The debate began with discussion of Amendment 25. Lord Lexden (Conservative), said: ‘My principal purpose is to draw attention to a grave injustice that afflicts large numbers of our fellow countrymen and women living overseas and is keenly felt by many of them. Amendment 25 would sweep away entirely the existing severe restriction on their right to vote in our elections - a right that so many of them wish to exercise freely and without interruption while they reside in other countries - no matter how long their residence abroad may last.’
Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat), expressed his concern at the amendment, saying: ‘If an MP's primary role is to represent his or her area, and the constituents within it at that time, how does that square with a proposal which would see him or her representing people who live perhaps thousands of miles away in a very different economic and social context?’
The amendment was later withdrawn, after Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Conservative), said: ‘The current 15-year time limit on overseas voting rights, which Amendment 25 seeks to remove, was approved by an earlier parliament. Whether the time limit remains appropriate is a wider question, which remains under consideration within government... There are valid arguments on both sides which need to be carefully considered alongside any practical issues before any informed decisions can be taken.’
Discussion then moved on to Amendment 28A, put forward by Lord Hart of Chilton (Labour). He said: ‘The effect of the amendment would be to postpone the review of parliamentary constituency boundaries for one electoral cycle, and similarly delay the reduction in the number of Westminster seats from 650 to 600. It would ensure that the 2015 general election is contested on the basis of current boundaries. It would also provide a window of time to address the current deficiencies in the electoral register and the likely impact on its accuracy and completeness from the introduction of individual electoral registration.’
Lord Rennard (Liberal Democrat), expressed his support for the amendment, saying: ‘The four members from different parts of the House who signed the amendment may all have slightly different arguments to make about why we each support it, but we are all agreed that the electoral register on which the current boundary review is taking place is not really fit for that purpose and that the current review of boundaries should therefore be postponed.’
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, (Conservative), opposed the amendment, saying: ‘The current review, based on the December 2010 register, is one for which current law provides. How does its deferment stand under the amendment? Is it to be kept on ice and used for the 2020 election, despite the fact that it will then be based on a register that will be nearly 10 years old or is the work to be abandoned and a new review used for the May 2020 election? Whatever, it is clear that in the absence of the current boundary review, it would be the old boundaries, based on a register as old as February 2000 as far as England is concerned, that would be used for the May 2015 general election.’
The amendment was agreed after going to a vote, with 300 voting for and 231 voting against.
Lords went on to discuss the roles of electoral officers, the transition to the new electoral register and the annual electoral canvass.
What is committee stage?
Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the bill takes place during committee stage. Any member of the Lords can take part.
It usually starts no later than two weeks after the second reading and can last for one to eight days or more.
The day before committee stage starts, amendments (changes) are published in a marshalled list - in which all the amendments are placed in order. Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (groupings of amendments) is published on the day.
During committee stage every clause of the bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place. All proposed amendments can be discussed and there is no time limit, or guillotine, on discussion of amendments.
About the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill
The bill was introduced in the Lords at first reading stage on 28 June. It focuses on the registration of electors and the administration and conduct of elections.
The first part of the bill relates to individual electoral registration. It includes proposals for a new system where each elector must apply individually to register to vote. The bill will create a legislative framework to allow alternative channels for registration, such as online.
The second part of the bill looks at the administration and conduct of elections. It aims to improve the way elections are run, increase voter participation and improve the integrity and robustness of the electoral system.
Previous stages of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill