Second Reading

Part of Political Parties and Elections Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:52 pm on 18th March 2009.

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Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Constitutional Affairs 4:52 pm, 18th March 2009

My Lords, it is extraordinary. It is not for us to criticise the way in which the other place does business, but there were other new clauses that had wide support across the parties on all Benches. One was signed by 216 MPs, yet was excluded from debate and denied a vote.

As the Minister knows, I and my noble friends, and my right honourable and honourable friends at the other end of the building, consistently supported the Electoral Commission in its strong recommendation that individual registration is urgently preferable to the current reliance on the head of household. We believe that the integrity of the register is crucial to the reputation of our whole electoral system. We do not believe that registering more people is in itself legitimate if it has to rely on fraudulent additions. I understand that the commission recommended the change in 2003. What has happened since then? The long process to which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has just referred could have been well under way by now if the Government had listened to their own advisers. As we are threatened with an extraordinarily long transition period to 2017, beyond two elections, surely it is time to get on with it.

In brief, it is extremely important that the Electoral Commission is now given the resources and powers to keep the difficult balance between ensuring the integrity of the political system and avoiding excessive burdens on volunteers. It is far from clear that the Government have recognised the nature of this dilemma. Meanwhile, we in this House should be under no illusion that the Bill offers us a rare opportunity, and therefore we should be absolutely clear that it is important to do it justice in order to make sure that we restore public confidence in our political system. As it stands, the Bill does not meet the clear concerns of the public, and we have a manifest duty to strengthen it.