Dianne Hayter on putting powers in place for a more accurate electoral register
The Electoral Registration Bill starts its detailed consideration in the Lords today. While Labour has supported the move from household to individual registration, we are deeply concerned that the Coalition government is doing this too fast, in order to move to the new system immediately after the 2015 General Election. This would mean that anyone who hasn’t been checked from the old electoral register, and who hasn’t themselves registered individually, will automatically be removed from the new one. Yet they wouldn’t know until the next round of elections when they turned up to vote and found themselves no longer registered: the first major pinch point likely to be for local council seats up in May 2016.
Today therefore, we will be seeking to persuade Ministers to do five things.
First, to conduct a much more thorough exercise to capture details for all of those not already registered; in particular private tenants, students, inner city residents, the young and BME people. Second, to give greater powers – and ring fenced money – to Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to do the job thoroughly. Third, to remove from the Bill a pernicious power that would allow the government to abolish the annual canvass. Fourth, to run the two schemes, i.e. the old household register and the new individually registered list, together for longer. Lastly, to set up an appeals system for anyone who discovers their details have been removed.
The electoral register is vital. Not simply because it alone defines who can vote in a particular election. But also because it is the pool from which jurors are selected, the fact that it is much used to judge whether someone can have credit or take out a mortgage, and that is the basis on which parliamentary and ward boundaries are drawn.
At present, the register is neither complete nor fully accurate. Labour wants to improve both. The requirement for some indication of identity (for example, date of birth and/or National Insurance number) will help with such accuracy. But unless the EROs seek out every residential property in their areas, canvas annually, and ensure people know they now must register individually, we fear that the new, post-May 2015, register will be even less complete than now. And that would be a serious impediment to full democracy.
Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is a frontbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords
Published 29th October 2012