HL Deb 14 February 2000 vol 609 cc1008-10

House again in Committee on Schedule 1.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknishmoved Amendment No. 70: Page 25, line 16, leave out ("for publication of notice of the election") and insert ("on which nomination papers nominating candidates at an election may be submitted").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is concerned with that part of Schedule 1 which discusses election addresses. I shall come to the main point about election addresses shortly. This is a simpler point and I suspect that the Government may be aware of the problem.

As I read the Bill as it stands, the date on which registration closes and the last date for postage of electoral addresses do not seem to match. It seems logical that they should be the same. There is no point in the register closing—save, perhaps, for the special circumstances of a clerical error—after the date on which the Post Office demands from the political parties that their election addresses be sent to the Post Office. The two dates should relate to each other so that when the political parties come to send out their election addresses they are sent out to all the people on the valid register.

I may be wrong in my interpretation of this part of the Bill—no doubt the Minister will tell me if I am— but those two matters should be in the correct order. The register should close, so to speak; the political parties should get the complete register; and they then have the opportunity to ensure that they have sent their election addresses to all those voting in the election. It should not be the other way round. It should not even be coincidental, because it would be rather difficult to deal with then, and it certainly should not be the wrong way round.

I invite the Government to correct me if I am wrong. If I am not wrong, perhaps they can assure me that they will have a look at this issue before we come to Report stage. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Who am I to say that the noble Lord is wrong? I can understand why he has moved the amendment. The first point I should make is that for most purposes the key dale in the election cycle is the closing date for nominations. Yet, as the proposal reads, the right to a free mail delivery would be related to the electorate as at the date for the publication of the notice of election, rather than the closing date for nominations. Members of the Committee may wonder what is the reason for that. The answer is quite simple. It has long been recognised that some candidates, in order to kick start their campaign— "to give it momentum" as it is described in the American presidential system—may want to send their election address out early, before the close of nominations.

Section 91(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 specifically provides for that by allowing candidates to send out their freepost delivery before the publication of the statement of persons nominated—which is produced directly after the closing time for nominations—provided they can give the Post Office sufficient security. We did not want to remove that flexibility. However, if candidates are to continue to have the right to send out their freepost delivery before the closing date for nominations, for that purpose electors need to be defined by reference to the earlier date on which the notice for election is published. I trust that, in the light of that explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Given all the complicated dates involved, the best I can do is to take away the amendment, talk to those perhaps more involved in elections than I now am and see what they have to say. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 71: Page 25, line 20, at end insert—

("Election Addresses: Greater London Authority Elections