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Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:14 pm on 6th June 2016.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 7:14 pm, 6th June 2016

I say at the outset that I am generally happy with these regulations. As such, my remarks will be fairly limited, but I have two specific points to make and would be grateful if the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, could respond to them when she replies to this very short debate.

Among other things, the regulations correct an error in existing regulations concerning the requirement to provide fresh signatures following the rejection of a postal vote. However, the Government should also look at the design of the forms, because the box requiring you to give your date of birth is so close to the signature that a very common mistake, which leads to postal votes being rejected, is that people put the date they complete the form in the box rather than their date of birth. Lots are disqualified for that very reason.

The regulations also allow for the transfer of the full electoral register to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and make a consequential amendment following the passing of the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013. As we have heard, EROs have a duty to maintain the completeness and accuracy of the register and have discretion to conduct the canvass or other checks on records.

I welcome the proposal to send an invitation to register and reminders by electronic means as more and more of how we engage with the state in its various forms is by electronic means, although the point about EROs still being able to use paper forms is well made and I am pleased that they will have the discretion to use either or both media when seeking to get the most accurate and complete register possible.

On page 5 of the Explanatory Notes, the Scottish Government made the point—and I very much agree with them—that EROs in England and Wales should be able to seek assurances from EROs in Scotland and Northern Ireland and, one hopes, vice versa. That is entirely right. The comment from the Cabinet Office, however, was that cross-border attestations were a matter to develop joint policy on with the relevant Governments in due course. That is a bit odd. Could the Minister give us some idea how long “due course” is, as it is one of those phrases like “How long’s a piece of string”? As for cross-border attestations, I thought we lived in a United Kingdom. We need a review of the language used by the Cabinet Office and should never again have such phrases in documents. I am very disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not here, as I am sure he would have something to say about that—perhaps I should have brought it to his attention.

I conclude by saying that I support the regulations, which do good things. If the Minister could respond to that one point, it would be great.