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Clause 1 — Registration: provision of signature and date of birth

Part of Orders of the Day — Election Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 31st October 2001.

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Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 8:15 pm, 31st October 2001

If the few years that the Government took to consult widely on our proposals and to draft and introduce the Bill can be described as appeasement, I wonder what 18 years of refusal to address the problem can be called. Perhaps Mr. Rosindell can provide a suitable description before the end of the debate.

Amendment No. 1 requires electors to state their national insurance number, if they have one, on their annual canvass return. Amendment No. 2 terminates an elector's right to remain on the electoral register if they have a national insurance number but fail to provide it. We established in Committee that not everyone has a national insurance number, nor is everyone entitled to one. I acknowledge that the amendments are worded to get around that difficulty, but I remain concerned that they would disadvantage legitimate voters who simply do not know their national insurance number. Faced with the problem of finding out, people—especially the more vulnerable members of the community—might simply return their annual canvass form without including their number. Moreover, the amendments would impose an unnecessary administrative burden on the chief electoral officer, who would be required to check all those cases in which an annual canvass form was returned without a national insurance number to determine whether the elector actually had a number or was entitled to one.

Amendment No. 5 would require people to state their national insurance number, if they have one, when applying for an absent vote for either an indefinite period or a specific parliamentary election. It is possible, whether legitimately or not, to have more than one number. If someone gave a different national insurance number on their application for an absent vote from that which they had provided on registration, that would be a reason to deny them their vote, even if they held the two numbers legitimately. As I have said before, the chief electoral officer should be given as much useful information as possible to enable him to check absent vote applications against the information that an elector will be required to provide on registration, but the chief electoral officer does not consider that a requirement for electors to state their national insurance number on registration or on their application for an absent vote would be of any additional value to him if he is already able to check the signature and date of birth of electors against his records.