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Baroness Hanham: I support the comments of my noble friend on this matter. I live in a central London borough. Many London boroughs have an annual population turnover of about 33 to 34 per cent. In some wards in my borough the figure is as high as 40 per cent. It is therefore extremely important that those who have left are taken off the register as soon as possible; otherwise, the register is meaningless. I support the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We are certainly an odd couple. However, I am warming to this odd couple. It is a relationship that could go far.

I return to the subject in hand. On balance we have tried to recognise in part the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. It cannot be right that names remain on the register year after year after year. We believe that there is a balance to be struck here. We believe that a period of a year is about right. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, makes a good point in this regard. She will probably recall that I was the leader of Brighton and Hove Council. As in the noble Baroness's own good borough, we have wards in Brighton and Hove which have phenomenal population turnovers in the course of a year. I believe that one of those wards had a turnover of 60 per cent. In those circumstances it is hard to keep track of people's movements. Often they shift simply to the flat next door or to another street.

However, I believe that it is right to enable registration officers to keep names on the list for a further year. That is in part what our amendments seek to achieve. I believe that by clarifying the matter and providing a cut-off--a cap, if you like--we have struck the right balance. However, I understand the point that both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, have made. Although our opinions may diverge with regard to what should happen to the amendment that stands in both our names, we share a concern to make the register accurate. In his usual entertaining manner the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made some good points on the need for an accurate register. However, I trust that with those comments he will feel happy with what we are trying to do.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Jopling moved Amendment No. 24:


    Page 8, line 23, at end insert--


("( ) the nature of previous registration and the address at which he was previously registered").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is an example of my desire to find ways to extend the opportunity for people to register and to vote, but at the same time to try to avoid as far as possible unnecessary abuses. That is what Amendments Nos. 24, 32 and 33, which stand in my name, are designed to achieve.

Clause 6 deals with the thorny matter of local connection. As my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, he has no objection to extending the opportunity to vote to homeless people. I do not object to the concept of local connection. However, it is an important new feature of our electoral law which we ought to consider extremely carefully as the creation of this concept of local connection gives rise to wide opportunities for abuse. I am sorry that the Minister has not been a little more understanding about the anxieties that I and others have had with regard to the danger of abuse in this area. When he replies to the amendment I hope that he will recognise that there are opportunities for abuse in this area. I hope that he will agree with me that it is essential to do everything possible to try to avoid that.

One can imagine that it is not impossible that people could appear apparently from nowhere and register multiple local connections in marginal constituencies at the time of by-elections or general elections. That is certainly what I am afraid of and what we need to safeguard against. I have drafted these amendments with a view to meeting that situation. I hope that the amendments achieve a variety of constructive objectives with regard to reducing the temptation to abuse the system.

I turn to Amendment No. 33. In my view, a potential elector should declare a local connection personally at the registration officer's office. The applicant should be required at that stage to produce proof of his identity. I am most anxious to be fair to potential voters. I have asked myself whether it is unreasonable to insist on that condition of personal appearance at the registration officer's office and proof of identity. However, I do not honestly believe that it is. I do not think that it should prove to be a problem. One of the conditions of a homeless person registering a local connection is to give an undertaking that he will be able to go to that office to pick up electoral documents. Therefore a homeless person who declares a local connection may well have to go to that office in the circumstances of an election. If he is prepared to collect that correspondence from that office--he has to say so--I do not think it is unreasonable that he should be invited to go there to register.

Nor, I believe, can it be unreasonable to suggest that homeless people, or anyone else trying to produce a local connection, should be asked to produce some form of identification. I cannot believe that people

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who wanted to vote could not provide some kind of identification, whether it be a pension book, unemployment document or something of that nature. I do not think that that is unreasonable.

In cases where they cannot identify themselves at all as to who they are and what their names are, it is difficult to understand why they should be allowed to register to vote. It is difficult to justify cases where people who are unable to identify themselves should be allowed to vote; clearly that would be a potential source of electoral abuse.

Turning to Amendment No. 24, I believe that potential voters declaring a local connection should say when they register where and when they were previously registered. That would help. I shall come on to this point shortly when I move to my next group of amendments. It may be that a homeless person seeking to establish a local connection would say "I was never previously registered". While that should not be a bar to people going on the register, they should be asked where and when they were previously registered. If they say that they have never been registered, I am not for a moment saying that they should not be put on the register, but at least the registration officer would be making some effort to find out the background of potential voters to ensure that there were not multiple applications. That would be some guard against abuses.

Amendment No. 32 seeks to require that at the point of registration persons wishing to establish a local connection should, when they go to register, be given a certificate by the registration officer. Such a certificate would verify their registration. Potential voters would be required to prescribe their signatures on the certificate in order that it could be presented at a polling station to verify that the person claiming the local connection was properly who he said he was.

I know that this lays conditions additional to those in the Bill on people seeking to establish a local connection. As I said earlier, I have asked myself repeatedly whether they are unreasonable conditions. I do not think that they are. There are justifiable suspicions that abuses of the electoral system could arise. That a person seeking to establish a local connection should be asked to identify himself or herself with a certificate from the registration officer, which is signed by himself or herself, would be a safeguard against some such abuses.

I hope that the Government are able to accept the amendments. I believe that they are helpful; they are not onerous; and they would give confidence to those who look at the electoral system that it is not easy to skirt around and to cheat. I beg to move.

Lord Rennard: I have sympathy with my noble friend's amendments; there is a potential for abuse.

I am particularly keen on the availability of the new declaration of local connections in order to ensure the right to vote of homeless people. It seems to hit the right balance between how we prevent abuse and how we allow homeless people the right to vote. However, I have concerns with these specific amendments, in

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particular with the one in regard to obliging people to say where they came from previously. I am concerned, for example, about the problems that this would cause battered wives. They may have become homeless as a result of being battered wives, and it would be a considerable problem for them if they had to declare their previous registration in this process. We must be concerned about that.

I sympathise particularly with the amendment in regard to parliamentary by-elections. There may be a considerable period of time between a parliamentary by-election becoming known and the date by which one may wish to be registered. That is a sensible consideration.

My main concern is about the necessary proof of identity for those who do not have a red-and-white striped badge. It is difficult for homeless people to prove their identity beyond doubt. Satisfactory evidence of identity to the registration officer would be a sensible provision.

Earl Russell: I support what my noble friend Lord Rennard said about proof of identity. A similar provision to the one envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, was introduced in relation to benefits in the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 1997. It is causing considerable problems. The House to some extent foresaw this, but not in sufficient numbers to prevent the measure going through.

To take my noble friend's example, if it is applied to battered wives, very often they have perhaps had to leave the house in the middle of the night, in their night-dress, as fast as they could possibly go. They do not have time in that situation to pick up their passports, credit cards and all the other identification documents. The same applies to people who have to leave their houses because of fire, which continues to happen even in the most well ordered society.

In its report Still Running, the Children's Society has drawn attention to the difficulties encountered by 15 and 16 year-olds who have been thrown out by their parents in being able to produce proofs of identity. They cannot go back to ask the parents who threw them out for their birth certificates. If we all lived such well-ordered lives as the amendment envisages, it would be a reasonable and perhaps a necessary provision. But as it is, it may do a good deal of harm.

I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, about the accuracy of the register, but people are in such a continual state of flux that it is inevitable that any register is going to be inaccurate. The question is whether one would rather have it inaccurate by including people who should not have been included or by excluding people who should not have been excluded. We have a simple choice: not of getting it right but of which mistake we would rather make.


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