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|'In Schedule 1, in rule 6(3)(a) the words "(of not more than 6 words in length)".'.|
|'Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60)||In Schedule 2, the entry relating to the Representation of the People Act 1983.'.|
|'This Act||Sections 13 to (Repeal of personal identifier provisions).'.|
|'This Act||Section 64.'[Ms Harman.]|
The Bill is an important step in the very big task of restoring health and legitimacy to our democracy. Our democracy is not working properly unless everyone eligible is registered to vote, everyone participates in elections and no one fiddles the vote. The Bill takes forward measures on all of those three legs of the stool on which democracy depends.
I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns), for his excellent work on the Bill. I said at the outset that we would listen and respond to points made on the Bill from all parts of the House. Our approach has been non-party political and non-partisan. In that spirit, I particularly thank the Oppositionthe hon. Members for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)for their helpful suggestions, many of which have found their way into the Bill.
I acknowledge and thank our Whip on the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), and my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton).I acknowledge the work of Select Committees, above all the Constitutional Affairs Committee, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Committee, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Standards and Privileges Committee, all of which have had a substantive input into the Bill.
I thank Back Benchers from all sides, particularly those who served on the Committee. We were helped by the assistance of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). I single out my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), because much of the discussion that we have had in the House and in Committee was informed by the fact that he has asked a great many parliamentary questions, elicited answers and done a great deal of research. I also thank hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee, but who none the less played a large part in producing the substance of the Bill. I thank the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) for introducing what I call the Cormack amendments. I also thank hon. Members in all parts of the House, particularly the hon. Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Blaby (Mr.
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Robathan), who highlighted the issues of service voters and their under-registration. I look forward to further debate on that in another place.
Much of the Bill has been agreed, and much of it has been changed, often at the suggestion of Back Benchers or Opposition Members. One thing that has not changed, however, is the position of prisoners, who are not entitled to vote if they have been convicted.
Although we agree with the official Opposition about convicted prisoners, we do not agree with them about the roll-out of personal identifiers as a condition of registration, which they think should happen immediately. The Government have decided that that must be piloted before a national roll-out, so we agree on the principles, but disagree on implementation. Our approach has remained non-partisan, consultative and evidence-based, which is why we have stuck with the pilots and will insist on them before any roll-out.
After Third Reading, we will send the Bill from the House of Commons to the House of Lords, and I look forward to hearing their lordships' views. I know that their lordships will acknowledge that the Bill is about elections and bear in mind that consideration by the elected House has been thorough and non-partisan. I am sure that my noble Friend Baroness Ashton will share the approach adopted by me and my ministerial colleagues by taking an open-minded and non-partisan approach to amendments introduced in the Lords.
Mr. Heald : I join the Minister in thanking all those involved with the Bill on both sides of the House. I particularly thank the Minister and the Under-Secretary for being constructive and prepared to consult.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) and for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who have done all the hard work. I also pay tribute to our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who is sadly not here today, but who has worked hard on the Bill. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who has already been mentioned and who has happily been returned to us, and my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan).
I do not agree with the Minister about prisoners. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the blanket ban is not compatible with the European convention on human rights, and one of the reasons that it gives for that opinion is that the ban has not been properly discussed in the House, so we cannot be criticised for introducing an amendment drafted in similar terms to the current law to allow that to happen. The Minister's colleagues in another place may want to consult on the matter, but we feel that we have pushed the process forward. We are sad that Ministers did not join us in the Division Lobby, because the two main parties should be united on the matterwe know that the Liberal Democrats take a different view, but the responsible parties should unite on the issue.
As I said on Second Reading, we welcome the improvements to the Bill such as the new offence, the marked register for postal votes and anonymous
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registration, all of which we have discussed this evening. I am also pleased about the changes that we called for on Second Reading such as assurances about CORE, fairness on the descriptions allowed for independents and party candidates, clarifying the election expenses rules, not reducing the threshold for the loss of deposits, which would have helped extremist parties, and a firmer test regarding safety for those who are at risk when it comes to anonymous registration. The Government have examined all those matters and acted upon them, and we are grateful.
However, we are still unhappy that the Government have been unable to help on individual voter registration, which is a vital, urgent and much-needed protection against postal vote fraud. It is sad that they are still not prepared to make the tiniest concession on that beyond the pilots, which are not an answer to the problem. It is also a pity that they are still not prepared, despite all the recommendations of the Electoral Commission, to rule out all-postal vote elections for the future.
There is more to be done with the Bill in the other place. When the Northern Ireland voting system was being considered, the advocacy of my noble Friend Lord Glentoran persuaded the Government to overcome their original objections and introduce a secure system. I hope that that might happen again with this Bill.
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