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European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 24 November 2008 be approved.

Relevant Document: 1st report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, I am grateful that it has been agreed that the statutory instruments can be taken together. The three pieces of legislation refer to the European parliamentary elections, to be held in the United Kingdom on 4 June this year, and form an important part of the Government’s preparations for these elections. All three statutory instruments have been subject to consultation with the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders, and drafts were revised and amended when appropriate, as a result of responses to that consultation.

I will deal first with the European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 2009. The main purpose of these regulations is to amend the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004 to take into account the changes which have been made to electoral law since 2004. In general, this is meant to apply the changes made in the Electoral Administration Act to European parliamentary elections. We have already undertaken this exercise for the various types of local elections and the GLA elections. Even though the scale of changes is minor, in order to assist electoral administrators in the practical application of the legislation we have re-enacted Schedule 1, on European parliamentary election rules; Schedule 2, on absent voting; and Schedule 3, on modification of European parliamentary elections rules for combined polls, to the 2004 regulations in their entirety.

The European parliamentary elections are administered in Great Britain by 11 returning officers, one each for Scotland and Wales and nine for the regions of England. They are known colloquially as regional returning officers, or RROs. They perform some functions, for example nomination procedures, at a regional level, but most of the mechanics of the delivery of the poll fall to electoral administrators in each region, known as local returning officers, with the RRO acting as a co-ordinator. The European parliamentary election rules confer functions on the returning officers and local returning officers to ensure the smooth running of the poll.

Schedule 2 to the regulations replaces the European parliamentary elections rules in Schedule 1 to the 2004 regulations, and reflects the new security measures introduced under the 2006 Act. These measures include security markings on ballot papers, the introduction of unique identifying marks and the replacement of counterfoils with corresponding number lists. The rules also reflect the changes made under the 2006 Act in relation to the retention and inspection of election documents after the poll.

The key policy changes that we have made in relation to absent voting at European elections are set out in Schedule 3 to these regulations. The changes include new provisions for the collection of personal identifiers from persons applying to vote by post or proxy in a European parliamentary election; a requirement for postal voters in European parliamentary elections to provide their signature and date of birth on postal voting statements, which they must complete and return with their ballot papers; and a requirement for local returning officers to take steps to verify the signatures and dates of birth on postal voting statements, which involves checking that the identifiers provided on the postal voting statement correspond with those previously provided with the postal vote application.

Schedule 4 to the 2004 regulations, which sets out the modifications needed to the European parliamentary rules in the event of a combination of polls, has also been updated to reflect changes that have been made to the 2004 regulations as a result of the 2006 Act.

To facilitate the smooth running of a poll in Scotland, we have defined “local counting area in Scotland” as a local government area in Scotland. However, the local returning officer for European parliamentary elections in Scotland remains the person who is responsible for UK parliamentary elections there, as required by Section 6 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002. We have been able to provide, in Schedule 1 to the regulations, which inserts a new Schedule A1 in the 2004 regulations, that the local returning officer for each local counting area is the person responsible for a specified parliamentary constituency. To make this work in practice, we have assigned a local returning officer to each local counting area. This means that, on the ground, the checking of personal voting identifiers will be simplified because electoral administrators will not have to use multiple software systems to perform the task. This change was the express wish of the Scottish electoral administrators.

On future boundaries for the European parliamentary elections, in the long term we have included measures in the Political Parties and Elections Bill which, subject to Parliament’s approval, provides that all future European parliamentary polls after 2009 will be administered on local authority boundaries.

The European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003 enfranchised the Gibraltar electorate for the purposes of European parliamentary elections in response to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. We have worked with the Gibraltar Government to ensure that all necessary amendments have been made to those regulations to enable the Gibraltar electorate to continue to vote in elections to the European Parliament as part of, and on the same terms as, the UK. For example, the regulations require personal identifiers to be used in Gibraltar for the first time at a European parliamentary election.

On 9 January, the Gibraltar Parliament passed the European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2008. The Act amends the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2004 to closely mirror the changes which were made for Great Britain by the Representation of the People Act 1983 as amended by our 2006 Act. Thus, the Gibraltar electorate will be able to take advantage of late and anonymous registration.

We have consulted the Electoral Commission and have incorporated a number of the points which it raised in its formal response to the regulations. This included a provision, and a recommendation to make it clearer on the ballot paper, that a voter must mark his or her vote with a cross—an X—in the box.

After careful consideration the Government agreed to implement the Electoral Commission’s recommendation to change the rules in relation to the use of party descriptions on the basis that the change is in line with Ron Gould’s recent findings about the use of descriptors at list-based elections. This means that the registered name of the party must appear first on the ballot paper, followed by any description of the party which has been used in the nomination papers. We will work with the Electoral Commission to review whether a similar change to the use of party descriptions would be beneficial for electors at local and UK parliamentary elections.

Following the Electoral Commission’s recommendation, we have taken steps to make it clearer that a voter should mark his or her vote with a cross—an X—in the box to the right of the name of the party or individual candidate he or she is voting for, by amending the wording at the top of the ballot paper to read:

“Vote once (x) in one blank box”.

The Electoral Commission also put forward a recommendation for the regulations to make provision for the acceptance of valid votes where electors mark them in numbers rather than using an X or other mark to indicate who they are voting for. However, after informal consultation, the Ministry of Justice concluded that, in the light of the current legislation and guidance on the rejection of ballot papers, all decisions as to whether a vote is valid or not where a voter has marked his or her vote with a “1,2,3” should be left to the discretion of the returning officer applying the current rules.

We have worked to complete the regulations as early as possible, with an aim to meet Ron Gould’s recommendation for electoral legislation to be in place six months prior to the European parliamentary elections. While we have narrowly missed that target, the regulations will, subject to the approval of both Houses, be in force four months before the election on 4 June, which will hopefully be helpful to electors, electoral administrators and other stakeholders.

I move to the European Parliament (Disqualification) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009. Its purpose is to take account of the changes which were made by the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006. The most notable changes are “Gibraltar Ordinances”, as they were called, now being known as Acts, and the House of Assembly being renamed as the Gibraltar Parliament. The repeal and re-enactment of the 2004 order is therefore due to a change of nomenclature rather than policy. The 2009 order continues to ensure that a consistent approach is taken in relation to the disqualification of MEPs in Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.

Finally, as regards the European Parliamentary Elections (Loans and Related Transactions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009, during the four months before a European election, Gibraltar, which, as noble Lords will know, is combined with the south-west region of the United Kingdom for the purposes of voting in European elections, is subject to a modified form of the statutory provisions regulating donations to political parties.

The 2004 order allows UK political parties which declare an intention to contest a European parliamentary election in the combined region—that is, the south-west region and Gibraltar—to accept donations from donors who are based in Gibraltar in the four months before a European Parliament election, and regulates loans entered into by Gibraltar parties contesting the region during the same period. In addition, the order caps the total amount that UK parties may receive from Gibraltar donors at the amount of campaign expenditure which the registered party would be permitted to incur if it were standing for election in the combined region only, which equates to £315,000. This figure is called, perhaps sensibly, the “permitted maximum”. This order is required to update the 2004 order to take account of changes which were made to the regime for the financial support of parties in the Electoral Administration Act 2006—specifically, to apply new Part 4A of the 2000 Act to Gibraltar.

The order replicates the current donations provisions for loans; that is, to permit loans from specified individuals and organisations in Gibraltar to UK political parties contesting the combined region in the four-month period preceding an election and to regulate loans to Gibraltar parties contesting the combined region during this period. It also, in effect, alters the matters that count towards calculation of the “permitted maximum”. The order alters these matters by ensuring that the value of loans as well as donations must be taken into account by a party when deciding whether the permitted maximum has been reached. In order to reflect the spirit of the provisions in relation to donations from Gibraltar, loans entered into with Gibraltar individuals or bodies during the four-month period may not be subject to actual capitalisation—that is, an increase in the capital borrowed—after the date of the poll. The intention behind this is to prevent non-Gibraltar parties using existing loans to borrow more money from Gibraltar individuals or bodies after the end of the permitted period.

This draft order will help to fulfil the United Kingdom’s obligation to ensure that the Gibraltar electorate is able to vote at elections to the European Parliament on as similar a basis as possible to the UK electorate. It has been the subject of consultation with both the Gibraltar Government and the Electoral Commission: they are both content.

I appreciate, and am grateful for, the fact that noble Lords have borne with me while I outlined each of the statutory instruments. I hope that they will agree—although I am not sure about this—that it is important to go through the details. The Electoral Commission and other stakeholders have given us many helpful, useful and practical comments that we have taken into account in the final drafts of the statutory instruments before us today. The statutory instruments will enable the combined elections to go ahead successfully and make sure that they are conducted properly. I hope that they will also make matters easier for electors. That is our objective, and I commend the regulations and draft orders to the House.

My Lords, I speak at this rather late hour on a Thursday afternoon because I should have liked to speak in the debate on 14 October last year on Statutory Instrument 2008/1647, which deals with the same general subject matter as the proposals before us. However, I had a family commitment out of London that evening and was unable to do so. Nevertheless, before the debate I spoke to my party’s spokesman, my noble friend Lord Kingsland, and to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, with whom I have subsequently had a most cordial correspondence.

I should first make it clear that I am the hereditary Peer referred to in the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee’s report in respect of the 2008 order who was both an elected hereditary Peer and a Member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004. I was, incidentally, elected to remain in this House by my party’s Peers, in the full knowledge that I was a Member of the European Parliament. My memory is that there was a degree of controversy about that at the time—my noble friend Lord Henley might confirm that, as he was Chief Whip—but the ballot box delivered its verdict.

My concern is that the Government have not taken the opportunity in these statutory instruments to remedy some of the shortcomings pointed out in the debate of 14 October 2008. In particular, I return to the discrimination between the exempted hereditary Peers and life Peers in respect of access to the process of disqualification made available in UK law for life Peers but not the 92 exempted hereditary Peers. This is also the subject of a petition that I have lodged in the European Parliament.

The reasons for this were described by the Minister in the House that evening, at col. 676 of Hansard. While I think that I know humbug when I see it, I do not wish to make any further comment about the merits or otherwise of that policy, other than to say that it is a bit bizarre to have a policy to eject the 92 hereditaries from this House as soon as may be while denying them the right of resigning.

The important issue is the dog that did not bark on that October night, regarding whether or not that policy is implementable under European Union law. After all, given the doctrine of the supremacy of EU law, Governments often discover that there are things that they would like to do but cannot. That is a long-established and recognised phenomenon, as we all know in this House—indeed, as anyone engaged in political life in this country knows in respect of things such as the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.

Speaking as an individual, I entirely understand the thinking behind the “no dual mandate” rule for the European Parliament, and I see absolutely no difficulty with it, as long as due legal process is observed when implementing the legislation across the EU. It must be seen in the context of European law as a whole. In this instance, all that is required is for those in the second Chamber to have an escape route available to them. It is widely known that at one time in this country it was thought that the leave of absence procedure, which is available to hereditary Peers, as it is to every other Member of this House, would provide that route. However, more recently it was felt by the European parliamentary authorities that that was not the case. As a result, statutory instrument No. 1647 was put on to the statute book. However, that escape route is not available to the 92 exempted hereditaries who are, as the Minister explained in terms to the House on that evening, identical in respect of their membership of this House.

I expect that the Minister will say that the rules for election to the European Parliament for this country are exclusively a matter for the United Kingdom Government. That is probably the case, but I would not emphatically and completely agree with it. However, I am not making that point now. Rather, in dealing with this issue, the Government have completely failed to address the implications of Article 19 of the European Communities treaty relating to the question of citizens of a member state seeking election to the European Parliament in another member state. This is not a completely fanciful notion. After all, in the European Parliament there is Danny Cohn-Bendit, who some noble Lords may remember as “Red Danny”; he may have been a hero of the Minister in his youth. There is also Ari Vatanen, the world champion rally driver and Finnish national who represents France. I have not asked the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, whether this is the kind of thing that he might be interested in, but I dare say it could be. Anyway, the rule may well have relevance and application in, for example, the island of Ireland.

The failure of the Government to deal with this point regarding the 92 exempted hereditaries denies them their rights as European citizens to stand in another member state, unlike their life Peer colleagues. I ask the Minister, although this may be a triumph of hope over experience, to bring forward provisions to remedy this shortcoming by regularising the position and any other deficiencies in European Union law that may relate to it. The important point here is that, on these kinds of rights, we are not talking about something in the gift of the Government. The fact that the Government may, in their words, be planning to deal with these matters at some point, even in the quite near future, is interesting but not directly relevant.

It matters not at all whether the Government like or hate hereditary peers, whether they admire or despise them, or whether they agree or disagree with them. It is not a question of how we got here. The question is: now that we are here, what is the right position? We, too, have rights. Equally, those who have rights cannot sell or renounce them, or give them away, or have them modified by UK statute. Indeed, that is one of the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Whether any of us, as individuals, exercise our rights is our affair and a matter for our judgment and our conscience.

I turn to how these provisions were negotiated with the European Parliament’s legal service. My inquiries have revealed that the legal service made it clear, at the outset, that the rights sought by the UK Government should be available to all Members of this House. The Government demurred, saying that they would be dealing with the problem posed by the 92 quite soon, and perhaps rather weakly, but understandably—given that the UK Government rather than the European Parliament initiates legislation in this House—there was little more to be done. What is, however, absolutely clear is that the timescale of “soon” does not correlate with the Government’s policies as contained in An Elected Second Chamber: Further Reform of the House of Lords, which was published in July last year—that is to say, before the October statutory instrument came before Parliament.

First—to state the obvious—nobody knows the outcome of the next general election, although we can guess at it. Secondly, it is expressly stated that there is no finality about any plans for further reform. Thirdly, there is no certainty about how the issues posed by the remaining 92 are to be dealt with; option 2 envisages that some may remain for many years, possibly until 2021, although I agree that that is short compared to the period between the 1911 Act and the 1999 Act. Fourthly, if I have understood the document correctly, and I believe that I have, it is anticipated that the same process that will be applied to the 92 hereditaries will also apply to the life Peers for whom the statutory instrument was specifically put on the domestic statute book.

A serious question, about how this was presented to the European Parliament’s legal service, needs to be answered. If I were one of those legal staff, I might feel that Her Majesty’s Government had been perhaps rather economical with the truth about what was happening. We must not forget that our reputation abroad as “perfidious Albion” must have come from somewhere.

I dare say that your Lordships will call this a nitpicking, pettifogging, silly little argument. In many ways, I am the first to agree but, in my opinion, the Government, by relying on nitpicking, pettifogging legal arguments, are attempting to take a nice cheap hit at the expense of the hereditary Peers. That hit goes against not only the provisions of the European treaty but the letter and spirit of the compromise behind the 1999 changes here.

It may seem a small matter, and in one sense it undoubtedly is, but it has considerable, wider implications. In my view, it is the wicket gate to the primrose path. It is just the kind of issue that I was expected to take up, and did, on behalf of my constituents during my 10 years in the European Parliament. It seems to me that if you choose to live by nitpicking, pettifogging legal arguments, you have no business to complain if you subsequently die by them. Over the weekend, I turned on the television and heard the right honourable Caroline Flint, the Minister for Europe, telling the nation on behalf of the Government that their role in Europe is to see that the rules are obeyed. Quite right; I agree entirely. However, the Government should take the beam out of their own eye before going around trying to take the motes out of other people’s eyes.

My Lords, I was fascinated by what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said but I do not think that it was exactly the subject of our discussions this afternoon. I entirely understand why he has taken the opportunity to put his thoughts on the record but the Minister will probably be pleased to hear that I shall not be pursuing that line.

In most cases, these regulations and orders just regurgitate everything that has been before with, as the Minister said, a few changes to bring them into line with previous regulations and with the 2006 Act. Therefore, there is not much to complain about on the whole, although I shall start with a couple of general quibbles. I shall be very brief because, again, they are not really the subject of these regulations.

The first is the whole question of postal voting, which is now regulated for the European elections in the same way as it is for national and local elections. It remains my personal view that postal voting in this country is far too easy and far too open to corruption. The new rules and regulations have changed the way in which people who wish corruptly to use postal votes operate but they have not prevented them doing so. Having said that, I do not imagine that there will be a huge amount of fiddling of postal votes in the European elections, as it is not clear what its purpose would be. The smaller the electoral area, the easier it is to fiddle the postal votes and change the result. I do not think we should expect there to be a lot of postal-vote fraud in the north-west, for example, on this occasion. There should certainly be a lot less than there was last time, when there was universal postal voting. It is some five years since we discussed the pilots Bill that brought about that postal voting, and I should put on the record that we on these Benches are pleased that the Government appear to have moved away from the idea permanently—at least, I hope that they have.

With my second general point, I wish to put down a marker about the electoral system. Obviously, the electoral system for European elections has to be proportional. It is unfortunate that the Government have chosen the worst possible proportional system for these elections, but I shall say no more than that at this stage. We would be delighted if everyone had to put “1, 2, 3 and 4” on the ballot paper instead of an “X” but I shall not pursue that further at the moment.

I have one or two questions but, before raising them, I wish to make one general gripe, which is probably nothing to do with the Minister or this legislation. Clearly, this document is laid out in the way in which statutory instruments are normally laid out. They are normally one, two or 20 pages long, but here we have a document of 139 pages. There are no running page headings so that you can understand where you are in the document, and there is no list of contents and no index. That is rather ridiculous, especially in these days of computers, when it is so easy to do such things. This style is okay for short statutory instruments but absolutely hopeless for a document of this size, particularly as this will be a working document for a lot of people. There are now people around the country—and there will be more when the document is approved by both Houses—who are using it as the basis for their administration. It will be reprinted in other forms that may be more convenient for people to use but I think that my point is valid. It is a general point about the unfriendliness of this type of government document. The Minister is nodding his head, so he obviously has the same problem as I do.

I have one or two questions on this document. The first is on the verification of postal votes and the verification of personal identifiers: the signature and date of birth. Does that apply to 100 per cent of the postal votes which come in? When they were first brought in, at least in some areas, only a proportion were verified, although in some parts of the country, including parts of Lancashire, they verified 100 per cent because there was thought to be a problem in those areas. Is there to be 100 per cent verification? I hope the answer is yes. Secondly, I am a little confused about the situation in Scotland. I looked at the table and did not understand it. I understand it a little more now—it is Schedule 1A. Are the votes in Scotland counted and announced by constituency or by local authority area? I assume that in England it will be local authority area, as it was last time.

The Minister said that part of these regulations referred to combined elections in those areas which will have county council elections in England, but they do not appear to set out how those combined elections will take place. Therefore, I assume there is another set of regulations and that the Minister will tell me whether they have already been approved—I assume they have not. Will they allow the two elections to be administered together, or is it already set out somewhere that that is not required?

Will the Minister say where the marked registers will be held after the elections? In the past, there were problems when we had combined elections because they were taken to London and some of them were lost. I understand that all the marked registers will now be kept locally. Can the Minister confirm that that will be the case for the marked registers in June, so that people who want to check them for the county council elections will not find that they have been taken to a warehouse in Chelmsford or somewhere in the south-east of England and then lost? Will the marked registers be kept locally now for both of the elections?

New Regulation 74 refers to the imprint on election literature. That is the new form of imprint with the printer, the promoter and on whose behalf it is produced. Is that compulsory from these elections onwards? There was a period when either the old or the new imprints could be used and everyone was totally confused. For these elections, will the new imprint, as I have just described it, be compulsory?

The name and description on the ballot paper are set out in Regulation 22. As the Minister said, it must contain the names followed by the description, if any, of the registered parties shown in the statement of parties and individual candidates nominated. I am confused about that. One can use up to six words to describe a candidate. Instead of “Liberal Democrat”, I could say “Liberal Democrat against airport on Pendle Hill”, or whatever. Some years ago, the Liberal Democrats in London ran as the “Liberal Democrats”—

My Lords, there was a slogan. Will we have “Conservatives against Europe” or whatever? People can register and use those descriptions. It is a long-standing grouse of mine that people are allowed to put slogans on ballot papers, which I think is wrong.

My Lords, many of these slogans are misleading, but parties are allowed to register them. The Electoral Commission does not subject them to an analysis of ideological or policy purity; it just accepts them. Are we now saying that there will be a description that is actually the name of the political party, such as the “Liberal Democrats” or the “Conservative Party”—the Conservative and Unionist Party, or whatever it has decided its name is—which is the registered name, and then there will be up to six words of description in addition?

My Lords, I recall standing in an election where there was the Liberal Democrat candidate and the Real Liberal Democrat candidate, and I do not think the Real Liberal Democrat candidate represented the noble Lord’s party.

My Lords, that was probably before names were registered because it would not be allowed now. The Electoral Commission would not register “Real Liberal Democrat” because it would say it is too close to “Liberal Democrat”. However, it allows a party called the Liberal Party to be registered and one called the national liberal something or other, which is a crazy fascist outfit in some part of London, so it is not entirely consistent.

Will there be the name of the party, which we all recognise, such as the Labour Party or UKIP, and underneath any six words it wants? That seems undesirable because it allows a slogan on a ballot paper. A standard ballot paper is shown on page 53 of the regulations, and it appears to show just the names of the parties and no descriptions, so I am not sure where the description would appear and in what size typeface.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and will try not to make interventions from a sedentary position in future. As a former—many years ago—member of the Liberal Party, it is occasionally too difficult to resist the temptation. I offer my commiserations to the Minister, whose voice seems to be suffering a little. I shall try to keep my questions relatively short but, no doubt, he will still manage manfully to answer all the questions put by my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.

I start, for once, by offering the Minister some congratulations. He said that the Ministry of Justice had narrowly missed its target for publishing the second order on time. That is a great improvement on what it has achieved in the past, as it has quite frequently missed its targets by a considerable margin.

Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the points made by my noble friend Lord Inglewood are highly relevant and important. He pointed out that in this and in previous orders the Government are proposing to treat Members of Parliament, whether hereditary Members or life Peers, differently in relation to election to the European Parliament. We want a full and proper answer from the Minister, and I hope he will be able to give it. If he does not, he will find that this matter will have to be considered in due course by the European Court of Justice, if not by the European Court of Human Rights on a human rights issue. There is a case to answer, and the Minister must try to do so for the Government.

I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about postal voting. Over the past few years, the Government, in their desperate desire—so they say—to increase turnout at elections, have made it easier and easier for people to have postal votes. A lot of that is very good and quite worthy, but—I do not want to make a party political point because we all know from press reports that there has been corruption in postal voting involving all three parties—there is corruption, and it is very easy. It behoves the Government to look very carefully at postal voting to see how it can be tightened up.

On the extracts from the Explanatory Memorandum that the Minister read out on postal voting, are the Government proposing slightly tighter rules in European elections than in general elections and local elections, or are they just bringing them all into line? The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly said that he did not think that there was likely to be that much fraud with postal voting in European elections because, obviously, it would be very difficult to influence the result of the election given the number of votes involved. However, bearing in mind that the European elections will, as I understand it, take place on the same day as the local elections, it is also likely or possible—the noble Lord will not know any more than I do; it depends on what the Prime Minister decides—that there could be a general election on the same day. The possibility of fraud in one will influence all three, so it is very important that the Government address that in due course, even if they cannot sort it out—

My Lords, when the Minister replies, can he confirm that the Electoral Commission said that it would not want a general election on the same day as European elections? That might be quite important.

My Lords, I will leave the Minister to respond to that point—no doubt he will if he has time to take advice from those who offer him advice on such matters.

My last point echoes some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about how we have the worst possible electoral system.

My Lords, let me be quite clear: I did not say that it was the worst possible system; I said that it was the worst possible form of proportional representation.

I stand corrected, my Lords. It is still a pretty awful system. The noble Lord may remember my late friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and his long arguments against the closed lists that the Government were imposing on us. At the time, I was Chief Whip and I remember saying privately to my late friend, when he talked about the evils of the closed list, that it might be a Chief Whip’s dream in terms of party management but not quite the most democratic way to select the people who are to represent us in Europe or, for that matter, in any other election that the Government choose to put before us.

I hope that that will provide the Minister with sufficient questions to answer, and that his voice will bear out for the remainder of this afternoon.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who, as I think he knows, I will not be able to please very much today. I pay tribute to him both as a Member of the European Parliament for the 10 years that he served there and as a Member of this House. He is a highly respected figure in both institutions. I am very sorry that he was not able to be here on 14 October, because his speech would have been, if I may say so, much more apt on that occasion, as I think he said this afternoon. We know that there are always good reasons why people cannot be here; that often happens on the days when you particularly want to be here.

However, I do not intend to attempt to answer the noble Lord’s point today. I regret his phrase—in time, I hope that he will too—describing the Government as being economical with the truth on this matter. I do not think that that is either fair or a particularly sensible thing to say, if I may say so. As he knows, the instruments that we are debating today are made under different enabling powers from those needed to address the issue which I absolutely concede is of great importance to him and others.

The noble Lord knows that the issue of hereditary Peers was given full consideration by this House in that important debate in October and he knows the line that the Government took—I was the Minister. It was that hereditary Peers and life Peers arrive in this House by different means and that that includes, as he pointed out, standing for election in the case of hereditary Peers; the consequences of a vacancy are rather different, because the House of Lords Act 1999 provides for a vacancy only following a death. I attempted to make it clear in that debate—I will quote myself now, which is not something that I am prone to do—that:

“Our intention with these regulations”—

I was referring to the regulations of that day—

“was to provide a simple, pragmatic and interim solution to a specific and pressing problem”.—[Official Report, 14/10/08; col. 677.]

We dealt sensibly with that problem in those regulations. I understand absolutely that that has not satisfied the noble Lord. I remind the House—the noble Lord referred to this—that we remain committed to ensuring that the issue that he and others raised should be considered as part of the wider debate on House of Lords reform. The European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008, which were debated and agreed on 14 October, were intended as an interim solution in advance of full reform of the second Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made some general points and asked some very interesting questions. He and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, quite properly raised the issue of postal voting. They will know that postal voting has proved popular and has boosted turnout at elections, which I am sure they support. They rightly pointed out that we must balance accessibility with security. That is why we have recently acted to tighten security and have introduced new requirements to produce personal identifiers to get a postal vote and stronger sanctions, powers of investigation and punishment of those who are guilty of electoral fraud. The Electoral Commission’s report on the 2007-08 elections suggests that our action had a positive effect on the safety and security of the system. The available evidence suggests that incidents of postal voting fraud remain isolated. However, it is important that the Government are not complacent about this issue. We keep the electoral process under review and will consider what future action may be taken to ensure that it remains secure and whether we need to take action to address malpractice in other parts of the system, for example, personation in polling stations and proxy voting generally. That is as far as I can go this afternoon in response to the noble Lord’s general points.

I have to admit that I have a sneaking sympathy with the noble Lord’s comments on the large regulation. He explained why that happened; statutory instruments are published in that way. I hope that it will comfort him to some extent if I agree to go back and say that when a statutory instrument is of this size, an index, for example, might be of value. I do not for a moment say that I will succeed, but for our purposes and, more importantly, for those of electoral administrators, we need some sort of index. I thank the noble Lord for making that point.

The noble Lord asked a number of detailed questions, including whether there was 100 per cent verification of postal votes and personal identifiers. Perhaps I may remind him that the statutory level remains at 20 per cent, which I think he knows. However, I understand that the majority of areas will aim to check 100 per cent. If 100 per cent checking proves impossible in each region, we will have to see whether the statutory level should be increased for future elections.

The noble Lord asked me about counting votes and announcing results in Scotland. I am advised that the votes are counted by the local returning officer in each local counting area, but that the returning officer for each electoral region announces the result for each registered party and individual candidates.

My Lords, in England, the result is announced centrally as to who has been elected; a declaration of the number of votes cast in each local authority area where the votes are being counted is not made. It is unusual in a British election to have the votes split up in that way. Is that the case in Scotland? Is it done on a local authority area-basis in Scotland?

My Lords, the answer is yes. On how the combination of polls will work, that is governed by the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) Regulations and the Local Elections (Principal Areas) (England and Wales) Rules 2006. It looks like more than one statutory instrument governs this issue. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord with the statutory references. The election rules are modified in the event of combination. He asked whether marked registers are stored locally. The answer is, yes, they are stored locally for local and European elections.

If party descriptions are required on the ballot paper—unlike the party label, which is required—they should follow the registered party name on the ballot paper, as the noble Lord surmised. The description should be on the same line, albeit in a smaller font. The font is not specified in order to ensure that suppliers have maximum flexibility when printing the ballot paper. There are directions for printing the ballot paper on the back of form A. That arises particularly from the 2007 Gould report into the Scottish elections. The noble Lord gave an example from page 53 of the regulations. As I understand it, each of the parties has put down just its proper title, as it would be required to do. It has not included any phrase or form of words that may excite or attract local voters. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Lord.

My Lords, to be clear, should the words that might follow be from the six words of one of the party descriptions that has been registered with the Electoral Commission, or does this have to be done specifically for this election?

My Lords, they should be from what has been registered with the Electoral Commission. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord on his other point.

Yes, my Lords. I am grateful for the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and I have tried to respond to his points about postal votes, a topic rightly raised by both noble Lords. I commend the regulations and hope that they make the coming elections in June run smoothly and successfully, with a high turnout.

My Lords, could the noble Lord eventually answer the question on whether the Electoral Commission has indicated that it might not be appropriate to hold a general election on the same day as the European elections?

Motion agreed.