Eleanor Laing amazed Government has, at last, accepted her amendment to allow voters queuing outside polling station to vote

29th January 2013

Eleanor Laing welcomes the Government’s backing for proposals she first put before the House in June last year which will allow voters in the queue outside a polling station at closing time to vote.

Mrs Laing: I was totally taken by surprise to discover that the Minister is urging the House to accept Lords amendment 7 on voters waiting at polling stations at the close of poll. On 27 June 2012, I introduced this very amendment—it was almost word for word—which was known then as new clause 4. I will not repeat the speech I made then. We had a long debate and I was supported in my arguments by the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith)—that is all on the record in Hansard,at column 359 and onwards. That is lucky, because we do not have time to debate that all again this afternoon, and I am delighted that we do not have to do so.

In that debate, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) stood there and told me how everything I said was wrong and that I was silly to waste the House’s time by introducing my new clause, which he said was total rubbish and totally unnecessary. He said that returning officers could deal with all the problems and that this was merely a matter of management.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab) indicated assent.

Mrs Laing: I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees with my recollection of what happened on 27 June. I believe she also agrees with my arguments that these matters should not be left up to individual registration officers, especially given that their ability, resources, experience and enthusiasm vary considerably from one part of the country to another.

Mr Redwood: I remember my hon. Friend’s speech and she made her point very well at the time. I suggest that she claims credit and congratulates the Ministers on realising that she had a better Government policy than they did. We can then be one big happy family.

4.45 pm

Mrs Laing: I thank my right hon. Friend for that point and am coming to it.

I am very glad that the Minister recognises what I and other Members said on 27 June 2012 was right, but, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree, this is also a very good example of why we need a revising Second Chamber rather than another House at the other end of this Palace of Westminster that challenges everything we do and makes things difficult for the process of government. We need a House that looks again at what has been said and done in this Chamber and makes sensible suggestions. In this case, the suggestion made by their lordships is almost exactly the same as the suggestion I made on 27 June; I am delighted that their lordships agree and I am extremely delighted that the Minister is urging the House to accept the amendment.

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Speaking earlier in the same debate

Mrs Laing: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I hope it may be helpful to him and the House to know that his colleague the Deputy Prime Minister gave evidence to the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform on 19 April and 13 December last year, and I asked him the exact questions that Members have been asking in the last few minutes. He made it clear to the Committee that he still agreed with what he said at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading: that we have to put right what he called

“the broken scales of our democracy”—[Official Report, 6 December 2010; Vol. 515, c. 36.]

However, he also made it clear that although he considers the current system to be unfair, he is absolutely certain that that unfairness should continue until after the next general election. That is his position.

Mr Lansley: I am sure the House is grateful to my hon. Friend for informing it about the discussions in the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. From my point of view, I know the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to constitutional reform. I think the boundaries review and the introduction of greater equality and fairness in constituencies and between voters is an important constitutional reform, and I hope he would want to see it put through before the next election.

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Mrs Laing: The hon. Gentleman and I have had various arguments on this issue across the Floor of the House for as many as nine years. Even if what he is saying is correct, he is completely missing the point about the amendment and the importance of the Bill. How can he say that it is fair that Arfon has 41,000 constituents while Somerton and Frome has double the number—82,000? How can he possibly say that that is fair?

Chris Ruane: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She should think about the figure that I have mentioned: 6.5 million people are missing from the register. The vast majority of them will be in Labour constituencies. The vast majority of the case load for Labour Members and those Members who serve poorer constituencies around the country comes from the unregistered, the people who should legally be on the register but are not. If those people were factored in, the inequality would not be as great.

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