Clause 2 - Pilot order

Part of European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 30th October 2003.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 4:00 pm, 30th October 2003

With respect to amendment No. 50, I am grateful to have permission from my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath to agree with the Liberal Democrats. I apologise to him for the previous occasion. I believe that that amendment is right, and on this occasion I might be voting with him.

It makes sense to me to provide that information. I am sure that there will not be any insurmountable difficulty as far as electoral law and data protection are concerned. At the moment it is possible to make marked registers available for a one-day election, so I do not see why that should not be possible for a two-day election. Presumably, modern technology makes it possible to do that within the time scale, rather than having a boring paper-and-pencil exercise, which is what seems to happen at the moment. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on amendment No. 50. If Labour Members on the Floor of the House expressed support for that and they are here today, I hope that they will have the courage of their convictions and vote for what they believe to be right, irrespective of what the usual channels might do to people who get up to such antics.

Nevertheless, I am very supportive of amendment No. 2 and I would like to take the matter one stage further. There are some issues beyond those that have been spoken about by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath. It is more than a question of plain English or legal gobbledegook. Subsection 3(a) states that polling may take place on more than one day. I am assuming that that is not meant to cover the point that one can post a postal ballot on any day one likes and it will turn up at the town hall a day or so later—we do that at the moment. We do not need that provision for postal voting as we understand it.

During a general or local election, there is a specified day that is polling day, but people have no difficulty in posting their ballots ahead of that without any such provision. I am left to conclude that the purpose of subsection 3(a) is to provide for two polling days. The Government must justify that. During my 17 years in the House, it is been my good fortune—or misfortune, depending on how one looks at it—to do more than my fair share of electoral observation in other countries. Most of the places to which I have been sent were chosen by the Whips Office. If they send me to dangerous places with a one-way ticket they may get rid of me, but unfortunately for them and the Committee I have always come back.

My experience of places such as Cambodia, Angola and Bangladesh tells me that there are powerful reasons why it is necessary to have voting on more than one day. Those reasons relate to access to villages, transport and the difficulties of moving around in countries that are physically or politically dangerous, or where terrorism is a worry. However, in my experience, the reasons given elsewhere in the world for allowing voting on more than one day do not apply here. Are we being told that we need to have polling on more than one day because it is dangerous or difficult to get to the polling station, or that public or private transport is such that some people can manage one day but not the other?