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Mr. Allan: I want to follow up a point that was made when we considered amendments Nos. 77 and 78 about whether data derived from the register can be disclosed to a third party. Political parties currently process data and create delivery lists that state, for example, that a road contains 40 houses, of which the even numbers are two to 20 and the odd numbers are one to 21. That data is used for our purposes and passed on to charities, which use it as a free source of information for their collectors. It is not used for direct access to individuals; it is simply a free source of useful data. The Minister said earlier that he did not understand why the amendments had been tabled, so I have tried to explain. Can he confirm that we will be able to continue to use the data within the regulations? I emphasise that we provide only information that has been derived from the register. Does he support that?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman asks me the same question as Bill Powell from Atherstone in my constituency. He is also a Liberal Democrat. As I have told him and the Committee, the proposal deserves a sympathetic response. We can deal with the matter through regulations. The hon. Gentleman suggests that it should be permitted to pass on essentially statistical information to charities. I have sympathy for that approach and I believe that we can find ways in which to achieve that. I hope that the matter can be tackled later through regulations and that I shall be able to satisfy him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Pilot Schemes

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 11, line 37, at end insert--

"(1A) No local authority shall submit a scheme to the Secretary of State unless it has consulted with electors and other interested persons in its area on the scheme for a period of at least 28 days prior to the submission of the scheme, and the authority shall submit to the Secretary of State any responses received during the consultation period.
(1B) No local authority shall submit a scheme to the Secretary of State unless the scheme has been approved by a meeting of the authority, with at least two-thirds of the members present and voting being in favour of the submission of the scheme to the Secretary of State.".

The clause could lead to the most fundamental change for many years in the way in which we vote. We join the Minister in his desire, about which he spoke yesterday, to preserve the integrity of the voting system. The provision

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deals with the way in which local authorities will submit plans for pilot projects for new forms of voting or counting votes--or both--in their areas or parts of their areas at local elections in England and Wales.

Turnouts at local elections are derisory in parts of this country. There is a crisis of democracy in local elections. However, I suspect that the changes that we are considering today will only partially correct the decline. More needs to be done to tackle the real reasons for voter apathy. Statistics show that, in metropolitan boroughs, the turnout declined from 33 per cent. in 1973 to 26 per cent. last year, and from 40 per cent. to 37 per cent. in the English districts during the same period. In only three years, the English unitary authorities have seen a decline in voting to less than one third of the electorate.

4.15 pm

Mr. Forth: I hope that, as my hon. Friend develops his argument, he will elaborate on whether he believes that people do not vote at the moment because it is inconvenient or difficult for them to get to the polling station, because they are positively abstaining, or because they simply cannot be bothered. The analysis of the reasons for differing turnouts is crucial to deciding whether the clause is valid.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful for that intervention. As I said earlier, the decline in voting is due to several reasons. The changes that we make today may alter the turnout at local elections only slightly. The Government are examining why people do not vote in local government elections. I believe that people get frustrated when they vote for their local councillors who vote against planning applications only for the local authority's decision to be overturned by an inspector from Bristol, against the democratic wishes of the people who voted for the councillors. At the last local elections, at least one elector told me that that was the specific reason for her decision not to vote. There are several reasons for abstaining, including positive abstention and apathy. The Bill will at least remove one of the obstacles that prevents people from voting at local elections.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): While we are considering pilot schemes and consultation, is not it a good idea for the Committee to embolden itself to demand a proper restoration of the powers of self-government, even if only as a pilot scheme, to maximise participation--

The Temporary Chairman: Order. I am sure that the Committee has no difficulty in emboldening itself. However, we might astonish ourselves by sticking to the amendment.

Mr. Evans: Yesterday, I treated the Committee to a resume of my dismal results at parliamentary elections. Today, I can correct that by relating some of my local government election results, which are slightly better than my parliamentary results--a 50 per cent. success rate. I do not blame electoral procedures for my derisory results. In the United Kingdom, we are all used to voting in local elections on Thursdays between 8 am and 9 pm, and using a pencil on a piece of paper at a prescribed polling station, which is usually a school. The ballot

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papers are pooled in a given place and counted manually. A winner--increasingly, a Conservative--is announced, and thus elected as a councillor.

The clause provides for changes to the system that are potentially wide ranging. Amendment No. 26 would ensure that the pilot schemes not only had the consent of the Home Secretary but that they had been fully considered and that local people had been fully consulted. We are in favour of the pilot schemes, but we have reservations about some of the suggestions for them. We support sensible suggestions for making voting easier. However, I stress that we must be careful not to facilitate fraudulent voting.

The changes could lead to ballot boxes being taken to places of work--completely outside polling stations. They could also be taken to remote areas where only a few people live and a polling station would not usually be manned. When I was in Australia more than a year ago, we stopped at a small place called Paralchino, where only 11 people live. The ballot box is taken to them, they vote and the ballot box is taken away. One of the pilot schemes may be run along those lines.

Ballot boxes could be taken from polling stations to residential or nursing homes, where we know there are specific problems in enabling elderly people to vote. It has been suggested that polling booths might be placed in supermarkets so that people are able to vote while shopping. Voting hours could also be further extended from those I have mentioned, or the number of days over which a poll takes place could be increased to two or perhaps even three or more. One suggestion is that all-postal ballots might, in certain places, replace the traditional polling booth. The pencil could be replaced by electronic voting--

The Temporary Chairman: Order. That is all very interesting, but the amendment is specific and relates to pilot schemes.

Mr. Evans: Yes, Mrs. Dunwoody. I am discussing the variety of pilot schemes and the fundamental changes that they will achieve. The Secretary of State will be given powers and, once schemes have taken place, will be able to introduce those changes throughout the country at general, European and a number of other elections. Those fundamental changes will be tested in the pilots and we want to make absolutely certain that they are tested properly within the local authority areas, that local authorities consult fully with the people in their areas over 28 days and that, as proposed new subsection (1B) states, a scheme has "at least two-thirds" support in the authority.

The White Paper "Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People" states:

That is what we are concerned about. It continues:

    "Experiments would therefore have to be sanctioned by the Government. In some cases it would work directly with chosen councils to develop the rules for an experiment."

I am sure that the Minister will want to address the anxieties of, for example, the Local Government Association about ensuring that sufficient pilots take place

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and that he will take on board the concern that they should have local popular support. Speed is of the essence and I believe that the Government are keen to get the pilots up and running for the local elections.

Mr. Bercow rose--

The Temporary Chairman: Order. The amendment concerns consultation and I hope that we shall have a general debate on that, not the pilot schemes.

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