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Mr. Howarth: My friends indeed. The poll told the electors, who I think had more sense than to take any notice, that my majority was on a knife edge, and that the Liberal Democrat candidate would be likely to displace me come polling day. I am glad to say that they were wrong--I had a majority of more than 26,000 votes.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I always warn my colleagues about the dangers of exaggeration.

Mr. Howarth: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gives that advice, but I note that he does not always take it himself.

I am attracted by the arguments of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. My colleagues at the Home Office are minded, given his agreement to withdraw the amendment, to take the issue away and look at it. There is some potential for distorting the outcome of an election in these circumstances. The amendment contains a sensible principle, and we need to address it. I also give an undertaking to address the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised about postal votes.

Mr. Evans: I am encouraged by what the Minister said. I am not persuaded by double-day voting, but the reality of the pilot is that some may be introduced. In that case, we need to ensure that there are safeguards. I am more persuaded by the proposal of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton), which we shall debate later, to make the cut-off dates in respect of matters such as postal voting far shorter, therefore obviating the need for the expensive double-voting procedures.

In the light of the Minister's assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Evans: I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 12, line 2, at end insert--

"(2C) Where a scheme under this section makes provision for voting in a particular election to take place on more than one day or to take place at places other than polling stations, any person voting in the election concerned shall be required, as a condition of voting, to produce at the place of voting at least one item of documentary evidence of that person's identity.
(2D) The items of documentary evidence required for the purposes of subsection (2C) of this section shall be any of--
(a) a valid United Kingdom passport;
(b) a valid United Kingdom driving licence;
(c) a printed statement from a bank or building society authorised to do business in the United Kingdom dated not more than 28 days before the day on which voting in the election commences;
(d) a copy of any of the foregoing certified by a commissioner for oaths,
or such other document as may in the reasonable opinion of the registration officer concerned constitute sufficient evidence of the identity of the person referred to in subsection (2C) of this section.".

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The amendment is consequential on voting taking place over more than one day or in more than one polling station. It is a common-sense measure that will help to reduce the incidence of fraudulent voting, at a time when we want to simplify the voting system.

Yesterday, we held a good debate on proofs of identity when making declarations of locality. The amendment builds on that. We heard that personation is a reality, although we do not know the exact rate at which it occurs. I hope that the Government will carry out a study of that matter as soon as possible. In evaluating the pilots, local authorities could compare personation before and during the pilots. In any event, some work must be undertaken.

In making voting easier, we want to ensure that the integrity of the vote is preserved. Currently, anyone can stroll up to a polling station and state who they are. They need no proof; they do not need to show documentation or a polling card. Amendment No. 19 provides that voters should give some proof of identification when the vote is stretched over several days or when they are not voting in their normal polling station. We have not asked for especially onerous proofs; they would be required only at elections that are different from the norm. The amendment would allow electoral registration officers great flexibility; they could accept many different proofs of identity before giving out the ballot paper.

I hope that when the Minister responds to this simple, common-sense measure, he will be able to tell the Committee that in those pilots that deviate from the norm, the rest of the electorate will be assured that there will be safeguards to ensure that personation will not increase.

Mr. Hurst: First, I should declare an interest, because the purport of the amendment--at least in part--is to enrich those of us commissioned to administer oaths. I so make that declaration. Notwithstanding that enticement, I oppose the amendment on the following grounds.

I am uncertain whether the Bill contains a definition of the words "polling station". I take it that, if one voted in a booth or a box in a supermarket, for the purpose of the election, that would be a polling station. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), there may be some defects in the drafting of the amendment, if the evil that he seeks to remedy is to be addressed.

The substance of the amendment deals with the production of documentation. In other debates on other amendments, the question of identity cards has been raised. I am a great supporter of identity cards--among a growing number of such supporters--but we do not have them at present. People with some experience of elections will know that it is not always possible for voters to find their polling cards, especially as local authorities now take it upon themselves to send out polling cards weeks ahead of an election. We might consider the effect on local government turnout if the only official notification of the election is a polling card sent out six weeks before.

At present, people can vote without any proof of identity at all. I suspect that no one in this place has not told a voter, "Don't worry, you don't need anything to vote. Just tell them who you are and where you live." All of a sudden, it will become much more difficult; one will have to produce a passport--many people do not have passports. One will have to produce a driving licence--

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that discriminates against those who do not drive. One will have to produce a printed statement from a bank or building society. By golly, that would be quite a task.

When collecting electors in a car, we will have to say, "You can't possibly come yet, Mrs. Jones, because you do not have all the documentation to satisfy them that you are who we know you are." If the amendment were accepted, we should place a great burden on the registration officer or the polling clerk at the polling station. Many arguments would ensue about whether a particular document was good enough evidence, or whether the written statement of the car driver who picked up electors from a certain address was a document sufficient to justify them being able to vote at that polling station.

Most pernicious of all, the documentary addition to voting is discriminatory against the poor, almost certainly discriminatory against the elderly and certainly discriminatory against those who live some distance from a polling station, in that if they leave the documents behind, they are unlikely to go back and get them.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman is making more of this than it is worth. We are asking for only one piece of documentation, and the amendment does provide for a lot of examples. There can be few people who would not be able to produce something with their name and address on it to show to the person giving out the ballot papers that they were who they said they were and lived where they said they lived.

Mr. Hurst: At present, that is not the position. I understood that the purpose of the Bill was to increase voting. If we are going to introduce documentary hurdles that people must jump over to poll, damage will ensue.

I understand the point that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley is trying to address. He wants to avoid people voting at their own polling station, and then traipsing down to Tesco, Sainsbury or wherever the hordes of democracy will hereafter reside and casting a second vote. However, with the wonders of the computer age and the amounts of money that public bodies spend on computerised systems, I would have thought it possible for computers in the polling stations or booths to be able to cross-check within the system who has already voted. If so, the need for documentary evidence is superfluous, and should be strongly resisted.

Mr. Forth: I am somewhat torn on the amendment, and I am puzzled by the implications of the options to vote at different places. If I, as a voter, am able to go to any one of a number of local places to vote--and I can choose from among them--presumably, if I have already voted at one, there must be a mechanism to communicate that fact to all the others to make sure that I do not do it again. In theory, I could go to each one, providing proof of identity, and vote several times over. I am sure that the Minister will reassure me that that has been considered.

I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) that it is unreasonable to ask someone who is to cast their vote for their representative to be able to provide some demonstration of their identity. That is asked for in many other daily transactions, and the

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amendment would make it as easy as possible. However, I am not sure that the list would fulfil the function that is intended for it. The passport has a picture, but no address. The current driving licence has an address, but no picture. I am not sure what a printed statement from a bank would tell anyone about the person presenting it at a multiple polling station. Also, I share the hon. Gentleman's suspicions in respect of commissioners of oaths.

The amendment raises yet another question--a different example of the phenomenon that we examined in our discussions on the previous amendment. It is becoming ever more apparent that the possibility of loopholes and failures arising increases every time we consider variable times and places of election.

My hon. Friend has diligently moved the amendment and the Minister has equally diligently sought to answer questions and to reassure us about the circulars and so on. I hope that he will tell us, as he said he would, that my worries about multiple voting will be catered for, if not in the way that the amendment suggests. However, the mere fact that we have had to go through that process merely reinforces my suspicion that we are embarking on a dangerous route.

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