Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 9:45 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, I assure the Committee that I have no intention of allowing the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to steal my thunder on this amendment. I have waited some 11 and a half days to reply to this subject, which we have discussed several times. I want to become more knowledgeable on many of these issues and this gives me an opportunity to do so. I admire the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for the way in which he introduced his amendment. He said that it was a probing amendment and I can understand why. I will spare him all the details but it is not technically perfect and I do not think that it would achieve what he wants it to achieve. However, I understand the issue that he is trying to resolve.

The amendment seeks to amend the definition of "electorate" to include those eligible to register who have not done so. It would require the Electoral Commission to make an estimate of the unregistered electorate and include this in the figures used by the Boundary Commission to draw up constituencies. The amendment would require the Electoral Commission to take into account the socioeconomic profile of each constituency in estimating the number of unregistered eligible voters.

The most important principle here must be to make sure that one elector means one vote. For this to be the case there must be broad equality in the number of registered electors in each constituency. That is the key principle. The only question then is of how best to achieve it. Surely that is to use the register of electors and make sure that it is as accurate as possible. While we know that there is underregistration, we must also remember that the registration rate in the UK-estimated at around 90 per cent-is broadly in line with that of comparable democracies. The electoral register has been the basis of boundary reviews for decades, under Governments of all shades.