Offences Relating to 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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Amendments made: No. 6, in page 4, line 2 leave out 'document prescribed for the purposes of rules 37 to 40', and insert 'specified document within the meaning of rule 37'.

No. 7, in page 4, line 6 leave out from 'a' to 'that' in line 8 and insert 'specified document within the meaning of that rule which either falsely bears the name of the person in possession or does not bear'.—[Mr. Scott.]

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 12:23 am, 6th December 1984

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Over recent weeks, a considerable amount of parliamentary time has been devoted to this important Bill. I welcome that, because it seeks to deal with a significant problem in Northern Ireland. During our debates, the House and the Committee have been united in support of the aims that underline the Bill. I believe that it is widely accepted both in the House and in Northern Ireland that in recent years personation has become a substantially greater problem. The objective of the Bill and of the Government is to protect the right to vote by diminishing as far as possible the opportunities for personation at elections in Northern Ireland.

I do not think that there is any dispute about the desirability of that aim. Experience in recent elections—and I have the general election in June 1983 especially in mind—has demonstrated that the existing legislation is inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem as it now confronts us. That legislation was never designed to withstand the pressures to which it is now subjected.

One of the fundamental principles in our electoral system in the United Kingdom to which the Government attach considerable weight is that it should be as easy as possible for the legitimate elector to cast his vote. That principle is continued in the Bill. In the debates on the Bill, a number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), have drawn attention consistently to this important requirement. We want to encourage the legitimate voter and to discourage the vote stealer. The legitimate voter, no less that the democratic process as a whole, is entitled to protection from those bent on abuse.

A good deal of time in Committee was devoted to the presiding officers' discretion. I understand and listened carefully to the case for giving wide discretion and not making the production of documents mandatory. This is a matter of judgment, but, having considered it again, I am firmly of the view that it would be the wrong course. No system that we introduce will be perfect, but there is a much greater chance of uniformity of practice if presiding officers are given minimum discretion in this sensitive area. Although I accept that in many parts of Northern Ireland electoral abuse may not be a serious problem, I do not believe that the electorate as a whole could have confidence in a system which conferred wide discretion on presiding officers.

The House will not want me to go over the ground that we have just covered on Report about the list of the documents which may be produced to obtain a ballot paper. But the House will wish to be reminded that the Government are determined to see the widest possible publicity given in the run-up to the elections in May next year to encourage electors to understand that they will have to produce one of these documents to be able to vote. The documents will, as I undertook at an earlier stage, be clearly listed on the poll card for these elections. I appeal to and urge the political parties to do all that they can to tell their supporters about the new arrangements.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

Will there be time between the issuing of poll cards and the election for an elector to get a medical card if he does not have one?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I cannot give that precise undertaking, but, once the publicity has started, it will be possible for anyone who needs a medical card to get it in good time for the May elections. I have to consider the date upon which it is proposed to issue the poll cards to establish whether it will be possible to do that within the time.

The political parties and the chief electoral officer and his staff jealously guard their independence, and rightly, at election time. But I hope that it will be possible, in coming up to these elections, for the Government, the chief electoral officer and the political parties all to work together to make this attempt to tackle personation in Northern Ireland as effective as possible.

At this stage, perhaps I might pay tribute to the chief electoral officer and his staff. We should not underestimate their difficult and testing job in Northern Ireland.

I draw attention to the importance of clause 3, which gives the police the powers that they need to apprehend those seeking to frustrate the key provisions of clause 1. We have sought to strike a balance between giving the police sufficient powers to be effective while keeping those powers in the sensitive and potentially controversial area of elections to the minimum.

As the House has noted, clauses 1 and 3 need to be read together. In my view, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

I am grateful for the constructive way in which the House and the Committee have tackled this difficult subject. I understand the concern that has been expressed by Northern Ireland Members and others as I understood the reasons which lay behind the amendments which we debated in Committee. I assure the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that in showing patience and listening carefully there was a genuine effort to determine whether the new ideas which came forward could be incorporated into the Bill to improve it. Ihope that by accepting one of his amendments and introducing a Government amendment on Report in response to that, we have demonstrated that the Government have had an open mind and have treated the arguments on their merits. Having listened to the arguments advanced in debate, the Government remain of the view that, given Northern Ireland circumstances, the approach taken in the Bill is right. Accordingly, I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley 12:30 am, 6th December 1984

I confirm what the Minister has said about common ground between us on the Bill's objectives and aims. From the earliest stage of the consultations in July 1982, we made plain our views on the issue when we said to the former Secretary of State that our general approach was a wish to see electoral law preserved and enforced but with the minimum divergence of the law in Ulster from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. It would therefore be inaccurate to suggest that the Ulster Unionist party has at any time pressed for correction at all costs and at any price. In fairness, I do not think that the Minister has suggested that.

We agreed that the electoral law should be observed and enforced, and we stressed that there should be the minimum divergence of the law in Northern Ireland from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Over the years we have been consistent in our demand both for uniformity in the making of laws and in their enforcement. For example, before the first elections for the European Assembly in 1979, we asserted that the method of voting should be the same throughout the United Kingdom. We were supported on that occasion by the then Conservative Opposition, who are now in government, when a Division took place. Unfortunately, they have slipped out of the undertaking to ensure uniformity of voting systems for the 1984 European Assembly elections.

I suspect that the Government—the Prime Minister has said that they are rock firm for the Union—do not have their heart in the Bill. However it is dressed up, it imposes a real handicap on Northern Ireland electors. The divergences and variations might be tolerable if the measures in the Bill as it stands were likely to achieve the purpose that the Government had in mind when they set out on this journey. In the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, they will not be effective. They will fail and they will tend to penalise, for the first time this century, those who wish to influence through the ballot box, and only through the ballot box, the attitudes and policies of Parliament and the Government who result from any general election or, in the next local government elections, influence the choice of the men and women who in councils are closer to the electors than any other tier of elected representatives.

In recent weeks we have sought to improve the Bill. I have on other occasions paid tribute to the Minister and the Department for his and its willingness to discuss further and more significant changes. We have agreed some improvements but, from the start, we realised that the defects were so fundamental that, short of returning to the drawing board or the drafting table, it would be impossible to produce a measure which could deal effectively with the problem of vote stealing in certain constituencies.

If there had been more time to consider what was proposed between the point at which the former Secretary of State appeared to give up the struggle and the sudden appearance of the Bill, we could together have produced a workable measure. I regret as much as the Minister the fact we were unable to reach a wider measure of agreement. However, I think that he will accept and understand that the points of difference between us are so great that it makes it impossible for us to do otherwise than oppose the Bill on Third Reading.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough 12:35 am, 6th December 1984

The Official Opposition accept that personation happens in Northern Ireland. That was conceded by all sides and it was right for the Government to introduce the legislation. It was also right to seek to balance the right to vote, but it is not always possible to please every party.

The Government sought to improve the Bill in Committee. They have listened carefully to the arguments. No Bill is perfect and perhaps this Bill will be reviewed, as suggested tonight. The Bill attempts to eliminate personation in Northern Ireland. It is a step forward. We shall see at the district elections in May whether it is effective. We shall support the Government on the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry 12:36 am, 6th December 1984

On more than one occasion the Minister has talked about sailing uncharted waters. He appears to have forgotten that, although the waters are uncharted to him and his officials, they are not to those of us who live in Northern Ireland. If we have not charted the exact waters, we have charted the adjacent waters in detail for many years. We have a fair idea of what the final charts will show. For that reason, we have been unremitting in our opposition to the measure.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), who spoke so briefly for the Opposition, said that we cannot expect to please every party. The Bill may please the Conservatives and others in Great Britain, but who does it please in Northern Ireland—that part of the United Kingdom which alone is affected by the Bill? It does not please the Unionists; it does not please the DU party, and I do not know whether it pleases the SDLP. We have not heard sufficient from them to know. No comment has been made by Sinn Fein, which in itself tells a story. Its members do not care two hoots about legislation passed here. They will attempt to carry on in their own merry way.

It is one thing if legislation does not please everyone, but when it displeases all responsible political opinion in the area affected, that is another matter. Hon. Members should reflect upon that.

The Bill's real objective is to cut Sinn Fein down to size —its real size—and to ensure that it is always defeated by the SDLP. If that is the intention the Bill is rubbish. In a Catholic area SDLP almost always defeats Sinn Fein. It would be wise for hon. Members to remember that after the last general election a Sinn Fein candidate was returned to this House. About one-third of the votes cast for anti-partition parties went to Sinn Fein. Only by a split vote in West Belfast did a Sinn Fein member win.

The objective of driving down the Sinn Fein vote is unnecessary and it is unlikely to succeed, because the real Sinn Fein vote is larger than some of us, especially on this side of the Irish sea, wish to admit.

The real objective should be to expose and isolate the extremists in Northern Ireland and to show the true face of Sinn Fein by having effective legislation. That objective requires us to do two things—first, to show Sinn Fein in its true colours, and, once that happens, the second objective of showing the true size of Sinn Fein will follow naturally. We would be gravely in error if we thought that the mass of the Northern Ireland people believe that terrorism has anything to offer them. If we get Sinn Fein down to its true size and get it to show its true face so that it can no longer hide in the mass of the people, more people will turn against Sinn Fein.

The Government clearly wish to reveal the true size of Sinn Fein, but their aim will be thwarted so long as there is legislation such as this and so long as they continue to use two differing electoral systems in Northern Ireland and, above all, so long as they continue to use the proportional representation—STV system. That system was brought into operation in Northern Ireland to help the so-called moderates such as the Alliance party, but the system helps not just one group but all groups to turn their minority vote into a quota. If that were not the case, Sinn Fein would not win elections, and the sooner the House and the Government face that reality, the better it will be. Once they face that reality, they will start to proceed down the road they should have taken long ago.

One can plainly see that this Chamber was not designed with fudged politics in mind. It is not designed with cross benches. It is designed to force people to make a decision —to face each other and argue out a case on the Floor of the House — whether angrily or calmly depends on the issue of the time or the time itself. This country's politics are built purely and simply on forcing people to decide on which side of the divide they stand.

I have seen many Northern Ireland politicians try to sit on the fence. Sometimes, when they sat down on that fence, they found that it was a great wide hedge. It was not long before the hedge was trampled down, and those politicians found that at its centre, there was a narrow, vicious strip of barbed wire. Usually, when one tries to sit in the middle, the people catch up with one. It is not pleasant whenever the electorate catches up with politicians.

Whenever we force people to make a real decision, we shall be moving in the right direction. We shall rot do that so long as we allow them to fudge the issue in Northern Ireland by using the STV system or, for that matter, any other proportional representation system of election. Under such system, all groups and sub-groups can find a party that represents their own narrow view. That is not, in the long run, a recipe for calm consideration of the aspects that divide us. It is a recipe for bedlam, as the more, extreme elements always try, and often succeed, to drive out the less extreme.

If the Government really want to resolve the problem of Sinn Fein and to defeat Sinn Fein, they should go for the simple majority system that brought us all to this House, because, in the long run, that system gives more stability and sense to the elected body than the proportional representation system can ever do. The extremists in Ulster upon which the Sinn Fein—

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. I remind the hon. Member that he must deal with what is in the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

As before, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have to point out that the Bill will be extended by order to be applied to proportional representation elections at two levels in Northern Ireland — at local level and at Assembly level. Therefore, what we say about proportional representation — [Interruption.] And, of course, to the European election. I was forgetting about that. I dislike the European election so much that I rarely give it any consideration. [Interruption.] I was not standing in that election, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) knows.

The House should keep very clearly in mind that this Bill does not apply only to elections to this House; it applies to other elections in Northern Ireland. It should be noted that under the simple majority system, Sinn Fein and other extremist parties have invariably done badly in Northern Ireland.

There have been many references in the debate to the number of votes cast for Sinn Fein with figures ranging from 70,000 to 120,000. If that is translated into the outcome in a PR election, whatever percentage that is of the total vote should be reflected more or less in the seats gained. The local government wards have an effect on that, as do the electoral areas. It was very interesting, whenever we went to the commissioner, at "the inquiry" into ward groupings in Magherafelt, to find that he had made it clear that, if he had known that he was to do the grouping of wards, he would have thought again. He said that the five-to-seven-wards rule in the electoral order in 1983 put him in a straitjacket. If the Minister was getting the same sort of advice on this Bill as he had in relation to the ward groupings—it probably came from the same quarter so he probably was—I can understand now why Sir Frank Harrison said what he did.

It does not take a substantial minority to get elected under PR; it takes one eighth of the electorate. We shall be back with this sort of legislation for wider areas of the United Kingdom if anything that has been said by English Members in the debate has any relevance to what is happening in this part of the United Kingdom. I view with very grave suspicion a turnout of 96 per cent. I have seen a turnout of 96 per cent. and 97 per cent. occasionally, but it should be realised that it does not happen very often. It can happen only in very favourable circumstances.

The circumstances are: good organisation, probably a small rural community, popular candidates, fear of the opposition, and a new electoral register. If any one of those items is missing, it is very difficult to get over 90 per cent., let alone 95 per cent. or 96 per cent.

It should be remembered that in March the register will be six months of age, because it is compiled with the date of 15 September in mind. At the end of its life it will be 18 months old. By that time at least 15 or 16 out of every 1,000 of the electorate will have died, and possibly over 20. That means that at an October election the register will be wildly out of date with very considerable variations from the original. It should be impossible to get 90 per cent. except under the most favourable conditions and the smallest populations.

The Government have fudged the issue, as they have fudged so many things in Northern Ireland. They are refusing to grasp the nettle and to provide proper means of identification and a proper system of election in Northen Ireland. Until they grasp the nettle and act upon it, we shall continue to have the sort of problem that we have been trying to deal with in the Bill, and which the Bill, despite the Minister's good hopes, will fail to meet.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East 12:49 am, 6th December 1984

I shall at once gain the support of the House when I say that I do not intend to speak at any length or to pad out my remarks.

The House is at least united on one thing — that personation is wrong, that it is cheating and stealing and that action must be taken. The House appears not to agree, however, on the best method of dealing with the problem.

In my view, the Government have shown a lack of resolve, first, in the fact that the Bill was introduced to assist the SDLP. Let there be no doubt about that. It was introduced to help the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and his party in the battle for the nationalist vote against Sinn Fein. The Minister should know that the best and perhaps the only way for the SDLP to ensure that it keeps its nose ahead of Sinn Fein is properly to enter the democratic process and to take part in democratic politics in Northern Ireland. It will otherwise be seen as a faint, similar product to Sinn Fein and when that product is on sale in Northern Ireland the voters will go for the original product and the SDLP will be left on the shelf.

Instead of telling the hon. Member for Foyle to stand on his own two feet and take on Sinn Fein, the Minister decided that he would have to do something for him. The Bill is the product of that thought. If the Minister had thought further, he would have realised that the best and most effective action would have been to proscribe Sinn Fein, but he turns away from that and allows the front men for the IRA gunmen to entertain the democratic process and to abuse democracy in Northern Ireland. They are an integral part of the Provisional IRA movement and as much a part of that movement as any IRA commanding officer. Members who care to go to the Library will find a book entitled "Beating the Terrorists?"—

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Bill is about preventing personation in elections in Northern Ireland. We must not have such a wide debate.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has made it clear throughout the debates on the Bill that the aim of this measure is to deal with Sinn Fein. That is why the Bill was sponsored in the House. Surely in this final stage of the proceedings it is in order for an hon. Member to state his view of that proposition and to comment on what the Minister has said.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

We have had many debates—on Second Reading, on amendments, on new clauses, and so on. The Third Reading debate is concerned with what is in the Bill and my job is to preserve the proper proceedings of the House.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

I of course accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely point out that the purpose of the Bill is to make more difficult the task of those who would personate, and those whom the Minister recognises as most likely to do that are members of Sinn Fein, who are under the IRA command structure. The best way to achieve that aim is to proscribe them and to put them where they need to be—outside the democratic process —rather than allowing them to abuse it.

The second way in which the Minister showed his lack of resolve was in relation to the only real solution to the identification problem—purpose-made ID cards. He did not want to go down that road, because he thought that there might be an ulterior motive on the part of those proposing it. He told the House that some people might not want to go and have their ID cards prepared. Those people, of course, are the very people whom the Minister wishes to prevent from personating. But he prefers yet again to run away from the only effective way of dealing with the matter and to propose an unpalatable mish-mash of forms of identification which have little in common with one another and none of which has all the points required—photograph, name, address and, in our view, signature. The prescribed documents are thus a second-rate alternative.

The Minister again turns his back on the mayhem that will undoubtedly occur on 15 May and on subsequent election days when his plan is put into operation. He has thought little about the danger in which he places presiding officers. Ordinary decent voters will bring them prescribed documents, but what will Sinn Fein bring to the ballot box?

In the past, presiding officers were aware that Sinn Fein members were personating, but were afraid to take the necessary action. It will be the same on 15 May when Sinn Fein members again demand other people's votes at the polling station. What will the presiding officer do? The Bill shows what he should do. It is easy for us to put into legislation what he should do, but he must live among those who are personating, and he and his family will be in danger.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the presiding officer must do that whether there is a list of identification documents or not?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened to make my point. The Bill has little value if the presiding officer is in fear, as he was before. It does not do anything about that. If he denies people a vote, mayhem will result. I hope that the Minister will join me in my constituency on 15 May to see the reaction of those who are denied a vote.

The Bill makes it no harder for Sinn Fein members to personate. It makes the task of the presiding officers more difficult because the necessary administrative measures will cause delays before votes can be cast. It makes the party workers' task more difficult because they must convey the Bill's requirements to the electorate and probably run people to the polling station twice because they will forget the prescribed documents. It makes the voters' task more difficult, and will probably confuse him. The candidate will probably come off worst, not only because fewer votes will be cast in the face of the confusion that will arise, but because he will be blamed for this, not the Minister, who will not be at the polling station to see the results.

In conclusion, the Bill is a dog's breakfast. The Minister may have taken some of the ingredients out and put others in, but it is still a dog's breakfast.

Photo of Mr Jim Nicholson Mr Jim Nicholson , Newry and Armagh

I rise for the first time to speak about the Bill, and so I am one of the few who can say that whatever I say, will not have been heard before. I was happy to leave the Bill in the hands of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but when I listened to the Minister I felt that I should intervene.

This is a poor and bad Bill. It will cause many and immense problems in the future, such as those outlined by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). In parts of my constituency there has always been personation. Personation has always existed and will continue to exist, despite the Bill. Those who want votes will continue to get them by threats, intimidation or whatever means will achieve them. The Bill places presiding officers in a more difficult position than ever before.

I am worried about the parts of the Bill which relate to presiding officers. More than half of my constituency does not have the problem of personation, but it has been tarred with the same brush by the Minister.

The Minister has referred to Northern Ireland as a whole as being involved in personation, but only small parts of constituencies—it is not every constituency—have that problem. I find that intolerable, unacceptable and most aggravating.

There are many thousands of electors who never have and never will abuse their right to vote. I am worried that there are some who will be disfranchised by the Government's action.

For many, the act of voting can be an ordeal. It is something they are not enthusiastic about. The documents that the Government are asking voters to produce will dissuade some from even going to the polling station. The Government may be doing harm by introducing the Bill. I hope that I may be proved wrong but I doubt it.

I have as much experience at grass roots level as any hon. Member. I have good grounds for believing that I have more experience than those involved in drawing up the Bill and bringing it to this stage.

I have sat in a polling station as a personation agent and I have acted as a sub-agent. I believe that the Bill will cause more problems for those involved in elections in Northern Ireland before polling day, on polling day and after polling day when people realise the effect of the Bill.

The Bill does not strike the right balance. The Government have panicked; the Bill is a panic measure and one that the Minister will live to regret.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell:

I shall refer in a few sentences to what is in the Bill, because it contains two grave elements. First, it makes a fundamental alteration in the franchise by attaching a new condition—hitherto non existent—to the right to exercise the vote. Secondly, it changes the franchise in one part only of the United Kingdom thus introducing a differentiation between the right to vote for membership, for instance, of this House between one part of the United Kingdom and the remainder.

My hon. Friends and I, and, indeed, virtually all who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, are bound to resist the measure because on both counts it fails to meet the requirements.

The new condition which is attached to voting is a condition which cannot, by its very nature—the debates on the Bill have shown this — achieve the intended object.

The documentation will be inadequate to ensure that personation does not occur, so that the purpose behind the innovation in the franchise will not be reached by the Bill.

The circumstances in Northern Ireland are not to that degree unique, nor is the consequence of those circumstances to the electoral outcome in Northern Ireland so grave as to justify the extreme gravity of the step of legislating differentially on this crucial matter of the franchise for Northern Ireland as against the rest of the United Kingdom.

Those who represent Northern Ireland seats would be failing in their duty if they did not oppose this measure at this last stage.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

At this early hour of the morning I know that many hon. Members wish to get away, but the people of Northern Ireland and the candidates at local government elections, Assembly elections, elections to this House and EEC elections will have to live with the Bill. It is all very well for Members of this House to say that the Bill ought to be given a trial. We have said that the Bill ought to be given a trial for three years and that after three years it ought to be looked at again. But we have been told that the Bill must become law. Reasonable propositions have been ruled out. Ministers have said to me that the purpose of the Bill is to deal with the IRA threat and that the SDLP want the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

I hope that the Minister will confirm that the request for the Bill did not come from the SDLP. The first request came from the former Secretary of State. He wrote to all parties in Northern Ireland and asked them to come and discuss the problems relating to vote stealing in Northern Ireland. On that occasion the SDLP opposed the introduction of such a measure as this. After subsequent elections, it became clear that the evils were so widespread that we ought to acquiesce. I have put before the House the only proposal which I believe is foolproof against vote-stealing in Northern Ireland. It relates to the moment of registration of voting. I said on Second Reading that the proposal was not perfect, but it is the only one which is before us now.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I am very pleased that the House now knows that the SDLP do not want the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will express that view by the way he votes tonight.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

That is not what I said. I shall acquiesce.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The hon. Gentleman says that he is going to acquiesce. Why acquiesce when the hon. Gentleman know that the Bill will not fulfil its task? In the past, this House has tried by legislation to prevent various aspects of Irish nationalism and republicanism and has failed utterly. Sinn Fein will not be defeated by the Bill, even when it becomes an Act. Anybody who believes that Sinn Fein will be defeated by the Bill ought to have his head examined. Everybody knows that those who intend to personate will steal as many votes as they can at the next election. If there is an increase in the Sinn Fein vote after the Bill becomes law, this House will be a laughing stock. Nobody will laugh more heartily at this House than Sinn Fein and the IRA. Therefore, the House needs to look very carefully at this legislation.

I am amazed by the Minister's explanation of the registrar's certificate. The registrar's certificate is copied from the certificate issued by the minister. His certificate is no good, but a copy will be accepted. I cannot understand why. Nor can any minister in Northern Ireland, whether he be priest or clergyman. I do not understand the Government's reasoning. The Government believe that their original proposals must be adhered to as though they were the laws of the Medes and the Persians. I am pleased that the Minister has accepted the proposal that the poll card should carry upon it a list of these documents. I am waiting to hear whether we shall have time during the elections in Northern Ireland to carry out the provisions contained in the Bill. I trust that we shall be told tonight that we shall have at least as much time at local elections as is provided on this side of the water.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

The Order in Council that will extend the provisions of the Bill to local government elections will take account of the point that the hon. Gentleman and others have made about the length of polling hours. The draft order will be made available to the political parties for consultation before it is laid before Parliament.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I welcome that assurance, because it is essential that the people of Northern Ireland have time to produce the documents and time to cast their votes. The Minister's intervention encourages me. I know what happens on election day, and I know that time is needed. I agree that something should be done, and the proposition of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) was a good one, but it has been ruled out. The Bill includes a list of prescribed documents but does not include a document that would be produced by the presiding officer and confirmed by the voter. It is a pity that more thought was not given to the idea of the hon. Member for Foyle. The Minister told me that it would be impossible to have such a system in operation by May. That may be so, but why could we not introduce it after May?

It would be better for us not to rush through this legislation. That is why my hon. Friends and I will vote against it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 105, Noes 13.

Division No. 42][1.11 am
AYES
Amess, DavidLilley, Peter
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Lord, Michael
Best, KeithMcCrindle, Robert
Boscawen, Hon RobertMacGregor, John
Brandon-Bravo, MartinMajor, John
Brooke, Hon PeterMather, Carol
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Maude, Hon Francis
Buck, Sir AntonyMayhew, Sir Patrick
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Meadowcroft, Michael
Conway, DerekMerchant, Piers
Cope, JohnMeyer, Sir Anthony
Cranborne, ViscountMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMills, Iain (Meriden)
Dorrell, StephenMoate, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Moynihan, Hon C.
Dover, DenMurphy, Christopher
Durant, TonyNeubert, Michael
Favell, AnthonyNewton, Tony
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, EricNorris, Steven
Fox, MarcusPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Freeman, RogerPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Gale, RogerPowell, William (Corby)
Galley, RoyPowley, John
Garel-Jones, TristanRaffan, Keith
Gregory, ConalRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Rifkind, Malcolm
Ground, PatrickRoe, Mrs Marion
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hanley, JeremySainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hargreaves, KennethSayeed, Jonathan
Harvey, RobertScott, Nicholas
Hawksley, WarrenShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hayes, J.Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidSoames, Hon Nicholas
Hind, KennethSpencer, Derek
Holt, RichardStanbrook, Ivor
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Stern, Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Hume, JohnStevens, Martin (Fulham)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Taylor, John (Solihull)
Jackson, RobertThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Thurnham, Peter
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Tracey, Richard
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Twinn, Dr Ian
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Walden, George
Lang, IanWaller, Gary
Lawler, GeoffreyWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Wheeler, John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkWhitney, Raymond
Lester, JimWilkinson, John
Wolfson, MarkTeller for the Ayes:
Wood, TimothyMr. Archie Hamilton and
Yeo, TimMr. Peter Lloyd
NOES
Beggs, RoyPatchett, Terry
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
McCrea, Rev WilliamRobinson, P. (Belfast E)
McCusker, HaroldSkinner, Dennis
Maginnis, Ken
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTellers for the Noes:
Nicholson, J.Mr. A. Cecil Walker and
Paisley, Rev IanMr. William Ross.
Parry, Robert

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.