HC Deb 24 March 2004 vol 419 cc953-75 4.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1D to Commons amendment 1C.

The amendment would abrogate the powers of this House of Commons and the Government to decide which regions to select for all-postal voting in the forthcoming local and European elections in June, and pass that decision to the Electoral Commission. It is yet another attempt by the other place to overturn the will of this House of Commons. It would be a nonsensical position for this House to adopt.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)


Mr. Leslie

Speaking of nonsensical, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McLoughlin

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, although it is a pity that he cannot do so in the normal courteous way. I am sure that he was in his place earlier when the Deputy Prime Minister said that it was unacceptable for an unelected House to do what it is doing on this Bill. Why should we then rely so much, as the Government wish us to do, on the Electoral Commission, which is also unelected?

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman aids my case. I do not want the House to accept Lords amendment I D. We should not give the decision to the Electoral Commission. We have the responsibility as legislators to listen to its advice, but ultimately it is for us to accept or reject its advice. Indeed, the Electoral Commission has itself made that point. It does not want to make the decision. Sam Younger wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister only yesterday to say that its role was to advise. The letter says: the choice of pilot regions for all-postal voting is for Government and Parliament to decide. The Commission's role is … advisory and it is not for us to say yes or no to pilots in particular areas. The Electoral Commission disagrees with the Government about the scale of postal voting. It feels that four regions are too many. The Government disagree, but it is for the House of Commons to reach a final conclusion. We have made our view known time and again, and it is now time to reiterate it.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

I am grateful to the Minister for graciously giving way. What is the point of a reformed House of Lords, which we were told now had more authority, if every time that it comes up with a good idea, Ministers slap it down and vote it down?

Mr. Leslie

If the right hon. Gentleman seriously thinks that he can explain to his constituents that, no matter what they may want or for whom they may vote, they will not be able to secure reforms because the other place takes a different view and if he feels that that is a legitimate way for us to govern the country, surely the dividing lines between the two parties have never been any clearer.

As I have said, the Electoral Commission has made its views known about the scale of postal voting. We disagree with its view that four regions are too many and we feel that postal voting can go ahead in those regions. Yet the Electoral Commission has also said that, as well as the east midlands and the north-east proceeding, we should consider those regions that it defined as potentially suitable, including Yorkshire and the northwest. We wish to proceed with those two regions, thus making up the four regions that we recommend. The House has ratified that decision time and again.

Returning officers, especially in Yorkshire and the north-west, are now more resolute and more certain that they want to proceed with all-postal voting. Surely they are in the best position to know the ability of those regions to proceed. If they are telling us that they want to move ahead, not on the conventional basis but with all-postal voting, we should listen to them.

It would be remiss of us to neglect the fact that the referendums on elected regional government are approaching in October. The Electoral Commission has said that it welcomes postal voting in the three northern regions on that occasion, and we need to bear in mind the virtues of consistency between those referendums and what will take place in June. It would be wrong of us not to bear that in mind in the decisions that we take.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree with the estimate that probably an extra 2 million people would vote under the postal voting system compared with the traditional system? Has it occurred to him that the governing party is clearly on the side of increasing the number of people who vote, whereas the Opposition parties might be seeking tactical advantage by encouraging a diminution in that number?

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point, and we need to start asking the Opposition parties why they have been using the other place to block what I regard as a perfectly reasonable innovation in our democracy that will ensure that we make it more convenient and easy for people to express their views in our constitution.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are hearing a lot about what the Electoral Commission and the Lords want, but not a lot about what voters want? Does he also agree that the vast majority of voters in Britain and in those regions want to use their postal votes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) has just suggested?

Mr. Leslie

The point that my hon. Friend makes stands well. We are elected to the House of Commons, which is where we are accountable to the population for the decisions that we take. If we decide to proceed with pilot all-postal voting in four regions, how can we explain to the electorate—our constituents—that we cannot manage to do so because the other place decides to thwart that view?

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

Is it not outright impertinence for those in the unelected Chamber to try to set down voting procedures when the House of Commons has made its decision? Should we not tell them so now?

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend makes his point so strongly that it could be heard in the other Chamber as we speak. Indeed, it needs to be heard in the other Chamber. It is about time that we faced up to the fact that this House of Commons has made its view known and repeated its view, and that we now need to resolve the issue. We should not let the issue drift further. The Lords need to back down on this matter.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab)

It has quite rightly been stated that the matter before us is for this House to decide, because we are the elected House, we represent the people and we represent the electorate out there. Therefore, does my hon. Friend agree that this decision should be taken here, not by an unelected House, and certainly not by the Electoral Commission? I say to the Opposition—I think that my hon. Friend will confirm this—that Chorley has tried the pilot scheme for two years running and has doubled the number of people voting in wards by enfranchising them and allowing them to vote through a postal system. Why should they lose that right?

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. An important constitutional principle is at stake. The House of Commons has made its view known on a number of occasions, yet the second Chamber has been acting not in a revising capacity, but perhaps in a blocking capacity. He also made another point: if we are not careful and if the other place rows back from all-postal voting in four regions, fewer people might vote by all-postal means than in the 2003 local elections. Some 22 per cent. of the population voted by all-postal means in the 2003 elections. If we were to take the advice of some peers in the other place and drop the north-west, only 20 per cent. of the population would be proceeding in that way, which would obviously be seen as a retrograde step.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

Will the Minister explain why, when his party introduced the Bill that became the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, it introduced in the Lords more than 300 amendments that had not been considered by this House, but which came back to this Chamber in a debate on a guillotine and were barely considered by the Commons at all?

Mr. Leslie

No legislation is enacted unless this House of Commons approves it. As the democratic Chamber, this House of Commons endorses all legislation. If the hon. Lady feels that any legislation has got on to the statute book without this House endorsing it, she can write to me and give me her suggestions. I feel that it is quite clear that any basic study of the constitution would conclude that this House needs to make its views known. She may disagree with the length of debate on a particular measure, but no legislation is introduced without this House giving its assent.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)

Will my hon. Friend take a little time to speculate on why both Opposition parties appear to be against making it as convenient as possible for people to vote?

Mr. Leslie

I can imagine a number of possible reasons, as I know my hon. Friend could. We should indeed think about that issue, and I shall turn to it in a moment.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab)

Did my hon. Friend note that Baroness Hanham drew a comparison in her closing remarks between convenience and easiness in voting and increased turnout in elections? Is it not lamentable that someone who is neither elected nor accountable to anybody has such a contemptible view of democracy?

Mr. Leslie

It would be dangerous indeed if the other place were perceived to be making the democratic process any more difficult. Various people from other parties have made statements that perhaps we should make it more difficult for people to express their opinion and make it harder for them to vote at elections. That is fundamentally anti-democratic and the wrong approach.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)

Will the Minister explain how this House can give any opinion at all on amendments that are introduced in the other House and then subjected to a guillotine, ensuring that large numbers of them are not discussed at all? The guillotine is the means by which this Government have disfranchised large numbers of people.

Mr. Leslie

The right hon. Gentleman does not have to vote for any measure that he does not support. All measures can be voted on, and if he opposes a measure, he can vote against it. That is the fundamental way in which we make decisions in this House of Commons. We are not talking about guillotines in respect of this Bill; we are talking about a fundamental attempt by the other place to block the will of this House of Commons.

There are many good reasons why we should proceed with a pilot for four regions. We have the resources to do so, and a pilot involving 31 per cent. of the electorate is not excessive. Our decision is clear. We announced on 21 January that we wanted four regions, and the House of Commons ratified that decision on 8 March. It reconfirmed it on 16 March. so why are we debating it again? We have answered questions about fraud and malpractice, and made sure that we have answered questions about supported delivery points, where people can still vote in secret. New changes will aid voters in houses in multiple occupation, and teams of officials can visit such properties with special regard to the problems that can arise. Offences of personation and undue influence over voters are in place, and secrecy warnings will be included in the literature. We have therefore managed to address all the concerns about fraud and malpractice.

Regional returning officers have made their views very plain indeed, and want to proceed with all-postal voting. The Government want to proceed, and the House of Commons wants to proceed as well, so why are the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats trying to use the other place to block what is evidently the will of the House of Commons? I shall take up the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) and speculate on the reasons why.

The Opposition may be afraid of a high turnout in the June elections, and therefore oppose all-postal voting in the pilot. It may be the age-old tactic of opportunism, with the Opposition seeking to derail the local and European elections in June. If that is the true reason why the Opposition are behaving in that way, that is a very dangerous game indeed. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and, in particular, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) must justify their use of the other place to block the will of the House of Commons. How am I to explain to my constituents in Yorkshire that, no matter how many people want all-postal voting and no matter who they vote for at those elections, they cannot have such a system because the minority parties, using the other place, have sought to block the will of the House of Commons?

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)

The Minister referred to higher turnout and more people voting. Why is it not possible to have a nationwide postal vote? If there are pilot schemes for half the country, why are they in the north? What will the Minister say to people outside the House who will regard that as cynical manipulation?

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman should know that we have debated the subject in the Chamber on numerous occasions, and he should be aware of the rationale for the Government's four-region proposal, which was supported by the Commons on a number of occasions. The selection partly reflects the advice of the Electoral Commission on the ranking of suitable regions, but takes into account the fact that in October we will hold referendums on elected regional government. It would be daft to ignore that.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)

My hon. Friend mentioned the regional referendums in October and the use of all-postal ballots. Will he confirm that we will not necessarily have to accept the unhelpful amendment on regional referendums agreed in the House last week making extra requirements for witness signature? In the postal ballots in my area of Gateshead, we had no such requirement. The turnout was higher than it was in areas where the requirement was made, and the Electoral Commission gave us a clean bill of health regarding fraud—we had no problems of that kind. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend can give me that assurance.

Mr. Leslie

I know that my right hon. Friend is disappointed that we were effectively forced to accede to the Lords on the declaration of identity, but we did so in the spirit of trying to reach consensus, even though that does not appear to have been acknowledged by the other place. It is important to keep under review the issue of the declaration of identity. It will be used in the all-postal voting pilots in June, but we should revisit the issue.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con)

Labour Members seem to suggest that we are against high turnouts, but I dare that say every single Opposition Member was elected on a higher turnout than every single Labour Member. The Minister suggests that there is some mystery about why the Lords keep sending the Bill back and why the House of Commons cannot have its way. Will he address the Electoral Commission's letter of yesterday—not a month ago, not two months ago, but yesterday—in which it continues to say that it does not recommend holding postal votes in the northwest? The Government set up the Electoral Commission to guard the integrity of the electoral process. Will he address the specific concerns of the Electoral Commission and tell us why he thinks that it has got this wrong?

5 pm

Mr. Leslie

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I have the letter from Sam Younger, the chairman of the Electoral Commission. It does not contain the words that the hon. Gentleman attributed to it—that we should definitely not go ahead with the north-west. The Electoral Commission simply says that its views on all these matters have not changed from the previous occasion. We know very well that the Electoral Commission has said that the north-west is potentially suitable.

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the commission has reiterated its view. He knows that we disagree about a number of regions, and I do not demur from that, but it is important to remember that the Electoral Commission has reiterated that there are a number of regions that it considered "potentially suitable". The commission underlines the fact that it is for the Government, Parliament and the House of Commons to make decisions about what happens and which regions should be selected. It is not for the commission to say yes or no to particular regions. That is in the letter.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con)

The Electoral Commission's letter of yesterday to the Deputy Prime Minister states: For the reasons set out in my letter of 4 March we are not persuaded of the merits of piloting in 4 regions. It goes on to say: The considerations as set out in our December Report regarding the North West have not changed. The Minister is indulging in his usual habit of selective quotation and misinterpretation. It is quite clear that the Electoral Commission was against a pilot in the northwest for all the reasons of fraud that it set out before. It still says that it is against the north-west. Will the Minister recognise that?

Mr. Leslie

I can only sit at the feet of the master of selective quotation. That is certainly not what I understand from the Electoral Commission. I have said to the hon. Gentleman that we disagree with the Electoral Commission about its view of the number, the quantum, the scale of regions to proceed with, but that is an entirely different matter from which particular regions are selected. The Electoral Commission underlined the fact that it had a category of regions that were "potentially suitable", which include Yorkshire and the north-west. It has not changed its view. That remains the case. It is therefore open to us to recommend that we should proceed in four regions.

We have been round these arguments before and I do not think many of the issues have changed. What has changed is the fact that the Opposition parties seek to justify using the blocking powers of the other place to thwart the will of the House of Commons. How can the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, for example, call himself a Liberal Democrat but use the House of Lords as he has done to thwart the House of Commons' views and decisions? He should address that point when he speaks. [Interruption.]

The benefits of all-postal voting are clear—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. May I say to the House as a whole that it would be better if the debate were conducted with one person speaking at a time?

Mr. Leslie

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The benefits of all-postal voting are crystal clear. It brings convenience and ease of voting to electors in those regions. We are talking merely about piloting. We should pilot in those four regions. The arguments are clear. I hope that the House stands firm in its view and supports the proposal for four regions, and I urge hon. Members to disagree with the Lords in their amendment.

Mr. Hawkins

We are going around this track for the fifth or sixth time now, but there are always some new developments. The Government have conceded one of our main concerns about the anti-fraud measure of requiring a witness signature. I am sorry that they refused to concede on the sending of receipts by returning officers, but I suspect that the House will need to return to that in years to come, and I fear that, as the Electoral Reform Society has warned, the incidence of electoral fraud will require a reconsideration of that.

Anyone who had heard only the Minister's speech this afternoon might mistakenly think that the Government's views on this matter were entirely clear and had never changed, but in fact the Government have changed their mind from three pilot regions to four, at the insistence, as we know, of the Deputy Prime Minister, who has been working the issue by remote control throughout the passage of the Bill.

The main issue this afternoon, however, is the Government's refusal to trust the Electoral Commission, which they themselves set up. The Government have tried to bully their own Electoral Commission, and they have done so specifically and especially in the person of the Deputy Prime Minister. We always suspected that his involvement in this area was for purely party political reasons, and we saw it for ourselves last week, when he spent the whole time on the Front Bench bellowing and seeking to interrupt and affect the debate.

We have now all seen the letters that the chairman of the Electoral Commission, Sam Younger, sent to the Minister on 4 March, and to the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday. Significantly, what we have not seen are the letters that Ministers, specifically the Deputy Prime Minister, have sent to the Electoral Commission. I challenge the Minister to place in the Library the letters that all Ministers have sent to the Electoral Commission, because before the matter returns to another place, we all need to have a full picture. I also challenge the Minister, as I did last week, when he declined to respond, to place in the Library the minutes of all meetings that any Minister in this Government has attended with any returning officers. We need a full picture. At the moment we are seeing the responses of the chairman of the Electoral Commission to letters that we have not seen.

We also fear that Labour has been leaning on returning officers—not only in the Deputy Prime Minister's home area of Yorkshire and the Humber—to seek to intimidate them into changing their views. It is not merely Conservative Members who express these views. As the noble Lord Rennard, speaking for the Liberal Democrats, said: it is alarming that a Labour Government can engage so directly with returning officers charged with conducting the elections fairly, but who are the employees of Labour councils fearful of their re-election and who can exclude the independent Electoral Commission from those deliberations."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 March 2004; Vol. 1942, c. 345.]

That is our concern.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab)

The hon. Gentleman referred in his opening remarks to incidents of fraud. Would he like to give some examples of where such incidents have taken place, because as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) pointed out earlier, in Gateshead council, where the ballot took place without the need for witness signatures, there was no evidence whatever of fraud. On the other hand, in Newcastle council, where the witness signature was required, 6,000 people were disfranchised because of the lack of a witness signature. Does he think that that is fair?

Mr. Hawkins

I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman because I know that he has many responsibilities in the House, but I do not think that he took part in the earlier debates on this matter. Had he done so, he would be aware that I have referred at great length to the examples of fraud given by the noble Lord Greaves, not just on one but on several occasions when the matter was debated in another place. I have incorporated my concerns, which are set out fully by the Electoral Commission in its report, in my various speeches, so I respectfully refer the hon. Gentleman to what the Lord Greaves has said. The main concerns about fraud were in the north-west. The Electoral Commission says that one of its concerns about the north-west is that possible prosecutions for fraud might coincide with the period of these elections; that has been one of the main reasons why it is not prepared to approve the north-west as a pilot area.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab)

Again, the hon. Gentleman comments on the north-west and the allegations made by Lord Greaves. Will he clear up the matter: has the Crown Prosecution Service taken forward any of the allegations made in Pendle?

Mr. Hawkins

I do not know specifically about Pendle, but, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he had listened to earlier debates, Lord Greaves did not refer only to Pendle, and I, like him, gave about 10 different examples of areas of the north-west where fraud had been alleged. The Government's own Electoral Commission has said that it is not prepared to endorse the suggestion that the north-west should be a pilot because of concerns about fraud, and yesterday's letter from Sam Younger, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, repeats that point.

Andy Burnham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hawkins

I will not give way again. I simply refer the hon. Gentleman to yesterday's letter from Sam Younger. which is absolutely clear, no matter how the Minister tries to reinterpret it. In December, the Electoral Commission said that the north-west is inappropriate; it repeated the point in January; and it made it again as recently as yesterday.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab)

Why does the hon. Gentleman take the view that we should take so much notice of the Electoral Commission, when the Lords and he rejected its suggestion on the verification of voting? He is keen to take notice of the Electoral Commission when he wants to. Why did he not take notice on both occasions?

Mr. Hawkins

The Government must explain why they are ignoring their own Electoral Commission. It was not us who set it up. Having listened to the Minister this afternoon, one might think that it is Government policy to ignore the fact that we have a bicameral legislature. The Government want a one-party, one-Chamber state, where they can ram through their views without debate.

In fairness, many of the noble Lords and Baronesses who have spoken about electoral matters in debates on this Bill have many more years of electoral experience than the Minister. Many of them are in another place precisely because they have long experience as councillors and party agents. [Interruption.] The Minister says that noble Lords and Baronesses have no electoral mandate, but many of them have been around in politics for a lifetime and sit in another place because of their experience. [Interruption.] He should recognise that it is a bit rich for somebody who only arrived in this House in 1997 to criticise as having no mandate those from whichever party who have been appointed to another place because of their political experience.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that every Member of this House, irrespective of age and experience, is of equal status?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members are, of course, of equal status, but they may have different experience in different ways. I do not want to get involved in a matter of debate—far worse things have been said in the House, and we can always seek to improve the standard of exchange. While I am on the subject, I want to hear less noise and more from the person who has the Floor of the House at the time.

Mr. Hawkins

We must examine what independent commentators say about what the Government are up to in trying to railroad the Bill through. I refer any hon. Members who have not seen them yet to the views expressed by the distinguished and senior home affairs correspondent ofThe Daily Telegraph, Mr. Phillip Johnston, on Monday of this week. In a well-observed column headed, "Now they want to abolish polling day", Mr. Johnston says: Surely this is a matter that requires all-party agreement. The electoral system is no more Labour's to tinker around with than is the constitution, whose ancient structures are being so casually dismantled in the name of 'modernisation Postal voting, while superficially attractive to politicians who think that we are all too bone idle to get off our backsides to go to a polling station, is wide open to fiddling, intimidation and fraud. It will mark the final disconnection between politicians and the electorate.

Mr. Johnston also deals with the canard that we heard at Prime Minister's questions earlier this afternoon, when an hon. Member suggested to the Deputy Prime Minister that postal ballots might mean fewer votes for extremist parties. As Mr. Johnston points out, The seats with the highest turnout in the 2001 general election were the three Northern Ireland constituencies where Sinn Fein candidates were elected. Does not that give the lie to the suggestion that an increase in turnout means less support for extremists?

5.15 pm
Mr. Miller

To correct the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), I had a bigger turnout and a bigger absolute vote than the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).

Does the hon. Member for Surrey Heath agree that although the article fromThe Daily Telegraph is right inasmuch as the voting system is not Labour's to tinker with, it is for this House to make a decision, and this House must take precedence over the other place, where nobody is elected?

Mr. Hawkins

I simply disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We take the view that the whole purpose of having a bicameral legislature is to give both Houses of Parliament a role. What we dislike is this Government's attempt to change the agenda as it suits them. During the debate on the Bill on 16 December, the Minister said—not once, not twice, not three times, but about six times—that the Government would have a third postal pilot. The volte face took place as soon as the Deputy Prime Minister got involved and insisted that both the north-west and Yorkshire and Humber be included. The Government have been completely inconsistent for party political reasons connected with the Deputy Prime Minister's obsession with the forthcoming referendums on regional government.

Mr. Redwood

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Lords is particularly important when a strong majority party in this House wishes to twist or distort the constitution or the electoral system? That is when the minority interests and parties need a voice. I am delighted that the Lords will provide that; the Government should be ashamed that they will not.

Mr. Hawkins

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend: he is absolutely right.

We can rely on the Electoral Commission's firm view—despite the Minister's attempt to reinterpret it—that the north-west must be ruled out. The Electoral Commission is clear that it has not changed its mind from what it said in December or in January, and sticks to the reasons that it set out previously. That is why those in another place are absolutely right to continue to insist on backing the Electoral Commission. I am confident that in the end the Government will have to give up on this, because otherwise they will lose the Bill altogether. If they do, it will be entirely their own fault.

Mr. Clelland

My hon. Friend the Minister is right to resist the amendments, especially in light of the damage that has already been done to the Bill by the other House. The amendment requiring witness signatures, which will disfranchise thousands of people—mainly the elderly and those with communication difficulties—has been forced on the Government because the other place is using up time which, because of the approaching elections, this House unfortunately does not have, in order to defeat the Bill. Last week, the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister interviewed manufacturers of electoral materials who are telling the Government that time is running out in terms of producing those materials. The House of Lords is using that situation to force amendments on a reluctant Government.

Much comment has been made about the unelected House having undue influence over a matter relating to elections and electors' rights. Some might say that that makes the case for an elected House stronger. I would argue against that, because one can imagine the situation if these decisions were being made by an elected House. It would be much more difficult for this House to get anything through at all—we would have this legislative gridlock time after time. The Government are right to go back to the drawing board on the constitution of the second Chamber. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says, "Abolish them." I am becoming more attracted to that idea as the days go by. We need to consider the powers of the House of the Lords before we start to consider who should sit and exercise them. That is what should have been done in the first place. I hope that we will take this opportunity to do it and that we do not get into this ridiculous situation again.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was a briefer contribution from the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) than I was expecting, but it was valued nevertheless. These ping-pong episodes are among the most unedifying things that we do in the House. As I said when we last debated these matters, it is rare to hear any new arguments on these occasions. However, there is a new element this time, in the form of the letter from the Electoral Commission, which the Minister has chosen to misrepresent to the House, and whose contents he has chosen to ignore. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] Hon. Members may say "Rubbish", but I have the faculty of being able to read. No Member who has read the letter from the Electoral Commission can be in any doubt as to what its conclusions are, and that poses a huge problem for the Government. The Lords have not introduced a killer amendment to the Bill. All that they have done is to make the perfectly reasonable propositions that the Electoral Commission, which the Government set up in order to give advice on electoral matters, should be heard on this matter, and that the Government should not be able to ignore its advice when introducing electoral pilots. Indeed, "pilot" is an inappropriate word to use when the proposal involves nearly half the local authorities in England. That is not a pilot; it is half the country.

We have heard the absurd argument that it would be a disgrace to democracy if there were no all-postal ballot in the north-west. However, we are not told that it would be a disgrace to democracy not to have one in the south-west. We are told that such a ballot is essential in the east midlands, but not the west midlands. [HON. MEMBERS: "Pilots!"] We now hear the word "pilots", but the three pilots that the Minister asked for in the first place are no longer sufficient. The Government, in the form of the Deputy Prime Minister, have determined that he wants half of England to be involved, and that just happens to be the half that lies to the north of the Trent.

I do not understand why the Deputy Prime Minister is so adamant that he should use the majority in the House to push through an electoral reform against the consensus of the political parties represented in the House and against the advice of the Electoral Commission. There was a time when there was a pretence that the Deputy Prime Minister was not guiding this whole affair, but that pretence has been blown apart by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has written to the Electoral Commission—we know not in what terms—and that he has had a rebuttal from it. The commission will not be persuaded that it should abandon its better judgment in this matter.

Having made a careful study of Yorkshire and Humber, the commission has said that its view has changed, and that it is now prepared to accept that Yorkshire and Humber is an appropriate area. Very well. If that is the case, I accept that as well. I have no wish not to extend this voting experiment to those areas in which it is suitable to do so. Let me tell hon. Members from Yorkshire and Humberside that I am now on their side, because they have the imprimatur of the Electoral Commission.

Mr. Watts

Is it Liberal Democrat policy that the Electoral Commission should be able to overrule the will of Parliament? Also, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the view of the Liberal Democrat MEP, Chris Davies, is that postal voting is for lazy people? Does the hon. Gentleman believe that anyone who wants a postal vote is a lazy person?

Mr. Heath

No, I do not believe that. Frankly, it was an absurd thing for that Member of the European Parliament to say, and I wish he had not said it. Now that I have said that from the Front Bench, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will no longer try to use that argument in evidence against our party's apparent position. It is not the position of our party.

Mr. George Osborne

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath

In a moment. Let me answer one intervention at a time.

The role of the Electoral Commission is crucial when designing pilot schemes for innovative ways of voting. I would never have had a problem with the Government had they said, "We are not having a pilot scheme for this innovation. We will have a UK-wide all-postal ballot." I would have said, "Okay, let's have a go and see what happens in the European elections." However, that is not what is on offer. We have the absurd pretence that, somehow, the Government are doing as is recommended when we know that they are not and that this is appropriate for one part of the country and not appropriate for the rest.

Mrs. Browning

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Electoral Commission and its chairman are answerable not to Ministers but to the House? I sit on the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. The commission is called to our meetings to answer questions. If, as a member of that Committee, I discovered that the chairman had made a specific recommendation to the Government vis-à-vis fraud in the north-west and they had ignored it, they would be in very serious trouble with my Committee.

Mr. Heath

Let that be a warning to the Minister, because he is clearly going to be in trouble with the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission.

Hyperbole apart, this is a serious matter. We are discussing this country's electoral system and that should command the respect and agreement, as far as that is possible, of the parties that are contesting those elections. It is simply not right that a party that has a majority in the House—owing to what I think is a corrupt electoral system, and certainly on a minority of the vote—can have its way irrespective of the views of the Electoral Commission that it appointed.

Mr. Leslie

I have two brief comments to make. First, I hope that the hon. Gentleman withdraws his point about the House somehow being based on a corrupt democratic system. Secondly, will he justify the use of the House of Lords in persistently overturning the will of the House of Commons?

Mr. Heath

Perhaps the Minister uses the House of Lords for his purposes; I do not use the House of Lords. I respect the judgment of those who sit in the House of Lords at the moment, although I would like it to be reformed and given accountability through a proper electoral system.

I say that the system is corrupt because it does not reflect the votes that people cast, as the Minister perfectly well knows. That is why he can pray in aid a massive majority in the House won on a minority of the votes cast and say that it should overrule not only Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of this House, but the other House, which he has chosen not to reform, as well as the independent body that was set up precisely—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Heath

Many Members want to intervene, but I give way to the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), because I think I did her a disservice during a previous debate in not understanding the details of the pilot scheme in her constituency. I apologise to her for that.

Joyce Quin

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who did not realise that the pilots are different in different areas. In my area, there is no requirement for a witness signature. He has laid great emphasis on supporting the Electoral Commission, but is it not the case that last week the amendment from the other place, which he introduced and which was accepted, ran counter to the view of the Electoral Commission regarding the witness signature?

Mr. Heath

You would rule us out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if we re-ran a debate on an amendment that has been passed into the legislation. [Interruption.] If I may, I will respond to the right hon. Lady. I am clear in my mind that the advice from the Electoral Commission was that we should have a pre-registration identity system. We have not yet achieved that. I understand from her what the pilot scheme in her constituency involves, which I did not understand before. I admit my ignorance on that. However, it does not alter the fact that for the generality of elections around the country, and for all those that would have lain outside the pilot regions in the election that we are debating, exactly the same system would have persisted. It does not therefore invalidate my argument, although I was incorrect in the detail, which is why I am happy to offer my apologies.

5.30 pm
Andy Burnham

I think that the hon. Gentleman was beginning to develop an argument that he would accept Yorkshire but not the north-west. Can he therefore confirm that the only outstanding case of electoral fraud ongoing in the north-west is against a Liberal Democrat in a traditional election opportunity?

Mr. Heath

I cannot confirm that, although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right, as he has a more intimate knowledge of electoral affairs in the north-west than I do. I have never used the argument used by others that the key issue in the north-west is fraud. My argument has always related to one of the basic criteria set down by the Government, not me, that given the complexity of electoral arrangements in the north-west and that so many local authority elections are involved in the north-west, it is not an appropriate pilot. That is what the Electoral Commission said about the northwest, and that is the position to which it holds.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether my position was developing. In terms of identification of the regions, my position has always been that we accept the advice of the Electoral Commission, which originally proposed two regions, and has moved its position to accept Yorkshire and Humber. I am therefore happy to adopt that position today.

Andy Burnham

Is it not the case that the Liberal Democrats are singing two different tunes from one end of the Corridor to the other? The noble Lord Greaves has made great play of fraud in the north-west elections, which is why the Liberal Democrats have opposed this Bill down the other end of the Corridor. The hon. Gentleman is now advancing a different argument. Which is it? Clearly, there is no evidence of fraud in postal ballots in the north-west. To what are the Liberal Democrats opposed?

Mr. Heath

Again, the hon. Gentleman is referring to a previous debate. We are not talking about fraud today, because, I gently remind him, we have dealt with that issue. We are now talking about the selection of regions and only the selection of regions. The burden of our argument has always been that having set up an independent arbiter as to which region should be selected for a pilot and how many regions should be so selected, the Government are deciding that they know better than that independent arbiter, for whatever reason they wish to use.

Mr. Watts rose—

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Heath

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will give way to the hon. Lady if she still wants to intervene on me.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

As someone who shares the hon. Gentleman's support for electoral reform, may I ask whether he will accept my fundamental disappointment at the way in which Liberal Democrats in this place and the other place have handled this issue? First, they are saying that voters in Rochdale are too stupid to understand how a postal vote system would work. Secondly, what is the difference between the Yorkshire local government system and north-west local government system if he is seeking to say that it is more complicated, we are too stupid and we cannot understand it? And thirdly, does he not understand that there is just a tinge of hypocrisy to allowing the argument to be advanced in the other place, but not advancing it in this place, thereby allowing those in the other place to do your dirty work?

Mr. Heath

The hon. Lady clearly did not listen to the reply that I just gave. We have had a debate on electoral fraud, which has now been resolved, and we are now debating one amendment from the other place that deals only with the selection of regions. If she wants to say that accepting the advice of the Electoral Commission on Yorkshire and Humber in some way demeans or derides her constituents in the north-west, why are my constituents, who had an all-postal ballot at the elections last year, too stupid to have an all-postal ballot in these elections? Does she have an answer to that?

Mrs. Fitzsimons

The problem was pointed out by one of my hon. Friends earlier. It suited your purposes when you tabled an amendment—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady, in her excitement, is not using the right language. None of this has anything to do with the Chair.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that there is some confusion among the Liberal Democrats. Last week, when they tabled an amendment, they disagreed with the Electoral Commission. This week, they have decided that its recommendations are their bible. Which is it?

Mr. Heath

I am not gohng to keep replying to the same intervention ad nauseam. The hon. Lady really needs to talk to her hon. Friends about the internal contradictions in their own arguments. Then she can start talking to me.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? He said earlier that he would.

Mr. Heath

Oh, did I? Well, in that case I had better.

Mr. Barron

The hon. Gentleman just mentioned contradictions. Can he tell us why the Liberal Democrats accept the prospect of an all-out postal vote in the referendum that will take place in October, but do not accept the proposal for postal votes in the local government and European elections in the north-west in June?

Mr. Heath

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to me why this is called the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill? That is the crux of the matter. As I have said more times than I care to remember, I would have understood the Government's logic if they had applied their proposals to the European parliamentary elections as a whole.

Kali Mountford

That is not a pilot.

Mr. Heath

Half of England is not a pilot. That is the problem with the Government's position.

Sadly, I do not think that we are making any progress. The reason for that is the Government's intransigence and incompetence. The proposal will now go to the other place, and a deal will be done. The Lords will accept Yorkshire and Humberside, or the Government will lose their Bill. Then we shall have the three regions that the Electoral Commission has identified as suitable, and the Government will have the three pilots that they said they wanted in the first instance. Why on earth could they not have said that here this evening? Because they want the Lords to take the blame for their incompetence.

Kali Mountford

I must start by agreeing with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). It is sad that we can agree on the fact that we are making no progress whatever. This House should be allowed to make progress, because this House has made its position clear. This House contains the democratically elected representatives of our constituents, and the other House does not. I should have thought that that was of some importance to this House.

That is important to this House because we are discussing how it should formulate elections for the future, and what will happen when we change an electoral system that has a direct bearing on its work, and a less direct bearing on the work of the other place. The line has been revealed by statements made in the other place. The Lords do not object to a pilot, or even to the number of areas included in the pilot; they are against postal balloting per se. Their main objection is to the fact that elections would be more convenient. What an absurd objection! It is absurd to suggest that a disabled person, a person who works very hard or a person who works different shifts should not have the right to a postal vote.

Incidentally, all those people can apply for a postal vote under the current system. As they can do that on an individual basis, with all the expense that that entails, why is it not sensible to think about what will happen when that convenience is extended to everyone, and the distortion caused by the requirement for applications is removed?

Andy Burnham

We have heard of the great experience at the other end of the Corridor. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Lords vote was carried by the hereditary peers? What right have they to advise any Member of this House, whatever his or her age, about electoral practice?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind both hon. Members of the precise terms of the amendment.

Kali Mountford

I will limit myself to saying how much I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We must ask what benefit will accrue from the pilot, who will be included, and why this House should or should not take cognisance of what is said in the other place and what is said by the Electoral Commission. We are surely not saying in this debate that we should have government by commission. That would be absurd. It is for this House and this Government to take account of what advice the Electoral Commission gives, but then to make up our own minds on the value of that advice—with some of which we agree and with some of which we do not agree. It is perfectly sensible to say that we want the pilots to cover a larger area, and to include more circumstances against which we can check the outcome. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome kept saying that half the electorate would be included in the pilot, but that is incorrect. If he cannot do his sums, he should look at the figures again. By my reckoning, 31 per cent. is not half.

Mr. Watts

I agree with my hon. Friend. Does she share my lack of understanding of how the Liberal Democrats can support postal voting in referendums on regional government, but not in European or local elections? Are not those two stances at odds with each other?

Kali Mountford

It is hardly surprising that the Liberal Democrats are at odds on any issue. It is hardly surprising that they have hung themselves on a particular hook over the precise terms of this afternoon's debate. It suits them to forget the convenient arguments that they have used on other issues at other times. Nevertheless, let us examine what they have said. They have said that what is good enough for the goose is not good enough for the gander. I say that this gander will have its way.

Mr. Redwood

The proposal from the House of Lords is a modest and reasonable compromise, when the Government are trying to ride roughshod over minority party interests and the interests of anyone who wishes to see sensible reform at a steady pace. I do not speak as one who is against postal ballots in principle; in theory, they are very good. The problem is the practice, because there are a number of genuine concerns about whether such ballots can be administered fairly and well, without corruption, pressure, personation and all the other problems that any true democrat abhors.

It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [8 March].

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1D to Commons amendment 1C:—

The House divided: Ayes 308, Noes 185.

Division No. 109] [5:42 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Browne, Desmond
Alexander, Douglas Buck, Ms Karen
Allen, Graham Burden, Richard
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale &Darwen) Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Byers, rh Stephen
Atherton, Ms Candy Cairns, David
Atkins, Charlotte Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Austin, John Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bailey, Adrian Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Baird, Vera Casale, Roger
Barnes, Harry Caton, Martin
Barron rh Kevin Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Battle, John Challen, Colin
Bayley, Hugh Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Beard, Nigel Clapham, Michael
Berry, Roger Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Best, Harold Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &Chryston)
Blackman, Liz Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Blears, Ms Hazel Clelland, David
Blizzard, Bob Coaker, Vernon
Blunkett, rh David Coffey, Ms Ann
Boateng, rh Paul Cohen, Harry
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Colman, Tony
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Connarty, Michael
Brennan, Kevin Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, George (Knowsley N &Sefton E)
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Lindsay
Cranston, Ross Hughes, Beverley (Stretford &Urmston)
Crausby, David
Cryer, Ann (Keighley) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cummings, John Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Iddon, Dr. Brian
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Ingram, rh Adam
Dalyell, Tam Irranca-Davies, Huw
David, Wayne Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &Highgate)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Jamieson, David
Dawson, Hilton Jenkins, Brian
Denham, rh John Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood) Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Dobson, rh Frank Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Donohoe, Brian H. Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Doran, Frank Jowell, rh Tessa
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) Keeble, Ms Sally
Drew, David (Stroud) Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Drown, Ms Julia Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Khabra, Piara S.
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kidney, David
Edwards, Huw Kilfoyle, Peter
Efford, Clive King, Andy (Rugby)
Ellman, Mrs Louise King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green &Bow)
Ewing, Annabelle
Farrelly, Paul Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Fisher, Mark Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lammy, David
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Follett, Barbara Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Lazarowicz, Mark
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings&Rye) Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Francis, Dr. Hywel Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S) Linton, Martin
Gerrard, Neil Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gibson, Dr. Ian Llwyd, Elfyn
Gilroy, Linda Love, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Goggins, Paul Luke, lain (Dundee E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McAvoy, Thomas
Grogan, John McCabe, Stephen
Hain, rh Peter McCartney, rh Ian
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McDonagh, Siobhain
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) MacDonald, Calum
Hanson, David McDonnell, John
Harman, rh Ms Harriet MacDougall, John
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) McFall, John
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &Rhymney) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Mclsaac, Shona
Healey, John McKechin, Ann
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mactaggart, Fiona
Hendrick, Mark McWalter, Tony
Hepburn, Stephen McWilliam, John
Heppell, John Mahmood, Khalid
Hesford, Stephen Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia Mallaber, Judy
Heyes, David Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Hinchliffe, David Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hoon, rh Geoffrey Martlew, Eric
Hope, Phil (Corby) Merron, Gillian
Hopkins, Kelvin Michael, rh Alun
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E) Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &Lunesdale)
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moonie, Dr. Lewis Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moran, Margaret Soley, Clive
Morgan, Julie Spellar, rh John
Morris, rh Estelle Squire, Rachel
Mountford, Kali Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Munn, Ms Meg Steinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stevenson, George
Naysmith, Dr. Doug Stewart, David (Inverness E &Lochaber)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Hara Edward Stoate, Dr. Howard
O'Neill Martin Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Organ, Diana Straw, rh Jack
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Stringer, Graham
Owen, Albert Stuart, Ms Gisela
Palmer, Dr. Nick Sutcliffe, Gerry
Perham, Linda Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Pickthall, Colin Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Plaskitt, James Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Pound, Stephen Timms, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Tipping, Paddy
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Prescott, rh John Trickett, Jon
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &Dinefwr) Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Prosser, Gwyn Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Purchase, Ken Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Purnell, James Walley, Ms Joan
Quin, rh Joyce Ward, Claire
Quinn, Lawrie Wareing, Robert N.
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N) Watts, David
Raynsford, rh Nick Weir, Michael
Reed, Andy (Loughborough) White, Brian
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Rooney, Terry Wills, Michael
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winnick, David
Ruane Chris Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Ruddock, Joan Wishart, Pete
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N) Wood, Mike (Batley)
Salter, Martin Woolas, Phil
Savidge, Malcolm Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian Wright, David (Telford)
Sheridan, Jim Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha Tellers for the Ayes:
Skinner, Dennis Derek Twigg and
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E) Mr. Fraser Kemp
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Bercow, John
Allan, Richard Beresford, Sir Paul
Amess, David Blunt, Crispin
Arbuthnot, rh James Boswell, Tim
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Brady, Graham
Bacon, Richard Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Baker, Norman Brazier, Julian
Baldry, Tony Breed, Colin
Barker, Gregory Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Baron, John (Billericay) Browning, Mrs Angela
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Burns, Simon
Beith, rh A. J. Burnside, David
Bellingham, Henry Burstow, Paul
Burt, Alistair Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Butterfill, Sir John Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Cable, Dr. Vincent Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Calton, Mrs Patsy Lamb, Norman
Cameron, David Laws, David (Yeovil)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y) Leigh, Edward
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife) Letwin, rh Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Carmichael, Alistair Lilley, rh Peter
Cash, William Loughton, Tim
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chope, Christopher Mackay, rh Andrew
Clappison, James Maclean, rh David
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe) McLoughlin, Patrick
Collins, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Conway, Derek Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury &Atcham)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Cran, James (Beverley) May, Mrs Theresa
Curry, rh David Mercer, Patrick
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Moore, Michael
Davies, Quentin (Grantham &Stamford) Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &Howden) Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Djanogly, Jonathan Opik, Lembit
Dodds, Nigel Osborne, George (Tatton)
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Ottaway, Richard
Dorrell, rh Stephen Page, Richard
Doughty, Sue Paterson, Owen
Duncan, Alan (Rutland) Pickles, Eric
Duncan Smith, rh lain Portillo, rh Michael
Evans, Nigel Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Fallon, Michael Pugh, Dr. John
Field, Mark (Cities of London &Westminster) Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Forth, rh Eric Reid, Alan (Argyll &Bute)
Foster, Don (Bath) Rendel, David
Fox, Dr. Liam Robathan, Andrew
Francois, Mark Robertson, Hugh (Faversham &M-Kent)
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Rosindell, Andrew
Gidley, Sandra Ruffley, David
Gillen, Mrs Cheryl Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Goodman, Paul Sanders, Adrian
Grayling, Chris Sayeed, Jonathan
Green, Damian (Ashford) Sheerman, Barry
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Greenway, John Shepherd, Richard
Gummer, rh John Simmonds, Mark
Hague, rh William Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Hammond, Philip Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns &Kincardine)
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W &Abington) Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Harvey, Nick Spicer, Sir Michael
Hawkins, Nick Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Hayes, John (S Holland) Steen, Anthony
Heald, Oliver Streeter, Gary
Heath, David Stunell, Andrew
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David Swayne, Desmond
Hermon, Lady Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Hoban, Mark (Fareham) Syms, Robert
Horam, John (Orpington) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Jack, rh Michael Taylor, John (Solihull)
Johnson, Boris (Henley) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Teather, Sarah
Keetch, Paul Thurso, John
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &Inverness Tredinnick, David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Key, Robert (Salisbury) Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tyrie, Andrew
Kirkwood, Sir Archy Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Sir Nicholas(Macclesfield)
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon) Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Whittingdale, John Young, rh Sir George
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann Younger-Ross, Richard
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David Tellers for the Noes:
Williams, Roger (Brecon) Mr. David Wilshire and
Willis, Phil Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up a Reason to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 1D to Commons amendment 1C; Mr. Nick Hawkins, Mr. David Heath, Mr. Christopher Leslie, Laura Moffatt and Ms Bridget Prentice; Mr. Christopher Leslie to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

To withdraw immediately.

A Reason for disagreeing to the Lords amendment reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.