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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I return to the point I made about good practice. It is the Government's expectation that--as in my own local authority area--when a new housing development is built, electoral registration officers will conduct a canvass to see whether those new residents are entitled to be included on the register. With the new rolling register that will of course be extremely important. Perhaps this is a point that might best be dealt with in guidance. I hope that satisfies the noble Lord.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That would satisfy me and I am pleased to hear the noble Lord make the point. If an appropriate form of words could be devised for guidance and for inclusion in Home Office circulars, then that would be a step forward.

As regards Amendment No. 54, it was interesting that the Minister drew the attention of the Committee to the schedule set out on page 26 of the Bill which provides that the registration officer "may" consult with local or public authorities. Obviously that would include the registrar of births, deaths and marriages. However, my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth referred to a problem here; namely, that "may" means

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that some EROs will consult and some will not. My amendment seeks to standardise the procedure throughout the country and I still feel that that would be a useful step.

Perhaps, in the spirit of conciliation, co-operation and agreement that we have enjoyed over the past few minutes, the noble Lord and the department could consider putting in a form of words to cover use of the registry of births, deaths and marriages in guidance or circulars sent out to electoral registration officers. In that way, we would avoid the position where, in one area the exercise is carried out perfectly adequately while in another area it is not done at all.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord has made a reasonable point, following on the comments of his noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. It costs me nothing to take this matter away to see whether, by perfecting the wording, we might come up with a form of words that would satisfy all sides.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 56 to 60:

    Page 22, line 1, leave out ("subsection (4)") and insert ("section 13B(1)").

    Page 22, leave out lines 18 to 22 and insert--

("( ) Subsection (2) above also does not require a registration officer to issue a notice under that subsection in a case where section 13B(3) below requires him to issue a notice under that provision.").

    Page 22, line 25, at end insert ("and section 13B below").

    Page 22, line 26, at beginning insert ("For the purposes of subsection (1) above "determines" means determines in accordance with regulations; and").

    Page 22, line 28, at end insert--

(""Alteration of registers: pending elections.
13B.--(1) An alteration in a published version of a register of electors which takes effect under section 13A(2) above after the final nomination day in the case of an election to which this section applies shall not have effect for the purposes of that election unless the alteration--
(a) is made in consequence of a decision or determination falling within section 13A(1)(d) or (e) above; and
(b) takes effect on or before the fifth day before the date of the poll.
(2) Subsection (3) below applies where--
(a) at any time before the appropriate publication date in the case of an election to which this section applies, section 13A above applies to a registration officer, by virtue of subsection (1) of that section, in connection with a decision or determination--
(i) falling within subsection (1)(d) or (e) of that section, and

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(ii) in consequence of which a person's name falls to be entered in (or removed from) the register in respect of an address in the relevant election area; and
(b) no alteration made in consequence of that decision or determination--
(i) has already taken effect, or
(ii) is due to take effect,
under subsection (2) of that section on or before the fifth day before the date of the poll.
(3) In such a case the registration officer shall issue, in the prescribed manner, a notice specifying the appropriate alteration in the register; and--
(a) the notice shall be so issued by him on the appropriate publication date; and
(b) the alteration shall take effect as from the beginning of that day.
(4) This section applies to the following elections--
(a) parliamentary elections,
(b) elections to the European Parliament,
(c) elections to the Scottish Parliament,
(d) elections to the National Assembly for Wales,
(e) elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and
(f) local government elections in England, Wales or Scotland.
(5) In this section--
"the appropriate publication date", in relation to a registration officer and an election to which this section applies, means either the sixth or the fifth day before the date of the poll, as the registration officer may determine;
"the final nomination day", in relation to such an election, means the last day on which nomination papers may be delivered to the returning officer for the purposes of the election;
"the relevant election area", in relation to a registration officer and such an election, means--
(a) the area for which the registration officer acts, or
(b) if the election is held in only part of that area, the part of that area in question.
(6) Section 119 below shall apply for the purposes of this section as if--
(a) it were contained in Part II of this Act; and
(b) each of the days referred to in this section were the day on which anything is required or permitted to be done by or in pursuance of that Part of this Act." ").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 61:

    Page 22, line 28, at end insert--

("Accountability of registration officers to Electoral Commission.
13B. Electoral registration officers shall be accountable to the Electoral Commission in relation to the compilation, production and accuracy of the electoral register.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment looks forward to the next Bill that will come to your Lordships' House in due course. It is likely that that is the answer I shall receive from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and perhaps I shall table the amendment again at that point. The amendment simply states that we should take account of the fact that an electoral commission will be brought forward shortly, which I very much welcome. However, at present all the work of electoral registration officers is governed by primary legislation, Home Office guidance and, indeed, by council and local authority pressures of various kinds.

The electoral commission, once it is established, would provide a focal point for establishing the minimum standards required for electoral registration; standards that would be free from political influences of any kind. It could also provide an authority to which complaints might be addressed. I certainly hope that the commission, once it is set up, will be one whose judgment will command respect and for that reason I feel that that body should be given some of the powers currently held by the Home Office, local authorities and others. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord has anticipated part of my response to his amendment. However, he has done the Committee a favour by raising an important issue.

Although this Bill does not refer to the electoral commission, noble Lords will be aware that soon we shall have a piece of legislation to create just such a body. The question of the relationship between the commission and local electoral officials is important. That is why the matter was specifically addressed in the Government's White Paper, The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom. The Government's view is set out in that document. I believe that it may be helpful if I quote reasonably extensively from it to remind the Committee exactly what we said:

    "In some but not all ... countries which have Electoral Commissions, voter registration and the actual administration of elections are in the hands of the Commission. This might be a natural model to adopt if starting from scratch. But the current arrangements command public confidence. A change-over would be a very large legislative and administrative project, at the expense of other priorities, and neither the Neill Committee nor any other authoritative body has suggested that it is necessary. The Government does not, therefore, propose to alter the present arrangement in [any such] far-reaching way ...

    We believe, however, that the Electoral Commission will quickly become the natural focal point for the provision of guidance to electoral administrators and for promoting best

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    practice in how they discharge their statutory duties. The Electoral Commission, for its part, may be expected to look to the cumulative knowledge and expertise of registration and returning officers to inform its reviews of electoral law and practice. By this two-way process the Government anticipates that the Commission will, as the Neill Committee envisaged, develop a close working relationship with the electoral administrators which will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness with which our elections are conducted".

That remains our view. It is an important development. It exists in other countries. The relationship will no doubt evolve and lines of accountability will develop over time. However, at the moment we are building on an existing and proven system. We believe that we can place our confidence and trust in that. I hope that the noble Lord will take some comfort from the close relationship which we see developing between the Commission and local electoral officials. In the meantime, given that this matter will be "coming along later", as it were, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

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