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Clause 1 — Registration: provision of signature and date of birth

Part of Orders of the Day — Election Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 31st October 2001.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East 7:30 pm, 31st October 2001

I am sure that the whole House realises that the electors of Mr. McGrady have much for which to be thankful in having a Member who is so dedicated in his pursuit of issues that arise in Committee. Where that research might lead the hon. Gentleman, should he discover the person he seeks, only he can tell us. However, although he might have enjoyed that aspect of the Committee's business, I doubt that the Minister is enjoying this moment.

The Minister has been squirming for some time as we have debated the amendment—and so he should. He had a difficult time in Committee because his past was brought up, dragged before the Committee and thoroughly inspected. Once, the Minister was open minded; he was a free thinker who was allowed to reach conclusions based on his own judgment, but now he bears the heavy burden of office. Now, he has his civil servants around him. Now, he has the benefit—enjoyed by many—of having others to prepare the words he has to utter at the Dispatch Box.

The reality is that when the Minister was able to consider in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs the merits and demerits of proposals such as those in the amendment, he knew where the argument lay. He knew on which side the weight and burden of the issue came down. He concluded—as did everyone on the Select Committee, even those of his colleagues who are also in denial tonight—that the right thing to do was to include the national insurance number on the registration form.

The Select Committee was not alone in reaching that conclusion. Others held the same view. The Northern Ireland Forum set up a committee to consider the issue and made the same recommendation, realising that the proposal made good sense. The Northern Ireland Office published a review paper which noted that it was worth investigating the inclusion of the number on the form. The paper went even further, by proposing not only that the number should be on the registration form but that people could be asked to give it at the polling station. That is a step beyond my proposal in the Standing Committee and that in the amendment. The proposal is much more moderate than that which the Minister and others have been prepared to align themselves with in the past.

In the past, people have considered and judged the proposal and found it worthy of merit, but on this occasion it has found the fulsome support of every Opposition party in the House. It managed to unite all the Northern Ireland parties in Committee, and I presume in the House as well. I thought that it was Government policy to achieve cross-community support. If such a consensus were achieved on any other issue, the Minister would almost die for it, yet here he has the Northern Ireland parties jumping up and down in front of him and he waves the proposal away; he does not want it. Why is it that when the Minister has, on a Northern Ireland issue, the Northern Ireland parties all saying, "Go in this direction!" he decides to turn his back and go another way?