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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps it may help if I save the Minister the next two paragraphs. I believed that I had made clear at the beginning that this is entirely a probing amendment to enable us to discuss "when" and to discover exactly what the Government are thinking. The Minister does not need to assume that I intend to press the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful for that clarification. However, I was trying to get to the heart of the noble Lord's intent. I cannot believe that he wants to rule out a large number of the proposed

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pilots. If that is clear, then I am happy with that. As I explained, I have some sympathy with the restrictions that the noble Lord seeks to place on Saturday or Friday voting, but the wider limitation that he has proposed would make little sense.

Pilots have been put in place to test the arrangements. That is an important issue. I would have hoped that the noble Lord and other Members of the opposition parties would understand the value of the pilots. If we test them and they work, then clearly they can have wider application. It would be unreasonable and unfair at this early stage, when we are trying out new ways of including people in the electoral process, to rule out anything which has value and merit. On that basis I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Fookes: It may of interest to the Committee if I describe briefly a pilot scheme which the city of Plymouth is seeking to introduce on early voting. The scheme seeks to introduce voting on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th April--on Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.--at one central location, to be heavily advertised beforehand. I am not sure whether that would be acceptable to my noble friend Lord Mackay, but it may be of interest to consider how one authority is seeking to implement a pilot scheme.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thank my noble friend for that information, which illustrates one of the problems. I do not know the size of the Jewish population in Plymouth, but some may feel unable to vote on the Saturday. I suppose that the experiment allows them to vote on the Friday. It will be interesting to see whether the Government agree to that pilot and, if so, what are the results. A point arises from that matter, but I shall come to it in a later amendment.

I repeat that this is entirely a probing amendment to try to have a discussion on what the Government mean by "when". The Committee is well used to probing amendments. The intention is not to replace the word "when"; the proposal is merely a peg on which to hang a debate about "when". I am pleased to hear the Minister quote his right honourable friend the Home Secretary on the question of Saturdays and Sundays. That goes a long way to reassure me. I know that it will reassure many people in the United Kingdom who believe either in keeping Saturday as a holy day, or indeed, certainly in the case of the West Highlands, in keeping Sunday as a holy day. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 97:

    Page 11, line 45, leave out ("where").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is entirely a probing amendment in order to discuss the question of what the Government mean by "where". Traditionally in this country we have voted in schools, town halls

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and buildings of that nature. I gather that the experiments seek to introduce voting in other places. For example, in the Minister's Written Answer to his noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath on 1st February, reference is made to a "mobile ballot box". Perhaps the Minister will tell us how he conceives of such a thing. I have heard of mobile shops and many other mobile entities, but a mobile ballot box is rather novel. Perhaps the Minister will explain what is meant by it.

I understand also that there are propositions about polls being held in supermarkets, although I do not see any mentioned in the noble Lord's answer to his noble friend. I have some reservations about that. Indeed, I have tabled subsequent amendments in order to make sure that that is done in an above-board manner. Some supermarkets are associated with senior politicians. There is a noble Lord on the Government Front Bench in this House who has a supermarket chain bearing his name. Until very recently one of my honourable friends in the other place ran a major supermarket chain. I am not entirely sure whether the governing party would have been happy if polling stations had been set up in Asda while Mr Archie Norman was still running it. It might have thought that that was not quite right because Mr Norman might use his position to rearrange the shelves near the polling booth or whatever. The same could be true--

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I find that argument most extraordinary. Is the noble Lord really suggesting that someone would be so devious--someone as senior as those to whom the noble Lord referred--that he would rearrange the shelves in his shops in order to make sure that the polling booth was where he wanted it? That is a nonsense argument and one which I hope is a joke.

Lord McNally: Before the noble Lord admits that to be a joke, given some of the shenanigans we have seen from Millbank over the selection of their candidate, is not anything possible these days?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Anything is possible these days, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. The shelves would have to be rearranged. Both the supermarkets I go to--they are different chains--have newspaper stands immediately at the entrance. On newspaper stands there tend to be newspapers. On a polling day, especially for a general election, those newspapers would contain political information. In the curtilage of the public buildings where polls are held no political material is allowed. That is right and proper. With all due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, those are the kinds of questions that would have to be answered in relation to supermarkets. The shelves would have to be rearranged. After all, if I wanted to help, let us say, the Conservative Party--I do not think that it is all that machiavellian--I could arrange that the Daily

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Telegraph was the foremost newspaper on the news stands. If I wanted to help the Labour Party, I might make the Mirror--

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I find this most extraordinary. Local elections are governed by rules. The rules state that there should be no political advertising of any kind within a space round the polling station. Yes, shelves would have to be moved, but that does not mean that it would be possible to put the Daily Telegraph in front of the polling station.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: With all due respect, the noble Baroness is making my point for me. One is not allowed to have that kind of material round a polling station. So I want some kind of explanation from the Minister as to how the Government will put polling stations into supermarkets without doing a lot more than just putting in the polling stations. How will they ensure that the electoral laws are being obeyed? That is a simple question. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for helping to make it a little clearer.

I am also concerned about the politics of the matter. I know some people who, perhaps quite wrongly, would find it very hard to go into a supermarket run by the Co-operative in order to vote. They might think that that was quite wrong and that they were being asked to go into something which they associate with the Labour Party. That may be right or wrong, but I know that they do that. They might think that that was hardly a neutral place in which to vote. Some people on the Left might think that going into the capitalism of a supermarket was not the right place in which to vote. We have to think very carefully about this matter.

In addition, the supermarket might be quite keen to get the polling station rather than its competitors because that would draw in people to vote in the supermarket on that day. With a bit of luck those people might then do some shopping. That is what supermarkets are about. That is why they give the free offers: "Come and have a free ballot today and then do your shopping". They might even give discounts on shopping on that day to encourage people in. Perhaps that is what is intended in order to try to increase the turn-out.

I should be grateful if the Minister would run through what exactly the Government have in mind when it comes to changing the place of voting. What is a mobile polling station? How do they envisage that working? If we to go into places like supermarkets and shopping malls, how will they ensure that the same rigid rules, which the noble Baroness, Lady Gould has rightly drawn to our attention, are applied in those supermarkets as are applied currently in the public buildings where we are used to casting our votes? I beg to move.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I wish to refer to the noble Lord's final point about the buildings in which we are used to voting. I do not know whether the noble Lord has ever voted in a caravan, but I certainly have. We have always had moveable polling stations and we have always managed to abide by the rules that

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govern local government when that has happened. It has been done for the convenience of the electors, in order to ensure that they can get to the polling station. I hope that that will continue.

I am very interested in the concept of mobile polling stations. I have spent a good deal of time looking at the new democracies and how they encourage people to vote. I found it fascinating to learn that polling stations are taken to hospitals and old people's homes so that people can register their vote and not miss out by having to go through an absent voting scheme. I should like to hope that we might be as imaginative and as thoughtful as those countries are in providing the best possible means of making it easier for people to vote.

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