HL Deb 04 March 2004 vol 658 cc834-46

3.27 p.m.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29 January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this order, we are debating the four subsequent election regulations on the Order Paper. The instruments represent necessary and important legislation to ensure the effective running of this year's elections. They are highly technical and they do not vary current practice too much. They simplify existing legislation covering combined elections.

On 6 May last year, the Government announced a further step towards convenience for voters as part of our process for modernising elections —our intention to move the date of the English local authority and the Greater London Authority elections to the date of the European parliamentary elections so that all the 2004 elections would be combined together on the same day.

The five instruments before the House today form part of the package of the secondary legislation that provides for the proper conduct of the European elections and those that will or may be combined with them in 2004 in line with our stated aim. Before I give some background on each instrument, there are a number of important points that your Lordships will want to note.

First, combined elections are not new. Provision already exists for different types of elections to be combined. The Government are not fundamentally changing election practice. I should add that the legislation before us today has nothing whatever to do with the election pilots being considered elsewhere. The Government would like to see combined elections in 2004, and today we are debating the mechanics of bringing that about.

In preparation for these instruments, the Government have undertaken extensive consultation. In late 2002, the majority of those responding to our consultation paper were in support of combining elections in 2004. Late last year, draft instruments were the subject of both public and statutory consultation. In short, the policy and subsequent instruments before the House today are the result of significant consultation with the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders. A summary paper of the responses that we received and our reaction was placed in the Library of the House on 12 February. I can assure noble Lords that revisions and amendments to take account of those responses have been made, where appropriate.

Lastly, by way of introduction, the life of a returning officer has not always been helped by existing legislation. Combined elections have traditionally been governed by rules set out in slightly different ways in a multitude of different legislative instruments. We are taking this opportunity to simplify matters and to bring all the key rules together under one consistent set of instruments.

I now turn briefly to the details of each of the five instruments before us. The European Parliamentary Elections (Appointed Day of Poll) Order 2004—Statutory Instrument 217—has already been made by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and specifies the date of the United Kingdom's European parliamentary elections as 10 June. Your Lordships will already be aware that the time period within which those elections must be held is set by unanimous agreement of all the member states.

The Local Elections (Ordinary Day of Election 2004) Order 2004 moves the date of elections to local authorities in England and the Greater London Authority from 6 May to the date of the European parliamentary elections, which, as I have just indicated, is 10 June. The order also provides for consequential amendments that arise as a result of the date change. It amends the following: the term of office of councillors; the six-month period during which it is not necessary to hold a by-election; the timing of annual and parish meetings; and other matters that relate to the moving of that date.

Your Lordships will also wish to know that on 3 February the National Assembly for Wales, which has responsibility for local government in Wales, approved a similar order to move the date of the Welsh local authority elections from 6 May to, again, 10 June— the date of the European parliamentary elections.

The European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004 revoke the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 1999 and make provision for the conduct of those elections in Great Britain and, for the first time, in Gibraltar. While the regulations provide largely for similar arrangements to those used in 1999—the date of the last European parliamentary elections—a number of significant changes are also being proposed. These regulations are necessary because those which governed the 1999 European parliamentary elections require amendment to take account of changes that we have since made to the law in this country relating to parliamentary and local elections. They are also necessary in order to implement recommendations made in a post-European parliamentary election review by the Home Office.

While those regulations largely reflect existing provisions or changes resulting from other new legislation and government reviews, there are some new provisions which your Lordships will wish to know about briefly. In line with the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003, the draft regulations make certain provisions enabling the people of Gibraltar to vote in EU elections for the first time.

Provisions regarding absent voting are updated in the draft regulations to apply changes in absent voting arrangements at parliamentary and local elections which have been implemented since the last European parliamentary elections. That will make postal voting easier. Reflecting the provisions in other legislation, the regulations will operate in relation to combined elections, allowing for combined applications for absent votes.

The regulations take account of the registration of accession-state citizens. Ten further states are expected to be part of the European Union by the time of the European parliamentary elections on 10 June. Provision is therefore being made for citizens of those states who are resident in the UK to be able to vote in the elections. The majority of the necessary provisions have already been set out in other secondary legislation, but modifications are needed to the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004 and the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003 in order to complete the picture.

I mentioned that the regulations took account of changes in other new UK legislation and government reviews, and I shall briefly set out some of those changes. The making of a false statement in nomination papers will constitute a corrupt practice. The publication of exit polls before close of poll will become an offence, liable to fine or imprisonment. References to controls on the campaign expenditure of political parties are being removed as that issue is now covered by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, individual candidates' expenditure will still be covered by the regulations.

Amendments to controls on broadcasting are also being reflected. There is the provision of deices to assist voters who are physically impaired or unable to read. There is provision for postal ballot papers to be returned by hand, if wished, to the appropriate polling stations. Rules on admission to polling stations will include access for Electoral Commission observers—the Electoral Commission having a statutory duty to evaluate the European parliamentary elections. The rules will allow the counting of votes to start before close of poll across the European Union. However, no results may be made available until after close of poll across Europe. Ballot papers will be designed vertically rather than, as in 1999, horizontally so as to make them easier for electors to use.

I shall now deal with the remaining instruments which form part of the package before your Lordships' House. The draft Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) Regulations 2004 revoke and replace the Representation of the People Regulations 1986. They largely update and clarify the current provisions governing returning officer functions at combined elections and they consolidate existing provisions relating to referendums concerning local authority executive arrangements and mayoral elections. However, there are some modifications specifically in connection with combining European parliamentary and local government elections in 2004.

With regard to the functions of returning officers, Regulations 4, 5 and 6 of the new draft regulations make similar provisions to the 1986 regulations concerning the functions of individual returning officers at each election where polls are to be combined, their funding and the polling stations to be used when polls are combined.

The provisions now expressly take account of the possibility of the combination of more than two polls—for example, where a local parish election is also combined with the European parliamentary and local government elections. Regulation 8 and Schedule 2 update existing provisions for the combination of a parliamentary general or by-election with other polls, including mayoral elections or referendums concerning local authority executive arrangements. These regulations also include significant changes which apply in 2004 only.

Draft Regulation 7 and Schedule I include particular provisions specifically relating to the European parliamentary election, Greater London Authority elections and other local government elections which are to be held on the same date in 2004—that is, 10 June.

The Greater London returning officer is to be the returning officer for the London European parliamentary electoral region, assisted by a designated deputy. That capitalises on the fact that the Greater London Authority and the European parliamentary London region cover the same geographical area.

In 1999, the European parliamentary elections were arranged and votes were counted on the basis of Westminster parliamentary constituency boundaries. However, in 1999 they were not held in combination with local government elections. As a result of a request from electoral administrators and views received from its first consultation, the Government propose in the draft regulations that this year's European parliamentary elections should be arranged, and votes counted, on the basis of local government areas instead of the Westminster parliamentary constituencies. If that provision were not included, so-called combined local authority and European parliamentary elections would, in fact, each have to be run quite differently, often according to non-contiguous boundaries. That would lead to a confusing patchwork and would probably make a nonsense of holding everything on the same date.

As a consequence of this decision, the returning officer for each local authority area will exercise the functions of the local returning officer, under the direction of European parliamentary regional returning officers for each area, instead of the acting returning officers for parliamentary constituencies in 1999. For the convenience of voters we are providing for the sending out and the return of all ballot papers together, including one single declaration of identity to cover all the ballot papers that a voter receives.

With reference to the Greater London Authority election booklet, under regulation 7(7), the Greater London returning officer will be able to include a limited amount of information about European parliamentary election voting procedures in such a booklet. It is reasonable for the European parliamentary elections to be mentioned in the Greater London Authority "election addresses" booklet but that information should not dominate what is essentially an opportunity for London mayoral candidates to address voters. However, the booklet is not available to other regions in the country—it is specific to London—and that is why the European parliamentary issue should not dominate, so that people in one region have different information compared with the rest of the country.

For London there is provision for the electronic counting of votes in the 2004 European parliamentary election, when the Greater London Authority election is also counted electronically. That is not new. London had experience of counting Greater London Authority votes electronically in 2000, and is expected to count electronically in 2004, so it is logical that they be allowed to count the European parliamentary votes electronically at the same time.

Your Lordships will know that the Government have given local people choice about how they wish to be governed locally. Neither the Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2004 nor the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2004 change that policy. We do not expect any electoral referendums for mayors or elections in June, but we cannot rule them out. So, these regulations provide for the eventuality that either a referendum or a mayoral election could be combined with other polls in June or in the future. That is to ensure consistency of provisions with other polls.

I do not propose to go into all the provisions of the regulations here, but noble Lords may be interested to note that they provide for: postal ballot papers which are returned by hand to be returned to a polling station within the area common to all the elections being combined; for example, in the parish area where parish, district and European parliamentary election are combined; and they clarify that in accordance with common law, a personal mark which the elector is accustomed to make will suffice where a signature is required on a form.

The Electoral Commission and other stakeholders have, in their responses to our consultation, given many useful and practical comments which have been taken into account in the final draft versions of the package of statutory instruments which are now before the House. This secondary legislation will enable this year's local government, Greater London Authority and European parliamentary elections to be properly conducted, and will implement the Government's decision to combine elections in England and Wales in 2004. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29 January be approved [7th Report front the Joint Committee].—(Lord Rooker.)

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving a brief but reasonably comprehensive overview of this package of regulations. It will not have escaped his notice that we have never been totally in favour of having all these elections together. We still believe that there is likely to be confusion. Although the regulations are the same, there are different aspects to all the elections and how they take place. None the less, that is happening now and it is clear, from the fact that so many regulations have had to be produced to bring them together, that it is not entirely an easy matter.

I do not want to refer to any of the regulations in particular, except to comment on one or two aspects of those relating to local elections and the mayoral elections and then I shall turn to the European one. In relation to citizens of the new states that will join the European Union on I May, can the Minister advise the House—I should know the answer to this so I apologise—whether when the electoral canvass was carried out last year it was made clear that this was coming and therefore people were entitled to put their names on the electoral register and were entitled to recognise that they would be able to vote in the elections? If not, this is very late in the day to be advising citizens of the new European states who are in this country that they will be able to vote in those elections. Perhaps the Minister could answer that point.

I welcome the fact that exit polls will not be published before the close of polls. That is long overdue. Such publication has had a dramatic effect in many places and the legislation has been required for some time. I welcome that.

What I had not picked up when I read the regulations was that the counting of votes will start before the close of polls. That is most unusual. Perhaps I misunderstood what the Minister said.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the misunderstanding has probably arisen because of my inadequate explanation. The counting of the European elections, which this year take place on Thursday 10 May, has always been held hack in this country until late on Sunday evening when all the polls have closed in the rest of Europe. It will now be open to the returning officer, if he wishes, to start counting before the close of polls across Europe which could be on the Friday, the Saturday or early on the Sunday. It would not happen before the close of polls in this country.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation. I was wondering how all the ballot boxes were going to be opened before the close of polls. If I had given it a moment's thought I might have realised, but thank you for that explanation.

I refer briefly to the electronic counting of votes in Greater London. It was not an unalloyed success in 2000 and I hope that a review has been undertaken of what happened. I remember it well because my chief executive at that stage was the chief returning officer and I had a dramatically different chief executive the following day from the one I had the previous day. Some of the votes were munched up, which caused the most terrible problems. Has what happened been reviewed and has the system been dealt with to try to ensure that that does not happen again?

I know that one can listen and talk at the same time—I have come across that in several Bills. I understand that.

On the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004, it is plain that that concerns the regions that will not be part of the European pilot, except that in the regulations it is not plain that that is the situation. Nowhere do the regulations say that that does not refer to areas that are in the European pilot. It is a general directive on European elections. There will be considerable differences in the regulations for the areas not in the pilots from those that are in the pilots as a result of the extensive discussions that we have had on the European Union Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill.

One of those pilots is on the interesting aspect of the requirement for a witness signature on postal votes. To get that matter secured for the electoral pilots we had to divide the House and it has now been agreed that there should be a witness signature. It is commonplace within the other areas. I wonder out loud—I do not think that the Minister can answer this question—why we had such a tussle in our discussions on the pilots Bill to secure what is plain and straightforward and which is, we always realised, part of normal practice.

The second matter over which we had a tussle, and on which we have now had to abandon ship, is the question of why the regulations for the European pilot Bill are not coming to the House on affirmative resolution. I have here the regulations for the European regions. They are not a matter of the most enormous quantity of information: they are full of useful information. I cannot believe that the regulations on the pilots Bill will come to any more than these do. I simply place on record the fact that I cannot understand why there has been such resistance—it is from the department dealing with the pilots Bill, not from the Minister's department—to bringing this provision to the House for affirmative resolution, except for the fact that the time is very late.

None the less, it is important how these elections are conducted. I speak only because I have the opportunity to do so, and I know the Minister has no hand in the matter. I think it is extremely unfortunate that we shall not have the opportunity to see the same detail as there is in these regulations because there are very interesting differences between the regulations for the two.

I think those are the only points that I need to make on this issue. I thank the Minister again for his presentation.

Lord Rennard

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his very good précis, if I may call it that, of these regulations and the reasons behind them. I ask him to address a number of points about them. First, in relation to the principle of the combined elections, the Minister referred to the widespread consent that it would not make sense to have local elections on the first Thursday in May followed by European elections on 10 June, five weeks later. That is not perhaps a view which is shared by those on the Conservative Benches, but generally that was the view of most local authorities and, indeed, that of the Local Government Association.

Is the Minister aware, however, that the view of most local authorities and indeed the Local Government Association was explicitly contingent: on the assumption that the experiment of combining the two elections in June was based on there being no all-postal votes in any of those elections in June? The local authorities which consented to the postponement of their elections, at some inconvenience to themselves in holding elections in June, did so on the basis that they understood there would be no postal voting pilots in those elections in June.

Secondly, in relation to the principle of the combined elections, I would kindly suggest to the Minister that it is now the second time in four years that we have postponed the May local elections to June in order to coincide with other elections. I happen to think that is very sensible. I think I was one of the first and strongest advocates for doing that this year, because it seems quite wrong to expect people to have to vote twice in five weeks. There is fatigue among the parties; the party bank balances empty to pay for the May elections, but we have to try and fight an election again in June; and the media get bored by a very long election period. So it does make sense in my view to combine them.

We now have the European elections fixed every five years on the second Thursday in June or in association with that weekend. Rather than having an order suggesting that we combine them now, would it not make sense that they should be combined every five years, or should all dates for voting in local elections perhaps now be switched to June? Perhaps the weather would be better for campaigning, for canvassing and delivering leaflets; and we would have some certainty in the timescale each year. It is hard for local authorities not to know when their elections will be in knowing when they should plan their annual meetings. It might be sensible to suggest that June in general would be a better time for holding them.

I follow the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about the declaration of identity by briefly saying that Schedule 3 to the third statutory instrument explains in considerable detail the regulations over postal voting and the declaration of identity. As we go into such detail as saying that we have this declaration of identity, I should be grateful if the Minister could explain why the Government think it so important that these regulations should have this declaration of identity.

Thirdly, I ask the Minister to confirm my understanding in relation to the UK parliamentary election regulations. I cannot find anything within them that is in any way contingent upon the pilots Bill. I think that is our collective understanding. I cannot see anything within it that would be affected one way or the other by the passage or not of the pilots Bill.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister further about the recount process within these regulations. I have thought for some time that the counting for the European elections, if held on the same day as the local elections, would have to be done by local authority area rather than by parliamentary constituency, as in 1999. It does not seem to me that it could be done any other way.

However, in relation to the recounts I am a little puzzled as to how you can put into regulations a call for a recount. The Minister with his great experience of parliamentary elections will know that normally in such a count if the result is very close one or other of the party agents will call for a recount because it is very close. I cannot understand how you will have the counting process confined to the local authority area. How would you know across the whole of your European region whether or not the result is very close? You are, it seems to me, expected under these regulations—and indeed under those of 1999—to try to make a judgment as to whether, for example, in the city of Leicester you accept the result as declared for that city, but you have to do it in complete ignorance of the votes cast in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and elsewhere. It is hard to say that the result is close and it is hard to accept the result when you do not know whether it may be close in other places. Perhaps the Minister could help me with that.

Finally, on the issue of election petitions, it seems to me that there is still a problem within the system. We know that sometimes mistakes are made by the returning officer. Sometimes that is a very obvious flaw, something that everyone knows—every party, agent and returning officer knows that there has been an error within the system. Sometimes that can make a difference between someone being elected or not being elected. But it is incumbent entirely upon one of the parties or another individual to launch an election petition at great expense, great risk and great difficulty to perhaps see that it should be a different result returned. Would it not be sensible to allow the returning officer to be able to initiate such legal action if in his opinion and that of his staff a mistake has been made that may have resulted in a wrong result being declared? Perhaps the Minister might help me with those few points on the Order.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, I want to speak specifically to the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2004, which is the last regulation in this group. In doing so, I apologise to the Government for failing to respond in the consultation process because I have a significant point to make. Civil servants in the Chamber today will want to take it on board when they consider these matters further.

The explanatory memorandum to the regulations states in paragraph 14: The main changes to the version of the rules, which previously applied under the regulations, include— ensuring that forms which are or may be used for all polls, such as notices in polling stations and declarations by disabled voters are in a form which is consistent with those applying under the legislation governing the election with which the mayoral election is combined. I want to use that statement as a peg to raise the whole question of the voting slip guidance which operates in the case of the supplementary vote—the supplementary vote being the voting system which is used for the election of mayors nationally.

My noble friend will know that I devised and gave name to the supplementary vote after 12 months' detailed work in 1989 on electoral systems following an argument about the operation of the alternative vote system, the problems it has with third place candidates wining seats and the weighting given to lowest placed candidates influencing the votes in elections.

The supplementary vote is simple but it needs explanation. There is a problem with the design of the ballot paper. It was my son who drew my attention to it following a party meeting he attended, where it seems people were led to believe that a ballot paper would be invalid in the event that only one vote was cast. The ballot paper in the case of the supplementary vote is set out on page 30 of the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002. The only guidance that I can find is in the Guidance on New Council Constitutions, which states in paragraph 14.16: Where there are more than two candidates, the voting system used for elected mayors is the Supplementary Vote system, as established by section 42 of, and Schedule 2 to, the Act. Under this system, voters cast first and second preference votes. After counting all of the first preference votes, if no candidate has secured a simple majority of the first preference votes cast, all but the top two candidates are eliminated. Any of the eliminated candidates' second preference votes cast for the remaining candidates are added to those totals, and the one with the most votes is elected as elected mayor. Where there are only two validly nominated candidates, the first-past-the-post system is used. There is a slight error in that text, in that it states, Under this system, voters cast first and second preference votes". They can cast them, but they are not required to cast the second vote. Therein lies the problem.

What can we do about it? I have a number of proposals, which perhaps I can briefly put to the House. I have a copy of the ballot paper, which is a photocopy of page 30 of the regulations. The only reference to guidance is where it says on the top right hand corner: Vote once [x] in each column". I ask Ministers to consider adding one of the five following options as wording, because they make it clear. The first option is, "You need vote only once. Voting for a second choice is optional". The second is, "You need only to vote for your first choice. A vote for your second choice is optional". The third is, "You need to cast only one vote. You can cast votes for both your first and second choices if you wish". The fourth is, "Vote once [x] for your first choice in column 1. If you wish to express a second choice vote [x] in column 2". The final one is, "Vote [x] for your first choice. Vote [x] for your second choice if you wish".

Some Members of this House might think that this is a trivial matter. In fact, it is extremely important, because it affects hundreds of thousands of votes that will be cast in the mayoral elections. I ask my noble friend whether it is possible for an additional, supplementary guidance note to be issued to local authorities that they have in mind a revision of the ballot paper under one of the proposals that I have made today.

4 p.m.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I shall answer off the top of my head the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. I do not know the procedures. I am a little out of date. But I imagine that this would be an issue for the Electoral Commission. I am not sure whether when the mayoral elections took place four years ago the Electoral Commission was in existence. In fact, the legislation setting it up was passed only in 2000 or thereabouts. I suspect that the commission was not in existence. This would be a matter for it to look at. If it does not fall within its remit, there is something wrong with the set up and with the guidance.

The point raised by my noble friend is valuable. He is the kind of Member that I like. He came along with a problem, but also brought five solutions. I will certainly take advice on that point, but I imagine that would be the way out of this.

Perhaps I may deal with the specific questions in reverse order. I have answers to most of them. I am about to prove whether I was listening to the noble Baroness at the same time as discussing one of the issues with my noble friend.

These regulations set the basic rules for pilots, following the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill. In a pilot area, they will be subject to modification to allow for the pilot scheme. I hope that makes sense. I have not followed the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill so I cannot therefore go beyond the advice that I have, because I have not been dealing with the Bill.

Regarding the returning officers correcting errors, the regulations replicate existing provisions for parliamentary and local elections. We do not feel that we can use what are in effect parts of secondary legislation to make what would be a substantial change to the existing law. I am not saying that the point is not valid—it is. The threat of almost questioning an election puts people off, because of the procedures used and the costs involved. There are people who are much better aware, having had to use it in recent years. It is not something that we feel that we can do in secondary legislation.

A point was made about recounts, but the recounts can be called only in a local area, which follows the practice in 1999. There is no change in the recount provision, and it would not be any different. I suppose in a local area you would not know about the votes in the constituencies as opposed to the votes in the local areas on the European side. I fully accept that, and I do not know what the closest European vote was at the last election, using the much more modern and sensible PR system compared to the previous unfair system—those are my personal views. I do not know how practical that would be, but we are following existing practice and not changing it for the moment.

It was suggested that we combine elections every five years, given that we have European elections every five years on a fixed date. I do not know how far in advance the member states fix the span of control. We are allowed to have the European elections within a period of about four days, which allows us to vote on Thursdays. Member states can choose what day they vote on. I do not know how far ahead that date is fixed, whether it is fixed for the rest of the century or the rest of the decade. The Government invited the Electoral Commission to consider having the local elections. It would be wrong to make long-term amendments to those election dates at present. We have just received the report on this issue, and we will give a view on that in due course.

The declaration of identity provisions follows existing provisions in parliamentary local government elections. We have made no change in this respect. As for the declaration of identity with postal votes, the regulations require a witness signature. The elector is required to make his usual mark but the witness is required to give a signature. That is my understanding of the point.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, that was not the point. The point was that we had a great humdinger when debating the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill on whether a witness signature was required to accompany a postal vote. The regulations are as plain as a pikestaff and perfectly easy to follow; the only way we ensured, finally, that the witness signature was to be attached to a postal vote in the Bill was through winning a vote in the House. I cannot understand why we had that row when the regulations were already there in the normal way. I do not think that the Minister will be able to answer this, but we had better get the point straight.

Lord Rooker

I did not get the point straight, did I, my Lords? We may have had a slight lack of joined-up government. That may be the answer—I do not know. It sounds terrible, but I do not think it is a matter for my department. However, the noble Baroness's point is well made, bearing in mind the other legislation going through the House on which the Government have not taken the same line.

The consultation mentioned the fact that no decision on pilots had been taken. Many respondents took the opportunity to comment on that, so it was an issue.

The orders for previous pilots have never been subject to parliamentary approval. These follow that precedent. I do not know whether that is a good answer, but it is the honest answer.

The noble Baroness wondered whether I had taken electronic counting on board. Electronic counting in the Greater London Authority elections and in the pilot has been reviewed. Lessons have been learnt—I am assured of that. The Greater London Authority is confident that the system will run smoothly in 2004.

I am surprised and, indeed, gratified by the answer I am about to give the noble Baroness to her first question about citizens of the accession states. I did not read the detail of my form, I just signed it, but it appears that the canvass form made it clear that citizens of accession states would be able to register to vote in advance of their member states joining on I May this year. To that extent, it was made clear. I suspect that the information would be in the small print on the back of the form—nevertheless, it was there. In any event, people have their own networks and are able to get information.

Because we now have a much more sensible system of a rolling register without that fixed slot on 10 October, people have plenty of time to get registered, now that Parliament—this House and the other place—has approved the regulations. I think there is one more order to slot in— two at the most—to the package for the elections on 10 June. So there is plenty of opportunity between now and then to get registered.

The noble Baroness said that her party was not fully in favour and did not see a lot of merit in the regulations. I appreciate the reasons why. There are different election systems for many people, particularly in the London area, where more than one system will be used.

I have always taken the view, as I promote the sensible, fair voting system of PR around the country, in a personal capacity, that people can understand and read knitting patterns, while I cannot. They can understand and fill in football coupons, while I cannot. I have yet to see a ballot paper that is more complicated than a knitting pattern or a football coupon.

On Question, Motion agreed to.