Committee (11th Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 4:30 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord spoke of his desire to achieve fairness and equality between electors in the processes that this Bill provides for by introducing constituencies that reflect that. We might also want to see fairness and equality between citizens. I know that it is not our tradition and practice in this country to draw constituency boundaries on the basis of population. Instead, we take account of those who are registered electors. However, it is highly desirable that the real population figures should effectively be taken into account. The way to square that circle is to do everything possible to improve the state of the electoral registers to make sure that the registers, constituency by constituency throughout the country, are as accurate and complete as they possibly can be.

The noble and learned Lord said that the Government are intent that that should happen. But it is not realistic to talk, as the Government do, about equal votes in equally drawn constituencies if the registers are so patchy. They are more incomplete in some constituencies than others. Therefore reform of registration, or at least a serious and effective drive to update and improve registration, must be intrinsic to the project that the Government have embarked on in their quest to achieve equal votes in equally drawn constituencies.

Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, answering Questions in the other place said:

"It is the choice of the coalition Government to say that we want to reform politics not in a piecemeal fashion".-[Hansard, Commons, 18/1/11; col. 682.]

If that is indeed the intention of the coalition Government, as stated by the Deputy Prime Minister only yesterday, then surely the Bill should be amended in some way to incorporate provisions that give impetus and drive to ensuring that registration is greatly improved.

There is a political problem for the Government in that there is a perception that the Government are happy to see significant proportions of the electorate unregistered. A greater number of those who are unregistered may not be disposed to vote for the coalition. Why are we not getting registration built into this legislation? Is it simply because the Government are in such a rush to get the Bill on the statute book? They do not need to be in such a rush to get the whole Bill on to the statute book. As we have been saying, we are happy to accept that Part 1 of the Bill has been scrutinised in this House with some thoroughness. If Part 1 of the Bill were separated from Part 2, we would be content for that to go ahead. For some reason to do with mistrust between the coalition partners, they are still unwilling to do that, but let us hope that it can be done. Then we would have more time to ensure that these important reforms proposed in Part 2 of the Bill are not only properly scrutinised but made more complete by the incorporation of measures in relation to registration.