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Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that seatbelts can be fitted with high or low clasps? Small children cannot wear the seatbelts fitted with high clasps. In further considering the matter, will my noble friend ensure that when seatbelts are fitted for children, they are made to fit the size of the children?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will clarify something I may have got wrong. He used the words "specifically for children". Does that mean that minibuses or coaches which are used mainly but not exclusively by children will be covered by his proposals?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the simple explanation is that our proposals require a forward-facing seat with a seatbelt to be provided for every child travelling in a minibus or coach, or group of childrenthat is three or moreon an organised trip. That includes home-to-school journeys and school outings but not scheduled coach operations where the coach operator could not possibly be expected to know the number of children making use of the service.
Lord Milverton: My Lords, as well as considering seatbelts, is it not also important to ensure that there is better oversight and control over those who drive the school minibuses? The Minister may remember one incident when it was found that the person driving was not in a fit state to drive.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is right: minibuses can at present be driven on car licences. Under the second EC directive on driver licensing which comes into operation on 1st July 1996, new drivers will not be permitted to drive minibuses without passing a further test. Also, the UK has made a derogation from the directive which allows car drivers to drive minibuses within their own boundaries if certain criteria are complied with. Those criteria cover factors such as the
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the concern expressed about one design of seatbeltthe lap fitting seatbelt? Will he confirm that the Government are taking into account the concerns that have been raised about the damage that can be done by that type of seatbelt as opposed to the one that crosses the shoulder?
Lord Geddes: My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would be kind enough to clarify a confusion which I now have in my mind relative to his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Is it proposed that a school minibus may not carry children unless seatbelts are fitted?
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, on a day when ballot papers, franked or unfranked, have assumed a new importance, particularly to the government party, is the noble Baroness aware that since 1968 in Great Britain there have been a number of court cases, the most recent two in Scotlandone in the sheriff court in Falkirk and one in Jedburgh three weeks agoin which the courts ruled that unfranked ballot papers are a mistake made not by the elector but by the returning officer's staff and therefore should not be disqualified and that those elections should be re-run? Will the Minister accept that I fully understand the risk attached to the forgery of ballot papersand that that is the reason for franking? Nevertheless, will she further accept that, against the background of those court decisions, there is now a need to look at electoral law to see whether some method can be found whereby ballot papers that are not franked are not disqualified?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is almost impossible to have a totally foolproof system. Even though there are the cases cited by the noble Lord, it is a very, very rare occurrence. Where it has happened and where it has been contested, the courts have quite rightly taken the
Lord Finsberg: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, has a very important point? It would be much better to put this beyond any shadow of a doubt. I have monitored elections in four central European countries and I know that there are always dangers in saying that the courts should decide in rare cases. Would it not be better to keep the courts out of this matter and say instead that any unfranked ballot paper will be invalid?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, any ballot paper that is not franked is void. In the two Scottish examples the elections were won by one vote. In each of those elections there were two unfranked ballot papers. In fairness to those who lost those elections by dint of what might have been either a fraudulent act or a mistake by someone presiding over the elections, a judgment was made that the ballots should be re-run. The only people who can take that decision are the courts.
Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that fraud would be made much easier if the man who was supposed to mark the ballot paper had strong views and did not mark the ballot paper? Is she further aware that 50 years ago tomorrow I had 84 such unfranked ballot papers in my favour and the only thing that stopped me protesting was that they had a big majority?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the credentials of the noble Viscount are so beyond doubt that it is absolutely characteristic of him to take that view. However, if one applied a Machiavellian mind to this, if there were an automatic assumption that an unfranked ballot paper was discounted, it might be in the interests of someone overseeing a ballot to ensure that some ballot papers were not frankedin favour or disfavour of a candidate. In that situation it would be absolutely right that the courts should have the last word.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is there not a case for looking at a number of areas of electoral law, particularly where there is a deliberate attempt to deceive the electorate by, for example, calling oneself a "Literal Democrat"? What is being done about that?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that my department is actively considering that point at the moment. It is in dialogue with the political parties. Indeed, I think it is the noble Lord's noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who in the course of a debate in this House said that he had some practical suggestions to make. He has now written to the department and those practical suggestions are being considered. I have to say that a solution is not without its problems, but we are giving active consideration to this phenomenon, which is a vexed issue for all parties.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the International Development Association has an important leadership role in support of poverty reduction, sound economic management and sustainable development. The IDA's policy agenda closely mirrors the priority objectives of the UK aid programme. In the current negotiations on the eleventh replenishment of IDA, we are working with others to ensure a sharper focus on poverty reduction as well as a significant replenishment of IDA's resources.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he assure the House that British support for a significant replenishment of the IDA will not be at the expense of our support for the European Development Fund with its concentration on some of the poorest countries in the world? Do the Government accept that in the past IDA credits have sometimes failed to achieve the objective of alleviating poverty and may even have exacerbated it? Will the Government insist in future that both IDA and the World Bank, when supporting structural adjustment programmes, must ensure that health and education are protected and even enhanced in the development programmes of the recipient countries?
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