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The hon. Member for Gosport , representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Minimum Voting Age

30. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of lowering the qualifying age of voting from 18 to 16 years as a means of increasing turnout at elections. [160984]

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): The Electoral Commission’s 2004 report, “Age of Electoral Majority”, concluded that there was insufficient justification for reducing the voting age to 16. The commission informs me it has no plans to make a new assessment of the case for lowering the voting age.

John Robertson: I am somewhat disappointed in the hon. Gentleman’s answer. Politicians are regularly chastised—justifiably so, in some cases—for not engaging with people, in particular young people. Would not lowering the age from 18 to 16 help to engage those young people, not just in local politics but in politics in general, or does the hon. Gentleman think it would just increase the number of people who do not vote?

Peter Viggers: I am grateful for the chance to add that the 2004 report produced by the Electoral Commission said that the commission would revisit the case for lowering the voting age within five to seven years. Following its recent refocus on the twin objectives of regulating party and election finance and delivering well-run elections, the commission is unlikely to proceed with such a review. The Electoral Commission takes the view that it is for Government and Parliament to consult and decide on such matters.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Is not it much more likely that young people would engage in the process if, when they left school at 16, they were registered to vote as part of a graduation ceremony at which they were given their civic rights and responsibilities? If so, would it not be logical that
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they should have the vote from that time, when they are free to work, able to pay taxes and free to join the services?

Peter Viggers: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that was well aired during discussions on the subject. When the Electoral Commission looked at the issue in some detail in 2004, it came to the conclusion, taking account of facts such as those cited by the hon. Gentleman, that it was not appropriate to recommend a reduction in voting age.


The hon. Member for Middlesbrough , representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Fatal Accidents (Gravestones)

31. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): How many people have been killed by falling gravestones in church graveyards in the last 20 years. [160985]

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Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South): The number is not recorded centrally but I understand from the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, which insures almost all Church of England churches, that it has received no claims relating to such fatalities in the last 10 years—the period for which figures are available.

John Mann: Why is it, then, that hundreds of thousands of gravestones across the country are being staked, as if they were a health and safety risk? Across the country, only two deaths have been caused by gravestones in the past 28 years. Should we not investigate precisely why local authorities and churches are taking such an absurd decision?

Mr. Sutcliffe: My hon. Friend raises a fair point, which I will take up with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

UK Borders Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Clause 5

Registration regulations

Lords amendment: No. 1.

3.35 pm

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 6.

Mr. Byrne: The amendments can be put into three packages. They are to do with the way in which identity cards are issued and, if necessary, surrendered. I am particularly grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which helped us to get amendments on that subject straight. Lords amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 6 seek to address concerns that that Committee expressed about the way in which we proposed delegating powers to the Secretary of State. The amendments give a much sharper definition of when the Secretary of State may cancel cards, and when the individual must notify the Secretary of State of changes in circumstances. The amendments are designed to mirror the Identity Cards Act 2006 slightly more closely than the original drafting did. Effectively, in place of the suspension that was originally proposed, the Secretary of State may now require surrender, while considering cancelling the card.

Lords amendment No. 2 is also designed to meet a concern expressed by the Committee. The Committee made it clear that the Secretary of State’s power needed to be bound slightly more than was proposed in the draft Bill. The amendment simply confines the Secretary of State’s power to a power to require immigration and nationality documents to be surrendered. Importantly, when biometric immigration documents are issued, the amendment will allow us to bleed insecure documents out of the system.

Finally, amendments Nos. 4 and 5 simply remove references to the necessity for a code of practice governing the way in which authorised persons should issue biometric immigration documents. Frankly, I think that the original Bill—this is probably my fault—went over the top a little bit. There is no equivalent provision in the Identity Cards Act, and there is no such provision for biometric visas. I did not feel that that discrepancy could be justified. Instead, we propose to publish guidance on the subject to which people must adhere. It will be tested a little later on, next year. I commend the amendments to the House.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Broadly speaking, we welcome the group of amendments. It is always good to hear a Minister in this Government admit the possibility of error in a previous part of the legislative process. We called for amendment No. 2, so we are
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particularly pleased to see it, but I have some questions. Hopefully the Minister can provide clarification about the effects of the group of amendments. In general, we are pleased that the previous catch-all subsections have been removed. The Minister will be aware that there were objections, both in Committee and in another place, about the sweeping powers that Ministers gave themselves under a previous version of the legislation. The removal of those powers is a welcome step forward.

My questions are about exactly how the biometric information documents fit into the Minister’s scheme for a national identity register. One of the things that their lordships found most confusing in the explanations in the Lords was whether those documents are the identity card for foreigners. If so, do the documents contain the same biometric information that UK citizens will be expected to provide under this wretched scheme? Of course, we would scrap the scheme, but let us proceed with the legislation on the basis that it might be introduced one day.

The other clarification that we require from the Minister concerns the appeal mechanisms available to people whose documents have been removed. Such an action could be disastrous for people in those circumstances, so it is fair for the House to ask whether this group of amendments entails a decent and fair appeal mechanism. On the same lines, is it correct to presume that someone whose documents have been removed for one of the reasons set out in the amendments would be immediately removed from this country? I am sure that, like me, the Minister has studied carefully the very good debates in another place, both in Grand Committee and on Report, so he will know that their lordships were genuinely confused about that matter. I hope that in this broadly welcome group of amendments he will therefore take the opportunity to clear up the remaining confusion about those issues.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): First, it is proper that I should pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my noble Friend Lord Avebury for their work on the Bill. May I commend, too, Lord Hilton, who is a constituent of mine? He is a Cross Bencher, so does not speak on behalf of my party, but he played a significant role in the Bill’s consideration in another place.

I certainly do not intend to urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the amendments, which we broadly support. Like the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I should like to receive further details about the interrelationship between the documents and the identity card. I am amused by the vehemence with which the Conservatives dismissed ID cards, having voted for them in the first instance, but we must set that issue aside.

Damian Green rose—

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is about to tell me that he voted against ID cards.

Damian Green: Indeed; I should put on record once again the fact that even when my party was misguidedly in favour of identity cards, I voted against them, and I am delighted that a greater wisdom has now settled on my party.

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Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—he at least is consistent even if all around him inconsistency reigns supreme.

May I address a minor point raised by Lords amendment No. 3, and urge the Minister to spend a little time explaining to the House the issue of the Secretary of State’s state of mind when those decisions are made? Each consideration that the Secretary of State must make is couched in similar terms. Proposed new paragraph (a), for example, says that a document can be cancelled if

In proposed new paragraphs (a) to (f), it is perfectly proper to use the words,

because the Secretary of State must form a reasonable view, but I question their use in proposed new paragraphs (g),(h),(i),(j) and (k). Is it not writing into statute an admission on the Government’s part of just how incompetent the Department has become? It suggests that the Secretary of State thinks that “the holder has died” or that they have

The Secretary of State does not know whether someone has been deported, but thinks that they might have been, so will cancel the relevant documents. I would prefer a little more certainty in that Executive area. I accept that that is a forlorn hope, given the nature of the Department, but it is not unreasonable to expect a deportation to have taken place or an order to have been made. That is preferable to the pious expectation on the part of the Secretary of State that something might have happened. It might not have happened—who cares?—we will take the documents anyway.

I am sorry if that observation sounds flippant, but it is based on reality. The Government’s record on deportations, and on assessing someone’s leave to enter and knowing whether they have retained the leave to enter or to remain, is not a good one. I would expect the statute to be framed in terms of greater certainty, so I would welcome the Minister’s observations on that specific point.

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for those observations and for the opportunity to clarify one or two points. The relationship with ID cards is fairly simple to spell out. The technical infrastructure on which the cards will be issued is the same infrastructure as will underpin biometric visas, biometric immigration documents and, in turn, ID cards for British citizens, which is why it is difficult to propose shutting down bits of the system without affecting the integrity of some pretty important border controls, including biometric visas, with which Opposition parties profess to agree. Biometric immigration documents can be designated under the terms of the Identity Cards Act. Obviously, in their original issue they will not be so designated, but that will be possible in future, and cardholders will come under the protections that become available to people under that Act.

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The cards themselves will be the same technical design as we propose for ID cards for British citizens, which is two fingerprints and a facial image on a chip on the card, and 10 fingerprints and a facial image on the national identity register. The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) makes a good point about the appeal mechanisms that are required if somebody’s card is cancelled. In effect, when a person’s leave to remain is cancelled at the same time as a biometric immigration document, or if the application for leave is refused, the person will be able to appeal through the existing system before the asylum and immigration tribunal, and where there is no right of appeal the individual can bring a judicial review under the usual principles.

With regard to the belt-and-braces approach to the drafting of the legislation, I have said on the record that the way in which our systems for counting people in and out of the country were phased out was a mistake, and all of us bear some culpability for that decision, but we need to reintroduce such systems, which will give us a degree of control that we do not have today. That will mean, I hope, that these provisions become obsolete, but at the moment I hope that I will be forgiven for saying that a belt-and-braces approach is quite valuable.

Damian Green: I am grateful for the Minister’s kind remarks. I was not quite clear from what he said whether the particular biometrics on the document will be exactly the same as he proposes to put on the ID cards and the ID register for British citizens.

Mr. Byrne: That is the intention, yes. I commend the amendments to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7

Effect of non-compliance

Lords amendment: No. 7.

3.45 pm

Mr. Byrne: I beg to move, that this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

In Committee, we had a useful and at times passionate debate about the need for the Border and Immigration Agency to step up to its responsibilities to keep children safe from harm, and this is not an unrelated area. It is increasingly important to ensure that the identity of children in the immigration system is well understood and locks down. That is why we propose to issue biometric immigration documents to those people under 18 in the immigration system .

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