Voters to Produce Prescribed Documents

Orders of the Day — Elections (Northern Ireland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:45 pm on 6th December 1984.

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Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 11:45 pm, 6th December 1984

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 12, leave out 'prescribed' and insert 'specified'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 2 to 7.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

In Committee on 28 November, I undertook, in reply to an amendment moved by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), to bring forward on Report a group of amendments to incorporate in the body of the Bill the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's amendment, setting out the list of documents from which a voter will be required to produce one to obtain a ballot paper from a presiding officer or clerk.

The amendments seek to fulfil that undertaking, and I will explain why the Government believe that the list should consist of the documents set out in amendment No. 5.

We have looked closely at the reservations expressed in the House by a number of right hon. and hon. Members about the documents included in the list. I accept, as I must, the criticism of the right hon. Member for South Down that there is no document in the list which every person must by law have in his possession; there is no such document in the United Kingdom. I accept that each of the documents listed is not wholly satisfactory for the purpose of relating the person producing the document to the person described in the electoral register.

We have made it clear to the House from the outset that any list cannot be foolproof, but, bearing in mind the criteria that the documents should all be official documents issued by the Government or Government agencies, and that the list should not be drawn so tightly that any group of qualified electors is effectively disfranchised, or so widely that it would be simple for large numbers of documents to be obtained easily or be easily forged, I remain of the view that at least until we have the benefit of practical experience, the list of documents, specified in the amendment is right. If any difficulties subsequently arise in connection with any particular document, the new paragraph of rule 37 will permit the list to be varied as appropriate.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) said that the medical card alone could suffice as the specified document, because it is the only document on the list to which every elector is entitled and which can be obtained free of charge. I considered that idea carefully, because it has some attractions, but the essence of the Government's approach is that there should be the option to produce one of a range of documents, to make it easier for legitimate electors to have one of the documents easily available for production to the clerk or presiding officer.

Furthermore, if only one document were specified the opportunity would be removed for a voter to produce and for the presiding officer to consider another specified document in those cases where the first document produced a reasonable doubt in the mind of the presiding officer that the voter was the person on the electoral roll who he claimed to be.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has made a particular point about the inclusion of a certified copy or extract of an entry of marriage. In view of the concern that he has expressed I should explain why we have nevertheless decided to include it in the form now before the House.

The document has been included to provide for the case of a woman who has registered in her maiden name and who subsequently married and, as a result of her marriage, no longer possesses any of the other specified documents in her maiden name. The provision has been drafted so that it includes women who might marry at any time during the period of registration—July to mid-September—and so that it continues to apply until the latest possible date in the life of the register bearing the woman's maiden name. The hon. Member for Upper Bann raised that point. That date will be 15 February in the year two years on from the year of the compilation of the register. That is why th provision applies to women married within two years ending with the day of the poll concerned.

The amendment incorporates in the Bill an amendable list of specified documents as a result of an undertaking that I gave. We have sought to keep the balance between disfranchising genuine electors and yet inhibiting and deterring those who would corrupt the electoral process. We have listened carefully to the views and concerns expressed by right hon. and hon. Members and have taken them into account in drafting the amendment. I urge the House to accept it.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell:

The Bill will certainly leave the House the better for the insertion in it of the crucial documents in proper terms instead of by a sidelong reference, as was the original form of the Bill, to documents that would be prescribed in regulations which the House had not yet seen. Certainly the necessity of throwing into proper legislative form the documents referred to in the notes on clauses which were available to hon. Members has resulted in a considerable tightening and improvement of the definitions.

I welcome the fact that the visitor's passport appears to have disappeared, having made a fleeting apparition in the notes on clauses. There is also undoubtedly an improvement, to which the Minister has just referred, in the opportunity for a married woman validly to produce as a specified document her marriage certificate. That reminds me that the description of the certificate is, at any rate, more comprehensive and accurate than it was in the form in which we were previously considering it.

However, two points in the clause as drawn may raise a query. Perhaps the Minister will be able to refer to them when he intervenes. Paragraph (a) deals with the driving licence. In the case of a Great Britain driving licence, the provisional licence appears to be excluded. Perhaps, by some other means, the provisional licence is excluded in the case of the Northern Ireland driving licence. But that does not appear on the face of the amendment. Will the Minister confirm that the provisional driving licence is also excluded, as it should be, in the case of the Northern Ireland driving licence?

I should be grateful too if the Minister will refer to the last words of his amendment: varying any description of document". That appears to be an ambiguous phrase. It might appear to mean varying the description given in this amendment of the identical document. That is, it would be the same document but differently described from the way in which it is described here. That seems a rather curious provision to make. One would have supposed that we would ensure that we had the definition right in inserting the documents in the Bill as we are doing now. On the other hand, if it means varying the description of documents that can be used for this purpose, that point is surely covered already by the words "adding or deleting documents". I hope that when the Minister replies he may be able to clear up those two minor points of explanation.

The Bill, however, is certainly more satisfactory for carrying upon the face of it, for those who will use it and interpret it, the documents that for the present are to be those the production of at least one of which is to be a condition of exercising the franchise in Northern Ireland.

I welcome the two concessions that the Government have made within the scope of the amendment. I hope that I may take the opportunity to refer to the patience with which the Minister has, throughout the proceedings on the Bill, listened to the arguments that have been put. Even if that patience sometimes appeared to be linked with obduracy, nevertheless it was a patience that the Committee and the House appreciated.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I should like to deal with the three points raised by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). First, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman seemed to understand, the amendment includes a United Kingdom visitor's passport. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the driving licence and the exclusion of the Northern Ireland provisional licence from the amendment. It is excluded because under article 12 of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 only full licences can be issued. The need to include a power to vary the description of documents is very much a longstop provision. It was included in case the law under which the document was issued were to be amended, in which case the description might have to be altered.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 1, line 14, leave out 'prescribed' and insert 'specified'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 20, leave out 'prescribed' and insert 'specified'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 1, leave out 'prescribed' and insert 'specified'.—[Mr. Scott.]

Amendment proposed: No. 5, in page 2, line 5, at end insert — (1DA) For the purposes of this rule a specified document is one which for the time being falls within the following list:—

  1. (a) a current licence to drive a motor vehicle granted under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1972 (excluding a provisional licence), or under Article 12 of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 or any corresponding enactment for the time being in force;
  2. (b) a current passport issued by the Government of the United Kingdom or by the Government of the Republic of Ireland;
  3. (c) a current book for the payment of allowances, benefits or pensions issued by the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland;
  4. (d) a medical card issued by the Northern Ireland Central Services Agency for the Health and Social Services;
  5. (e) a certified copy, or extract, of an entry of marriage issued by a Registrar General, where the voter producing the copy or extract is a woman married within the period of two years ending with the day of the poll concerned.
In sub-paragraph (e) above "a Registrar General" means the Registrar General for England and Wales, the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Scotland or the Registrar General for Northern Ireland.(1DB) Regulations may make provision varying the list in paragraph (1DA) above (whether by adding or deleting documents or varying any description of document): .—[Mr. Scott.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 4.

Division No. 41][12.14 am
Amess, DavidMacfarlane, Neil
Bell, StuartMacGregor, John
Best, KeithMajor, John
Boscawen, Hon RobertMather, Carol
Brandon-Bravo, MartinMaude, Hon Francis
Brooke, Hon PeterMayhew, Sir Patrick
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Meadowcroft, Michael
Buck, Sir AntonyMerchant, Piers
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Cope, JohnMills, Iain (Meriden)
Cranborne, ViscountMoate, Roger
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMoynihan, Hon C.
Dorrell, StephenMurphy, Christopher
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Newton, Tony
Dover, DenNicholls, Patrick
Durant, TonyOsborn, Sir John
Favell, AnthonyPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Pawsey, James
Forth, EricPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Fox, MarcusPowell, William (Corby)
Freeman, RogerPowley, John
Gale, RogerRaffan, Keith
Galley, RoyRhodes James, Robert
Garel-Jones, TristanRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Gregory, ConalRifkind, Malcolm
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Roe, Mrs Marion
Ground, PatrickSackville, Hon Thomas
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Scott, Nicholas
Hanley, JeremyShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hargreaves, KennethSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Harvey, RobertSoames, Hon Nicholas
Hawksley, WarrenSpencer, Derek
Hayes, J.Stanbrook, Ivor
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidStern, Michael
Hind, KennethStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Holt, RichardStevens, Martin (Fulham)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Taylor, John (Solihull)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Hume, JohnTracey, Richard
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Twinn, Dr Ian
Hunter, AndrewWalden, George
Jackson, RobertWaller, Gary
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Wheeler, John
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Whitney, Raymond
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Wilkinson, John
Lang, IanWolfson, Mark
Lawler, GeoffreyWood, Timothy
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Yeo, Tim
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Lester, JimTellers for the Ayes:
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Mr. Tim Sainsbury and
Lord, MichaelMr. Michael Neubert.
McCrindle, Robert
Paisley, Rev Ian
Parry, RobertTellers for the Noes:
Patchett, TerryMr. Peter Robinson and
Skinner. DennisMr. William McCrea.

Question accordingly agreed to