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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): I rise with some trepidation to speak in the debate, because I have not made a speech in the House for two years, unless hon. Members count saying, "I beg to move that this House do now adjourn" as amounting to a speech.

This has been a very interesting debate on a subject that is close to the hearts of all hon. Members. My right hon. and learned Friend expressed in her opening remarks a wish to use the expertise of all hon. Members to increase voter participation and engagement in the electoral process, and I want to echo that this evening. Clearly, there has been cross-party consensus on some of the fundamental issues. Few Members have argued against a system whereby it is easy and straightforward for people to register and vote or against one that is safe and secure.

I agree with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that we need a robust system, and I hope that he would agree with us that part of the fundamental problem with bias is the under-representation in some areas of the country, and that we must work hard to ensure that the register is improved. That is the essence of our democratic society.

We have heard a number of useful contributions from hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) made a number of important points and, indeed, has already responded to the consultation exercise. He made a particularly good point about the practical work that is already being undertaken in his constituency under the present system. That is something on which we want to build. He also made a powerful case about extending the rights of arrest outside polling stations, and I can assure him that we are genuinely consulting on that.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) made a very considered speech, with a number of positive points, and I want to tell him, too, that we are consulting on whether to allow observers into polling stations and that we completely take his point about service personnel. The idea that those people from our country who are doing the ultimate duty as citizens, as members of our forces, should in some way be denied the fundamental right of citizenship is not one that any hon. Member could support. We will consider very carefully building on the issues that we included in the Representation of the People Act 2000, to increase the opportunities for service personnel, and we will work with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on that issue.
22 Jun 2005 : Column 912

Again, we agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) in deploring the few cases of fraud. It is a pity that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen spent so much time on that issue, rather than on discussing under-representation and the lack of representation in some areas of the country.

Mr. Simon: My city of Birmingham has been repeatedly traduced by Opposition Members borrowing cheap soundbites from a headline-hungry judge—

Hon. Members : Withdraw!

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that temperance and moderation in parliamentary language are important.

Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is there any way in which the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) can be struck from the record? They are in themselves publicity seeking.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I remind the hon. Gentleman that all Members take responsibility for anything that they say in the House.

Mr. Heald: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not out of order to make an insulting remark about a judge?

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's point of order. Criticism of a judge during a debate is out of order; it would have to be done by means of a substantive motion.

Bridget Prentice: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) that much has been said about what happened in Birmingham and he is right to point out that those claims were exaggerated. We need to look at the facts.

I remind the House that the recent general election, like the last one, the one before that and many before that, was run successfully, safely and securely. That is a fact.

John Hemming rose—

Bridget Prentice: I am sorry, I do not have time to give way. I really must press on.

Of course, we need to boost public confidence in the system. Everyone in the House condemns any attempt to undermine it. In the House, there are people with experience of between 1,500 and 2,000 elections, whether local or general—who better equipped to comment on the electoral process?

The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) seemed to be saying that the whole electoral system was riddled with fraud. Is he saying that that is happening everywhere in the country except Huntingdon? We should not exaggerate.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) made several useful points about making the franchise accessible, easy to use and secure. He outlined the disparities in registration and drew parallels with the census. He made an important point about the balance between security and accessibility and said that if we push the balance too far in one direction, we may undermine the system.

Points were made about postal voting, which has received cross-party support. Every party believes that the use of the postal vote is an improvement to the system. Indeed, the public like postal voting; it offers them a choice, and all the evidence shows that people who request a postal vote are more likely to exercise it. None of us could disagree with that.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said at the start of the debate, we had hoped to find cross-party consensus on many of the issues under discussion today. However, after listening to what both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen said about proportional representation, I fear that we will find it difficult to bridge that particular gap.

We have responded to the Electoral Commission's reports by accepting many of its recommendations on improving access and participation. We have said that we will legislate when parliamentary time allows. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend has undertaken an important consultation to form part of our thinking before we bring a Bill before the House. She has already met many hon. Members, both old and new, from across the House and several have already commented on the policy paper.

The debate had all the promise of an opportunity for the people probably most expert in the conduct of elections to come together to discuss in a serious and considered manner how best to engage more people in the election process. It was an opportunity to have an informed discussion about how we engage citizens in our democracy. I was sorry that the Opposition Front Bench did not engage in that discussion—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 175, Noes 361.

Division No. 18
[6.59 pm


Adam Afriyie
Mr. Peter Ainsworth
Mr. Amess
Mr. Ancram
Mr. Bacon
Tony Baldry
Mr. Baron
Mr. Bellingham
Mr. Benyon
John Bercow
Sir Paul Beresford
Mr. Binley
Mr. Blunt
Mr. Bone
Mr. Boswell
Peter Bottomley
Mr. Brady
Mr. Brazier
James Brokenshire
Angela Browning
Mr. Burns
Mr. Burrowes
Alistair Burt
Mr. Cameron
Mr. Gregory Campbell
Mr. Carswell
Mr. Cash
Mr. Chope
Mr. Clappison
Greg Clark
Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Mr. Clifton-Brown
Derek Conway
Mr. Cox
Mr. Crabb
Mr. Curry
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth)
Philip Davies
Mr. Quentin Davies
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)
Mr. Djanogly
Mr. Dodds
Mr. Donaldson
Mr. Dorrell
Mrs. Dorries
James Duddridge
Mr. Duncan
Mr. Duncan Smith
Mr. Ellwood
Mr. Evans
Mr. Evennett
Michael Fabricant
Mr. Fallon
Mr. Mark Field
Mr. Forth
Mr. Francois
Mr. Gale
Mr. Garnier
Mr. Gauke
Mr. Gibb
Mrs. Gillan
Mr. Paul Goodman
Mr. Goodwill
Michael Gove
Mr. Gray
Chris Grayling
Damian Green
Justine Greening
Mr. Greenway
Mr. Grieve
Mr. Hague
Mr. Philip Hammond
Stephen Hammond
Mr. Hands
Mr. Harper
Mr. Hayes
Mr. Heald
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
Charles Hendry
Lady Hermon
Mr. Hoban
Mr. Hollobone
Mr. Holloway
Mr. Horam
Mr. Howard
Mr. Gerald Howarth
Mr. Hunt
Mr. Hurd
Mr. Jack
Mr. Stewart Jackson
Mr. Jenkin
Mr. Boris Johnson
Mr. David Jones
Daniel Kawczynski
Miss Kirkbride
Mr. Greg Knight
Mrs. Laing
Mr. Lansley
Mr. Leigh
Dr. Julian Lewis
Mr. Liddell-Grainger
Mr. Lidington
Tim Loughton
Peter Luff
Mr. Mackay
David Maclean
Anne Main
Mr. Malins
Mr. Mates
Mr. Maude
Mrs. May
Miss McIntosh
Mr. McLoughlin
Patrick Mercer
Mrs. Maria Miller
Anne Milton
Mr. Moss
David Mundell
Dr. Murrison
Mr. Newmark
Mr. Stephen O'Brien
Mr. George Osborne
Richard Ottaway
Mr. Paice
Mr. Paterson
Mr. Pelling
Mike Penning
John Penrose
Mr. Pickles
Mark Pritchard
Mr. Randall
Mr. Redwood
Sir Malcolm Rifkind
Mr. Robathan
Mr. Laurence Robertson
Mrs. Iris Robinson
Mr. Peter Robinson
Andrew Rosindell
Mr. Ruffley
Andrew Selous
Grant Shapps
Mr. Shepherd
Mark Simmonds
David Simpson
Mr. Keith Simpson
Mr. Soames
Mrs. Spelman
Sir Michael Spicer
Bob Spink
Mr. Spring
Sir John Stanley
Mr. Steen
Mr. Graham Stuart
Mr. Swayne
Mr. Swire
Mr. Syms
Mr. Ian Taylor
Mr. Andrew Turner
Mr. Tyrie
Mr. Vaizey
Mr. Vara
Peter Viggers
Mrs. Villiers
Mr. Walker
Mr. Wallace
Mr. Waterson
Angela Watkinson
Miss Widdecombe
Bill Wiggin
Sammy Wilson
Ann Winterton
Sir Nicholas Winterton
Jeremy Wright
Mr. Yeo
Sir George Young

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Peter Atkinson and
Gregory Barker


Ms Abbott
Nick Ainger
Mr. Bob Ainsworth
Danny Alexander
Mr. Douglas Alexander
Mr. Allen
Mr. David Anderson
Janet Anderson
Hilary Armstrong
Charlotte Atkins
Mr. Ian Austin
Mr. Bailey
Vera Baird
Norman Baker
Ed Balls
Gordon Banks
Ms Barlow
Mr. Barron
John Battle
Hugh Bayley
Miss Begg
Mr. Beith
Sir Stuart Bell
Hilary Benn
Mr. Benton
Roger Berry
Mr. Betts
Liz Blackman
Dr. Blackman-Woods
Hazel Blears
Mr. Blizzard
Mr. Borrow
Mr. Bradshaw
Tom Brake
Mr. Breed
Kevin Brennan
Annette Brooke
Lyn Brown
Mr. Nicholas Brown
Mr. Russell Brown
Mr. Des Browne
Mr. Jeremy Browne
Chris Bryant
Ms Buck
Richard Burden
Colin Burgon
Andy Burnham
Mr. Burstow
Lorely Burt
Ms Butler
Mr. Byers
Mr. Byrne
Dr. Cable
David Cairns
Mr. Alan Campbell
Mr. Ronnie Campbell
Mr. Carmichael
Mr. Caton
Mr. Cawsey
Colin Challen
Mr. Chaytor
Mr. Clapham
Ms Katy Clark
Paul Clark
Mr. Tom Clarke
Mr. Clegg
Mr. Coaker
Ann Coffey
Harry Cohen
Michael Connarty
Frank Cook
Mr. Robin Cook
Rosie Cooper
Yvette Cooper
Jeremy Corbyn
Jim Cousins
Mr. Crausby
Mary Creagh
Jon Cruddas
John Cummings
Mr. Jim Cunningham
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas
Mr. Darling
Mr. Davey
Mr. David
Mr. Davidson
Mrs. Dean
Mr. Denham
Mr. Dhanda
Mr. Dismore
Jim Dobbin
Frank Dobson
Mr. Donohoe
Mr. Doran
Jim Dowd
Mr. Drew
Mark Durkan
Angela Eagle
Maria Eagle
Clive Efford
Mrs. Ellman
Jeff Ennis
Paul Farrelly
Tim Farron
Lynne Featherstone
Mr. Frank Field
Mark Fisher
Jim Fitzpatrick
Mr. Flello
Caroline Flint
Barbara Follett
Mr. Don Foster
Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester)
Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)
Dr. Francis
Mike Gapes
Barry Gardiner
Andrew George
Mr. Bruce George
Mr. Gerrard
Sandra Gidley
Linda Gilroy
Mr. Godsiff
Paul Goggins
Julia Goldsworthy
Helen Goodman
Nia Griffith
Nigel Griffiths
Mr. Grogan
Andrew Gwynne
Mr. Hain
Mr. Mike Hall
Patrick Hall
Mr. David Hamilton
Mr. Fabian Hamilton
Mr. Hanson
Ms Harman
Mr. Tom Harris
Nick Harvey
Mr. Havard
John Healey
Mr. Heath
John Hemming
Mr. Henderson
Mr. Hendrick
Mr. Heppell
Stephen Hesford
Ms Hewitt
David Heyes
Keith Hill
Meg Hillier
Mrs. Hodgson
Kate Hoey
Paul Holmes
Mr. Hood
Mr. Hoon
Phil Hope
Kelvin Hopkins
Mr. Horwood
David Howarth
Mr. George Howarth
Dr. Howells
Mr. Hoyle
Beverley Hughes
Simon Hughes
Chris Huhne
Mrs. Humble
Mr. Hutton
Dr. Iddon
Mr. Illsley
Glenda Jackson
Mrs. James
Mr. Jenkins
Ms Diana R. Johnson
Helen Jones
Mr. Kevan Jones
Lynne Jones
Mr. Martyn Jones
Mr. Joyce
Sir Gerald Kaufman
Ms Keeble
Ms Keeley
Alan Keen
Mr. Keetch
Ruth Kelly
Mr. Charles Kennedy
Jane Kennedy
Mr. Khabra
Mr. Khan
Mr. Kidney
Mr. Kilfoyle
Jim Knight
Susan Kramer
Dr. Kumar
Norman Lamb
Mr. Lammy
Mr. Laws
Mr. Laxton
Mark Lazarowicz
Mr. Leech
David Lepper
Tom Levitt
Mr. Ivan Lewis
Martin Linton
Tony Lloyd
Mr. Llwyd
Mr. Love
Ian Lucas
Mr. MacDougall
Andrew Mackinlay
Mr. MacNeil
Mr. MacShane
Fiona Mactaggart
Mr. Mahmood
Mr. Malik
Judy Mallaber
John Mann
Rob Marris
Mr. Marsden
Mr. Marshall-Andrews
Mr. Martlew
Mr. McAvoy
Steve McCabe
Kerry McCarthy
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Mr. McCartney
Siobhain McDonagh
John McDonnell
Mr. McFadden
Mr. McFall
Shona McIsaac
Ann McKechin
Rosemary McKenna
Mr. McNulty
Mr. Meacher
Gillian Merron
Alun Michael
Mr. Milburn
Andrew Miller
Mr. Austin Mitchell
Laura Moffatt
Chris Mole
Mrs. Moon
Mr. Moore
Margaret Moran
Jessica Morden
Julie Morgan
Mr. Morley
Kali Mountford
Mr. Mudie
Greg Mulholland
Mr. Mullin
Meg Munn
Mr. Denis Murphy
Mr. Jim Murphy
Mr. Paul Murphy
Dr. Naysmith
Dan Norris
Mr. Mike O'Brien
Mr. Olner
Lembit Öpik
Sandra Osborne
Albert Owen
Dr. Palmer
Mr. Plaskitt
Mr. Pope
Stephen Pound
Bridget Prentice
Mr. Prescott
Adam Price
Dawn Primarolo
Gwyn Prosser
Dr. Pugh
Mr. Purchase
Bill Rammell
Mr. Raynsford
Mr. Andy Reed
Mr. Jamie Reed
Mr. Alan Reid
John Reid
Mrs. Riordan
John Robertson
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson
Mr. Rogerson
Mr. Rooney
Paul Rowen
Mr. Roy
Chris Ruane
Christine Russell
Joan Ryan
Martin Salter
Mr. Sanders
Mr. Sarwar
Alison Seabeck
Jonathan Shaw
Mr. Sheerman
Clare Short
Mr. Simon
Alan Simpson
Mr. Singh
Mr. Skinner
Mr. Slaughter
Mr. Andrew Smith
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Jacqui Smith
John Smith
Anne Snelgrove
Sir Peter Soulsby
Helen Southworth
Mr. Spellar
Dr. Starkey
Ian Stewart
Dr. Stoate
Graham Stringer
Ms Gisela Stuart
Andrew Stunell
Mr. Sutcliffe
Jo Swinson
Mark Tami
Ms Dari Taylor
David Taylor
Matthew Taylor
Dr. Richard Taylor
Sarah Teather
Mr. Thomas
Mr. Timms
Paddy Tipping
Mr. Touhig
Jon Trickett
Mr. Truswell
Dr. Desmond Turner
Mr. Neil Turner
Derek Twigg
Keith Vaz
Joan Walley
Lynda Waltho
Claire Ward
Mr. Wareing
Mr. Watts
Steve Webb
Mr. Weir
Dr. Whitehead
Malcolm Wicks
Mr. Alan Williams
Hywel Williams
Mark Williams
Mr. Roger Williams
Stephen Williams
Mr. Willis
Jenny Willott
Mr. Wills
Mr. Winnick
Ms Rosie Winterton
Pete Wishart
Mike Wood
Mr. Woodward
Mr. Anthony Wright
Mr. Iain Wright
Dr. Tony Wright
Derek Wyatt
Richard Younger-Ross

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Tom Watson and
Tony Cunningham

Question accordingly negatived.

22 Jun 2005 : Column 917

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 300, Noes 226.

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