Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour 9:30 pm, 19th January 2011

The point I am trying to make, which is very important, is that there is a variation in the registration that it is linked, for whatever reasons, to certain socioeconomic groups and may be linked to the history of the poll tax and the community charge. I well remember the way in which official statistics on the number registered plummeted in the time of the poll tax. I was the leader of a local authority at that time; we had the distinction of setting the highest community charge in the country, because of the underresourcing of a borough such as mine-no doubt akin to one or two of the areas that my noble friend refers to elsewhere in the country. The point is that there is a variation.

If noble Lords believe that we are trying to create a fairer electoral system-and we are all, presumably, signed up to that-we have to address that problem. It might be an acceptable argument to say that we would simply go with the last electoral register, if the degree of underrepresentation were consistent in every constituency-but it is not. It is biased towards specific areas. I am not going to suggest that the reason there is a reluctance to resolve that issue is because it is biased against certain types of community which might have a propensity to vote in a particular way. I am not going to make that suggestion, I am simply going to make the point that, if we really believe in a fairer electoral system, we have to address this issue of underrepresentation.

It will take some time to deal with it, whether we go down the identity card route recommended by my noble friend Lord Maxton, or whether we try to cross-reference different registers. Therefore, if the Government are intent on going ahead with this legislation at this speed, they have to put into the system some mechanism for making the adjustment that my noble friend Lord Lipsey has put forward, and I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, replies to this debate he will acknowledge that there is a problem with underregistration, that that is variable and that the Government must address it.