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Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Whatever the hon. Gentleman may think of my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Local and Regional Government, they are elected Members of this House, unlike the hereditary peers next doorthe marquesses and baronswho are overruling the primacy of this House. That is all that this argument is about.
The hon. Lady talks about primacy. In this instance, she is talking not about the primacy of the House of Commons, but the primacy of the Labour party. It does not like it when an argument is made against it.
Mr. Heath: Yes, the Deputy Prime Minister is the guilty man. His attempts at bullying on the issue are well documented. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) was wrong to say that the letter to the Electoral Commission had not been put in the Library: it was there on Thursday. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Gentleman has a copy now.
Mr. Heath: It was not blocked. The Government did nothing with it. I have the chronology of events in my hand. The Bill was introduced into this House on 17 September, but it was months before it was even debated in the other place. We are now told that the returning officers are in a terrible position, but that is because of the Government's actions[Interruption.] What did the Deputy Prime Minister write to the chairman of the Electoral Commission[Interruption.]
Mr. Heath: What the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to the chairman of the Electoral Commission on 22 March shows the regard in which he holds that body. He wanted a revised opinion and, after several paragraphs about what he wanted the commission to give an opinion onin the hope that he would get something helpful to his positionhe wrote:
Mr. Leslie: If the hon. Gentleman were being fair, he would recognise that the letter was a response to the amendment tabled by the odd alliance in the other place, which suggested that we should abrogate this decision to the Electoral Commission. In that case, it seems only reasonable to ask the Electoral Commission its view of that amendment.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman may think that it is reasonable[Hon. Members: "Ah."] Hon. Members say "Ah" as though they had considered the matter carefully and considered it an outrage. Were the Government really expecting reasoned advice from the Electoral Commission in only five hours on a matter that had been before the Government since September last year?
Mr. Hancock : My hon. Friend has been generous in giving way. He has made a compelling case for the inclusion of the south and the south-west in the pilot scheme, but the Government have resisted it. During the many debates on this issue, has he come across a compelling reason for denying us that opportunity while including the north-west?
We have never been offered any sensible arguments for the choice of the north-west over the rest of the country. All we have heard is the Government's assertion that they will have their way in the north of England. They have not tried to address the issues for the south of England, Wales and Scotland.
In the other place, Lord Filkin argued that the choice would somehow improve the quality of information to be gathered from the pilots to inform future decisions. Having worked for Lord Filkin in local government, I have some respect for him
Lord Filkin's argument was that the value of the pilots would be greatly improved if the north-west were included. However, the reverse is the case. If we are seriously holding pilots to improve election technique, what better control could there be than to hold all-postal elections in Yorkshire and Humber on one side of the Pennines and in the north-west on the other side? We could then compare the two. We could look at the problems, such as the level of any fraud that took place and any difficulties in the system, and make sensible arrangements for universal provision. A scientist would say that for an experiment, one needs an experimental subject and a control[Hon. Members: "The south-west."] The south-west is hardly a comparable region to the north-west. If any hon. Member believes that the north-west has similar characteristics to the south-west
Mr. Heath: The only person to whom I can recall making a reference was Lord Filkin and I do not think that he is allowed to intervene in this place. I am baffled by the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart)
Ian Stewart: In his very theatrical contribution, the hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to know who had asked for the pilot to be held in the north-west and why that region had been chosen rather than another one. I am in favour of other regions having the same facilities, but the question now is why should the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues and Members of an unelected House stop my constituents from having the right to a postal ballot. We held a postal ballot pilot in Salford and in one ward where turnout had been 12 per cent. it went up to 25 per cent. That is one reason why we should hold postal ballots.