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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 9:30 pm on 31st October 2001.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 9:30 pm, 31st October 2001

I shall reply briefly to this short debate, in which we have dealt with absent votes. The Minister has gone round the same course as in Committee, and we do not yet have a satisfactory answer to the issue that I raised in an intervention. The behaviour of parties that want to abuse the process will change when they realise that to avoid automated checking—the position that the Minister wants to reach—they need to supply the information on a large scale on forms other than those issued by the chief electoral officer.

The Minister is entitled to say that, so far, there has been no suggestion that people will not use the forms, or copies of the forms, produced by the chief electoral officer. Plainly, that is all right at the moment because it is convenient. However, rather than make their own forms, parties that want to abuse the process will give 10,000 applications to the chief electoral officer at the last possible moment, so that he is totally overwhelmed and unable to check them because it has to be done manually. The moment the system is computerised, the way to stop computer-checking will be to ensure that the information is presented on a non-standard form. That opportunity exists, and the House should prevent that loophole from being exploited by parties that might be determined to do so.