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Mr. William Ross: Amendment No. 13 attracted my attention when I read the list of amendments and the House will see that amendment No. 113 is a repeat, except that it adds a few more documents. The documents that I have added to the list are those that are required in Northern Ireland before a ballot paper is issued. I would have thought that that would be a good starting point for considering the need to require some sort of documentary evidence of identity or association with an area.

The Minister will also be aware that the Conservatives have tabled amendments to clause 10. They concern voting taking place on more than one day and would require similar forms of identification. The Conservatives are following through on the issue of identification, which has been necessary in Northern Ireland for many years.

I tabled amendment No. 113 to try to ensure that whatever documentation is needed in London is also needed in Londonderry, Edinburgh, Belfast or wherever. We should have a common means of identification throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government will consider the issue and come up with a common set of documents encompassing those already required in Northern Ireland. Incidentally, the legislation in Northern Ireland talks about full and provisional driving licences, but the term "valid" covers the point.

I have also included in the amendment the possibility of using a United Kingdom identity card bearing a recent photograph of the elector. I am well aware of all the

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arguments, because I have listened to them for the past 25 years in this House, about the possible intrusion into the privacy of individuals that identity cards would cause. However, I do not share those concerns. So much information is held on computers in every bank, building society and sales point in the country that no one should be worried about identity cards. Such a document would give great protection against fraud, including electoral fraud, and the Minister will be aware from his experience in Northern Ireland of our concerns on that issue. I do not believe that most people would have a problem with an identity card, and the warnings about invasion of privacy are nonsense and should not be given much weight.

I speak in support of amendment No. 113 in the same spirit as the official Opposition moved amendment No. 13. I wish to ensure that common identification is required throughout the UK and to make a further plea for the Government to reconsider the issue of having a proper identity card that could be used for this and other purposes.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Clause 6 is interesting, as are the amendments, and there are some basic merits to both. I welcome the intention to extend the franchise to people who have been left out, and I agree with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) that that is a timely amendment of our constitutional arrangements.

I admire the care that the parliamentary draftsmen and Ministers have put into the drafting of the clause, even to the extent of enfranchising homeless peers. I have no idea whether they comprise a growing sector of the community, although recent events may have increased their numbers.

8 pm

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley is right to say that there is a potential problem of personation. We should all be worried about whether personation is encouraged by any provision in the Bill. However, I do not think that the remedy suggested by the hon. Gentleman is right. His proposed list of qualifying documentary evidence would sit poorly with the circumstances faced by many homeless people. Few of them will have a driving licence, or carry with them a UK passport; even fewer will have a bank account or the regular statements that such an account produces. There is a sense of unreality about some of the hon. Gentleman's suggestions.

Some elements of the proposed documentary evidence, such as accreditation from a hostel, appear more relevant to homeless people. However, many homeless people never see the inside of a hostel. In the metropolis such places are oversubscribed, and they do not exist in rural areas, so a person could not gain the necessary accreditation within the qualifying period.

Mr. Evans: I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman says, which is why we have tried to broaden the documentation that might be applicable. Indeed, the amendment refers to

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    Local police officers and charity workers often find people sleeping rough. Under that provision, they would be able to provide a note stating that they know that a person sleeps in a certain place on a regular basis. The effect of the amendment could be quite broad.

Mr. Heath: That intervention helps the discussion, as it is now clear that there is no secret agenda to limit the improvements to the franchise that the clause is trying to introduce.

In addition, I applaud the approach adopted by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who has also proposed a widening of the documentary evidence that could be deemed acceptable. However, he identified the other difficulty that I have with the amendment. The same level of documentary evidence required to avoid personation should also be required of every elector on the register. There is no obvious reason why people qualified to vote through declarations of local connection should face a more onerous test to prove that they are who they purport to be than any other electors in the United Kingdom. Different tests apply in Northern Ireland, so the same difficulties do not arise there.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Identification is important. The tragedy is that presiding officers consider that a document is not valid if it is even one day past its expiry date. In Northern Ireland, driving licences contain a picture of the person to whom it applies. We must be careful that we do not prevent people from voting by the use of over-precise legal language. Rather than yielding to the arguments of civil libertarians, would it not be better to adopt a common identity document, with a picture, for everyone?

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman has assisted the debate. The difficulty that he has described may apply when we attempt to identify what is appropriate documentary evidence. However, my point is that the same considerations should apply to all voters, regardless of how they are registered.

The situation in this country at present is extraordinary. A person can roll up to a polling station and claim to be someone on the register, but no check is made to confirm that person's identity.

Mr. Grieve: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but are we not concentrating too much on how people get registered? One of the problems with personation is that people turn up at polling stations and impersonate others who have been registered previously. The anxiety about those who are of a peripatetic disposition derives not from the fear that they will impersonate other people when they register, but that they will take advantage of other people's absence from an area to impersonate them and take advantage of those people's votes at an election.

Mr. Heath: I understand that concern, but it applies to every registered elector. That is precisely the point that I am making.

The hon. Members for Ribble Valley and for East Londonderry have identified a real problem. I am not convinced that their proposed solutions are the right way to deal with that problem. In fact, I am rather convinced

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that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley is not the right answer, as it will discourage homeless people from registering.

However, the Government must consider the matter carefully. At the very least, when and if the Bill is enacted, they must review the practical effects of the new arrangements over their first few years in place. If there is any evidence that the opportunities for personation have been extended and that people are abusing the system, the question of appropriate documentation will have to be examined again. That documentation must be sufficient to identify voters when they register and when they vote. I do not think that we have got there yet, but I look forward to the Minister's response.

The Chairman: I call Mr. Michael Fabricant.

Mr. Fabricant: Thank you, Mr. Haselhurst.

The Chairman: Order. If the hon. Gentleman continues to address me in that way, I shall begin to think that he knows something that I do not.

Mr. Fabricant: I argued, Sir Alan, at some length against the proposal of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to reduce the franchise, so it would be churlish of me to argue against this clause, which would extend it to homeless people. However, the possible difficulties of the provision have already been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The potential for personation and multiple voting is very great, and I welcome what the hon. Member for Somerset and Frome--

Mr. David Heath: Somerton.

Mr. Fabricant: I am not doing very well, Sir Alan, with proper names or constituencies: perhaps I should just sit down. However, I shall not ask hon. Members for a judgment on that, as I suspect that I know what the answer might be.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is absolutely right to say that the political effects of extending the franchise to the homeless would have to be monitored--there are difficulties in identifying people who turn up to vote and ensuring either that they are not voting in multiple locations or that other people are not voting for them in other parts of the country simultaneously.

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