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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall be brief. My first question is about the ballot boxes. The Minister said that there will be three ballot boxes in each polling station, colour-coded to match the ballot papers. What will happen if a vote for the Scottish Parliament goes into the local government box? Are voters to be warned that if that happens their vote will not be counted because that box will not be opened until the next day. That may cause a great deal of feeling and a candidate may lose a vote because of it. I should like to know whether people will be warned about that.

Secondly, have the Government made sure that the colours that they have selected are those least likely to be mistaken by people who are colour blind? That is not a lighthearted question. A great many people, particularly men, are colour blind. For example, when they are picking red strawberries against green leaves, they cannot see the strawberries even though they want them. I do not know a great deal about that. If the colour chosen is mauve, the intensity of the colours is very much the same. Will the colours be easily discernible and, most important, will they be discernible from white, because if the coloured ballot paper is mistaken for white, the vote will be lost. That seems to me to be a snag.

I read--and the Minister has doubtless read it too--that in Grampian region there is anxiety about the combination of a high turn-out and the fact that the process will be rather slower because people will be learning the system of voting in three ballot boxes. That may mean that there is a delay, particularly at the rush hour, at the end of election day, which we all know takes place. Therefore, in that region there will be extra ballot boxes. Has that decision been taken in other parts of the country? Has consideration been given to the fact that extra ballot boxes may be needed?

My other question is about the opening. During the passage of the Bill we understood that it was not constitutionally necessary for Her Majesty or her representative to open the Parliament. Has Her Majesty been invited to open the Parliament and, if so, has she accepted? The public want to know that.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I now have a pile of paper almost equal to the number of pages in the order. I am grateful to noble Lords who have raised a number of interesting and important points. It is right that we should look at them.

Perhaps I may deal with them in reverse order and deal first with the issues raised by the noble Baroness. As regards the colour of the papers, we have indeed taken the problem of colour blindness into account in selecting the colours.

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As regards ballot papers going into the wrong boxes, we must accept that there is a significant risk that a number of ballot papers will go in the wrong box. It is the count for the local government elections which takes place the following day. The practice on the evening will be that the ballot boxes will be opened and mis-allocated papers will be allocated properly at that point. Therefore, if somebody's ballot paper is put into the wrong box, that would not end up as a wasted vote.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does that mean that the local government ballot boxes will be opened the previous evening?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, they will be opened and then resealed.

Perhaps I may deal with some of the other points raised. I can confirm to the noble Baroness that Her Majesty will attend the opening ceremony on 1st July. That will be the official opening ceremony of the Parliament. The first meeting, on 12th May, will be very much a low-key event.

I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I am pleased that he recognises the importance of due ceremony to mark the formal opening of the Parliament. It was only a few months ago that the noble Lord was putting all his effort into ensuring that that day would never dawn. It is nice to know that he now wishes to see that it is properly marked. Indeed, we are having, and have had, consultations to ensure that that takes place.

The noble Lord mentioned a number of bodies which he thought may be defunct. That point was also latched onto by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I say to both noble Lords that British Shipbuilders continues to exist, in a very reduced way. There are three office holders. The chairman is paid in the region of £17,000. The two members each receive £5,000. Therefore, it is a little too early to write off British Shipbuilders. I spent most of last week in Brussels. At one stage we were talking about virtual cows. In this order we may be talking about virtual organisations. However I think it is better, even if such bodies are defunct, or have recently become defunct, to include them. There is no harm in including defunct bodies, because nobody will be excluded on that basis.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may say to the Minister that it is a good job that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is not in his place to hear his remarks.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, we have a "belt-and-braces" attitude on this matter. The noble Lord also mentioned social security tribunals. The basis of disqualification there comes from the line of judicial independence, ensuring that people who perform that function are seen to be politically independent.

I turn to the £1.5 million. During the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I indicated by nodding that he was correct and that the noble Lord,

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was wrong. As I have said, the £1.5 million covers everything not normally covered in a constituency campaign, and that means both the national and regional element. It is difficult, when one thinks of it, to distinguish between the regional and the national. If someone puts up a "Vote Labour" sign, what the dickens is it? Is it an exhortation to vote Labour nationally or regionally? The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made the point that a party would somehow concentrate "a third, a third, a third" in their best regional areas. I do not believe that that stands up in reality. What would happen if they did that? They would have no national campaign at all. Clearly the parties are going to put quite a lot of that £1.5 million into an across-the-board national campaign. I suspect that we shall see very little dedicated regional expenditure and regional campaigning. There will be the amounts spent in the individual constituencies and I suspect that we shall find that the £1.5 million is virtually taken up by national activities and a national campaign. Therefore I do not have the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised the point of registration of political parties. As a Minister I can have no locus in that. Whether or not to accept a registration of a political party, a name, rests with the registrar, though there is an appeal to a committee established by Madam Speaker in another place. I am sure that that is the route that will be taken in relation to the specific cases instanced by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. It would be quite wrong for a Member of the Government to have any say in whether or not a party name should be accepted by the registrar. A quite correct division exists. I also make the point that the party name used at a local election is decided by the returning officer and not the registrar. So the decisions are taken by two very different people. The sort of tension identified by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, can therefore occur.

We come to the business of recounts. As I said in my opening speech, it is a difficult area; I acknowledge that. It is one about which we have no previous experience. All our elections at the moment are based on first-past-the-post, and when the count is done we know who has won. That will not be the case when we move into proportional additional member territory. There is a fall-back position. If the situation arises illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and we are down to a couple of hundred votes out of several tens of thousands, then the decision is clearly by recourse to the courts. The papers are still extant and the recount would be possible if a candidate thought that there was something wrong with the way in which they had been counted in the first place.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that an election petition is hugely expensive and will rest upon the individual candidate?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, it is a course of action that is not to be undertaken lightly; I accept that. The difficulty with the alternatives is, to take an area like the

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Highlands and Islands where counting will take place in a number of different constituencies with vast geographical spreads, how long will the counting stations have to be kept open? We get into the practical mechanisms of what will be required. However, I recognise the anxiety. We should go forward on the basis of the procedures described in the orders and learn from experience. We can then see what adjustments may be appropriate and may command widespread support in the future. If a real difficulty arises, I am sure that it will be in the interests of all of us to look again at these provisions in the future.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am not sure that I am imagining the scene correctly. Will the results of the regional vote be read out in such a way that people know that the collation has been done correctly or will that be done on paper and simply the ultimate result read out?


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