PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT LOCAL ELECTIONS (NORTHERN IRELAND) (AMENDMENT) ORDER 1987

Tuesday 27 January 1987

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir Anthony Meyer

Amess, Mr. David (Basildon)

Bell, Mr. Stuart (Middlesbrough)

Critchley, Mr. Julian (Aldershot)

Flannery, Mr. Martin (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Lightbown, Mr. David (Staffordshire, South-East)

McNamara, Mr. Kevin (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Needham, Mr. Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)

Park, Mr. George (Coventry, North-East)

Pendry, Mr. Tom (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Powell, Mr. J. Enoch (South Down)

Sackville, Mr. Tom (Bolton, West)

Stevens, Mr. Lewis (Nuneaton)

Tapsell, Sir Peter (East Lindsey)

Townend, Mr. John (Bridlington)

Waller, Mr. Gary (Keighley)

Watts, Mr. John (Slough)

Wells, Mr. Bowen (Hertford and Stortford)

Welsh, Mr. Michael (Doncaster, North)

Mr. J. R. Rose, Committee Clerk

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3 First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 27 January 1987

[SIR ANTHONY MEYER in the Chair]

DRAFT LOCAL ELECTIONS (NORTHERN IRELAND) (AMENDMENT) ORDER 1987

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 1987. The main purpose of this draft order is to replace existing rules on absent voting at Northern Ireland local government elections. Absent voters are those entitled to vote by post or by proxy. The order brings the provisions for local elections into line with those for parliamentary elections following the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1985. It also extends the list of specified documents which voters must present to prove their identity at Northern Ireland local elections and makes other minor amendments to local electoral law. Before considering the detailed provisions contained in this rather technical draft order, I want to spend a few moments describing in plainer terms the relationship between Northern Ireland local electoral law and laws governing election to the House. I do so with due deference to those hon. Members who I know are great experts on this matter. Local electoral law in Northern Ireland is governed by the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962, a measure enacted by the former Stormont Parliament, and by the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. Taken together, these two pieces of legislation comprise a body of electoral law separate from the Representation of the People Acts, which apply to local elections in Great Britain. As a matter of policy, however, the Government have sought in recent years to ensure that Northern Ireland local government electoral law differs as little as possible in substance from parliamentary practice, except where there are good reasons for differences. This draft order maintains that principle in respect of absent voting arrangements, which were amended for parliamentary elections by the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1985. Equivalent provisions are applied by the order to local elections in Northern Ireland. I want to refer to some of the contents of the draft order. Article 2 deals with commencement 4 and provides for the bulk of the order to come into force six days after it has been made, which we hope will be in February. Article 4 is the coat-hanger for schedule 1; and schedule 1 introduces a series of amendments to the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 with which I shall not weary the Committee. I should like, however, to point out paragraph 41 to the schedule, which amends the list of specified documents, one of which must be produced by an elector at a polling station before a ballot paper can be issued. Two new documents are added to the list—a British seaman's card and a Northern Ireland provisional driver's licence. These amendments follow identical changes which were made for parliamentary elections by regulation 13 of the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1986. Article 5 of the order, together with schedule 2, brings the provisions for absent voting into line with those for parliamentary elections. Local electors, like parliamentary electors before the passage of the 1985 Act, have up to now been required to fulfil more specific criteria in order to get an absent vote, such as the general nature of their employment or physical incapacity. The criteria for an application for an absent vote to be granted indefinitely are also amended in line with the provisions of the 1985 Act. This means that the same criteria will now apply to parliamentary, European and local elections and that a joint standing list of absent voters, covering these three types of elecions, can be established. As a result, disabled electors, for instance, will be able in future to obtain absent votes for these three elections by means of a single application instead of three separate ones. Article 6 of the order makes transitional provision for absent voters. Schedule 3 makes consequential amendments to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 concerning the issue and receipt of postal ballot papers and declarations of secrecy. I believe that the substantive provisions of the draft order will be welcomed by all those involved in the electoral process in Northern Ireland, and in particular by electors who want to have an absent vote at future local government elections in the Province. The draft order has to be made very shortly to ensure that the existing absent voting provisions are replaced when they expire. I therefore commend it to the Committee as a necessary and desirable amendment to local electoral law in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 1987.

Committee rose at twenty-six minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Meyer, Sir Anthony (Chairman)

Amess, Mr.

Lightbown, Mr.

Needham, Mr.

Park, Mr.

Sackville, Mr.

Stevens, Mr. Lewis

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Waller, Mr.

Watts, Mr.

Welsh, Mr.

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