New Clause 20 — Combination of polls

Part of Speaker's Statement – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 25th October 2010.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform) 5:45 pm, 25th October 2010

Indeed. There is a series of complications that I shall come on to, if my hon. Friend will bear with me for a while. There are amendments that specifically refer to that point, but they amend the Government's new schedules rather than the new clause, and I want first to deal with the amendments to new clause 20 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, other colleagues and me.

The first amendment is amendment (a) to new clause 20. I realise that some hon. Members might be slightly confused that there are lots of amendments (a) in this group, because some refer to the clause and some to each of the new schedules. Amendment (a) to Government new clause 20 states:

"Where the date of the poll for a local authority election in England is the same as the date of the poll for the referendum, the polls are to be taken together."

That is narrower than that which the Government have provided. The Government are suggesting that the polls can happen together when there is the referendum, and a local authority election in England, and a local referendum in England, and a mayoral election in England. In other words, it is theoretically possible that, if we stick with the Government's proposal, one voter might come in to vote on the referendum on AV, a local authority election, a local referendum and a mayoral election all at the same time. It is one thing to consider all this in relation to someone coming into a polling station, and people might conclude that it is perfectly legitimate-that there is the franchise for the AV referendum, which we have already discussed, and the franchise for all three other issues, which would be the same-but what happens with postal votes for all those polls? If there are four postal votes and four polling cards, that provides a right old tagliatelle of a constitutional settlement for ordinary voters to try to sort out. That is why our amendment, instead of allowing all four polls at the same time, would allow only a local authority election in England to happen at the same time as the referendum. We do not think that is ideal, but at least it would tidy things up a little. I very much hope that the Minister will accede to that amendment.

Amendment (b) would also amend new clause 20 in relation to Northern Ireland. The Government propose that

"Where the date of the poll for one or more of the following is the same as the date of the poll for the referendum, the polls are to be taken together-

(a) a Northern Ireland Assembly Election;

(b) a Northern Ireland local election."

In other words, they are providing for all three to happen at the same time. Up to now, there has been no legal provision enabling that to happen in Northern Ireland, which is why they are bringing forward relevant statutory instruments. We do not believe it is right to have all three elections at the same time, so we suggest, in a consensual way, that the Government might at least limit the combinations to a degree by taking one of the polls out of the measure.