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Lord Monson: My Lords, unfortunately my noble friend Lord Molyneaux has just left his place so he will not be able to verify my comments. As I understand it, a well-known maxim in Ulster, particularly in areas controlled by Sinn Fein, is: "Vote early and vote often". The pair of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, would help to obviate the danger of that malpractice occurring in Scotland. Therefore, I suggest that they should be supported.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Gray makes a valid point. It is all very well for legislators to say: "You should not vote more than once", but when people get two polling cards, for example, dare I suggest that they may become a little confused and think that they do have the right to vote more than once. After all, they have two polling cards in their hands. That is one of the penalties of having a local government register, but I shall not revisit that argument.

My noble friend has a valid point and he suggests a way of getting round the difficulty. He might even be prepared to accept that the second question in paragraph (2)(b) should be obligatory because that will bring to someone's attention the question: "Have you voted before?", or "Have you voted already in the referendum?". If people have done so because they appear on two registers as a result of the local government problem, they will at least know that they are, in sailing jargon, "sailing into danger". They will then be able to say: "Yes, I have", but they may also say: "But I have two polling cards. Am I not allowed to vote on each of them?". Then the presiding officer can explain. My noble friend has a good point on this.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Gray, explained, Amendments Nos. 53A and 53B deal with the questions that the presiding officer at the polling station may or should ask voters before giving them ballot papers. At elections, presiding officers can ask voters whether they are the person mentioned in the relevant entry in the register and whether the voter has already voted, as the noble Lord explained.

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Amendment No. 53A would require the presiding officer at the polling station to put those questions to every voter. At elections, the presiding officer only puts the questions if he believes it necessary or if specifically asked to do so by the candidates or their agents.

Amendment No. 53B is related and requires both the statutory questions to be put rather than "one or both". We believe that it would be better to leave the use of the statutory questions to the presiding officer's discretion. To use them on every occasion would, I am afraid, slow the voting process quite unnecessarily and may well cause problems in the polling station itself. As at normal elections, those questions would be available to be used if and when required, I am not convinced of the power of the argument that has been advanced. I am afraid that I have to ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Gray: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have supported me and thank the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for his answer. I must say that the quality of the answers due to this side of the House is on the downward curve at this moment. It is a disappointing answer. I am not certain that slowing the electoral process is an adequate reason for perhaps condoning an offence. On the other hand, I am certain that the quality of the presiding officers is such that they will do their very best.

At this hour and in these circumstances, I do not think I have much alternative but to withdraw. However, I did not hear any comment on my suggestion that people might be advised of the position via the polling card or something else. If, before I withdraw the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, would like to interrupt me and comment, I should be grateful.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the whole range of issues that we have been discussing in the past few moments indicate general disquiet about the present arrangements. If at some future date there were to be a Speaker's Conference, that is clearly one of the issues which could be referred to and dealt with by such a conference.

Lord Gray: My Lords, I hope that when the Minister reads the record of the debate and thinks about what I have said as to the undertaking that he might give, he might have second thoughts before a Speaker's Conference. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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

[Amendment No. 53B, as an amendment to Amendment No. 50, not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 50, Amendment No. 54:

Line 492, leave out ("both") and insert ("more").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if the House agrees, perhaps we can take Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 together. That will end the series of amendments and

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will, no doubt, bring a great deal of pleasure to some noble Lords. It will not bring half as much pleasure to your Lordships as it brings to me, I must say.

Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 are on a slightly different issue, although they address the same part of the rules that my noble friend Lord Gray has just discussed. I tabled them partly because, as I have told your Lordships before, I live in the constituency of Glasgow Govan, where a certain number of questions are posed over some of the people who voted. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, drew our attention to the supposed adage about voters in Northern Ireland: "Vote early and vote often".

Suppose one intends to impersonate someone and vote in his or her stead, either because one knows that the person is not there and one is safe in doing so or simply because it has been arranged for imaginary people to be registered, their polling cards have been picked up and off one goes. Perhaps I may suggest that, even if the presiding officer asks the two questions, if one is into that kind of villainy, one will say, "Yes, I am the person registered and of course I have not voted anywhere else." So the two questions are rather weak. Therefore, if we are serious about this matter, I have suggested that we ought to give the presiding officer the power to ask a third question; namely, "May I have some verification of your identity?" I make that point very seriously, although I suspect that, having been well guided by his noble friend Lord Ewing, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will tell us that this is a matter for a Speaker's Conference.

If in fact this becomes a matter for a Speaker's Conference, I shall feel that I have done a reasonably good job for a few minutes this evening. It is a serious problem. People who vote for either imaginary people whom they have registered or other people whom they know to be out of the country and therefore not going to vote represent a much more serious problem than that addressed by franking ballot papers that we discussed a few moments ago. I do not say that many people do it but I am afraid that quite clearly it is done. Everybody who has been involved in elections has the occasional story about it, without much evidence. As I said, it has become a considerable scandal in the constituency of Glasgow Govan. I believe that this amendment would be one of the ways to get round that problem.

I should not go quite so far as my noble friend and make the question obligatory on every elector. In many polling stations, especially in rural areas, the presiding officer knows everybody who comes to vote. But in cities that is not the case at all. Therefore, I believe that if the presiding officer had the right to ask the third question, we should put up a blockade to personation which is not put up by questions (2)(a) and (2)(b).

Even if the noble Lord cannot accept my amendment, I hope that he will accept the argument that I put forward and suggest to his honourable and right honourable friends in government that, should a Speaker's Conference about electoral matters take place, we should consider this whole question. I do not say

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that my solution is perfect but I believe that the right of the presiding officer to ask for evidence inevitably has to come in our elections in the future. I beg to move.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 seek to add a further statutory question which voters can be asked at the polling stations; namely, "May I have some verification of your identity?" I can imagine the response that is likely to be given in some of the polling stations with which I am familiar should an officer of the poll ask that question. But let us leave that matter apart; perhaps I know places which are too rough.

According to the amendment, voters will be invited to show some form of verification. As the noble Lord indicated, we do not have that feature at present in relation to elections, either parliamentary or local. I do not believe that a case can be made that it ought to be introduced specifically for a referendum. I do not think that that was the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.

In terms of the amendment, if a person could not produce some form of identity, he or she would still be able to vote; the ability to vote is not dependent on being able to produce some form of identity. But I take the general thrust of the amendment. I make nit-picking points.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I ask my noble friend the Minister to forgive my interruption. I am reliably informed that, when the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, was Minister in the Scottish Office, he was regarded as a lookalike for Robert Redgrave. So, what would happen if he turned up at a polling station with a photograph of Robert Redgrave and, on being asked for some evidence of identity, produced that photograph? What is the purpose of producing evidence of identity? The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, could produce a Robert Redgrave lookalike!

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