|Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill
Mr. Browne: And so they should.
Mr. Robinson: That depends on one's view of the issue.
I wish that the Minister had been around in those hot and heady days of the early 1960s when the principle of one man, one vote was being enunciated by all. Unionists were being beaten around the head because they were on the wrong side of the issue when the Conservative and Labour parties were both supporting the principle of one man, one vote and changes were taking place to deny those who could vote more than once because of the principle of no taxation without representation. I wish the Minister had been there to take our cause on board.
In the present circumstances, the Minister must recognise that that area will be exploited. In his communication of 12 July, which was sent to several hon. Members, he said that
I noted also that the White Paper ``Combating Electoral Fraud in Northern Ireland (CM 5080)'' recommended, in paragraphs 17 to 19, that there should be monitoring of multiple registration. If the need to monitor has been recognised in both the Minister's correspondence and the White Paper, I am sure that the Minister will not want to resist new clause 8. While some of the other amendments in my name are consequential, the two on multiple registration and voting will at least allow the Committee an opportunity that was denied to others in the past of considering this matter and taking a decision on the issue, having considered the merits of the case.
Mr. Blunt: The Committee should first register its thanks to the hon. Member for Belfast, East for bringing clarity to this area. Ominously, I see the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) shaking his head. Perhaps it is not as clear as it now appears to me having had the benefit of the exposition from the hon. Member for Belfast, East. It is clarity that the Government must bring to this issue in Northern Ireland. It is right to accept that, following all the controversy in the 1960s about people being able to vote more than oncea controversy that was central to the civil rights movement and one of the issues that had to be rectifiedpeople in Northern Ireland have been under the impression for the last 30 years, correctly for about 17 years of that period, that they were entitled to vote only once in an election.
Now we have discovered, unless the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire corrects us again, that the position in 1987 was changed apparently by accident in this place[Interruption.] Certainly if it was not changed by accident, it was changed with the electorate in Northern Ireland being wholly unaware of the consequences of the decision here. We are no doubt now going to learn that the hon. Gentleman was on that Committee that considered it.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): The person who was not confused about the situation was the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland, Mr. Bradley. He gave the information to the Select Committee on which the hon. Member for Belfast, East served. The position should be generally known, at least to some hon. Members.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out and for drawing attention to the evidence of Mr. Pat Bradley to the Select Committee, and the Select Committee report itself. There is a case for what the hon. Member for Belfast, East wants to do to bring clarity, which is to outlaw multiple registration, and/or to outlaw multiple voting. That would make it perfectly clear that one could register only once and therefore vote only once or at least vote only once even if one were multiply registered.
Mr. Browne: There is, of course, another way to bring clarity to this and that is to tell the people of Northern Ireland that they have exactly the same rights as all other citizens of the United Kingdom who are of the age to vote.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. That is an option. We could leave electoral law in precisely the same condition, or we could choose to make electoral law precisely the same in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. The trouble is that we are considering the Bill in the first place because of the exceptional circumstances under which politics and democracy must be operated in Northern Ireland. We could choose to make the position precisely analogous to that in Great Britain, but what is absent in Great Britain is a political movement that is determined to exploit every potential loophole in the law. On that basisthe reason why we are considering different legislationthe Minister's suggestion should be resisted, as was his conclusion in 1998.
Mr. Browne: There is a distinction between putting in checks and measures in relation to the exercise of the franchisewhich are necessary in Northern Ireland given its particular circumstancesand denying people the right to vote that other people in the United Kingdom have. Albeit reluctantly, we are checking the identity of the voters, but no one has any less right to vote in Northern Ireland than he or she has in the rest of the United Kingdom. That they had in the past is no argument for such a position to be restored.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the Minister because that is why I tabled new clause 8 and did not add my name to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. A perfectly good case can be made to allow the principle of where one can register to be the same in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Minister has advanced a good argument against following the route of the hon. Member for Belfast, East and outlawing such action, but we cannot then do nothing.
The Minister will be only too well aware of the conclusion that he reached with other members of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs in 1998. At paragraph 24 on page xi of the Committee's conclusions, the hon. Gentleman stated:
Mr. Barnes: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how new clause 8 would provide the outcome referred to in the Select Committee's report? That would allow multiple registration, but there would be a duty on people to say where the multiple registration took place. My understanding of new clause 8 is that it would disallow multiple registration all together.
Mr. Blunt: That is not the intention behind new clause 8. It states under subsection (2):
That is how I understand the effect of new clause 8. I am grateful to see the Minister nodding, which means that, like the hon. Member for Belfast, East, I was right to rely on the expert advice of the Public Bill Office in putting my political intentions into legal language. I register my gratitude to the Clerk.
The Select Committee report made the case eloquently, and new clause 8 would give effect to its recommendation. I hope that the Government will not resist the new clause, because it constitutes an important way of identifying loopholes in the new system, as the hon. Gentleman has said.
Mr. Barnes: I apologise for becoming confused between new clause 8 and amendment No. 8.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East has explained his confusion as to how the matter arose in a statutory instruments Committee and was not then known in Northern Ireland. However, the situation should be known to several people in the Room, because the chief electoral officer, Mr. Bradley, submitted evidence to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs for its report on electoral malpractice in Northern Ireland.
The minutes give the membership of the Committee, which included my hon. Friends the Minister and the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), the hon. Members for South Down and for Belfast, East, and me. Paragraph 2.2, entitled ``Multiple voting'', states:
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 18 October 2001|