Representation of the People (Annual Canvass) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 1:15 pm, 31st October 2019

I hear what the noble Lord says. That is a good idea and we should perhaps debate it. It is obviously above my pay grade to say exactly when and how, but I have no doubt that it will be debated in this House in the next Parliament. I will take back to the department what the noble Lord has said.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also brought up votes at 16, which, again, I think will be debated. As he knows, the Government have no plans to lower the voting age at the moment having been elected on a manifesto commitment to retain at 18 the current franchise for parliamentary elections. Again, I think this is a matter that will not go away, and I am sure that we will discuss it at a later date.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, asked about people registered to vote for this general election and what we were doing. As the noble Lord will know, EROs have a statutory obligation to maintain a complete and accurate register on a year-round basis. They are currently finalising this year’s annual canvass and will have recently written to those people identified through the canvass who are currently not registered to vote. These people will be sent invitations to register. As always, people will be able to register online at the GOV.UK register-to-vote website. This process is quick and easy for everyone to use. The registration deadline for the 12 December election is midnight on 26 November. The EC will be running a publicity campaign to raise awareness of this.

The noble Lord also asked how much money we were spending. I am afraid that I do not have that to hand, but I will write to the noble Lord before we leave this House on Tuesday to make sure that he gets a reply to that. He also mentioned people being omitted from the register. This is one thing that we feel will be good about this new plan, as it will give EROs much more time to concentrate on the hard-to-reach groups, which we know only too well are not registering, instead of having to worry quite so much about people whose circumstances do not change.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about digitalisation and what we are going to do on that. The new system, when it goes ahead—the national data-matching service—will be provided by and through the Cabinet Office digital service. This is a highly successful service, which already provides for the verification of electors’ identity at the point of application. The data-matching service will be done seamlessly through the electoral registration officers’ software systems, with no extra burdens on electoral administrations or citizens. The electoral administrators use the Cabinet Office digital service daily to download and upload registration applications. They hold the service in high regard and already have the required IT infrastructure in place to support the connection to the service. The intention of the proposed reforms is to identify properties where the household composition has changed, allowing EROs to target their resources towards these properties, as I mentioned earlier.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the pilot evaluation. Qualitative evidence suggests that staff in all piloting authorities experienced considerably less pressure under the alternative canvass models and emphasised significant cost savings in printing, postage and staff time. It was apparent that there was no interest in returning to the legislated canvass, viewed by EROs as a repetitive process and a backwards step from modernisation attempts, such as encouraging electors to use emails instead of paper forms. The feedback from the EROs, through engagement with the Association of Electoral Administrators, has been that electoral administrative staff are strongly opposed to further delays, because they feel that this is a way forward to really engage better with the citizen.

Noble Lords also asked why we are doing this so quickly. The reason is basically that this was originally set out as an SI on 14 October and was then going to be debated in mid-November. Bearing in mind what has happened with the general election and that we are not going to be here, if we did not do this, it would mean that they could not start doing the annual canvass on 1 July 2020. That is the reason that we have rushed it through today, I am afraid. I completely understand that this has perhaps not given noble Lords the time to look at this and for us to have a full debate, but that is the reason.

I think that I have answered all questions. Would a noble Lord like to jump up and say if I have not? No—good. In closing, I thank everybody who has spoken. The regulations presented here today will make the canvass process simpler and clearer for citizens and give EROs greater discretion to run a tailored canvass that better suits their local area.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.