Northern Ireland

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:07 pm on 17th November 2010.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 8:07 pm, 17th November 2010

The hon. Lady raises a good point. We should make it perfectly clear well in advance of the elections what photo ID will be acceptable. There could be nothing more frustrating than queuing to take part in three elections, arriving almost as the clock is striking 10 o'clock, only to be told that one has the wrong form of ID. That is something we should consider and, again, we need to be properly prepared. We would not want people in any great numbers-or, indeed, any individual-to feel that they had been disfranchised because they were not aware that their ID, which they thought was quite proper and which could be used on airlines and so on, was not appropriate for an election. We heard loud and clear what the hon. Lady had to say.

The hon. Lady also asked about the Assembly election dominating debate, leading to local issues being ignored. It is worth pointing out that, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North mentioned, local elections were held successfully alongside Westminster elections in Northern Ireland in both 2001 and 2005. The hon. Lady said that Northern Ireland has a sophisticated voting population, and it is up to the individual candidates to set fire in the minds and hearts of their potential electorate- [ Interruption. ] Not literally, but in terms of trying to get interest in the election. I think the hon. Lady is probably wrong on this point because having three elections, albeit two voting one way and another being a straight yes or no, will mean that people will talk about the elections much more. I would not be at all surprised if we had a very good turnout. I do not think that one issue should eclipse the other-I think that we are going to have a very political new year.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley mentioned ward boundaries. Again, that is a matter for his colleague the Environment Minister in the Executive, but, as we have said, we cannot go on working on boundaries that are nearly 19 years out of date. He also asked a specific question about the electoral night, and I am looking forward to the morning after, which I hope will be one without too much trouble. I am told by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mr Harper, that the Electoral Commission's recommendation is that the Assembly election should be first, the referendum second and the local government election third, on the Monday. I believe that that has already been published.

It has been an interesting debate, but not a controversial one. The legislation is necessary to tidy up some anomalies. The contributions made by right hon. and hon. Members of all parties will be listened to by the Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer. Let us hope that we have a good day next year.

Question put.

The Deputy Speaker's opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 24 November (Standing Order No. 41A).