Clause 13 - Removal of requirement that canvass form must be prescribed form

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 16 July 2013.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Since the introduction of individual electoral registration in Northern Ireland in 2002, Northern Ireland has used a different canvass form from the rest of the United Kingdom. The form itself, not just its core elements, needs to be enshrined in secondary legislation, which Parliament discussed only last week. That means that every time there is a canvass, secondary legislation is needed to ensure that the form is kept up to date.

With the introduction of individual electoral registration in Great Britain, there is an opportunity to bring the electoral registration systems in Great Britain and Northern Ireland closer together, which is what the clause will do. By making it possible for the Electoral Commission to have a role in the process—a point made by the hon. Member for Foyle earlier—we think that we will get much better scrutiny, and that will bring Northern Ireland much closer to what goes on in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I now call a Member whose sartorial discipline puts the rest of us to shame.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Actually, my shirt has no back to it. I rise to make a brief point on a matter that we discussed earlier. The inaccuracy of the register—there is a 20% level of inaccuracy—is of concern to many of us. Will the Minister indicate how that will be reviewed and kept under scrutiny? Will a mechanism to increase the accuracy be reported to the House, for obvious reasons?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The shadow Minister makes a very good point, which we have discussed before. It is why I brought through individual registration this year, early: so that we can have door-to-door canvassing and a much better understanding of the situation.

The accuracy of the register is not the only big issue in Northern Ireland; there is also the big issue of having people on the register. As politicians, we go out and try to convince individuals to vote for us, but there is no point if they are not on the electoral register. That is an issue that the Electoral Commission and I will take forward, so that we can better educate the electorate on their rights. As I say, if people are not registered, they cannot vote.

Also, it is imperative to have an accurate register if we want democracy anywhere in the UK. That is why we will report to the House as to the accuracy of the register; that is a very important point. I will ensure that that takes place, but at the same time the accuracy of this year’s canvass will be very important. I urge all political parties in Northern Ireland to work together on that canvass.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.