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The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be quite adrift as to the form of address that should be used when we are in Committee of the whole House and for this particular occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Maclean: Sir Alan, my apologies to you.

The hon. Member for Braintree made the key point on the dangers of gerrymandering. If I were to be political, and if I were a politically minded local authority, I could invent a scheme--which I am certain would pass Home Office scrutiny--in which, for example, I have the choice of positioning polling stations outside either Safeway supermarket in Penrith, or the Co-operative supermarket, depending on which one might suit my political purposes and provide me with the most votes.

We are also blessed in our town with two large schools--a grammar school and an excellent comprehensive school--that are 200 yds apart. I could devise a scheme, which could be open to challenge,

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in which a mobile polling station would be positioned outside one school rather than another, so that I may favour people of one political persuasion over another.

The hon. Member for Braintree dealt with the effects of positioning a polling station outside one factory rather than a different factory or an office complex, where voters' political views might be slightly different.

The scheme is open to abuse, and I am not certain that the Home Office, with the best will in the world, will be able to spot some of the potential abuses that local authorities could build into it. We shall have to give very careful consideration before approving any such scheme. Although I realise that there is a Home Office circular on the matter, I should have much preferred for a schedule to be included in the Bill, building in cast-iron safeguards. Subsequently, we could invite local authorities to submit proposals that satisfy all the criteria in those safeguards, and then approve those proposals.

I do not intend to force a vote on clause 10 stand part, because I would have the support of many hon. Members, but I do not think that the clause should stand part, and I may wish to return to it.

6.15 pm

Mr. William Ross: Following on briefly from what the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) has just said, in the course of an election there is severe pressure on time. That makes it difficult for legitimate political parties that are trying to get their electorate out, but it also makes it difficult for those who are trying to manipulate the system, because the compressed time scale gives them no slack. The Minister has experience in Northern Ireland and knows what I am driving at and whom I am pointing the finger at.

The concept of allowing voting over a period of days is fraught with very great dangers. Those dangers do not currently exist on this side of the Irish sea, but we have no way of knowing what the future may bring. I ask the Minister in all sincerity never to allow multiple days for voting in Northern Ireland under any circumstances and to think very carefully before going down that road in Great Britain.

The concept of voting in a supermarket is daft. When a young mother is coming out of the supermarket in the evening with her shopping and two or three children in tow, worrying about getting the tea made, the last thing that she wants is to be confronted with a polling station. I see that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), who is the only hon. Lady present, is nodding. I know what my wife would have said if that had happened to her at that period in her life. We can have a fair idea of what most young mothers would say.

I was in New Zealand once when an election was being held. There were polling stations in garages along the street because the law there says that nobody in an urban area should have to walk more than a quarter of a mile to a polling station. I am not certain that it has improved the turnout. The turnout at an election has very little to do with the number of days, the period of time--although a long period on one day is probably all to the good--or the distance that people have to travel to the polling station. That may have a minor effect, but the main factor that drives people to vote is whether they want rid of the

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lot that they have in office. If it is really important to them, whether the election is local, national or at some intermediate level, people will vote.

My advice to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Government is a lesson that my party has taken on board: if a party makes it worth people's while to vote for it, it has nought to fear.

Mr. George Howarth: I shall be brief. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has some general concerns and some that are specific to Northern Ireland. I am not as well briefed as he is on some of the difficulties there, but I am well aware that there are difficulties. I offered yesterday to meet him and I asked my office this morning to arrange discussions with him. I am anxious to address his concerns. I assure him that it is most unlikely--I think that it is not even possible--that any of the pilots would be set up in Northern Ireland because of the difficulties that he described.

Throughout my chairmanship of the working party that produced the proposals I tried to create a consensus. There was a consensus among the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and my party. All the other parties were copied in to the papers and information that the working party received. There was no lack of effort on our part to create a consensus. I am pleased that, although there have been various debates on the details of the clause, there is a consensus between the main parties that there should be pilots and that those pilots should be properly evaluated and considered with due regard paid to the potential for fraud and gerrymandering--that word has been bandied about. There is a consensus that the clause is worth a try.

The modern expression for building consensus is "big tent politics". I am pleased that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is at least under the awning and that the Liberal Democrats have taken a tentative step into the tent. I regret that the right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) are in a bivouac in another field.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Revision of procedures in the light of pilot schemes

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I beg to move amendment No. 66, in page 14, line 3, leave out

"(including the New Northern Ireland Assembly)".

This is a drafting amendment, essentially to remove the word "new" from the description of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute): I shall try to be brief. I did not attempt to catch the eye of Mr. Lord on amendment No. 24 as I understood it to refer only to England and Wales. Clause 11 allows me to say something about voting in Scotland as it deals with rolling out innovations that have been successfully piloted.

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Perhaps the Minister will let me know whether there will be pilot schemes in Scotland as well as in England and Wales.

Let me state again my reservations about weekend voting, particularly on Sundays. As the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has now left the Chamber, said, I raised the matter on Second Reading. The Home Secretary acknowledged that if weekend voting ever became part of the national arrangements, we would have to ensure that it took place on both days. That would be absolutely essential, although I am not sure about voting taking place over several days.

I am particularly concerned about Sunday voting, which would not be welcomed by many in my constituency.

Mr. O'Brien: I think that I can deal with the hon. Lady's concerns very briefly by telling her that local election procedures are a devolved matter and are therefore a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Mrs. Michie: Indeed, but under clause 11, if pilot schemes are accepted, the House can roll out the mechanism across the entire United Kingdom, including Scotland.

Mr. O'Brien: For general elections.

Mrs. Michie: Yes. The clause refers to elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So, particularly in respect of general elections, Sunday voting would not be welcomed in my constituency and other parts of the highlands and islands of Scotland which still have many Gaelic speaking populations and a tradition of Sunday observance. We try to keep Sunday not just as a day of religious observance, but as a day for the family; a day that is different, a day for a rest and a little bit of peace and quiet in what has become a life of frenetic activity and, for many poor souls, of great stress.

The fourth report of the Home Affairs Committee refers to this and states at paragraph 63:

It also acknowledges that polls would have to be open on both Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the objections, and that would make the exercise more expensive. It is argued that the objections could be met by using a postal vote. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) is not in his place, but I agree with him that people often do not apply for a postal vote in time.

A significant number of people would not vote on a Sunday. The report also suggests that people might be away at weekends. People are used to going to vote before they go to work or after they get home during the week. When the previous Government were in power, a concerted effort appeared to be made to undermine Sundays. I recall opposition to Sunday trading, and I endorse the comments my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made earlier on that subject. I also recall a debate in this Chamber that forced Scotland to allow off-licence sales

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and to open betting shops on a Sunday. That was rammed through in the face of the opposition of a majority of Scottish Members of Parliament, which was regrettable.

I ask the Government to safeguard the preferences of voters and not to put more pressure on Sundays, for the sake of families, those who would have to officiate at the polling stations, and everyone else who craves a day of rest in an increasingly hectic way of life.

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