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Lord Jopling: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The noble Lord referred to requests for mobile voting facilities from Windsor and Watford. According to my list, those authorities also include Sunderland and Norwich.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that correction. Having checked my list, it includes both local authority areas, together with other initiatives.

The Asda supermarket polling station was very successful and increased the turn-out in that locality, which was a marina site and a popular place for second homes. That was a helpful and well-conducted

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exercise. We seek to bring forward in the pilots new and different initiatives. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, was absolutely right. These initiatives can lead to a good deal of heated discussion and debate. We must be careful that in introducing them we do not upset people--for example, that the job of those who staff them is not made more difficult--or overburden the police, who have a difficult task to perform on polling day.

If the guidelines are followed and the returning officer is satisfied that the polling station arrangements comply with the statutory requirements, I see little difficulty. A screened-off area in a discrete part of a building can work wonders. Last year I voted in a pub located just round the corner from the home of my noble friend Lady Gould. That polling station was screened off from the pub and was open all day. Although there were not floods of people--it was the euro-elections--the polling station was popular with, and well used by, those who knew where it was and wanted to participate.

It is strange that we have a history of voting only in draughty school halls and old church buildings. The distribution of those buildings is not necessarily best suited to today's diverse communities. If we encourage people to vote because the buildings that we make available are more accessible and better used, that is a good thing. That is what the pilot schemes attempt to achieve.

I hope that my response has given the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, an idea of the scope of our thinking. I am grateful to him for tabling a valuable probing amendment which appears to have elicited from all parts of the Committee a good deal of support for new and different places in which to vote. If that means that we can have longer polling times, that is all to the good. I hope that on this occasion the noble Lord will feel able to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Sandwich: Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he wants to reply to his noble friend who asked whether a search should be made for an alternative to schools. It is a matter of pride not only for school governors and staff but for children that their schools are the centre of attention, at least for one day. Schools conduct their own mock elections. Often those activities are focused on general and local elections, both of which are significant events for schools.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Earl makes a useful point. In many areas, school buildings are the only major community facilities. They are a source of great pride and interest and become a focus for community activity. All that we seek to do in this legislation is to provide an opportunity for alternative premises to be used in addition to school buildings. Sadly, some school governors take the contrary view. They do not want the school to close for the whole day and the building to be used in this way; they want to carry on the normal routine. One understands that point of view, particularly if it enjoys the support of parents. School buildings will retain their importance

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in the conduct of democracy, both nationally and locally, but we should look for alternative buildings so that we have a good range, and perhaps a better distribution, of buildings to be used for the purpose.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. This is a necessary debate if we are to move away from the traditional voting system. Perhaps I may give the Minister a small piece of advice based on his last point. For very obvious reasons, the one way to make the noble Lord and his Government deeply unpopular with schoolchildren would be to decide not to locate polling stations in schools. It might even make them deeply unpopular with school teachers, but let us leave that to one side!

We have made a little progress on the question of supermarkets. Although perhaps I attempted to treat it in a light-hearted manner, my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie reminded me of some of the battles that had been joined as to where party literature and posters could and could not be placed. Such matters would give rise to difficult issues in supermarkets. The concept of the reds, blues and yellows going into various shopping alleys to look for particular products may provide entertainment for a little while. One may have a game as to what they are shopping for as they mill around, and take the whole day to do it. However, there are serious problems if one uses buildings in which there are people present for other legitimate reasons.

Mobile facilities will give rise to difficulties; for example, the identification of those who have voted. I do not think it can ever be said that people must vote between 10 o'clock and 12 o'clock at the mobile station at their old folks' home. One would need another fixed polling station. There would have to be a relationship between the two polling stations to identify who had voted. That probably takes us into the realm of electronic voting, which I understand is also to be the subject of trials in some local authorities.

We have had a useful debate. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, tempted me to believe that voting in supermarkets would be a splendid idea. Close to the entrance to a supermarket, for example, there might be a display of alcoholic refreshments from my native country, bearing the slogan "Don't be vague, vote for Hague". I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 98 and 99 not moved.]

4 p.m.

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 100:

    Page 12, line 1, at end insert ("and

(c) the system of voting;").

The noble Lord said: When we debated the issue last night the Minister was clear that the Greater London elections were local elections. Who am I to deny him that? It is strange, therefore, that the largest of all local elections will be conducted under a system of proportional representation. The Bill is supposed to

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encourage experiment on the when, where and how of voting. Yet the Government have held back from experiment with the system of voting.

Let me confess, before the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, reminds me, that during our debate on the European Parliament elections, I was overly optimistic about the impact of proportional representation on the willingness of the electorate to vote. That is why there is need for further experiment. There is no doubt that local elections are bedevilled by low turn-out. I shall not make the ambitious claims that I made at the time of the European elections: that proportional representation at local level will immediately galvanise the population to use their vote. However, I believe that it is worth putting that concept forward as regards one of the experiments. If the London elections show a higher turn-out than other local elections, I hope that we shall be entitled to draw comfort from that impact of proportional representation.

Proportional representation in our local government might be a way of removing some of the abuses that have emerged in what have become one-party states dotted around our local government system. I shall not go into the details of that as regards PR but it is a factor to bear well in mind. It would be interesting to know why the Government pulled back from allowing some experiments in PR in local government elections.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I looked at the list of amendments to see whether there was one on proportional representation; and I was not disappointed. I should have been surprised if the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches had not brought forward such an amendment.

The Bill's scope is limited to the ideas of the working party on electoral procedures. The purpose of the Bill is to give life and effect to those ideas. The working party was clear that its recommendations related only to electoral procedures. It did not consider electoral systems. I venture to suggest that there would probably have been little scope for agreement across all the parties involved in the working party had that been part of its remit. I suspect that the noble Lord will acknowledge that.

I do not dispute that the issue of voting systems is important. However, most people would argue that that matter should be dealt with in primary legislation which is fit for the purpose. That was the case with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament elections. I am grateful to the noble Lord for rehearsing the customary arguments. I understand the point about some of the abuses that the provision might check in some parts of local government where one party predominates exclusively for long periods of time. That is an important issue. Whether the amendment is necessarily the right way or the only way to deal with that issue is a broader political question.

There will be continued debate in this field. We have not yet seen the end of discussion and debates about proportional representation as an important feature of

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constitutional developments in the UK. We shall await with considerable interest the outcome of the Greater London Authority elections which rest in part on a form of proportional representation. So there is a continuing debate. It is not the end of the story and no doubt we shall return to the matter time and again. Perhaps the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.

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