Clause 3 — Timing of canvass
Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill
David Hanson (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office; Delyn, Labour)
The points that my hon. Friend mentioned are certainly important, but I am again in danger of straying on to the next group of amendments. I say to all hon. Members that the principle before the Committee is the abolition of the canvass in 2006 and, in principle, a 10-year period between canvasses. That would mean that the next canvass would be in 2016. For purposes of the check, we have picked 2010 for a potential canvass to ensure the integrity of the electoral register, but we feel that the Secretary of State could consider a further annual canvass or an interim canvass if the chief electoral officer made a recommendation to that effect.
"that every person who is entitled to be registered in a register is registered in it . . . that no person who is not entitled to be registered in a register is registered in it, and . . . that none of the required information relating to any person registered in a register is false."
Those clear criteria are set for the duties of the electoral officer. If the electoral officer feels that the register in any year from 2006 does not meet those objectives, he will have a duty under the legislation to make proposals to the Secretary of State for an interim canvass.
I understand that hon. Members share my wish for integrity in the electoral registration system in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but if the electoral officer believes on grounds set out in clause 4 that the register is failing, he will have not only the right, but the duty, to go to the Secretary of State and request an annual canvass. It would be a very foolish Secretary of State who would refuse that request—although the power is there for him to exercise it if he so wishes.