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Mr. William Ross: Given that some moves are afoot in various parties in the House to have PR elections, should not this aspect of the legislation put down a marker of which everyone should take note? If there is a multiplicity of parties, which occurs under PR, section 93 would have to be suspended in all future elections in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Worthington: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's point is valid, but I have enough difficulty learning for the present without trying to learn for the future. I hope that we shall all learn from this. Above all, I hope that the talks are successful.

As I say, I hesitate to return to the subject of party names, because the issue caused considerable contention in Committee. Schedule 1 (ii) allows some individual names on the ballot paper but not others, and that has been the cause of contention. I and may others cannot see the logic of it. In Committee, the Government said that the names could appear on the ballot paper only in the way that is set out in the schedule, but, of course, the law is only what appears in the Bill, and I cannot see where the Government get their authority for that in the legislation.

The law simply states that the Secretary of State shall cause to be published in the Belfast Gazette an initial list of the nominating representatives of the parties that are listed in the schedule. The Bill has been to the other place, and I assume that it has received Royal Assent and is now the law, but it does not state that the schedule contains

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the only way to describe these parties. There is no prohibition in the schedule or in the relevant clause on the use of other names.

Rule 6(1) states:

shall state

    (b) . . . in the case of a regional list, that it is such a list;

    (c) . . . in the case of any list--

    (i) . . . the name of the party".

There follow instructions about the address and so on.

Rule 12 states that a list

It says that the chief electoral officer may hold a list invalid only if the particulars of a party or candidates


For the sake of argument, what would the electoral officer do if a party described itself as the Democratic Unionist Party (Ian Paisley)? It is undeniably the same party as the one listed as Democratic Unionist--DUP in the schedule. On what statutory basis would the electoral officer be able to deny its candidacy or change the way in which it is described? There may be a simple answer to that, but I raise it because the legislation is not clear.

We know what was said in Committee, but it is not clear in the legislation that a party cannot use some minor or major variation on its name as listed in the schedule. All that matters is that

only on the grounds that

That is very different from saying that a party has to use exactly the same words. For whatever reason, a party might put its name forward in a different way. It would be a bold electoral officer who rejected the party on that basis, or sought to change the name by which the party described itself. I am open to explanation by the Minister. The Government made their intention clear during the debate in Committee, but I query whether they have been made explicit in the Bill.

Finally, there has been some controversy about the postal ballot arrangements, which were being centralised. Will it be possible to make postal ballot arrangements on a local, rather than a Northern Ireland, basis?

As I said at the outset, I have gone through the order in a short time and raised the questions that occurred to me. It is unfortunate that we are dealing with it in this way, because we will be denied the immense wisdom of lawyers outside Parliament and other people who know electoral law, who could have pointed out other discrepancies. I look forward to the Minister's response to my points.

9.12 pm

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): We are confronted this evening with the Elections (Northern Ireland) Order, which consists of no fewer than 30 pages

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of tightly packed amendments. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has done a good job in wading through it in the time at his disposal. He and the House know that they have had a chance only to scratch the surface of the order. Much more needs to be said.

I deeply resent the fact that names are not to be included on the ballot paper. Like it or not, the names of individual candidates have a bearing on whether a party gains votes in a particular area. Leaving names off is much to be regretted and bitterly resented.

The issue has been raised of the sums that can be spent in the elections. Several parties in Northern Ireland have no difficulty in raising money. They go along with a balaclava and a gun and ask for it. I suspect that one or two parties will have enough money to fight the election and spend the full sum.

This process is regarded by people in Northern Ireland as another step along the road to meeting the IRA deadline of 10 June. The Government are trying to create a body that will be powerless. Thanks be to God, though, the people of Northern Ireland, like people elsewhere in the United Kingdom, value their freedom and the electoral process, and are intent on making full use of it. I have no doubt that, whenever the forum is elected, the Minister will find considerable difficulty in trying to restrict what it says. It will, like all elected bodies, slowly but steadily acquire power.

We are faced with a order of 30 pages of amendments to the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act 1996, the Representation of the People Act 1983, the Representation of the People Act 1985, the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989--four Acts of Parliament, three of which deal purely with representation of the people, and the latest Act, which was, of course, passed by the House last week--plus the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1986, the Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992 and the Election Petition Rules 1964. The order amends four Acts of Parliament, two sets of regulations and one set of rules.

Every one of those bodies of legislation is complex enough in itself and very difficult for the ordinary citizen, coming face to face with it for the first time, to understand. They all set out penalties for transgression, up to and including the disqualification of candidates and persons elected. The correct procedures for the elections can be determined only by reading the list of changes in those 30 pages across the previous Acts, regulations, and so forth, to which they refer.

As it happens, the order was considered at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which I am a member. I should like to apologise on his behalf for the absence of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), the Chairman of the Committee, who is unavoidably absent from this debate. I think that he would have been very happy to say some of the things that I am saying.

We were advised that the procedure being used to make the changes was simple. As a Member, I am the first to accept the logic of that advice. The procedure is simple and easy for us in this place and those who concoct amendments to Bills to understand. It is presumably also easy for lawyers to understand. Indeed, the field is a paradise for lawyers, so I do not see how anyone in the

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time available could have gone through the order in the detail that is necessary to be certain that everything is absolutely correct, as is essential in such orders.

The elections in Northern Ireland are not all going to be run by lawyers. They will be run by ordinary men and women, who will have to run elections for their party, or, occasionally, for themselves or for a friend who is standing as an independent candidate. If one is, say, a lay member of the population in Northern Ireland, without any legal training or qualifications, one might be lucky because at least one would have an excuse when acting as an election agent.

A trained lawyer will not have that excuse. Such trained lawyers will find that they are supposed to have a total grasp of the huge and complex body of legislation and the effect that each and every one of the 30 pages of amendments have on it. Yesterday, the Committee took the view that such a procedure was simply not good enough. The Committee said that the legislation and the rules should be plain and easy to understand. This is, after all, legislation dealing with the electoral process and the basic right of democracy--the right of people to vote.

The Committee also noted that very few people would have all the necessary Acts, rules and regulations. I inquired for them at the Vote Office this morning, but they were not there, and they are not there yet. The reason is that such documents dating from 1964 are not held in this place. One must ask how hon. Members were to start the cross-referencing work, even if we had the time to do it this week. How were we to get the documents? They were not available. One would have to go to the Library to get the file copies and sit down with a couple of wet towels and ice around one's head while one waded through the whole thing.

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