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17 Mar 2003 : Column 696—continued

Mr. Peter Robinson: The Minister is stringing out figures on the number of people with passports, driving licences, and smart passes for senior citizens. He then says that because of those numbers, and of the number of people who vote in Northern Ireland, there is clearly no problem. However, he must surely have considered the possibility that someone with a passport might also have a driving licence; in other words, we could be dealing with the same person, so both documents should not be added into the equation. The reality is that the

17 Mar 2003 : Column 697

Minister, in a letter to me, indicated that some 243,000 people—one in five voters in Northern Ireland—had said that they needed a photo-identity pass, having been shown the alternatives, but only 55,000 have made an application. That suggests that some 190,000 people—almost one in five of the voting population—will be disfranchised—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Will the hon. Gentleman bring his remarks to a close?

Mr. Browne: I propose to bring my remarks to a close shortly, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, the hon. Member for Belfast, East may be assured that sufficient resources are available to ensure that everyone who needs an electoral identity card can have one.

It has been suggested that in postponing the election our motive is to influence the result in one way or another. We have not proposed the delay with the aim of influencing the choice of Northern Ireland voters one way or another. No Government could or should prevent the people of Northern Ireland from expressing their democratic choice, and it would be a rash Government who tried to do so.

What we do have a duty to do is to try to give the people of Northern Ireland something real to vote about. The majority of people in Northern Ireland want the Belfast agreement to work, and it is not in their interest for the process to fail. In the long run, stable and inclusive institutions can flourish only in a society from which the shadow of political violence has been removed. The Government believe that the Bill is a necessary part of bringing that about.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House, pursuant to Order this day.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

Clause 1

Dates Of Election, Etc

7.52 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson: I beg to move manuscript amendment No. 1, in line 2, to leave out from the beginning to the word "in" in line 13 and insert—


It will assist the House if I say that I do not intend to speak for more than a couple of minutes on the amendment—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—although if I were encouraged, that might change.

The amendment was covered to some extent on Second Reading. Having spoken for three quarters of an hour in that debate, I do not need to add many points. The effect of the amendment would be to have an election on 1 May, as provided in the original 1998 legislation and in the order put forward by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he was required by legal action to do so. There should be no further delay to the election. The people should have the opportunity to speak.

17 Mar 2003 : Column 698

The reality is that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are attempting, once again, to cobble together an agreement that has clearly failed. It has gone from crisis to crisis. It has collapsed on four occasions, it has been attended by all sorts of violence and the misbehaviour of the Provisional IRA, and it is abundantly clear that the Secretary of State will not be able to obtain a stable political structure from the existing Belfast agreement. It was Einstein who once defined insanity as endlessly doing the same thing and hoping for a different result. That seems to be the Government's intention. They continue to repeat the same mistakes that they have made before and hope that things will turn out all right. They will not turn out all right, because a new agreement is needed. I hope that the election will allow us to reach a situation in which we can have negotiations for a new agreement that will enjoy the support of not only nationalists in Northern Ireland but the Unionist community as well.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): The House has already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) that we generally support the Bill, so it will come as little surprise that we are opposed to the amendment. We oppose it for two reasons. First, it does not add anything to the Bill. Secondly, as the Minister said earlier, it is a wrecking amendment, although it would not actually wreck the Bill. Clause 1(3) would still categorically state that the date of the election would be 29 May 2003. All the amendment would do is add further confusion and provide work for the courts when the inevitable challenge is brought by the Democratic Unionist party.

Mr. Desmond Browne: As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) has just said, the amendment is designed to wreck the Bill by removing the provisions that would revoke the order that sets the election day for 1 May and amend the legislation to set a new election date of 29 May. In moving the amendment, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) did not pretend that it was anything else. It might even qualify as a reasoned amendment on Second Reading.

It will be obvious that the Government cannot accept the amendment. Postponement is not a step that the Government propose lightly, but we believe that there is a chance of a real breakthrough that will give the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to vote for an Assembly ready to take up powers again. That chance should not be missed, and I submit to the House that it will be missed unless we have this window of opportunity. We cannot allow the Bill to be wrecked in this fashion.

Mr. Peter Robinson: I regret that the Government wish to resile from a date that was set by them in the legislation, and later confirmed by an order by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, simply for political purposes. People should not attempt to manipulate elections and the electoral process for party political reasons. The election date was set by the Government and should not be manipulated by them. I trust that hon. Members will consider the matter and join us in the Lobby on that issue.

17 Mar 2003 : Column 699

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 368.

Division No. 115
[7:56 pm


AYES


Burnside, David
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Paisley, Rev. Ian
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mrs. Iris Robinson and
Mr. Gregory Campbell


NOES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barrett, John
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Stuart
Benn, Hilary
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradshaw, Ben
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnett, John
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Caborn, rh Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Carmichael, Alistair
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Darling, rh Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Doran, Frank
Doughty, Sue
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Heath, David
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Margaret
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Holmes, Paul
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, rh Adam
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Keetch, Paul
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Chris
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McIsaac, Shona
Mackay, rh Andrew
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moore, Michael
Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prescott, rh John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soames, Nicholas
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Jack
Stunell, Andrew
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Viggers, Peter
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Nick Ainger and
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe

Question accordingly negatived.

17 Mar 2003 : Column 701

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Jane Kennedy.]

17 Mar 2003 : Column 702


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