Before making any order under sections 1 and 2 which provides for all-postal voting, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the manner in which the election is conducted (which may or may not be modified by pilot orders under section 2) ensures that—
- all ballot papers returned are accompanied by a verifiable form of identification;
- each elector who has returned a ballot paper is given an acknowledgement by the returning officer;
- in the event of any disruption of postal services on any day or days appointed for voting under the pilot order, alternative collection points for ballot papers are available, and are in any case available and accessible to those who prefer to deliver their ballot papers in person; and
- any recommendation or recommendations of the Electoral Commission to reduce the incidence or possibility of personation or other electoral offences or malpractice are given effect.'.—[Mr. Heath.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time. 1.49 pm
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 5—Additional provisions in respect of postal voting (No.2) —
'(1) The Secretary of State may not make any order under sections 1 and 2 which provides for all-postal voting unless the chief executive of each of the postal authorities involved has made a written statement that there will be no difficulties with the postal arrangements for the ballot.
(2) The Secretary of State must place a copy of each statement made in pursuance of subsection (1) in the Library of the House of Commons not less than two months before the election.'.
Amendment No. 3, in clause 4, page 2, line 39, at end insert—
'(2A) In the case of all-postal ballots, the Electoral Commission must consult with the postal authorities involved concerning the efficacy of the arrangements.'.
§ Mr. Heath
The first group includes new clause 2 which, I am pleased to say, was tabled by Conservative Front Benchers and myself. It deals, first, with the important matter of fraud in an all-postal ballot and, secondly, with the conduct of the postal authorities and their ability to cope with the burden that will be placed on them.
New clause 2 deals with fraud, which has been a major concern throughout our consideration of the Bill. Some people would say that the postal ballot system is inherently more open to electoral fraud and malpractice 1457 than the practice of attending a polling station and casting a vote in person. Indeed, there is evidence, albeit limited, to support that contention. The matter has certainly exercised the Electoral Reform Society, to which I pay tribute for the attention that it has given the Bill and its helpful briefings.
§ Joyce Quin
The hon. Gentleman said that there is evidence of fraud, but could he be more specific? I am certainly not aware of evidence of any fraud in the successful pilots in my own part of the country. People are concerned about fraud, but we need to be specific about it.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Lady may wish to read the new report by the Electoral Commission on these matters. It is a simple fact that there have been more prosecutions for fraud—this is not necessarily the case in the all-postal ballot pilots—among people who cast a postal vote than among people who use the ballot box. That does not mean that there is an inherently significant problem with postal voting, but it suggests that precautions should be put in place. Indeed, the first report by the Electoral Commission on the arrangements for postal voting deals extensively with the opportunity for electoral fraud in postal voting, and makes sensible recommendations about ways in which to deal with the problem. Some of those recommendations cannot be implemented without primary legislation, and new clause 2 is an appropriate vehicle to introduce such proposals when the pilot schemes take place.
In previous discussions on the Bill, we drew attention to the rushed conditions in which such proposals would be introduced. Nevertheless, my supporters—prominent among them the ERS— and I believe that we should introduce more detailed proposals to avoid fraud in an all-postal ballot. The Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) is somewhat complacent about this matter. That is not being unkind to him, as he said in Committee:there are sufficient anti-fraud measures within electoral law to ensure that postal voting can be undertaken with confidence and… it is no more prone to fraud than conventional voting methods." —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 4 November 2003: c. 130.]We disagree, and the Electoral Commission's proposals should be implemented at the earliest opportunity. They should certainly be implemented before a widespread trial of all-postal voting.
Many Members have drawn attention to the problem of ensuring that the postal ballot is not abused by people living in houses in multiple occupation. It can be abused in a number of ways, including personation. The Minister included welcome proposals in the Bill to define the offence of personation, but they do not entirely answer our concerns. The hon. Gentleman hinted in Committee that he would consider delivery of ballot papers by hand to houses in multiple occupation, to mitigate the risks of votes being harvested. He may 1458 wish to tell us how far he has considered the problem and whether he intends to amend the Bill in due course, or to introduce regulations to deal with a matter that we believe should be included in the Bill.
A basic problem with postal ballots is that it is far more difficult to secure a secret ballot. For a century or more, the secret ballot has been a bulwark against much electoral malpractice. We all accept the facility and utility of postal votes, but they are more open to abuse because they cannot be secret in the same way as polling station ballots, where only one person is permitted to enter the polling booth at a time. The defences against abuse are therefore much stronger at polling stations. There is a particular problem for people with disabilities. Sadly, in our debate we will not have the opportunity properly to consider their position, but one of their principal concerns about the introduction of all-postal ballots is that there will effectively be no secret ballot for them any more. We should be concerned about that.
§ Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab)
The hon. Gentleman made a valid point about disabled voters' right to secrecy, but is it not the case that, under current arrangements, disabled people already have to forfeit their right to privacy if their polling station does not have disabled access, because they cannot enter it? The option of voting at home will in fact increase their privacy when casting their vote.
§ Mr. Heath
I do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Polling stations should be accessible to people with disabilities, but sadly some are not. It is normal practice for returning officers to take ballot papers to people whose physical disabilities hinder their mobility, allowing them to cast their vote with whatever secrecy is available in the circumstances. The returning officers then return the ballot papers to the presiding officer at the polling station. The hon. Gentleman's argument does not hold true for people with visual impairment. I have a particular interest in the issue, and systems are, or should be, available, such as templates and so on, to enable people with visual impairment to cast their vote in secrecy. Such arrangements are simply not available in an all-postal ballot.
My views are shared by the Local Government Association. I ought to declare an interest, although I am not absolutely certain whether I still am an honorary vice-president of the LGA. Like many hon. Members, I was certainly asked to accept such a position, but I am not sure whether my vice-presidency has lapsed. If I am still a vice-president, I declare my interest. The LGA drew attention in its representations to the problem of fraud and believes thatthere should be a balance between greater accessibility to voting with security and prevention of fraud.The association went on to say that it does not believe that
all-postal ballots should be rolled out on a mandatory basis to all councils without the Commission's additional recommendations—in particular a move from household to individual registration—being in place1459 That is a significant contribution to the debate, as it effectively comes from the returning officers themselves, as they are represented by the LGA. They acknowledge the difficulties arising from all-postal voting.
§ Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD)
As my hon. Friend will recognise, there is not only a potential problem of fraud, but a problem in assessing the extent of the fraud. Would he be surprised to learn that I asked a question of the Government as to the extent of electoral fraud allegations in the north-west—what had been reported and what had been investigated—and the answer I received, which was not really an answer, was that that information could be provided only at disproportionate cost?
§ 2 pm
§ Mr. Heath
I am not surprised by what my hon. Friend tells me. The topic has bedevilled our discussions. There are two aspects to the problem. First, people are not aware of the complaints that are being made and the investigations that have taken place, and at best know only about the successful prosecutions that are brought. Secondly, one of our concerns has been that when the Electoral Commission was asked to look into the matter, it was effectively asked to look at instances of complaint, rather than looking ab initio at a poll to see whether there was any evidence of fraud and malpractice, without a complaint having been made. At present, we rely on a complaint being initiated in order to estimate the problem. I accept what my hon. Friend says, and I deplore it.
My new clause 2 contains some modest proposals to assist in preventing fraud in a postal ballot, and suggests that in the event of postal services being disrupted during an all-postal ballot, there should be contingency plans for polling stations to be available, but that in any case a collection point should be available for those who prefer to put their vote into the hands of a returning officer. I understand that the Minister is considering that, and there is a suggestion that at least one collection point will be available in each area. If that is the case, surely it should be written into the Bill, not left to secondary legislation or to the whims of returning officers. I hope the Minister will make his position plain and say what he intends to happen.
The other new clause and the amendment in this group deal with the question of whether postal services are adequate for the task of providing for an all-postal ballot on the scale envisaged. Members of the Conservative Front-Bench team will no doubt speak to new clause 5, and I do not wish to pre-empt their proposals. The new clause deals with the situation before the ballot takes place. Amendment No. 3, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and me and is supported by the Conservatives, deals with the Electoral Commission's inquiry after the event and its recommendations for future all-postal ballots. The amendment simply suggests that the postal authorities need to be involved.
The Electoral Commission has already shown itself to be aware of the need to do that, as evidenced by its new report published the week before last, paragraphs 2.27 1460 to 2.30 of which deal with the ability of other agencies to deliver. Paragraph 2.30 refers specifically to the Royal Mail and tells us thatRoyal Mail's Chief Executive has advised the Commission that Royal Mail is confident of their ability to deliver and return postal ballot papers in any combination of regionsand that it has
contingency plans for both industrial action or unforeseen interruptions to services".I do not always have total confidence in the management of the Royal Mail to deliver what they say they will deliver—"deliver" being the operative word. However, it is clear that there is a degree of confidence on the part of the postal services. Given that we list in the Bill the bodies and organisations that the Electoral Commission is required to consult, the Royal Mail and any alternative postal delivery systems should be part of that consultation. It is slightly surprising that they are not.
In conclusion, new clause 2 deals with fraud, a matter that is taken seriously by Members in all parts of the House. We do not damn the postal voting system as being necessarily open to fraud, but we are concerned to ensure that the best possible measures are in place to avoid it. New clause 2 also deals with the postal system, which is, potentially at least, the weak link when we have an all-postal ballot over a wide area. That will inevitably be the case when we are dealing with two or three European regions of the country at a single time. Given that Minister's and the Electoral Commission's stated intention is to have national all-postal ballots at some stage in the future, it is important that we get these things right now rather than waiting for a disaster to happen and finding that we have an invalid or improper election of the sort that we would condemn elsewhere in the world.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con)
Our approach to the Government's proposals in the Bill is that if our electoral system is not broken, we should not try to fix it. We are not obsessed by so-called modernisation, as the Government are on this and many other issues. Many of us believe that, wherever possible, we should carry on with the traditional way of voting that people in this country have been used to for over 100 years. Nevertheless, we want to consider some of the Government's proposals constructively, while subjecting them to scrutiny as we have done in detail in Committee, and trying to improve the protections, particularly against fraud.
As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made clear, that is the issue dealt with by the two new clauses and the amendment linked with them. As the hon. Gentleman observed, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I support new clause 2 and amendment No. 3, and we have tabled new clause 5. We are particularly concerned about the dangers that fraud may be made easier if the proposals go through unamended. Partly in response to the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), I draw attention to the comment from the Electoral Reform Society that for the first time since the 1872 ballot secrecy legislation, it considers that there is a risk that electoral fraud could occur.
I shall quote the Electoral Reform Society's words, as it is important that those who read our proceedings be aware of them. Like the hon. Member for Somerton and 1461 Frome, I thank the Electoral Reform Society for the helpful views that it expressed to many of us. In its brief for this debate, it states:Corrupt practices on a grand scale have become feasible again for the first time in 130 years. Of course, this is not a guarantee that such events will occur—but the risk is increased".There is much further evidence, not only in the Electoral Commission's latest report—which came out only on 8 December, so I forgive the right hon. Lady for not having seen it—but in many of the other research papers produced by the House of Commons Library and by the Local Government Association, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ Joyce Quin rose—
§ Mr. Hawkins
I shall give way to the right hon. Lady in a moment. She spoke in the debate on Second Reading, so I know of her interest.
Much of the evidence was publicised at the time of the postal pilots, even on the front pages of some of our national newspapers. There were allegations of fraud, some of which may not have been substantiated, but there were certainly some documented cases of fraud having taken place. The Electoral Reform Society, the Local Government Association and we in the House must take those increased risks seriously. There are particular problems, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, with houses in multiple occupation, the way in which the paperwork is sent, and the verifiability and security—by way of double envelopes—that are needed, in our view, in postal pilots.
§ Joyce Quin
The hon. Gentleman's quote from the Electoral Reform Society related to worries about risks and not to evidence. I am prepared to look at any evidence that may exist. He said that if the system was not broke, there was no need to fix it, but huge increases—from, say, 25 per cent. to 60 per cent. in turnout for local elections—show that there was a problem that postal ballots are doing a great deal to address.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I disagree with the right hon. Lady's conclusion. I refer her to the Electoral Commission report, which was only issued on 8 December, as I mentioned. In passing, I may say that I was slightly surprised that the Electoral Commission, which has previously been good at immediately sending all its reports to hon. Members who are interested in these matters, did not manage to get that report to us. I am indebted to Library officials, as we so often are, for getting me a photocopy, without which I could not have referred to the issues involved. Under the title "Fraud considerations", paragraph 2.31 states:The Commission takes issues of fraud and the perception of fraud very seriously, and has recommended to Government that additional measures be introduced as part of future all-postal and electronic pilot schemes, to ensure more effective deterrence against, and measuring of, attempted fraud. We note that the Government has included in the Pilots bill a changed offence of personation for the pilot area in line with the previous Commission recommendation.1462 The report goes on to state:
The Commission has further stated that all-postal voting should not be made generally available until further measures are introduced. —critically the Commission believes that the introduction of individual registration is a necessary precondition for moving beyond all-postal pilot schemes to full roll-out.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Does my hon. Friend accept that the possibility of intimidation, which has not been mentioned, is relevant? One benefit that our time-honoured system provides is absolute security so that people—let us say that they could mainly be women in this context—can vote in safety in the privacy of the ballot booth. If people will now be expected to fill out voter forms in the home, the office or wherever, there is at least a risk that they could be intimidated by other family members or who knows whom, and we should be very aware of that issue in considering the possibilities.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The issue to which he refers is one of the reasons why extra elements of security are so vital in relation to postal voting.
Furthermore—this may help the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West and other hon. Members—the House of Commons research paper on the issues associated with the Bill contains a lot of work on fraud and the danger that it may increase under the Bill. The research paper states:there is concern that personation has taken place at previous elections. A question asked by Lord Greaves in the House of Lords highlighted some areas of concernThat question was asked in 1997–98. In relation to the most recent Birmingham city council elections and the postal pilot in Birmingham, the research paper goes on to state:
A politician appointed to investigate claims of fraud at this year's Birmingham City Council elections says he has already uncovered 'worrying' evidence pointing towards possible irregularities.That comes from somebody who was appointed to look into claims that fraud might have taken place. The document continues:
At the heart of the inquiry are claims that postal votes were misused and that organised gangs 'stole' hundreds of votes through personation—falsely claiming to be people on the electoral register.Councillor Alden, who is in charge of the inquiry, was hoping to complete it by the end of this month. I have not seen the results, but there is serious concern. Councillor Alden states:
There is worrying evidence of a substantial amount of personation in Birmingham over the past few years, where people are impersonating other people at the polling station and voting" A report published in The Guardian in September last year also referred to a number of allegations of electoral fraud. The issue has not simply been dreamed up by Opposition Members; it is causing concern throughout the country, and in cities such as Birmingham and Leicester; indeed, what happened in Leicester was one of the cases publicised in the national press.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) about the difference between the potential for fraud and the reality, the hon. Gentleman may be able to confirm that some of the problems that he has mentioned occurred in traditional polling booth voting and would not arise only in postal voting. The traditional voting arrangements already have potential for a huge amount of deception and fraud, but he seems inordinately concerned about opportunities for fraud in postal voting. Surely, the only reason why fraud has been detected in postal ballots is that no investigations such as those that have been mentioned have occurred in respect of traditional polling. If such investigations took place, there might be evidence to show that fraudulent voting and personation has occurred on some scale throughout the country for more than 100 years.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I do not think that the Electoral Reform Society, which has the experts and specialists on this matter, takes that view. In commenting specifically on what happened in the all-postal pilots in the 2003 local elections, it said:Other problems arose as a result of the all-postal pilots. In the past, postal votes were open to council offices in the two days prior to polling day and party observers were able to watch this process providing they had signed a declaration of secrecy. However, with the vast numbers involved in all-postal ballots, councils took the decision to open the ballots as they came in and invited party observers to watch. At this much earlier stage, it was therefore possible for parties to see how they were doing in each ward and effect changes to their campaigning strategy as a result. There needs to be a debate about whether this is a desirable outcome from the move to all-postal ballots or whether the declaration of secrecy should seek to (or even can) bar discussion within a party over their prospects.There is not only the personation problem, but the intimidation problem to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred, as well as the secrecy issue. Without being too partisan about those issues, we are genuinely trying to introduce extra elements of security, especially in respect of houses in multiple occupation.
§ Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab)
I think that all hon. Members would want to ensure that the secrecy of the ballot was maintained as far as possible. The hon. Gentleman referred to two investigations—one by a councillor and another by The Guardian newspaper. He did not refer, however, to paragraph 2.33 of the Electoral Commission report:As part of our evaluation of pilot schemes the Commission assesses whether the pilot scheme has led to an increase in personation or other electoral malpractice. However, we have no reason to believe that pilot schemes have to date resulted in an increase in the incidence of electoral offences.The Electoral Commission was set up specifically to consider such issues in an unbiased way, but its view is that the pilots have not led to any increase in the incidence of the problems that he mentioned.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Gentleman refers to what is now paragraph 2.33 on page 13 of the Electoral Commission's report, but if he reads on, he will see that paragraph 2.36 states: 1464The Commission accepts public perception is that some areas of the United Kingdom appear to be more prone to electoral fraud than others; we have no conclusive evidence this is in fact the case. However such a perception can, and should be, challenged through rigorously audited all-postal pilot schemes.The new clauses and amendment suggest that introducing greater security will make the process much safer, so that there is much less risk of fraud and a greater opportunity to conduct auditing.
I shall now deal specifically with the new clauses and amendment. On new clause 2, which was tabled by the Liberal Democrats, but to which we have added our names, we think that verifiability is crucial. We also think that the requirement for acknowledgement by the returning officer is crucial in terms of fraud prevention. I will be very surprised if the Minister is unable to accept the new clause, because it does not harm his legislation in any way, but is something that Conservative Members and the Liberal Democrats feel strongly about.
Most important is paragraph (c), which would ensure that alternative arrangements are put in place in the event of disruptions to postal services. Like the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I have many problems with the postal authorities at the moment. I would be straying out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I talked too much about the huge battles in which I am involved—as are many hon. Members on both sides of the House—in attempting to save post offices. I have not been at all impressed by the attitude of the management of the Royal Mail or the Post Office in recent months and years, and I shall continue to pursue those issues over Christmas and the new year.
Paragraph (d) suggests the implementation of any anti-fraud measures that are recommended by the Electoral Commission: again, it is difficult to see why the Government should oppose that sensible change.
I very much hope that the Government will accept new clause 2—if not, we shall want to press it.
I turn to our new clause 5, which would provide further protections in relation to postal voting. Many Members on both sides of the House have huge concerns about the significant deterioration in the service that is provided to all our constituents, particularly in the light of the disruption that was caused by the recent industrial action. Those concerns were most recently ventilated in this Chamber last Thursday in the very good debate on the report on the Post Office by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. We therefore believe that the Bill should contain what one might call a come-back against those who run the postal services, so that the chief executive concerned would have to give this House a clear and unambiguous undertaking that the postal services will be able to provide what is required for an all-postal pilot for a combined European and local election. If we do not have that, the pilot should not go ahead.
Conservative Members have added their names to Liberal Democrat amendment No. 3, which, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome explained, would require the Electoral Commission to consult the postal authorities after the event. Taken together, our new clause 5 and the Liberal Democrat amendment would provide for consultation with and undertakings from those managing the postal authorities beforehand, as well as a clear report back afterwards, providing belt and braces security for the arrangements.
1465 I do not want to repeat the sensible points that were made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. We agree with him on this matter—indeed, if anything we feel even more strongly about its importance. I hope that the Government will heed this crucial group of improvements to the Bill.
§ Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab)
I want to comment on a couple of points, the first of which concerns the risk of impersonation and corruption in the electoral process. Historically, there has not been a major problem in this country since the mid-1920s, when cathedral cities were the most prone to corruption, with the seats of ancient universities coming second. Since then, as far as we can tell, we have been almost corruption-free, and one trusts that we will remain so. The danger area is that of all-postal ballots in places with a high degree of multiple occupation. As those of us who have practised the art of politics over many years know, areas of multiple occupation often have the lowest turnouts in any election. There are all sorts of reasons for that, one of which is that the people who live there tend not to stay for long. The opportunity for the misuse of postal ballots must be much greater in those areas than in established communities. I hope that those who observe such matters will pay attention to whether there is a dramatic change in voting patterns in those high-risk areas.
My second point concerns the implication that there may have been personation before, under the traditional system, but we did not know about it. I am not necessarily convinced by that. There was always a safeguard in the shape of the party tellers who sat at the entrance of the village hall, town hall or library—normally one from each party, and preferably local to the area in which they were taking down the numbers. They might say, "Wait a moment —they have already been in once before" or, "He moved away several years ago —what is he doing voting here?" That degree of involvement or knowledge can be applied in traditional village hall or town hall voting, but is impossible in an all-postal ballot. We need more information, and I hope that the pilot schemes will provide it.
§ Angela Watkinson (Upminster)(Con)
New clause 2 would introduce some essential safeguards to the security and confidentiality of the postal voting process. All-postal voting was piloted in the London borough of Havering in the last local elections. There was an increase in turnout, so the experiment was successful in that respect. However, I have reservations about making voting easy for people who would otherwise not bother to do so. Postal voting is already available to anybody who is motivated enough to ask for it—it is no longer necessary to specify the reason. Anybody who is unable to get to a polling station because he is disabled, working, on holiday, ill, or for any other reason is already eligible for a postal vote. Now, we are spoon-feeding people who cannot be bothered to vote. Instead, we should meet the challenge by increasing people's interest so that they are motivated to take the trouble to vote.
In Havering, several serious flaws in the voting arrangements became apparent during the election period: the new clause seeks to address those. Paragraph (a) would require all ballot papers to be accompanied by 1466 by a verifiable form of identification. That was one of the main difficulties that arose. Electors were sent by post a ballot paper, a declaration of identity and the necessary instructions, together with one envelope in which to return to the town hall both their ballot paper marked with their choice of candidate and their declaration of identity. A significant number of electors objected to that one-envelope system on the grounds that the person opening the envelope and separating the two pieces of paper could see how they had voted. Indeed, it was possible. It is impossible to know whether anyone took advantage of this opportunity or not, but the important point is that the opportunity existed and that the confidentiality of the voting process was compromised as a result.(
The separation of ballot papers from declarations of identity is a necessary procedure, as the ballot papers have to be put into a ballot box for transfer to —in Havering's case —the Electoral Commission for the count. I urge the Minister to ensure that a two-envelope system is always used in any future postal ballot, so that it would be possible to ensure that each ballot paper is accompanied by the requisite declaration of identity, but that no ballot paper could be linked to any identified elector.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
The new clause refers to the return of ballot papers accompanied by a "verifiable form" of identification. That suggests to me not the simple declaration that I am who I say I am, but a document that says who I am, such as a passport or a driving licence. What is the hon. Lady's understanding of that term?
§ Angela Watkinson
My understanding is that it is a declaration of identity. I am sure that the new clause does not propose that people should post their precious passports or other documents that could easily be lost. I received significant numbers of complaints from electors who did not wish anybody to be able to see how they had voted. I am sure that given the volume of post nobody had the slightest interest, but the point is that it was possible for that to happen.
§ Angela Watkinson
It is essential that electors be able to have total confidence in the confidentiality of the voting process. In all-postal ballots, unlike voting in the traditional way at a polling station, electors cannot witness their ballot paper being put into a sealed ballot box. New clause 2(b) would require acknowledgements to be sent to electors for returned ballot papers. This would help to overcome the doubts of many electors that they would have no way of knowing whether their ballot papers had been received at the town hall. Indeed, given the number of items of post that are acknowledged routinely to go missing, it is reasonable to assume that some ballot papers might not arrive at their intended destination.
I personally have had several items of post go missing this year—that I know about. One was correctly addressed and had a first class stamp on it. It arrived in 1467 perfect condition, undamaged and not dog-eared or showing any signs of having been on a long and difficult journey, three months after it had been posted at a point about 10 miles away. Another item of post was sent to me from this House to my home address just before the summer recess, and I am still waiting for it to arrive. It has disappeared into a black hole. Delays of that kind involving election documents would deprive electors of their vote, and that is a serious matter.
The same problem would apply to the receipt by voters of their blank ballot papers and acknowledgements of their completed ballot papers. I received a number of complaints during the election period from people who had not received their ballot paper from the town hall. On inquiring at the town hall, they had been told that it had been sent to them. There was no form of appeal, and no way of obtaining a duplicate ballot paper. Often, time was too short to do anything about that. Wrong delivery is another complication. Some people redirect mail if it is wrongly delivered through their letter box, but not everyone takes the trouble to do so. Some wrongly delivered items therefore end up in kitchen waste bins, never to be seen again, and it is difficult to see how that problem could be overcome.
New clause 2(c) requires arrangements to be made for the personal delivery of ballot papers for those electors who prefer that, or in the event of a disruption of postal services. I hope that the Minister will agree that this is a sensible requirement for contingency arrangements which should be included in this Bill. One collection point in each constituency would not be enough, particularly in rural areas, or in areas in which elderly voters prefer to stick to the traditional voting method that they have always used. Many of them like to go to a familiar polling station, and they resent having to change the way in which they vote. That option should be available to them.
§ Mr. Hawkins
My hon. Friend will be relieved to know that this point was raised in Committee. She will also have noticed from the amendment paper today that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled new clause 6, although it was not selected for debate because the matter had already been dealt with in Committee. The new clause dealt with the preservation of the traditional methods of voting. My hon. Friend will also be aware that I quoted her when we debated the issue in Committee.
§ Angela Watkinson
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful contribution.
New clause 2(d) provides for the reduction of opportunities for personation and other forms of malpractice that postal voting makes much easier. Every precaution possible must be taken to protect the confidentiality of the vote, to ensure the security of the transfer of votes from one place to another, whether by post or motor vehicle, and to ensure that nobody is either influenced or intimidated in relation to the way in which they vote, or deprived of their vote, or able to vote more than once. We must also ensure that the person casting the vote is the person who is entitled to do so.
1468 The Electoral Reform Society supports those views, and does not believe that the Bill will be in a form that is ready to be introduced until every possible means has been used to combat potential fraud, because of the various issues that I have just raised. Too many uncertainties exist at the moment for all-postal ballots to be introduced without resolving the opportunities for fraud, and the Bill should not proceed until that has been done.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
My hon. Friend the Minister will be relieved to hear that I intend to make only a few brief points. First, I would like to respond to the heartfelt and genuine view expressed by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) that it is necessary to maintain traditional polling practices because some voters, particularly older people, have gone to the same polling station year after year and want to maintain that practice. However, the problem lies not with our older voters, who will always come out and vote; it lies with our younger voters—people aged 18 upwards—who do not vote and whom we need to persuade to vote. Senior citizens have a great sense of civic responsibility and need no extra encouragement to vote. They already understand their responsibilities. It is younger voters to whom we need to introduce new forms of voting because they have shown time and again that they are reluctant to vote. We need to deal with that problem.
§ Mr. Forth
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that apathy and indifference are themselves political acts, and that it is perfectly legitimate for a citizen of whatever age, young or old, not to vote because they are not interested or do not think it worth while, or because it is, in their view, a bit difficult to do so? One of the great dangers inherent in the obsession with making it easier to vote is that people may in the end undervalue the process rather than value it fully.
§ Mr. Harris
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and I have some sympathy with it. My problem with the general approach to making the political system more engaging and relevant is that there is a danger of putting certain issues on the back burner. We are trying to introduce a fairly radical measure to encourage higher turnout in the short term. I am sure that he would approve of more strategic measures to engage people of all ages and classes politically and to encourage them to become more involved in the political process. Unfortunately, I do not think that that is going to happen in the short term. We need to come up with some shorter-term measures to find out whether it is possible to increase engagement. That may not happen as a result of the Bill, and we will then have to go back to the drawing board. I support the Bill, however, because it provides us with an opportunity to see whether this innovation will work.
I draw the House's attention briefly to a point that I raised with the hon. Member for Upminster about new clause 2, which proposes thatall ballot papers returned are accompanied by a verifiable form of identification".I accept what she said about the verification of identity, but, technically, that is not what the new clause refers to. It refers to a "verifiable form of identification", and I do not believe that that could apply to a simple statement 1469 claiming that I am who I am. A form of identification is a document proving that a person has a particular identity, not that they are claiming to have that identity. On that basis, the House must reject new clause 2.
I am intrigued by new clause 5. It proposes:The Secretary of State may not make any order under sections 1 and 2 which provides for all-postal voting unless the chief executive of each of the postal authorities involved has made a written statement that there will be no difficulties with the postal arrangements for the ballot.I wonder how the House would react if the chief executives of a commercially run organisation were to write to the Minister before an all-postal ballot—and the letters published in the House of Commons Library—stating that they were incapable of carrying out the duties for which their companies were being well subsidised by the public purse. I intend no disrespect to the chief executives involved, but if any of them thought that there were a possibility that even one in 10,000 of the ballot papers would go missing and wrote to the Minister to say, "Hold on, don't have this all-postal ballot because I cannot guarantee that one in 10,000 ballot papers will not go missing", it would undermine the commercial viability of the organisation concerned.
§ Mr. Hawkins
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that, when we are talking about the postal services being used for the vital purpose of voting in elections, those who hold those exalted positions should be able to be held to account by the House? Is that not what we are here for?
§ Mr. Harris
Absolutely, but the postal services are there to provide a day-to-day service on behalf of citizens to the best of their ability, and, I would hope, to a high standard, regardless of whether it is Christmas and there is extra demand or of whether there is a 100 per cent. postal ballot. It should not be necessary for the chief executive of such an organisation to claim in advance that it is, after all, capable of doing the job that it was established to do.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)
I agree with much of what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris). We should encourage people to vote, and furthermore we should remove any physical obstacles that might prevent them from exercising their democratic right to voice their preferences. That is at the heart of our proposals. New clause 2, however, would prevent all-postal ballots from taking place until the establishment of certain security and contingency measures. An identical amendment was tabled in Committee, but was not reached.
We do not need contingency measures in the Bill, because adequate provision can be made in the detailed pilot order mentioned in clause 2. I do not deny that we need extra measures to combat fraud, but they belong in the pilot order.
§ Mr. Leslie
We certainly intend the pilot order to contain anti-fraud measures, supplementing those 1470 already in the Bill. It should be borne in mind that the Bill already contains two clauses dealing specifically with personation outside the polling station and extending the time in which prosecution is possible, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there will be supplementary provisions in the order.
My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) mentioned houses in multiple occupation. I assure him that we will consider hand delivery to certain areas if there is evidence of a problem. We have not closed our minds to the need for all people to receive the ballot papers to which they are entitled in as reasonable a way as possible.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
A university hall of residence, for instance, may contain 150 students in separate rooms. Is the Minister suggesting that the election officer will hand deliver to each student?
§ Mr. Leslie
I hope that that will not be necessary—I have considerable faith in the workings of the postal service—but if there is evidence of a failure the regional returning officers will take account of it and consider hand delivery if that proves necessary. I do not think that that will be the norm, though. It has not been the norm under the existing postal voting arrangements—many students and others in houses in multiple occupation already apply for and are granted postal votes through the postal authorities.
New clause 2 suggests that a "verifiable form of identification" accompany each vote cast. Unlike the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, I understood that to mean that the ballot paper should be accompanied by, for example, a passport or driving licence, or perhaps a gas or electricity bill. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome suggested sotto voce that it was actually a reference to individualised registration, which is something we are considering. Certainly, if we are to extend all-postal voting permanently, we shall need to ensure that we can act in such a way if it proves necessary.
§ Mr. Leslie
As I said, we are considering the Electoral Commission's proposal for individual registration, and that may well be possible. However, I do not think that either the verifiable form of identification suggested in the new clause or the extra criterion proposed by the hon. Gentleman is necessary. Under our proposed arrangements, voters will already be required to verify their identities by signing a security statement. It is difficult to see what difference providing another form of identification would make, and how the system would be administered.
§ Mr. Hawkins
May I ask a question about houses in multiple occupation and the Minister's response to the 1471 hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst)? The Electoral Reform Society's latest brief, which expresses concern to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, challenges the Government on that score. It suggests that the potential problem is not limited to HMOs and student halls of residence, and that even in single family households votes might be "harvested" by a head of household choosing to vote on behalf of everyone in that household. What the society, and Conservative Members, want to know is this: what safeguards against that risk do the Government propose?
§ Mr. Leslie
The hon. Gentleman is challenging not just all-postal voting, but the principle that has for a long time enabled people to exercise their right to vote via the post. I do not believe that any system is beyond criticism, but that also applies to conventional polling station voting. No doubt all hon. Members could dream up a series of theoretical scenarios involving potential fraudulence, but I know of no evidence of any significant problem involving "harvesting". If we have evidence of a particularly pernicious problem we will certainly consider action, but in the absence of such evidence that would be a somewhat academic exercise.
§ Mr. Forth
At its simplest, my argument is as follows. It is unlikely that I could persuade someone at a polling station that I was Mrs. Forth; it is much more likely that I could use her ballot paper and vote by post on her behalf. The onus is on those who argue for increased postal voting to provide much more reassurance that what is impossible at a polling station will be equally impossible by post.
§ Mr. Leslie
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says but it does not affect what I said to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). Anyone can imagine any number of possible scenarios, but in practice we must act on the evidence we have, and I see no evidence of a problem in that regard.
The new clause also proposes that all voters should receive acknowledgments. They are not sent under the traditional arrangements for postal voting, and in the case of all-postal voting such a system would prove both costly and burdensome. Surely it is more sensible to ensure that ballot papers are delivered correctly in the first place. Our work with the postal authorities and returning officers will minimise the potential for fraud and lost ballot papers.
§ Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)
The example that the Conservatives quoted in respect of personation is a good one. The Minister said that there is no evidence, but there are other examples of postal election fraud—involving care homes—that returning officers are concerned about. Indeed, there are many examples of care home owners having tampered with the 1472 postal vote system on behalf of their residents. What safeguards is the Minister going to provide in that regard?
§ Mr. Leslie
As I have said, we should proceed on the basis of evidence, and if the hon. Gentleman has some I should be more than happy to look at it.
§ Mr. Leslie
The hon. Gentleman says "St. Ives", but perhaps he could be a bit more specific and write to me. That would help us to look into the matter.
New clause 2 refers to drop-off points and active polling stations, to which people can still physically go to place their ballot. Such provision is already planned, and I can assure the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that, as a minimum, returning officers will be required to provide at least one supported drop-off point in each local authority district. However, they will have discretion to provide more drop-off points in places suitable for local people, if doing so is appropriate to the particular locality. The hon. Member for Upminster was seeking that level of flexibility. At supported drop-off points, voters will be able to complete and deposit their ballot papers in an environment similar to that of a traditional polling station. They will also have access to trained election officials.
The final part of new clause 2 would give automatic effect to any Electoral Commission recommendation on reducing personation or other electoral fraud. That would not be appropriate. Constitutionally, it would not be appropriate to hand over our law-making powers to the commission, as it cannot be held accountable in the same way as Ministers can. Although the commission's advice is extremely valuable, the Government will always want to consider the recommendations in the broader scheme of things, and to make decisions accountable to Parliament. The Bill's two provisions relating to electoral offences stem from commission recommendations. They provide a safe and secure basis on which to undertake the pilot, in addition to existing electoral law provisions and the further arrangements that, as I have already undertaken, will be detailed in the pilot order.
§ Mr. Hawkins
It would be helpful, given the Minister's undertakings in relation to pilot orders, if he confirmed that each and every pilot order would have to be fully debated by this House. Am I right in that understanding?
§ Mr. Leslie
We shall come in due course to amendments that the hon. Gentleman tabled in respect of parliamentary scrutiny of such orders. The main order is by statutory instrument, but the same is not true of the pilot order. That remains our intention, but we will debate the issue later.
New clause 5 would require that the chief executive of the postal authorities make a statementthat there will be no difficulties with the postal arrangements",and amendment No. 3 would require the Electoral Commission to consult the postal authorities on the efficacy of postal voting arrangements. My 1473 Department's officials are in continuing dialogue with the Royal Mail and are confident of the strength of both general and contingency arrangements. In addition, returning officers will already have their own local relationship with the Royal Mail. The Government will, however, do all that they can to facilitate meetings, or to assist with any additional arrangements that may need to be put in place as part of the pilots. All that is extremely important, in order to ensure that the best locally targeted services are provided. However, it is difficult to see what additional value a written statement from a chief executive would provide. Surely the focus should instead be on providing the most secure and reliable service on the ground. I do not believe that such a statement would add particular value, so I hope that the House will reject the proposal.
On amendment No. 3, the Electoral Commission and the postal authorities already have a role in reporting on and scrutinising postal arrangements. The amendment is not needed to allow that to happen. The commission seeks the input of the Royal Mail in providing guidance to returning officers on local election pilots. It also seeks the comments of Royal Mail and of Postcomm on the conduct of pilots, as part of the post-election evaluation. Moreover, the commission's general functions are set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and its functions in relation to local election pilots are described in the Representation of the People Act 2000. The provision in clause 4 mirrors closely that in the latter Act, which contains no provision of the type suggested in the amendment; nor does the Bill require it.
It is therefore clear that, although the result that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome seeks through amendment No. 3 is a positive one, the amendment is not required in order to achieve it. There is a danger that we become too prescriptive in what we ask the Electoral Commission to do. Although it is important that we supply a framework of issues for it to consider, we must also allow it flexibility in its work. The best approach is not to list exhaustively every last thing that the commission must consider and report on. I hope that I have provided a comprehensive study of the new clauses and the amendment, and that the House will resist them.
§ Mr. Heath
This has been an extremely useful debate, which has illustrated that hon. Members on both sides of the House share a genuine desire to prevent electoral fraud in every instance. Many are concerned that all-postal ballots provide further opportunities—let us put it no stronger than that—for fraud and malpractice. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) for his comments. I was slightly concerned when he said that the hotbeds of personation are cathedral cities and ancient universities. Having been brought up in one and having attended the other, I feel personally indicted by his comments.[Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I wonder whether the level of conversation could be reduced somewhat. It is rather difficult to hear the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Heath
I am most grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The comments of the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) about her experiences in the borough of Havering, along with the comments of the 1474 hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), illustrate the problems that we face; indeed, the same can be said of the interventions of other Members. I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) takes a real and genuine interest in these matters. His construction of the intention behind my new clause is not the same as mine, but we shall simply have to differ on that.
I want to concentrate on what the Minister said by way of reply. He has given us some cause for comfort. He said that something—we know not what—will be introduced as part of the pilot orders that will go some way towards satisfying our concerns about fraudulent practices in postal schemes.
§ Mr. Hawkins
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that, if the House is not going to be able to study the pilot order when it is introduced, it is rather difficult for him, me and our colleagues to accept what the Minister says by way of promises for the future?
§ Mr. Heath
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Electoral Commission is in many ways our lodestone on these matters. Paragraph 2.31 of its report clearly states:The Commission takes issues of fraud and the perception of fraud very seriously, and has recommended to Government that additional measures be introduced as part of future all-postal and electronic pilot schemes, to ensure more effective deterrence against, and measuring of, attempted fraud.That is what we are all saying. Paragraph 2.32 states:
The Commission has further stated that all-postal voting should not be made generally available until further measures are introduced—critically the Commission believes that the introduction of individual registration is a necessary precondition for moving beyond all-postal pilot schemes to full roll-out.'I contend that, on a scale involving more than one European region, we are very close to full roll-out. If the commission has genuine concerns about the existing arrangements for postal ballots, it is incumbent on this House to deal with the matter. I agree with the Minister that it is not the commission's determination that matters; what matters is our determination to agree with the commission. That is why I invite the House to agree with the commission's views this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath has said that he is even more supportive of my new clause than I am. How he measures that I do not know but, as I wrote it, I defy him to display greater enthusiasm for it in the Lobby than me. Indeed, I invite all hon. Members on both sides of the House to show that they will not put up with corrupt practices, or the potential for them, in our electoral system. That is what new clause 2 would go some way towards preventing.
§ Question put,That the clause be read a Second time:
§ The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 291.
|Division No.10]||[2:59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Baker, Norman|
|Allan, Richard||Baldry, Tony|
|Amess, David||Baron, John (Billericay)|
|Arbuthnot, rh James||Barrett, John|
|Atkinson, David (Bour"mth E)||Beith, rh A. J.|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Bellingham, Henry|
|Bacon, Richard||Bercow, John|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Key, Robert (Salisbury)|
|Blunt, Crispin||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Boswell, Tim||Kirkwood, Sir Archy|
|Brady, Graham||Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)|
|Brake, Tom (Carshalton)||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Brazier, Julian||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Brooke, Mrs Annette L||Lamb, Norman|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Lansley, Andrew|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Laws, David (Yeovil)|
|Burt, Alistair||Letwin, rh Oliver|
|Butterfill, John||Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)|
|Cable, Dr. Vincent||Liddell-Grainger, Ian|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy||Lidington, David|
|Cameron, David||Lilley, rh Peter|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Cash, William||Loughton, Tim|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping||Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)|
|Barnet)||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Chidgey, David||Mackay, rh Andrew|
|Chope, Christopher||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Clappison, James||Malins, Humfrey|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Maples, John|
|Collins, Tim||Mates, Michael|
|Conway, Derek||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Mercer, Patrick|
|Cotter, Brian||Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton)|
|Cran, James (Beverley)||Coldfield)|
|Curry, rh David||Moore, Michael|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)||Murrison, Dr. Andrew|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||Norman, Archie|
|Donaldson, Jeffrey M.||Oaten, Mark (Winchester)|
|Duncan, Peter (Galloway)||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Duncan Smith, rh lain||Öpik, Lembit|
|Evans, Nigel||Osborne, George (Tatton)|
|Ewing, Annabelle||Ottaway, Richard|
|Fabricant, Michael||Paterson, Owen|
|Fallon, Michael||Pickles, Eric|
|Flight, Howard||Portillo, rh Michael|
|Flook, Adrian||Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &|
|Forth, rh Eric||Dinefwr)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Prisk, Mark (Hertford)|
|Francois, Mark||Pugh, Dr. John|
|George, Andrew (St. Ives)||Randall, John|
|Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)||Redwood, rh John|
|Gidley, Sandra||Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Rendel, David|
|Goodman, Paul||Robathan, Andrew|
|Gray, James (N Wilts)||Robertson, Hugh (Faversham &|
|Green, Damian (Ashford)||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Green, Matthew (Ludlow)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Greenway, John||Rosindell, Andrew|
|Grieve, Dominic||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Gummer, rh John||Sanders, Adrian|
|Hague, rh William||Selous, Andrew|
|Hammond, Philip||Shepherd, Richard|
|Hawkins, Nick||Simmonds, Mark|
|Hayes, John (S Holland)||Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)|
|Heald. Oliver||Smith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns &|
|Heathcoat-Amory, rh David||Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)|
|Hendry, Charles||Soames, Nicholas|
|Hoban, Mark (Fareham)||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Hogg, rh Douglas||Spink, Bob (Castle Point)|
|Holmes, Paul||Steen, Anthony|
|Horam, John (Orpington)||Streeter, Gary|
|Howard, rh Michael||Stunell, Andrew|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Swayne, Desmond|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Swire, Hugo (EDevon)|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Syms, Robert|
|Johnson, Boris (Henley)||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Keetch, Paul||Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)|
|Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &||Teather, Sarah|
|Inverness)||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Tonge, Dr. Jenny||Willetts, David|
|Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)||Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Tyrie, Andrew||Willis, Phil|
|Viggers, Peter||Wilshire, David|
|Walter, Robert||Winterton, Ann (Congleton)|
|Waterson, Nigel||Winterton, Sir Nicholas|
|Webb, Steve (Northavon)||Wishart, Pete|
|Weir, Michael||Young, rh Sir George|
|Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wiggin, Bill||Richard Younger-Ross and|
|Wilkinson, John||Mr. Mark Field|
|Ainger, Nick||Cousins, Jim|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Crausby, David|
|Alexander, Douglas||Cruddas, Jon|
|Allen, Graham||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary||Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||(Copeland)|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)|
|Austin, John||Cunningham, Tony (Workington)|
|Bailey, Adrian||Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Baird, Vera||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Barnes, Harry||David, Wayne|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Davidson, Ian|
|Battle, John||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Beard, Nigel||Dawson, Hilton|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Dhanda, Parmjit|
|Bennett, Andrew||Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)|
|Berry, Roger||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Betts, Clive||Doran, Frank|
|Blackman, Liz||Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Blizzard, Bob||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Boateng, rh Paul||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)||Edwards, Huw|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Efford, Clive|
|Brennan, Kevin||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)|
|Browne, Desmond||Etherington, Bill|
|Bryant, Chris||Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Fisher, Mark|
|Burden, Richard||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Burgon, Colin||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Burnham, Andy||Flynn, Paul (Newport W)|
|Byers, rh Stephen||Follett, Barbara|
|Caborn, rh Richard||Foster, Michael (Worcester)|
|Cairns, David||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||& Rye)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Francis, Dr. Hywel|
|Caplin, Ivor||George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Casale, Roger||Gerrard, Neil|
|Caton, Martin||Gibson, Dr. Ian|
|Challen, Colin||Gilroy, Linda|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Chaytor, David||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Clapham, Michael||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)||Grogan, John|
|Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh||Hain, rh Peter|
|Pentlands)||Hamilton, David (Midlothian)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &||Hanson, David|
|Chryston)||Harman, rh Ms Harriet|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)|
|Clelland, David||Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &|
|Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)||Rhymney)|
|Coaker, Vernon||Healey, John|
|Coleman, Iain||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Colman, Tony||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Connarty, Michael||Hendrick, Mark|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Heppell, John||Marshall, David (Glasgow|
|Hesford, Stephen||Martlew, Eric|
|Heyes, David||Meacher, rh Michael|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Michael, rh Alun|
|Hinchliffe, David||Milburn, rh Alan|
|Hodge, Margaret||Miliband, David|
|Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)||Miller, Andrew|
|Hoon, rh Geoffrey||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hope, Phil (Corby)||Mole, Chris|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Moran, Margaret|
|Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)||Morgan, Julie|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N &||Morley, Elliot|
|Sefton E)||Morris, rh Estelle|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Mountford, Kali|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Mudie, George|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Mullin, Chris|
|Hurst, Alan (Braintree)||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Iddon, Dr. Brian||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Illsley, Eric||Naysmith, Dr. Doug|
|Ingram, rh Adam||Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)|
|Irranca-Davies, Huw||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Olner, Bill|
|Jenkins, Brian||Organ, Diana|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W)||Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn||Perham, Linda|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||plaskitt, James|
|Jones, Kevan (N Durham)||Pond, Chris (Gravesham)|
|Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)||Pound, Stephen|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)||Prentice, Gordon|
|Kaufman, rh Gerald||Primarolo, rh Dawn|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Kemp, Fraser||Purchase, Ken|
|Khabra, Piara S.||Purnell, James|
|Kidney, David||Quia rh Joyce|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Quinn, Lawrie|
|King, Andy (Rugby)||Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)|
|Knight, Jim (S Dorset)||Raynsford, rh Nick|
|Kumar, Dr. Ashok||Reed, Andy (Loughborough)|
|Ladyman, Dr. Stephen||Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &|
|Leslie, Christopher||Robertson, John (Glasgow|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Anniesland)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Ruane, Chris|
|Liddell, rh Mrs Helen||Ruddock, Joan|
|Linton, Martin||Russell, Ms Christine (City of|
|Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)||Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)|
|Luke, Iain (Dundee E)||Salter, Martin|
|Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)||Savidge, Malcolm|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Sawford, Phil|
|McCabe, Stephen||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McCafferty, Chris||Sheerman, Barry|
|MacDonald, Calum||Sheridan, Jim|
|McDonnell, John||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|MacDougall, John||Short, rh Clare|
|McFall, John||Singh, Marsha|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Skinner, Dennis|
|McIsaac, Shona||Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|MacShane, Denis||Soley, Clive|
|McWilliam, John||Southworth, Helen|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Starkey, Dr. Phyllis|
|Mallaber, Judy||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Mann, John (Bassetlaw)||Stevenson, George|
|Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)||Stewart, David (Inverness E &|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Lochaber)|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Watts, David|
|Stoate, Dr. Howard||White, Brian|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Whitehead, Dr. Alan|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Tami, Mark (Alyn)||Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)|
|Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)||Williams, Betty (Conwy)|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Wills, Michael|
|Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)||Winnick, David|
|Timms, Stephen||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster|
|Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)||C)|
|Touhig, Don (Islwyn)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Trickett, Jon||Woolas, Phil|
|Truswell, Paul||Worthington, Tony|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Wright, Anthony D. (Gt|
|Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton||Yarmouth)|
|Kemptown)||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Walley, Ms Joan||Gillian Merron and|
|Wareing, Robert N.||Mr. Jim Murphy|
§ Question accordingly negatived.