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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I understand the point being made by the noble Baroness. The part I misunderstood was that I thought she had said that she was the only person in the Chamber speaking up for child protection. I am very glad to learn that I did misunderstand her. However, noble Lords on the Benches behind me are commenting that the noble Baroness did use those words. However, I understand that the noble Baroness is now making it absolutely clear that she said no such thing. I accept that without reservation.

Baroness Blatch: If I did say something like that, then I said it unwittingly and I apologise unreservedly for doing so. What I meant to say was that, in the context of these amendments, I would probably be the only noble Lord to speak against them in the interests of the protection of children. It seems that that is in fact the case.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall respond to the specific points made by the noble Baroness. She described the amendments as a "paedophile's charter". As various noble Lords have pointed out, the amendment states that no defence of any kind is provided where the acts involved are,

or similar ones in the other offences to which it refers.

I was not able to understand the examples cited by the noble Baroness. She referred first to the headmaster of the school which her children attended. He took someone into the stock cupboard. It is inconceivable that this provision could possibly provide a defence against such an act. Furthermore, I should be interested to hear the details about Mr Gregory, to whom she referred, and how the amendments could possibly provide any form of defence. Before this Bill, those acts would not even have constituted a criminal offence. Simply to speak

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on certain subjects to ordinands would not have been an offence; therefore something more must have taken place.

Baroness Walmsley: As I recall, the cases quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, all resulted in prosecutions and everyone concerned was found guilty. Therefore the common sense of the courts was clearly demonstrated.

Baroness Blatch: The point I sought to make was that if these amendments are included in the Bill, then such people would have a defence against such a prosecution. In the Gregory case, he claimed that he was conducting sex education with a group of young people, but it turned out that his intentions were malign.

As the Bill was originally drafted, it was very protective of children, but the amendments will give that kind of person a defence and a person like Gregory would probably not have been prosecuted.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Although not at this moment, I should like to learn the details of what happened in the Gregory case. However, I am not persuaded that the headmaster in the stock cupboard, one of the examples cited by the noble Baroness, would even remotely have a defence as a result of these provisions.

We considered the issues very carefully before the amendments were brought forward. We asked whether the provision would provide too much or, indeed, any defence for people with malign intentions. After careful thought, we concluded that it would not do so. That is why I think that the example cited of the headmaster is not persuasive so far. However, I would be anxious to hear from the noble Baroness about any other examples. As I have said, we have considered this matter with great care. We are just as concerned as the noble Baroness to ensure that children are protected from paedophiles and we do not believe that these provisions would have the consequences that she fears. However, we shall be more than willing to consider any further examples that she may cite.

I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lady Gould. She pointed out that professional organisations wanted the Government to bring forward amendments of this kind. Child protection involves protecting children against the acts of paedophiles, but it also involves offering protection against physical harm through sex, from the activities of familial abuse, from early pregnancy and from sexually transmitted diseases.

My noble friend also asked the same question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley; that is, would the abuse include talking? Yes, it would do so. I draw my noble friend's attention to government Amendment No. 375, which makes the position clear. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked how education would be affected. I believe that I answered those points in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, asked whether the provision would cover volunteers

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working with Childline. Obviously, so long as the volunteers were acting in bona fide pursuance of the three aims—physical harm, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases—then of course the provision would apply. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford asked whether it would apply to those agencies assisting with the foreign element. If and in so far as it would be a criminal offence otherwise, then the provision would apply.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was not alone in speaking up for children, and I entirely agree.

I hope that in the light of those explanations, the House will feel able to agree to the amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 76:

    Page 6, line 25, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 77 and 78 not moved.]

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, may I suggest that the Committee stage of the Bill begin again not before nine o'clock?

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Variation of Specified Documents) Regulations 2003

8.2 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it may be for the benefit of your Lordships if I speak to the draft order at the same time.

As noble Lords know, the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which introduced measures to minimise the opportunity for fraud while protecting the right of individuals to exercise their franchise, has already been subject to extensive consultation and debate involving the House, the Northern Ireland political parties, the Northern Ireland electoral office, the Electoral Commission and the electorate. These regulations, which follow on

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from the Act, introduce the electoral identity card—a matter of great significance to this House—into use for parliamentary and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland.

The regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and are being made in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 201(1) and (3) and rule 37 (1F) of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983. Specifically, these regulations amend paragraph 1E of rule 37 of the parliamentary elections rules set out in Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983.

The purpose of the amendments is to remove all non-photographic forms of identity documents from the list of specified documents set out in paragraph 1E of the parliamentary election rules. Rule 37 (1A) stipulates that a ballot paper shall not be handed to a potential voter unless he or she has produced one of the specified documents to the presiding officer or clerk.

I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords of the four specified documents. They are: an EU member state passport for Assembly or local elections; a Great Britain or Northern Ireland photographic driving licence; a Senior SmartPass, issued under the Northern Ireland concessionary fares scheme; and, of course, the electoral identity card. For parliamentary elections, a UK/Irish passport is also required.

The Government are aware that some concerns have been raised recently by those who consider that we should wait until after the forthcoming Assembly election before enacting this measure. They believe that removing non-photographic identification at this time risks disenfranchising a large number of eligible voters. They cite the relatively small uptake for the electoral identity card. There have been 57,000 applications, whereas 235,000 people indicated on their electoral registration form that they required the card.

I should say straight away that the Government have no intention of taking away people's democratic right to vote. If we believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because of this measure, we would not be introducing it at this time. However, it is of course right that, as the Government, we should do everything in our power to ensure that anyone who requires a card receives it in time.

For that reason, the Secretary of State met last week with the Chief Electoral Officer and the Electoral Commission to agree a co-ordinated strategy to ensure that those who need the card have every opportunity to get one. As a result of that meeting, we are putting in place a number of measures which we believe should increase confidence in the card. Not only will it help those who need the card to get one, it should also inform us why a large number of people who indicated that they needed a card have not subsequently applied for one. The measures include writing to those who originally expressed an interest in the card but who have not applied or presented a complete application for one. This number is estimated at

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180,000 people. A new application form will be sent to all these people in good time for them to be able to have a card, should they wish, in time for the election.

The Electoral Commission will conduct research with a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population to determine if they ticked the box on the registration form requesting an application form for an electoral ID card. If they requested a form but did not subsequently apply for a card, they will be asked why they did not apply and if they have other eligible ID.

Another measure will be to take the mobile application centres into other areas where people gather, such as shopping centres and supermarkets. Targeted publicity will tell eligible voters that they require photo ID to vote, and how to get it.

The political parties have, of course, a role to play, and I would like to use this opportunity to ask them to join me in playing an active and positive role in raising awareness of the card and of photo-identity in general.

People still have seven weeks to apply for a card. The Chief Electoral Officer has guaranteed that all correct applications received by 16th May will be processed in time for the Assembly election. People can apply by post or in person at a number of mobile application centres.

In conclusion, I hope that noble Lords recognise the importance of these changes in improving confidence in the electoral system in Northern Ireland and tackling abuse at the polling station.

I wish to speak also to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2003. The local elections order does not have an SI number. The Privy Council cancelled its April meeting and as a result we had to relay the order yesterday morning due to the commencement date on the original order now being wrong. The draft order was reconsidered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments this morning. Copies of its report are now available in the Printed Paper Office. The committee found the order satisfactory. The order is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and is being made in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 84(1) and (3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

I shall try not to repeat myself as the order mirrors the regulations to which I have just referred. The order applies to local elections in Northern Ireland and specifically amends paragraph 6 of rule 34 (voting procedure) of the local elections rules in Schedule 5 to the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962, as substituted by Schedule 1 to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. The next local elections in Northern Ireland are scheduled for May 2005.

The purpose of the amendments is to remove all non-photographic forms of identity documents from the list of specified documents set out in paragraph 6. Rule 34(2) states that a ballot paper shall not be handed to a potential voter unless he or she has produced one of the specified documents to the presiding officer or clerk. The specified documents are the same as for the regulations.

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In conclusion, the introduction of the electoral identity card is a matter of great importance to this House. I hope, therefore, that the regulations will be approved. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

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