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Lord McNally: The Minister is probably fortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, is not in his place. Had he been, I believe that he would have intervened with some vigour.

I take the point that a tremendous effort has been made in recent years. However, one of our concerns is that in a period of experimentation where new polling practices and new polling stations are established, they should be disabled friendly. In the case of disabled persons who go into the car parks of large superstores, for example, it would be outrageous if as part of the experiment we added to the problem rather than diminished it. There may, as has been said, be such polling stations.

The Home Office could well give guidance to returning officers that where polling stations are clearly non-disabled friendly, they should be thinking of phasing them out so that they are narrowed down to a minimum. However, I do not doubt the department's goodwill or the efforts of local authorities. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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6.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 126:

    Page 14, line 45, at end insert ("and any assistance given shall be in a form which will not enable the identity of the voter to be revealed").

The noble Lord said: I can move Amendment No. 126 fairly briefly. We are dealing in this part of the Bill with,

    "a device of such description as may be prescribed for enabling voters who are blind or partially-sighted to vote ..."

I have asked for the addition of the words,

    "and any assistance given shall be in a form which will not enable the identity of the voter to be revealed".

I have in mind the traditional ballot paper. I shall start with the nonsense examples: it quite clearly cannot be an enlarged ballot paper, because that would obviously identify the voter at count; it cannot be a ballot paper in Braille; it cannot be a ballot paper which has in any way been marked by this device, whatever it may be.

My amendment would reinforce the need for privacy, and I do not see any harm in accepting it. But it is really tabled in order to seek an explanation and an assurance from the Minister regarding the device. I presume that one is contemplated. Otherwise, why put it in the Bill? I would like an assurance that the device will in no way leave marks on the ballot paper which would allow the identity of the voter to be discerned. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The reference to "a device" sounds rather painful. I do not believe that this is quite as draconian as a "device". I am nevertheless grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment. As he listens, I am sure that he will get the reassurance that he seeks.

One important change which the Bill introduces is that blind and partially-sighted people will in future be able to vote using a template. As I explained at Second Reading, we have in mind something like a cardboard sleeve into which the ballot paper could be slotted. The sleeve will have holes cut out of it, so that the boxes for marking a vote will be visible. The voters will then be able to feel where to put their crosses. When I recently described this plan, somebody responded by saying, "What a simple idea! Why did we not do it years ago?" I am sure that your Lordships will probably be equally positive. It seems to me a very simple way of achieving the objective.

We do not need to be overly formal about this. Unlike voters who are assisted by a companion, no other people are involved, which in turn means that no signatures or lists need to be involved. We believe that the template can simply sit on the presiding officer's table and that a voter who wants to use it can simply ask for it. He will not have to say why he needs it, nor will he have to fill in any unnecessary paperwork--no added bureaucracy. The electoral register will not be marked in any special way. Therefore, there will be no way at the end of polling day of identifying those who have used the facility. As far as I can discern, a

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cardboard sleeve as a device will not leave any kind of mark on the ballot paper. I trust that those assurances will sufficiently meet the noble Lord's concerns and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That satisfies me and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 127 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 127A:

    After Clause 13, insert the following new clause--


(" . In Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act (the parliamentary elections rules), in rule 6 (nomination of candidates) at the end there shall be inserted--
"(4) The returning officer shall refuse to accept the nomination of a candidate in a name which has been adopted by the candidate and appears to the returning officer to have been adopted with a view to causing confusion among electors between that candidate and any other person who is or is likely to become a candidate in the same election."").

The noble Lord said: I freely confess that the Liberal Democrats are deeply scarred by the experience of name changes, having had to fight a by-election with two Roy Jenkins and at a European election facing a "Literal Democrat"! Name changes can sometimes be seen as amusing. I am reminded of the story of the man whose name was Billy who became so fed up of being called "Silly Billy" that he changed his name to George, whereupon everybody called him "Silly George"! So in some cases, name changes and such like can be seen as amusing, but, on the other hand, we have had to become used to tomfoolery with our electoral system. I am told that returning officers are often reluctant to take action because they do not want to become embroiled in litigation, the cost of which falls on their own local authorities. Therefore, where there is room for abuse, there may be a case for ruling it out in order to protect returning officers and their discretion.

As the Minister may have gathered, I do not intend to seek to divide the Committee on this issue, but I wonder whether the Home Office has considered it. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I, too, have experience of name changes. As leader of Brighton and Hove Council during the previous general election, I faced the same problem. Someone wanted to stand as the "Conversative" candidate, aping the name from the "Conservative" candidate and we had to go to law to try to sort it out. Therefore, I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment.

However, we believe that we have tackled the problem. Praise is due to dear old Brighton and Hove Council and to dear old me. I wrote a telling article on the subject, going through our experience, shortly after the general election. Of course, the new, listening, sensitive, incoming Government have tackled the issue

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and believe that the Registration of Political Parties Act, which we introduced some two years ago, put a stop to that.

I have not seen new and fresh abuses since then, but if there are any or more imaginative ways of impersonation which so distract the electorate that one party suffers, we should like to hear about them. It is something we cannot tolerate in our electoral process because it frustrates democracy, as it did in the famous and celebrated European elections which caught the eye.

We do not believe that further statutory provisions are required. Although I sympathise with the concerns raised by the noble Lord, I suggest that it would be appropriate to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McNally: The only aspect of the Minister's explanation which amazes me is that anyone in Brighton during the last election should be trying to impersonate the Conservative candidate.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Given the nature of the candidate, I am tempted to agree with the noble Lord, but that would be most unfair of me.

Lord McNally: After that clarification, I gladly beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 14 and 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Citation, construction, commencement and extent]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 128:

    Page 16, line 41, at end insert--

(""local government area" has the meaning given by section 203(1) of the 1983 Act;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 129 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 130 and 131:

    Page 17, line 14, after ("4,") insert--

("( ) paragraph 6 of Schedule 5,").

    Page 17, line 20, leave out ("and 13") and insert ("to 13C").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 132:

    Page 40, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert ("any relevant election,").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 132, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 133. These government amendments relate to the new false particulars offence which the Bill contains. The Bill makes it an offence to submit a nomination paper which includes a false name or address of a candidate. However, as the Bill stands, this new offence contained in Schedule 5 does not include cases where candidates have forged the signatures of their subscribers or coerced people to sign a nomination paper without the signatory being aware of what it was. These

15 Feb 2000 : Column 1130

amendments correct that omission and I hope that they will be welcomed by the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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