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Mr. Leslie: I have two brief comments to make. First, I hope that the hon. Gentleman withdraws his point about the House somehow being based on a corrupt democratic system. Secondly, will he justify the use of the House of Lords in persistently overturning the will of the House of Commons?

Mr. Heath: Perhaps the Minister uses the House of Lords for his purposes; I do not use the House of Lords. I respect the judgment of those who sit in the House of

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Lords at the moment, although I would like it to be reformed and given accountability through a proper electoral system.

I say that the system is corrupt because it does not reflect the votes that people cast, as the Minister perfectly well knows. That is why he can pray in aid a massive majority in the House won on a minority of the votes cast and say that it should overrule not only Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of this House, but the other House, which he has chosen not to reform, as well as the independent body that was set up precisely—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Heath: Many Members want to intervene, but I give way to the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), because I think I did her a disservice during a previous debate in not understanding the details of the pilot scheme in her constituency. I apologise to her for that.

Joyce Quin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who did not realise that the pilots are different in different areas. In my area, there is no requirement for a witness signature. He has laid great emphasis on supporting the Electoral Commission, but is it not the case that last week the amendment from the other place, which he introduced and which was accepted, ran counter to the view of the Electoral Commission regarding the witness signature?

Mr. Heath: You would rule us out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if we re-ran a debate on an amendment that has been passed into the legislation. [Interruption.] If I may, I will respond to the right hon. Lady. I am clear in my mind that the advice from the Electoral Commission was that we should have a pre-registration identity system. We have not yet achieved that. I understand from her what the pilot scheme in her constituency involves, which I did not understand before. I admit my ignorance on that. However, it does not alter the fact that for the generality of elections around the country, and for all those that would have lain outside the pilot regions in the election that we are debating, exactly the same system would have persisted. It does not therefore invalidate my argument, although I was incorrect in the detail, which is why I am happy to offer my apologies.

5.30 pm

Andy Burnham: I think that the hon. Gentleman was beginning to develop an argument that he would accept Yorkshire but not the north-west. Can he therefore confirm that the only outstanding case of electoral fraud ongoing in the north-west is against a Liberal Democrat in a traditional election opportunity?

Mr. Heath: I cannot confirm that, although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right, as he has a more intimate knowledge of electoral affairs in the north-west than I do. I have never used the argument used by others that the key issue in the north-west is fraud. My

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argument has always related to one of the basic criteria set down by the Government, not me, that given the complexity of electoral arrangements in the north-west and that so many local authority elections are involved in the north-west, it is not an appropriate pilot. That is what the Electoral Commission said about the north-west, and that is the position to which it holds.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether my position was developing. In terms of identification of the regions, my position has always been that we accept the advice of the Electoral Commission, which originally proposed two regions, and has moved its position to accept Yorkshire and Humber. I am therefore happy to adopt that position today.

Andy Burnham: Is it not the case that the Liberal Democrats are singing two different tunes from one end of the Corridor to the other? The noble Lord Greaves has made great play of fraud in the north-west elections, which is why the Liberal Democrats have opposed this Bill down the other end of the Corridor. The hon. Gentleman is now advancing a different argument. Which is it? Clearly, there is no evidence of fraud in postal ballots in the north-west. To what are the Liberal Democrats opposed?

Mr. Heath: Again, the hon. Gentleman is referring to a previous debate. We are not talking about fraud today, because, I gently remind him, we have dealt with that issue. We are now talking about the selection of regions and only the selection of regions. The burden of our argument has always been that having set up an independent arbiter as to which region should be selected for a pilot and how many regions should be so selected, the Government are deciding that they know better than that independent arbiter, for whatever reason they wish to use.

Mr. Watts rose—

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Heath: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will give way to the hon. Lady if she still wants to intervene on me.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: As someone who shares the hon. Gentleman's support for electoral reform, may I ask whether he will accept my fundamental disappointment at the way in which Liberal Democrats in this place and the other place have handled this issue? First, they are saying that voters in Rochdale are too stupid to understand how a postal vote system would work. Secondly, what is the difference between the Yorkshire local government system and north-west local government system if he is seeking to say that it is more complicated, we are too stupid and we cannot understand it? And thirdly, does he not understand that there is just a tinge of hypocrisy to allowing the argument to be advanced in the other place, but not advancing it in this place, thereby allowing those in the other place to do your dirty work?

Mr. Heath: The hon. Lady clearly did not listen to the reply that I just gave. We have had a debate on electoral fraud, which has now been resolved, and we are now

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debating one amendment from the other place that deals only with the selection of regions. If she wants to say that accepting the advice of the Electoral Commission on Yorkshire and Humber in some way demeans or derides her constituents in the north-west, why are my constituents, who had an all-postal ballot at the elections last year, too stupid to have an all-postal ballot in these elections? Does she have an answer to that?

Mrs. Fitzsimons: The problem was pointed out by one of my hon. Friends earlier. It suited your purposes when you tabled an amendment—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady, in her excitement, is not using the right language. None of this has anything to do with the Chair.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that there is some confusion among the Liberal Democrats. Last week, when they tabled an amendment, they disagreed with the Electoral Commission. This week, they have decided that its recommendations are their bible. Which is it?

Mr. Heath: I am not going to keep replying to the same intervention ad nauseam. The hon. Lady really needs to talk to her hon. Friends about the internal contradictions in their own arguments. Then she can start talking to me.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): Will the hon. Gentleman give way? He said earlier that he would.

Mr. Heath: Oh, did I? Well, in that case I had better.

Mr. Barron: The hon. Gentleman just mentioned contradictions. Can he tell us why the Liberal Democrats accept the prospect of an all-out postal vote in the referendum that will take place in October, but do not accept the proposal for postal votes in the local government and European elections in the north-west in June?

Mr. Heath: Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to me why this is called the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill? That is the crux of the matter. As I have said more times than I care to remember, I would have understood the Government's logic if they had applied their proposals to the European parliamentary elections as a whole.

Kali Mountford: That is not a pilot.

Mr. Heath: Half of England is not a pilot. That is the problem with the Government's position.

Sadly, I do not think that we are making any progress. The reason for that is the Government's intransigence and incompetence. The proposal will now go to the other place, and a deal will be done. The Lords will accept Yorkshire and Humberside, or the Government will lose their Bill. Then we shall have the three regions that the Electoral Commission has identified as suitable, and the Government will have the three pilots that they said they wanted in the first instance. Why on earth

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could they not have said that here this evening? Because they want the Lords to take the blame for their incompetence.

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