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Documents required by the order to be given to voters or displayed in any place can now be made available in Braille, in languages other than English, in graphical representations or by other means of making the information accessible to persons who might not otherwise have reasonable access to it. It also includes the information being made available in an appropriate, audible form. The deadline for registering to vote has been extended to 11 days before the date of poll. Under previous legislation, the closing date for registering to vote had been around six weeks prior to polling day, which gives people more time to register to vote in the election.

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Within the changes introduced by the Electoral Administration Act, there are also various administrative improvements that have been applied to the order. Ballot papers will no longer be attached to counterfoils that are subsequently marked when the attached ballot paper is detached and issued. A corresponding number list will now be maintained by the constituency returning officer and will contain the numbers of all ballot papers to be issued. The corresponding number list for postal ballots will contain the other unique identifying marks of all ballot papers, as well as the ballot paper numbers.

Returning officers will now be able to correct simple procedural errors so that they can be corrected on polling day to ensure voters are not disenfranchised due to an error made by polling staff. A new provision is made to allow candidates’ nominations to state their commonly used surname or forename in addition to their other name. This will allow constituency candidates’ names to appear on the ballot paper as the name they are commonly known by. Two or more political parties are now able to register a description for use by a constituency candidate standing in the name of both or all parties jointly. Consequently, constituency candidates can appear on ballot papers with joint descriptions of both or all parties they represent.

The second category of change in this order relates to innovative changes. The order allows, for the first time in Scotland, for ballot papers to be counted either electronically or manually. An electronic count

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will be used in the forthcoming May elections. The Government are enabling electronic counting as part of the wider elections modernisation agenda. The order still allows for a manual count as it is envisaged that it will be unlikely that the electronic system would be employed for a single by-election.

Also, for the first time in Scotland, the two ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament will be combined and printed on the same sheet of paper. The regional list will be on the left-hand side of the sheet as you look at it and the constituency on the right. Candidates and parties will be ordered alphabetically. The two parts of the sheet will be printed in different colours to help voters distinguish them.

Redesigning the ballot paper so that it better reflects the mixed member voting system used for elections to the Scottish Parliament fulfils one of the recommendations made in the Arbuthnott commission report, Putting Citizens First: Boundaries, Voting and Representation in Scotland. The design also reflects the outcome from public consultation, in which comments were received from various groups including local authorities, political parties, election organisations and disability campaigning groups.

Members of the Committee will be aware from the Explanatory Memorandum that a few provisions in the order, in so far as they relate to the application of certain provisions to convicted prisoners, are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. A subsequent memorandum has also been submitted to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments by my officials, which explains the reasons behind the statement made. The ninth report from the JCSI, printed on 21 February, drew attention to this order and attached this voluntary memorandum as an annex. The Government’s consultation on the issue of prisoners’ voting rights closes today. As signalled in the foreword to the consultation paper by the Lord Chancellor, the Government wish that there be a debate about how to best implement the Grand Chamber judgment in the Hirst case which required a review of the current blanket ban on prisoners’ right to vote.

In accordance with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, we have consulted the Electoral Commission on the draft Scottish Parliament order and representation of the people regulations. The Commission is content with the versions before Members of the Committee. We have also worked closely during the drafting stages with a legislation sub-group comprising representatives of key interested parties. These instruments are detailed and lengthy but will ensure that elections to the Scottish Parliament remain to be conducted in a fair and democratic way. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2007. 9th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

The Duke of Montrose: I thank the Minister for his explanation of the Government’s approach to these three measures. If I am not mistaken, we should have

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had a Motion stating that we wish to take all three measures together, but as we are all agreed on that point, it probably goes without saying.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes): I think the noble Duke will find that the Committee will take them separately, albeit that the last two Motions will be moved formally.

The Duke of Montrose: It would no doubt meet some of the curiosity of noble Lords as to why these measures are being considered at the eleventh hour if the Minister could give us a bit more information about the obstacles that had to be overcome in order to reach this point. We on these Benches have voiced our concerns about measures in the Electoral Administration Act, which was passed with the aim of modernising the electoral process. There is a danger that, in practice, they may compromise some of Britain’s traditional reputation for free and fair elections and undermine the integrity of the system and public confidence in our democracy.

The measures before the Committee today represent a tightening up of the possibilities for misrepresentation and fraud in some areas and for that we are grateful. I note that the Electoral Commission, along with our party, has been pressing for the use of personal identifiers to underpin the security and integrity of the electoral system. However, it appears at present that that is being considered for postal voting only. Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to try it out on a practical basis?

These regulations implement some of the changes made by the Electoral Administration Act 2006, among which was the system of anonymous registration. At first sight, it appears that this measure will largely be confined to postal voting. If it is not, can the Minister tell the Committee in what way the anonymous voter will be identified when he or she appears at the polling station? How anonymous will he or she then be? Does the Minister have any estimate of how many people are expected to avail themselves of this facility? A particularly curious element in the Explanatory Memorandum is point 7.11, which states that,

Which face is supposed to be down? I would be grateful for a bit more clarity on how the procedure will work. Would it not be easier if the postal ballot paper was like the normal ballot paper where the identification is one side of the paper and the vote is marked on the other?

The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2007 brings together all the measures that are required for running an election, which is a splendid move by the Government. As the Minister mentioned, this order has obviously considerably exercised the minds of noble Lords on the Merits Committee. The Minister drew our attention to the appendix to the Merits Committee’s ninth report, which I had not picked up on as I was looking at it only yesterday. Even in their initial response, the members of the Merits Committee developed an argument that appears to make this

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exception acceptable. But the measure will be taken forward under the legal systems of the European Union and Scotland and may possibly be referred under the third system of the legal system of the United Kingdom. What assurance can the Government give us that in the days after the election the outcome will not be taken to the courts by some dissatisfied person and the whole election then put into some kind of limbo?

In trying to get some understanding of the problems that exist and which the Government have had to deal with, could the Minister explain to the Committee whether removing the prohibition on participation on voting by those who are defined as having the “legal incapacity to vote” will require a change in the franchise regulations? The Committee is no doubt aware that under Section 12 of the Scotland Act the Secretary of State has power to make provision about elections, but under Section 11 he has no power to alter the categories of people entitled to vote. Is that why the Government have been forced to present this statutory instrument with the strange admission that it does not comply with Section 61 of the Human Rights Act? What steps do the Government expect to take to overcome that situation and when will they do so?

I am grateful to the Minister for presenting us with copies of the voting paper, which I find a delightful curio. If it was not for my enjoyment in addressing your Lordships, I could be at a meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which is dealing with the 50th anniversary of the independence of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah and pan-Africanism. To show my age slightly, I was in Ghana when that first election took place and a great novelty was the inclusion of pictorial representations. It was felt that the locals in Ghana, who speak three different languages and could possibly neither read nor write, could identify their parties much better in that way. Kwame Nkrumah’s party was identified by a crowing cockerel—and if I remember rightly, I think that the party was known as the NCP. It is interesting that 50 years pass and these things come around—and here we are, using them with great aplomb in the Scottish elections.

Scottish Conservatives support reforming voting procedures to improve the integrity of the electoral system and we support the majority of the measures proposed, including anonymous registration and improvements to procedural measures. I am still slightly puzzled about the limits on the incorporation of commonly used names. I have no doubt that some gentleman called Screaming Lord Sutch might put his name forward as what he would wish to be known as on voting. We also support confirmation of the receipt of postal votes, as it is currently a lottery as to whose vote has been included, and there is no checking process.

The Minister said that he expected that electronic counting would be put into use at the May elections, but are the Government satisfied that the operators have sufficient skills and resources to carry it out? If that is the intended method for future elections, what is the expected cost of delivering it in Scotland?

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There is one provision in the measure which sounds like an immensely efficient tidying-up process for the administrators of the election—the substitution of counterfoils by the corresponding number list. When you vote, your name will be put on the list against the corresponding number, as far as I understand; in the nature of things, that list will eventually become available under the Freedom of Information Act. Does the Minister not agree that, because that simplifies the situation so much, it also dilutes one of the prime attributes of our system—the secrecy of the ballot? A small amount of that might be restored if we progress down the path of personal identifiers. In that case, if voters wished to appear at the polling station with their personal identifier, it could then be what appeared against the number list, which might make the traceability of their vote that much more confidential.

Finally, the Scots currently enjoy the delight of four different voting systems. Of course, my party has benefited from that. The new system that this measure introduces is the single transferable vote, which is to be used for local elections. It could be argued whether the measure is suitable for that level of government. The Scottish Conservatives continue to believe that first past the post is the best electoral system at other levels, providing a clear and direct link between the voters and their elected representative, and ensuring that the voters, not the politicians, decide who governs.

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Lord Steel of Aikwood: I shall resist the temptation to tease the noble Duke about the fact that he is an expert on ballot papers when I do not think his name has ever appeared on one. I shall return to ballot papers in a minute and make four brief points about these regulations, which my party welcomes on the whole. The first is the question of prisoners voting. Why has this matter remained unresolved when the European Court came to its decision in October 2005? The issue was live even before that because some people saw it coming down the track. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, a former Home Secretary, is one of an all-party group that supports a campaign by the Prison Reform Trust and the ex-offenders’ organisation Unlock to give prisoners the right to vote. In April 2005, almost two years ago, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, Mr Fairweather, made the point that:

It was a live issue before the European Court came to its decision. Yet we had to wait 14 months after that decision before the Government even issued a consultation document in December 2006; and the consultation closes today or tomorrow. Why the delay? It is unnecessary to produce an order when the Merits Committee has drawn the attention of both Houses of Parliament to it on the grounds that it makes an unusual and unexpected use of the powers conferred by Section 12 of the Scotland Act. That is a polite parliamentary way of saying that the Minister

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is chancing his arm—not this Minister, I hasten to say. The Government are chancing their arm as it is contrary to the court decision. I want to know why this has been so long delayed. Now that the consultation period is closed, is the Minister able to give the Committee any indication of how long it will be before this matter is resolved so that we do not have a repeat in future elections of orders that run counter to the European Convention on Human Rights?

The second issue I wish to raise is about ballot papers. Like the noble Duke, I am entranced by the exotic paper. It is an improvement to have one paper instead of two, as we had in previous elections. If my recollection serves me right, however, when we had two separate ballot papers the party ballot paper had the names of the candidates nominated by the parties. They seem to have disappeared, so when somebody goes to a polling station, will he have factual information about who is being nominated by the parties before he gets into the booth to put his cross? Otherwise, the candidates remain anonymous on the left-hand side of the ballot paper. I welcome the use of the symbols. When I first came into politics, there were no party labels on ballot papers, simply names. There was a very good reason for that, which was that we were elected to serve a particular constituency and your party was irrelevant because once you were elected you served everybody. That was the theory. At a later date, it was the general view of the House of Commons that it was for the benefit of the electors to have the party label. I do not dispute that. There was a change, and the party labels started to appear.

I am all in favour of the symbols and party labels appearing, but I now read in the press that there are attempts to sloganeer on the ballot paper. That is an abuse of the ballot paper. We are told that the Scottish National Party is not happy to have “the Scottish National Party” listed on the ballot paper, but want something like “Alex Salmond for Top of the Pops”. That is quite wrong. I hope that, if not these regulations, then future ones will be more tightly drawn to prevent that abuse of the ballot paper.

Thirdly, on the actual franchise, I had an interesting experience. I am a registered local government elector in London by virtue of the rented flat I occupy. I pay council tax to Westminster City Council and therefore have a vote as to who my councillor is; well, I had, but I have given up the flat. I did, however, have a local government vote in Edinburgh by virtue of the small flat I own there and which I occupied when I was presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament. My name has been removed from the register, and I questioned this with the registration officer. He is correct. He said that it depends on the rate of occupancy of the flat, and I am obviously not now occupying it as I did. That raises a difficult question, however. Why should we have taxation without representation? I pay council tax in Edinburgh. There are issues around my flat which concern me and about which I have been in touch with my local council. Yet, I have no opportunity to vote and choose who my local councillor is. Perhaps that ought to be examined in the future.

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Finally, I am sure that electronic counting is an advance. Like the noble Duke, however, I have some lingering doubts, stemming from my experience of observing election counts in other countries. In countries where computer systems are used, they have been greatly suspect. I am not for one second saying that they would be suspect in Scotland, but they are less transparent than the manual system of counting. Can the Minister give us any more indication of how electronic counting would work, how we are protected against system breakdowns and whether there is a fall-back position for manual counting?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I am interested in the question of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about electronic counting. The electronic system is absolutely imperative for the local government elections in Scotland, because no human being would be able to do the calculations in time.

Lord Greaves: Oh yes we could.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: That has something to do with the Scottish Parliament, but that is by the way.

On what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said about the naming of the parties, I, too, read in the press that parties can call themselves anything they like and have more than one name. I do not know if that is correct; perhaps the Minister can confirm it. If so, my understanding was that the Scottish National Party’s intention was to use different names in different areas, according to what suited them electorally. It would be interesting to know if that is possible. If it is, how would it affect the framework for the ballot paper that the Government have kindly let us see? The left-hand column of the paper will simply give the party. I, too, was surprised that we have lost the names of the candidates. I am not sure if that has been a deliberate change. Where it gives the name of the party—let us suppose it says the Alex Salmond party—will the same party be on the right-hand side of the ballot paper? Does it have to be? Will it be the same name in all the regions of Scotland, or could there be different ones? The regional Members’ list concerns only the region of Scotland where the number of votes are counted to see who the list members will be. Could one region have the Alex Salmond party, another the Scottish National Party and another the “division of the United Kingdom” party, or something like that, according to how people in the area feel? It will be interesting to know whether there has to be consistency in the regions on the ballot paper itself. It is unfortunate that you can do that in law. I think I detected from my reading that previous legislation allows that. It is not in this order so we can do nothing about it, but it seems a mistake. I should have thought that a party should have one name and should proclaim it loud and clear so that people know exactly what they are doing.

Lord Greaves: I was not going to intervene on these Scottish matters, but I agree substantially with everything that my noble friend said. I give him my full support, as ever.

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I rise because there are other people alive today who share my horror at the way in which political slogans are now put on ballot papers. I thought that I was the only person in the world who objected to that; I have raised the matter with the Minister before. Political parties can now register however many versions of their name—the Minister will tell us, but I think it is 10 or a dozen. They can use any of them in any circumstances in different wards in the same authority, for example. They are all at it, including my own party, so perhaps my noble friend Lord Steel will join me in a Liberal Democrat campaign to stop it. Two mayoral elections ago the Liberal Democrats stood as something like “Liberal Democrats against Privatisation of the Tube”. That is wrong. Names of political parties are their names, and we should not be using ballot papers as political standards.

As the noble Duke said, Scotland is going to the polls on 3 May with three different electoral systems on the same day. The first past the post system will be used for the constituencies of the Parliament; a top-up form of proportional representation by lists will be used for the regional Members of the Parliament; and, something that we never thought we would see on the British mainland again, there will be the single transferable vote—a delightful system—for the local authority elections in Scotland.

Some time in past history the Government, from whichever department it was then, set up an inquiry into electoral systems, which has been looking at the different electoral systems for the European elections, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Since we are told that the inquiry is still going along—not very fast, but it is still deliberating—will it include this year’s Scottish elections? In particular, will it include an investigation and a study of the single transferable vote in the council elections as part of that inquiry? The Minister may not be able to tell me now, but perhaps he will write to me.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I have been asked 19 questions, and it is a credit to officials from the Scotland Office sitting behind me that I have answers for 18 of them. Ten of them were asked by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, who may never have voted but as always he is good at asking a whole lot of detailed questions.

The Duke of Montrose: I have been on a ballot paper.

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Right. Question number one from the noble Duke: why has there been such a lack of time for consideration? We were unable to lay the instrument before the Committee any earlier. To allow us to include Schedule 5, “Combination of Polls”, in the order we had to wait until after the local government election rules had been made in the Scottish Parliament on 1 February.

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