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Lord Jopling: I have listened carefully to the Minister's reply. I repeat what I said in my earlier remarks. I remain unsure about whether the Government are being sufficiently prudent in dealing with the dangers of abuse in the registration and voting of the electorate. We may be able to discuss that further as time goes on.

However, leaving the Minister's comments aside, I have to say that I was somewhat amused by the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He quoted the example of the battered wife who escapes in her night-dress in the middle of the night on to the frozen winter streets. The thought that he left in my mind was that the first thought of an unfortunate lady in that situation would be to ensure that she had registered her vote by demonstrating a local connection--no thought of going first to the hospital, if that was necessary; no thought of trying to find somewhere to live temporarily; no thought of trying to find some clothing; and no thought of trying to get assistance from the social services! He seemed to imply that that was the first thing, or very nearly the first thing, the lady would do. The noble Earl shakes his head. I am perhaps saying this rather flippantly and I do not want to be taken too seriously.

I was heartened by what the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said. At Second Reading I had the enormous pleasure of congratulating him on his maiden speech. I detected a good deal more sympathy in his remarks than I detected in the remarks of the noble Earl. It occurs to me that there are the seeds of co-operation between the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and myself over this matter. Whether that would compare with the new relationship across the Front Benches about which we heard, I am not entirely sure. In the course of the next few days perhaps I may have a discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, to see whether there is any way in which we can find a compromise amendment. I see that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, wishes to intervene. I once worked for the noble Lord many years ago. I am not sure what words he is breathing into the ear of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.

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Lord McNally: I am advising my noble friend Lord Rennard that when mixing with a former Chief Whip he should take a good lawyer with him.

Lord Jopling: On that happy note, hoping that a warmer co-operation may emerge, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 25 to 27 not moved.]

Lord Jopling moved Amendment No. 28:


    Page 9, leave out lines 12 and 13.

The noble Lord said: I shall not delay the Committee for very long with this amendment. In new Section 7B(7)(b), it is enough to say that if a person makes more than one declaration of local connection, the declaration or declarations shall be void. I do not see the need for the words in lines 12 and 13. I do not want to argue in favour of my Amendment No. 30, which seeks to take out the words "or declarations". That is not necessary. But would it not make more sense if subsection (7)(b) stated merely that if a person makes more than one declaration of local connection, that declaration shall be void? I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend Lord Jopling has a good point. I can understand the Government not being keen to accept more than one declaration stating different addresses on the same day. However, if I read the provision correctly, someone could make a declaration on one day for one place and then make another declaration the next day for another place, in an adjacent ward or constituency. There should be some limit on the number of declarations someone can make. Therefore, I believe that my noble friend's amendment bears careful study by the Government.

I accept that someone may make a declaration today and that in three or four months' time he may have moved sufficiently far away to want to make another declaration, but he should not be able to run two declarations at the same time. That brings us back to the protection offered by my noble friend's previous amendment--if someone makes a declaration, he should be asked (as I think we should all be asked) whether he has made a previous declaration and whether he is voting anywhere else using a declaration. That may be a way to get round the problem.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is a long-established principle that a person may appear on the electoral register more than once. People who have two residences are entitled to be registered in respect of both of them. That is a facility of which many Members of another place take advantage and, for all I know, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, may have been registered in both London and Cumbria during his distinguished service there. The Bill does nothing to change that position.

However, the Bill does introduce the new concept of a declaration of local connection. It will be used by mental patients, remand prisoners and the homeless

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who would have difficulty in establishing residence in the normal way. Given that such declarations will be used by those who are unable to register in the normal way, it would be quite wrong, as the noble Lord said in moving the amendment, if such people were allowed to register more than once. A person who has difficulty establishing a single residence can hardly claim two residences.

It was for precisely that reason that the Government brought forward an amendment in another place to ensure that nobody who is registered by means of a declaration of local connection may appear on the electoral register more than once. If Members of the Committee care to look at new Section 7C(2)(c), which appears towards the bottom of page 9 of the Bill, they will see that as soon as another entry appears in the register--whether an entry in the normal way or by means of a declaration of local connection--the person's existing entitlement to registration is deemed to have lapsed. The effect of that is exactly as I set out. It means that no one who is registered by means of a declaration of local connection can be registered twice.

I believe that that takes care of the problem which the noble Lord highlighted. With that assurance, I trust that that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Jopling: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. For the record, I was for many years registered in three places, but of course I never voted in more than one. The noble Lord has gone some way to explain the background to this matter. It is a complicated business. We shall have to get used to the concept of local connections. I shall digest the words which the noble Lord was kind enough to utter. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 not moved.]

6.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 31:


    Page 9, line 20, at end insert--


("( ) A declaration of local connection shall be of no effect if that declaration states an address within a constituency which is not represented by a Member of Parliament at the time when that declaration is received by the registration officer.").

The noble Lord said: I am concerned about people moving into a constituency when they know that a by-election is pending. The difference between by-elections and general elections is that the Prime Minister normally gives four or five weeks' notice that a general election will be held and the matter is tightly controlled. A by-election is different. A Member may resign or, unfortunately, from time to time, a Member may die, and the by-election is possibly not held for three months after that event. Between the time when the by-election is first announced and the time when it takes place, three different dates might pass when the rolling register could be updated.

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A good example is the by-election for the Scottish Parliament which is to take place in the borough of Ayr. It will be held on 16th March, if memory serves me correctly. It has come about in rather mysterious circumstances: the sitting Member resigned in December--basically, so far as I can see, because he was not given a job by the First Minister, Mr Dewar. If that were a basis for resignation, quite a lot of Members of the other place would resign every so often!

Knowing that the by-election will occur, people could roll on to that register on 1st January, 1st February and 1st March. People who have a house somewhere else are unlikely to move to Ayr deliberately to vote in the by-election--although, given the size of the majority, I imagine that the political parties are looking carefully at who is registering. Indeed, given the narrowness of the majority--a mere 25--the MSP's decision to resign the seat looks even more peculiar.

It is the local connection problem that causes me the greatest concern. Ayr is not far from Glasgow, and people could move there in an attempt to bring enough votes to bear to make a major difference in the seat. Earlier, I mentioned those who are resident at the so-called "peace camp" at Faslane, in the Gareloch, who have a bee in their bonnets about nuclear weapons and who are protesting today. They might all decide to decamp to Ayr, register their local connection and try to influence the by-election. Their problem nowadays, of course, is that they cannot even go there to vote for the Labour Party, as Labour no longer believes in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament--although it is interesting that some Labour MSPs and MPs still do. I am pleased to say that my noble friend Lady Thatcher led us to victory in that general battle in the 1980s and the issue has by and large gone from the political debate.

The point is that people could move during the three-month period. If it were the right three-month period, they could possibly obtain three updates. That cannot be right. The amendment seeks to ensure that the moment a constituency becomes vacant and a by-election is to take place, no more declarations of local connection will be taken.

If I have read his previous replies correctly, I suspect that the Minister will say that we must treat the homeless vote in the same way as the resident vote. I understand the logic in that, but it might well lead us to say that in regard to a by-election the register should be frozen at the date of the Member's resignation or death. I should not like to go that far because people have genuine reasons for moving. However, we should watch out for those who might abuse the electoral system in a marginal constituency and migrate for the purposes of voting in what can often be a key by-election for the political parties--as the by-election at Ayr will be for the Labour Party and the Scottish Executive. I beg to move.


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