House of Commons - Explanatory Note
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Session 2004-05
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Electoral Registration (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]


These notes refer to the Electoral Registration (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] as brought from the House of Lords on 22nd February 2005




1.     These explanatory notes relate to the Electoral Registration (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] as brought from the House of Lords on 22nd February 2005. They have been prepared by the Northern Ireland Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.

2.     The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.


3.     The Bill gives the Chief Electoral Officer of Northern Ireland ('the CEO') the power to re-register former electors on the Northern Ireland Electoral Register ('the register') by 1st April 2005. Former electors are individuals who appeared on the register published on 1st September 2004, but failed to return the annual canvass form that year or failed to complete it accurately, and accordingly did not appear on the register published on 1st December 2004. There is a register of parliamentary electors and a register of local electors but section 9(5) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 ('the 1983 Act'), as applied by the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, requires these to be combined so far as practicable.

4.     The Bill also gives the CEO power to carry forward names of electors who fail to complete the annual canvass form in 2005 onto the register published on 1st December 2005. This provision expires after 12 months, but may be renewed for a further 12 months by order of the Secretary of State.

[Bill 64—EN]     53/4

5.     The CEO is the registration officer for Northern Ireland. His statutory duties include preparing and maintaining the register, ensuring the smooth running of elections in Northern Ireland and maintaining confidence in an impartial and independent electoral service. The register must contain the name and address of the persons qualified to be registered and an electoral number for each person. The annual canvass is held for the purpose of determining who is entitled to be registered.

6.     A canvass form must be signed by the elector and must include the elector's date of birth and national insurance number (or a statement that he does not have a national insurance number). This information is known as a person's 'personal identifiers'.

7.     In respect of Great Britain, the 1983 Act allows the name of an elector to remain on the register after a canvass until the registration officer makes a determination that the elector is not entitled to remain registered ('the carry forward'). However, in Northern Ireland, an elector's name must be removed from the register if no form is submitted or if the form submitted does not include all the information required. This has the effect of preventing the carry forward of names from the register from year to year in Northern Ireland: unless the CEO receives a properly completed form for each elector at the annual canvass, that person's name is removed from the register. This measure was introduced by the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 as part of a package of anti-fraud measures.

8.     Whilst the measures introduced in 2002 have been successful in reducing fraud and increasing the accuracy of the register, an unfortunate side-effect has been a consistent fall in the number registered year-on-year. Whilst it was expected that the measures would lead to a reduction in the numbers registered, the continuous fall experienced now risks damaging the integrity of the register due to a lack of comprehensiveness.

9.     The provisions in this Bill are a temporary response to this problem. The Bill's enactment will give rise to a significant increase in the number of eligible individuals registered. In the medium term the Government is planning to put in place new registration arrangements that will make the register both accurate and comprehensive.

10.     The CEO has identified the approximately 83,000 former electors removed from the register at the 2004 canvass. In preparing for the 2004 canvass, the CEO's systems were set up in such a way as to identify those individuals removed as a result of the canvass, and create a separate list of all their details. It is proposed that those names will be added to the register by him, to take effect as at the beginning of 1st April 2005. Before adding the names, the CEO will check the information provided by the electors when they originally registered, and remove any who have subsequently died, or those whom he believes are not entitled to be registered.

11.     The Bill will come into force immediately so that former electors may be put back onto the register in time for the version published on 1st April 2005. This will be the definitive register used for the Northern Ireland local elections in May.


12.     This Bill extends only to Northern Ireland. The 1983 Act extends throughout the United Kingdom, but the provisions of the Act with which the Bill is concerned already have effect in Northern Ireland in a form different from that in which they have effect in Great Britain.


Clause 1:     Restoration to the electoral register of names previously removed

13.     This clause confers on the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland the power to restore to the register those electors who were on the register on 15th October 2004, but who did not re-register during the canvass in the autumn of 2004. The re-registration takes effect at the start of 1st April 2005.

14.     The CEO cannot exercise his power in relation to a former elector if he has information suggesting that the former elector has ceased to be resident at the address concerned or that the registration conditions set out in section 4 of the 1983 Act are not met.

15.     The personal identifiers given by a former elector when he originally registered will be kept when he is restored to the register. An elector's previous expressed request for his name and address to be excluded from the edited version of the register will still be binding.

Clause 2: temporary modifications of s 10A of Representation of the People Act 1983

16.     The purpose of clause 2, which makes certain temporary modifications to section 10A of the 1983 Act, is to enable the CEO to carry forward the names of electors registered in the register in cases where those electors have failed to submit an annual canvass form or have submitted a form which does not include all the personal identifiers.

17.     Under new subsections (7A) and (7B) being temporarily added to section 10A of the 1983 Act, the CEO may exercise the power to retain an elector's name in the register - in other words, to carry his name forward - for the address in respect of which the elector was previously registered, if the CEO has no information to suggest that the elector is no longer resident at that address on the date of the canvass.

18.     For example, in relation to the canvass conducted by reference to residence on 15th October 2005, the CEO may carry forward to the register published on 1st December 2005 the name of an elector who was registered in the previous version of that register even though the CEO cannot be sure - because of the elector's failure to submit the canvass form, or to include on that form all the personal identifiers - that the elector is still resident at the same address. But the CEO will not be able to carry forward the elector's name if he has information suggesting that the elector is no longer resident at that address.

19.     The carry forward of an elector's name lasts for up to one year, even if clause 2 is continued in force for more than a year. An elector whose name is carried forward to the register published on 1st December 2005, but who fails to submit a canvass form (or submits an incomplete form) in relation to the canvass conducted by reference to residence on 15th October 2006, will have his name removed from the register by virtue of section 10A(6) of the 1983 Act.

20.     New subsection (7A) also ensures that the power to carry forward the name of an elector does not apply to an elector whose name has been restored to the register by virtue of clause 1 and who has not subsequently completed a canvass form or an application for registration.

Clause 3: duration of Act

21.     This clause provides that, subject to the order-making power conferred by subsection (2), the Bill will be in force for 12 months only and then expire.

22.     Subsection (2) enables the Secretary of State by order to extend the operation of clauses 2 to 4 on one occasion for a further period of up to 12 months. Such an order cannot be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order is laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.


23.     There are no discrete quantifiable costs associated with the Bill. The preparatory work for the 2004 canvass included planning a programme which would identify names of former electors, leaving only the checking of names, which will be computerised and not resource intensive. These costs will all be absorbed into the current running costs of Electoral Office of Northern Ireland.


24.     There are no manpower implications of this Bill.


25.     The Regulatory Impact Unit in the Cabinet Office is content that no Regulatory Impact Assessment is required.


26.     Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement, before second reading, about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made the following statement:

    "In my view the provisions of the Electoral Registration (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] are compatible with the Convention Rights."


27.     The Bill comes into force on Royal Assent.

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Prepared: 23 February 2005