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Mr. McNamara: Will my hon. Friend the Minister respond to the point made from both sides of the House that the Bill does not contain provision for getting rid of non-photographic identification documents? To achieve change in that regard, we shall require further primary legislation. If we could deal with that problem by regulation, we could get rid of it when it is opportune to do so.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I was intending to come to it and, if he

10 Jul 2001 : Column 738

bears with me, I shall work through some of the issues that have been raised and attempt to conclude the debate within a reasonable time.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire welcomed the research that is taking place into the electoral system in Northern Ireland and he asked for details on it. The preliminary results will be available by August and the final report is due in September, which is quite soon. The research has been commissioned to investigate all aspects of operations at recent elections and includes possible electoral malpractice. It is designed to investigate every stage of the electoral process and will involve the general public, presiding officers and counting staff. Anecdotal evidence suggests that electoral abuse is widespread in Northern Ireland. We hope that the research will better inform us of the extent of abuse and the form that it takes so that we can tackle the problem.

My hon. Friend also referred to signatures. We could ask for voters' signatures at the polling station, but we must implement only essential measures that do not create unnecessary barriers. We believe that the collection of a person's date of birth and signature on registration and the use of the date of birth and photographic identification at the polling station are sufficient. We have no intention of putting more barriers in front of voters than are necessary to tackle the problem.

The support of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is also welcome. I am acutely aware of the balance that is necessary when we legislate to place restrictions on the electoral process. His speech was a model of how to walk that tightrope; he argued for immediate implementation of a smart card and then exposed the dangers of the creeping introduction of identification cards.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we will redesign the form for absent vote applications. We shall discuss how best to improve it with the chief electoral officer, including the use of bar coding and serial numbers on forms, which we believe are valuable. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need to improve the register's accuracy and suggested that that should be a priority. The Northern Ireland register is 94 per cent. accurate, which is high, as he acknowledged. Rolling registration, the chief electoral officer's powers to examine other databases and improved information technology in the electoral office will enhance that further.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) asked why we do not legislate to remove the medical card and other non-photographic forms of identification from the list of specified documents. It is clear that we will need to give people a reasonable amount time to obtain a specified form of photographic identification, such as electoral ID, and to get used to using it. We cannot disfranchise voters in our haste to legislate.

We have always intended to get the measures in place in time for the scheduled Assembly elections in 2003 and we propose to remove the non-photographic ID from the list of specified documents by subordinate legislation when we are able to.

Lembit Öpik: Will the Minister at least commit the Government to listening sincerely to our concerns when we raise them in Committee where it will be more appropriate to cover them in detail?

10 Jul 2001 : Column 739

Mr. Browne: That is implicit in my remarks. Today's debate will inform discussions in Committee where we will be able to consider the issues raised.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Down for reminding me of the human rights implications of electoral law. I expected her to do that and was not disappointed. She raised serious concerns that will engage us in Committee. I am sure that she will forgive me for not responding to them now, but they will be addressed.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East made a characteristically analytical speech. He was correct to remind me of my contribution to the Select Committee's work. He and other hon. Members mentioned the important issue of disabled access to polling stations. I am acutely aware of the need for such access, and I am proud of my constituency, which has complete access for disabled persons to all polling stations. I am sure that I am not alone in that. I take very seriously the issue of access for all to polling places.

I know that the chief electoral officer is looking carefully at locations and endeavouring to ensure that there is access for all. Hon. Members mentioned some of the constraints, such as the age of buildings. Many old school buildings, in particular, are inaccessible. I know that the chief electoral officer takes very seriously his obligations to ensure equality of access, and I hope, during my term as Minister, to make significant progress on that.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East emphasised the need for computer systems. The replacement of the IT system at the electoral office is already under way. The new system will come into effect in July 2002 and will have the capacity to cope with changes to the electoral system envisaged by the Bill.

Although we live in a democratic society, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to eradicate electoral fraud, but these proposals will make fundamental changes and give the chief electoral officer significant additional powers to combat fraud. Personation at the polling station will be made much more difficult by the requirement for all voters to provide a specified form of photographic identification. The chief electoral officer will be able to collect the signature and date of birth of every elector in Northern Ireland, and that will facilitate the process of checking absent vote applications and verifying identity at the polling station.

The measures will tackle electoral abuse effectively without disadvantaging honest voters. We intend to implement them as soon as is practicable, but we will take all necessary steps to ensure that no one is disfranchised because of them. The Government alone cannot eradicate electoral fraud. We must continue to work in partnership with the electoral office, the police and political parties to tackle electoral fraud in all its forms. I ask hon. Members who are opposed to electoral fraud, and who want to protect the democratic exercise of the franchise, to take the appropriate action by supporting the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

10 Jul 2001 : Column 740


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 June],

That the following provisions shall apply to the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill:


1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.

Programming of proceedings

2. All proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further message from the Lords) shall be programmed.

Proceedings in Standing Committee

3.—(1) Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 18th October 2001.
(2) The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

4.—(1) Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Ten o'clock on the day on which those proceedings are commenced or, if that day is a Thursday, at Seven o'clock on that day.
(2) Sessional Order B (programming committees) made by the House on 28th June 2001 shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.—[Mr. Stringer.]

The House divided: Ayes 281, Noes 90.

Division No. 17
[8.52 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, Andy
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis–Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, Rt Hon John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foulkes, George
Francis, Dr Hywel
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hendrick, Mark
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Rt Hon Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jowell, Rt Hon Tessa
Joyce, Eric
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Luke, Iain
Lyons, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNamara, Kevin
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall–Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Estelle
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr Nick
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simon, Siôn
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Rachel
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Tony McNulty and
Mr. Ian Pearson.


Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Barker, Greg
Barrett, John
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Brooke, Annette
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Cable, Dr Vincent
Calton, Patsy
Carmichael, Alistair
Cash, William
Chidgey, David
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Dodds, Nigel
Doughty, Sue
Evans, Nigel
Field, Mark (Cities of London)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James
Grayling, Chris
Grieve, Dominic
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (E Yorkshire)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David
Liddell–Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Llwyd, Elfyn
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
May, Mrs Theresa
Moore, Michael
Murrison, Dr Andrew
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Paice, James
Paisley, Rev Ian
Pickles, Eric
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)
Robinson, Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Simpson, Keith (Mid–Norfolk)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Trend, Michael
Tyler, Paul
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, John
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. John Randall and
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

10 Jul 2001 : Column 743


Queen's recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a),

Question agreed to.

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