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I have three observation-cum-questions for the Minister. First, has the decision to allow registration up to 11 days before an election emerged in part because of criticism from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in 2003 after the previous Assembly elections? It argued that the period was too long in Northern Ireland and that in a democratic society we should move closer to the figure that the noble Lord has thankfully given.

My second point relates to the issue of how many people who have not been able to vote will now be able to do so because of the changes. Like the noble Lord, Lord Smith, I welcome the changes to the blind person’s smart pass and the war disabled smart pass, although I suspect that the numbers involved there were fairly small. On the other hand, the Minister should be aware that the proposal that documents, passports and IDs no longer need to be absolutely up to date to be usable will have major implications. The chief electoral officer’s figures from the March 2007 Assembly elections show that about 3,500 people were turned away because of inadequate or no documents. Over half of those were people who had a passport or driving licence. In fact, on a certain definition of the figures, two-thirds of those people would now be able to vote. I welcome this, but we should be aware that we may be doing something quite radical by putting back on the register possibly 60 to 70 per cent of those who, at the previous Assembly elections, were refused the right to vote. I saw such cases in polling stations in Northern Ireland. It is probably the right thing to do but it is quite a radical step. Does the noble Lord agree that those numbers are roughly right? They are certainly more significant than the number who will be affected by the changes regarding the blind person’s smart pass and the war disabled smart pass?

My final observation is that in this consolidation of the regulations there are significant sections on registration, absent voting, postal voting and access to electoral registers and marked registers. Can the Minister confirm that some of the recommendations arise from lessons learnt from electoral fraud in the Birmingham area and are being wisely applied to the people of Northern Ireland?

I welcome the regulations, particularly the proposals to help to encourage young people to vote. The steps that are being taken to improve young people’s access to voting—it is a great problem in Northern Ireland—are very wise provisions and probably the most benign in the proposed regulations.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, not only on the way in which he presented the two instruments

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but on the fact that he has joined the Front-Bench team dealing with Northern Ireland; that will be of great benefit to us all. I offer him any advice, at any stage, that he may wish to seek.

The group to which I belong also supports the two instruments but with the concern expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith, about the age of photographs. It is not difficult to find examples of this problem. The Parliamentary Companion contains photographs of noble Lords, but someone looking at them would be forgiven for thinking that some photographs were of either their sons or grandsons; they do not have a tremendous relationship to the person whom you meet on a daily basis on these Benches. I accept that there will be out-of-date passes, but there must be a sensible cut-off date of 10 years or whatever. We cannot go on ad infinitum.

I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that we now have one of the best regulated electoral systems in Europe. That is important. We in Northern Ireland are glad to get away from the days when you had the old jibe, “Vote early and vote often”. As people used to say to me, election day in Northern Ireland was like the day of resurrection, because everyone got out of the graveyards and went to vote. I am glad that those days have gone and that we have a sensible voting system. We feel strongly that it should be applied right across the board. That is what is happening and I commend the electoral officers in Northern Ireland. We support the instruments.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on taking on the role that he has. He and I have known each other in a previous capacity, largely in relation to the local Underground. That experience is not entirely irrelevant to Northern Ireland at some stages in its history.

I wish to raise three issues, one in relation to each of the instruments, and then to make a final wind-up comment about the first one. On the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations, which the Minister correctly identified as consolidation, I and one or two other noble Lords present in the Chamber will remember consolidations carried through on terrorist legislation relating to Northern Ireland where it was discovered, 18 months after the consolidation had been taken through, that carelessness in the consolidation had led to certain potential crimes being eliminated as crimes for a period of about 18 months. Then someone suddenly spotted that the manner in which the consolidation had occurred had, in a sense, instead of consolidating the legislation, removed it from the balance. I hope that someone, somewhere, has gone through this consolidation to make sure that it is copper-bottomed. It will be extremely embarrassing for the Government if it ever turns out not to be. It will also be inconvenient for both Houses of Parliament, because we will suddenly be asked to carry through legislation in 24 hours in order to cover the gap. Is the Minister confident that the legislation is copper-bottomed?

On the service voters order, the Explanatory Memorandum states:

My question is simply whether there is any particular reason why it has taken two years to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. On the political parties order—

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I have not yet moved the political parties order. I can only just cope with this one at the moment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I read from the Order Paper that we were going to take them all together. If I was mistaken in that regard, I apologise.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, whatever the Order Paper may have stated, I moved the first instrument and said that I would speak to the second one. I am sure that noble Lords will wish to say much more than they have said so far on the third one, which I shall move in a moment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, if I am being told that we are not taking all three together, I am happy not to take them together, but I am not quite sure why the Order Paper suggests something to the contrary.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Order Paper says:

Those are the two that I have moved: the regulations on representation of the people and the service voters order.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right; I should have noticed that it said the following two motions and not the third. I will withdraw my question in relation to the third until later.

However, I should like to come back to the general point I wanted to make. In an order that we took fairly recently, which was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, was in the Chamber at the time—I referred to the remarkable achievement of the late, great Lord Williams of Mostyn. At the time of the Second Reading debate on the legislation at the beginning of this millennium, which had come to us without having been amended in any way in the Commons, Mr Desmond Browne, now Secretary of State for Defence, was the Parliamentary Secretary handling it in the Commons. It is fair to say that he did not have the weight at that point to be able to tell the Northern Ireland Office what to do about the points that were being raised. I can remember specifically during the Second Reading debate referring to recent cases in Fermanagh and Tyrone, the counties singled out by Winston Churchill in a famous statement just after the First World War—not much changes in the history of the Province. However, Lord Williams of Mostyn went back to the Northern Ireland Office and turned the Bill upside down between Second Reading and Third Reading in this House. My noble

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friend Lord Glentoran was right to pay tribute to the present legislation as being, historically, the most copper-bottomed in the whole of the United Kingdom in this regard.

When we had the Statement on the elections and funding the other day, I allowed myself the observation that the Government’s attitude to voting seemed in recent years to have been Panglossian. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, from the Government Front Bench said I was being a little hard on the Government. However, the fact remains that when the postal arrangements have been criticised, the Government have either wrung their hands and said that there was no time to legislate before the next election or, if in the middle of an election, they would assure us when ugly reports surfaced about these matters that everything would be all right on the night—a confidence later disproved by events.

I agree that postal fraud in the United Kingdom is apparently limited to certain parts of the country, but anywhere is too much. The barrister who investigated the Birmingham cases some years back said, as I recall, that the rules and practices were worthy of a banana republic. That embarrasses us all; democracy is too precious to be left open to fraud and raising the turnout is not, in itself, a sufficient justification. However, Northern Ireland owes a very great deal to the late, great Lord Williams of Mostyn for the legislation that he put on the statute book.

8.15 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords for the warm greetings I have received. They will forgive me if I feel very slightly apprehensive. I am very pleased that everybody has welcomed these two instruments. Having studied the instruments intensely over the past few days, we clearly have in Northern Ireland an excellent system on which these instruments seek to consolidate and build.

The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran, Lord Smith, Lord Bew and Lord Laird, all touched on the issue of photo ID being out of date. The concept in the regulations is that the presiding officer should decide on the fitness for purpose of what is presented. The cards that have been selected as photo ID have sufficient security in them for the presiding officer to know that their original issue was to a standard acceptable for purpose, the out-of-datedness, or not, and whether, be they male or female, the individuals do not look like their photograph. If they do not bear a likeness to their photograph, it will not be fit for purpose and the presiding officer will, quite properly, turn them away.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps we could take a step forward here. We are really only splitting hairs. As I understand it, this out-of-date photo ID is to cover people who, like myself, heading for France one day, arrive at Stansted to find that their passport is four weeks out of date and are not allowed to go. I totally agree with the Government’s thoughts on this; one should not be stopped from voting for that reason. However, I believe it could save a lot of problems and administrative difficulties if the noble Lord would undertake to go

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away and consider putting in a fixed date for out-of-date photos. If your photo is five years out of date, that is inexcusable because that covers the course of two elections, in normal circumstances.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, this point has been discussed in the other place and I am not able to offer any encouragement. One situation I know of concerns my mother-in-law, for instance, who does not choose to keep a valid passport. However, because a passport is such a useful identification document, she uses that as a source of identification. I do not think that it is an unreasonable burden on a presiding officer to be presented with a validly issued document and take the judgment, “Does this person look like their photo?” It is very clear that, should the presiding officer take the view that they do not look like the photo, he is to deny them a vote.

We do not want to encourage the use of out-of-date ID. However, removing the requirement makes practical sense. If electors can be satisfactorily identified from the ID they present, we do not believe that they should be disenfranchised. We believe that presiding officers will have sufficient time and capacity to make that decision. I am afraid that I cannot offer any warmth on the possibility of a time limit.

I move on now to the issue of young people. There are some concerns about the process. As I understand it, the chief electoral officer will be able to ask schools about children coming within the bound. He will then dispatch people to schools with the key data already on appropriate forms in order to allow the young people, in a very straightforward way, to provide the information to allow them to get on to the register.

The chief electoral officer gathers information only for the purposes of voter registration and maintaining the integrity of the electoral register. Details of names and addresses are, of course, included on the full electoral register. National insurance numbers, which will be collected, are used only to verify an individual’s identity and are kept confidential. The chief electoral officer is required to abide by data protection legislation and comprehensive data handling protocols. It is clearly an offence for the chief electoral officer or any of his staff to disclose improperly that information.

I thank the noble Lord for bringing up the point of service personnel. It is clear that it concerns Armed Forces only as, apparently, defined in Section 14 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, asked a number of questions, including where the 11 days have come from. Frankly, that just brings it into line with the UK. I do not know whether other criticisms may have influenced officials in that, but our principal motivation was to bring it into line with the UK. I do not believe that there is a Birmingham input to this, but if there is I shall write to the noble Lord. Essentially, it has been explained to me that there was a morass of good legislation already sitting there, and the only significant differences from simply drawing it together have been outlined in my speech.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for his welcome and I will of course seek his advice from time to time. I hope that I have successfully covered the issue of age

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of photographs and have gone as far as the Government feel able to go on the matter. I agree with him, not having a wide knowledge but having gone through the details, that Northern Ireland has the best quality voter registration system in Europe.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned that we have known each other for some time. He pointed out the mistakes made in the past during previous consolidations and sought an absolute assurance that we have made no mistakes this time. My Chief Whip whispered an aside that I should give the noble Lord that assurance. The trouble is that, being a realistic sort of person, I know that it is extremely difficult to prove a negative. I have every reason to believe that officials have taken great pains to ensure that there are no careless errors. He asked me why it has taken so long to get from 2006 to 2008. All I can say is that the history of this material suggests that it grinds wondrous fine. To be fair, we are seeing the fruits tonight, but these things do seem to take a long time in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord also commented on the quality of information. Again, I do not believe that there is a Birmingham dimension to it, but I shall not comment on Great Britain voting crimes. It is right that the parties have worked together to produce a high-quality system. I commend the regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Service Voters’ Registration Period (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

8.22 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14 May be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2008

8.23 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16 May be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Electoral Administration Act 2006 (Regulation of Loans etc.: Northern Ireland) Order 2008 was the subject of a debate in this House on 12 May and has since been made. That order sets out the legislative framework for the regulation and verification of loans to political parties in Northern Ireland by the Electoral Commission and, among other things, provides for Irish citizens and bodies to make loans to Northern Ireland political parties. The order before us sets out the detail of those arrangements, including the conditions that Irish citizens and bodies must meet in order to make loans to Northern Ireland political parties and the steps to be taken by the Electoral Commission to verify such loans.



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As my noble friend Lord Rooker explained during the debate in May, we consulted the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments when drafting these orders and concluded that two separate orders would be required to legislate for the regulation of loans in Northern Ireland, and that these orders must be made in sequence. That is why we are discussing the regulation of loans again today. It is our intention that the controls on loans will mirror the scheme regulating political donations in Northern Ireland that began operating in November 2007 and which has been working effectively since then. Neither the Electoral Commission nor the Northern Ireland political parties have advised us of the existence of any significant difficulties with the donations regime. The order before us therefore mirrors the provisions regulating donations to Northern Ireland political parties contained in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2007.

Part 2 of the order sets out the conditions that an Irish citizen must meet in order to enter into a loan agreement with a Northern Ireland political party; namely, eligibility to obtain specified documents evidencing their nationality. It also specifies those Irish bodies which may enter into a loan agreement with a Northern Ireland political party. Schedule 1 specifies the information that must be provided to the Electoral Commission in transaction reports relating to Irish lenders. Part 3 sets out the steps that the Electoral Commission must take to verify the information contained in the reports on loans that it receives. The order requires the commission to verify 50 per cent of the reported loans made by individuals and 100 per cent of the reported loans made by bodies. Information provided may be verified by, for example, contacting the bodies listed in Article 11 of the order. During the confidential reporting period, the commission is placed under a duty not to disclose information contained in transaction reports received from Northern Ireland participants during the confidential reporting period. However, under Article 7 the commission is required to publish certain information if it believes on reasonable grounds that a lender was an unauthorised participant. Again, this simply mirrors the provision for donations.


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