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Rev. Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman might argue on behalf of his friends in the SDLP about how many seats the party would win under proportional representation. However, proportional representation is used throughout Northern Ireland for the European elections and it makes no difference whatever. We were told that proportional representation might lead to the election of Sinn Fein or the SDLP, but it was the DUP which topped the polls, with the Ulster Unionists and the representative of the nationalists. If that was the case then, I do not know how the SDLP can say so confidently that things would fall in their favour if proportional representation were used for Westminster elections.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) replies, I should point out that I do not want this to develop into a debate about proportional representation.
Mr. McNamara: Indeed, but the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has made a big error. The SDLP was arguing not that proportional representation would be for its benefit but that it would be for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland. The real problem for the hon. Gentleman is that, much though he represents his party, he does not represent the whole of Northern Ireland. [Hon. Members: "Nor does the SDLP."] Nor does the SDLP; nor does the DUP, the UUP, the PUP or any other acronym one can come up with.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) reminded me of a situation years ago, when I was performing a wedding. The bridegroom had a difficulty with his speech and asked me to reply on behalf of the bride, so I was speaking on behalf of the bride, just as the hon. Gentleman was speaking on behalf of the SDLP.
The points made by the hon. Gentleman were useful and helpful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am glad that you brought him back to the centre of the debate, which is how to deal with electoral fraud. I appreciated the Minister's kind words, but I have a sense of revulsion when I listen to people in this House talking as if there were no electoral fraud in Great Britain and it were normal in Northern Ireland. We are beginning to realise that the people of England, Wales and Scotland are no better than the people of Northern Ireland and that electoral fraud is practised elsewhere, including in Lib-Lab deals in some councils.
I regret that the Bill does not apply to the United Kingdom as a whole because, according to European legislation, the same franchise and standards should be applicable throughout the UK. When the Government argue about the seamless robe of government, it would be worthwhile asking for the Bill to apply throughout the UK.
I wish to refer to disability. I welcome the improvements that have been made in terms of access to polling stations. However, it is not enough for the electoral office and the Government in Northern Ireland to provide access to a school via the outside steps when nothing can be done inside, as it is the responsibility of the Education Department or the Education and Library Board. It is time that schools were so equipped that people with disabilities could have a normal education and then grow up to vote in those schools without any hindrances.
I remember an earlier debate when the Government of the day introduced legislation to try to deal with electoral fraud in Northern Ireland. At the end of that debate, Enoch Powell rose in his place to draw the Speaker's attention to the fact that the Minister handling the debate had voted in both Lobbies, to show how easy it was to have multiple votes. We live in a fascinating world. The tragedy was that that Government did not listen to our arguments on that occasion, which is why we have to re-examine the question.
I plead with the Minister to bear in mind in Committee the points of detail that we have made today. All of us would accept the principle of the Bill, but the details of how we apply that principle are important. In proceedings on the earlier legislation, it was even suggested that a rent book would be an acceptable identity document, until we advised the civil servants and Ministers concerned that there were people in Belfast who would be glad to give their rent book to anybody. Civil servants do a remarkably good job, but sometimes streetwise people are needed to guide Ministers and inject some realism into the proceedings.
There is a weakness in the system of rolling registration and postal voting. The new chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland, Mr. Stanley, said that he could not guarantee the integrity of the election because he was dependent on the Post Office delivering the forms correctly. Many people in the last election in Northern Ireland did not get a postal vote even though they had applied in good time. In some cases in my area, the form was sent by return from the electoral office, but was postmarked five days later. Votes do not go missing through fraud alone.
I plead with the Government to listen to us. Sometimes Northern Ireland Members have not been listened to because of the attitude that mother or auntie knows best. It was obvious today that hon. Members did not know what they had inflicted on Northern Ireland in relation to voting patterns. I plead with them to listen to the plea made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson): until we get proper smart cards, let pensioner IDs be acceptable. It would not be difficult in this new legislation to add them to the list of acceptable documents.
The law says that both parts of a driving licence are needed, but they are not. We should change the law to say that the plastic part is acceptable on its own. The law also says that the driving licence or passport must be current. Some people did not send their driving licence away to be renewed because they wanted it as an ID, but were then told that it was not acceptable as it was not current, even though their faces and even addresses had not changed.
Returning officers do a magnificent job by and large, but they stick strictly to the law. There was an outlandish case in Lagan Valley. A man and wife went to vote. The man had both parts of his driving licence with him, but the lady, like many another, had brought the wrong handbag and discovered that her driving licence was not in it. She was not allowed to vote. The husband said, "But surely a man can recognise his own wife and vouch for her identity." The electoral officer said no, that was not the law. Finally, in exasperation, the woman said, "Sure you know who I am. You had supper in our house last night."
Now it seems that we are in for a gay old time, as human rights legislation will give people a right to sue if they brought identification that they thought was acceptable but were denied the right to vote because of a strict application of the law. That is how barristers make a livingthey keep arguing over technicalities. The Government may have some wonderful days ahead. I plead for the removal of some of the strict legalistic interpretation by removing the requirement for passports and driving licences to be current and for the two parts of the licence to be produced.
I happen to believe in the smart card. I believe that it would be better to have a multipurpose smart card. It could be a proper medical card, carrying information about medical problems requiring particular care. The cards would certainly be useful as ID in electionsNorthern Ireland is the most elected place going, and people are dizzy with going backwards and forwards to votebut we are all human, and is there anyone here today who has not put something in a safe place and then
We need to consider the matter not with the view of the civil libertarians who are against anything that might infringe their liberties, no matter who might become a victim whose vote might be stolen, or whether a presiding officer is browbeaten. We are here to provide good legislation for the conduct of our elections in Northern Ireland, and I plead with the Minister to be a little more flexible on the detail, to get the best results for us all.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): This has been a fascinating and highly educational debate. I shall listen to the Minister with great interest when he responds on matters such as the extent of the franchise in Northern Ireland for local government elections. It may be that he and I will have learned something this evening of which we were not previously aware.
In my earlier intervention, I pointed out that in local government elections in Great Britain, it is possible to vote in two places on the same day. The Minister seemed to assume that that was also possible in Northern Ireland, so this evening's opportunity to look into such matters has been very educational.
I also join other hon. Members in welcoming the Minister to his Front-Bench post, and to this debate. I know from experience his long-standing interest in Northern Ireland and its problems, so it is a special pleasure to see him holding office as a Northern Ireland Minister.
The debate has been conducted on the important premise that electoral fraud must be eliminated. Some of the manifestations of fraud are humorous and have been the subject for comedy for many years, but fraud is a serious matter. We have heard much about paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland obtaining power by means of the Armalite and the ballot box at the same time. The problem is even worse when we realise that the system being employed is that of the Armalite and the stuffed ballot box.
Like the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), I believe that there is ample evidence that the degree of personation and fraud in elections on the mainland of Great Britain is a growing problem. I suspect that the House will have to tackle that problem in the near future, and I shall be interested to discover what the Electoral Commission has to say about the distribution of postal votes at the last general election. The enormous rise in their use in certain locations may suggest that many people are legitimately taking advantage of a right that they have been givenbut a more sinister interpretation may be appropriate.
It is clear that the House is united in its view that electoral fraud is a serious matter, and that it must be stopped. Our aim must be to ensure as far as possible that one person has one vote, and that people who vote do so legitimately.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said that he thought that that legitimacy would be in everyone's interest. I wish that that were true, but my impression of the development of politics in Northern