Electoral Registration Bill report stage and third reading

24 January 2013

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill completed report stage, further line by line scrutiny of the bill, and third reading, the final chance to amend the bill, in the House of Lords yesterday (Wednesday 23 January).

The bill seeks to improve electoral registration and the administration and conduct of elections.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Labour) proposed Amendment 3: 'Its purpose is to maintain the annual canvass. Clause 7(2)(b), which we seek to delete, would authorise the minister to abolish the annual canvass.'

She explained: 'Without the canvass there will be no check on the completeness of the register. All those experienced in this area are adamant that the old-fashioned canvass remains a crucial tool in locating citizens domiciled in Great Britain. Houses do not move. Ensuring that eligible residents are on the list is best done via the canvass. Nothing else competes. Furthermore, we are concerned about the impact of the removal of the annual canvass in Northern Ireland, which the Electoral Commission considers contributed to the dip in registration there.'

Lord Rennard (Liberal Democrat) said: '...the annual door-to-door household canvass is an extremely important part of the current registration system and has been shown to be very effective.'

He added his support to the amendment saying: '...it would be unwise for the government to proceed with removing the annual canvass without considerable consensus and the advice of the Electoral Commission that it was safe to do so, and without the new electoral registration systems being put forward in this bill having been in place and embedded for a very considerable period.'

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat) explained: 'We all recognise that the annual canvass is useful and important... Nevertheless, the extent to which we find it easy to catch people when they are in and get them to answer their doors, and thus to rely primarily on the annual canvass, is itself changing. This provision has been put into the bill to remove the necessity of coming back to the House with primary legislation for a change when we are confident that other methods, in particular online methods, provide more efficient and cost-effective ways of ensuring that we have a complete and accurate register.'

He argued: 'The Electoral Commission has to provide a report assessing the extent to which the registration objectives have been met. That report has to be presented to Parliament, and the Minister has to respond. Both Houses of Parliament then vote on whether they accept the Minister's approval. It is a fairly strong set of safeguards.'

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Labour) argued the safeguards 'are not strong enough' and took the amendment to a vote. The vote resulted with 199 for and 223 against, and the amendment was withdrawn.

Other topics scrutinsed during report included overseas votes, voting procedure and the option of being excluded from the edited version of the electoral register.

The bill moved from report stage to third reading with Lord Hart of Chilton (Labour) proposing amendments to clarify 'which electoral register is to be used by the Boundary Commissions in the boundary review and on by when the commissions have to report.'

Members also agreed an amendment to allow voters waiting at polling stations at the close of the poll to be entitled to vote.

The bill has completed its passage through the House of Lords. It will be reprinted with the Lords amendments and returned to the House of Commons for consideration of amendments – ping pong.

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

What is consideration of amendments/ping pong?

Once the bill has completed its passage through the second chamber the bill will return to the Commons where they will consider the amendments made.
 
Both Houses need to agree to the exact wording of the bill and the bill may 'ping pong' between both houses until this happens.
 
When the exact wording of the bill has been agreed by both Houses the bill is ready for royal assent. Once a bill receives royal assent it becomes an Act of Parliament (proposals in the bill become law).

Further information

Image: PA/John Giles

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