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7.30 p.m.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, this has been a useful short debate. I tend to agree with both the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford that even the early technological age has not been evidenced in the way in which we proceed with our electoral arrangements. We are almost back in the time of the quill pen.

There would be a requirement to have some safeguard against forgery at any election. The forging of ballot papers has been a point of debate and dispute historically. It is right and proper that there should be some safeguard against forgery. I have significant doubts as to whether in this day and age the mark is the appropriate method. I do not believe that this particular Bill, at this particular time, is a way to resolve the issue. However, I am sure that if there are sufficient Members of this House and the other place, and sufficient general commentators on the way in which we conduct our

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elections, who feel that perhaps the time has arrived for a change, they will not be slow in coming forward. At this stage, in the context of this Bill, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that understanding answer and to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, for his intervention. The matter requires investigation. It is the responsibility of another place rather than of this House. Nonetheless, the system needs to be examined to see how we can move into the electronic era. I hope the fact that there will be two ballot papers to every person will not present an added problem at busy times, as the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, indicated.

I suppose that the only hope for this proposal is that if, on reflection, the noble Lord's colleagues think it sensible not to retain this particular rule, they could remove it at the final stage of the Bill. There is a small chance that the noble Lord might reflect upon this. If he sees it as presenting a problem for people at the polling stations, he has an opportunity to do something about it next Tuesday. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 52, as an amendment to Amendment No. 50, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 50, Amendment No. 53:


Leave out lines 469 to 471.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Rule 31, which I seek to have removed, relates to notification of the requirement of secrecy. Those of your Lordships who have been present at a count or have been polling agents will know that one makes a declaration of secrecy. I recall from the dim and distant past that the declaration of secrecy was taken so seriously at one particular election that people were even discouraged from going out to the toilet in case they relayed some information to the outside world about the progress of the count.

Nowadays, we can all see the progress of the count because the television cameras are there, let alone the radio microphones. While I do not believe I have yet seen close-ups of the piles of votes in order--although I have come pretty close to seeing that--certainly people are interviewed during the count and asked how it is going. If they are winning, they try to pretend that they are not smiling too much; if they are losing, they try to pretend that their lips are not turned down. I have experienced both, so I know exactly how it feels.

At the last election it was pretty clear to me at every count where the television cameras were present what the result would be before it was declared. It seems ridiculous to ask people to sign a declaration of secrecy and yet allow the media to ride roughshod over rules and procedures established over many years regarding not telling people outside the count the result until the ballot is over and declared. I am pleased to see a number of noble Lords nodding in assent, indicating that they do believe this to be an abuse of the system. I am interested to hear the Government's comments.

I have little doubt, given the interest of the Scottish and Welsh media, that there will be television cameras present at the counts in the referendums. There will be

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only two piles of votes; there will not even be the complication of, say, a four-way election. It will become pretty obvious to all of us viewing what the result in a particular county is likely to be. That would seem to be a breach of the rules. If the rules are not to be obeyed, I suggest that it is best to change them. I beg to move.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, before my noble friend the Minister replies, perhaps I may help him out of what I see as a difficulty in answering this amendment. These are non-political matters for a Speaker's Conference; they are not matters for the Government of the day. Therefore my strong advice to my noble friend is merely to reply that "these are matters for a Speaker's Conference" and then sit down. Then we can all go for dinner.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, these are matters for a Speaker's Conference.

Before sitting down, I shall make one other point. The difficulty with the amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will instantly recognise, is that it removes the requirement for notification of the requirement of secrecy. It does not remove the requirement of secrecy itself. The last redoubt of the scoundrel in Committee and on Report is to take refuge in pointing out the defective drafting of the amendment. In this case I am happy to do so and echo the point made by my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford; namely, that these are matters for a Speaker's Conference.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I rather fear that the quality of the replies has deteriorated again. I appreciate that that is the case. However, this was an opportunity to raise one or two issues. I took the trouble of sitting in the Library and going through this amendment with the appropriate Acts of Parliament in front of me, and it occurred to me that this would be an appropriate point at which to raise this interesting issue, which I believe is exercising other Members of this House and no doubt Members of the other place, especially if they are at the receiving end of a camera thrust into their faces when perhaps they are losing and the last thing they want is to be interviewed while the count is still going on and are busy trying to work out what gracious words they may say in defeat. The candidates who are winning have no such trouble; they are happy to be interviewed. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, makes a perfectly proper point, but I hope that he and the Minister will not mind me raising the issue as something that is contained in the schedule. I believe that a Speaker's Conference or Parliament will have to return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 53, as an amendment to Amendment No. 50, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Gray moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 50, Amendment No. 53A:


Line 488, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 53A, I also wish to speak to Amendment No. 53B which is a necessary adjunct to it and which also stands in my name.

The amendments seek to address one unsatisfactory consequence of employing local government electoral rolls for a purpose for which they were not intended. The unsatisfactory consequence is the potential for multiple voting. Unfortunately, I was unable to be in the House on the second day of Committee to move an amendment that I had tabled to Clause 1 dealing with the point. I apologise to noble Lords for having been unavoidably absent. However, I note from the Official Report that the amendment attracted some attention. At col. 332 of Hansard for 3rd July, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said, as part of his answer to the amendment, that the matter would be dealt with by an Order in Council applying Section 61 of the Representation of the People legislation.

I am grateful to the Minister for the change of heart which has brought the schedule to the Bill. By introducing it, he has obligingly presented me with perhaps a better opportunity to deal with the matter now. Nonetheless, my basic reaction is that it is all very well making something an offence if those who might offend do not know that they are doing so. It would be naive to suppose that the electorate would seek out and familiarise itself with either the subordinate legislation, which it might have been, or the complicated formula, which is essential to the schedule.

Noble Lords will see on page 16 of the Marshalled List, commencing at line 486, that the schedule imports Rule 35 and substitutes for its paragraphs (1) and (2) the forms of question that a presiding officer may put to would-be referendum voters. At line 504, paragraph (2)(b) sets out the question designed to identify a multiple voting attempt. As the schedule stands, the presiding officer does not have to ask any of the relevant questions. My amendment, Amendment No. 53A, by substituting "shall" for "may", will ensure that the relevant questions are asked. Amendment No. 53B is necessary if we make the procedure mandatory.

This is not the first time that the problem has arisen. The solution I offer is not perfect, but at least it is a fair stab at going some way towards meeting it. Multiple voting is, I suggest, almost impossible to police. Confirmation of that view can be found in the Official Report for 12th April 1978, when this House was in Committee on the Scotland Act. Enfranchisement of Peers for assembly elections under that Act must be via the local government roll. In the course of replying to amendments that I moved, the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, for the Government, proposed following the same course as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, outlined on 3rd July this year. But the noble and learned Lord added, at col. 640 of the Official Report for 12th April 1978:


    "Thus, we cannot stop Peers voting twice but we can punish them for it".

If the noble and learned Lord had been in his place this afternoon, I should have been tempted to invite him to consider whether, on this occasion, he might have added: "and if we can catch them".

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Today we are dealing with the electorate at large. Some will receive polling cards in more than one electoral area and there are postal and proxy votes to be considered. Surely we must try to ensure that people do not offend, perhaps through ignorance.

I do not know whether the replies to amendments proposed are on an upward curve or a downward curve at the moment in terms of quality and I have no idea how my two amendments will be received. However, if the Minister who is to reply has significant difficulty with my amendments or their wording, perhaps in the course of his answer he will consider giving an undertaking that a statement making the position clear will appear, perhaps on every polling card and in any informatory leaflet which may yet arrive in households. I beg to move.


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