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Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2001

Volume 621: debated on Wednesday 7 February 2001

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8.5 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the order applies only to Northern Ireland and mirrors the provisions already introduced for other types of elections there. This order amends the local government election rules contained in the Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1962 and extends certain provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.

Your Lordships may recall that among other things the 1998 Act provided the opportunity for political parties to register their names and, if they so chose, their party emblems. Once registered, a party benefits from protection against the unauthorised use of its registered name and its candidates may request the inclusion of their party emblem on the ballot paper. Under the 1998 Act returning officers have the power to ensure that candidates at elections do not provide a description for inclusion on the ballot paper that might lead voters to associate them with a registered party unless they produce the necessary authorisation. This authorisation takes the form of a signed consent form from the nominated officer of the registered political party concerned. The intention is to reduce any grounds for confusion for the voter at the polling station.

The 1998 Act also provides that where a candidate has been authorised by a registered political party to use that party's name on the ballot the candidate may, if he so chooses, request that the party's registered emblem be printed next to his name on the ballot paper.

The provisions of the Act did not apply to local elections held in Northern Ireland and, therefore, this draft order is necessary to afford registered parties the same protection as they have at other types of elections.

As noble Lords will see, the schedule to this draft instrument provides a new specimen ballot paper illustrating these changes. In addition, the provisions provide for expenses incurred by a third party in respect of an election to be brought into line with those of local government elections in Great Britain.

Articles 15, 16, 18, 19 and 24 reflect equivalent changes introduced by the Representation of the People Act 2000 to parliamentary election rules. Those provisions made it easier for blind or partially-sighted persons to vote without assistance and allowed for those with any physical incapacity to vote with the assistance of a companion. This order now extends those provisions to local election rules also.

The order further provides for suspension of the requirement to vacate an elected office following conviction for a corrupt or illegal practice during the period in which an appeal could be made. This follows changes to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and brings Northern Ireland local government elections into line with the procedures followed in parliamentary elections.

I consider these changes important not only in updating local election procedures in Northern Ireland but also bringing them in line with Great Britain. I beg to move.

Moved. That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

My Lords, having voted early and often during my time in Northern Ireland, I observed that the ballot papers were invariably very long by British standards. There were many more candidates than I had been used to in England.

I am surprised, therefore, that in the mock ballot paper in the schedule at the back of the order the party logos shown are curiously selective including, as they do, the UMW, which has only two or three local councillors but excluding that of the Alliance Party which has 42 councillors across Northern Ireland. It is a strange omission given that the order refers to local government. Perhaps the Minister can explain that curious selection. Apart from that complaint, I have no objection to the order and warmly support it.

My Lords, I am grateful for the support for the order. The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, is explained by the fact that the logos were intended to be by way of example and nothing else. The ballot paper is meant only to be illustrative and not prescriptive. That is the reason that it is in the form that it is.

My Lords, I am grateful for that reassurance. I hoped that it did not reflect a particular mindset.

On Question, Motion agreed to.