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Both arguments hold good. If the Minister says that it is inappropriate to check the whole register of national insurance numbers—that is his argument, not mine—it is perfectly possible to separate them. However, I do not see why it should be a problem to check the national insurance numbers of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Minister's next argument concerned practicality. He said that whether the issue could be resolved against the deadlines the Government and others had set for the changes was a different matter. The deadline is of the Minister's own making. We have just had a debate about deadlines and he has so far refused to be bound by them. He has not been prepared to put one in the Bill. Had he done so, there might be a modicum of merit in his argument. Even then, I do not think that there would be when it comes to deadlines.
Checking national insurance numbers is simply a question of passing the necessary legislation, complying with the Data Protection Acts if necessary, and having the computer capacity to enable the chief electoral officer to undertake the checks. There is no reason why national insurance numbers cannot be put on the return that people have to complete.
The Minister's argument about data protection is the final refuge of people who oppose simplifying any of our bureaucracy. I do not accept that the data protection legislation would necessarily apply if the software program were written so as to include only national insurance numbers in Northern Ireland. If, as he suggested, primary legislation were necessary to effect that change and include the numbers as part of the process, that should be enacted.
I assure the Minister that he would have the wholehearted support of the Opposition to achieve that objective. There is no reason why such legislation could not be put in place to make the register as reliable as it must be. If the register is unreliable and we do not get it right, there will be a question mark over the conduct of democracy in Northern Ireland. We attended to those arguments in Committee, where the hon. Member for South Down made it clear that the future of Northern Ireland and the development of politics there were being affected by electoral fraud. At some stage, there may be referendums on the future status of Northern Ireland. Under the present arrangements, an individual vote can carry huge weight in local elections and can decide which parties will represent people on councils.
In Committee, the Minister did not even convince himself with his own rhetoric. There is cross-community support for this proposal. The hon. Member for Belfast, East was in alliance with the hon. Member for South Down and united with the Ulster Unionist party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.
The amendments can only further the aims of the legislation. They are aims that the Minister and everyone in the House shares—tackling electoral fraud in Northern Ireland. In the main, the Minister has conducted himself with grace during the passage of the Bill. If he wishes to spare himself embarrassment in another place, I hope that he will have the grace to accept these amendments.