Electoral Registration — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:50 pm on 12th January 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour 1:50 pm, 12th January 2012

The noble Lord is quite right to correct me on that. When I say bipartisan, I actually mean a cross-party, all-party basis. We heard a very important speech from my noble friend Lord Lipsey illustrating the dangers of the Government's approach. I very much hope that the Government and all Members of this House will study his speech in Hansard because he illustrated with great precision the dangers of the approach that the Government are taking on this. My noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lord Bach also placed great emphasis on this.

The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, quite rightly raised the question of overseas voters, and although there are issues about expatriates and those who do or do not pay tax, there is a very real issue about those who are on international service working for international organisations or studying abroad but particularly those who are working for organisations such as the United Nations. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is not in this place today, raised this with me when I was a Minister. We were looking into how we could address this problem. I am not sure where the Government have got to on this, but maybe the Minister will take that away and look at it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, very importantly raised the question of service voting. There were plans to deal with this issue under the previous Government but they seem to have been put on the shelf by this one. I hope the Minister will take them off and get on with it. It is a very important issue, as I think all sides of this House recognise.

I am grateful to all those who came forward with positive solutions-the important issue of ring-fencing mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the useful and helpful contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on trying to get electoral registration tied into the way that citizens interact with the state. These were both measures that I tried to introduce as a Minister and I regret to say that I failed. I failed to get ring-fencing and to secure the sort of measures that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, was advocating. I hope that this Government will be much more successful than I am in taking these measures forward. They are very important. We heard some far-sighted contributions from my noble friends Lord Maxton and Lord Reid about the importance of electronics and information and communication technology. This has to be part of the future.

Finally I am grateful to the Minister for his constructive and reasoned response. I am slightly surprised about how insouciant he appears to be about the risks of the register being damaged significantly by the approach the Government are taking. There is no evidence to support such insouciance, but I welcome his understanding to explore further this question of a cross-party group. I particularly welcome the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for a more independent component as well as the cross-party complexion of it. I hope he will set this up quickly so we can deal with all these issues.

I am not sure how I am meant to conclude this new form of debate, but I have said all I should so I am now going to sit down.

Motion agreed.