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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness has a moment to clarify her remarks about party political funding. She spoke about more transparency but is it not a question of more money? Taxpayers' money is to be handed from the European institutions to parties which satisfy the criterion of being European. Is that right?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the real question is the effect. The need is to ensure transparency in the nature of the funding. The noble Lord knows well that the funding of European parties has been a matter of concern. How are they funded? From where does the money come? How do they account? There is unanimity of view that it is important that that transparency be maintained. These procedures will deliver that.

We have had a good debate. One of the interesting and warming aspects is that virtually without exception--there may have been two noble Lords who disagreed--there has been agreement that enlargement is a thoroughly good thing. Nice has brought about institutional changes which enable enlargement to take place more smoothly and effectively, although there may have been slight disagreements between ourselves as to how much further matters should have gone. Many different views are always expressed on Europe. A healthy debate is an important debate--and we have had a very healthy debate.

Nice has proved that developments in the European Union are going in the way that Her Majesty's Government and Britain would want. We have achieved the progress I mentioned because our partners know that we are committed to making a success of our EU partnership. It is essential that we remain part of it, influencing and driving the process where necessary. Our aim is the successful promotion and protection of British interests and the enhancement of peace and harmony in Europe generally.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, it has been an excellent short debate. I thank all noble Lords who participated. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for the scope of her response. It has been an entirely satisfactory

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occasion on a subject to which undoubtedly noble Lords will have to return on other occasions. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2001

8.5 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the order applies only to Northern Ireland and mirrors the provisions already introduced for other types of elections there. This order amends the local government election rules contained in the Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1962 and extends certain provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.

Your Lordships may recall that among other things the 1998 Act provided the opportunity for political parties to register their names and, if they so chose, their party emblems. Once registered, a party benefits from protection against the unauthorised use of its registered name and its candidates may request the inclusion of their party emblem on the ballot paper. Under the 1998 Act returning officers have the power to ensure that candidates at elections do not provide a description for inclusion on the ballot paper that might lead voters to associate them with a registered party unless they produce the necessary authorisation. This authorisation takes the form of a signed consent form from the nominated officer of the registered political party concerned. The intention is to reduce any grounds for confusion for the voter at the polling station.

The 1998 Act also provides that where a candidate has been authorised by a registered political party to use that party's name on the ballot the candidate may, if he so chooses, request that the party's registered emblem be printed next to his name on the ballot paper.

The provisions of the Act did not apply to local elections held in Northern Ireland and, therefore, this draft order is necessary to afford registered parties the same protection as they have at other types of elections.

As noble Lords will see, the schedule to this draft instrument provides a new specimen ballot paper illustrating these changes. In addition, the provisions provide for expenses incurred by a third party in respect of an election to be brought into line with those of local government elections in Great Britain.

Articles 15, 16, 18, 19 and 24 reflect equivalent changes introduced by the Representation of the People Act 2000 to parliamentary election rules. Those provisions made it easier for blind or partially-sighted persons to vote without assistance and allowed for

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those with any physical incapacity to vote with the assistance of a companion. This order now extends those provisions to local election rules also.

The order further provides for suspension of the requirement to vacate an elected office following conviction for a corrupt or illegal practice during the period in which an appeal could be made. This follows changes to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and brings Northern Ireland local government elections into line with the procedures followed in parliamentary elections.

I consider these changes important not only in updating local election procedures in Northern Ireland but also bringing them in line with Great Britain. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, having voted early and often during my time in Northern Ireland, I observed that the ballot papers were invariably very long by British standards. There were many more candidates than I had been used to in England.

I am surprised, therefore, that in the mock ballot paper in the schedule at the back of the order the party logos shown are curiously selective including, as they do, the UKUP, which has only two or three local councillors but excluding that of the Alliance Party which has 42 councillors across Northern Ireland. It is a strange omission given that the order refers to local government. Perhaps the Minister can explain that curious selection. Apart from that complaint, I have no objection to the order and warmly support it.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, we have no objection to the order.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton : My Lords, I am grateful for the support for the order. The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, is explained by the fact that the logos were intended to be by way of example and nothing else. The ballot paper is meant only to be illustrative and not prescriptive. That is the reason that it is in the form that it is.

Lord Smith of Clifton : My Lords, I am grateful for that reassurance. I hoped that it did not reflect a particular mindset.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2001

8.10 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th January be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the regulations, made under the powers conferred by the Representation of the People Act 2000, put into effect

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the major part of the provisions of that Act and deal with the detailed arrangements for the registration of electors and the conduct of elections.

The Representation of the People Act 2000 emerged from the deliberations of the working party on electoral procedures which was set up after the last election with a mandate to review our electoral arrangements and make recommendations on improvements. The working party, chaired by my honourable friend in another place, the Member for Knowsley North and Sefton East, was a multi-disciplinary body that consisted of representatives from the major political parties as well as experts in the field, such as electoral administrators and government officials. In addition, all the smaller political parties and many other interested organisations were consulted on the various proposals. The working party reported in October 1999 and a Bill was immediately introduced to put into effect its recommendations. The Bill received Royal Assent in March 2000.

The regulations implement provisions for Northern Ireland similar to those due to be introduced for England and Wales and for Scotland. They relate to the rolling registration of electors. They also make better provision for disabled voters, allow for the registration of homeless people, remand prisoners and mental patients and implement a number of other changes to make it easier to register to vote.

I should make it clear that the provisions in the regulations for England and Wales easing the requirements for absent voting are not extended to Northern Ireland. It is not considered appropriate to ease the restrictions at present, due to the concerns that remain over electoral abuse.

Another provision that I wish to highlight is the device prescribed in Regulation 12 to assist blind voters. The device has been tested by groups of blind and partially sighted voters and received their support. It will be available in each polling station for those who want to use it. For the first time, a blind or partially sighted voter will be able to mark his or her ballot paper unaided and with the confidence that the mark has gone in the right place and against the candidate of their choice. It also allows the voter to remove the ballot paper, fold it and place it in the ballot box themselves, with no assistance from a companion or from the presiding officer.

The regulations also deal with the details of applying for registration as a service voter or an overseas elector. They mirror the provisions of the regulations for Great Britain.

Part III of the regulations deals with the new arrangements for registration. There will no longer be a single qualifying date for registration as an elector and only one time in the year when that registration can be changed. From the publication of the new register in a few weeks, when the regulations come into force, voters will be able to change their registration at any time of the year. They will no longer have to wait until the next annual canvass to get themselves on to the register in their new area. However, the stipulation

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that requires anyone registering in Northern Ireland to be resident there for three months before registering remains.

The regulations set out how registration officers will make the provision work. The electoral office will also have the power to delete names from the register, such as those of deceased persons or those who have registered elsewhere, as well as powers to seek further information to confirm eligibility.

All that will make for a more accurate and flexible electoral register, which will also be more user-friendly. We are aware that a large number of people remain unregistered. We hope that making it easier to register will make voters more inclined to do so.

I have one further point to draw to your Lordships' attention. Section 9 of the 2000 Act, concerning the sale and supply of the register, has not been dealt with in the regulations. That section provides for voters to opt out of having their name included on the register that is available for sale. We have not yet drafted regulations on the sale of the register, but we intend to turn our minds to that immediately.

The regulations make a fundamental shift in how we organise our electoral affairs in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that the House will join me in recognising the important changes that are being made to the electoral system and will view the regulations as a step forward in making registering and voting simpler for all. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th January be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)


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