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Lord Naseby: I support my noble friend. I ask the Minister to reflect on what happened at Great Yarmouth during the Millennium. As one who lives in the eastern part of the country, to the best of my knowledge well over 1,000 New Age travellers--or whatever terminology is used to describe them--remained in Great Yarmouth for about two and a half weeks, not just a few days. One may have a situation--it is not entirely hypothetical--in which a by-election is pending in a marginal seat and, for one reason or another, the government of the day decide to delay it. Over the years, Great Yarmouth has been a marginal seat. The situation may arise in which a flood of homeless people decide to stay, register and vote. That seems to me to be a weakness. In their wisdom the Government have, rightly, decided that for a part of the United Kingdom a period of three months should apply. My noble friend makes a very powerful case that the arrangement should be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Biffen: I too support the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Jopling. It is fascinating that in this particular instance legislation, which on the whole is designed to widen access to voting, imposes a restriction. One is entitled to ask what lies behind the bald print of this part of Clause 1. What is it about the situation in Northern Ireland which persuades the Minister to make this provision? Where do the dangers arise, and to what extent are they organised or spontaneous? One can elaborate this matter to a considerable extent to realise that the whole approach of more open electoral registration is one which, although in many ways commendable, carries dangers. These amendments give the Committee an opportunity to examine the dangers and, above all, an idea of what may develop in other circumstances over a longer period throughout the United Kingdom, as my noble friend suggests.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As expected, in putting his points to the Minister, my noble friend

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Lord Jopling made his case clearly. I hope that we can look forward to a reasonable reply. My noble friend Lord Biffen raises the interesting question: if for Northern Ireland, why not for the United Kingdom? I can hazard a guess why it has been done for Northern Ireland. I suggest to the Minister that, given increased mobility, the problems in Northern Ireland which brought about the need for the three-month period may also migrate to the United Kingdom.

One of the problems of my noble friend's amendment is that, for example, UK citizens who returned to this country from abroad, perhaps having worked in the European Commission or for British companies around the world, would have to wait three months before they could vote. If they had registered as overseas voters there would not be a gap between registration and the right to vote; if not, they would have to wait for three months. We must bear in mind that point when considering my noble friend's amendment. The same is true for somebody from Northern Ireland who had gone abroad to work. Many companies in Northern Ireland send people abroad to work. Currently, if they go home to Northern Ireland they will have to wait three months before they can register, which seems to be rather unfair to them. I look forward to the Minister's reply to my noble friend's points.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Committee must consider these amendments in the context of the whole Bill. Although the Bill is a long one, a good part of it makes no change to existing law, and the matters on which these amendments touch are a case in point. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, made an interesting case in relation to asylum seekers. We shall turn to that matter in later amendments. I hope that he will take some comfort from what I say later when the Committee debates the amendments which are relevant to that issue. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, spoke about the possibility of migrating electors. We shall turn to that matter in later amendments. The noble Lord may find some satisfaction in what I say later when the Committee deals with those amendments.

As the law currently stands, those who wish to register as electors in Northern Ireland are required to have been resident there for a minimum of three months. There is no corresponding requirement for the rest of the UK, and the Bill makes no change in that regard. I believe most Members of the Committee accept that there are good reasons for the application of special conditions to Northern Ireland, which are widely supported by the political parties in that part of the UK.

The Home Office has carried out some research and detected no evidence that abuse of the kind that the extra conditions are designed to prevent takes place on the mainland. As far as I am aware, there is no real clamour among mainland political parties for similar extra conditions to be imposed there. Certainly, the Working Party on Electoral Procedures made no such recommendation when it looked at these matters. The working party had time to consider these issues at length and to make new proposals if it wished.

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If these amendments were accepted, people who registered for the first time, or who changed their registration, would face an additional hurdle in trying to vote. With the best will in the world, sometimes it is difficult enough for people to understand the registration process and become involved. Given that we want to encourage more people to register and vote--after all, that is what the legislation is about--the amendments place another hurdle in their way, and we believe that that would be unwise. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made the point for me when he spoke about those who returned from abroad. Students and those returning after working abroad would find it particularly difficult to register. For those very good reasons, I do not believe that these amendments should be accepted. I see no reason why we should seek to place additional obstacles in front of people who return from working abroad having performed good service there.

I also do not believe that, as a matter of principle, we should treat those who register by means of a declaration of local connection any worse than those who register in the normal way. I see no justification for Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 35. There is already a perfectly satisfactory mechanism whereby people who believe that a name should not be included on the electoral register can appeal against it. That seems to me to be a much better avenue than to put in place unnecessary obstacles that make it harder for people in Britain to register. In view of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Lord Jopling: One should put the gap between registration and coming on to the register in its proper context. The amendments which I have tabled mean that people from overseas who had not previously been registered would have to wait three months to get on to the register. However, at the moment people still have to wait three months, so there is no change. As my noble friend Lord Mackay said, it is open to individuals who have been registered previously in the United Kingdom to register when they are abroad. A rule of this kind would encourage them to register as overseas voters.

I am not convinced by the arguments. I wish to consider the issue and perhaps return to it on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 8 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 2, line 44, at end insert--

("(ii) compliance with any prescribed requirements; and").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move government Amendment No. 9 and speak to Amendments Nos. 53, 59, 67, 80, 128 and 130. I make clear that the Government believe that none of these amendments makes any substantive change to the Bill. They are--although I hesitate to use the word, I do so--"technical" in nature.

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Amendment No. 9 makes it clear that in order to be registered a person needs to comply with the appropriate regulations. Amendments Nos. 53 and 59 are drafting amendments which ensure that decisions on the alteration of registers are taken in accordance with regulations.

Amendments Nos. 67 and 80 are technical. They remove the requirement that regulations should cover the time at which a register is published since that is already dealt with in the Bill.

Amendment No. 128 is a drafting amendment to include a definition of local government area. Amendment No. 130 is also a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: These are fairly technical amendments which change some of the words. I am intrigued to know the difference between a registration officer determining something and a registration officer becoming satisfied about it. I wonder why the change is made in legislation which has already passed through the other place requiring the registration officer simply to be satisfied. I do not know whether the Minister can help me or whether I shall have to go to the dictionary.

Lord Bach: We think that it is a better choice of word. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 3, line 2, at end insert--

("( ) The date on which any application made for registration shall be entered against his name in the register; and until the date given in the entry he shall not by virtue of that entry be treated as an elector for any purposes other than those of an election the date of the poll for which is the date so given or date thereafter.").

The noble Lord said: We are moving to a new concept of electoral register: a rolling register. There will be additions to the register by way of an update. I imagine that some kind of document will be produced every month for 10 months--it may be nine months--adding to and deleting names from the electoral register. As at present, a wholesale review of the register will be made in the autumn. However, it will not be published at the beginning of the next year, as at present, but on 1st December. The register will become a rolling register. At present a correction register is published in December in which those names which have been added to or deleted from the register are indicated. People can check the register to see whether their names have been added. Political parties can check, as they do, to see which names have been taken off and which added. They can ensure that the names of their supporters--I was going to say "electors" but in reality I do not believe that the parties check all the electors but only the names of their supporters--are on the electoral register. That may sound awful to the Government but I believe it to be the reality. If anyone tells me that the Labour Party does not do the same, I shall not believe him.

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With rolling addendums a different situation will apply. It will be clear month by month which names have been added to or taken off the register. But I understand that the changes made to the register published in the autumn will not be marked. Of course, the names taken off the register cannot be marked; but those added to the register will not be marked either. In the past, people have been able to check new additions to the register to ensure that they are correct and legitimate. The position will be more difficult with rolling registers. It will not be so easy to challenge entries and that is part and parcel of getting the register correct. If one says to the register officer, "Our information is that Mr and Mrs Bloggs do not live at that address. You have that wrong", he can do something about it.

On the major review of the register published on 1st December, there should be an indication as to when a person comes on to the register. We do so already with the dates of birth of 18 year-olds. No one seems to have a problem with that. One's date of birth is known. Eighteen year-olds are like Members of this House: they can never hide their age. I suspect that 18 year-olds are prouder to be their age than some of us are to be our age. Some of us may prefer to draw a veil over our age until, I gather from my mother, one reaches a great old age when one is happy to boast about it.

There is no problem about putting dates of birth alongside names on the register. There would seem to be no problem about entering a mark or a date beside new entrants so that those who check the register can concentrate on the new entrants without having to check the entire register for additions and deletions. I beg to move.

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