The debate started with discussion about Clause 1, which deals with the move from household to individual voter registration. Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Labour) moved Amendment 1, saying: ‘We on these benches support the principle of individual electoral registration, as we indicated at second reading... We welcome the specific requirement on the face of the bill, but our concern is over why the role of the Electoral Commission has been undermined... Given the levels of uncertainty associated with the transition, we argue that at the very least the minister should be advised by the Electoral Commission on whether the system is operating effectively before guidance is withdrawn.’
Lord Rennard (Liberal Democrat) also expressed his concern, saying: ‘What is most clear to me is that we simply cannot proceed with elections and boundary reviews based only on the new individual election registration processes if the voting registers resulting from these new processes are significantly less complete than they are now.’
Amendment 1 was later withdrawn, after Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat), responded on behalf of the government: ‘I recognise the importance of that issue, which has grown up, so to speak, since we began the parliamentary discussion of this bill. I think it is fair to ask that I might take that back and check very completely... and that we should return to this issue later.’
Members of the House went on to discuss Clause 2, covering whether fines should be issued to individuals who fail to fill in their electoral registration form (Amendments 4, 5, 21 and 22). Lord Rennard (Liberal Democrat), moved the amendment, saying: ‘From the outset of the consultation on the draft bill, I argued strongly that the existing legal requirement to fill in a registration form when invited to do so must continue under individual registration.’
He continued: ‘Ministers have talked about the level of the civil penalty being akin to a parking fine... I suggest that if it is to be like a parking fine, the idea that you can escape it by simply saying that you did not know you were responsible or you did not understand the rules is misplaced. As anyone who has received a parking fine - as I suspect many of us will have done at some point - will know, not understanding or not knowing that you have to pay it is not a defence. If we could all claim ignorance, many more of us would park illegally with impunity.’
The amendment was later withdrawn, after Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat), stated: ‘The government's position is that the civil penalty is there as a backstop but should not be used to enforce compulsory registration. It should be very much a means of ensuring that forms are returned, not of insisting that everyone registers. That then takes us over into a different situation which, again, would be a change in the traditional, established relationship between the citizen and the state.’
Committee stage day two is scheduled for Wednesday 31 October.
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 grouped together and placed in order.
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