 11 Members of this House—two on them on the Labour Benches—have been students at Aberystwyth at some point in their careers. If we do not ensure that all those students have the capacity to register individually, that will have a huge and detrimental effect when we next have boundary changes. The Ceredigion constituency is likely to be altered significantly by the boundary changes, and the prospect of another large, beautiful chunk of mid and west Wales being added to it because we have not registered hard-to-reach groups in HMOs and our student halls of residence is a huge worry. That is why the Government need to tackle that with energy, enthusiasm and vigour and to get it right.

I hope that my friends on the Opposition Benches will not take offence if I say that in the early stages of the debate there was an air of conspiracy theories. I applaud the positive way in which the Opposition have tackled issues of concern, many of which I share, but I regret that that principle of consensus will not be carried forward in the vote tonight.

6.8 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): As always it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams). I want briefly to outline where my party stands on the Bill.

Although we support the principle of individual electoral registration, we believe that the changes to electoral boundaries that are set to affect Westminster constituencies and possibly even National Assembly constituencies in Wales make the Bill far more contentious than it should have been. In an Opposition debate on this issue earlier this year, on Second Reading and in Committee, I warned that completeness of the register was now the major issue because of its effect on constituency sizes, a point that was made by the hon. Gentleman. Accuracy

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is important, but the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 has effectively moved the goalposts of electoral registration. This means that, more than ever, completeness of the register is more important because those who are not on it will have an impact on parliamentary representation for the whole community. It will not just impinge on their own rights to choose their MP or Assembly Member. That is why I believe that the EROs and the Electoral Commission have a very important role in getting completeness of the register and why they must have the resources to do so. That is why the ring-fencing point is so important. It is disappointing that we did not have a chance to debate that amendment in more detail.

I want to repeat the concerns about the possibility of a cliff-edge drop in electoral registration ahead of the next National Assembly elections in 2016. I hope that there will be regular updates via the Electoral Commission on the success of the EROs and the work they are doing on individual electoral reform to ensure that a cliff-edge drop in electors does not take place as it did in Northern Ireland when those reforms were implemented some years ago. That continues to be a major concern for us even at this late stage.

We have had a good debate on the principles and implementation of this legislation, although the concerns that I have consistently placed on the record—mostly about the effects of the 2011 Act—have, disappointingly, not been fully answered by Government Front Benchers. We will therefore be voting against the Government tonight.

6.10 pm

Chris Ruane: It is a pleasure to speak on Third Reading—the final part of this long debate. My interest in these matters goes back not just over recent years but over the past 10 years.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) mentioned that there was a feeling of conspiracy on the Opposition Benches and he is right. There are just reasons for that because there was a settled consensus in 2009 that this legislation would be introduced with the support of both sides of the House by 2015. During that six-year period there was to be an opportunity to raise electoral registration levels to their maximum so that we could have a full analysis of the drop and get people back on the register. It was all agreed and cut and dried after many years of debate that the date would be 2015, but the first act of the coalition was to bring that consensual date forward by a year. That might have been happenstance or coincidence, or it might have been that it would benefit them.

Mr Kevan Jones: Like my hon. Friend, I am not a conspiracy theorist, but one does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to look at the facts and see where this change and the redrawing of the boundaries came from. The Conservative party has learned from the United States, where the American Legislative Exchange Council, which backed and funded the Atlantic Bridge scheme in which senior Government members were involved, did exactly the same thing to make it more difficult for people to vote in local elections.

Chris Ruane: Absolutely. It was my hon. Friend himself who put me on to relevant websites. There are specific examples across the whole of the United States, and lo

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and behold they happen in Republican states. They call it voter frustration or voter suppression. There are examples of the poor and the black being kept off the register going back to the 1950s.

There is a feeling of conspiracy on the Opposition Benches because the date has been brought forward by one year. As I said, it might have been happenstance or coincidence, but I think it was a deliberate attempt to gain maximum political advantage first for the 2015 election and secondly for the redrawing of the freeze date for the next Boundary Commission in December 2015. There was particular concern on the Opposition Benches, and, I hope, on the Government Benches as well—I know that some senior Liberal Democrats were concerned—when the Electoral Commission said that the number of current unregistered voters was 6 million, not 3 million. I informed the House that I had told the Electoral Commission that two years previously and that it had said, “No.” Then it did the research and said, “Yes, you are right—it is 6 million but it is a different 6 million” from the figures I got from Experian. When it predicted that that 6 million would go to 16 million unregistered voters, we were at risk of becoming like a banana republic, with 40% of our electorate being off the register.

Angela Smith: To go back to my hon. Friend’s previous point, does he share my surprise—astonishment, actually—that Government Front Benchers have never managed to come up with a decent reason why the carry-over register cannot be used for the boundary review in 2015?

Chris Ruane: I will come on to that point when I conclude my speech, but I share my hon. Friend’s concern.

There was a lack of co-operation at the start of this process. The Government were sure that they were absolutely right and that the independent Electoral Commission’s figures were nonsense. They initially dismissed the concerns of civic society, including Unlock Democracy, the Electoral Reform Society and Age Concern.

We can compare the Government’s approach with Labour’s attitude on the constitutional changes that we made during our 13 years in government. People may say that we did not do enough to get those who were unregistered back on the register. I would agree with them entirely, because I was knocking on Ministers’ doors—and Prime Ministers’ doors—to say that there was a problem, but it was not properly addressed. However, Labour cannot be accused of using those changes for party political advantage.

Jonathan Edwards: Given that the hon. Gentleman raises that point, I refer him to the Government of Wales Act 2006, because there was not much cross-party support for the reforms that were led by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain).

Chris Ruane: Let me set out a list of the constitutional changes that Labour implemented and the way in which we approached them. We changed the position in 2001 so that if someone did not put their name down for two years on the trot, they were taken off the register. That was the cause of the first big drop. Some 1 million to 2 million people came off the register as a result of the Labour Government’s action, and they were our voters. I thought it was daft, but we did it, even though it went against us.

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In Scotland, a consensus was in place five years prior to devolution, meaning that everything had been squared with all sections of society. We introduced proportional representation for European elections when we did not need to, and we went from four Labour MEPs in Wales down to one.

Mr Kevan Jones: It was a mistake.

Chris Ruane: Politically, they were all mistakes, but constitutionally it may have been the right thing to do.

When PR for local government was introduced in Scotland, Labour lost its natural base. Had we not introduced the change, we could have been in control of local government in Scotland. We also introduced devolution for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In 1997, we had a huge majority of 180, so we could have railroaded those proposals through and used first past the post for the devolved Administrations, but instead we used proportional representation. All Labour’s constitutional changes were neither party political nor politicised, and that is the big difference compared with this Government’s constitutional changes. The Deputy Prime Minister said that his proposals were the biggest constitutional change since 1832, and House of Lords reform is probably the biggest constitutional change since Magna Carta or 1066, but they are all being rushed through for party political advantage. A Government who use party political advantage on constitutional measures set a dangerous precedent because the party that comes in after them might do exactly the same thing, so it becomes a zero-sum game. Such measures should be taken forward with party political consensus.

I give some credit to the Government—this is the nice part of my speech, although there will be a sting in the tail—because, despite their initial position of intransigence, their Ministers then listened. That was only because the Opposition’s excellent Front-Bench team took the issues out to wider society, such as the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and Age Concern. Those organisations held meetings in the House of Commons, took evidence and contacted the Government. The Electoral Commission, the independent monitoring voice, had massive concerns about the proposals. I also pay tribute to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee under its excellent Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), which took evidence and produced a consensual report containing strong recommendations. Our Front-Bench team has shown strong leadership throughout the process.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned Denbighshire county council, and while I am giving out plaudits, I pay tribute to the council and its electoral registration officer, Gareth Evans, for increasing elector registrations in Vale of Clwyd from 47,000 to 57,000 over five years. I pay tribute also to the leadership of the chief executive, Mohammed Mehmet, who was the one who issued the letters to the non-responders, saying that if they did not fill in their electoral registration form, he would turn them over to the county council’s solicitors and they would be fined £1,000. That had a big impact and increased registration. Even in the Rhyl West ward, one of the poorest wards in the whole country, with 900 houses in multiple occupation, registration increased from 2,500 to 3,500 electors.

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Now for the sting in the tail. I am pleased with the concessions made so far, but there are two outstanding concessions that we want. If the Minister were to say that he was prepared to listen to us on this, we may not vote against Third Reading. The first concession that we seek is on the next boundary date—2015. There needs to be a carry-over from the old register to the new register. The second is a carry-over for postal ballots. There can be no reason whatever for not accepting this, except party political advantage. I warn the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition to be very wary. The advantage will be for the Conservatives, and it will come up and bite the Liberal Democrats from behind in the inner cities, where they have some presence, and in the south-west, if they do not sort the issue out.

The House of Lords Reform Bill was printed today. It states that the freeze date for that election will be December 2011, so there will still be 6 million people missing from the register. Remember, those who are elected—the new Lords or senators or whatever they are—will be elected for a 15-year period, so if those 6 million people cannot participate in the first vote, they will have to wait about 18 years before they can have any influence on who represents them in the other place.

6.21 pm

Mr Kevan Jones: On electoral registration and issues to do with election, there has always been a degree of consensus in the House, which has ensured that it is not a political issue and that there is cross-party support for any changes that are introduced. But on the Bill and the boundary changes, we have seen a politicisation of the arguments.

We do not have to look very far to see where that came from. Individuals in the Conservative party were determined to use this Bill and the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill to gain political advantage. They learned that from the United States, where the American Legislative Exchange Council has been trumpeting these changes, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) said, have made it more difficult for other people to register to vote or actually to vote in elections. That is exactly where the policy came from. What was the connection? The Atlantic Bridge, of which senior members of the Government were members, was supported and paid for by that organisation, which is sponsored mainly by wealthy right-wing neo-cons in the United States.

Has the Bill been improved? Yes, it has, because of the outrage that has been generated. I do not include in what I have just said the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). He is increasingly becoming the Minister for dealing with sticky sticks. He is obviously going to—

Chris Ruane: Did my hon. Friend really mean sticky sticks?

Mr Jones: I certainly did. I am far too polite to suggest anything other of the Minister. He is a fine gentleman. He dealt with the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, he has had this Bill to deal with and he has Lords reform to deal with.

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I look forward to the long debates that we will have on that. Overall, the hon. Gentleman has tried to do the right thing.

Has the Bill been improved, or have the most radical and extreme parts of it been expunged through the process of pre-legislative scrutiny and Committee? Yes. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd, I pay tribute to the Select Committee for the work that it has done, to the various outside bodies, such as Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society, and to the Electoral Commission, which focused on the fact that if the Bill had remained in its original format it could have changed democracy in this country. The idea of being able to opt out of the register was clearly designed to make things harder and push down the register in certain areas. Just by chance they are the inner-city seats that are mainly represented by the Labour party.

Chris Ruane: My hon. Friend refers to the fact that if the Bill had gone through in its original form it would have damaged democracy. Does he agree that we could have been looking at a British coup?

Mr Jones: Yes, and that is what is sad about what the Bill has done. When any legislation to do with elections or boundaries came before the House it was always consensual. This has been highly political, as the opt-out clearly was.

The Liberal Democrats’ position is very strange. As I said the other day, it is the first time I have seen turkeys voting for Christmas. They are doing it yet again on this Bill. They think that they will get some advantage out of it, but I just do not see that at all.

I am still concerned about how the Government will deal with the penalty. If it is a derisory amount, will it be effective? I do not think that it will be. I wait for the Government to come forward with that. The measures were clearly designed to hamper registration and make it difficult for people to register to vote. As democrats, we should be encouraging people not only to vote, but also to get on the electoral register. As I said on Monday, the important thing is not only to get people on the register, but for it to be accurate.

A lot of things have changed since the last general election when the Liberal Democrats were in opposition, but I want to read what the then Liberal Democrat Member for Cambridge, David Howarth, said in the House on 13 July 2009. He said:

“The validity and credibility of democratic elections depend both on the register being comprehensive and on its having a great deal of integrity. If the register is not comprehensive, it is not the electorate who are making a choice but some subset of the electorate. If it is not secure and we cannot be sure that the people whose votes are being counted are electors, that people are not voting more than once or that there is not fraud going on, equally there is a threat to democratic credibility…I do not think that anybody”—

[Interruption.] If the Minister is patient, I am coming on to the issue around changing the date in terms of using the register for the 2015 boundaries.

David Howarth went on to say:

“I do not think that anybody was suggesting that the timetable be artificially shortened, or that any risk be taken with the comprehensiveness of the register.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 111-2.]

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But that is exactly what the Government are doing and that is exactly the situation we will face if the carry-over is used for the 2015 boundaries. The Conservatives know exactly what they are doing. They know that the register will be depleted and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) said earlier, if the money assigned for electoral registration is not ring-fenced, in certain parts of the country no real effort will be put into ensuring that the register is as complete as possible, no matter how much guidance and encouragement is given nationally to local councils, and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd gave an example the other day relating to the leader of Islington council.

I also have great fears about the data matching. I think that it is a good idea to rely not just on the annual canvass, but to use other methods as well. Durham county council has pioneered that and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly raised another good example. But if local councils are faced with budget cuts and they can get out of doing the annual canvass, they will, which will deplete the register even further. I think that the annual canvass will be more important in the early stages of individual registration than it is today. The only way to get to hard-to-reach communities practically will be through individual canvasses of those electorates, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said earlier and as the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) said excellently yesterday when speaking to his amendment, particularly in relation to disabled people and those who have difficulty either accessing the registration forms or filling them in. Therefore, I fear that there are things in the Bill that will be used by certain people to ensure not only that it is harder to get on the register, but that there are disincentives for doing so.

The most scandalous thing in the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has already said, is the carry-over relating to the 2015 boundary changes. It will be interesting to see what the Government do if there is a big drop, which is clearly possible. Clearly such a drop will not be in the more affluent areas represented mainly by the Conservative party. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), said, it will be in the inner-city London constituencies such as his and others where the register will drop substantially. That will then affect the figures that will be used to draw up the new boundaries. They will therefore be artificial and will not truly reflect the electorates.

We should be encouraging people to get on the electoral register, but what the Government are aiming for here—we know why the Conservatives are doing it—is to ensure that those people are not taken into account when the new boundaries are drawn up. I will give an example from the present redrawing of the boundaries. Durham county council, when it came into being, took responsibility for electoral registration; before it was a unitary council, seven district councils were responsible. Registration was patchy in different parts and the councils all did it in different ways. I described the other day how in some areas, such as Derwentside, it was obvious to see that there were mistakes in the register but the council made no effort to address the gaps. When the county council took responsibility, it made a real effort to ensure that the register was as accurate as possible. It put over 12,000 missing electors

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on the register, and that had an impact on the boundary commission’s deliberations for the recommendations in the latest redrawing of boundaries. In the city of Durham, for example, a lot of students were not on the register, but they were put on and that had an effect, so there is clearly going to be an effect if we do not have such a carry-over. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was very clear about that, and its Chair said:

“There are real risks in moving to a new system, not least that people with the right to vote could fall off the electoral roll in large numbers. This would be damaging to democracy, to public engagement in politics, and to the fairness of the basis on which MPs are elected.”

That is fundamental, and if we read the report we find that, even though the Committee has a Labour Chair, those sentiments are shared across the political spectrum.

Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg of the University of Liverpool said in evidence on 8 September 2011:

“If we do see a large number of people drop off the registers, even if in all likelihood they are not going to vote, that will have a profound implication for the redrawing of boundaries under the new rules that have just gone through.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly asked, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd did earlier, I think, whether the Government have provided a good explanation for introducing the measure. No, they have not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said that, in the previous Parliament when we introduced individual registration, there was consensus on the timetable, and it is more important to get the measure right and to make the register comprehensive than it is to do what the Conservative party in the coalition is doing, which is to make it more difficult to create an accurate register, meaning that the boundaries will be affected when they are redrawn.

The other strange thing that I cannot understand is why those who have postal and proxy votes will not be carried over, either. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly referred to his 86-year-old mother, and her situation will be replicated throughout the country by disabled people and people who have had postal votes for many years, as they will think that, because they have one, it will continue on and on. It will not. If we do not engage with those individuals, we will find that large numbers of a very vulnerable section of society, are disfranchised. My hon. Friend said that MIND and other pressure groups dealing with that section of society have argued against the measure, but the Government seem to be ignoring them, and in Committee of the whole House I did not hear any explanation for it.

Major changes have been made to the Bill, and it is better than the one we started with, but it still has within it that bit of poison, which the Conservatives will use in their attempt to gerrymander the next boundary review, and that is why I will not support it on Third Reading.

6.38 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): On behalf of members of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, who have taken part in various stages of the debate, I acknowledge the thanks that have been

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given to the Committee for the job that we have done. It is a good example of how to deal with legislation, and I hope that there will be many more such opportunities.

I am not sure that we will offer ourselves up for the next piece of constitutional legislation, however, because that might delay it even further, and if we spent several months on it, as we could, it would definitely be kicked into the long grass. Therefore, I can see why the Government may not be so keen to send it to the Committee, but in general such scrutiny is important, because it gives people the opportunity, in a much less stressed and antagonistic atmosphere, to go through the difficult bits of legislation and to get people in to explain what really would not work. We should do more of that.

As with many of these things, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If not enough resources are put into the effort to carry out individual voter registration, it will be extremely difficult. We know how different various parts of the country are. We even know how different various parts of a city or a constituency are. In some parts of my constituency, one can go down a road of bungalows or other houses and find that virtually every household is registered; the only one that might not be is where somebody has only just moved in. In other places, it is almost frightening how few people are registered. In some cases, the household has been registered in the past but those people have moved away and the next lot of tenants have moved in.

There is no doubt that getting people registered is very challenging, especially if local authorities do not put the effort and resources into it because they themselves are not properly resourced. I see the benefit of ring-fencing in that respect. In a debate earlier today, I spoke about council tax and council tax benefit. Ring-fencing is not a bad thing—it can be very useful, and this might be an occasion when it would be. The differential resources and the different sorts of efforts that will be needed to keep registration up will be a crucial factor. It is important to give people the chance to vote. We have all encountered people on election day who suddenly discover that they cannot vote because they are not registered, although they wanted to do so and had been listening to all the coverage. We might say, “Ah, well, if people haven’t registered they probably won’t vote anyway, so it doesn’t matter”, but it does matter.

Registration is important in terms of changes to the size of constituencies as part of the difficult process of boundary changes. People will understand that there is a worry, particularly with differential registration, that the next round of boundary changes will be affected. I still hope that the Government will be prepared, even at this late stage, to reconsider the Select Committee’s recommendation on the next set of boundary changes.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

The House having divided:

Ayes 284, Noes 204.

Division No. 34]

[6.42 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Clappison, Mr James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Hunter and

Jeremy Wright

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bell, Sir Stuart

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Hendrick, Mark

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Susan Elan Jones and

Nic Dakin

Question accordingly agreed to.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 399

27 Jun 2012 : Column 400

27 Jun 2012 : Column 401

27 Jun 2012 : Column 402

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Police

That the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Functions of Returning Officers) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 15 May, be approved.—(Stephen Crabb.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Police

That the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 15 May, be approved.—(Stephen Crabb.)

The Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 4 July (Standing Order No. 41A).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Public Bodies

That the draft Inland Waterways Advisory Council (Abolition) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 29 February 2012, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

27 Jun 2012 : Column 403

Public Bodies

That the draft British Waterways Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 29 February 2012, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.

Question agreed to.

European union documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Minimum Standards for the Protection of Victims of Crime

That this House takes note of the proposed draft Directive, deposited on 6 December 2011 by the Ministry of Justice, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and repealing Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA; supports the Government in welcoming the objectives of the draft Directive; and further supports the Government’s view that existing national law or practice in England and Wales largely fulfils the obligations in the draft Directive.—(Stephen Crabb.)

Question agreed to.


27 Jun 2012 : Column 404

Coryton Oil Refinery

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Crabb.)

7.2 pm

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to express the grave concern that surrounds yesterday’s announcement that the Coryton oil refinery in my constituency will close. When the company was placed into administration five months ago, many of us believed that, because of its profitability and its productivity, it would not be long before it found new owners. So, five months later, and with no buyer coming forward to operate the site as a refinery, I have to say that this is a very sad day. I had hoped that this debate would never have to take place.

The intention of my debate before the announcement was to lay out the fact that this was not just another business in administration. I would have explained to the House and the Minister the importance—strategically, economically, socially and historically—of the Coryton oil refinery. Before I proceed, I want to place on record my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been working so hard over the last five months to keep the refinery operating.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I associate myself with those comments and pay my own personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring all the interested parties together. He has done so with dedication to achieving the outcome rather than to generating column inches, which has been the characteristic of some Opposition Members. Does he agree that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who will reply from the Dispatch Box today, has also been absolutely sincere in his commitment to achieve a positive outcome for the refinery?

Stephen Metcalfe: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Yes, I would like to thank the Minister personally for his help and support. I would also like to thank Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and from the Treasury for what they have done to help me work with all those involved to find a solution.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Metcalfe: I am afraid that time is limited; I am sorry, but no.

The people I want to thank the most are the staff, the management—particularly Jon Barden and Georgina Clarke—and, of course, the unions. Without their commitment, the business might well have closed months ago. Instead, it had time to search for a buyer and to explore a range of options that might have led to the securing of its long-term future.

The refinery has changed ownership many times over the years, most recently in 2007, when it was acquired by a Swiss company, Petroplus, and became one of a

27 Jun 2012 : Column 405

group of five refineries. Unfortunately, in January this year the parent company—Petroplus—got into financial difficulties and filed for bankruptcy, at which point Coryton placed itself in administration with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Of the five refineries, Coryton is far the most complex. It has a Nelson complexity index of 12, making it one of the most sophisticated refineries in Europe. It is very profitable, and I believe that, because of its complexity and its location, it is also of great strategic importance, not least because it provides 20% of the fuel in the south-east and 10% of that in the United Kingdom. However, because of the structuring of the parent company, when Coryton went into administration it had no fuel assets and nothing in its bank accounts, although it did have £2 billion of debt held in bonds that the parent company had issued.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Must it not be utterly dismaying for the work force of 900 people in what was a very successful and profitable refinery to find that that they are losing their jobs, although the parent company was able to go on leveraging debt against that successful refinery?

Stephen Metcalfe: Yes. When the company went into administration, finding that all the debt was leveraged against that one refinery must have come as a shock to all concerned. That just shows the mismanagement of the parent company in Switzerland.

Once appointed, the administrators stabilised the situation and began looking for a long-term solution. Two options soon emerged, although I am sure that many others were investigated: sale to a third party and financial restructuring. The financial restructuring process began very well, but it became obvious fairly quickly that there was a large funding gap and it would not be workable. As for the sale side, PWC invited expressions of interest and numerous possibilities emerged, from lift and shift to sale as a refinery and, finally, sale as a fuel terminal, which would give a fuel company greater access to the Thames and therefore to the south-east. The site has always been considered particularly attractive owing to its close proximity to London and its deep water jetty, but ironically those factors are now to be the refinery’s downfall.

I understand that following examination of the offers, a Russian consortium was identified as having presented the most favourable bid. It wanted to operate Coryton as a refinery, thus saving the 900 to 2,000 jobs that it supports. The next best bid came from a bidder that wanted to operate the site as a terminal. In the light of yesterday’s announcement, many have expressed surprise that no one wanted to buy the site as a refinery. Although I do not possess all the details, I do not believe that that is the case. What I do believe is that a number of credible, sustainable bids were presented, but that none of them ultimately exceeded the bid for an alternative use. I shall say more about that later.

Last month, despite all that hard work, the administrators, PWC, made the announcement—which I think we had all prayed we would never hear—that no credible offer was on the table and no one was willing to operate the refinery, and that therefore it was proceeding towards closure. As I have said, I believe that there were credible offers on the table, but that they were not high

27 Jun 2012 : Column 406

enough. Yesterday, PWC struck a final blow and announced that it had done a deal with Shell to operate the site as a terminal. The timing of that announcement—before tonight’s debate—made redundant much of the case that I wanted to build to save the refinery, but I ask the House to bear with me none the less.

As Members can imagine, following that announcement the situation has been very fluid over the last 24 hours. The one thing that has been constant is the contact that I have received from numerous parties expressing deep concern about the way in which the administration has been conducted. They talk of great secrecy surrounding the sale; they say that alternative outcomes could have been explored but were not, and that barriers were put up.

Following yesterday’s announcement, I have a better understanding of the events that led up to it, and I think it important to examine those events. My current understanding is that the Russian-led team bid the highest amount, and that the bid was proceeding well until something happened. I have no idea what that something was. I have a number of notions, but I cannot confirm any of them. Whatever happened, however, the upshot—so I am told—was that that information was not communicated properly by the administrators to the buyers. I have to say I find that extraordinary—although in light of my own experiences, not surprising. I still have not been officially informed by PWC that a deal has been done. Although I have attended every stakeholder meeting, I found out yesterday, when the press contacted me—although I did subsequently have an e-mail from one of the partners, Vopak.

Jackie Doyle-Price: Naturally, as we have reached the endgame, there is lots of rumour and speculation, and certainly the Russian bid has been trying to get its case across since discovering it has not won. Is there not the following alternative theory, however: far from this having been in the hands of the administrators, a view was taken that perhaps the company in question was not good for the money and was looking for an opportunity to drop the price? Shell is part of the winning consortium, and given that Shell Haven has been closed, and given, too, the supremacy of this location—as my hon. Friend described—would not Shell have gone for any price?

Stephen Metcalfe: It is difficult for me to speculate about what might, or might not, have happened and what discussions might have taken place, but I will say that more than one company has been in touch with me.

I find it extraordinary that the administrators, charged with getting the best deal for the bond holders—to whom, after all, they are responsible—did not inform the company with the largest bid at the time that there was some problem or the situation had changed. Perhaps if things had been different and if communications had not broken down, we might have been in a different position. I do not know what happened, but the upshot was that the bid was dropped. I believe that at that point trust broke down between the administrators and the Russian consortium wishing to buy the refinery. For the record, I have been aware for some time that both parties in this main bid were represented by PWC and while I make no comment about the existence of a Chinese wall I would be very interested to hear how both sides view the behaviour of the other, bearing in mind they were both from the same firm.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 407

As I said many times in the run-up to yesterday’s announcement, there has always been another bidder. I am concerned that it might not have been given a fair crack of the whip. I do not know whether that is true. This is a complex situation and I do not pretend to have the expertise required to pick through the detail and assess the quality of the arguments, from both sides, about what happened.

Rebecca Harris: Is it not crucial that we get to the bottom of this for the sake of all the people who will be losing their jobs, as well as other people in the supply chain? We need to know what went on, and that everything possible was done.

Stephen Metcalfe: I entirely agree. There could have been a different outcome if there had been more openness and transparency on all sides. I do not attribute fault to anyone, but these events need to be looked at. That different outcome could have been more beneficial to the bond holders, but my primary concern is, and will continue to be, for the work force who will pay the price for this breakdown in communications.

For those unfamiliar with the refinery, I want to put it in historical context and explain its local importance. South Essex has a long and proud industrial heritage. At one time there were three refineries along the Thames. After PWC’s announcement, there will be none. When we talk about this refinery closing, we are not talking about just another business that got into trouble and failed to meet the challenges of the modern world. On the contrary, it was a very profitable business. It met the modern challenges. It was part of our collective DNA in south Essex. It was part of the very fabric of society there; people moved to work there. If it goes, the economic blow will have the biggest impact, however.

Ian Lavery: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I have experienced exactly the same situation in my constituency, and he is right in what he is saying about jobs. Thurrock council carried out an impact assessment study which showed that more than £100 million would be lost as a consequence of the closure of the refinery. Why did the Government not even ask the European Union whether state aid was available to save these jobs?

Stephen Metcalfe: Those discussions have been taking place behind closed doors and in private. I am sure that the Minister will tell us in his response what the reasons were and what avenues were explored. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Thurrock council’s economic impact assessment, conducted by DTZ, estimated the impact to be closer to £1 billion. That represents a potential contraction in economic activity of 0.07% of the national economy, which is getting close to a third of the contraction we experienced in the past quarter. One of my arguments has always been: are we really willing to let that go without exploring every avenue? That is one of the questions I have asked in private, and I am hoping that we will hear it answered by the Minister in public this evening.

As the House will be aware, that call for state aid, including from me, has been growing over the past few weeks. I have raised the issue on the Floor of the House and, as I say, in private. I have asked that Ministers examine every conceivable angle, and check and double-check that there is no way they can help within the boundaries of what is possible.

27 Jun 2012 : Column 408

We have to remember that the refinery spends tens of millions a year in the UK on maintenance, chemicals, utilities and business rates. Every three to four years it has a maintenance project, which results in approximately £150 million being spent in the UK, and that was due to take place this autumn. The impact of this closure will be felt across the whole country, but the hardest hit of course will be those in the local area. The economic cost will be great. In employment terms alone, the closure of Coryton will affect 800 families directly through the loss of employment, leaving aside those who work for suppliers. That is 800 families who will now have a more difficult time feeding their families—putting food on the table. To add salt to the wound, if the planned turnaround project had gone ahead this autumn, the number employed there may well have risen to more than 2,000. It is hard to underestimate what a blow this is; we are exporting manufacturing jobs and replacing them with service jobs, and nothing like in the same numbers.

I had also hoped, despite the work the Department has undertaken on developing a refining strategy, to persuade the Minister to look again at the issue of diesel capacity; I had hoped that he might move on that just a little. As he will be aware, I and the Government are being accused of not doing enough to support this business—not doing as much as was done for the banks—so all I can do now is to seek publicly answers to questions that I have put privately for months. I realise that the Government were highly unlikely to be in a position to purchase the business, but I wanted to look for a more imaginative solution where they support the business on a commercial basis or through some form of loan guarantee.

In light of the above, I wish to put a number of questions to the Minister. First, will he confirm that he and colleagues from across the Government looked at every conceivable angle on providing some form of financial assistance for this business so that it could be kept open? Will he tell the House whether he or any of his colleagues received a formal, structured and specific request for state assistance from the administrators, or were discussions just of a vague nature, along the lines of, “It might be helpful if some money was put across”? Can he reassure the House that the full level of economic impact was taken into account when they were deciding whether financial intervention was possible? By far the biggest impact will be on jobs, so what steps are the Minister and colleagues across the Government taking to support those who are losing their jobs, and when will that support be available?

Finally, in the light of the information that has been handed to me in recent weeks, of what I have said this evening and of the concern that has been expressed about the process, the way in which it has been handled and the fact that the refinery is of such significance, will the Minister support my call for a parliamentary inquiry into the process, if for no other reason than to ensure that everyone, from the work force and the bond holders to each and every stakeholder, has been treated fairly by this process?

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his hard work. He knows he has had our support in his endeavours. Given the valid concerns he has raised, can he explain where the downside is of having a parliamentary inquiry?

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Stephen Metcalfe: Having considered it, I cannot see a downside. It would reassure people that the process had been transparent, open and conducted in a way that fulfilled all the legal requirements and that there were no other options.

I do not want to give false hope, but I do want to give the assurances that there could have been no other possible outcome from the one announced yesterday. This is a sad day for the UK refining industry, a sad day for south Essex and a sad day for all those who have worked in and been connected with the refinery in the past. Above all, it is a very sad day for the hundreds of people who are currently working at the refinery and who after yesterday’s announcement will no longer have a safe and secure job and will be looking for new employment. I ask the Minister to do whatever he can to address the points I have raised.

7.20 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) for securing the debate and for the way in which he has introduced it. Throughout these months, he has been assiduous in raising concerns with me and my fellow Ministers about the situation. He has pursued every opportunity to engage and to advocate the outcome that he and I would have wished, and he could not have been more diligent in representing his constituents. I also thank him for the way in which he has done that. There are some who believe that the best way of doing such things is in a blaze of media attention, but although that might sometimes secure a short-term political benefit it makes complex legal and economic discussions much more complicated. I absolutely welcome his approach, which has been quiet, persistent, focused and diligent, even if it has not delivered the outcome that he and I would have wished.

I am grateful, too, to my right hon. Friends the Members for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), for Southend West (Mr Amess), for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), as well as to my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), who takes a great interest in such matters. Although his constituency is on the other side of the country, he has a significant refinery of his own in his constituency to look after.

This has been an extremely difficult period and we are all profoundly disappointed, especially for those who have been working so diligently at the refinery, that the administrator has not been able to find somebody who would continue refining at Coryton. The inevitable job losses were something that we all hoped could be avoided, but this has been an extraordinary example of a community pulling together. It is a tribute to the management of the plant, the trade unions and the local community, as led by the local councillors and Members of Parliament. They could not have presented a more seamless and supportive case to the administrator in their work.