Use of personal identifier information

– in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 15th May 2006.

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7C The registration officer must either—

(a) provide the returning officer for an election with a copy of the information contained in records kept by the registration officer in pursuance of paragraphs 3(9), 4(6) and 7(12) in relation to electors at the election, or

(b) give the returning officer access to such information.

7D Information contained in records kept by a registration officer in pursuance of paragraph 3(9), 4(6) or 7(12) may be disclosed by him (subject to any prescribed conditions) to—

(a) any other registration officer if he thinks that to do so will assist the other registration officer in the performance of his duties;

(b) any person exercising functions in relation to the preparation or conduct of legal proceedings under the Representation of the People Acts;

(c) such other persons for such other purposes relating to elections as may be prescribed."

(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—

(a) enabling the registration officer to require an existing absent voter to provide the registration officer with a signature and date of birth;

(b) as to the consequences of an existing absent voter refusing or failing in such circumstances as are prescribed to provide a signature and date of birth.

(6) An existing absent voter is a person whose application under any of the following provisions of that Schedule has been granted before this section comes into force—

paragraph 3(1) or (2);

paragraph 4(1) or (2);

paragraph 7(4).

(7) The regulations—

(a) may make different provision for different purposes;

(b) must be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(8) Nothing in this section or the amendments made by it has effect in relation to anything which is done only for the purposes of a local government election in Scotland."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 27:

Before Clause 13, insert the following new clause—

"INDIVIDUAL REGISTRATION

(1) There shall be individual voter registration in England, Wales and Scotland.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order make provision to give effect to subsection (1)."

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, this amendment deals with individual registration, which was briefly touched on in the previous debate. We still think that it would be helpful to have individual voter registration across the country, bypassing the traditional provisions of the pilot scheme to which the Minister has already referred. As she knows, I am delighted that her department has agreed to abandon the majority of the pilot schemes by removing half the sections in the Bill. The introduction of photographs on ballot papers does not meet with my approval, but at least it is not a pilot scheme that directly interferes with the voting process.

This amendment is tabled with pragmatism at its heart. We on these Benches entirely advocate individual registration and if we could implement that tomorrow we would. I would like to be clear on that point. We no longer live in a society with a head of household in every house. Apart from there being many houses of multiple occupancy—for example, student halls and care homes—increasingly families are splitting up, people are living with their partners in complete equality, and nobody considers themselves in charge of the home above anybody else. As the Electoral Commission says,

"the current system of household registration is outdated and open to . . . error".

Individual registration should go beyond just postal voting. It is about creating a culture of civic responsibility in which "one man, one vote" is the absolute guiding principle. I know that the Electoral Commission is in full support of this, and will just remind the House what it says.

"Without individual registration it is not possible to carry out reliable checks to prevent postal fraud, or to introduce new methods of voting which will promote participation".

While we are thrilled that the pilot schemes have been abandoned, we would encourage the Government to go much further and demonstrate a fresh approach to the electoral system. Individual registration in Ireland has improved the whole culture of voting. A Commons committee on Northern Ireland affairs stated that it has,

"served to increase the level of public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process".

I hope that this amendment will be supported, and for an acceptance that household registration is out of date and fails to recognise the importance of each single voter. We do not need a drastic change in the principle of our electoral system, merely a fresh way of implementing its basic functions, which have been moved a stage forward by the amendments we have just agreed to. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities 5:15 pm, 15th May 2006

My Lords, as I think I indicated during my speech in the debate on the group starting with Amendment No. 24, we entirely agree with this in principle. We cannot support this amendment because—I can say as a former member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—this leaves too much to secondary legislation and we need a provision that looks much more like Clause 13. For example, there is a reference to "individual voter registration" but there is no obligation to include personal identifiers. Having said that, I entirely support the principle behind the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for tabling the amendment. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that the Delegated Powers Committee might blanche at the breadth of this—and noble Lords would be right to be concerned about the breadth of it—it is important that we have the debate.

The Government have said that we accept the principle behind individual registration. We have accepted the practical value that the use of personal identifiers might have in combating fraud. But we have also said—and I think I indicated this in my comments on the earlier group—that it is an important part of how we operate in our democracy that we make sure that everyone who is entitled to register to vote is registered. We know—do we not?—that under-registration disfranchises individuals and sometimes skews the map of political representation.

The Northern Ireland example is often cited on both sides of this debate. It is often seen as a tried and tested system of individual registration, and it has led to benefits, particularly in terms of the perceived security of the electoral process. But it is not true to say that the experience in Northern Ireland argues for the system in place there to be extended to the rest of the UK. In fact, due to concerns about under-registration in Northern Ireland, a Bill is currently in the other place to amend its registration system to ensure that the electoral register is made both secure and comprehensive.

The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill would abolish the annual canvass. Once registered, a person would remain on the register until he changed address. Increased data-sharing would help keep the register up-to-date, but if it became inaccurate, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland would conduct a full canvass.

We hope that these proposals will improve the quality of the electoral register, responding to the lessons learnt about individual registration in Northern Ireland. However, we also believe that the need for this legislation shows clearly that we need to do more work before we extend it to the rest of the UK.

The Electoral Commission found that 3.5 million people in England and Wales cannot vote in elections because they are not registered; and we believe that if we do not get implementation of electoral registration right now we could make the situation worse. When individual registration was introduced in Northern Ireland, the registration levels dropped by around 10 per cent. In one Belfast ward the registration dropped from an already low 41 per cent to just 23 per cent Such a situation is unacceptable. Although this is an extreme example, and I am always wary of quoting extreme examples, it is worth making the point that we have to do this very carefully. This is about our democracy, which I believe is the most precious thing we have. We cannot allow a situation in which areas are almost "democracy deserts" to continue in that vein.

I understand that individual registration has benefits in relation to security; in particular through the collection of personal identifiers such as a signature and date of birth. Because we can see the benefit, we believe the way forward is to adopt the amendment of my noble friend Lord Elder, as the House has, to look at the situation very carefully and to see what we can learn from it. We want to pursue the issues of under-registration and personal identification in a measured way with, I hope, as much support on all sides of your Lordships' House as we possibly can. For that reason we have taken the approach that we have.

I fully accept and understand the concerns of noble Lords and where they would wish us to be. However, we are now in a good and positive place with this legislation and can say that we have a way forward that will give us greater security in postal voting and a greater understanding of personal identification that will enable us to come back to this matter either with other legislation or in debates in your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down—which, I am sorry to say, I failed to prevent—I want to speak as, I think, the only Member present in the Chamber who is a member of the Delegated Powers Committee. There was an exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the Minister about possible deficiencies in my noble friend's amendment to which the Delegated Powers Committee would draw attention. It is perhaps worth my drawing to the attention of the Minister and the House that the Delegated Powers Committee is not normally accustomed to make comments on amendments moved by the Opposition. Therefore, one should not rely on the committee intervening after the event.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to make that point. I was not trying to suggest that the Delegated Powers Committee would comment on it. As a government, we are always minded to think about the invaluable role played by the Delegated Powers Committee in ensuring that when we take such order-making powers, we do so in a measured way. That was really the only point in which I was agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, again, I thank the Minister for her reply on the amendment. I think that I am bound to repeat the two concerns about the register. The worry about individual registration from the Minister's point of view is that it will reduce the number on the register because people will not register. My worry is that it will not take off the register people who are not entitled to be on it. There must be a middle road here where we can join hands to say that we have got it right.

As things stand, the registration of a house in multiple occupation is left to the owner. Often, the question is: who is the owner and who does the owner think is in the property? I am sure that the noble Baroness will have experienced occasions when a house that could not conceivably house more than 10 people shows 40 people on the register. At least 20 of them should not be on the register and one wonders how they got there. There is more behind this than is being accepted by the Minister. For that reason, I shall not give up entirely and may well return to it at our final stage. However, for today's purposes, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 [Registration: personal identifiers]:

[Amendments Nos. 28 to 37 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 39:

Leave out Clause 14.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 not moved.]

Clause 15 [Personal identifiers: piloting]:

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 15, line 24, at end insert—

"( ) In section 10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 (c. 2) (pilot schemes for local elections in England and Wales), after subsection (1A) insert—

"(1B) No pilot scheme shall take place by all-postal voting or involve sending ballot papers to electors who have not expressly and explicitly requested to vote by post.""

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, although pilot schemes have been abandoned as a result of the amendments that have been made, there is nothing to say that under the provisions of the 2000 Act, a pilot scheme would not include all-postal voting. This group of amendments would ensure that no all-postal voting was piloted in any scheme. The most important effect of this whole cluster of amendments is implemented by subsection (2) of Amendment No. 98, which would ensure that, regardless of pilot schemes, no all-postal voting would ever be allowed to take place.

I was extremely interested to read in the Evening Standard of an electioneering scandal in the weeks leading up to the local elections held at the beginning of this month. I am sure that all noble Lords read of the postal voting fraud in Tower Hamlets and that the council candidate for that ward from my own party was denied her vote due to postal vote theft. So this problem is not going to go away.

Postal voting has been tried and tested. It is clear that it is in no way ideal. Its function is to provide a solution for otherwise unworkable situations, to enable people who cannot be present at the polling station for a number of reasons to cast their vote and to ensure that geographical distance or unavoidable inconvenience do not result in their being unable to vote. But to extend the remit of personal voting is to expose the electoral system, as we have already found out, to a serious risk of fraud.

In principle, these amendments go hand in hand with a pragmatic approach to the electoral system as laid out in my amendment on individual voter registration. With this Bill, we have an opportunity to clarify the extent of the franchise by providing registration to every individual and to close the back door on election fraud once and for all. We must close the door also on all-postal voting pilot schemes, which is the burden of my amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, I was waiting in case the Liberal Democrats were going to intervene. I have already declared my interest as a voter in Tower Hamlets. I warmly support my noble friend's amendments and I shall turn in a moment specifically to Amendment No. 46.

I share with my noble friend the experience in the run-up to the local government elections of concern that fraud was continuing to occur in one form or another, notably in postal voting. In the aftermath of the election, it emerged that some people turned up to vote and were told that they had voted already, presumably because a postal vote had been claimed in their name. My vote is not significant in the context of Tower Hamlets, yet as a single voter there, I was very much concerned that the pattern of the election was likely to be affected by a relatively massive fraud in certain buildings in the borough.

We have said at various stages during the passage of this Bill that, although we understand the Government's concern to increase the number of people voting, it is still much more important that those who vote should have the right to vote and should not have stolen the vote of somebody else. Too much haste does cause less speed.

I realise that Amendment No. 46 relates specifically to the Government's enthusiasm for becoming more technological. I would hope that we will not become more technological until we have managed in more conventional methods of voting to deliver a system which is universally regarded by the electorate as honest and fair.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, questioned whether I was going to say anything, I should perhaps briefly indicate our position. We certainly agree that we do not want to see all-postal voting used in pilot schemes in principle. There is some ground for saying that all-postal elections might be suitable for the lowest level—that is, for parish or town councils—where the powers are far less significant. The electorate in those cases might prefer to vote by post. I cannot see there being much likelihood of serious electoral fraud given the limited powers concerned. Subject to that, we also do not wish to see all-postal voting in pilot schemes. Moreover, until we know that methods to protect the security of voting exist, which is not the case now, we certainly would not like to see pilot schemes for other methods of voting.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the future piloting of all-postal voting. As noble Lords will know from Grand Committee, I have indicated that the Government have no intention of rolling out all-postal voting as a default position for local elections. We have no plans ever to impose all-postal voting again, as in 2004. I should also make clear that the schemes that took place then—which noble Lords felt strongly about—did not take place under the Section 10 power that the noble Baroness is seeking to amend here, but required separate legislation.

However, we believe that it is wrong to rule out an all-postal pilot in any election anywhere in the future. There are circumstances where the use of all-postal ballots can be justified, particularly for very small parish by-elections where the evidence is that they can dramatically boost turnout. King's Lynn, which last undertook an all-postal ballot at a by-election in August 2005, in the Downham Market parish, is an example of an all-postal ballot being used to good effect with local cross-party support. Use of the system at that election significantly improved turnout from 11 per cent in the last comparable by-election to 27.6 per cent in the recent all-postal ballot. I gather that the election was won by the Conservative Party. It was a more efficient way of running the election than a traditional poll.

It is also important to note that all-postal ballots provide places similar to polling stations where a person can complete their vote in privacy and deposit it in a ballot box. In that way, nobody is compelled to return their vote by post—although most choose to do so.

Any election pilot is conducted at the request of the individual local authority, which must make an application to the Secretary of State. We think that local authorities are best placed to determine whether an all-postal election would be better, depending on their local circumstances, local party support and the type of election being held. Many local authorities have made requests to conduct all-postal elections in small by-elections. We believe that it is right to be able to consider those applications individually.

I recognise that the amendments also seek to respond to concerns about postal voting fraud. However, the Bill contains a number of measures aimed at improving the security of postal voting and we have implemented a number of changes to improve that security through secondary legislation for the elections held on 5 May. I hope that that—and the fact that we have no plans to move all-postal voting beyond a system which local authorities may opt into—provides adequate reassurance. I would hesitate to support the voters of King's Lynn in this way. Where local authorities have all-party support and there is a good case to be made for improved turnout, we would want that opportunity to be available.

Amendment No. 44 relates to different types of remote electronic voting, which the noble Baroness touched upon. Piloting electronic voting allows for new technologies to be tested and for ways to be identified in which the security and accessibility of the vote can be improved. We have much learning from previous pilots that will enable us to continue to modernise how elections are held. However, I completely and utterly accept that it is critical to have security in any electronic voting. In any e-voting pilot we will seek to ensure that the most robust security standards are applied.

It is also important to note the trend in recent years toward lower levels of voter participation in elections, as noble Lords know. Although we recognise the complex causes of that trend, one response to it might be to make voting more accessible and straightforward. Ruling out ways in which we could develop pilots to identify different ways of voting might have the impact of discouraging people to vote. That may be especially true—she says with feeling as one who has teenagers at home—for younger people, who consider using technology to be perfectly normal and ordinary. So, while I would not want to rule that out either, I completely accept the principles behind it. We must make sure that we have absolutely dealt with the issues of security. Local authorities have also demonstrated an interest in using electronic voting and we have conducted a number of such pilots, as I have indicated.

Amendment No. 46 gives an additional layer of parliamentary scrutiny. Noble Lords know from our discussions that Section 10 allows local authorities to propose innovations to how they run their elections. They are assessed by the department, but the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission before he determines which pilots should proceed or makes an order changing the rules. Pilots are developed and implemented locally and an additional process of parliamentary approval would further complicate the issues and impose time constraints that would deter local authorities from applying. That is an important consideration as any reduction in the number of pilots would mean that we could not test as well as we would like.

I know that Noble Lords may be concerned about political approval of such pilots, but the Secretary of State assesses the level of local political support for any proposal before granting approval. In the event that the composition of political parties on the council does not lend itself to that approach—or should support for a proposal be split—the Secretary of State would seek detailed reasons from the objecting party setting out its grounds for objection before deciding whether the application can be approved.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Government acknowledge the importance of Parliament having the final say on whether the substance of any pilot scheme should be adopted permanently for local elections generally. For that reason, Section 11(3) of the Representation of the People Act provides for the affirmative resolution procedure to apply before any order implementing such a change can be made.

So, on the basis that we think it right to be able to have all-postal pilots as I described in the King's Lynn example, we should recognise both the importance of security in any additional forms of voting and the need to tackle the issues of those who might vote if they had more access to voting. We are clear that where the Secretary of State grants proposals it is done in conjunction with the local authority and the Electoral Commission, while seeking all-party consensus. Anything that was to be rolled out could be done only through approval in your Lordships' House and another place. I hope that I have given adequate reassurance for the amendment to be withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 5:30 pm, 15th May 2006

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her detailed reply but I do not agree with it. I will not press the amendment today but, as I said, I am not promising not to come back to the matter. The worry is that the all-postal pilots were so difficult that they raised more questions than answers, while moving to other electronic means of all-postal voting would be bound to be fraught with hazard.

Meanwhile, the trouble with saying that each local authority could make its own decisions on whether it would like an all-postal ballot or some other technical ballot is that it may not always be quite as aware as Parliament may be, having seen and scrutinised the whole system, of what is seen to be going on nationally. That is not to say that local authorities are incapable of doing it, but sometimes the picture is not wholly understood.

We remain resolutely against all-postal voting. Even if some small advantage were to be gained from it in smaller elections, we believe that it should not be supported. For today's purposes I am going to withdraw the amendment, while saying sotto voce to the Minister that my noble friend Lord Hanningfield has just confirmed that Third Reading is on 24 May. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

moved Amendment No. 45:

Leave out Clause 15.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Evaluation of personal identifier pilots]:

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

moved Amendment No. 47:

Leave out Clause 16.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17 [Revision of personal identifier provisions in consequence of pilot]:

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

moved Amendment No. 49:

Leave out Clause 18.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 19 [Offences as to false registration information]:

[Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

moved Amendment No. 53:

After Clause 20, insert the following new clause—

"VOTING AGE

(1) The 1983 Act shall be amended as follows—

(a) in subsection (1)(d) of section 1 (parliamentary electors), for "18" substitute "16";

(b) in subsection (1)(d) of section 2 (local government electors), for "18" substitute "16".

(2) In paragraph 6(5) of Schedule 4 to the 2000 Act (absent voting in Great Britain), for "18" substitute "16"."

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 53 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 128, 130 and 150. I wish to press for an important change in our electoral arrangements, and that is to reduce the voting age to 16. What is the principle behind the choice of the age of 16 rather than 18? In my view, it is that we should make the right to vote as far as possible inclusive and not exclusive. I accept that it would be wrong to give the vote to 10 year-olds who do not yet have the capacity to reach an independent judgment, but I see no magic in the age of 18. By the age of 16, young people are developing a capacity for independent judgment. No longer do they regard their parents as the fount of all wisdom. Maybe they do not know much in the way of political history, but they can and do understand current political issues. Many who have fought general elections will have found, as I did, that young people in what used to be called the sixth forms and are now known as years 12 and 13 were the sharpest audience we were likely to meet.

The law recognises the age of 16 as a watershed in many ways, some much more significant than the right to vote. For example, 16 year-olds can give their consent to sexual intercourse; they can leave school and take a job, on which they will pay tax on their income. I recall here the saying, "No taxation without representation"; my American background is of course very supportive of that. With the consent of their parents or a magistrates' court, 16 year-olds can get married or enter into a civil partnership. They can become company directors and join the Armed Forces.

If young people aged 16 to 17 had the right to vote, it would make the citizenship classes held in their schools or colleges a real rather than an abstract subject. At the same time, citizenship classes would provide an impetus to voting. In a sense, the right to vote would become part of the rite of passage to full adulthood. When young people have voted once, they are more likely to do so again and the current appallingly low voting figures for the 18 to 24 year-old group might improve. That is more likely to happen if people are given a chance to vote when they are aged 16 or 17; indeed, most young people would be able to exercise that right either in a general or a local election at some point in the two years between their 16th and 18th birthdays.

What if it does not increase the voting rate among 18 to 24 year-olds? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said in Grand Committee, 16 to 18 year-olds have other things on their minds, as do 18 and 19 year-olds and many people older than that. Is it an argument for not giving 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote if they wish to do so? I believe it is not. Let me ask noble Lords one final question. Think back to what are for most of us the dim and distant days when we were 16 ourselves. If we had had the right to vote, do we think we could and would have exercised it rationally and intelligently? I suspect that many of us think that we could and would have done. If so, why should our grandchildren not have the right to vote at the age of 16? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 5:45 pm, 15th May 2006

My Lords, we have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord's amendment and we want to encourage young people to interest themselves in the political system. We also agree that we should fully appreciate the enormous contribution made by young people to our society. However, we do not believe that lowering the voting age to 16 would achieve either of those ambitions. We find ourselves unconvinced that the low turnout among people aged between 18 and 25—in 2001 it was just 39 per cent—will somehow be increased by the magic of lowering the voting threshold to 16. The argument is that voting can become a habit that a person can become accustomed or even addicted to if only they are exposed to it early enough.

Those who speak in defence of this proposal often list a series of rights already held by 16 year-olds. I suggest that the right to vote is the exception to the rule. Under close examination, the argument proves to be rather misleading. Almost all rights held by 16 years are given on a case-by-case and conditional basis by parents, employers and other adults who remain responsible. Parents retain the responsibility over whether their 16 year-old child marries, what their religion is, and what they can do with their property. Companies make the decision on whether to allow a 16 year-old to become a director, and the Armed Forces can decide to give a 16 year-old a very restricted services role. As it stands, a young person considered to be sufficiently mature can be given certain choices, yet it is proposed here to make them bear full responsibility for the consequences of this choice. For example, a 16 year-old is not considered to have reached the age of sufficient capacity for civil proceedings. That is how it should be. Many 16 year-olds, however mature, financially astute or well educated, may not at that age be able to judge what is in their best interests. If that is the case when drawing up a contract, how much more relevant is it to voting in an election? We do not believe that 16 year-olds should bear the full responsibility of the right to vote.

We warmly welcome the rising voice of young people through organisations such as youth councils and youth parliaments, as we have in Essex, and hope that their unique experiences will continue to bear weight with those who make decisions that affect their lives. The idea that young people should be seen and not heard is one that long ago ceased to have any relevance. It is also wonderful that large numbers of young people look forward to voting and being able to choose the government of their country. But we do not want to force that responsibility on to those who in so many other areas are judged as not yet able to make important decisions that affect their lives. We would rather allow young people the opportunity to enjoy their youth and protect them from the difficult decisions that adults must make until they ready to do so. We do not support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I have much sympathy with both of the speeches we have heard so far. I agree with almost everything the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has said, except to point out that my three year-old appears to have plenty of her own mind about her. One does not have to wait for young people to reach the age of 16 before that characteristic can be found. The question here is at what age should we transfer responsibility to young people. My argument for giving the vote to 16 year-olds is that we should be consistent and confer voting rights early rather than late. That would be consistent because an awful lot of responsibilities are landed on a young person's shoulder at the age of 16. If we are going to pass over to them life-changing decisions about marriage, sex or joining the Armed Forces—decisions that have real consequences in their lives, not to speak of the right to leave home—then why should we deny them the right to vote? What is so dangerous and difficult about voting that puts it above those other decisions?

I know that we are not going to carry the argument today, but I hope that it is a cause that we will continue to press whenever we get the opportunity. We ought to recognise the logic of our own position; if we are going to say that 18 is the age when people should vote, then we ought to be much more merciful to the young. We ought to be much more supportive of the young when it comes to other measures by which we place responsibility upon them and take responsibilities away from parents. So many things have happened in the past 10 years, while I have been in this place, that have taken 16 as the age—indeed, when it comes to criminal responsibility, down to 10, if I remember correctly—that voting is something that should come in early. It might even have some of the good consequences that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, says it would.

I have an amendment in this group, Amendment No. 54, which proposes that we should be able to elect 16 year-olds—not that they should be able to vote, but that we should be able to elect them. This follows an argument that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth made in Committee and that my noble friend on the Front Bench made again today, particularly in relation to companies. Companies have the right to choose a 16 year-old. Therefore, it is all right to be a company director at 16—and, golly, think of the privileges, powers and responsibilities that come with being a company director. Companies would elect a 16 year-old because that particular 16 year-old has all the qualities needed to take on those responsibilities. In the sense of any substantial company, that is true, but you can get all the privileges that go with a company and being a company director by buying a company off the shelf for £100—let alone trading on eBay. You become entitled to limited liability and make yourself a company director on your 16th birthday. If that is not a level of responsibility greater than that required to vote then I do not know what is.

First, I do not agree with the argument. But, secondly, if that is the argument that carries the day, then why not allow 16 year-olds to be elected? We all know that there are 16 year-olds out there who are quite capable of doing the job, so let us give them a chance.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, I had not intended to speak since I did not hear the whole speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart—although I can anticipate what he said—but I decided that I would intervene in the light of what my noble friend Lord Lucas has just said. I will provide him with a bit of bad news and a bit of good news. The bad news is that he will not be surprised to know that I am going to argue against what he just said on votes at 16. The good news is that I support him on his particular amendment for lowering the qualifying age for candidature to public office. My reason for advancing that is simple. If you reduce the voting age to 16, you empower 16 year-olds; if you lower the qualifying age for candidature to 16, you empower electors. I am all for widening the choice of electors.

Perhaps I may deal with the first amendment and then show how it leads into what my noble friend has argued. As we have heard, we have to make a choice on the appropriate age at which people can vote. I had one graduate student who argued recently that there should not be a voting age at all and that children of any age should be allowed to vote. I think we would regard that argument as unacceptable, not to say bizarre. However, if we take that view, then we are conceding that there has to be a cut-off point, an age point below which individuals do not yet have the qualities we require for exercising the vote.

I take the view that, on balance, 18 is the appropriate age. We accord 18 year-olds rights and opportunities that are denied 16 year-olds. This applies in the financial world as well as the political; it applies to personal choice. We ascribe to 16 year-olds a vulnerability that we do not ascribe to 18 year-olds. I have made this point before. Sixteen year-olds formally require parental consent to marry and 16 year-olds in the military are not sent to the front line. In short, we do not treat 16 year-olds in quite the same way as we treat 18 year-olds. People may be maturing at a younger age, but we are not yet prepared to put 16 year-olds on a par with 18 year-olds. As I argued in Committee, when we accord rights to 16 year-olds, it is often in terms of rights that can be exercised usually only with the involvement of others. My noble friend has referred to the fact that, under the Company Law Reform Bill, 16 year-olds can become company directors. Some may indeed set up their own companies, but in most cases it will be other people deciding to appoint them to the board. Sixteen year-olds can apply to join the Armed Forces, but it is the forces that decide which particular individuals have the requisite qualities to be accepted.

If we lower the qualifying age for candidature, which I will come on to, 16 year-olds may present themselves to the electors, but it will be the electors who decide whether to elect them to office. In short, we are not according rights that can be exercised directly by all 16 year-olds. It is an important distinction. When I developed it in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, described it as "ingenious"—which appeared to mean he had not thought of it before. He argued that young people were able to make decisions about their sexual activity at 16, so they should be able to vote. There is, I suggest, a real difference between the two. One is, in effect, saying that we will not criminalise a certain activity that we can do little to prevent. The other concerns the exercise of a civic right where we can determine whether it is exercised or not.

I turn briefly to the other argument usually advanced in favour of lowering the voting age. We are told that lowering the voting age will generate greater engagement with politics by teenagers. I wish to question that. I think it confuses consequences with causes. Young people are interested in politics, but they are primarily interested in issues. They are less interested, nowadays, in mainstream party political activity. Political parties have difficulty competing with other interests and distractions. Single-issue groups can absorb young people's enthusiasms much more effectively than large, catch-all political parties. Re-engaging young people with mainstream party political activity is important, but I do not believe that that will be achieved by reducing the voting age. I fear that, in advocating reducing the voting age, we may be seeking easy solutions to a complex problem. There is no easy solution. People will vote when they have a reason to do so. Voting is more a consequence of engagement than a cause of it. By focusing on the voting age we are in danger of distracting attention from the real causes of why young people do not engage with mainstream political activity. I would remind your Lordships that Parliament lowered the voting age to 18 in 1969 and that that has not served to increase the engagement of young people with the political process. Voting among 18 year-olds has traditionally been low and it is getting lower.

We also know that public opinion is against lowering the voting age. I readily concede that we should not be bound by public opinion. There may be compelling reasons on occasion for exercising leadership and going against what public opinion polls are telling us. However, to do that we need a clear and compelling reason. I do not believe that on this occasion such a reason exists. I do not believe that the case has been made for change. Rather, I do not accept that the case has been made for lowering the voting age. That brings me to my noble friend's amendment, which caused me to rise.

I have no objection at all to lowering the qualifying age for candidature. I believe in protecting and as much as possible widening the freedom of choice of electors. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, may recall, I indicated opposition to the dual mandate for Members of the European Parliament. It is also why I have spent the past 30 years arguing for lowering the qualifying age of candidature to 18. I am delighted that the provision is in the Bill. I have no objection to lowering it further. As I have argued, it empowers the electors. Electors should have as much freedom as possible in selecting whoever they wish to represent them. If they want to elect a 16 year-old, that is entirely up to them. In practice, I suspect that the utility of the amendment will be to political parties in recruiting flag-waving candidates in local elections and enabling some young people to gain political experience, but it is the principle that is important.

For the reasons I have given, there is no need for the voting age to be in alignment with the qualifying age for candidature. They are separate, which is why we have normally dealt with them in separate legislation. I am not persuaded of the case for Amendment No. 53, but I see no reason at all not to support Amendment No. 54. There is an issue as to who should form the electorate, but those who are electors should have as much freedom of choice as possible.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 6:00 pm, 15th May 2006

My Lords, I shall follow my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth in nothing except for starting my speech with the words, "I had not intended to speak in this debate". I have been prompted to do so by him.

I have much enjoyed listening to the debate, which has had a certain Byzantine quality of which the Reverend C L Dodgson would have approved. However, if the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas and supported by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth were to reach the statute book without the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, the one thing of which one could be absolutely sure is that the next time we face legislation on this matter, one of the arguments deployed for lowering the age of voting by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others, would be that it is ridiculous to allow a man who has been elected to cast his vote in Divisions on serious matters and not allow him a vote himself.

My noble friend Lord Norton is stirring. I warn him that I am about to sit down. If he wishes to intervene on me he must do so in the next 30 seconds. But I have said what I wanted to say.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I draw his attention to the fact that in this country there is historical precedent for the age of candidature to be lower than the voting age. It applied to women in the period from 1918 to 1928.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said about Amendment No. 53, and with nothing that he said about Amendment No. 54. So that probably places me in reasonably good company.

The noble Lord set out very well—as, indeed, did the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield—the reasons why we are not minded at this point to support the amendments. I say that on the basis that the Government will keep the matter under review. These are important issues and I take nothing away from what has been said about young people. It does not mean that I do anything other than support the rational arguments that have been put forward for engaging with our young people.

I declared my interest in Committee of having a 16 year-old. He is still 16. My daughter, who is 14, was very upset that I did not mention her. She wants me to make it clear that she sits on the St Albans Youth Council and considers that a very good way of voting to get the things that she thinks are important. They are not the same things that I think are important but, quite rightly and properly, they are important to her. I completely accept the need to ensure that we engage with young people.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has a gorgeous three year-old. He has described the way in which she acts. I cannot think where she gets it from. The noble Lord will know exactly what I mean.

We have to be clear about what messages we send from this debate and from the way in which we engage with our young people. We expect people who vote—and we are all guilty of this—to read the manifestos of the political parties in order to gain an understanding of what is being proposed, to understand what the differences are and to try to make rational and coherent judgments about what they are being asked to do—which is to choose the government of the day or the local government for their area.

Many young people, as indeed the traditions of families demonstrate, will follow the family voting pattern, but people are increasingly making their own judgments. The points about single-issue campaigns are well made. Many young people find their way into the party political process via a single-issue campaign. This may lead them in one direction or another, and it may be an entirely different direction from that of their family. But we expect them to take care with our democracy and to behave appropriately and rationally.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned 16 year-olds when he referred to company law. There are particular 16 year-olds and particular 12 year-olds—there may even be particular three year-olds—to whom we could point and be quite confident that they would be able to exercise responsibility in that area. There are also particular 25 year-olds about whom we would not be confident. We have to make some kind of distinction. At the moment, after listening to public opinion, which is very clear on this subject—as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said, unless you have got good reasons to ignore it, you should be mindful of it—and after listening to what the Electoral Commission has said, I think we are where we should be at this point in recognising that the age of 18 is appropriate for people to exercise their democratic vote.

I absolutely agree that we need to engage young people throughout their lives so that they understand what citizenship and democracy are all about. They need to understand the benefits and rights of voting and how important it is that they should hang on to something so precious. I have no difficulty with that. But we have to make a judgment about when we can seriously expect people to make the kind of decisions that are so important to our democracy.

As for the age of candidacy, I do not accept the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. What we have done in making the age of candidacy the same as the age of voting is right and proper and I do not want to see it reduced. The implications for candidates is that they could be elected and they could be expected to play a hugely important part in our democracy. Again, we have to be clear about when we believe that it is right and appropriate to put such a responsibility on a young person. I am not convinced by the noble Lord's arguments.

We should keep the situation under review. I am probably rehearsing the arguments from some years ago when the age was reduced from 21 to 18. There may be a familiarity in all of this. Of course we must keep looking very carefully. For my part, however, I think we have got it about right. I do not expect to have won over the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Lucas, on this or, on candidacy, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. It is not that I am unwilling to keep the matter under consideration; it is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, I believe we have got it right.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, this has been a short but interesting debate. I remain firmly of the opinion that the age of 16 is an appropriate age. We divide into stages the process of becoming a fully qualified adult. Some rights are given at 16, some at 17—for instance, the right to drive a car if you pass the driving test—and others at the age of 18. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that there is a difference between the rights you are given at 16 and those you are given at 18. The right to give consent to sexual intercourse, for example, is an unconditional right—apart, obviously, from the consent of your partner, who may also be a 16 year-old. Certainly the right to consent to the first occasion of sexual intercourse is a far more significant matter than exercising the right to vote. A 16 year-old cannot be forced to attend school.

It is true that some of these rights are conditional. In particular, the right to get married or enter into a civil partnership is conditional upon the consent of the parents or a court. However, the right to get married is a far more significant right than the right to vote. So I think it is wholly appropriate to put the right to vote into the category of those rights which are given at the age of 16.

As for the right to stand for election, I am not quite so radical. I agree with the Minister that the right to stand for election should be at the same age as the right to vote in an election. I was interested in the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, because its logical conclusion is, why stop at the age of 16? I can see that someone at least has to have the capacity to have some idea of what they are doing by becoming a candidate, but I would be entirely satisfied that my eight year-old granddaughter would have that capacity. The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is one of those splendid examples where, by a process of impeccable logic, you arrive at an absurd conclusion.

I remain firmly of the opinion that 16 is the right age. Although public opinion polls have shown that a majority of people in this country do not wish the voting age to be reduced, we are campaigning with a view to changing public opinion. I see no reason why on this issue public opinion should not be changed, in the same way as it was changed for the reduction from 21 to 18. We wish to make our position on this very clear. In order to do that, I wish to take the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 53) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 43; Not-Contents, 218.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Use of personal identifier information

Aye: 41 Members of the House of Lords

No: 216 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 21 [Minimum age]:

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Clause 29 [Amount of expenses which may be incurred by third party]:

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 55, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 56 to 62 and 133 as well.

The Government are tabling these amendments following robust debates in both your Lordships' House and the other place. As I said in Grand Committee, the Government were not wedded to the four-month period, and I am pleased that we have worked together and achieved consensus on this issue.

The issue we were trying to address by introducing the four-month period for candidates' election expenses was that of unregulated spending taking place in advance of the candidate's election expenses period beginning, and not being counted towards the candidate's limit. These amendments will revert to the current length of the candidate's election expenses period.

A candidate's election expenses will count against his or her statutory expenditure limit from the point at which he or she becomes a candidate. In the case of a candidate at a general election, that is the period between the dissolution of Parliament and polling day. In the case of a local election, it is from the last date for publication of the notice of election until polling day. The amendments will not affect the useful provisions in Clauses 29 and 31 which clarify the scope of activity by unauthorised third parties under Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and what counts as election expenses for candidates.

We recognise that the Bill does not address the problem of unregulated amounts of money being spent by candidates in the months or weeks leading up to the point at which a general election is called. We know how much more sophisticated we have become in political campaigning and how much more effort we invest in campaigning in marginal seats. There is an issue about potentially large amounts of money being spent that cannot be recorded in the most appropriate way. We have not been able to come up with an early solution to the problem; noble Lords will know that I have been receptive to ideas from any part of your Lordships' House and beyond. However, along with working towards a consensus with the parties and Members of the other place, we have talked to Sir Hayden Phillips who has been asked by the Prime Minister to conduct a review of party funding.

It has been confirmed that Sir Hayden's review will extend to looking at the expenses of parties and candidates during an election period. This approach makes sense, in that all facets of party funding and election spending will be examined across the piece. I am sure that with this comprehensive approach, we will be able to find a solution to the problem. I know, too, that Sir Hayden will welcome any input from noble Lords who wish to contribute to the review on this and other related matters. Therefore, we have removed the provisions from the Bill. I hope that noble Lords will accept that we have done this after listening to their views. We look forward to Sir Hayden's recommendations. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the Minister has, once again, made a very wise decision; this is a controversial area of the Bill. There was enormous concern about how anybody could know when an election would take place and consequently foresee when election expenses would start to be incurred. It is appropriate that those provisions should be removed. If Sir Hayden Phillips is to look at other matters, he might look at those as well, but I hope he does not come to a different conclusion from that of the Minister. This matter has been debated over the years; the fact is that there needs to be a rational day on which expenses should start being incurred, otherwise people have no idea how much they can spend. I thank the noble Baroness for having come back with this sensible conclusion.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 31, line 31, leave out from beginning to end of line 12 on page 32 and insert—

""(8) For the purposes of subsection (1), expenditure incurred before the date when a person becomes a candidate at the election is to be treated as having been incurred after that date if it is incurred in connection with any thing which is used or takes place after that date.""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31 [Meeting of election expenses for purposes of the 1983 Act]:

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 32, line 38, leave out "subsections (2) and (3)" and insert "subsection (3)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendments Nos. 58 to 62:

Page 32, line 41, leave out "during the relevant period" and insert "after the date when he becomes a candidate at the election"

Page 32, leave out lines 42 to 44.

Page 33, leave out lines 7 to 24.

Page 33, line 31, leave out "other than a by-election"

Page 33, line 35, leave out "and subsection (2) above"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 33 [Observation of proceedings and working practices]:

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, in speaking to the amendment I would like to speak to Amendments Nos. 64 to 82 and Amendments Nos. 127, 129, 131, 140, 141 and 143, which are consequential to the main amendments. All of these are amendments to the provisions in the Bill which introduce a system of electoral observation into UK electoral law. As noble Lords may be aware, the UK is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose office, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, has responsibility for sending teams of international observers to elections. However, the UK itself has previously had no official method for international or domestic observers to attend election proceedings in the UK.

UK Governments have received criticism for this from other member states of the OSCE, and from the OSCE itself. Clause 33 gives legal effect to recommendations of the Electoral Commission and other electoral observation experts, such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It was intended to bring the UK into line with many newer democracies by giving independent electoral observers the right to observe proceedings and working practices, and to bring greater transparency to the electoral system, in line with international electoral practice.

However, the UK Government have received representations that suggested Clause 33 did not in fact reflect the legislation of other states, and did not go far enough to ensure that our elections could be observed freely and objectively. We have accepted these arguments, and therefore have tabled the following amendments. Amendments Nos. 63 to 65 remove the requirement for representatives of the Electoral Commission to apply for the permission of a returning officer to observe proceedings at an election or of a counting officer to observe proceedings at a referendum.

As part of the removal of the above requirement, observers should not have to inform electoral administrators of the places they intend to observe, or the time they will arrive, but will be subject to any existing enactments that regulate attendance at election proceedings. Amendments Nos. 66, 67, and 68 make changes similar to Amendments Nos. 56 to 58, but in respect of the Electoral Commission representatives' rights to observe the working practices of election officials; for example, the day-to-day activities of an elections office during the annual canvass period.

Amendments Nos. 69 to 73 remove the requirement of accredited individual observers to apply for the permission of the returning officer or counting officer to attend proceedings at the issue or receipt of postal ballot papers, proceedings at the poll and proceedings at the count. They also remove the ability of an election official to revoke their permission at any time, with reasons. Any removal of accreditation would be by the Electoral Commission, giving reasons for that revocation. As part of the removal of the above requirement, observers should not have to inform electoral administrators of the places they intend to observe, or the time they will arrive.

Amendments Nos. 74 to 78 make similar provisions to Amendments Nos. 69 to 73 for organisations that wish to send official observers. Once an organisation has been accredited, it may send delegates to election proceedings without the need to apply for the permission of the relevant electoral officer. There are two caveats to these amendments: first, the Electoral Commission may specify a maximum number of delegates who may attend any single election proceeding; and, secondly, the Electoral Commission may revoke an organisation's observer accreditation, giving reasons.

Amendment No. 79 adds new Section 6DA, which provides local electoral officers with certain safeguards to protect the effective and proper conduct of election proceedings from either an unintended set of circumstances arising because of the presence of observers, or from a deliberate act of an observer to abuse or disrupt the electoral process. In particular, an electoral officer may limit the number of observers allowed to attend an election proceeding at any one time, or revoke an observer's entitlement to be present at an election proceeding should that observer misconduct himself; for example, by deliberately disrupting proceedings. These safeguards do not affect any other power an electoral officer may already have to maintain order at election proceedings. Amendment No. 79 is needed to provide electoral officers with the powers to protect the integrity and proper conduct of the electoral process. Without such safeguards, election proceedings could be open to abuse by an observer whose motives for attending may turn out not to be the legitimate, objective scrutiny of elections.

Amendment No. 80 removes paragraphs (c) and (d) from Section 6E, which provided that the commission's code of practice for observers and electoral officers should contain guidance to election officials as to the granting and revoking of an observer's permission to attend election proceedings. The previous amendments I have described mean that it is no longer necessary to do that. This amendment replaces these paragraphs with new paragraphs 6E(2)(c), (d) and (da), which provide that the code of practice should include guidance to electoral officers about the exercise of their powers to maintain order at election proceedings and revoke an observer's entitlement to attend, as indicated by Amendment No. 72. It also provides that guidance should be included about the other powers electoral officers may have to regulate attendance at election proceedings.

Amendment No. 81 inserts a reference to new Section 6DA into proposed Section 6E(7) of the Bill. It sets out who should have regard to the code when exercising their functions. Amendment No. 82 simply replaces a reference to "returning officers" within the list of persons who should have regard to the code of practice with a reference to relevant officers, as listed under Section 6DA.

Amendments Nos. 127, 129, 131, 140, 141 and 143 make the necessary consequential changes to the rules for the conduct of local elections in England and Wales, thereby making consequential changes to the observer provisions in Schedule 1 to the Bill. I hope that that explanation gives noble Lords enough detail about what the amendments are seeking to do, and I hope that noble Lords will feel that they are appropriate and able to support them. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, under other circumstances a raft of amendments from the Government at this stage in the Bill would cause considerable concern, but the matters raised by the noble Baroness are sensible and acceptable. Therefore I agree to them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendments Nos. 64 to 82:

Page 37, leave out lines 23 to 37.

Page 37, line 39, leave out "subsection (5)" and insert "this section"

Page 38, line 18, leave out "apply for permission to"

Page 38, line 19, leave out from "any" to end of line 21 and insert "of the following"

Page 38, leave out lines 27 to 42.

Page 39, line 13, leave out from beginning to "attend" in line 22.

Page 39, line 23, leave out "at the place in question"

Page 39, leave out lines 33 to 39.

Page 39, line 40, leave out "subsection (4)" and insert "this section"

Page 39, leave out lines 43 and 44.

Page 40, line 9, leave out from "application" to "may" in line 24 and insert "the organisation may nominate members who"

Page 40, line 25, leave out "at the place in question" and insert—

"( ) The Commission, in granting an application under this section, may specify a limit on the number of observers nominated by the organisation who may attend, at the same time, specified proceedings by virtue of this section."

Page 40, leave out lines 35 to 46.

Page 41, line 1, leave out "subsection (4)" and insert "this section"

Page 41, leave out lines 3 and 4.

Page 41, line 4, at end insert—

"6DA ATTENDANCE AND CONDUCT OF OBSERVERS

(1) A relevant officer may limit the number of persons who may be present at any proceedings at the same time in pursuance of section 6C or 6D.

(2) If a person who is entitled to attend any proceedings by virtue of section 6C or 6D misconducts himself while attending the proceedings, the relevant officer may cancel the person's entitlement.

(3) Subsection (2) does not affect any power a relevant officer has by virtue of any enactment or rule of law to remove a person from any place.

(4) A relevant officer is—

(a) in the case of proceedings at a polling station, the presiding officer;

(b) in the case of any other proceedings at an election, the returning officer;

(c) in the case of any other proceedings at a referendum, the relevant counting officer (within the meaning of section 6A);

(d) such other person as a person mentioned in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) authorises for the purposes of the proceedings mentioned in that paragraph."

Page 41, leave out lines 18 to 25 and insert—

"(c) give guidance to relevant officers (within the meaning of section 6DA) as to the exercise of the power conferred by subsection (1) of that section;

(d) give guidance to such officers as to the exercise of the power mentioned in subsection (2) of that section as it relates to a person having the permission mentioned in subsection (1) of that section;

(da) give guidance to such officers as to the exercise of any power under any enactment to control the number of persons present at any proceedings relating to an election or referendum as it relates to a person having such permission;"

Page 41, line 37, leave out "or 6D" and insert "6D or 6DA"

Page 41, leave out line 40 and insert—

"(c) relevant officers (within the meaning of section 6DA);"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 35 [Replacement of counterfoils]:

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 84:

After Clause 35, insert the following new clause—

"PHOTOGRAPHS ON BALLOT PAPERS: PILOTING

(1) This section applies if a local authority makes a proposal that an order be made under subsection (2) applying to particular local government elections held in its area.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order (a pilot order) make provision for the purposes of enabling ballot papers issued at such local government elections as are specified in the order to contain photographs of the candidates.

(3) A pilot order may include such provision modifying or disapplying any enactment as the Secretary of State thinks is necessary or expedient for the purposes of the order.

(4) The Secretary of State must not make a pilot order unless he first consults the Electoral Commission.

(5) A pilot order may make provision implementing the local authority's proposal—

(a) without modification, or

(b) with such modifications as the Secretary of State and the local authority agree between them.

(6) If the Secretary of State makes a pilot order—

(a) he must send a copy of it to the local authority and to the Electoral Commission, and

(b) the local authority must publish the order in their area in such manner as they think fit.

(7) A pilot order may be amended or revoked by a further order.

(8) The Secretary of State may reimburse a returning officer for any expenditure necessarily incurred by him in consequence of the making of a pilot order.

(9) A local authority is—

(a) in England, a county council, a district council, a London borough council or the Greater London Authority;

(b) in Wales, a county council or a county borough council.

(10) In this section—

(a) "local government election" must be construed in accordance with section 203(1) of the 1983 Act;

(b) a reference to the area of a local authority must be construed in accordance with the definition of "local government area" in that subsection."

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 85 and 86. These amendments seek to fulfil a commitment made by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs on 17 November during the Committee stage of the Bill. It involved allowing us to provide for piloting at a local level of photos on ballot papers and, should a subsequent evaluation prove positive, the amendments also allow for roll-out at UK parliamentary and local elections and by-elections.

The Electoral Commission supports this piloting provision and understands the need to consult further ahead of piloting. There was a degree of concern in the other place about the use of touched-up photos and the tendency for candidates to prefer to use older photos. Indeed—this would not happen in your Lordships' House, of course—in the other place, the honourable Member for Somerton and Frome, David Heath, pointed out that some reference books to the House showed how some people seemed to,

"have aged remarkably little since the late 1950s".—[Hansard, Commons, 17/11/05; col. 114.]

I reassure my noble Lords that before we move to roll out such a system we would consult stakeholders and political parties to ensure that all parties are in agreement when piloting this significant change to the ballot paper. That is a firm commitment.

The amendments take the form of three new clauses after Clause 35, on replacement of counterfoils in Part 6 ballot papers. Amendment No. 84 permits the piloting of the use of photographs of candidates on ballot papers. Amendment No. 85 requires the Electoral Commission to evaluate the operation of the order. Amendment No. 86 provides that where a pilot has taken place and been evaluated and the Secretary of State thinks that it would be desirable for similar provision to that made in the pilot order to be made on a general and permanent basis, he may make a further order revising the election rules for UK parliamentary and local elections.

The power to make a pilot order under Amendment No. 84 can be exercised by the Secretary of State only in relation to local elections and following an application from the relevant local authority to run a pilot scheme. The Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission before making the order. The power to make a rollout order under Amendment No. 86 can be exercised only in relation to local government and UK parliamentary elections and by-elections. Again, the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission, and the power to make an order would be by the affirmative resolution process.

The power to make an order under Amendment No. 86 includes the power for the Secretary of State to create or extend a criminal offence. That power is limited so the Secretary of State cannot create an offence punishable on conviction or indictment with imprisonment for a term exceeding one year and a summary conviction with a term exceeding 51 weeks or with a fine exceeding the statutory minimum.

I hope noble Lords will support these amendments. If the consultation on this issue, which we will be undertaking before we do anything else, finds that the use of photographs on ballot papers might be of benefit to voters, particularly perhaps those with learning or literacy difficulties, it would be sensible to provide the ability to test it out. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Scotland, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I find this a most extraordinary provision. If the elections are anything to go by, photographs are splattered over every bit of literature, posters and all other aspects of election material. By the time you get to the polling station, I am not sure what advantage it is to have photographs on ballot papers. After all, the only two things on a ballot paper that need to be known are the name of the candidate and the party they are standing for. Other than those, there is nothing else to do with their manifesto, or with them personally.

To have a reasonable photograph it must be reasonably sized, which means the ballot papers by definition have to be bigger, or else you have a tiny photograph that does not mean anything at all. At the last election we had logos of parliamentary parties on the ballot papers. They did not seem to mean a lot, and were frightfully tiny. I cannot see any benefit to be derived from this measure. If the Minister moves it, I am bound to say I disagree with it so I will not support it.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, since the Liberal Democrats have photographs on the information papers that are sent out about elections for our main party offices and committees, it would be somewhat illogical of me to oppose these amendments. I have to say I am doubtful how useful they are, since it is hard to imagine any freepost documents being sent out by a political party without a photograph of their candidate on, so I cannot say I regard this as a great step forward. However, it is at least worth having pilots to see whether there is any additional benefit.

I take the point that it is desirable that photographs should be those of relatively recent age, which may have the good effect of counteracting the rather youthful photographs that may appear in the circulated freepost material. While I cannot say that we feel strongly about this, we are certainly willing to support it.

I would just ask why, if an undertaking was given in November to provide pilots for photographs on ballot papers, it has taken until the middle of May to get the drafts of the necessary amendments into the public arena.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 6:45 pm, 15th May 2006

My Lords, I hope to have a response to the noble Lord's final point, because it is a fair question.

The noble Lord approaches this issue in exactly the right spirit. We want to talk to special interest groups and organisations representing people with disabilities and others to see whether there is merit in this proposal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has indicated, there are downsides to this that may mean we find, when we consult, that this proposal does not go anywhere. That is why I was careful to say we would be consulting before we did anything. If we did not take the opportunity in the Bill to make the provisions to be able to try out this idea, then consulted and found that people felt there were good reasons to test it, that would be a pity. We could not table such amendments in Grand Committee, I am told, because these are very complicated provisions. I presume parliamentary counsel did not have them ready on time.

This matter is worth consulting on and, if it has merit, testing out. The noble Baroness will be one of the people consulted on it, as will the political parties. Clearly, if there is not merit in this, it will not be pursued. If there is merit in trying it out, let us do so and see what happens. It is as simple as that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendments Nos. 85 and 86:

After Clause 35, insert the following new clause—

"EVALUATION OF PILOTS UNDER SECTION (PHOTOGRAPHS ON BALLOT PAPERS: PILOTING)

(1) After any elections specified in a pilot order have taken place, the Electoral Commission must prepare a report on the operation of the order.

(2) The report must contain, in particular—

(a) a description of the way in which the provision made by the order differed from the provisions which would otherwise have applied to the election or elections;

(b) a copy of the order;

(c) an assessment of the success or otherwise of the order in assisting voters to make informed decisions at the election or elections in question;

(d) an assessment of the success or otherwise of the order in encouraging voting at the election or elections in question;

(e) an assessment of whether the procedures provided for in the order operated satisfactorily.

(3) An assessment under subsection (2)(c) must include a statement of whether, in the opinion of the Commission, the inclusion of photographs on the ballot paper—

(a) assisted voters in marking their papers with a vote for a candidate (or with votes for candidates) for whom they had decided to vote on grounds other than the candidates' appearance;

(b) resulted in voters being influenced (or more influenced) by the appearance of candidates in deciding for whom to vote.

(4) An assessment under subsection (2)(d) must include a statement of whether, in the opinion of the Commission, the turnout of voters was higher than it would have been if the order had not applied.

(5) An assessment under subsection (2)(e) must include a statement of—

(a) whether the candidates and their agents found the procedures provided for in the order easy to use;

(b) whether the returning officer found those procedures easy to administer;

(c) whether those procedures had any effect on the incidence of malpractice (whether or not amounting to an offence) in connection with elections;

(d) the amount of any increase attributable to those procedures in the resources applied by the authority concerned to the election or elections.

(6) In making an assessment under subsection (2)(c), (d) or (e), the Commission must also apply such other criteria as are specified in the order in relation to that assessment.

(7) The local authority must give the Commission such assistance as the Commission may reasonably require in connection with the preparation of the report.

(8) The assistance may include—

(a) making arrangements for ascertaining the views of electors about the operation of the provisions of the order;

(b) reporting to the Commission allegations of electoral offences or other malpractice.

(9) The Commission must, before the end of the period of three months beginning with the date of the declaration of the result of the election or elections in question, send a copy of the report—

(a) to the Secretary of State, and

(b) to the local authority.

(10) The local authority must publish the report in their area in such manner as they think fit.

(11) In this section "pilot order" and "the local authority" must be construed in accordance with section (Photographs on ballot papers: piloting)."

After Clause 35, insert the following new clause—

"REVISION OF ELECTORAL PROVISIONS IN THE LIGHT OF PILOT SCHEMES

(1) This section applies if the Secretary of State thinks, in the light of a report made under section (Evaluation of pilots under section (Photographs on ballot papers: piloting)) on the operation of a pilot order under section (Photographs on ballot papers: piloting), that it would be desirable for provision similar to that made by the order to apply generally, and on a permanent basis, in relation to—

(a) parliamentary elections;

(b) local government elections in England and Wales;

(c) any description of election falling within paragraph (a) or (b).

(2) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for the purposes of enabling ballot papers issued at such elections (mentioned in subsection (1)) as are specified in the order to contain photographs of the candidates.

(3) The Secretary of State must not make an order under subsection (2) unless he first consults the Electoral Commission.

(4) An order under subsection (2) may—

(a) include such provision modifying or disapplying any enactment as the Secretary of State thinks is necessary or expedient for the purposes of the order;

(b) create or extend the application of an offence.

(5) An order under subsection (2) must not create an offence punishable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, with imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;

(b) on summary conviction, with imprisonment for a term exceeding 51 weeks or with a fine exceeding the statutory maximum.

(6) The power to make an order under subsection (2) is exercisable by statutory instrument, but no such order may be made unless a draft of the instrument containing the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(7) The reference to local government elections must be construed in accordance with section (Photographs on ballot papers: piloting).

(8) If an order under subsection (2) is made before the date of commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, then in relation to any offence committed before that date the reference in subsection (5)(b) to 51 weeks must be taken to be a reference to six months.

(9) In its application to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the reference in subsection (5)(b) to 51 weeks must be taken to be a reference to six months."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendment No. 87:

After Clause 35, insert the following new clause—

"CERTAIN VOTERS ENTITLED TO VOTE IN PERSON

(1) Schedule 4 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 (absent voting in Great Britain) is amended as follows.

(2) After paragraph 2(5) insert—

"(5A) Nothing in the preceding provisions of this paragraph applies to a person to whom section 7 of the 1983 Act (mental patients who are not detained offenders) applies and who is liable, by virtue of any enactment, to be detained in the mental hospital in question, whether he is registered by virtue of that provision or not; and such a person may vote—

(a) in person (where he is granted permission to be absent from the hospital and voting in person does not breach any condition attached to that permission), or

(b) by post or by proxy (where he is entitled as an elector to vote by post or, as the case may be, by proxy at the election)."

(3) In paragraph 2(6), omit paragraph (a) and the "or" following it.

(4) This section does not apply to local government elections in Scotland (within the meaning of the 1983 Act)."

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, I apologise. I have misplaced the papers. This amendment was originally tabled in a group with Amendment No. 22 of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The noble Lord removed his amendments from that group in order that I could move mine because they achieved the same thing, but I would argue that mine did so in a better way. In moving Amendment No. 87 I shall also speak to Amendment No. 157.

I am pleased to be able to bring forward these amendments. They remove the provision in electoral law which stipulates that mental health patients who are detained under civil powers must vote at elections either by post or proxy. In future such people will not be prevented by electoral law from voting in person in polling stations. I agree with noble Lords who discussed this in Committee that this restriction cannot be justified. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, knows, his Amendment No. 22 did not quite achieve what was necessary, hence my bringing forward these amendments.

If a person is considered by a doctor well enough to be absent from the hospital, we believe he or she should not be prevented from voting in person. From a practical viewpoint it is not possible to enforce the restriction, as presiding officers at polling stations would not know whether a person is a detained mental health patient, so would not know if such a person were to present themselves at a polling station to vote. Patients can be given permission to be absent from the hospital for a short or long-term period, and there will be a significant number of people who are technically detained but in reality living in the community.

Our amendment removes paragraph 2(6)(a) from Schedule 4 to the Representation of the People Act 2000. Additionally, it inserts a new paragraph 2(5A) in Schedule 4, which provides that detained patients may vote in person where they are granted permission to be absent from the hospital and voting in person does not breach any condition that is attached to that condition. Our amendments have been drafted to cover all detained patients who have been granted permission to be absent, not just those who have been given such permission specifically to vote. There may be people who are able to vote in person because they have been given permission to be absent for another purpose; for example, they are allowed out every day. The amendment reflects the fact that some patients with permission to be absent from hospital could conceivably be unable to vote in person because of the conditions on which they are granted the permission. We would not want electoral law to interfere with conditions imposed by clinicians for the benefit of patients' health and safety or the protection of other people. New paragraph 2(5A) continues to give detained patients the option to vote by post or proxy if they wish to do so.

In moving these amendments there are two points I want to make clear. First, the amendments will not mean that detained patients are entitled to be given permission to be absent from hospital in order to go and vote. The granting of such permission must remain a clinical decision based on the patient's condition. Secondly, the amendments cannot and do not impose any requirement on hospitals to provide escorts for detained patients to enable them to vote in person at a polling station. As noble Lords will appreciate, hospitals may not have sufficient resources to provide such a service, and it would be completely inappropriate to expect them to do so.

People who are registered to vote in person can apply to vote by post up until 11 days before the polling day. If on the polling day the patient is unfit to go out and vote, he or she would not instead be able to vote by post because, of course, the deadline would have passed. However, regulations passed in March this year include new provisions that allow, in certain limited circumstances, applications for a proxy vote to be cast up until 5 pm on polling day. We plan to make similar provisions for detained mental health patients who, for medical reasons, are unable to go to the polling station. Any amendments to the regulations will, of course, be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, as I indicated earlier, I tabled our amendments because the government amendments did not arrive until a fairly late stage. When they did, I was satisfied with their content, and I welcome them. It seems a very sensible step to take and I am happy to support these amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

Clause 36 [Translations etc. of certain documents]:

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 89, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 90 to 93.

These amendments will help to improve access to the electoral process by certain groups of electors who previously have had difficulties in obtaining documents in formats appropriate to their needs. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Goodhart, for raising this issue in Grand Committee. I hope that the amendments address the concerns that they quite rightly raised.

Clause 36 inserts new Section 199B into the Representation of the People Act 1983, which provides for the translation of election documents, apart from nominations and ballot papers, into different languages and different formats at the electoral officer's discretion.

Amendment No. 89 would replace a reference to subsection (2) of Clause 36 with one to new subsections (2) and (2A). Amendment No. 90 replaces subsection (2) of Clause 36 with new subsections (2) and (2A). Currently, subsection (2) provides that election officials may provide documents in other formats as they think appropriate, those formats being specified as Braille, other languages and graphical representations. The requirement of election officials to provide documents is amended to replace "may" with "must as he thinks appropriate", thus changing the requirement on election officials to provide documents in alternative formats where necessary, and emphasising the importance of extending access to the electoral process for all eligible voters. It makes clear to electoral officers that where electors require documents in specific formats due to their particular needs, electoral officers should make every effort to accommodate those requirements.

A new paragraph is inserted that gives electoral officials a general power to produce documents in formats other than Braille, other languages and graphical representations. It is designed to accommodate those electors who may not otherwise have reasonable access to the information. For example, documents could include large print. A new subsection (2A) is inserted, which specifies that electoral officials can provide documents in an audible format, which could be by means of a tape or simply by being read to an elector by an election official.

Amendment No. 91 simply replaces a further reference to subsection (2) with the new subsections that I have already described.

I turn to Clause 37, which substitutes a new rule 24 of the parliamentary election rules, contained in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act. The new rule 24 specifies the materials that should be issued by the returning officers to those entitled to vote by post. It allows him to include guidance on how to access translations or graphical representations.

Amendment No. 92 changes subsection (2) of Clause 37 to strengthen the requirement of election officials to provide directions and guidance to polls or voters in other formats. The change from "may as he thinks appropriate" to "must as he thinks appropriate" is similar to the changes made in Clause 36.

Amendment No. 93 extends the formats in which directions and guidance to polls and voters can be provided to include audible forms, and provides a general power to election officials to produce, as appropriate, directions and guidance in any format that may assist electors.

Finally, I should add that my officials have sent copies of these amendments to the Disability Rights Commission for its comments. The commission has confirmed that it and its chairman, Bert Massey, are strongly supportive of these changes. I therefore hope that noble Lords will be prepared to accept the amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, in Grand Committee, my noble friend Lord Rennard and I tabled a number of amendments that arose out of suggestions made by the Disability Rights Commission, which was not satisfied that the existing procedure dealt adequately with the problems of a number of people with different kinds of disabilities. I accept that our amendments put forward in Grand Committee were, in some respects, not wholly satisfactory. Therefore, we were very content that the matter should be dealt with by parliamentary counsel, who came up with improved versions, which dealt with some of the problems that our original amendments would have created. We understand that these amendments have been negotiated and discussed with the Disability Rights Commission, which is satisfied with them. Since it was always our intention to help the Disability Rights Commission in this matter, we are entirely happy to approve amendments that have also been approved by it. We therefore welcome these amendments fully and look forward to their inclusion on the face of the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendments Nos. 90 and 91:

Page 44, line 35, leave out from "document" to end of line 41 and insert "must, as he thinks appropriate, give or display or otherwise make available in such form as he thinks appropriate—

(a) the document in Braille;

(b) the document in languages other than English;

(c) graphical representations of the information contained in the document;

(d) other means of making the information contained in the document accessible to persons who might not otherwise have reasonable access to the information.

(2A) The person required or authorised to give or display the document must also, as he thinks appropriate, make available the information contained in the document in such audible form as he thinks appropriate."

Page 44, line 42, leave out "Subsection (2) above does" and insert "Subsections (2) and (2A) above do"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 37 [Assistance for certain postal voters]:

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

moved Amendments Nos. 92 to 94:

Page 45, line 38, leave out "may" and insert "must"

Page 45, line 43, at end insert—

"( ) the directions or guidance in any other form (including any audible form)."

Page 45, line 45, at end insert "and for stating the date of birth of the elector or proxy (as the case may be)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, this may be a convenient time to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that Report stage begin again not before 7.59 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.