Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Fourth Report



ANNEX 2

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE BILL

Memorandum by the Home Office

1.  This memorandum describes the powers to make subordinate legislation which will be conferred by the Representation of the People Bill. The Bill principally amends the provisions about the registration of electors in the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c.2; "the 1983 Act") and, except as respects Northern Ireland, replaces the provisions about absent voting made by sections 5 to 9 of the Representation of the People Act 1985 (c.50; "the 1985 Act").

EXISTING PROVISIONS CONFERRING POWER TO MAKE REGULATIONS

2.  Under section 201(2) of the 1983 Act, as substituted by Schedule 4 to the 1985 Act, no regulations can be made by the Secretary of State under the powers in the 1983 Act (except those in sections 29(8) and 203(4)) unless a draft of the regulations has been approved by each House of Parliament. Where "prescribed" is used in the 1983 Act, it means prescribed by regulations (definition of "prescribed" in section 202(1) of the 1983 Act; the definition does not apply to the provisions in Part III of that Act, namely sections 120 to 186). Under section 201(1) any power to make regulations must be exercisable by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument (subject to a few exceptions referred to in that provision).

CHANGES WHICH THE BILL MAKES TO THE PROVISIONS ABOUT REGISTRATION OF ELECTORS

3.  Under the existing law a register of electors is used for the period of twelve months beginning on 16th February (see section 13(1) of the 1983 Act). Under the amendments which the Bill will make to the 1983 Act a system known as "rolling registration" will be introduced. Under this system, the register will continue in force indefinitely and additions and deletions will be made to it as the need arises. This will replace the existing system under which registration depended upon residence on the "qualifying date" (as to which, see sections 1(1)(a), 2(1)(a) and 4 of the 1983 Act). The qualifying date in Great Britain is 10th October in the year before that in which the register comes into force.

4.  Under the existing system, a name which is entered on the register remains on it throughout the year during which the register is in force. There is no provision for the removal of names. The new system is intended to reflect more accurately actual residence at a qualifying address as the basis for continuing inclusion in the register. It is intended to include the detailed provisions required to achieve this in regulations.

5.  Although there will no longer be a qualifying date by reference to which the register is prepared, the Bill makes provision for an annual canvass to ensure the continuing accuracy of the register (see new section 10, to be substituted by paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Bill).

Clause 4

6.  Clause 4 substitutes a new section 7 of the 1983 Act for the existing section. Whilst both the new and the existing section make provision about residence for the purposes of the registration of electors in respect of patients in mental hospitals, the provision made is substantially different. Unlike the existing law, new section 7(2) allows a patient to use the hospital as a place in respect of which he may be registered if the circumstances specified in that provision apply.

7.  New section 7(3) creates a new power for the period during which a person may remain registered in pursuance of an application made by virtue of new section 7(2). Such regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above). This new power reflects the changes to the registration process described in paragraphs 3 to 5 above. Under new section 7(3) regulations may provide for the period during which an entry made in pursuance of an application under new section 7(2) is to remain in force. This will allow for the deletion of an entry where, for example, the patient has left the hospital and his entry in a register of electors based on residence at a qualifying address outside the hospital has come into force.

Clause 5

8.  Clause 5 inserts a new provision into the 1983 Act, section 7A. Under section 7A(2) a person who is detained on remand prior to trial may use the place at which he is detained as a place in respect of which he may be registered if the circumstances specified in that provision apply. New section 7A(3) creates a new power to make regulations which is identical to the one described in paragraph 7 above. The reason for the creation of the new power is substantially the same and allows for registration to cease once the circumstances of the person registered have altered. The regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above).

Clause 9

9.  Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act sets out some of the matters relating to registration and absent voting which may be included in regulations. This is without prejudice to the generality of the powers in section 53(1) (see section 53(3)). The existing paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 refers to provisions requiring electors lists, the register and other documents to be available for inspection. The existing paragraph 11 refers to provisions about the supply of copies of electors lists, the register and other documents, either free of charge or on payment of a prescribed fee.

10.  These provisions are replaced by paragraphs 10, 10A, 10B and 11 as set out in clause 9(2) of the Bill. The new paragraphs do not refer to the electors lists because, under the system of rolling registration (as to which, see paragraphs 3 to 5 above), such lists will cease to exist. The new paragraphs envisage provision being included in the regulations for an edited version of the register of electors (see new paragraph 10). This version, which will be freely available, will exclude the names and addresses of registered electors who have requested such exclusion (see new paragraph 10(1)). The regulations may impose prohibitions or restrictions on those who receive copies of the full register in respect of the uses which they make of it and on those who inspect the full register (new paragraph 11). By virtue of paragraph 13(1A) of Schedule 2 (as inserted by clause 9(3)), contravention of the regulations made in pursuance of new paragraph 11 may be made an offence (punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale) by regulations.

Clause 10

11.  Clause 10 authorises the holding of pilot schemes by local authorities to test the sort of changes to the way in which elections are conducted that are set out in clause 10(2). Such a scheme would be held in the area of any local authority which submits to the Secretary of State under clause 10(1)(a) proposals for holding the scheme in question.

12.  A scheme may be held only if it is approved by the Secretary of State under clause 10(1) and the Secretary of State makes provision by order for and in connection with the implementation of the scheme.

13.  Such an order is not made by statutory instrument; nor is it subject to any parliamentary scrutiny. This is because it applies only in the area of the local authority which put forward proposals for the scheme and only in relation to particular elections. The purpose of this provision is to test the effect of changes in electoral procedure on matters such as the turnout of voters (see clause 10(6)(c)(i) and (7)(a)). It is therefore submitted that it is appropriate to authorise the Secretary of State to permit a pilot scheme to be held without requiring parliamentary approval. The order authorising the scheme is required to be published locally (clause 10(4)(b)).

Clause 11

14.  Clause 11 contains powers to make subordinate legislation which amends primary legislation where, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, a scheme held under clause 10 has been successful. These powers are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see clause 11(4)) and the additional safeguards described below.

15.  One safeguard rests on the report by the relevant local authority. Under clause 10(5) a local authority which has been authorised to hold a pilot scheme under that clause is required to produce a report about it. The report must contain the matters set out in subsections (6) to (8) of clause 10. These include an assessment on the effect on turnout; whether the scheme led to an increase in personation or other electoral offences; and the impact on expenditure (see clause 10(7)). It seems likely that a particular scheme might be implemented in the areas of several local authorities. Accordingly, there will be several reports relating to that scheme. The significance of these reports is described in the next paragraph.

16.  Any determination under clause 11(1) "that it would be desirable for provision similar to that made by the scheme to apply generally" must be made by the Secretary of State in the light of any relevant report under clause 10. Furthermore, if the Secretary of State decides to proceed with the draft of an order to apply the provisions of a particular scheme generally and on a permanent basis, he must lay before both Houses of Parliament a copy of the report under clause 10 of each local authority in whose area a scheme making provision similar to that made by the order has been implemented (clause 11(5)). These provisions provide the safeguards described in paragraph 17 below.

17.  Clause 11(1) provides a seemingly wide power to amend by order any enactment (as defined by clause 16(1)) to allow provision similar to that in a scheme which is tested under clause 10 to become part of the law in respect of the types of elections listed in clause 11(7). However, it is submitted that there are three safeguards restricting the exercise of this in addition to the requirement that the relevant order is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. First, the Secretary of State cannot simply make any change; the power applies only to changes which have been piloted in schemes under clause 10. Secondly, the Secretary of State cannot, in effect, ignore the reports that are required to be drawn up under clause 10 by local authorities as to the success or otherwise of such schemes. It is likely that a particular change will have been piloted in the area of more than one authority; if the reports about it are overwhelmingly adverse, it would be difficult (if not impossible) for the Secretary of State to use the powers in clause 11 to make the change. Thirdly, all such reports in relation to the change proposed (whether favourable or adverse) must be laid before each House of Parliament together with the draft order giving effect to the change. They would thereby inform the debates on the motion to approve a draft order giving effect to the scheme.

18.  The final comment on clause 11 concerns clause 11(6). Under clause 11(3) a particular local government area in England or Wales or district electoral area in Northern Ireland might be excluded from the change that is being made. This might be a reflection on the particular sensitivities of the area in question. An order which excluded a particular area might, however, be regarded as hybrid because it made different provision for different areas which fall within the same basic category. Clause 11(6) prevents this. Equivalent provision has been made by section 26(2) of the Local Government Act 1992 (c.19) and section 34(4) of the Police Act 1996 (c.16).

Clause 13

19.  Clause 13(2) amends rule 29 of the parliamentary elections in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act which concerns the equipment which a returning officer must provide for each polling station. Rule 29(3A)(b), as inserted, enables regulations made under the 1983 Act to prescribe a device for use by the blind or partially-sighted (so that they can vote without assistance) to be so provided. It is submitted that it is appropriate for regulations to contain the description of this device; the regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above).

Clause 16

20.  Clause 16(3) contains the standard power for the Secretary of State to bring the Bill's provisions (apart from clauses 10, 11, 15 and 16) into force by commencement order. Such an order is not subject to any parliamentary proceedings.

Schedule 1

21.  Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 substitutes a new (and different) section 9 for section 9 in the 1983 Act. It contains two references to the making of subordinate legislation.

22.  The first reference is in new section 9(2)(a). This is not a free-standing power, but reflects the point that entitlement to be registered depends upon an application for registration being made in accordance with regulations under the 1983 Act, as amended; see new section 10A(1), as substituted by paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Bill.

23.  The second reference is in new section 9(2)(b) and replicates an existing power in section 10(b). It allows regulations to create exceptions to the requirement that the register of electors should include the qualifying addresses of electors. The addresses will be excluded in the case of overseas electors and those service voters who are no longer resident at the address in question.

24.  New section 10(4) of the 1983 Act, as substituted by paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, enables the form used for the annual canvass of electors (as to which, see paragraph 5 above) to be prescribed in regulations. This form will resemble the existing "Form A" (as to which, see Form A in Schedule 2 to the Representation of the People Regulations 1986 (S.I. 1986/1081)) which is used in connection with the preparation of the register. The regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above).

25.  New section 10(7) of the 1983 Act confers a power to make regulations as to the circumstances when the register need not be amended as a result of the canvass under new section 10. In particular, it enables regulations to authorise a registration officer to retain an entry in the register even when the form described in paragraph 24 above has not been returned. This power merely gives statutory authority to the existing practice of registration officers. They currently maintain names on a register for one year (unless there are particular reasons for not doing so) even though "Form A" (as to which, see paragraph 24 above) has not been returned to them in respect of a particular address.

26.  New section 10A of the 1983 Act, as substituted by paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, contains three express references to "prescribed requirements" (in subsections (1), (3) and (5)) and one implied reference (in subsection (4) which applies the provisions in subsections (1) and (3)). Paragraph 2 above sets out the meaning of "prescribed". These express powers reflect the current practice (based on sections 10(c) and 53(1)(b) of the 1983 Act) under which regulations under the 1983 Act make provision for the content and timing of applications to be registered and the manner of objecting to any such application (the existing provisions refer to "claims" rather than "applications"). However, under the system of rolling registration, persons need to apply to be registered instead of being included in the register as a result of the "house to house or other sufficient inquiry" referred to in existing section 10(a) of the 1983 Act. Persons included in the register under the new system as a result of the annual canvass are deemed to have applied to be registered (see new section 10A(2)). Accordingly, the existing powers to make provision in regulations about applications will have a wider scope as a result of the Bill. The regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above).

27.  New section 13(1)(b) of the 1983 Act, as inserted by paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, includes a power to postpone by regulations the date by which the revised version of the register resulting from the annual canvass must be published. This power is included because the interval between the date of the annual canvass and the date by which the revised version must be published is greatly reduced when compared with the broadly equivalent provisions in the existing law. The qualifying date in Great Britain is 10th October and the date by which the new register must be published is 15th February in the following year (see the existing sections 4(1) and 13(1) of the 1983 Act). This power is taken in case the reduction proves to be over-ambitious. The regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above).

28.  New section 13(3) of the 1983 Act, as substituted by paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, enables a revised version of the register to be published at any time other than the times when such versions must be published by virtue of new section 13(1). Whilst it is not envisaged that this power will be exercised very often, it is possible that extensive changes to the register might make the publication of an updated version desirable. The new power to make regulations relates to the time and manner in which the registration officer must give notice of his intention to publish a revised version.

29.  New section 13A of the 1983 Act, as substituted by paragraph 6 of the Bill, confers powers to make regulations about the manner of making applications to make alterations to a revised version of the register (subsection (1)(a) and (b)) and the manner in which the registration officer must issue notices about alterations to the revised version of the register. As a result of rolling registration, these powers cover a wider range of circumstances than current powers; under the current law a person cannot have his entry in the register amended as a result of a change of address (in this respect, contrast new section 13A(1)(b)). But, subject to that, this is the sort of matter already covered by regulations.

30.  Paragraph 13 of Schedule 1 to the Bill amends the power to make regulations in section 53(1) of the 1983 Act to take account of the amendments made by the Bill consequent on the introduction of rolling registration.

31.  Paragraph 20 of Schedule 1 to the Bill expands the regulation-making power in section 201 of the 1983 Act to include the new fairly standard provision in respect of subordinate legislation about different provision for different cases etc. The 1983 Act is a consolidation of earlier legislation which probably explains why this provision had not previously been included.

32.  Paragraph 23 of Schedule 1 to the Bill expands the powers to make regulations about registration which are set out in Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act. This Schedule is also referred to in paragraph 9 above.

33.  The power conferred by paragraph 23(2) could be exercised to require a person who applies to be registered in a place of detention to state that he is held on remand (as to which, see clause 5 of the Bill) and not as a convicted prisoner (and as such disqualified from voting by section 3 of the 1983 Act).

34.  Paragraph 23(3) of Schedule 1 to the Bill adds three sub-paragraphs to paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act. The first (new sub-paragraph (3)) is necessary because, under rolling registration, a register remains in force indefinitely rather than for one year only. The power in new sub-paragraph (3) could be exercised to allow the registration officer to act where he believes that there has been a change of circumstances. The amendments made by the other two new sub-paragraphs ((4) and (5)) authorise regulations allowing the registration officer access to records held by public authorities, even if there is a statutory or other restriction on disclosure of the information contained in the records. This power will assist in ensuring that the register of electors is as accurate as possible. As with the other powers to make regulations, it is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (see paragraph 2 above).

35.  Paragraph 2A of Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act (as inserted by section 5 of the Representation of the People Act 1989) authorises regulations to require registration officers to inform persons registered in pursuance of an overseas elector's declaration of the need to make a fresh declaration if they wish to remain registered. Paragraph 23(4) of Schedule 1 to the Bill widens this power so that it can apply in respect of other categories of electors.

36.  Paragraph 23(5) inserts a provision enabling provision to be made in regulations about the form and content of applications for registration. Provision is already made in respect of this in the existing regulations.

37.  The amendments made by paragraph 23(6) and (7) are consequential on other provisions in the Bill and do not affect the substance of the powers in Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act.

Schedule 2 to the Bill

38.  In consequence of the changes made by the Bill and, in particular, the abolition of the qualifying date for registration, Schedule 2 replaces sections 1 to 3 of the 1985 Act. Sections 1 and 2 concern the entitlement of British citizens overseas to register and vote at parliamentary (and European Parliamentary) elections. Section 3 concerns the equivalent entitlement of peers overseas in respect of European Parliamentary elections only.

39.  Section 2(3) of the 1985 Act, as substituted by paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 to the Bill, confers power to prescribe by regulations information to be included in an overseas elector's declaration in addition to the information required by that provision and further requirements about such declarations. The definition of "prescribed" which is described in paragraph 2 above applies to this provision (and section 3 of the 1985 Act) by virtue of section 27(2) of the 1985 Act. The powers conferred by section 2(3), as substituted, are identical to those in section 2(3), as it currently has effect.

40.  Similarly, paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Bill, which substitutes a new section 3 for the section of that number in the 1985 Act, does not alter the powers to make regulations which are conferred by that section as it currently has effect. The requirement, which is described in paragraph 2 above, that the regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure applies by virtue of section 27(2) of the 1985 Act.

41.  The powers to make regulations are conferred by subsections (5) to (7) of section 3, both as it currently has effect and as substituted by the Bill. Whilst the content of the two sets of subsections has been rearranged (so that, for example, new section 3(7) corresponds to existing section 3(6)), the substance is unchanged. That substance relates to the registration of peers resident outside the United Kingdom as electors for the purposes of European Parliamentary elections.

Schedule 3 to the Bill

42.  Schedule 3 to the Bill amends section 1 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989. Those provisions of the 1989 Act provide for the franchise at local elections in Northern Ireland and for the registration of local electors. Separate provision is made because nothing in the 1983 Act affects the law relating to local government elections in Northern Ireland (see section 205(2) of the 1983 Act).

43.  Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1989 Act applies various provisions of the 1983 Act for the purposes of the franchise at local elections in Northern Ireland and the registration of local electors, subject to the modifications in Part II of that Schedule.

44.  Paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Bill amends Part I of that Schedule to apply the amendments which the Bill makes to the 1983 Act for the purposes of local elections in Northern Ireland. Accordingly, the powers to make subordinate legislation under the 1983 Act which arise from the provisions referred to in the amendments made by paragraph 3(4) to (6) of Schedule 3 to the Bill also arise under those provisions as applied by Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1989 Act.

45.  Paragraph 4(4) of Schedule 3 to the Bill amends the modification of section 53(1) of the 1983 Act made by paragraph 14(a) and (b) of Part II of Schedule 1 to the 1989 Act. Section 53(1), as so applied and modified, confers power to make regulations about the procedure to be followed in the preparation of the register of local electors in Northern Ireland and the time, manner and place of its publication.

46.  Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1989 Act applies section 201 of, and the definition of "prescribed" in section 202(1) of, the 1983 Act for the purposes of the registration of local electors. This application ensures that the provisions described in paragraph 2 above (and, in particular, the requirement that regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure) applies to regulations made under the 1983 Act as applied by the 1989 Act, as they apply to regulations under the 1983 Act as it has effect for other purposes.

Schedule 4 to the Bill

47.  Schedule 4 to the Bill replaces as respects Great Britain the provision which sections 5 to 9 of the 1985 Act make in respect of the manner of voting and absent voting at parliamentary and local government elections. Those sections continue to apply in respect of parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland.

48.  Paragraphs 3 to 7 of Schedule 4 to the Bill confer various powers to make regulations. However, the provisions in the 1983 Act in respect of regulations under that Act which are described in paragraph 2 above (and, in particular, the requirement that the regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure) apply to regulations under Schedule 4 by virtue of paragraph 1(2) of that Schedule (which provides that the 1983 Act and that Schedule shall have effect as if that Schedule were contained in Part I of that Act).

49.  All of the powers conferred by paragraphs 3 to 7 of Schedule 4 to the Bill relate to the mechanics of applying to vote by post, or by proxy, or by post as proxy. Schedule 4 makes various changes to the existing law; in particular, it enables a registered elector or proxy to have a postal (but not a proxy) vote on demand, subject to satisfying the requirements of regulations as to the manner of applying for such a vote, etc. It also allows an application for an absent vote to be made for a determinate period (such as a three year period during which the elector is posted abroad). At present, applications must be either for an indefinite period or for a particular election (these provisions also continue to have effect).

50.  All of the powers to make regulations which are conferred by Schedule 4 to the Bill correspond to powers in sections 6 to 9 of the 1985 Act (subject to the exception mentioned below). The table below indicates the existing powers which correspond to the powers to be conferred by Schedule 4.

TABLE

POWER IN SCHEDULE 4 PROVISION IN 1985 ACT
PARAGRAPH 3(1)(B) AND (2)(C)SECTION 6(1)(C)
PARAGRAPH 3(7)SECTION 6(5)
PARAGRAPH 4(1)(B) AND (2)(C)SECTION 7(1)(C)
PARAGRAPH 4(1)(A) SECTION 7(3)
PARAGRAPH 6(7)SECTION 8(6)
PARAGRAPH 6(8) SECTION 8(7)
PARAGRAPH 7(5)(C)SECTION 9(4) AND (7)
PARAGRAPH 7(7)SECTION 9(8)

The only additional power is the express power in paragraph 6(9) to prescribe the form of proxy power. However, that form is currently prescribed in the Representation of the People Regulations 1986 (S.I. 1986/1081) as form D in Schedule 2 in reliance of the general powers in section 53(1)(c) of the 1983 Act.

Schedule 5 to the Bill

51.  Paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 to the Bill expands the power in section 29(4C) of the 1983 Act (as substituted by the Representation of the People Act 1991) to allow an order under section 29(3) (as substituted) to make different provision for different cases, etc. An order of the Secretary of State under section 29(3) (which is not subject to parliamentary procedure) makes provision for the payment of charges to returning officers at parliamentary elections in respect of services properly rendered and charges properly incurred. Such orders already provide for higher payments to be made to the staff of polling stations in Greater London than elsewhere and the amendment made by paragraph 4 thereby provides express authorisation for such a provision.

52.  Paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 5 to the Bill amends rule 5(2) of the parliamentary elections rules in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act. Rule 5(2) requires that the notice of election must state the date by which absent voting applications must reach the returning officer in order to be effective for the election. This assumes that a single date applies for all applications. But some applications need to be received earlier than others. The power, which paragraph 9(2) will confer, to create exceptions by regulations (which are subject to the affirmative resolution procedures) will take account of this.

53.  Paragraph 9(3) of Schedule 5 to the Bill amends rule 24 of the rules in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act which provides for the issue of postal ballot papers. In doing so, it creates new powers to make regulations (which are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure), but also removes an existing power which has not been exercised. That power was added by Schedule 4 to the 1985 Act and enabled the Secretary of State to specify the last date by which postal ballot papers must be despatched.

54.  The first new power in rule 24 concerns the means by which postal ballot papers are issued. At present, they must be sent by post. By enabling the means of issue to be covered in regulations, it will be possible to provide greater flexibility by (for example) specifying circumstances when voters might be issued with postal ballot papers in person at the returning officer's office. This would enable a voter to request a postal ballot paper if, close to the poll, he was unexpectedly required to be absent on polling day.

55.  The requirement in new rule 24 that the declaration of identity must be in the prescribed form replicates the existing rule.

56.  The second new power in new rule 24 concerns the envelopes which need to be provided for the return of the ballot paper. These may not be needed if the ballot paper is handed over in the circumstances described above. But the enabling power will authorise regulations to require, for example, that the envelopes for the return of postal ballot papers in ordinary circumstances bear a first class stamp (such a provision is already included in the regulations but without a power specifically authorising it).

57.  Paragraph 9(4) of Schedule 5 to the Bill amends rule 45 of the rules in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act to enable regulations to be made to introduce greater flexibility in the manner in which a postal ballot paper may be returned to the returning officer. Rule 45(2) currently provides that a postal ballot paper is not to be deemed to be duly returned unless it is returned in the proper envelope so as to reach the returning officer before the close of the poll and is accompanied by the declaration of identity duly signed and authenticated. The rule will continue to apply in Northern Ireland (see paragraph 9(4)(b) of Schedule 5).

58.  Under paragraph (1B) of rule 45 (which is the paragraph which paragraph 9(4)(a) of Schedule 5 to the Bill will insert) a postal ballot paper must reach the returning officer or a polling station in the constituency before the close of the poll. However, the manner in which it does so is to be prescribed by regulations. This would allow, for example, the ballot paper to be handed in at the offices of the returning officer. Similar flexibility will apply in respect of the declaration of identity. There have been cases when the elector has forgotten to include that declaration in the "proper envelope" (for the purposes of rule 45(2)) but has returned it later in a separate envelope, thereby falling foul of rule 45(2). The new power will be used to specify a wider range of means by which the declaration can be returned.

59.  As explained in paragraph 9 above, Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act sets out specific enabling powers in respect of regulations relating to registration and absent voting. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 5 to the Bill further amends those powers.

60.  The amendments made by paragraph 10(2) to paragraph 5A (as inserted by Schedule 2 to the 1985 Act) are consequential on the replacement of the provisions of sections 5 to 9 of the 1985 Act (absent voting) in Great Britain by Schedule 4 to the Bill.

61.  The amendments made by paragraph 10(3) to paragraph 12 (voting by post) merely spell out more clearly the powers authorising provisions which are already included in the Representation of the People Regulations 1986.

62.  The amendments made by paragraph 10(4) to paragraph 13(1) (offences) do not alter the substance but clarify the wording of the enabling power. They bring the wording into line with paragraph 13(1A) of Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act, which will be inserted by clause 9(3) of the Bill.

January 2000


 
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