HC Deb 20 January 2000 vol 342 cc1050-61

5 pm

Mr. Barnes

I beg to move amendment No. 40, in page 34, line 48, after first "of", insert— his attendance at an educational establishment, or

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 41, in page 34, line 51, at end insert— 'or (ii) "a journey over land of three miles or more".

Mr. Barnes

Schedule 4 already contains a provision to enable people in various positions, occupations or services to obtain proxies. However, there is a difficulty for another group of people—students—whom I want to add to the provision. Currently, if students are away, for an indefinite period, from the area in which they are registered, they are barred from inclusion on registers—especially for local elections. They should be added to the schedule.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

It may save my hon. Friend from trying to persuade me about amendment No. 40, if I point out that I am convinced by his argument, albeit not by the precise wording of the amendment. In due course, I shall seek to include the provision that he and I want—although not in precisely the form of his amendment.

Mr. Barnes

I am pleased to hear the Minister's response. I shall see how far I can get with amendment No. 41—although I tabled it more as a probing amendment.

There are provisions to cover proxy voting for those who have to make a journey by air or sea in order to vote. I am trying to deal with the problem of people who live in rural areas distant from polling stations. There is generally an agreement that people who live more than three miles from a school are entitled to free travel to the school, so three miles is the distance stated in the amendment. If people have to travel that far, they may experience considerably difficulty in getting to a polling station, and indeed some people may have even longer journeys.

I am not a great advocate of extending proxy voting; I tend to prefer the postal vote. It may be that the amendment should have been tabled to another part of the Bill. I am asking whether there is any means by which we can tackle the problem of people who live in isolated areas far from polling stations. This is not simply an extreme problem affecting people who live in the Western Isles; there are many parts of the country where people have difficulty getting to a polling station.

Mr. Simon Hughes

My colleagues and I have unintentionally crowded out the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) in putting our names to the amendments—we outnumber him three to one. We are very happy to have supported an amendment, No. 40, which has found favour with the Minister. I am glad that he will table an amendment at a later stage to deal with that matter.

I want to say a few words of support for amendment No. 41. My first vote was cast in a little village in north Wales called Tan-y-grisiau, which was about three or four miles from the polling station. There was no public transport, and people who did not have their own transport, such as the elderly and infirm, could not get to the polling station unless they were offered a lift.

We support the hon. Gentleman's case, which is not simply about people who live in the Outer Hebrides and have to cross water to get to the polling station. People who are prevented from voting because they cannot get from A to B should be entitled to vote by proxy, as should be those who are prevented by illness, work or study. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic.

Mr. O'Brien

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) on the way in which he moved his amendment. As the House knows, the Bill makes a number of important changes but, on our reading of the law, the point about students and absent votes was not entirely clear, and my hon. Friend has indicated that the drafting of the Bill is deficient.

Although the wording of my hon. Friend's amendment is not correct, I give him a clear commitment that the Government will table an amendment to achieve exactly the same result. Such an amendment would simply put on a statutory footing the practice that already occurs.

I am afraid that my hon. Friend will not be as lucky with amendment No. 41, which would widen the existing grounds for proxy votes. I understand the arguments for doing so, but the Bill aims essentially to put in place the agreement that was hammered out by the working party on electoral procedures, which made it clear in its report that, although there were strong arguments for making it easier to obtain and cast postal votes, the same was not true of proxy votes.

There are number of on-going investigations into alleged proxy vote fraud—the House will understand that I do not wish to comment on those—which led the working party to conclude that this is not the right time to ease the rules governing proxy votes. I cannot therefore invite the House to accept the amendment, even though we all understand the arguments for it.

I hope that, having listened to what I have said, particularly my clear commitment on amendment No. 40, my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Barnes

In speaking to amendment No. 41, I expressed concern about its use in connection with proxy votes. It might be preferable to ease the provisions for voting in areas where it is awkward at present and, perhaps, to allow the use of postal votes. However, because the Minister said that he was willing to accept amendment No. 40 by some other method, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Barnes

I beg to move amendment No. 42, in page 36, line 1, at end insert— (2A) Where an application is granted under sub-paragraph (1) or (2), it shall be deemed to be an application to vote at all elections held on that day".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 43, in page 36, line 2, leave out "or (2)" and insert ", (2) or (2A)".

Mr. Barnes

At the last general election, which was combined with local government elections, returning officers had great difficulty in dealing with applications for temporary absent votes which specified the local election. The Home Office's advice was that applications must be made for both elections and that an application for the local election was not valid for the parliamentary elections. Most returning officers tended to ignore that advice as it was in the interests of the elector to be able to apply for an absent vote in both elections.

The Bill seems to perpetuate the current position in that people will have to apply separately to vote in both elections even though they may be held on the same day. The amendment would put into law what might be the standard shorthand practice that is used already by electoral returning officers. When elections are held together, one application should be sufficient.

Mr. Hancock

We support the amendment and congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) on tabling it. I hope that the Minister will be generous enough to accept that this is a common-sense measure. Many of the 25 or so elections that I have fought have corresponded with other elections. For various reasons, European and parliamentary or county and district elections have all occurred at the same time. It is ludicrous that people should have to fill in two forms. There is no sense to that. One application for elections held on one day should be sufficient. It should be easy and simple enough for the Government to accept the amendment.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

We take the view that that practice is already the law. It is a matter of common sense that a person who applies for an absent vote for a particular election should not be required to make a separate application for any other election held on the same day. We believe that that is already the position and we are not aware—or, at least, have not been made aware—of any cases where returning officers have required the submission of separate applications.

We are more than happy to discuss with electoral administrators how the guidance can make it clear to them that the law requires them to have only one application form in the circumstances described. The amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) would require an application for an absent vote for a particular election to be treated in every case as an application for an absent vote at all elections on that day. However, as he well knows, some people—European Union citizens and peers, for example—are able to vote in some elections, but not in others. Such people may be entitled to vote in only one of the elections being held on a particular day and may make an absent vote application accordingly.

I hope that, in the light of what I have said and, in particular, the fact that we believe that a returning officer should already treat a single application as an application for all elections to which a person is entitled to vote to be held on the day, my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment. However, if hon. Members have examples of returning officers requiring people to submit double applications, we shall be happy to take the matter up with them and to provide the clarification in guidance to ensure that they interpret the law properly.

Mr. Barnes

In view of my hon. Friend the Minister's comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Order for Third Reading read.

5.14 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.

With the possible exceptions of the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), I suspect that most right hon. and hon. Members welcome the Bill and recognise that it represents in many ways a useful step forward.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He gave me considerable assistance in Committee on, as he helpfully informed us, a no-fee basis. He also chaired the working party whose report forms the basis of the Bill. It is a good Bill, and it is a tribute to my hon. Friend's hard work and that of those who were on the working party with him that it has been brought forward. At least with most of its provisions, there has been much support from both sides of the House, and for the principles within it.

The new provisions relating to electoral registration are a good step forward, making it easier for remand prisoners, the homeless and those in mental hospitals to register to vote. These changes are long overdue.

The introduction of the rolling electoral registration will end the absurd situation in which, at present, people can wait for up to 16 months after moving house before appearing on the electoral register in respect of their new address. In future, the maximum period that most people will have to wait before getting on to the register will be six weeks, and in many instances it will be less than that.

I appreciate that the scheme may not be as elaborate as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) might like. Nevertheless, I hope that he will take both comfort and pleasure from the fact that something for which he has campaigned for a long time is coming to fruition, and that he will regard the system that the Bill will create as a stepping stone for the future.

There will be new information technology opportunities and new abilities to go further than at present in future years. However, it will be remembered of the Bill that the working party, which was chaired by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, considered the ideas put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire and ensured that, where his ideas were able to be introduced at this stage, they were. Some of his other ideas will provide the basis for future legislation.

Having compiled an electoral register, questions arise as to what to do with it and to whom it should be made available. We had a good discussion about the sale of the register in Committee. I do not want to repeat all that I said on that occasion, but I shall emphasise that the Government believe that electors should be given the ability to have their name excluded from the register that is made available for sale. That is for privacy and data protection reasons. However, it is also a matter of principle. It is wrong that information that people are under a statutory obligation to provide—they could be fined if they do not do that—for one purpose should then be used for another without their consent.

We think that people must be given a choice, but it must be an informed choice. We want the electorate to be told what the consequences of opting out would be, and we are happy to work with the industries concerned to settle the content of the explanatory material. We are in discussion with the credit industry—my officials held a useful meeting with representatives of it only three days ago—to ascertain how we can ensure that its interests are best preserved within the scope of the system.

One of the most important parts of the Bill is clause 10, which allows for pilot schemes for innovative electoral procedures. Like the rest of the Bill, this derives directly from a recommendation of the working party. The working party recognised that the only reliable way to establish which of the many changes to our electoral procedures which have been touted are likely to be effective is to test them. That is to put them into practice and see how they work, find out what the problems are and sort out any glitches. Subject to the Bill receiving Royal Assent in time, we hope to be able to run the first pilot schemes in this coming May's local elections. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that many local authorities have already expressed an interest in running pilot schemes in May.

The Bill also makes it easier for those with disabilities to cast votes and simplifies our absent vote arrangements. I believe that these provisions are supported by most right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I am conscious that, in Committee, I made a number of other commitments to consider matters or to write to right hon. and hon. Members. I hope that the House will understand why it has not been possible for me to act on all of them in the short period since the end of consideration in Committee. I assure those hon. Members that I have not forgotten, and that I shall deal with those matters as quickly as possible. An advantage of a bicameral system is that amendments can be made in a second House.

The Bill is important and worth while. We have had our little difficulties with it: for example, a guillotine motion was tabled today. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) denied that it was hyperbole to describe a guillotine as damaging the fabric of our parliamentary democracy. However, he decided not to vote against the guillotine and asked me to note that he did not.

Mr. Evans

To save time.

Mr. O'Brien

I note that view, but I am bemused by the juxtaposition of the hon. Gentleman's claim and the action that he took. I also note that, at 5 pm, no Tory Back-Bench Members were in the Chamber and the hon. Gentleman held the fort for the Opposition by himself. He did it ably, but by himself. That says much about our earlier debate.

The Bill is worth while and some of the discussions in Committee have the shown the House at its best. Our electoral procedures have served us well in many ways but it is right to update procedures that were devised in the 19th century and ensure that they are suitable for the 21st century, while being careful not to lose the fairness and the integrity that characterises them. That spirit underpinned the working party's work on electoral procedures and our deliberations so far on the Bill. I hope that all hon. Members will support it and that it will receive a fair wind as it completes its passage and, in due course, becomes law.

5.22 pm

Mr. Evans

I shall be brief to allow other hon. Members an opportunity to speak. The Bill is an important, extensive constitutional measure, which transfers sweeping powers to the Home Secretary, not only to trial pilots, but, through clause 11, to change by statutory instrument the way in which we vote in several elections. We are therefore keen for the Bill to be properly scrutinised.

Last night was regrettable; yesterday was a bad day for representative democracy for two reasons. First, an important constitutional Bill was guillotined. Secondly, scheduling two important Bills for consideration after Report and Third Reading was a grave error. Consensus is not an excuse for sloppy scrutiny, but a reason for hon. Members to examine a measure's minutiae more closely. We know that the Government want the Bill to be passed quickly, but let us get it right.

As the Minister said, the Government have accepted the thrust of some of our amendments. That is why we divided the Committee only twice. There is a great deal of consensus on the Bill, which aims to increase turnout at elections, increase registration and make voting easier. We support those aims, but we urge caution. In their hurry, the Government should not allow on to the statute book a Bill that has more holes than an Emmental cheese.

I trust that, when the Bill returns from another place, many of our amendments will have been accepted. Clause 9 could have important repercussions. The Government state that they do not want charities or businesses to be hit, but that will happen if the clauses remains unamended.

The credit implications for consumers may be wide. If that is so, the less-well-off will be hit. There is a problem that the head of the household could tick the relevant box on behalf of everyone on the electoral register in the household. If such people are excluded from the commercial register, their credit status may be affected.

Charities will also be adversely affected. The provision will not stop junk mail, but increase it, and charities will have to spend more money on mail than on good causes.

We are worried about the integrity of the vote when more people are eligible to register. We want more people to be able to vote and a relaxation of the rules on postal votes will help to ensure that. The days of the coach and horses have passed. We are in the 21st century and that should be reflected in the availability of postal votes.

The rolling register will be useful in easing registration, and I say again that it is a great shame that the by-election to be held in Ceredigion on 3 February will take place two weeks before the new register comes into effect. As many as 10,000 people in that constituency may be excluded from taking part in the by-election. I am sad that that has been done by the nationalists, and it is a matter of regret that many first-time voter students will be prevented from voting in that by-election.

We shall examine the Bill carefully when it comes back from the other place. The European elections, in which a 23 per cent. turnout was recorded, were the last real trial before a dramatic change in the voting system.

We cannot treat the electorate as an inconvenient and troublesome entity, a legal necessity to be dealt with before the Government can get on with their work. We must listen to the public. Their concerns go beyond the ease of voting. They are questioning the worth of voting. The Government must learn that making promises that cannot be kept, being arrogant once the election is over, and using spin instead of substance is not good enough.

5.26 pm

Mr. Barnes

In legislation that failed at earlier stages, I have brought three provisions in the Bill to the attention of the House.

One important development is the registration of homeless people. Up to now, although technically homeless people could get on registers, the fact that they did not have a place of residence made that extremely difficult. Now that has been enshrined in legislation, although there has been much debate about whether the Bill provides sufficient protection. Nevertheless, the provision is very much in line with a measure that I introduced in the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 1997, and I am pleased that it has been adopted.

Another measure that I have pursued on numerous occasions concerns access for disabled people to polling stations. Although some progress has been made, much still needs to be done. I was disappointed by the Minister's response when we debated the matter. It is possible that, in future, access to polling stations for disabled people will be developed further. Perhaps there will be legislation ensuring the civil rights of disabled people, which the disability movement has called for. A great deal of work has been done by Scope and others. The amendment that I tabled was taken from my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill 1994.

The Bill will be known chiefly for the establishment of the rolling register. That is important because it establishes a principle, even if there is some argument about the detail. Once the principle has been established that the register should take account of where people are at a particular time, further detail and improvements that new technology may make possible can be added later.

The first mention of a rolling register may have been in the context of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, which I introduced in 1993. The Bill failed to get through on a Friday because I could not carry the closure motion. It was won by 78 votes to nil because the then Government merely put in tellers.

Among the 78 hon. Members who supported the concept of rolling registers were four who, by that time or later, were leaders of the parliamentary Labour party—Neil Kinnock, the late John Smith, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and the present Prime Minister—and 12 members of the present Government, including my hon. Friend on the Front Bench tonight. Furthermore, the three Labour hopefuls for candidate for mayor of London were among the 78. There was support from other parties and the tellers were a member of the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional issues. The matter has a long history, and I am pleased that we have established those measures.

In Committee, I went through the detail of what needs to be done. We have just started out on achieving a modern rolling register—sometimes it stands still and sometimes it moves forward a bit—but the key point is that it needs to be established and we have got ourselves on that road. I have been involved in these matters in the House for 12 years. In February 1988, when the timetable motion for the Bill that introduced the poll tax was tabled, I said that there was a problem—I later realised that there were many other difficulties—because millions of people would be missing from the electoral register. About 1 million people were cleared off the register by the operation of the poll tax, but we have put some of the damage right and started to set in place the processes that will overcome it.

It is argued that constitutional matters should be debated on the Floor of the House and there is a retrospective argument that the poll tax, which was linked with electoral registers, should have been dealt with in that way. The constitutional implications should have been dealt with at that time.

5.32 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes

I shall be brief, as one or two other colleagues want to speak. As we said at the beginning of our proceedings, we support the Bill—at least where the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) proposed and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland considered. The House is now disposing, which shows the benefit of sticking with a measure over a long period to win the argument and win the day. I pay tribute to those who made submissions to the working party, colleagues from all parties who took part and the Under-Secretary, who chaired it.

The Bill was intended to be the part of the electoral reform process on which there could be agreement. To that extent, it is worth while and has been supported from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, as from elsewhere. We do not agree on certain issues, however, and want to introduce certain measures, the most obvious of which is electoral reform—certainly in local government and perhaps later in national government—but we have accepted that the Bill is not the correct vehicle for that. We shall return to that argument.

On clause 9, I understand and share the Minister's point of view that people should have the right to prevent their name from going out for commercial purposes. That is the right principle. He made a helpful concession to the concerns of the charitable organisations and others, and I hope that the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) will be reflected in the Bill's further progress in the other place. Although we regret that a guillotine motion was tabled, we accept that it is important to balance debates that go on for ever against the chance to test a measure. There was consensus, but we have to get the drafting right in case a constitutional Bill goes through on the nod because it is uncontroversial. I hope that the Minister's undertakings mean that such issues can be reconsidered after proper examination. My colleagues and I will be happy to look at them in advance to try to achieve maximum agreement in the other place and in the House.

The Bill's purposes are to make it easier for people to exercise their democratic rights and to do so in a more modern context. It achieves both. Pilot schemes for testing a proposition are a good idea and, if they work, should be carried out more widely. Achieving a more up-to-date register and providing access to it for the homeless, the mentally ill who have not been convicted and those in prison who have not been convicted are socially progressive changes. They should have happened before, but they are happening now. We welcome the Bill and hope that it is further improved in the other place and when it returns to the House.

5.35 pm

Mr. William Ross

The Home Secretary said earlier that he was pleased that the working party had been able to proceed on a basis of consensus, and that, with a single exception, all its recommendations had been accepted by all representatives, including those of the three political parties. However, none of those three parties included a member from Northern Ireland, the one part of the United Kingdom where there is a clear understanding of the capacity for fraud in the electoral system. An opportunity was missed, and I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind in the event of any such exercise in the future.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

The electoral registration officer for Northern Ireland was, of course, a member of the working party.

Mr. Ross

He is an official, not a politician. I am talking about political parties.

I am deeply concerned about the possibility that postal voting will be made easy. When it was tried in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, or possibly the 1980s, it was a massive disaster: it led to an immense increase in the amount of fraud and, over the years, further measures had to be introduced successively in an attempt to combat the problem.

The question of identification has been mentioned. We in Northern Ireland have been driven, relentlessly, to a point at which we believe that the only possible means of identification is a common identity card tied to a unique number of members of each electorate, and featuring a photograph. Nothing else will do if we come up against carefully organised fraud in the electoral system.

On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said: By modernising electoral procedures, we shall make it easier and more convenient for people to vote to exercise their rights in a democracy."—[Official Report, 30 November 1999; Vol. 340, c. 248.] That is all well and good, but the right hon. Gentleman had already said: I do not believe, and I am sure that no Member of the House believes, that the Bill will arrest and reverse the decline in turnout at all levels of election. Whatever the electoral procedures are, people will vote only if they are interested in the body being elected and feel that it is worth while to vote."—[Official Report, 30 November 1999; Vol. 340, c. 173.] There seems to be a certain amount of muddled thinking. It appears that the Government do not believe that making the process easier will make it more likely that people will vote.

The Minister will recall a point that I made earlier about the qualifying date, as it is still called. He said that people would be able to register at any time, but that there would be an annual canvass—which constitutes a qualifying date, in a new guise. He told me that my proposed date of 15 September would mean that the canvass would have to take place during a holiday period.

The date of the canvass is a legal date. It is not possible to consider who is entitled to be on the register until that date, or beyond. People may die or move away right up to the date, whatever it may be. It would be possible to move the first register from 1 November rather than 1 December. That would involve a good deal of canvassing in the second half of September and the first half of October, when the weather would be better.

The intention is clearly to make the register as accurate as possible. That surely demands a common computer system, enabling us to marry all the different United Kingdom registers and check whether people are engaged in multiple voting.

I am not in favour of rolling registration, which I consider to be misconceived. There used to be a better system, enabling names to be added and registers to be corrected. I mentioned earlier that a cost was involved. On 20 December, the Minister told me that it cost £40 million to register electors in England and Wales at approximately £1 per elector. The Secretary of State for Scotland told me that, in Scotland, the cost was about £4 million a year, just under £1 per elector. The cost of registering an elector in Northern Ireland was 44p.

This is the most comprehensive system in the United Kingdom. All premises are visited at least once a year. Perhaps the Minister will examine the position, and see why the cost is nearly two and a half times as much in the rest of the United Kingdom. The interesting thing is that it costs only 20p to correct a clerical error, but £1.27 for a postal vote.

I do not want to take up the House's time because we do not have long, but I should like to raise two other matters. If we go to computer voting, we must remember that hackers have always been able to break into any system. Will the Minister also remember that electoral law is now complex? It is scattered over quite a large number of pieces of legislation. A comprehensive consolidation is overdue. Will he please set that in train?

5.40 pm

Mr. Forth

I do not agree with the Bill. It is not necessary. The analysis, such as it is, has not demonstrated the need for it. I fail to see how, given that there are different turnouts at different elections, the Bill will make much difference.

Nor do I agree that the magical new process of a working party is an acceptable, or desirable, part of our processes here. The simple, repeated use of the word "consensus" does not validate a measure and should not eliminate proper legislative scrutiny.

For what it is worth, the only acceptable provision in the Bill is that on the rolling register. It is valid. If the Bill had consisted just of that, it would probably have taken us forward. The rest of it is partly unnecessary and partly extremely dangerous.

During scrutiny of the Bill, we have exposed its loopholes and weaknesses, which still exist. Despite Ministers' undertakings, I am not convinced that, when the pilot schemes are launched, they will take place in a secure environment that will make us happy with the way in which our elections are proceeded with. That is particularly the case with the ludicrous local connection provision, which strikes me—it has been mentioned many times—as an open door to fraud, manipulation and misuse of our electoral system.

All in all, this is an unhappy Bill. I hope that it has not set any precedents. I should like to think that it will not see the light of day, but, if it does, I hope that, at the very least, Ministers' undertakings will be put into place, probably in another place.

5.42 pm

Mr. Hancock

I am grateful for the 90 seconds that I have to praise part of the Bill.

Most people would welcome the opportunity for an improved register. Still, much needs to be done. We need to ensure that local authorities fund the improved register properly and that there are not the wide variations in accuracy from local authority to local authority that occur at the moment. The opportunity to have elections on another day and allowing elections over the two days in a weekend will be a major breakthrough and might, in itself, be significant in increasing the number of people who take part in elections.

I agree with the points that were made by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) on access for disabled people. More needs to be done. There are still polling stations that are very difficult for people to get in and out of. I have been in some where the ballot box has been brought to the door because people could not get in. That cannot be right. The problem continues, so we still have much to do.

As we have stated, clause 11 is dangerous. I would have liked primary legislation to be used for a nationwide change, but I accept what the Minister said.

All in all, the Bill is a step in the right direction. We should support anything that encourages and allows more people to get the opportunity to vote, but the one thing that we should not forget is that any change in democracy is expensive. There will be a price. I hope that people do not back away from initiatives that are contained in the Bill because of the price that accompanies them. The point that was made by Northern Ireland colleagues is valid. For the life of me, I cannot understand why there should be such a wide disparity in what it costs to register someone. Perhaps we have to look at that matter.

It being four hours after the start of proceedings on the Allocation of Time motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.