HL Deb 16 March 2004 vol 659 cc139-53

(1) An election to which this section applies (a pilot election) must be held—

  1. (a) only by postal voting, and (for that purpose)
  2. (b) in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order (a pilot order).

(2) These are the elections to which this section applies—

  1. (a) the European Parliamentary general election of 2004 in a pilot region;
  2. (b) a local government election in England and Wales if the poll at such an election is combined with the poll at an election mentioned in paragraph (a).

(3) These are the pilot regions—

  1. (a) North East;
  2. (b) East Midlands.

(4) Postal voting is voting where no polling station is used and a person entitled to vote in person or by proxy must deliver the ballot paper by post or by such other means as is specified in a pilot order.

(5) A pilot order—

  1. (a) may modify or disapply any provision made by or under a relevant enactment;
  2. (b) may contain such consequential, incidental, supplementary or transitional provision or savings (including provision amending, replacing, suspending or revoking provision made by or under any enactment) as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate;
  3. (c) may make different provision for different purposes."

The Commons agree to this Amendment with the following Amendment

1A Clause 1, Line 15, at end insert—

  1. "(c) Yorkshire and the Humber;
  2. (d) North West."

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1A to Lords Amendment No. 1. I very much hope that I will have a similar fair wind to my noble friend Lord McIntosh.

Let me set out in broad terms why we as a Government think and why the Commons think that this is a measure to which this House should agree.

In short, the Government asked the Electoral Commission to give them advice—I stress the word "advice"—on which regions were suitable for undertaking pilot postal elections as part of the European elections and local government elections. It responded, as it had been asked to do, and said it thought that two regions were suitable for that and a further four regions were possible.

The Electoral Commission also made it explicitly clear—as if it needed to do so—that it always recognised that it was open to the Government to have discussions with those regions falling into the "potential" category to see whether the reasons identified for not making a positive recommendation could be satisfactorily resolved.

The Government have undertaken such investigations with care, patience and thoroughness, and we are now clear that it is perfectly safe to undertake pilot elections in two further regions, and that elections can be delivered in those regions as a consequence. Furthermore—this is the nub of the issue—there are good public reasons for piloting elections in those additional regions. There are benefits to the public consequent on doing so. That is the essence of what I shall seek to set out succinctly.

I shall give the House a little more detail. As part of the process of deciding where it was right to hold the pilot elections, we focused on the two regions where the commission had indicated that it was possible but not certain that it was good to do so: Yorkshire and Humberside and the north-west. With Yorkshire and Humberside, the questions in the commission's mind were whether there was sufficient security for elections to be carried out and, secondly, whether the electoral returning officers were enthusiastic and willing to undertake the function. We have had considerable discussions with Yorkshire and Humberside, and the regional returning officer for that area has written a letter, a copy of which is in the House. In the letter, he sets it out clearly that they have electoral administrators, have had discussions regarding anti-fraud measures and have a range of measures that they are looking to implement, including sample checks; local electoral awareness campaigns; hot contact points; regular liaison with the police; training of staff; and arrangements for the safe delivery of papers to electors in houses with multiple occupation. They believe that they have put in place adequate measures to make it safe for elections to take place in those areas.

On the question of whether they want to do it, the position is now clear and is different from what it was, when the Electoral Commission first asked the question. The regional returning officer says clearly that, the view of a significant majority of the same administrators today is that they would prefer to be allowed to proceed with arrangements for an all-postal ballot in June, than now be constrained to revert to planning for a conventional election". So, in Yorkshire and Humberside, the regional returning office and the electoral returning office want to be allowed to get on with the job and conduct postal ballots.

I shall turn succinctly to the north-west. Again, the questions were about fraud, perhaps about willingness and perhaps about complexity. On safety, Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council and the regional returning officer, said in his letter, a copy of which is also in the House: We are committed to taking every possible step to preserve the integrity of the postal ballot". They have put in place additional vigilance, strong protocols and programmes and strong liaison with the Greater Manchester Police, which would be the lead police authority in the region. He also said: I have been very impressed by the consistent and positive attitude all Local Returning Officers have shown to the proposed pilot here in the North West … The support was particularly strong from Salford and Trafford Councils which as you may know, enjoy cross-party support for the pilot initiative". It is undoubtedly true that there is complexity in the north-west, given the number of elections that would take place there, but the people to whom we should listen on that matter, having put them on notice of the questions, are the regional returning officer and the electoral returning officers. They tell us that they believe that they can deliver a safe and secure election.

Why, then, are the Government keen on four, rather than two, regions, which is what the House proposed, when it last considered the matter? There are several reasons, both of principle and practice. First, there are benefits in testing pilot postals in a diversity of situations. Like the Electoral Commission and many others, we think that there are many strong arguments for postal balloting in the future, but we must find out whether it works well and could be extended, for example, to all local government elections. As part of a proper process of testing, we must test the system in various circumstances, including areas in which there is complexity. It is all too easy just to test it in areas in which it would be simple and straightforward. We should also note that this is the last opportunity before 2009 to pilot postal ballots on this scale.

I have a few final words on fraud, safety and security. I have taken the views and advice of the House very seriously, as I hope I always do. The issues of concern that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others should be examined seriously because the integrity of the ballot, postal or not, matters. As a result, we have examined ways to prevent and detect fraud, to measure the public's protection of fraud and to assess fraud. That is part of the proper evaluation of a pilot experiment.

We are working with the commission and with police forces generally on the prevention of fraud at national level and to raise the profile of the issue. I mentioned the work that was going on at regional level in that respect, but we will issue releases nationally and regionally that will make clear the offences that have been put into the Bill as a consequence of our deliberations, and we will encourage regional returning officers to inform administrators of the importance of local publicity. There will be security warnings on the voting literature. There are many other things that we are doing, but I will not weary the House with them.

The detection of fraud is important for its own sake and for the evaluation of the project. There will be random inspections of security statements. ROs will use the marked register to contact electors, and they will investigate the redirection of proxy vote requests. After the pilot order has been made, all requests for redirection will need to be accompanied by a signed statement from the elector, and regional returning officers are putting in place systems to monitor the number of redirected postal votes.

Measuring the perception of fraud also matters, and Clause 4 provides for that. On the assessment of fraud, I have said to the House that it is not just the identification of frauds that are reported that matters; we should expect the Electoral Commission to take positive steps to identify what is happening with fraud, reported or not. Without second-guessing them on methods, I expect officials to do that task with energy and sophistication, in an attempt to find out what, if anything, happened on fraud and the perception of fraud.

It is utterly legitimate for the Government and for the Commons to go for four regions, rather than two or three. The fact that the commission would have preferred three is down to a difference of judgment, and the Government are entitled to make that judgment. My second point is that we believe that the pilots can be done safely. The regional returning officers for the four regions want to do them. Next, the public want and like postal balloting, a fact that is hardly mentioned in our debates. The process will, under evaluated and monitored circumstances, give people the opportunity to undertake postal balloting in European and local elections at the same time. It is good that we are testing how that works in practice in various circumstances.

The final point is that, if, as I expect, after we have gone through due process, we carry out pilots in the four regions, 2 million more people will vote in the elections, than would otherwise have done so if we see the increase in turnout shown in previous local postal balloting. We must wish that to happen, if we believe in democracy.

For those reasons, the Commons and the Government think that we should pilot in the four regions. I ask the House to support the Commons in that respect.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1A to Lords Amendment No. 1.—(Lord Filkin.)

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Hanham rose to move Amendment No. 1B, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1A to Lords Amendment No. 1, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it will come as no surprise to the Government that we do not believe that a case has been made out for running the European elections in four regions. We have debated the matter at length in past weeks, and I have read the significant exchange that took place in another place. But I shall again give our reasons for being concerned that the Government have ignored the advice of their own body, the Electoral Commission, and are insisting on piloting in four regions rather than in the two which were recommended.

It is hard to comprehend why the Government are so stuck on ignoring the advice they have been given. Presumably, what they should be looking to do is to extend the limited pilots already carried out in local government elections by upgrading those to the European regions on a scale sufficiently limited to ensure that a proper test can be carried out and assessed in seats where there is not only enthusiasm to extend the pilots, but also where there is experience, competence and willingness to undertake the huge amount of work involved—now, it must be said, at very short notice.

It is clear from the many discussions we have had that there are areas—the Minister touched on them—such as the security of ballot papers, the prevention of fraudulent personation, the difficulties of ensuring personal delivery to residents in houses in multiple occupation. guaranteeing the return of all ballot papers to the returning officer, the ability of the Royal Mail to handle the quantity in good time, and the need—not available to these elections—for individual registration as recommended by the Electoral Commission. These are all still unresolved.

Indeed, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, who, to his credit, seems not to have been browbeaten by Ministers, in his latest letter to Mr Chris Leslie, the Minister in another place, dated 4 March and just before this matter was discussed last time in another place, points out that while the all-postal pilots already run in local government elections have demonstrated almost all of the problems which are likely to arise, there are risks inherent in pilots which will cover, in his words, over a third of the English electorate and that these go further than the commission thinks necessary to test issues of what are so elegantly described as "scaleability", which is the increase in the size of the electorate and electoral areas and complexity. The commission is also concerned that there is currently an absence of underlying legislative change required to address those risks.

I have given at some length the view of the Electoral Commission because it is obvious from the way in which the letter has been written that Ministers have met the commission suggesting that its views were being misrepresented by others—presumably, the inference was that it was by us, the opposition parties—on the number of regions being proposed and that, a clear statement would help to provide clarity". Ministers got their clear statement, which was a reiteration of the fact that the Electoral Commission had found itself able to recommend two pilot regions and that it had named the Minister went through this quite clearly—four others which were potentially suitable, but about which it could make no positive recommendation since these regions did not meet its criteria, which included the capacity and willingness of the regional returning officer and local returning officers to run such pilots.

What has happened? Yorkshire, Humberside and the north-west are put forward by Ministers without further consultation with the Electoral Commission, which is also made clear in the letter. Head-bashing meetings have obviously taken place with the regional returning officers which have resulted, as the Minister has said—that is no surprise—in their agreeing that they could, if pressed, run all-postal ballots although they had told the Electoral Commission that they did not want to do so.

There is obvious concern by the commission that the pilots are now ridiculously—that is my word, not the commission's—large. That is what we have been saying throughout these proceedings. How can a test of over one-third of the electorate be described as a "pilot"?

I have recently seen the ODPM publication of the written evidence on postal voting presented to the Select Committee. It by no means backs up the enthusiastic embracing by the Government of postal votes. Within it there are a number of disturbing submissions on all-postal ballots regarding people filling in other than their own ballot papers; confusion among voters as to what to do; badly conducted elections which give skewed results; the invalidity of papers; concern of the police about personation; and a whole host of anxieties on the administrative process.

It is a document which is well worth perusing. It, and the speeches we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, ought to have woken up the Government to the dangers inherent in jumping too far and too fast on this concept.

I have made it clear throughout all the stages of the Bill that we are not against extending the experiment of all-postal votes, but it must be realised that that is what it is—an experiment, and one which potentially puts at risk the validity of every person's right to vote at a polling station in secrecy and one which has a number of well documented potential problems.

The Minister has drawn in aid an increase in turnout and that may be a justifiable goal, but it should not be achieved on the back of a dodgy system. The number of voters in a small-scale local election pilot is vastly different from the number in a whole European electoral region. The scheme may seem the same, but the increase in scale is bound to have enormous implications.

I urge the Minister to accept that there are good, rational reasons for trying regional voting initially on a limited scale. In our view that would be the two electoral regions put forward by the Electoral Commission, which well substantiated its reasons for keeping to that number. We believe that that would be the correct thing to do. I hope that the Minister will, having had the opportunity to think closely about the concerns which have been cogently expressed, accept that view.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1A to Lords Amendment No. 1, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".—(Baroness Hanham.)

Lord Rennard

My Lords, a number of our early debates on this subject have revolved very notably around the opinions of the Electoral Commission on this issue. Since we last considered it, the letter from the commission of 4 March has now been published on its website. It is clear from that letter that no possible interpretation could be made to show that the independent Electoral Commission supports all-postal pilots in four regions. Indeed, I believe that the cleverest lawyer in this House—and there are many of them—could not find such an interpretation. I thank the Minister for acknowledging in his remarks today that the Government are explicitly acting against the advice of the Electoral Commission in trying to proceed with the four postal pilots.

Accusations about selective quotations—

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for courteously giving way. The commission signalled that it was open to the Government to go beyond the two pilots. The Government did so, recognising that it would not have been the commission's preference to have gone to four. I believe that the noble Lord put a more negative gloss on the matter than the facts justify.

Lord Rennard

My Lords, I shall be very precise on this issue because I feel with some passion that it is very clear that the Electoral Commission does not support pilots in four regions. Accusations of selective misquotation abound, but three things are clear from the letter published on 4 March by the Electoral Commission. First, its view is that we do not really need further extensive piloting. The commission says that, so far as all-postal elections are concerned, most of the lessons have been learned". Secondly, the commission says that we need more significant safeguards in our electoral process before the rollout of all-postal elections can be justified. It says that, the rollout of all-postal elections needs to be underpinned by a more robust statutory framework". What the commission means by that has been made plain on a number of occasions; in this country, we need individual voter registration so that individuals are registered, a specimen of their signature is provided, and, if they vote by post, we can compare their signature on the witness statement accompanying the postal vote against their signature on the electoral registration, thus enabling us to be assured that there is not widespread fraud. We do not have that system in place at the moment, which is why the commission is opposed to rolling out all-postal voting on too wide a scale at present.

Most explicitly, the commission is saying that there is no justification for all four postal pilots. Having listed some of the problems, the Electoral Commission concludes: Nonetheless we welcome their use on a regional basis in order to test issues of scalability. But in our view pilots that cover over a third of the English electorate in June go further than we think necessary in order to address those issues, especially in the absence of the underlying legislative change we consider necessary". The killer fact is in its conclusion: There is also in our view increased risk, with combined elections and in some cases new boundaries, in running on such a large scale and we are not persuaded that the risk is outweighed by what we might learn from four regional pilots as opposed to two". After so many debates on the subject, we still have no coherent explanation from the Government of why they moved from saying that there should be no all-postal pilots in June to saying, when they had agreed that there should be combined elections, that there should be three. Then, in response to the Electoral Commission's view that only two pilots could be supported, the Government switched to saying that there should be four.

If there were to be extensive rollout of all-postal vote elections this year, it should have been agreed prior to considering the question of combining the local and European elections in June. The combining of the elections and the fact that there may be fraud through all-postal voting, causing the result to be different in certain wards and councils, means that many people will oppose the measures. In that sense, the Government are the author of their own misfortune.

We have heard from the Minister about the views of two of the returning officers most concerned. As he acknowledges, when the same returning officers were asked by the independent Electoral Commission, they expressed misgivings about the pilots on practical grounds, particularly in the north-west, because of widespread accusations of fraud connected with postal voting in certain parts of the region. The Minister now says that things have changed since the Electoral Commission spoke to those returning officers. However, I do not believe that things have changed; what has changed is the people speaking to those returning officers. It has now been the Labour Government speaking to the employees of Labour councils, whose leaders are terrified that, after many decades in office, they cannot persuade their voters to turn out to re-elect them, so the voting systems must be changed to suit those purposes.

Of course, professional staff under pressure will always say that they will do their utmost to deliver in professional circumstances. However, their initial warnings about fraud and such problems, and the Electoral Commission's advice that the Government were going too far by having four postal pilots, should have been heeded. The Electoral Commission says that it was not involved in the discussions between the Government and the returning officers. Why not? Would it not have been better if the Electoral Commission had been involved in further discussions? Would that not have been a good and necessary public safeguard?

Having four postal pilots is nothing to do with piloting and experimentation. The commission says that, so far as all-postal elections are concerned, most of the lessons have been learned". The all-postal pilots in the four regions are to do with the fears of Labour council leaders, who are worried that, without a change in voting mechanisms, they will lose their positions of power. We would be failing in our duty if we did not ensure that proper respect was shown for the integrity of the electoral process and for proper means of advancing change, by consent wherever possible, and certainly not in the face of the Electoral Commission, which we established to help to avoid the perception that governments manipulate voting systems for their own electoral advantage.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds

My Lords, I am a member of the European Union Select Committee, to which representatives from the Belgian Parliament are giving evidence today. With noble Lords' permission, I would like to slip away at some point. I apologise if I am not in the Chamber for the responses.

I welcome the proposal to pilot postal voting for all electors, certainly in the Yorkshire and Humberside region in June. I welcome the care with which the Government have examined the problems and sought to address them. I was delighted that the regional returning officer, Paul Rogerson, wrote recently—he has been quoted by the Minister today—that a significant majority of the electoral officers in the region would prefer to be allowed to proceed with the arrangements for an all-postal ballot in June. In my experience, electoral returning officers are by nature and duty careful people. Their message is that Yorkshire and Humberside as a region can, and wants, properly to conduct postal vote elections in June.

The aim of postal voting, after all, is to increase voter participation in our democracy and to give people a larger voice in their choice of government. I have talked to electoral office staff in the region in the past few days to find out about their mood and the practicalities. Overwhelmingly, they are enthusiastic in their desire to proceed with an all-postal vote pilot in the region in June. In any case, there will be a postal ballot in the regional referendum in October. If postal voting cannot be done now because of those problems, why can it be done in October? It would be useful to know whether the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives would be opposed to that, too—the very same people will have to face the very same problems in October. For my part, it seems useful and sensible to conduct a pilot in June in order to learn lessons from it in time to assist in any tuning to deal with the referendum in October.

As all noble Lords know, postal voting in local elections has resulted in turnouts of over 50 per cent. That is good for representative democracy. What does it mean in Leeds, the city that I know so well? At present, there are 522,000 electors and the average turnout in local elections is around 29 per cent—roughly 157,000 electors. In an all-postal vote, in the pilots to date, the average turnout has been around 50 per cent or perhaps slightly more. If the pilot goes ahead in June for the local and European elections, a Leeds election turnout of 50 per cent would mean more than 260,000 people voting more than 100,000 additional people in the city casting their vote. I regard that as a massive gain for democracy. Looked at from the point of view of the consumer, the user or, in this case, the voter, 100,000 Leeds citizens expressing their choice on who they want to represent them on the city authority and in Europe seems a massive gain.

I hope that the Government's proposal is agreed today, and that the amendment is rejected.

Lord Smith of Leigh

My Lords, I speak on behalf of the north-west but, first, I need to declare an interest as I shall be a candidate in the local elections there in June. I listened with interest to the noble Lord. Lord Rennard, when he portrayed the Government as acting in a devious, politically motivated, manner while the Opposition were adopting the principled stand. We have to recognise that if there is political advantage for one party, the Opposition may think there are political disadvantages for themselves. I do not think they can pretend to be as innocent as they claim.

We have evidence that postal voting causes a dramatic increase in turnouts at local elections. In fact, it is the only thing in all the experiments carried out which has actually changed the turnout in local elections. We know that turnouts are notoriously poor in European elections. In the 1990 European elections in the north-west, the turnout averaged 15 per cent, which meant that the variations were from single figures upwards. We need to do something to stimulate the idea that people should vote and participate in a democratic election. We know that the postal vote will work, and the debate is about how far we can extend that.

What my noble friend Lord Woolmer said about Yorkshire and Humberside is true of the north-west. When the Electoral Commission went to get the original information, it did not consult widely across the region in terms of asking returning officers. I know there have now been a number of meetings in the north-west, lead by the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, Sir Howard Bernstein. The implication that a distinguished public servant like that could be manipulated to say things that he did not believe is discreditable to the noble Lord who said it.

I do not quite understand where the Electoral Commission is coming from. If we are to get evidence about whether postal votes work and whether they are applicable in elections other than local ones, it seems to me that the more evidence we get, the better. I can imagine, in two or three years' time when we are discussing where else we might extend the use of postal voting, noble Lords opposite might well say, "We don't have enough information. We've only had them in two areas, it's not enough". If the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside have postal elections, it has nothing to do with the other regions. The capacity in the north-west to conduct a postal ballot does not diminish the capacity to do so in the north-east and the East Midlands.

We approach this matter after postal voting has been successful in a number of areas, with great momentum, in local elections. My noble friend on the Front Bench mentioned two examples in Greater Manchester, including Trafford. Trafford has conducted three successful postal ballot elections. The electorate is enthusiastic about it, and would regard it as being a diminution of their right to vote if they lost the ability to do so by post. As my noble friend said, this is not a Labour Party scheme in Trafford. It has all-party support.

Noble Lords have made a lot of the issue of fraud. If they are as concerned as they claim about its dangers in postal voting, I wonder why they think it is all right in the north-east and East Midlands. Why is it all right to have such electoral fraud there as they claim would take place in postal ballots in Yorkshire and Humberside and the north-west? It is all right for those Geordies, they do not care. There is no logic in that.

At the moment, most of the examples quoted about fraud in postal voting happen under the current system. The big problem with the current system is that it is perpetuated by unscrupulous members of all political parties, the reason being that postal votes are built up by members of political parties for their supporters. They do not go out and canvass a Labour person, for example, who says "I cannot get to the poll". I cannot imagine any noble Lords opposite doing that and saying "Oh yes, here's a way to get to the poll. We'll make sure you get that Labour vote". I do not think so. We build up registers of postal votes for people we have identified as our own party supporters, and try to make sure they get out and vote. That is where fraud can start to happen. If everyone has a postal vote it is not the political parties who determine postal votes, it is the electoral returning officer. Everyone has a vote, and the influence of political parties is greatly diminished.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, could I interrupt my noble friend? It is not only in Greater Manchester that the postal vote has proved to be successful; it has also been successful in Chorley in Lancashire, not just on one occasion but on two. If we deny the people of Chorley the chance to cast a postal vote now, they will wonder why that is happening. How can those who are doing this term themselves "democrats" when postal votes lead to a greater return?

Lord Smith of Leigh

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the intervention. Of course, he is right, it is not just in Greater Manchester. Saint Helens in Merseyside and other places in the north-west have tried it.

If we pass this amendment and do not allow postal voting in the north-west, members of the electorate who have become used to participating in elections by postal vote will be denied that opportunity. To deny people the opportunity to vote is not a principle that I support.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I am fascinated that the last three contributors had taken no part in this Bill until now. We had heard nothing of what they have said. We heard nothing either in Committee or on Report of the justification that they have just put forward. We are now in the last moments of this Bill, with which a few of us have been involved from the outset. I give way.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I just wanted to check whether the noble Baroness was winding up at this point. In which case, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would do me the grace of allowing me to say a few words in response. As a result of advancing age and being slow on my feet, I, not the noble Baroness, am quite clearly at fault.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I do not want to interfere with the procedure. I can say all of that all over again. It gives me a second chance.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I shall not detain the noble Baroness for long. The passage of the Bill through this House has been well and thoughtfully handled. I think there have been efforts from all Benches to engage with real issues and seek to address them. On many issues, we have listened to what the House has said and have made a number of concessions. This is not one of them, and that is for no flippant reason. We believe we are perfectly reasonable to have this in four regions. We think it can be carried out securely, and that we will learn from the process of doing so. Therefore, I wanted to emphasise that there are such benefits to the public in more people voting in elections. As has clearly been indicated, it is responsible of us—and I hope that it would be, at some stage, for all parties—to allow this further pilot to proceed in the form we have proposed. I believe that is in the interests of democracy. For these reasons, I hope the noble Baroness will not be minded to press her amendment.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I apologise if I nipped in before the Minister. Having said what I said, I will not refer to it again. I want to remind the House that we are talking about an experiment here, as I said in my opening remarks. We are not talking about a decision having been made for the whole country to vote on an all-postal basis, or the benefits of that. The Government want to test whether all-postal voting does have an impact. I will readily accept that the Minister has been responsive to the practical issues raised about all-postal voting during our deliberations. But these are still trials, and a trial is better done where there is an opportunity to assess it.

The cat is out of the bag about this: the reason these four regions have been selected is that their next effort will be in October, when they will be invited to decide whether there should be regional assemblies. So this would effectively be a dry run for that. However, I do not think that that is a proper reason for the proposal. If we must have a pilot, examination and test of whether this will work, then, in all honesty, it makes sense to do it on a limited scale.

The other three contributors, including the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Woolmer, pointed to the fact that the previous pilots have gone down well. That is not the feedback we have had from the areas concerned. Clearly, other views have been presented to us.

There are inherent problems in the process. The main rationale offered for the proposal is that it would increase turnout. None of us would disagree with that. However, there is no point in measuring increased turnout only against the standard of the convenience of the vote. People will vote if it is more convenient. However, if we are truly to increase turnout, people should want to vote against the background of a manifesto and candidates whom they want to support, not because they see it as an easier way to vote.

We must also not lose sight of the fact that the proposals distance us from the ballot box. Many people believe that their civic duty entails going to the polling station to vote; not everyone, but many people prefer to do that. We therefore believe that where a recommendation has been made and advice sought and given, that advice should not lightly be thrown in the air and ignored.

I think that the letter from the chairman of the Electoral Commission is available on the website. I have certainly had a copy of it. It makes it very clear that the original recommendation was for two regions. The commission put forward another four, but it was not consulted on the other two which the Government finally proposed. The commission is concerned about the extension. For all those reasons, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.2 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1B) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 174; Not-Contents, 130.

Division No. 2
Addington, L. Home, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hooper, B.
Ampthill, L. Hooson, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Howe, E.
Armstrong of Ilminster, L. Howe of Idlicote, B.
Arran, E. Howell of Guildford, L.
Astor, V. HuntofWirrahL.
Astor of Hever, L. Hylton, L.
Attlee, E. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Avebury, L. Jopling, L.
Barker, B. Kilclooney, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kimball, L.
Biffen, L. King of Bridgwater, L.
Blaker, L. Kingsland, L.
Bowness, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Bradshaw, L. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Bridge man, V. Lane of Horsell, L.
Brigstocke, B. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lucas, L.
Buscombe, B. Luke, L.
Byford, B. Lyell, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. MacGregor of Pulham Market, L
Clement-Jones, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Courtown, E. Maclennan of Rogart, L.
Cox, B. McNally, L.
Craigavon, V. Maddock, B.
Crathorne, L. Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Crickhowell, L. Mancroft, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Mar, C
Deedes, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Dholakia, L. Marsh, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Methuen, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Michie of Gallanach, B.
Elton, L. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Ezra, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Falkland, V. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Fearn, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Feldman, L. Monson, L.
Fookes, B Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Fowler, L. Moynihan, L.
Freeman, L. Naseby, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Newby, L.
Geddes, L. Northesk, E.
Glentoran, L. Northover, B.
Goodhart, L. Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Goschen, V. O'Cathain, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Onslow, E.
Greaves, L. Palmer, L.
Greengross, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Greenway, L. Peel, E.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Hamwee, B. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Hanham, B. Platt of Writtle, B.
Hanningfield, L. Plumb, L.
Harris of Richmond, B. Plummerof St. Marylebone, L.
Hayhoe, L. Prior, L.
Henley, L. Quinton, L.
Higgins, L. Rawlings, B.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L. Razzall, L.
Reay, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Redesdale, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Rees, L. Stewartby, L.
Rees-Mogg, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L. Swinfen, L.
Rennard, L. Taverne, L.
Renton, L. Tebbit, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Roper, L. [Teller] Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Rotherwick, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Russell, E. Tope, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Tordoff, L.
Sandberg, L. Trumpington, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B. Ullswater, V.
Seccombe, B. Vinson, L,
Selborne, E. Waddington, L.
Selsdon, L. Wakeham, L.
Sharman, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L
Sharp of Guildford, B. Walmsley, B.
Sharples, B. Walpole, L.
Shaw of Northstead, L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L. [Teller] Wilcox, B.
Skelmersdale, L. Windlesham, L.
Acton, L. Goudie, B.
Ahmed, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Alli, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Amos, B. (Lord President of the Gregson, L.
Council) Grocott, L. [Teller]
Andrews, B. Hannay of Chiswick, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Harrison, L.
Bach, L. Haskel, L.
Barnett, L. Haskins, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Hayman, B.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Bhatia, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Billingham, B. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Blackstone, B. Howie of Troon, L.
Bledisloe, V. Hoyle, L.
Borrie, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Hunt of Kings Heath. L.
Brookman, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Campbell-Savours, L. Jones, L.
Carter, L. Jordan, L.
Chandos, V. Kennedy ofThe Shaws, B.
Chorley, L. Kirkhill, L.
Christopher, L. Laming, L.
Clark of Windermere, L. Layard, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Lockwood, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Crawley, B. McCarthy, L.
David, B. Mcintosh of Haringey, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Mcintosh of Hudnall. B.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller] MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Dealing, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Dixon, L. Massey of Darwen,
Dubs, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Elder, L. Mitchell, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Morris of Aberavon, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Orme, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Parekh, L.
Filkin, L. Patel, L.
Fitt, L. Patel of Blackburn, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L. Pendry, L.
Gale, B. Peston, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Gilbert, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Thornton, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Tomlinson, L.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L. Triesman, L.
Rea, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Walton of Detchant, L.
Roll of Ipsden, L. Warner, L.
Rooker, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L. Weatherill, L.
Sheldon, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Simon, V. Whitaker, B.
Smith of Leigh, L. Whitty, L.
Strange, B. Wilkins, B.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Temple-Morris, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

4.13 p.m.