§ Mr. Hawkins
I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 4, after 'must', insert— 1491',if a three-quarters majority of the local authorities in the area covered by the pilot agree,'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 1, in page 1, line 18, at end insert—'(4A) The Secretary of State must not make an order under this section specifying a region unless he has first satisfied himself that the region meets the criteria identified by the Electoral Commission for inclusion as a pilot region.'.No. 6, in page 1, line 18, at end insert
'(4A) The Secretary of State must not make an order under this section specifying a region which the Electoral Commission has identified as—
No. 12, in page 1, line 19, leave out subsection (5).
- (a) not suitable for a pilot scheme; or
- (b) a region for which the Commission does not feel able to make a positive recommendation as to its suitability.'.
No. 13, in page 2, line 3, at end insert—
No. 14, in page 2, line 3, at end insert—
- '(c) Scotland;
- (b) North East.'.
- '(c) any region which borders Scotland;
- (d) any two regions with a common boundary.'.
§ Mr. Hawkins
This group of amendments includes amendment No. 8, tabled by me and my right hon. and hon. Friends, amendments Nos. 1 and 6, which were tabled by the Liberal Democrats, and amendments Nos. 12 to 14, which we tabled. Naturally, I shall do the Minister the courtesy of listening to what he has to say, but I anticipate that, with the leave of the House, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and I will seek two separate Divisions, on amendments Nos. 8 and 6. However, we will hear what the Minister says before we make a final decision.
We made it clear on Second Reading that we were very suspicious about the fact that the Government had lined up massed ranks of Labour Back Benchers from Scotland and from the north-west of England in particular, who were pressing for those two areas to have pilot schemes. Also, the Government had lined up several Labour Members from the midlands, who said that there should not be pilots in that region. If that was intended by the Labour Government or by those Back Benchers to put pressure on the Electoral Commission to recommend Scotland or the north-west of England, I am glad to observe that the tactic has not worked.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I entirely absolve of any suspicion that I might have. He has always taken, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome rightly said, an intelligent interest in these matters and did so in Committee.
The reason why we were pleased is that, last week, after the Government must have done most of their planning for Report and Third Reading, the Electoral Commission suddenly recommended not Scotland or the north-west, but the east midlands, which I do not 1492 recall any Government Back Benchers calling for, and the north-east, which one or two Labour Members, including the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), supported on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Harris
Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that those Members who, on Second Reading and in Committee, called for particular areas to be used as a pilot for 100 per cent. postal voting did so only because they were invited to do so by the party Whips? Does he accept that that is an insult to those hon. Members who were accurately reflecting the views of their constituents? By exempting me from his accusation, he does not get himself off the hook.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I repeat that I exempt the hon. Gentleman. The debate was constructed in a peculiar way last time, and I was by no means the only hon. Member to comment on it at the time.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
Given the hon. Gentleman's experience in the north-west, and given that I am sure that he recognises the success of the pilot in Chorley, does he agree that there is merit in expanding from that successful pilot to a wider area, including the north-west? Does he agree that the commissioner should take into account the wishes of local people, who prompted some of us to submit evidence?
§ Mr. Hawkins
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point. If any Member of Parliament submits evidence to the Electoral Commission, it should be taken into account, and I am sure that it was. On his first point, which was about the north-west in particular, I shall quote to him the Electoral Commission report from last week.
§ Mr. Forth
Before my hon. Friend does that, is he not curious about the identity of the local people who are being quoted by Labour Members? Might it not be interesting if we were told who those local people were? Are they average punters? Are they voters who are in some way dissatisfied? Might they just be—I almost hesitate to mention this to my hon. Friend—political activists who see some advantage in a particular disposition? Has he any information about that?
§ Mr. Hawkins
I rather think that my right hon. Friend is right. Let me cite what the Electoral Commission says about the north-west, which might increase his concern about the suggestion from a number of Labour Members that the north-west was an appropriate area in which to hold a pilot.
As one of its specific reasons for not choosing the north-west, the Electoral Commission, in paragraph 2.84 on page 19 of its report of 8 December, states:There have been several allegations of electoral fraud in the North West in recent years. These have centred around interference with postal votes or intimidatory procurement of proxy votes in conventional elections. Some of these investigations could proceed to court in early 2004; this would be likely to produce unfavourable publicity about the security of postal voting.1493 My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to intimidation earlier. I am sure that he will agree that when the Electoral Commission, which the Government set up under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, refers to the issues that I have cited as a reason for not choosing the north-west, it is an important matter.
§ David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing especially sinister in the fact that relatively few submissions were received from people in the east midlands, which has been chosen as one of the two regions. The rationale is well laid out in the document. The east midlands is the third smallest region in England and has a small number of coincident local authority elections on polling day. It has had successful pilots in recent times and supportive local authorities. We are happy about that.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is happy, but the regions have not been chosen yet. He referred to a recommendation to the Government. We would be perfectly content if only one region were finally chosen for an all-postal pilot. I do not think that any Labour Back Bencher would be safe to assume that the Government were necessarily going to agree with what the Electoral Commission recommended.
§ Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab)
St. Helens was involved in a pilot scheme last year, and we saw take-up double. Most hon. Members would think that that was a good thing. However, I find it strange that the Electoral Commission should say that fraud is one of the reasons why it has not chosen the north-west when that relates to the old system. The hon. Gentleman was talking about the old system, not the new one. When the Electoral Commission considered the pilot schemes, it said that it saw no evidence of fraud. Why should my voters be discriminated against in the way that it proposes?
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Gentleman could address that point to the Electoral Commission. Perhaps he has already written to it, but he can certainly do so again. The issue is a point for the commission; I was merely quoting its report.
§ Joyce Quin
The hon. Gentleman recognised that I spoke in favour of the north-east as a pilot region. I am glad that that is the recommendation. In response to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I can say that I pressed the case for the northeast because my constituents in both the Gateshead and Sunderland parts of my area had experienced the benefits of all-postal voting and made their points strongly. That is what motivated me, as I am sure it motivated my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I am delighted that the right hon. Lady conducted a substantial survey, as it were, of her constituents and was reflecting that in her remarks. I would be interested to see a copy of the survey, if she would be kind enough to send it to me, showing her constituents' views. That might be an answer to the interesting concern expressed by my right hon. Friend 1494 the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, which might be dealt with if we could see that Labour Members had commissioned and done their surveys.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I do not think that it would be possible to send the survey by text message, as the Minister mischievously suggests, because it would be far too long—an issue that arose when we discussed problems with text voting in the previous debate.
§ Mr. Forth
I hope that no one would dream of attempting to provide me with information by any sort of text message, as I would be incapable of receiving such a message and even less interested were someone to attempt to send one. I would say, "Hard copy only", not only to my hon. Friend, but to the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin).
May I ask my hon. Friend not to be too seduced by what Labour Members, including even the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West say, until we can set the matter in context? We each have roughly 70,000 voters. I would want to see what proportion of that 70,000 had expressed wild abandoned enthusiasm for the pilots before I got too carried away.
§ Mr. Hawkins
My right hon. Friend anticipates me. I look forward to seeing the surveys, which I, too, would prefer to receive as hard copy. When we see all the surveys carried out by Labour Back Benchers, we will find what proportion of their electorates want the pilots or whether a relatively small number of people have been expressing their views.
On amendment No. 8, we believe that it is vital that three quarters of all the local authorities that have individual returning officers, including acting returning officers, should agree to conduct pilots. That is a reasonable amount, and not a bare majority. The Electoral Commission talks throughout its report about the crucial importance of considering the views not of the regional returning officers, but of the local returning officers in each local authority area. It is those people whose views are most important. Unless at least three-quarters of local authorities support the pilot, as our amendment would require, it should not go ahead.
We shall hear in due course from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, but I understand that the Liberal Democrats' amendment No. 1 is replaced by their amendment No. 6. Of those two alternative versions of new subsection (4A), Conservative Members prefer amendment No. 6, which is why we added our names to that amendment, but not to amendment No. 1.
John Robertson Glasgow, (Anniesland) (Lab)
The hon. Gentleman suggests that if more than half the returning officers in Scotland have said that they would like an all-postal ballot, there should be one. That is indeed what they have said.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The figure in my amendment is not more than half: it is three-quarters. The hon. Gentleman 1495 may well be right—I have not seen all the responses from the returning officers in Scotland—but his problem is that the Electoral Commission, for the good reasons that we can all read in its report, recommended against Scotland.
§ John Robertson
But the Electoral Reform Society came out in favour of Scotland by saying that it should be a pilot area for the simple reason that it has only one election on that day. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Hawkins
I hear the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome expressing doubt about that. I am sure that he will give us his views in a moment. The problem for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) is that the Electoral Commission, which is advising his party's Government, came out against Scotland, for good and compelling reasons.
Amendment No. 12 queries whether there is good reason for ruling out London as a possible pilot area. My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) raised that matter in the Chamber previously, I touched on it in Committee, and we thought that it was worth debating again. We are not surprised by any ideas that the Government have about London elections, given the peculiar things that have been happening recently, with the Labour party ignoring its own rules and allowing back into membership someone who was thrown out for five years.
Amendment No. 13 suggests that we rule out Scotland or the north-east as pilot areas. I tabled it before I had seen the Electoral Commission's recommendations, and wondered subsequently whether I should take out the north-east, but decided not to do so. Conservative Members have always opposed having Scotland as a pilot—now, the Electoral Commission agrees—and there are no advantages in having pilots in two regions that border one another. For example, it may lead to confusion in relation to the media and political advertising. I found the Electoral Commission's assessment of that issue strange in one or two respects. Table 6 on page 15 of its report is headed, "Ease of organising discrete media opportunities in selected European Parliamentary regions". The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland will be pleased to see that Scotland is at the top of the table in relation to radio and the regional press. The north-east is third in relation to radio and second in relation to regional press—I can see some logic in that—but I had to query the whole basis of the analysis when I saw that Wales was down at the bottom in eighth place out of nine. Having spent a lot of time in different parts of the UK, it seems to me that Wales has a thriving and discrete regional press, and I cannot understand how it could possibly be described as having a less discrete regional press than the west midlands, the east midlands or the eastern area. That seemed bizarre and made me wonder whether one could believe the rest of the order given. Wales should certainly have been ahead of the west midlands, the east midlands and the eastern area.
Amendment No. 14 returns to a point that we raised on Second Reading and in Committee, when we suggested that any region bordering Scotland would be 1496 inappropriate for the pilots because any region with common boundaries would be inappropriate. One reason for that relates to media coverage. I have many friends who live in the borders, both on the Scottish and English sides. Television and radio broadcasts are often received on both sides of the border, as is press coverage. The Electoral Commission has talked about some of the difficulties involved in that, and it is difficult to see how one could avoid the electors becoming confused in those circumstances. If electors in the same election are told that on one side of the border voting will take place in one way and on the other side in a different way, many of them will be confused. That could damage the prospects for participation.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
Does the hon. Gentleman genuinely believe that people living in the north of England do not know whether they live in Scotland or England? That would appear to be the only basis for confusion in a postal vote.
§ Mr. Hawkins
With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman is accusing me of putting forward an oversimplified argument. It is not that people do not know whether they live in Scotland or England but that they will be confused about a European election in which people will use one voting method on one side of the border and another method on the other. I am not the only one expressing these concerns; the Electoral Commission has talked about the dangers of people being confused if the media cross borders and there are different methods of voting.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Electoral Commission's concerns. In a small postal pilot that is heavily advertised in one part of Merseyside such as St. Helens, it is possible to say to the electorate, "This is something new and different", but to hold a regional pilot in a European election with the media broadcasting across regional boundaries will cause problems. It is not just me who says so—the Electoral Commission believes that, too.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con)
I support my hon. Friend's argument by mentioning Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is a classic example of a large community situated right on the border. Its football team plays in the Scottish league, and it receives media broadcasts from both sides of the border. It would be deeply confusing to receive different messages.
§ Mr. Hawkins
My hon. Friend reinforces my point.
I have outlined the concerns that we have expressed in this group of amendments.
§ John Robertson
The Electoral Commission talks about the areas that it considers should be chosen and describes in detail those that should be chosen, in order of merit, if the first two are not chosen. Of course, Scotland heads that group. One might think that, 1497 according to those criteria, Scotland should not be chosen, and I would agree. However, I have investigated what the returning officers in Scotland think about this. I have received a lot of help from several of them who, unfortunately, have to remain nameless because they are independently employed to do their job. I have it on good authority that it is not just more than half of them but nearly all of them who favour an all-postal ballot that would meet the criteria of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). Why, then, has the Electoral Commission said that the Scottish regions should be excluded? It is because of resources.
All returning officers have always complained about resources at every election, but it should be understood that resources will be available in the pilot areas. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister not to exclude Scotland, which meets all the criteria kindly supplied by the Opposition. Consideration should be given to areas where only one election is happening.
Much was made of the fact that parts of Scotland are very rural and do not have postal deliveries every day. Surely it is not beyond the Post Office to organise more than one delivery each day, or even every other day, during an election—especially given that only one political party seems to want to enfranchise people. The English nationalists, known as the Tories, and the Scottish nationalists, known as the tartan Tories—along with their friends the Liberal Democrats—seem to want to ensure that we do not get a proper turnout. Why is that? Why should we not want people to go out and vote? Why should we want to put obstacles in their way? It was said on Second Reading that an increase of between 10 and 12 per cent. in the voting figures resulted from voting by postal ballot.
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside)
I must put the hon. Gentleman right, as he clearly did not follow what I said in Committee. I too want Scotland to be an all-postal voting pilot area, and was surprised and disappointed to find that the commission had excluded it, but surely he appreciates the commission's concerns. It is a question not just of resources but of a lack of experience. There have been only three pilot local government postal ballots in Scotland.
§ John Robertson
I apologise. The hon. Gentleman agreed with us that Scotland should have a postal ballot. However, I do not agree that lack of experience should prevent people from doing something. The Electoral Commission makes that point in its report. After all, how are people to gain experience? Should they decide not to do something because it sounds like a bad idea?
§ John Robertson
I am sorry, but I believe that Scotland more than fulfils the criteria, especially those identified by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. If my hon. Friend the Minister has not made a decision, or if he is swivelling in any particular direction, I ask him to consider Scotland. It is an important part of the United Kingdom, and it is important for the Scottish people, like those in every other area, to be given the chance of a pilot.
§ Mr. Heath
Most of the arguments on Second 1498 Reading concerned the principle of whether there should be pilot regions. We heard cogent arguments, which have not gone away, about the possible creation of an uneven election in which some had heard all the campaigning of each party while others voted without having had that opportunity. There was a general feeling that a disparate pattern of voting would be created.
The amendments deal with recommendations on which pilot regions should be chosen and for what reasons. I think that my amendments Nos. 1 and 6 go to the heart of the issue—although I would say that, wouldn't I? —and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) for supporting amendment No. 6. As he correctly surmised, it was tabled after the publication of the commission's report, whereas amendment No. 1 was tabled before it. Amendment No. 6 proposes the inclusion of the commission's recommendations in the Bill. I should tell Members on both sides of the House that in this matter, the commission is the one firm rock on which we should depend. Whether or not we like what it says, it should not be for politicians, with their own interests at heart, to seek to persuade the Minister to overrule the commission.
In considering the previous group of amendments, I said that there were two tests that the Minister had to pass this afternoon. He has passed one by withdrawing the electronic voting provision, and I have some confidence that he will pass the other one as well. However, it remains to be seen whether he will accept the commission's advice.
§ Mr. Watts
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the prospect of half the voters in St. Helens not voting in the forthcoming European and local elections should outweigh any practical problems that may occur with the introduction of all-postal ballots? Frankly, I am amazed that people who supposedly support the democratic system want to deprive my voters of the opportunity to cast their vote in the way they want, which is the most effective way.
§ Mr. Heath
I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. No one is deprived of such a vote—every single elector in his constituency, if they wish to do so, can vote by a postal ballot. [Interruption.]He says that they will not, but why not? They have the opportunity to do so. It is not a question of depriving people of a vote. If that is what he really believes, he should not support the Bill. Instead, he should introduce a private Member's Bill that would establish all-postal ballots on all occasions in all areas at all times. That is the only logical conclusion.[Interruption.]He is nodding, so that must be what he wants. I am sorry, but the Minister will be disappointed, because he has lost one of his supporters. The hon. Gentleman wants a conclusion that is quite different from that which the Minister is offering in the Bill.
§ Mr. Watts
It is not a question of what I want; the point is that, according to the commission's finding on 1499 all-postal pilots, such voting is what the commission wants. It says that most people thought this a very positive move. In my case, the vote nearly doubled, and the national average is some 15 to 20 per cent. It is not only me who wants all-postal voting; so does the commission, which is why I find the recommendations so very strange.
§ Mr. Heath
I am sorry to disabuse the hon. Gentleman, but the commission has set down clear criteria that it has followed to their logical conclusion, and it has made recommendations accordingly. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) believes that Scotland should be included irrespective of what is said. In an intervention on the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), he said that the commission had clearly supported the inclusion of Scotland. I do not know which part of the commission's conclusion that it feels unable to recommend that Scotland is suitable to undertake a pilot scheme in 2004 he does not understand, but in the circumstances that seems pretty explicit to me.
§ John Robertson
The hon. Gentleman obviously misheard me; I was talking about the conclusion of the Electoral Reform Society.
§ Mr. Heath
In that case, I accept the hon. Gentleman's clarification and I apologise for misquoting him; I did indeed mishear him. In fact, the commission came up with not one but 10 different reasons why Scotland should not be included at this stage. I shall not take a subjective view as to whether Scotland should be included. In fact, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will perhaps recall, I criticised him in Committee for wanting to exclude Scotland from the Bill, which he still wishes to do so. One of his amendments would have excluded Scotland on the ground that it has universities and rural areas, and that those are debarring factors. He was wrong to try to exclude Scotland from consideration.
The Electoral Commission has been given a job to do and it has done it. It has produced a recommendation that I did not anticipate. In its view, just two electoral regions are appropriate for pilots this year: the north-east and the east midlands.
§ Angela Watkinson
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that the only thing preventing the electorate of St. Helen's, North from voting is the individual electors who choose not to vote? There is nothing impeding them from voting either through the ballot box or by availing themselves of the opportunity to use postal votes, which are available to anyone for various reasons. The electors take a political decision, for whatever reason, not to vote.
§ Mr. Heath
I wish it was in every constituency, but I am afraid that that is not the case. It is only in the marginal constituencies where people feel their votes make a difference. We should, of course, encourage voting by whatever method, but I am not sure that the argument of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) is realistic.
§ Joyce Quin
The hon. Gentleman mentioned percentages of 30 and 40 per cent., but I must point out that in local elections in my area, the vote increased to 60 per cent. in non-marginal wards. That represents a huge difference.
§ Mr. Heath
May I deal with the first intervention first? The postal voting went up considerably in my area, but the same effect was not reflected in electronic voting. I have never tried to argue that there is no case for postal voting. I argue quite differently in respect of European elections, as I am sure the right hon. Lady would accept.
§ Mr. Hawkins
Although the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) talks about a good experience in her constituency, the hon. Gentleman will remember that we debated in Committee the implications of a controversial by-election in the London borough of Lewisham where the seat changed hands. The turnout hardly increased at all, so not all the evidence goes the same way. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is concerned, as I am, that the enthusiasm for one postal pilot might quickly wane and be followed by the lower turnouts that are often seen in local government elections.
§ Mr. Heath
I am also aware of the by-election where, as I recall, the Liberal Democrats won the seat from Labour. The hon. Gentleman is right that the turnout did not go up, so the experience is patchy, but that does not negate the value of the experiment. The argument is not about the concept of postal voting and its application in the pilot areas under previous enactments, but about its relevance to nationwide elections through its application in certain areas.
To that end, my amendment No. 6 is surely one that the Minister cannot possibly resist. The litmus test is whether he accepts the advice of the Electoral 1501 Commission. If so, he will have to acknowledge that two areas were accepted and that the others were rejected as either unsuitable or, in the words of the Electoral Commission, as regionsfor which the Commission does not feel able to make a positive recommendation as to its suitability.Those precise words are incorporated into amendment No. 6.
Let me say a few brief words about other amendments in the group. We have kept together quite well during the passage of the Bill so far, but I have to part company with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath on some of the amendments in the group. I hope that I do so in a spirit of good will, but we differ on some matters.
Amendment No. 8 is the lead amendment, on which we may divide the House. I have three criticisms. First, I am not sure that "a three-quarters majority" is clearly expressed. Secondly, I am concerned that the amendment mentions the majority ofthe local authorities in the area",without clarifying whether that means principal local authorities, or authorities with electoral responsibilities or, as it clearly means in the context of the Bill, every local authority including every parish council and, in the case of Wales, community council, which cannot be a sensible proposition.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Gentleman would be right if the amendment could be taken to mean every single local authority. I accept his criticism that, if there is a shortcoming in the drafting of the amendment, it is that. However, I made it clear when I spoke to the amendment that it refers to local authorities that have a returning officer. That is what the Electoral Commission reports talk about. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is what was clearly intended.
§ Mr. Heath
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Were we in Committee, I would accept his contention, but the Bill has reached Report stage, and will leave the House in the form that we determine now. We will return to this debate when we discuss amendment No.25, in a later group. In that amendment, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath proposes to remove the word "relevant" from clause 4, even though that word is used to identify local authorities with electoral responsibilities. There is therefore more than a technical problem with this amendment.
In addition, the proposed benchmark of 75 per cent. also gives me cause for concern. I note that the Electoral Commission reports the figure in the north-east as being 74 per cent. That may change as a result of the Minister's announcement today. We do not know when that temperature was taken, and we need to be more explicit than the amendment suggests.
For all those reasons, I cannot support the amendment. Like the Electoral Commission, however, I accept the principle that local authorities, and returning offices in particular, need to be consulted. They must be kept onside if the experiments are to work, and that is one of the criteria that has caused several potential pilot regions to be excluded.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath knows that I have difficulties with amendments Nos. 12 to 14. He wants London to be included again in the pilot regions, 1502 whereas I think that the mayoral elections mean that there are good and sensible reasons why London should not be used in a pilot. The hon. Gentleman also wants to exclude Scotland—for reasons that I still do not understand—and the north-east, on the ground that it is near Scotland. That does not seem an adequate reason for exclusion.
In case we did not get the message the first time, amendment No. 14 talks aboutany region which borders Scotlandand
any two regions with a common boundary.I was going to test the hon. Member for Surrey Heath on that in Committee, but never got the opportunity. Once the south-west has been excluded because of Gibraltar, and London because it is London, and Scotland because of the hon. Gentleman's definition, it is difficult to find three regions of which two do not have a common boundary.
§ John Robertson
Does the hon. Gentleman think it possible that the Opposition's anti-Scottish sentiment stems from the fact that people in Scotland will not vote for them?
§ Mr. Heath
That is demonstrably true, time after time. Most importantly, people in Scotland will not vote for Conservative candidates on a first-past-the-post system. However, I think that there must be deeper reasons for the Conservative party's phobia about anything to do with the north. The phobia is not now confined to places north of the border; anywhere north of the Wash appears to be suspect in the eyes of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. But let us set that aside for the moment.
In Committee, we debated the question of media areas, and whether it is possible to run discrete campaigns in areas that are not discrete. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath said that Wales was a discrete media area. However, people in parts of Somerset receive S4C, much to their upset, as they want to watch rugby being played in Bath rather than in Llanelli. In addition, there is also press intrusion in the north, as I believe that both the Liverpool Echo and the Liverpool Daily Post have high circulations in north Wales. So perhaps the Electoral Commission's assessment of the matter is not wrong.
The crucial point is that the Minister should pass the test of agreeing to the views of the Electoral Commission, without any outside pressure or noises off or anybody saying that he has to take a political view. His job as Minister, especially in his most prestigious Department, is to take an impartial and judicious view of what is proposed and to implement it in legislation. I am confident that he will do so by accepting amendment No. 6, on which I intend to divide the House if I have the opportunity and if the Minister gives me insufficient assurances.
§ Mr. Neil Turner
When the Electoral Commission consulted on this issue—the report is the result of that consultation—it put forward nine criteria from the Government and five of its own which, it said, it had distilled into four. The first was the number and type of local authorities, the second was the number and type of local elections, the third was experience—which was thought to be important, but not essentialߞthe fourth was whether the media could conduct a discrete public information campaign, and the fifth was the enthusiasm of regional and local electoral returning officers. People might have some doubts about the efficacy of the recommendations of a commission that enumerates four criteria and enunciates five, but we should pass over that.
The Electoral Commission did not take into account, but should have done, the lessons learned from the pilot. The whole point of a pilot exercise is to learn lessons from it, so that one can decide whether they should be applied more generally. The lessons of the pilot should have been taken into account when determining the criteria.
Instead of taking the judgments of the Electoral Commission at face value, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) wants us to do, we should judge them against its own criteria. If we do that, it is clear that the north-east scores highly on almost all the criteria, and I would have no difficulty in making the north-east one of the pilot areas. However, the second recommendation is the east midlands and we should consider that more closely. The first criterion is the number of local authorities. The Electoral Commission says, in paragraph 2.119 of the reportit is our view that a region with many small authorities would not be suited to running a pilot scheme in 2004.The east midlands has 40 local authorities, of which 36 are small district councils, but that has not been taken into account in the recommendations.
The second criterion is the number and type of elections, but the east midlands will have only six. We will not learn much if the pilots run in only six local authorities. The third criterion is experience, but only three out of the 40 local authorities have had experience in the past. On the fourth criterionߞthe ease with which local media could run a discrete information campaignߞthe east midlands comes seventh for radio and fifth for the regional press. On the fifth criterion, the regional electoral returning officer says that he does not want a pilot scheme. He is quoted as saying:I would not want our region put forward ahead of those who are actively seeking to be chosen".However, the local electoral returning officers have made a case for being included.
The case for the east midlands to be selected for the pilot is poor when judged against the Electoral Commission's own criteria.
§ Mr. Turner
Yes. This is no dens ex machina giving judgments on tablets of stone. We can surely make 1504 criticisms of the commission. Its judgments may be incorrect—as may those of the House—although that may be more likely in the case of the commission, as it may be less aware of the political situation.
§ Pete Wishart
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should have an electoral commission on the Electoral Commission to ensure that it acts properly according to his good judgment. If we take the route that he suggests, what is the point of the Electoral Commission?
§ Mr. Turner
No, I do not want an electoral commission on the Electoral Commission, because Parliament should make the judgments. The commission gives us advice but we make the judgments. Parliament decides those issues.
§ John Robertson
It would appear that my hon. Friend's region is similar to mine, as in my region, too, only the people at the top were consulted and not the electoral returning officers for the whole area. Does he agree that in his area, as in mine, a vast majority of them are in favour of postal ballots?
§ Mr. Turner
I shall develop that argument later, if my hon. Friend will permit me, although I do want to talk about Scotland now. It is only fair that if we make judgments, based on the evidence of the Electoral Commission, about one region, we should make judgments about all of them.
In Scotland there are 32 unitary authorities that have weighty electoral experience, so that is a strong reason for holding a pilot, yet no local elections will be held there. Some people might think that is a good thing, but I do not. Our learning experience will be limited if mixed elections are not held. The commission found that only a few by-elections had been held in Scotland, so experience of the pilot systems was very limited. The score on media, however, was excellent. Scotland was at the top of the list.
To return to the point made on several occasions by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), a letter purportedly from the electoral returning officers in all 32 authorities states that they do not want the proposed system, yet he seems to have evidence that a substantial majority want it. Again, that raises questions about the judgment of the Electoral Commission and gives us a good reason to question its recommendations.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, the commission found that there was a reasonably large number and type of local authorities and elections, including whole-council metropolitan elections, so we shall learn a substantial amount from that region. However, there was limited experience of pilot systems in elections, only half the number that have been held in the north-west. On the media, the area comes fifth for radio and seventh for the press. On electoral returning officers, the commission noted in recommendation 2.117 that
it is clear that Returning Officers would strongly prefer not to be involved in any all-postal pilot at the combined elections in 2004.Electoral returning officers in Yorkshire and the Humber do not want the proposed system.
1505 In the north-west, there is a wide variation in the number and type of authority. Various elections, including whole-council elections for the metropolitan authorities, take place at the same time. Experience of running pilots was second only to the north-east. On media, the region was fourth for radio and third for the press. The electoral returning officers have made a good case for going ahead with the proposals.
We have to balance the risks relating to the number of elections with the enthusiasm of the returning officers. They are the people who will ensure that the election is properly carried out, and if they are enthusiastic, the risk of having whole-council elections at the same time in metropolitan authorities will be substantially reduced. We need to take that point on board.
I am extremely disappointed that the Electoral Commission has come to conclusions that its evidence does not merit. Earlier in the debate, the Minister said that it was for him to make decisions on advice from the commission. To paraphrase my hon. Friend's words, he said that we are not giving the commission the right to make decisions and that that is the right of Parliament and of the Government. I hope that he will consider that point.
§ Mr. Miller
Is it not the case that the commission acknowledges that the north-west has conducted a wide range of pilots? There is no criticism whatever in the report of the conduct of those pilots. The criticism levelled by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) has nothing to do with the process that we are currently debating.
§ Mr. Turner
My hon. Friend makes a valid point.
I want to wind up with one last point. Members from the north-west gave good reasons on Second Reading as to why their's should be one of the regions chosen. We talked about its diversity in terms of geography, economics, finances, social range and rural and urban areas. That argument could also be made for both the north-east and Scotland. If the regions are judged against the Electoral Commission's criteria—apart from the fact that those criteria do not include learning—then I hope that the Minister will reject the east midlands and come to his own conclusions on the basis of merit, rather than following the flawed conclusions of the Electoral Commission.
§ Mr. Forth
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), because he is the first contributor to today's debate who has not displayed nauseating sycophancy towards the commission, as everybody else seems to feel obliged to do.
I am one of those old-fashioned people—hon. Members will be astonished to hearߞwho is suspicious of the proliferation of commissions. We get ourselves into the most awful difficulty when we set up these bodies, appoint to them people who are sometimes great and good and more often than not who are neither, get from them a self-justifying flow of recommendations, most of which are probably unnecessary but are produced by commissions to justify their existence, and are put in the invidious position of having to respond to them. The hon. Member for Wigan has put his finger on the dilemma.
1506 I do not accept the argument put in some of the amendments that have been tabled that if we set up the commission and it comes forward with recommendations, we must accept them, because the people on the commission are wonderful, splendid, impartial and knowledgeable, and since we are politicians we cannot make a judgment on matters political. That seems to be the thrust of some of the arguments that I have heard this afternoon. My preference would be to get rid of all these dreadful institutions and to take responsibility to ourselves, as we used to do in the good old daysߞto use the parliamentary process and the governmental process to consider and produce options, to make decisions and to stand by them. The electorate will judge our decisionsߞthose of them who take the trouble to turn out, a problem to which I will refer in a moment.
As part of today's debate, I hope that some of us will think about whether we want these commissions in our lives. They are bureaucracies, they are appointed by politicians, they then make trouble for politicians, and I doubt very much whether they carry forward the quality of life or the quality of politics in our society today. For that reason, I do not feel obliged in any way to accept what this or that commission has recommended, and I follow the hon. Member for Wigan happily in saying that we should be robust enough, as should the Ministerߞknowing him as I think I do, he will be ߞto make our governmental, parliamentary decision, stand by it and be judged by it.
My other point is that, sadly, I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) in his attempt to draw London back into this ghastly process. I was happy when I saw in the Bill that London was to be excluded. The voters of London are perfectly capable of making their own decision, with the existing provisions, as to whether they want to vote. It is not unreasonable to ask someone to go to their nearest polling station and to make their choice, in the traditional way, on a ballot paper. That is not an obstacle put in the way of their voting. In fact, it is patronising to suggest that voters are now so dumb, idle or venal that they cannot be bothered to stir themselves to vote in a polling station on a ballot paper. The arguments involved with this Bill come close to making the patronising accusation against our voters that they are incapable of voting in the traditional way. My view is that voters are perfectly capable of making the judgment and the effortߞsmall that it isߞto exert the privilege of casting a vote.
§ 5 pm
§ The issue is important for millions, perhaps billions, of people around the world, many of whom have given their lives for the chance to vote. In this country, we are complacently saying that our citizenry cannot even bestir themselves to walk a few hundred yards down the road to a polling station to cast a vote in a ballot. If that is our judgment, what on earth are we saying about our voters? The business about "Can't we give it to them on a plate? Can't we almost bribe them? Can't we make it so easy for them that they might almost do it by accident?" strikes me as patronising in the extreme.
I am glad that the Bill excludes London from the pilots. Proud as I am to represent a London constituency, I am confident that the voters of Bromley 1507 and Chislehurst, and indeed London as a whole, are perfectly capable of exerting their judgments, walking to the polling station and casting their votes. If Government Members are suggesting that their voters are so awful that they cannot even do that, they are not as in touch with their voters as they like to suggest.
§ Mr. Watts
Government Members who support postal voting do so for factual reasons. They know that postal voting increases turnout. If postal voting increases turnout, it makes the system more democratic. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that anything that increases turnout must be good for democracy?
§ Mr. Forth
I do not agree. That is an assumption that everybody makes and it is regarded as unchallengeable, but I am challenging it. A simple increase in turnout does not increase the quality of the democratic process. If pushed, I could almost suggest the opposite: the quality of the vote cast in the traditional way is possibly higher than one cast in an easier voting process. I do not accept the assumption.
§ Pete Wishart
Does the right hon. Gentleman envisage any type of voting other than the traditional one of going to a polling station and casting a vote in a ballot?
§ Mr. Forth
No, I do not. Our traditional method has stood the test of time extremely well. It combines a degree of confidentiality—for example, we touched earlier on the risk of intimidation in the postal voting system—with a little degree of effort, which is in itself a very good thing. At its best, it provides a degree of integrity in the voting process that we should all welcome.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman understands the procedures of the House very well and I am reluctant to stop him. However, he will appreciate that he must not get into a Second Reading debate. The amendments are reasonably precise.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should not have allowed myself to be led down those paths, but you know how enthusiastic I am to try to help Members when they want to challenge my assertions. I will draw my remarks to a conclusion.
Those are the reasons why I will not follow those who want slavishly to follow the commission, why I support the original wording of the Bill and why, on this occasion, I sadly cannot support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath, which seeks to draw London back into the morass.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made two comments in his contribution that I would like to refer to. He made the accusation once again that Government Members hope to pilot all-postal voting schemes for party political advantage. I said this in Committee, I shall say it again now and I am sure that I reflect my hon. Friends' views: we believe that a net increase in participation in the 1508 democratic process is a good thing of itself, regardless of which party may or may not benefit. If there is a 100 per cent. postal vote in Scotland next June, I do not believe that the end result in terms of seats obtained by each party will be any different from what it would otherwise have been. The political process will have been improved, however, if we involve more people than would vote under a traditional voting system. I will depart from that point now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it should be reserved for Third Reading.
The hon. Gentleman made what was almost a throwaway remark as he finished his speech by saying that he disagreed with one of the Electoral Commission's recommendations—I cannot remember his exact words, but I am sure that he can check them in Hansard—but he contradicted his own argument. I totally agree with what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said about the Electoral Commission. The commission makes recommendations; it does not pass down edicts from on high. We are the elected representatives of the people of this country and we are in the democratic Chamber in which decisions are taken on whether to instigate pilots for 100 per cent. postal voting or any other matter. The Electoral Commission provides advice but it does not tell the House what to do.
In Committee, I pointed out to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that although the Electoral Commission's criteria were important, many were subjective and could not be assessed simply through a tick-box exercise. There will sometimes be a question of judgment when deciding whether criteria have been met, so the Electoral Commission cannot be allowed to have the final say on such matters. We have a Minister and elected Members of Parliament so that we may take the advice that the Electoral Commission is paid to provide and base our judgments on that.
I do not have an especially dogmatic view on whether Scotland should be a pilot area, although I hope that it will be. If evidence were to show that Scotland's political process would not benefit from all-postal ballots, I would accept the Government's view. I shall press the case for a pilot in Scotland because I believe that Scotland meets the necessary criteria, but I shall not take a dogmatic approach. We all have our constituency and regional interests—I am no different—but I accept that arguments must be made for selecting specific areas. The arguments for Scotland have already been made, but I am prepared to listen to opposite views.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) admitted that the drafting of amendment No. 8 leaves something to be desired. He mentioned chief executives rather than local authorities several times in his speech, although the amendment makes reference to local authorities. It is one thing to accept the view of a chief executive who has professional experience and judgment and is appointed as an objective and apolitical member of staff by the political establishment—a local authority—but a chief executive's view is in no way equivalent to that of a local authority. A local authority may adopt a view at a meeting of a full council after the ruling Labour, Conservative or Liberal group has met in caucus to decide the view to take forward to the council meeting. A chief executive's view, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned on several occasions, is the personal opinion of a senior council official, so the view 1509 of a chief executive could not be considered to be an equivalent alternative to that of a local authority. If the hon. Gentleman had intended the amendment to relate to chief executives, he should have used the words "chief executives" rather than "local authorities".
§ Mr. Hawkins
It is conventional that a chief executive is the returning officer or acting returning officer for many elections, although I accept that that is not the case in all local authorities. Many local authorities also have electoral officers, but the person who performs the role of returning officer or acting returning officer is frequently the chief executive—I assume that the situation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and other parts of Scotland is the same as that in England. The amendment refers to local authorities, but if he examines the Electoral Commission's report, he will find that it refers to local returning officers, who may or may not be chief executives.
§ Mr. Harris
I accept that explanation, but the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and has been a Member of the House for longer than me, so he knows that we must be specific when drafting legislation rather than assuming that those who will interpret a law in many years' time will refer back to an Electoral Commission report.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath for once again entertaining us with his views on Scotland. He made the highly entertaining argument in Committee that Scotland should not be chosen as a pilot area because it has lots of students and farmland. He was challenged to name a region apart from London that did not have rural areas and was unable to do so. His latest argument is not only that Scotland should be excluded from a pilot area, but that any bit of land that touches Scotland should not be used as a pilot area. I want to take offence, but he has been so generous and courteous to me that I am sure his comments are in no way anti-Scottish.
The hon. Gentleman's idea is remarkable. Is voter confusion really so prevalent in those parts of England that border Scotland? I am happy to give way to him if he can tell me how many voters in Carlisle thought they had a vote in the Scottish Parliament elections in May this year, because that is what he is arguing. I can imagine the scene. Someone in Carlisle is watching Border television news and hears the announcement that a postal ballot is to be held in Scotland, so he says to his wife, "We must have a vote then", while she argues, "No, we live in England." The hon. Gentleman's new argument is up there with the idea that we should not give Scots a postal ballot because there are too many students in Scotland.
I am disappointed that the Electoral Commission decided that Scotland was not eligible or should not be chosen as a pilot area for an all-postal vote. I like to think that the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister will give the Electoral Commission's proposals the serious consideration they deserve, but that they will, at the end of the day, make a judgment that is worthy of the House and the Government.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris). I will not involve myself in the politics of the borders. As someone 1510 who represents a seat on the English side of the border, I am aware of the long history of antipathy between the two sides, which I am sure does not continue today.
I chide the hon. Gentleman for being nit-picking about amendment No. 8. Although it may not be 100 per cent. technically, I can let him into a little secret. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will not mind if I reveal that we will probably not win when we press the amendment to a vote. The purpose of the amendment is to have a serious debate on the views of local authorities. That is important. I hope that the Minister will help me with that when he responds.
One problem that local authorities face in the northeast, which will be a pilot area, is the cost of the operation. My district council of Tynedale and others in the region are small rural district councils. We do not have the staff or the ability to have the large-scale mailing that is required for the postal ballot. They will have to employ mailing houses, if that is possible bearing in mind the security implications, to do the job for them, which will be costly. We will not know about that in detail until the Electoral Commission pronounces on it, but the issue is important for local council tax payers in the north-east.
I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in what he said about the Electoral Commission. We set up such bodies, but all the Electoral Commission has done is bombard us with a huge number of expensively produced documents, which have made elections more complicated. What it is trying to do, and what it may succeed in doing, is to take the politics out of elections. People do not turn out to vote because they are turned off by politics and politicians. If we want people to vote in larger numbers, and we do, we have to make elections interesting.
I represent the only Conservative constituency in the north-east. The Labour party in the north-east thought that it should be a target and drafted everyone in. Ministers, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) and the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) had to dress up in red shirts and sit cross legged on a muddy pitch with the Deputy Prime Minister. The Labour party thought that it had a chance of getting my scalp. As you see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it did not and I remain a Member of this place. The turnout in my constituency was the second highest in England, being more than 70 per cent. Other turnouts in the north-east were down to slightly more than 50 per cent. In Glasgow, it was less than 50 per cent. People will vote when there is a reason. They will go to the polling station if politics is made interesting.
My criticism of the postal voting system and of what the Electoral Commission is doing is that politics will be made more boring. In the north-east, we will have a job to stimulate interest in the European elections. The difficulty for the people of the north-east is that our campaign will be completely out of step with that of the national campaign. As the national campaign reaches a crescendo a day or two before polling day, our votes in the north-east will have been cast. People will receive 1511 their voting slips—I do not know when the Electoral Commission will rule on this—about 10 days, a fortnight, or three weeks before the election. They may decide to vote there and then, or they may decide to put the slip in the bin there and then. Later, as the national campaign starts, with television coverage, for example, they will start to become interested. They may then discover that they voted for the wrong party or that they threw their ballot paper away.
We shall have a lacklustre campaign because it will have no national backing. It will be an entirely local campaign. That may be satisfactory in local government elections but, while postal voting may encourage turnout, if our campaign in the north-east is not as exciting as the national campaign, that will discourage voting. I suspect that the net result will be little gain for the north-east of England.
I ask the Minister to ensure that proper assistance is given to local authorities, which will face difficulties. Will he please arrange, if possible, that individual voters can deliver their votes at the last minute rather than have to put them in the post several days in advance? That is the only thing that will give some of them an opportunity to see the national campaign come to a conclusion before they make up their minds for which party they should vote.
§ Mr. Leslie
We have had a useful and thorough debate on the selection of regions. Before I address each amendment in turn relating to the selection of regions for elections pilots, I shall set out the Government's intentions, having now received the advice that we requested from the Electoral Commission.
The Electoral Commission was asked to recommend up to three regions or nations that might he able to pilot all-postal voting, and which of those regions would be most suitable to include an e-enabled element. It published its recommendations on 8 December, concluding that the north-east is most suitable, followed by the east midlands. The commission then ranked a number of other regionswhich could be potentially suitablebut for which it felt unable to make a positive recommendation. Those regions, ranked in order of potential suitability, are Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber, the north-west and the west midlands. The commission concluded that the remaining regions are not suitable for a pilot in time for the June 2004 elections. Moreover. it recommended that the Government do not include an e-enabled element in any of the pilot schemes. The Government are immensely grateful to the commission for conducting such a thorough and sophisticated study on that issue, ranking the regions against the criteria.
I mentioned earlier in the debate our acceptance of the commission's recommendation not to proceed with any electronic voting on a regional scale in the June 2004 elections. We remain keen, however, to proceed with all-postal voting in three regions. In scaling up towards a multi-channel general election after 2006, we believe that pressing ahead with a wider range and variation of piloting provides the best opportunity to learn lessons and to develop capabilities in new electoral techniques. I 1512 can therefore announce that we intend to pilot all-postal voting in the north-east and the east midlands, and that we are also minded to proceed with all-postal voting in a third region or nation.
The commission has been helpful in saying thatthere are a number of other regions which could potentially be suitable for conducting an all-postal pilot scheme.The Government will consider in more detail each of the potential candidates with a view to announcing the location of the third all-postal pilot in the coming weeks. There are good grounds for further consideration of several suitable regions, and it is right not to rush into a decision on the third pilot, given the advice from the Electoral Commission. For example, although Scotland is well placed as a location for a pilot because it has no local elections, returning officers voiced reservations that require consideration. We therefore intend to discuss the issues raised by the Scottish returning officers with them over the coming weeks to see if their concerns can be ameliorated and any difficulties ironed out.
The Electoral Commission also took into consideration the preferences of returning officers in different parts of regions such as Yorkshire and the Humber and the north-west. Further scrutiny by my Department of those issues will now take place, so that we can conclude which third all-postal voting pilot will proceed. The Electoral Commission regards that as consistent with its report and recommendations. All-postal voting in the north-east, east midlands and a third region or nation will not only improve the turnout in those areas but give voters a more convenient method of expressing their democratic choice in the June elections. The Electoral Commission will report on the lessons learned from those pilots, so that in future those new opportunities can be rolled out on a wider scale.
§ Joyce Quin
I warmly welcome what my hon. Friend said about the north-east. A strong case was made on the basis of the numerous pilots that have already taken place in the region, and there will be a warm welcome for what he has said in regard to my local districts of Sunderland and Gateshead.
§ Mr. Leslie
I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments. She has campaigned hard for the north-east, and I am glad that we have been able to make that decision, subject to the legislation. She has been vociferously keen for that decision to be made.
§ John Robertson
I thank my hon. Friend for not excluding Scotland, but can he assure me that all 32 returning officers in Scotland will be approached and asked about its suitability for a postal ballot, rather than the decision being left to one person?
§ Mr. Leslie
As I said earlier, it is right to investigate further the findings and advice of the Electoral Commission about Scotland. It ranked Scotland highly as a suitable candidate, but was unable to make a positive recommendation. However, we want to have three pilots and, over the coming weeks, we shall seek the views of returning officers to see whether there is a substantive case for their nation or region, whether there are obstacles, and whether those problems are surmountable.
§ Pete Wishart
The Minister cannot leave us hanging like this. Will he tell us which other electoral areas he is 1513 considering, and can he confirm that Scotland is now back in the frame as a pilot for all-postal voting? What is the time scale, as elections are now only a few months away? How quickly will we find out who will be next?
§ Mr. Leslie
As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, we hope to conclude soon which region or nation will be the third choice for our pilots. The decision has to be made relatively swiftly over the coming weeks, as I said. The Electoral Commission set out in its report which regions and nations are suitable, and we are proceeding in line with the nature and architecture of its advice, which is the right and proper way to proceed.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The Minister obviously feels under pressure from the large number of Labour Back Benchers representing Scottish constituencies, but when he and his colleagues are considering their decision, will they bear in mind the fact that the Electoral Commission, a creature of his Government, said that the regional returning officer for Scotland has informed it that there is insufficient time available to put in place the necessary mechanisms to deliver an all-postal pilot in Scotland with any reasonable guarantee of success? We will strongly oppose any suggestion by the Government that Scotland would be appropriate, as it would fly in the face of that rejection by the regional returning officer.
§ Mr. Leslie
I hope the hon. Gentleman will refrain from becoming too rhetorical on the matter. As I said, it is necessary now to investigate the views of the returning officers more thoroughly, as the Electoral Commission suggested in the report. May I correct a mistake that the hon. Gentleman made? It is not my Electoral Commission or the Government's Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission is accountable to the House as a whole through the Speaker's Committee. I believe that it is widely respected and independent.
§ Mr. Miller
My hon. Friend has presented himself with a dilemma—a judgment of Solomon. When he makes his judgment, will he consider carefully the advice from the Electoral Commission about the success of pilots conducted in the north-west of England, and in particular the diversity of that region, which makes it ideally suited for conducting continued pilots?
§ Mr. Leslie
As I said, all-postal voting may be possible in a number of other regions. We are considering the matter further, so that we can conclude in a proper and reasonable manner which region or nation should be the third choice. The advice in respect of the north-west, as in respect of Yorkshire and the Humber and in respect of Scotland, is clear in the Electoral Commission report, which we will consider as a matter of urgency
§ Mr. Watts
If, at the end of my hon. Friend's consultations with the regions and after investigating the merits of each case, he comes to the conclusion that more than three regions could go ahead, why should not 1514 four or possibly five be selected? Will he reconsider the total number if the criteria are met by more than three regions?
§ Mr. Leslie
I understand the eagerness of many hon. Members for all-postal voting. The Electoral Commission recommended that eventually all local elections be all-postal. I am reluctant to move further than three regions or nations for all-postal ballots in the June 2004 elections, not just for practical administrative reasons, but for economic and budgetary reasons.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)
I have caught most of the debate; I was not in the Chamber earlier. The Minister says that he is still considering Scotland. He asked the Electoral Commission to consider it. It said no. He told us that the Electoral Commission is independent, so will the decision be a political one?
§ Mr. Leslie
The hon. Gentleman should have been in the Chamber listening to the debate throughout, like other hon. Members. Let me quote from page 4 of the Electoral Commission's report. The commission advises—incidentally, it does advise, and Government and Parliament decide—We believe that there are a number of other regions which could potentially be suitable for conducting an all-postal pilot scheme. However, we do not feel able to make a positive recommendation on their suitability following our assessment of them against the criteria.It is that middle group that we will scrutinise in more detail, along the lines recommended by the commission.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
My hon. Friend mentioned that the local authorities in Scotland will be consulted before a firm decision is made about a postal vote in Scotland. May I offer him some help and tell him that all my colleagues on the Government Benches from Scottish constituencies would be more than willing to contribute to that consultation, if he is looking for advice from the representatives? I am sure that Members of Parliament from the Opposition Benches, including the Scottish National party, which supports the measure, would also be willing to meet the Minister to persuade him of the right course. I am sure that that would apply to every Scottish Conservative Member of Parliament as well.
§ Mr. Leslie
I intend to make a decision relatively quickly on which third region or nation we wish to select. It is important that we have wide-ranging consultations, but I want to reach a decision relatively swiftly, and I hope that we will be able to make an announcement fairly quickly.
§ Mr. Heath rose—
§ Mr. Leslie
I wish to make further progress but, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has not been present in the debate until recently, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome.
§ Mr. Heath
Given that the Minister said that he is effectively overruling the clear advice of the Electoral 1515 Commission, is he asking the Electoral Commission to apply the same criteria to this repechage, and if so, how does he suppose the commission will come to a different conclusion? If he is not asking it to apply different criteria, why does he not say now that he will admit Scotland irrespective of its advice, so that everyone knows where they are?
§ Mr. Leslie
We are genuinely considering the matter along the lines of the process followed by the Electoral Commission, which has recommended that there should be three all-postal pilot regions. Given that framework, who would suggest that we should do anything but investigate further the other regions that the commission said were potentially suitable, although it could not make a positive recommendation about them? That is a reasonable and practical way forward, and I hope that the House will accept it.
§ Mr. Salmond
I think that the Minister is doing exactly the right thing—[Interruption.] Do not be surprised at my saying that. I feel a sense of bewilderment about why Scotland cannot technically proceed with a postal ballot if it meets many of the criteria. Is the postal service in Scotland so inadequate in comparison with postal services elsewhere that it could not deal with the ballot? I think that he is correct to examine the matter more fully and to satisfy himself. There is a lot of support for proceeding with Scotland as a pilot area if that is technically possible.
§ Mr. Leslie
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is perfectly possible that Scotland could have an all-postal pilot, as could a number of regions in England. It is important to look further into that matter along the lines suggested by the Electoral Commission, and that is precisely what I shall do in the coming weeks.
The amendments are similar to those tabled in Committee. I ask hon. Members to resist them, not least as they would jeopardise the proposal for all-postal voting in the north-east, the east midlands and a third region or nation. Amendment No. 8 would require three quarters of local authorities to consent to piloting. It would be wrong to pick an arbitrary threshold, as that would be convoluted and against the spirit of pressing forward with wider-scale piloting. It is true that the capacity and willingness of local authorities and returning officers are important, and we have considered those matters carefully. However, what is proposed is different from giving local authorities an effective veto over proceedings. It is in the national interest to scale up all-postal voting in order to improve access to democracy for the whole population. It would be inappropriate to allow local authorities to veto such plans.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) asked about funding. If we had had more time, I would have given an assurance that there would be no additional financial burdens on local authorities, as I did in Committee.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 would involve proceeding only where all the Electoral Commission criteria were fully satisfied. We have now indicated our interim 1516 decision, which is consistent with the advice given by the Electoral Commission, which indicated that it had no objection to our proposals for the north-east, the east midlands and a potential third area. Indeed, it provided its advice in ranked order to enable that precise way forward to be taken. The amendments are defective to the extent that they seem to regard the criteria as quasi-scientific, rather than as broader factors such as population and geographical size requiring consideration, which is how they must be considered.
In line with comments by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris), it would be wrong to alter the role of the Electoral Commission de facto by making it the decision maker rather than the adviser, as the amendments imply that it should be. It has given us advice, but it is for the Government to decide and to be accountable to Parliament for our decision.
Amendment No. 12 would allow pilots to occur in the region to be combined with Gibraltar—the Electoral Commission has recommended the south-west—and in London. As I said in Committee, there is added complexity in London because of the nature of the various local and mayoral electoral systems, which will require particular administrative effort in June. The south-west should not be eligible because of the special circumstances of any combination with Gibraltar, should that recommendation be adopted, given the new arrangements necessary for including voters from so far away. There has never before been integration of those electoral arrangements on such a scale. In any case, the Electoral Commission's separate consideration of the south-west indicated that that region is unsuitable for holding a pilot next year.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 would, strangely, exclude Scotland and anybody vaguely near it. No arguments of substance have been advanced in support of that ridiculous proposition. It would be perverse to penalise Scotland and its neighbouring regions by ruling them out and, particularly in the case of the north-east, it would go entirely against the recommendations of the Electoral Commission. We are reaching conclusions on the question of location. The recommendations of the Electoral Commission are important, and we are taking heed of its advice to work hard on identifying the third pilot area as soon as possible. I hope that the House will welcome the approach taken by the Government and reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I can be brief. The Minister has made it clear that, as we feared all along, the fix is going in. Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission did not recommend Scotland and that the regional returning officer said that it is clearly not ready, the Minister is foreshadowing his decision to bow to the strongly expressed views of Labour Back Benchers. Important issues are involved in our amendment No. 8 and Liberal Democrat amendment No. 6, to which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have added our names. I suspect that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) will seek a separate Division on amendment No. 6. I seek to press amendment No. 8.
§ Question put,That the amendment be made: —
§ The House divided:Ayes 135, Noes 357.
|Division No.12]||[5:35 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Liddell-Grainger, Ian|
|Amess, David||Lidington, David|
|Arbuthnot, rh James||Lilley, rh Peter|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Mcintosh, Miss Anne|
|Bacon, Richard||Mackay, rh Andrew|
|Barker, Gregory||Maclean, rh David|
|Baron, John (Billericay)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Bellingham, Henry||Mates, Michael|
|Bercow, John||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Mercer, Patrick|
|Blunt, Crispin||Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton|
|Brady, Graham||Moss, Malcolm|
|Brazier, Julian||Murrison, Dr. Andrew|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Norman, Archie|
|Burns, Simon||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Burnside, David||Osborne, George (Tatton)|
|Burt, Alistair||Ottaway, Richard|
|Butterfill, John||Page, Richard|
|Cameron, David||Paterson, Owen|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping||Pickles, Eric|
|Barnet)||Portillo, rh Michael|
|Chope, Christopher||Prisk, Mark (Hertford)|
|Clappison, James||Randall, John|
|Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Redwood, rh John|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Robathan, Andrew|
|Collins, Tim||Robertson, Hugh (Faversham &|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry|
|Cran, James (Beverley)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Curry, rh David||Rosindell, Andrew|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||Ruffley, David|
|Duncan, Peter (Galloway)||Selous, Andrew|
|Duncan Smith, rh lain||Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian|
|Evans, Nigel||Shepherd, Richard|
|Fabricant, Michael||Simmonds, Mark|
|Fallon, Michael||Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)|
|Flight, Howard||Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)|
|Flook, Adrian||Soames, Nicholas|
|Forth, rh Eric||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Francois, Mark||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Gale, Roger (N Thanet)||Spink, Bob (Castle Point)|
|Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)||Spring, Richard|
|Goodman, Paul||Steen, Anthony|
|Greenway, John||Streeter, Gary|
|Gummer, rh John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Hague, rh William||Swire, Hugo (EDevon)|
|Hammond, Philip||Syms, Robert|
|Hawkins, Nick||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Heald, Oliver||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Heathcoat-Amory, rh David||Tredinnick, David|
|Hendry, Charles||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Hermon, Lady||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Hoban, Mark (Fareham)||Viggers, Peter|
|Hogg, rh Douglas||Walter, Robert|
|Horam, John (Orpington)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Whittingdale, John|
|Hunter, Andrew||Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Wiggin, Bill|
|Johnson, Boris (Henley)||Wilkinson, John|
|Key, Robert (Salisbury)||Wilshire, David|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Winterton, Ann (Congleton)|
|Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)||Winterton, Sir Nicholas|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||(Macclesfield)|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Young, rh Sir George|
|Leigh, Edward||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Letwin, rh Oliver||Angela Watkinson and|
|Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)||Mr. Mark Field|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cooper, Yvette|
|Adams, Irene (Paisley N)||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Ainger, Nick||Cotter, Brian|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Cousins, Jim|
|Alexander, Douglas||Cranston, Ross|
|Allan, Richard||Crausby, David|
|Allen, Graham||Cruddas, Jon|
|Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Cummings, John|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack|
|Bailey, Adrian||Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)|
|Baird, Vera||Cunningham, Tony (Workington)|
|Baker, Norman||Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Banks, Tony||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Barnes, Harry||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Barrett, John||David, Wayne|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Davidson, Ian|
|Battle, John||Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Beard, Nigel||Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Dawson, Hilton|
|Berth, rh A. J.||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Bennett, Andrew||Denham, rh John|
|Berry, Roger||Dhanda, Parmjit|
|Betts, Clive||Dismore, Andrew|
|Blackman, Liz||Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)|
|Blizzard, Bob||Dobson, rh Frank|
|Boateng, rh Paul||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)||Doran, Frank|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Doughty, Sue|
|Brake, Tom (Carshalton)||Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)|
|Brennan, Kevin||Drew, David (Stroud)|
|Brooke, Mrs Annette L.||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Efford, Clive|
|Browne, Desmond||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)|
|Bryant, Chris||Etherington, Bill|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Ewing, Annabelle|
|Burden, Richard||Farrelly, Paul|
|Burgon, Colin||Fisher, Mark|
|Burstow, Paul||Fitzpatirick, Jim|
|Cable, Dr. Vincent||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Cairns, David||Flynn, Paul (Newport W)|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy||Follett, Barbara|
|Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)||Foster, rh Derek|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Foster, Michael (Worcester)|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings|
|Casale, Roger||& Rye)|
|Caton, Martin||Francis, Dr. Hywel|
|Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)||Gapes, Mike (llfordS)|
|Challen, Colin||George, Andrew (St. Ives)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Chaytor, David||Gerrard, Neil|
|Chidgey, David||Gibson, Dr. Ian|
|Clapham, Michael||Gidley, Sandra|
|Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)||Gilroy, Linda|
|Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh||Green, Matthew (Ludlow)|
|Pentlands)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &||Grogan, John|
|Chryston)||Hain, rh Peter|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hamilton, David (Midlothian)|
|Clelland, David||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)||Hancock, Mike|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hanson, David|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)|
|Coleman, Iain||Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &|
|Connarty, Michael||Healey, John|
|Heath, David||McIsaac, Shona|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||McKechin, Ann|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Hendrick, Mark||McNamara, Kevin|
|Hepburn, Stephen||MacShane, Denis|
|Hesford, Stephen||McWilliam, John|
|Heyes, David||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mallaber, Judy|
|Hodge, Margaret||Mann, John (Bassetlaw)|
|Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)||Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Holmes, Paul||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)||Marshall, David (Glasgow|
|Hoon, rh Geoffrey||Shettleston)|
|Hope, Phil (Corby)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Martlew, Eric|
|Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)||Meacher, rh Michael|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N &||Meale, Alan (Mansfield)|
|Sefton E)||Michael, rh Alun|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Milburn, rh Alan|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Miliband, David|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Miller, Andrew|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hurst, Alan (Braintree)||Mole, Chris|
|Hutton, rh John||Moore, Michael|
|Iddon, Dr. Brian||Moran, Margaret|
|Illsley, Eric||Morgan, Julie|
|Ingram, rh Adam||Morley, Elliot|
|Irranca-Davies, Huw||Mullin, Chris|
|Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Highgate)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Jamieson, David||Naysmith, Dr. Doug|
|Jenkins, Brian||Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn||O'Hara, Edward|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Öpik, Lembit|
|Jones, Kevan (N Durham)||Organ, Diana|
|Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)||Perham, Linda|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Picking, Anne|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Jowell, rh Tessa||Plaskitt, James|
|Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)||Pond, Chris (Gravesham)|
|Kaufman, rh Gerald||Pound, Stephen|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham|
|Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &||Prescott, rh John|
|Inverness)||Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Primarolo, rh Dawn|
|King, Andy (Rugby)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Kirkwood, Sir Archy||Pugh, Dr. John|
|Knight, Jim (S Dorset)||Purchase, Ken|
|Kumar, Dr. Ashok||Purnell, James|
|Ladyman, Dr. Stephen||Quin, rh Joyce|
|Lamb, Norman||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Laws, David (Yeovil)||Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Raynsford, rh Nick|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Reed, Andy (Loughborough)|
|Liddell, rh Mrs Helen||Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)|
|Linton, Martin||Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &|
|Love, Andrew||Rendel, David|
|Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)||Robertson, Angus (Moray)|
|Luke, Iain (Dundee E)||Robertson, John (Glasgow|
|Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)||Anniesland)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry|
|McCafferty, Chris||Ruane, Chris|
|McCartney, rh Ian||Ruddock, Joan|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|MacDonald, Calum||Russell, Ms Christine (City of|
|McFall, John||Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Salmond, Alex|
|Sanders, Adrian||Touhig, Don (Islwyn)|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Trickett, Jon|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Truswell, Paul|
|Sawford, Phil||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton|
|Sheridan, Jim||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Singh, Marsha||Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)|
|Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &||Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)|
|Finsbury)||Vis, Dr. Rudi|
|Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Lunesdale)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Watts, David|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Webb, Steve (Northavon)|
|Smith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns &||Weir, Michael|
|Soley, Clive||Whitehead, Dr. Alan|
|Southworth, Helen||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Spellar, rh John||Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)|
|Squire, Rachel||Williams, Betty (Conwy)|
|Starkey, Dr. Phyllis||Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Stevenson, George||Willis, Phil|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E &||Wills, Michael|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster|
|Stoate, Dr. Howard||Wishart, Pete|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Woodward, Shaun|
|Stunell, Andrew||Woolas, Phil|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Worthington, Tony|
|Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)||Wright, Anthony D. (Gt|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Yarmouth)|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Teather, Sarah||Wyatt, Derek|
|Thurso, John||Younger-Ross, Richard|
|Tipping, Paddy||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)||Mr. Fraser Kemp and|
|Tonge, Dr. Jenny||Gillian Merron|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Amendment proposed: No. 6, in page 1, line 18, at end insert:
§ '(4A) The Secretary of state must not make an order under this section specifying a region which the Electoral Commission has identified as—
- (a) not suitable for a pilot scheme; or
- (b) a region for which the Commission does not feel able to make a positive recommendation as to its sutablility.;—[Mr. Heath].
§ Question put, That the amendment be made;—
§ The House divided:Ayes 181, Noes 304.
|Division No. 13]||[5:50 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Bellingham, Henry|
|Allan, Richard||Bercow, John|
|Amess, David||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Ancram, rh Michael||Blunt, Crispin|
|Arbuthnot, rh James||Boswell, Tim|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Brady, Graham|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Brake, Tom (Carshalton)|
|Bacon, Richard||Brazier, Julian|
|Baker, Norman||Brooke, Mrs Annette L.|
|Barker, Gregory||Browning, Mrs Angela|
|Baron, John (Billericay)||Bruce, Malcolm|
|Barrett, John||Burns, Simon|
|Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)||Burnside, David|
|Beith, rh A. J.||Burstow, Paul|
|Burt, Alistair||Lilley, rh Peter|
|Butterfill, John||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Cable, Dr. Vincent||Mackay, rh Andrew|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy||Maclean, rh David|
|Cameron, David||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Mates, Michael|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Chidgey, David||Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton|
|Clappison, James||Moore, Michael|
|Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Murrison, Dr. Andrew|
|Collins, Tim||Norman, Archie|
|Conway, Derek||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Cotter, Brian||Öpik, Lembit|
|Curry, rh David||Osborne, George (Tatton)|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||Page, Richard|
|Doughty, Sue||Paterson, Owen|
|Duncan, Peter (Galloway)||Pickles, Eric|
|Evans, Nigel||Portillo, rh Michael|
|Fabricant, Michael||Prisk, Mark (Hertford)|
|Fallon, Michael||Pugh, Dr. John|
|Flight, Howard||Randall, John|
|Flook, Adrian||Redwood, rh John|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)|
|Francois, Mark||Rendel, David|
|Gale, Roger (N Thanet)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Garnier, Edward||Robertson, Hugh (Faversham &|
|George, Andrew (St. Ives)||M-Kent)|
|Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry|
|Gidley, Sandra||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Goodman, Paul||Rosindell, Andrew|
|Grayling, Chris||Ruffley, David|
|Green, Damian (Ashford)||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Green, Matthew (Ludlow)||Sanders, Adrian|
|Greenway, John||Selous, Andrew|
|Gummer, rh John||Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian|
|Hague, rh William||Shepherd, Richard|
|Hammond, Philip||Simmonds, Mark|
|Hancock, Mike||Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)|
|Hawkins, Nick||Smith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns &|
|Heath, David||Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, rh David||Soames, Nicholas|
|Hendry, Charles||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Hermon, Lady||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Hoban, Mark (Fareham)||Spink, Bob (Castle Point)|
|Hogg, rh Douglas||Spring, Richard|
|Holmes, Paul||Steen, Anthony|
|Horam, John (Orpington)||Streeter, Gary|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Stunell, Andrew|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Swayne, Desmond|
|Hunter, Andrew||Swire, Hugo (E Devon)|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Syms, Robert|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Johnson, Boris (Henley)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)|
|Keetch, Paul||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &||Teather, Sarah|
|Key, Robert (Salisbury)||Tonge, Dr. Jenny|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Tredinnick, David|
|Kirkwood, Sir Archy||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)||Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Lamb, Norman||Viggers, Peter|
|Lansley, Andrew||Walter, Robert|
|Laws, David (Yeovil)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Leigh, Edward||Watkinson, Angela|
|Letwin, rh Oliver||Webb, Steve (Northavon)|
|Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)||Whittingdale, John|
|Liddell-Grainger, Ian||Wiggin, Bill|
|Lidington, David||Wilkinson, John|
|Williams, Roger (Brecon)||Young, rh Sir George|
|Winterton, Ann (Congleton)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Winterton, Sir Nicholas||Richard Younger-Ross and|
|(Macclesfield)||Mr. Mark Field|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack|
|Adams, Irene (Paisley N)||(Copeland)|
|Ainger, Nick||Cunningham, Tony (Workington)|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Alexander, Douglas||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Allen, Graham||David, Wayne|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Davidson, Ian|
|Austin, John||Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bailey, Adrian||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Baird, Vera||Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Banks, Tony||Dawson, Hilton|
|Barnes, Harry||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Denham, rh John|
|Battle, John||Dhanda, Parmjit|
|Bayley, Hugh||Dismore, Andrew|
|Beard, Nigel||Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Dobson, rh Frank|
|Bennett, Andrew||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Berry, Roger||Doran, Frank|
|Betts, Clive||Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)|
|Blackman, Liz||Drew, David (Stroud)|
|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, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E||Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Ewing, Annabelle|
|Browne, Desmond||Farrelly, Paul|
|Bryant, Chris||Fisher, Mark|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Fitzpatirick, Jim|
|Burden, Richard||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Burgon, Colin||Flynn, Paul (Newport W)|
|Cairns, David||Follett, Barbara|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Foster, rh Derek|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Foster, Michael (Worcester)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings|
|Casale, Roqer||& Rye)|
|Caton, Martin||Francis, Dr. Hywel|
|Gapes, Mike (llford S)|
|Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)|
|Challen, Colin||George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Chapman, Ben (WirralS)||Gibson, Dr. Ian|
|Chaytor, David||Gilroy, Linda|
|Clapham, Michael||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hain, rh Peter|
|Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)||Hamilton, David (Midlothian)|
|Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)|
|Clelland, David||Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &|
|Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)||Rhymney)|
|Coaker, Vernon||Healey, John|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Coleman, Iain||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Colman, Tony||Hendrick, Mark|
|Connarty, Michael||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hesford, Stephen|
|Cousins, Jim||Heyes, David|
|Cranston, Ross||Hinchliffe, David|
|Crausby, David||Hodge, Margaret|
|Cruddas, Jon||Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)|
|Cummings, John||Hoon, rh Geoffrey|
|Hope, Phil (Corby)||Moran, Margaret|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Morgan, Julie|
|Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)||Morley, Elliot|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N &||Mullin, Chris|
|Sefton E)||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Naysmith, Dr. Doug|
|Hurst, Alan (Braintree)||Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)|
|Hutton, rh John||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Iddon, Dr. Brian||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Illsley, Eric||O'Hara, Edward|
|Ingram, rh Adam||Olner, Bill|
|Irranca-Davies, Huw||Organ, Diana|
|Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &||Perham, Linda|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Jamieson, David||Plaskitt, James|
|Jenkins, Brian||Pond, Chris (Gravesham)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W)||Pound, Stephen|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Jones, Kevan (N Durham)||Prescott, rh John|
|Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)||Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Dinefwr)|
|Jowell, rh Tessa||Primarolo, rh Dawn|
|Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Kaufman, rh Gerald||Purchase, Ken|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Purnell, James|
|Kidney, David||Quin, 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)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Bellshill)|
|Liddell, rh Mrs Helen||Robertson, Angus (Moray)|
|Linton, Martin||Robertson, John (Glasgow|
|Love, Andrew||Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry|
|Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)||NW)|
|Luke, Iain (Dundee E)||Ruane, Chris|
|Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)||Ruddock, Joan|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Russell, Ms Christine (City of|
|McCafferty, Chris||Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)|
|McCartney, rh Ian||Salmond, Alex|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Salter, Martin|
|MacDonald, Calum||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|MacDougall, John||Savidge, Malcolm|
|McFall, John||Sawford, Phil|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McIsaac, Shona||Sheerman, Barry|
|McKechin, Ann||Sheridan, Jim|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|McNamara, Kevin||Singh, Marsha|
|McWilliam, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &|
|Mann, John (Bassetlaw)||Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &|
|Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)||Lunesdale)|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Marshall, David (Glasgow||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Southworth, Helen|
|Martlew, Eric||Spellar, rh John|
|Meacher, rh Michael||Squire, Rachel|
|Meale, Alan (Mansfield)||Starkey, Dr. Phyllis|
|Merron, Gillian||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Michael, rh Alun||Stevenson, George|
|Milburn, rh Alan||Stewart, David (Inverness E &|
|Miller, Andrew||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Stoate, Dr. Howard|
|Mole, Chris||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Whitehead, Dr. Alan|
|Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)|
|Timms, Stephen||Williams, Betty (Conwy)|
|Tipping, Paddy||Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)||Wills, Michael|
|Touhig, Don (Islwyn)||Winnick, David|
|Trickett, Jon||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Wishart, Pete Woodward, Shaun|
|Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton||Woolas, Phil|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)||Wright, Anthony D. (Gt|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)||Yarmouth)|
|Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Vis, Dr. Rudi||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Walley, Ms Joan||Wyatt, Derek|
|Wareing, Robert N.|
|Watts, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Weir, Michael||Mr. Fraser Kemp and|
|White, Brian||Charlotte Atkins|
§ Question accordingly negatived.