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Lord Hylton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the last sentence of her reply. Perhaps I may inject a little urgency into the continuing search for better safeguards. What I said earlier may have indicated that some of the safeguards have so far proved remarkably ineffective.

I thank all other noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken in the short debate. I am very appreciative of the high level of support for at least the spirit and intention of my amendment.

The word "loophole" has been used. This particular loophole has been created by the Government in their own immigration procedures. There are two reasons why the normal legal protections, both in criminal and employment law, are so extremely difficult to apply. The first is because while the initial employment lasts, in many cases the domestic worker is physically locked up on his or her employer's premises and cannot get out. He or she therefore has no access to normal legal remedies. Once the employment has been lost or abandoned, the worker becomes liable for deportation and is therefore hesitant about embarking on any legal proceedings.

The Minister mentioned being able to change employment as of right. That is the key to the problem and I hope that further consideration will include that point. Meanwhile, I should like to study everything that has been said, particularly by the Government, on the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it for the time being, with the proviso that I may come back to the matter at Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Courtown: I beg to move that the House be now resumed. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1996

7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th April be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the draft order sets out the technical detail of the arrangements for the elections that are to be held under the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act.

The key features of the election are all prescribed in the Act itself. The order fills out the framework with what I fear is necessarily a substantial volume of technical detail. We considered carefully the form in

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which this should be presented in order to be most readily understood by those who will have to operate it. It has been suggested that we might have set out, in full, a comprehensive new code. While we saw the attractions of this approach, there are also substantial drawbacks. It would have created an order of very great length, which we believe would have been difficult to apply.

What we have sought to do so far as possible is to apply existing legislation that will be familiar to those involved in electoral matters. Hence the election will be conducted essentially on the basis of the existing law relating to parliamentary elections, with the minimum necessary modifications. Those modifications are set out in the body of the order and the schedules. The order sets out in what respects different provision will be made for this election. We believe that proceeding in this way makes the legislation simpler to understand and apply.

I turn now to a few of the detailed arrangements for the elections. We have been conscious that the electoral system to be used on 30th May will be new and unfamiliar to the electorate, and that a substantial education effort is required. We have already distributed almost 600,000 leaflets, one to every household, drawing attention to arrangements for absent voting, explaining the franchise and reminding voters of the need at Northern Ireland elections to have available one of the specified identity documents. A second leaflet, to be circulated shortly in the same volume, explains how to vote on this occasion and how the electoral system will work. In addition there will be television and radio advertisements during the campaign encouraging people to use their vote.

For these elections, which are different from those we are used to, we have decided that the restrictions on broadcasting in Section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 should not apply. The unusual nature of these elections, involving votes for parties rather than individual candidates, means that the application of Section 93 might cause problems in distinguishing the campaign in a particular constituency from that across Northern Ireland as a whole. It will be important to avoid potential for disputes between the parties and the broadcasters. We understand that broadcasters share our view that these important elections should be given balanced and fair coverage that reflects the inclusive nature of the approach we have taken.

In view of the discussion yesterday in another place when this order was considered, I should like to emphasise a point about the names of parties, on which it is important that there is no misunderstanding. The names of parties for the purposes of the election are those set out in the Bill. That has long been made clear; it was stressed in the consultation paper published in Northern Ireland at the beginning of April. This is an important part of the scheme of the Bill, and if it were not the case, there would be a great deal of scope for confusion and for the use of "spoiling" names by those who might seek to subvert the electoral process. The names in the Bill will therefore appear on the ballot paper, and it is in those names also that the lists of the parties should be submitted. There is provision by which

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the lists might be rejected otherwise. That is clearly an eventuality that must be avoided, and that is why it is important that the names prescribed in the Bill are used.

These are the main features of the draft order. As I have said, it embodies much complex and technical provision. That is inevitable in provision for any election, because there has developed over the years a very large body of law for the regulation of elections. We believe, on reflection, that the order represents the most sensible and helpful approach to establishing the legal framework for the elections, and I therefore commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th April be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her exposition. The timetable is lamentable. As she said, the order was laid on 29th April, and today is 2nd May. The elections are only a matter of a few weeks away. This order was considered in another place yesterday evening. We are not doing our work properly because we are not being given the opportunity to do so. That is, of course, in no sense a criticism of the Minister, but I think it is an objective criticism of the timetable which ought to be sustained. In this order there are 30 pages of detailed, close, dense material which it is simply not possible to scrutinise properly in the time available, particularly bearing in mind that another place sat into the evening yesterday to raise questions and possible amendments.

The Member for North Down in another place, Mr. Robert McCartney, made the point well. He has 20 years' experience as a senior counsel and he found it difficult to deal with all the material.

The Minister mentioned the names of parties and that each party must stick to the formula by way of description within the schedule to the Act. Is that really fair? Mr. McCartney's party will have his name included, the Reverend Paisley will not. It is said that there will be opportunity for mischief and confusion, but that could easily have been attended to by a sieve, worked by the Secretary of State. It does not seem to me to be fair that one party will have the name of its leader on the ballot and another will not. I see no intellectual consistency there at all.

Perhaps I may ask one or two distinct questions of which I have given notice to the Minister. On page 13, paragraph (2C) states:

    "Where the election court determines that the election of a delegate or delegates of a particular party was void but that the election as a whole in the constituency to which the petition relates was not void, the return of delegates under paragraph 14 of Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1996 Act shall be calculated again and the votes given for that party in that constituency shall be disregarded".
As I read that, if a single candidate in a constituency acted in such a way as to make his or her election void, then the other successful delegates who would have been elected on that party ticket would be ineligible to sit. That seems a strange consequence, if I have read the section correctly.

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Perhaps the Minister can help the House as to the purpose of the reference to overseas electors on page 2 at paragraph 3(6)(c). How are expenses to be dealt with? I realise that there is a formula in respect of expenses for each constituency; but are there to be any limits on the expenses spent by parties generally throughout Northern Ireland? Will there be any opportunity for party political broadcasts? If so, how is equal time to be allocated? I was most heartened that the Minister was able to tell us that a good deal of publicity by way of publicly funded advertising and leaflet drops has been undertaken. That suggestion was put forward by both the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and myself on an earlier occasion. I am sure that the noble Lord will be as pleased as I am to know that the Government acted upon it.

Have the Government been able to put their mind to the question of alternative mechanisms for parallel decommissioning? I regret to reiterate my fear that if the alternative menu is not available and not fully thought out before 10th June, these negotiations will be abortive.

Yet again we are in the position of saying that these are exceptional circumstances and therefore we are not able to carry out our work of scrutiny correctly or as our duty requires. These "exceptional circumstances" are becoming more the norm than the exception. I direct no criticism at the Minister, who always treats us with every courtesy and consideration, but the time is far too short to scrutinise this bulk of material with any degree of sense.

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