Skip to main content

Elections: Scottish Parliament

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“A great deal of wholly legitimate public concern has been expressed over certain aspects of last Thursday’s election. I entirely share these concerns. They focus mainly on three areas: the arrangements for the administration of postal ballots; the operation of e-counting machines; and the significant number of spoilt ballot papers.

“Mr Speaker, when it became apparent in the early hours of Friday morning that difficulties were emerging, I contacted Professor Sir Neil McIntosh, the Scottish Electoral Commissioner. I expressed to him my concern that these issues be addressed as part of the statutory review of the Scottish elections that the commission is obliged to undertake, as a matter of urgency. Sir Neil was able to offer me this reassurance and this investigation is indeed now under way.

“The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to report on the Scottish parliamentary elections. At the request of the Scottish Executive it will also be reporting on the local government elections. The commission is an independent body and is committed to ensuring a full and independent review of the Scottish elections.

“In those areas where the commission itself has an operational involvement—for example, in its statutory duty to promote public awareness of electoral systems—the commission will ensure independent evaluation of its own work, as it has in previous statutory reports. The commission is currently finalising the scope and timescale of the review, but intends to publish a report in the summer.

“A focus of public concern has been the adoption of a single ballot paper for the Scottish elections and the holding of those elections on the same day as the local government election. The poll for the Scottish Parliament elections is set in the Scotland Act. It has a predetermined cycle that Parliament at the time supported fully. I am not aware of any calls to change that. The decision to hold the local government elections on the same day was entirely a decision for Scottish Executive Ministers. It was enshrined in legislation which was fully debated and passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2001.

“Without wishing to prejudice the findings of this inquiry I should like to set out to the House the sequence of recommendations, consultations and decisions that led to the adoption of a single ballot paper for both elements of the Scottish Parliament elections, which are matters for which the Government have legislative responsibility.

“On 25 May 2004, my predecessor as Secretary of State, my right honourable friend the Member for Edinburgh Central, announced the creation of a commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Arbuthnott to examine the implications of Scotland having four different voting systems. This commission was independent and included nominations from political parties. The commission issued a consultation paper in January 2005 and spent 12 months gathering evidence and carrying out a wide-ranging and extensive inquiry.

“The Arbuthnott commission issued its report jointly to my predecessor and the Scottish First Minister on 19 January 2006. The report contained a series of recommendations and suggestions—some to the Electoral Commission concerning voter education; some to the Scottish Executive, such as a recommendation to move the date of the local government elections; and several recommendations to the Government.

“My right honourable friend made it clear that it was unlikely that we would be in a position to implement those recommendations from the report which would require primary legislation in time for the 2007 Scottish elections.

“However, there was one matter that could be progressed without the need for primary legislation—the suggestion that the two ballot papers for the regional list and constituency member be combined into one, with the regional list on the left-hand column, based on the example of the New Zealand paper.

“In the light of the views of the Arbuthnott commission I decided to proceed with a wider public consultation in order to test whether the suggested move to a single ballot paper commanded more general support, and to explore the appropriate design of such a ballot paper.

“The Scotland Office launched this consultation on 9 June 2006. In addition, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary met a range of interested parties, including representatives from disability rights groups, to explore these issues. There was a significant level of support for a single ballot paper. Of 29 respondents, the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, the Liberal party of Scotland, Enable Scotland and Capability Scotland were not in favour of a combined ballot paper. I have requested that all responses to this consultation are placed in the Library of the House.

“The major political parties that expressed a view were largely in favour: Derek Barrie, chief of staff, on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, responded on 15 June:

‘The Scottish Liberal Democrats warmly welcome and fully endorse the proposal to have one ballot paper only for the next diet of Scottish Parliament elections in May 2007. This is one recommendation of Arbuthnott that we fully agree with’.

“Peter Murrell, chief executive of the Scottish National Party, responded on 16 August 2006:

‘The Scottish National Party is in support of the proposed move to a single ballot paper for both votes in the Scottish Parliament elections. We believe that this will aid understanding of both elements of the voting system and, in particular, remove any misunderstanding that the regional vote is somehow a second preference vote’.

“Lesley Quinn, the General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, responded:

‘The Scottish Labour Party strongly supports a single ballot paper, as this will simplify voting, counting, voter awareness and understanding. A single ballot paper will reduce the potential for voter confusion and be easier for people to use’.

No response to the consultation was received from the Scottish Conservative Party.

“Beyond the political parties, the Electoral Reform Society responded:

‘The Electoral Reform Society supports the use of a single ballot paper for the Scottish Parliament elections’.

SOLAR—the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland—responded:

‘The SOLAR elections working group unanimously agreed to support the proposal that both Scottish Parliament contests be contained on one ballot paper’.

“In order to further explore those issues in advance of a decision as part of the consultation, the Scotland Office also requested the Electoral Commission to research with voters the impact of any possible change to the ballot paper format. On 4 August 2006, Sir Neil McIntosh wrote to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, enclosing the findings of that research, which involved focus groups carried out in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Dundee. A copy of the research has been placed in the Library of the House, together with the covering letter from the Electoral Commission. In that covering letter, Sir Neil McIntosh wrote:

‘As you can see, the research draws a number of clear conclusions for the design of the Scottish Parliamentary Ballot Paper. These conclusions point to the interests of the voter best being served by: A design of ballot paper that incorporates both the regional and constituency ballot papers alongside each other on a single sheet of paper’.

The findings of the focus groups supported the move to a single ballot paper, with a significant majority of respondents agreeing with the overall preference in favour of a single combined ballot paper rather than two separate papers.

“Only after that extensive consultation involving the widest possible range of stakeholders, the support of the main political parties that expressed a preference, the research received indicating the best interest of the voter being served by a single ballot paper, and clear official advice, was a decision taken to proceed with a single ballot paper for the Scottish parliamentary elections.

“There is also the issue of delays in the administration of postal ballots. The handling of postal votes is increasingly of public interest and concern, which is why we already have stiff penalties in legislation to prevent fraud. The use of postal votes in higher numbers than before makes that all the more important. When it became clear that such delays were occurring in the days prior to polling day, I instructed my officials to contact the Electoral Commission to ensure that these matters would be fully investigated.

“However, the process at local level for the preparation and delivery of postal votes is for returning officers and their staff. They make the contractual arrangements that they judge appropriate for their area. They are well aware of the tight timescales involved in getting out the papers to voters. When the Electoral Commission reports, I will of course examine whether there are steps that the Government can take to help ensure that the postal vote problems that certainly beset regions such as the Highlands, Dumfries and Galloway, among others, do not happen again.

“Finally, I will turn to the issue of e-counting. In 2005, the Scottish Executive approached the Scotland Office to discuss the option of using e-counting at the combined poll. That arose mainly because of the benefits of handling a count of ballots under the single transferable vote method. Manual counting of STV would take many days and be highly complex. My predecessor as Secretary of State, after careful assessment of advice, gave an agreement in principle to the option, but stressed the need for systematic testing and evaluation of the equipment and software.

“That took place through late 2005 and into 2006, up to the final procurement decisions. Many tests and demonstrations were held for electoral administrators, political parties, special interest groups and others. Various contingencies were tested, including power failures and ballot papers that had been creased or folded. The process was led by a steering group comprising officials from the Scotland Office, the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament, as well as representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators, the Scottish Assessors Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. I am advised that none of these simulations gave any evidence of the kind or scale of problems we saw in some centres on Thursday night and Friday morning. Clearly, this is an issue which will be absolutely central to the Electoral Commission’s report.

“Mr Speaker, there are clearly a number of issues that need to be explored in relation to the problems encountered in the conduct of these elections. The Electoral Commission must now be allowed to undertake its statutory review which, as I have said before, will be available by the summer. I will, of course, update the House at that stage, in the light of their conclusions”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. Speaking of the Scottish elections, it would be remiss of me not to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, who is unfortunately not in his place, on his successful election to the Scottish Parliament. His only sadness must be that it looks as though he is to be denied the opportunity of asking the same kind of congratulatory questions of government Ministers there as he was able to do in this place.

Scotland has been wished four different voting systems. That has been a source of confusion for a start. The Government were warned by no less an authority than the Electoral Commission, and equally by the Arbuthnott commission, of the dangers of trying to hold an election for two different systems on the same day. The Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of the Scottish Parliament were likewise warned by the Scottish Conservative Members of the dangers of combining the local government elections with the Scottish parliamentary ones. Still they persisted. Does this not bring to mind the fiasco that we have all witnessed over the single farm payments in England, where an arrogant belief in a rational and intellectual but complicated system runs completely foul of reality?

The outcome is causing anger and dismay across Scotland. Noble Lords will be aware that in one constituency, Shettleston, there were over 2,000 spoilt ballots. A small country that thought that it was being offered the chance of a higher profile on the world stage has been turned into a laughing stock. I notice that it was claimed in another place that all the spoilt ballots from a few constituencies are not known. Can the Minister tell us how many spoilt ballots are known?

The final legislation for both elements of these elections was passed through this House after a Grand Committee on 7 March. The Statement highlights the problems of postal ballots. There have been stories of postal ballots being delivered on 2 May for an election on 3 May, or not at all. Can the Minister say why so little time was given to the returning officers to complete their tasks? The Statement talks of the tests and demonstrations of the machines for the electronic counting systems. Was the lateness in finalising the design of the ballot papers a factor in the electronic counting fiasco? What proportion of the votes was subject to recounting? In particular, did they have to be recounted manually as a result of the e-counting malfunction?

The Minister is a good and decent man. In his heart of hearts he will be as dismayed as the rest of us by the mess that the Secretary of State has created; yet another example of the consequences of the Government’s constant tinkering and messing about with our tried and trusted voting system. If the Prime Minister is looking for a legacy, he need look no further than the complicating and discrediting of a voting system once unquestioned anywhere. Once we sent out the international election inspectors and advisers; now they are heading to Holyrood to find out why Scottish electors are being robbed of their votes in their tens of thousands. What a shambles and a disgrace.

Is the Minister aware that in 11 general elections from 1964 the proportion of spoilt ballots was never more than 0.38 per cent, and usually below 0.2 per cent? In the first round of the recent French election, with 12 candidates and 37 million voters, spoilt ballots were only 1.4 per cent. By contrast, does he recall the fiasco of the London elections in 2004, the closest parallel to these events? Several voting systems were run in parallel on the same day and over 500,000 Londoners saw their votes spoilt; 3 per cent of mayoral votes and nearly 7 per cent of the Assembly votes were rejected. What was said then? The senior returning officer said that the legislation was not passed in time. The Electoral Reform Society said that the problems were foreseen but ignored. The Government said that they would learn the lessons. The shameful reality is that they did not listen then and they did not learn. As a direct result, Scotland has suffered a similar fiasco.

It is all very well the Electoral Commission and the Government promising an inquiry now and the Liberal Democrats calling for one, but they have all been complicit in creating the debacle. The most obvious place to look for solutions is not from those who presided over the debacle in the first place. I do not consider that the appointment of an inquiry into this fiasco, while necessary, is enough to absolve the Government of all responsibility.

My Lords, I join in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement of the Secretary of State. Dismay at the outcome of the elections held on the same day is widely felt throughout Scotland. In passing, I note that the Scottish Conservative Party was not among those that gave advice about the process of having a double ballot on one paper. Some of us would prefer not to jump to conclusions as to which of the novelties was responsible for what appears to have been a catastrophically mismanaged election.

We welcome the Electoral Commission’s decision to put in hand the inquiry into the spoilt ballots, the postal voting and electronic counting; all of them had novel features and appeared to have contributed in some measure to denying perhaps as many as one in 20 of the Scottish electors the opportunity of contributing to the outcome of the election, as they believed they had done. There have been instances of voting for two authorities on the same day in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland in 2005. There was a warning issued by the Electoral Commission at that time. In the report on that election it stated:

“If combined elections are to become the norm then much more needs to be done … to ensure the electorate understands the different voting systems”.

I think that it is fair to say that not much had been done in Scotland prior to the elections last Thursday. The Minister’s Statement indicated that the Government considered that there was not a sufficient gap between the decisions and the election to introduce legislation. Is legislation is really necessary to enable the education of the electorate to take place?

The problem has unquestionably vitiated the authority of those democratic elections. With such a high proportion of spoilt ballots, there must be great grievances in particular constituencies. It is extremely difficult for individuals who may have suffered from this to pursue their cause through an election court, particularly as there are so few precedents to guide the returning officers on what was appropriate behaviour and to enable the court to decide what would be unreasonable. I hope that, in considering these matters, the Electoral Commission will give thought to the possibility of manually checking e-ballots where the voter’s mind was not able to be read. The old system of manual checking was regarded as being effective and pretty accurate by and large.

My final point is on the review. In so far as there may be questions about whether the Electoral Commission conducted all the necessary preliminary inquiries and took the necessary steps, and given that it is, in a sense, involved in the outcome of this election, the Government will have to give some thought to whether further independent consideration needs to be given to those matters where it might be invidious for the commission to pronounce on its own performance.

My Lords, I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his kind words about my noble friend Lord Foulkes. We on this side will miss him, and I personally will miss him a great deal, as he has been a breath of fresh air.

I disagree with the noble Duke’s point that this mess was created by the Secretary of State. That is a good political point, but if he listened to the Statement, as I am sure he did, he will know that the Scottish Executive made a number of decisions and local returning officers were responsible for many of the activities that resulted in the problems that he is laying at the feet of the Government. As I said, that is a good debating point, but it is not particularly fair.

The import of my right honourable friend’s Statement is that a number of things have gone wrong. He and the Government are determined to find out what went wrong. We have asked the Electoral Commission—an independent body with a statutory right and duty to look into these matters—to look into all aspects and report back. As my right honourable friend said a few minutes ago in another place, if, as a result of the Electoral Commission’s report, there is a need for further matters to be inquired into, we will not hesitate to do that. The intention is there; we are not avoiding any issue. That is an important point for all noble Lords to take on board.

Let me answer some of the specific points that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, raised. The poll has been criticised, but the Scottish Parliament has, under the Scotland Act, the duty to come to those decisions. The local government elections are for Scottish Executive Ministers, not London, to decide on. There has been great discussion and concern about spoilt papers. As I have said, and as my right honourable friend said in another place, although that is a matter for the returning officers we think it would be unwise to comment upon it until we have the final tally. I am absolutely prepared to give an undertaking that these figures will be released once we have that tally.

On criticism of the Government about postal votes, and for not allowing enough time for those to be sent out effectively, their timetable is set by local returning officers. E-counting has clearly not gone as smoothly as anyone would have wished; that will also be an important aspect of the Electoral Commission’s report.

Again, we cannot give precise figures at the moment on the spoilt ballot papers. There is a figure of 100,000 going around, but there is just a feeling—one to be confirmed or otherwise by the Electoral Commission—that that is rather high. We have no details yet of the local government ballot papers, so again it is best to wait to see what the actual figures are. On the high incidence of spoilt papers, I must underline that the Electoral Commission is impartial and can get an independent element into the review if so needed. If there is concern about the Electoral Commission, I should say that it can and will get independent, impartial advice within its review.

I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. The combined poll issue will form part of the Electoral Commission’s review, and the Government will consider carefully what is said on all points once that is available. I am afraid that we cannot comment on individual poll results, as there may be the possibility of further action. I hope that answers the major points that have been raised.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Statement, but I am disappointed by a number of aspects of it. First, I find it incomprehensible that some six days after an election we are not yet in a position to know the final tally of figures. It is the first election for 30-odd years, or nearly 40, at which I have not been present; had I had any involvement, I certainly would have been demanding that these figures be provided before the lights were put out in the counting stations. That point should be taken on board.

Secondly, none of us has any faith whatever in the Electoral Commission. Its ability to get behind the system in electoral politics seems almost the equivalent of a Chinese bureaucrat—a mandarin looking at a complex problem—who has a solution that does not necessarily bear any connection with reality.

Thirdly, on the counting of the papers, and the spoilt ones, as far as I can see there was no consideration given to a consistent approach to the issue. One would have thought otherwise, given the possibility for complexity—and I speak as a first past the post person, for I like the British electoral system when it is simple, with a result where you can kick up hell if you get beaten, knowing at the end of the day that you must wait four years to really solve that. It is extremely naive to assume that we would somehow have spoilt papers of the order of 0.1 or 0.2 per cent, as we would in a general election. We who have participated in general elections all know that the spoilt papers come at the very end. Most people are tired—the victors are elated and the defeated usually sickened—and not in a position to make rational judgments. Although the returning officer may only start work at 10 o’clock on election night, the rest of us have had rather a busy period before that and are probably too tired. Yet there is no excuse for abdicating responsibility and saying, “We’ll just set them aside”.

This was a disgrace and an embarrassment that lays grave questions on the competence of the officials who gave advice to hapless Ministers, who acted upon it in all good faith. I blame not the Ministers but the system, and I worry terribly that the same incompetents are to be required to report on themselves.

My Lords, I am grateful—I think—to my noble friend for his comments. He regards it as a scandal and a disaster that spoilt ballot papers have not been counted several days after the election, but I have said that we will come back to that once we know the tally. We do not know it, and there is no point in noble Lords getting up and complaining about it when that reality confronts us today. As I have said, that issue must and will be looked into and the figures will be passed on.

I must protest and disagree with my noble friend’s views on the Electoral Commission, which I have worked with for a number of years. It is independent and quite brilliant in the work that it does. Section 5 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 requires the Electoral Commission to review the conduct of each parliamentary election. It can involve external elements in reviewing an area where it feels that any previous involvement on its part—real or perceived—could prejudice its impartiality. I call on noble Lords to have confidence in the Electoral Commission; I am convinced that, when it reports, it will deal with all the problems that we have been talking about this afternoon, and that we will then be able to learn from what has happened and move on.

My Lords, the Statement that we have just heard was quite disgraceful. I have never seen so much buck-passing. It was the Government who introduced devolution and a different system for every set of elections in Scotland, and the Government must carry responsibility for this absolute scandal. With 100,000 people disfranchised, surely the issue we should be talking about is not whether the Electoral Commission should report, but whether we should rerun the election from start to finish. Hundreds of people have been disfranchised in their constituencies; the Minister has come here to say that we do not actually know how many spoilt ballot papers there were, when I heard them being declared—two thousand here, a thousand there—in constituencies where the majorities were tiny.

This is a huge democratic scandal that has reduced Scotland to a status that no self-respecting banana republic would have regarding its democratic procedures, and the Government must take responsibility. For the Secretary of State to make such a Statement shows that the Government have no idea of the anger and resentment in Scotland because of bungling by Ministers who will no longer take responsibility for the consequences of their own policy.

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says but, first, we are talking about a Statement on which noble Lords are invited to ask questions—not, in my view, to deliver an answer to a Statement to which the noble Lord did not enjoy listening.

Things have gone wrong. We are determined to find out why, and we feel that the Electoral Commission will do that for us. If there is the need for further inquiries after that then, as I have said, we will put those in place. I feel that the noble Lord is being most unfair to my right honourable friend in another place who, in my view, gave a Statement that accurately describes what has happened and said what was going to be done about it. We all need to learn from the unfortunate events of 3 May, and move on. I hope that all noble Lords will be able to move on with the Electoral Commission, once it gives its independent report.

My Lords, I begin by joining in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on his election to the Scottish Parliament. There were three of us from this House in the first Parliament; he is now the only one. We wish him well, although we will miss his habitual trenchant criticism of Her Majesty's Government in this House.

Seriously, my criticism of the Statement is that its tone did not seem to echo the gravity of what people feel went wrong in Scotland. I have spent considerable time in my retirement advising Parliaments and political parties and monitoring elections overseas. I do not know how I will be able to show my face in Africa in future, where I have seen counts conducted with chalk on the floor of a village school with much greater efficiency and accuracy than happened with our sophisticated system in Scotland. It is an acute embarrassment and a matter of public anger that so many votes were discounted. The tone of the Statement did not reflect that.

I also appeal for a proper, quick, independent inquiry into what went wrong for two reasons: not just because, as my noble friend said, some of those matters were the responsibility of the Electoral Commission but also because some of them were not. They fell outside its remit. The fact that the two elections were held together was not its responsibility.

Postal votes were decided by returning officers, not by the Electoral Commission. The Minister may want to know that my noble friend Lord Kirkwood was one of the many people who got a postal ballot paper for the wrong ward. Why was that allowed to be contracted out to firms that did not know the local geography? That is extraordinary. It was not the decision of the Electoral Commission; nor was the introduction of the counting machines. There is a compelling case for having a proper, genuinely independent inquiry, whatever the Electoral Commission may do internally.

The Minister said that he does not know the actual number of spoilt ballot papers although, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, we all heard them announced constituency by constituency. We have not yet been told how many spoilt papers there were in the local government ballot. It is a paradox that under the single transferable vote system for local government, there were far fewer spoilt papers than in the first- past-the-post ballot papers for the Scottish Parliament. As the ballot papers were modelled on those in New Zealand, I wonder whether we have any information about the number of spoilt ballot papers there. I suspect that it is more to do with the design of the ballot paper than the compilation of the paper in principle.

My fundamental point is that there must be a proper, independent inquiry and the Government must accept that.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his comments. An independent inquiry is exactly what the law requires. That is why the commission will conduct its review. It is the body charged with doing that work. Here we are, three or four days away from those elections. The Secretary of State has moved very quickly to get the Electoral Commission on board to do exactly what the noble Lord wants it to do, which attacks all the problems that arose last week. If the report is not satisfactory, the way is left open for further review. Although I take on board the noble Lord’s point that the Statement may not have underlined the gravity of the situation, it was absolutely clear from the debate in the other place taken in the whole, including the contributions from Front-Benchers and Back-Benchers, that it is seen as a very grave situation and one that must be addressed.

My Lords, after electoral chaos in Scotland, past postal fraud in Birmingham and even dead people turning up to vote in years gone by in Wallasey, could we have less preaching by the Government, specifically to Nigeria in its handling of the recent presidential round, and concentrate on subtle diplomacy?

My Lords, will my noble friend reflect that one of the main reasons that we have landed in this mess is that he has listened to the siren call that independent commissions can do the job better than the Government? Is it not about time that the Government took responsibility and faced up to the fact that criticism may be made on a partisan basis? On e-counting, will he reflect on the old story about computers: put garbage in and you get garbage out?

My Lords, it is a little too late for my noble friend to say that the Government should take responsibility for these matters. We are talking about a devolved country that, first, makes its own decisions and, secondly, has returning officers who, in two of the crucial areas that we have been discussing, decide what happens and how things are planned. Obviously, the Government have an important role to play. We are playing it, but it must be played with the help of other actors in this matter.

My Lords, I mention a past interest as an MSP in the Scottish Parliament for the past eight years. For clarity, I confirm that a Motion was tabled before the Scottish Parliament by the Conservatives to have the council elections on a different day, on the grounds that otherwise it could and would lead to confusion. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that people put crosses when they should have put numerals and possibly vice versa.

The Minister has fairly pointed out that the timing of elections was a devolved responsibility. If the Electoral Commission makes strong representations, will he be prepared to take them forward? If they relate to devolved responsibilities, will he be prepared to take them forward with the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, who is about to be elected, and the Scottish Executive, who will be elected before long?

My Lords, we have asked the Electoral Commission to consider all those matters and report back to us. I assume that if the Electoral Commission and independent advisers make powerful points about what has gone wrong and the reasons for it, the Scottish Executive and the Government will take great note of what is said. It is a serious matter that must be sorted out and solved. The Government are in no way trying to say anything different. Constructive views from the Electoral Commission will be considered very carefully.

My Lords, of the three areas of focus mentioned in the Statement, I seek assurances on two. One is the e-counting machines. I understand very well the reasons for using them for the local elections: because of STV, it was thought necessary and a good idea to have e-counting machines. But for the parliamentary elections, I really do not understand why we could not have had manual counting. The parliamentary elections had not changed in any form, people were used to them, and we could have had manual counting. The only reason that I have heard given for having e-counting machines for all the elections is expense. Can my noble friend assure me that, in the light of what has happened, manual counting for the parliamentary elections will be reconsidered?

One of the real problems that led to so many voters voting inappropriately on the parliamentary ballot paper and thereby invalidating it was not so much because it was all on one ballot paper, but because of the instructions at the top of the ballot paper, which stated in very heavy print, “You have two votes”. Some people put two crosses in one column and none in the other, thereby completely invalidating their paper. Not just the question of whether there should have been one ballot paper but the question of what instructions go on the ballot paper should be carefully examined.

My Lords, all the matters raised by my noble friend will be carefully looked at. The paradox of the e-counting machines is that they were so widely tested before the elections yet went wrong on the night. That will need to be looked into because they were validated—and I can hear the Luddites having a good laugh at the back. For those of us who know a bit about computers, that is a very strange occurrence. I can assure my noble friend that all the points looked at will be considered. I have to say that Hansard from both Houses will be of great value to the Electoral Commission as it starts its inquiries and considers its agenda.

My Lords, considering the chaos of those elections, can the Minister assure us that these stupid systems and practices will not be translated into the English parliamentary system?

My Lords, unfortunately I do not have the authority to give that undertaking, but it sounds a bit unlikely.

My Lords, from what I have derived from last Thursday’s events, an all- elected House of Lords is rather less likely than it might have been beforehand. More seriously, I shall attempt to bridge the divide that is going to open up between the Government’s view that this should be left to the Electoral Commission and the cries for a fully independent commission. Surely we can bridge that divide by instructing the Electoral Commission to include some non-executive directors—some independent members. That would, to some extent, disarm the criticism that they are the guards looking after themselves.

My Lords, that is an interesting point and I will ask my right honourable friend to consider it and discuss it with officials in the Electoral Commission.

My Lords, there is some talk of the election being rerun. Will the Minister confirm that that is definitely not expected?

My Lords, two voices have mentioned that possibility—one in the other place this afternoon and one here. The Government and the Scottish Executive do not feel that that is sensible.