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Clause 3 — Absent votes and declarations of identity

Part of Orders of the Day — Election Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 31st October 2001.

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Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 9:15 pm, 31st October 2001

The hon. Gentleman makes my point precisely. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 do not prevent parties from collecting one form from the chief electoral officer and photocopying that form, because that would still be a form that had been provided by the chief electoral officer and an application would be made on that form. They are therefore consistent with what we are putting in place administratively, and there is no need for the amendments to achieve the objective that we can achieve administratively.

The hon. Gentleman is arguing that unless the information is submitted in a format that is identical to the format of every other application, it cannot be checked by the chief electoral officer using a computer. I do not accept that that is necessarily so. In my view, the information provided on the form can be checked against a simple keying process on the computer, but in any event the bulk of the applications will come in—I expect that they will continue to do so—on forms that have been provided by the chief electoral officer and then copied, or on the originals of those forms. The comparatively small number that may arrive in another form will still entitle people to vote. I do not accept that a flood of applications will suddenly come in on odd bits of paper.

The requirement for electors to provide additional identifiers in the registration and in any subsequent application will improve the efforts to authenticate absent vote applications. Applications and declarations of identity will require the elector to provide a signature and a date of birth, and those data can be compared with those that an elector provided on registration. That is how the system will operate, and in the light of those remarks I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.