House of Commons - Explanatory Note
Electoral Administration Bill - continued          House of Commons

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Part 2: Registration of electors

Clause 9 Registration officers: duty to take necessary steps

61.     This clause replaces section 9(6) of the 1983 Act with a new section 9A, to expand upon the statement of registration officers' duties in relation to the maintenance of the registers for which they are responsible. Subsection (2) of the new section sets out a non-exhaustive list of the steps that must be taken to identify persons eligible for registration as electors. Subsection (3) provides a power for the Secretary of State to add to the list of steps to be taken.

Clause 10 Anonymous registration

62.     Subsection (1) adds new sections 9B and 9C into the 1983 Act. Section 9B provides the possibility of anonymous registration of electors in certain circumstances. If a person is eligible for registration, but fears that his safety would be at risk if he were identifiable from the electoral registers, he may apply for anonymous registration. Section 9C provides for the removal of an anonymous entry after 12 months.

63.     Section 9B(1) sets out the requirements for seeking anonymous registration. The person must make a specific application, it will not be possible to apply on the canvass form. Along with the prescribed information required for registration as a parliamentary and local government elector, the person has to provide further information specifically relevant to their application for an anonymous entry. They must make a declaration and provide evidence in support of their belief that their personal safety would be at risk if, their personal details were included on the electoral register.

64.     Section 9B(2) specifies the test to be applied by an ERO when determining an application for an anonymous entry. Anonymity is to be granted to those whose safety would be at risk if their name or address were to appear in the electoral register.

65.     Section 9B(3) provides that where an application for anonymity is granted, the details which will appear on the register will be only their electoral number and letters prescribed in regulations which indicate the elections for which, and the manner by which, the person can vote.

66.     Section 9B(6): Where an application for an anonymous entry is refused, no new entry in the register should be made at all.

67.     Section 9B(7): Where the person who unsuccessfully applied for anonymity was already on the current electoral register, that entry is not to be removed. A person may apply again for registration despite the rejection of their application for anonymity.

68.     Section 9C(1): A person's anonymous entry terminates after 12 months. It is not automatically renewable. It will terminate if the declaration made for the purposes of seeking an anonymous entry is cancelled earlier (e.g. at the elector's request, or if he moves out of the constituency).

69.     Section 9C(3): Upon the termination of an anonymous entry, a registration officer has to remove it from the register unless a further application for an anonymous entry is granted.

70.     Subsection (2) introduces Part I of Schedule 1 to the Bill, which makes further detailed provision in connection with anonymous registration.

Clause 11 Alterations of registers: pending elections

71.     Subsections (1) and (2) amend section 13B of the 1983 Act, which concerns alterations to the electoral registers during a period when an election is pending. It will move the deadline for applying for registration closer to the day of poll. A person will be entitled to vote in an election if their registration has taken effect by the fifth day before polling day. Registration cannot take effect until the registration officer has determined entitlement and issued a notice amending the register. The five day period for public objections provided under the Representation of the People Regulations 2001 will mean that the final date for applying to be registered will be eleven days prior to polling day.

72.     Subsection (3) amends section 13B further to deal with circumstances where the registration officer has determined that an amendment to his registers is needed to add or remove a person's entry in the register, or to give effect to a court ruling, or to correct a clerical error. If the section 13B timescales for those amendments taking effect would be later than the fifth day before the poll, then the amendments to section 13B(2) have the effect of bringing forward the date those amendments take effect, to what is called in section 13B, "the appropriate publication date", i.e. the sixth or the fifth day before the poll.

73.     Subsection (4) inserts (3A) to (3E) into section 13B of the 1983 Act. Whereas the amendment made by the substituted section 13B(2) limits effective amendments to those made no later than the fifth day before the poll, there are two circumstances in which amendments can be made and take effect up to and including a prescribed time of day on polling day itself. Currently, such alterations may only be made up to the fifth day before the day of poll.

74.     These circumstances, covered by the inserted section 13B(3A) and (3C), are where there has been a court ruling, or a clerical error has been corrected. The inserted section 13B(3B) deals with the court ruling; the inserted section 13B(3D) deals with the clerical errors. These subsections direct the registration officer to issue the required notice that amends the register and specifies that the notice takes effect as from the beginning of the day on which it was issued.

75.     Subsection (4) inserts a new subsection 13B(3E). Clerical errors can only be corrected during pending elections if the elector has drawn them to the attention of the registration officer in the prescribed time and manner.

76.     Subsection (6) gives effect to Part 2 of Schedule 1.

Clause 12 Determinations by registration officers and objections

77.     This clause empowers an ERO to remove an elector's name from his registers if it becomes apparent, after the process of registration has been completed, that the elector should not have been registered. At present, objections to a person's registration can only be raised before the registration takes effect and a registration officer's powers to remove an erroneous or obsolete entry are limited. The clause widens the powers of an ERO to remove a person's entry from the register.

78.     The clause similarly provides for registration officers to be able to terminate the registration of electors whose registration is dependent upon special declaration based procedures, rather than the canvass or rolling registration applications. Thus, similar provision is made in relation to:

  • patients in mental hospitals: subsection (1) amending section 7 of the 1983 Act;

  • persons remanded in custody: subsection (2) amending section 7A of the 1983 Act;

  • persons, such as homeless persons, registered by declaration of local connection: subsection (3) amending section 7C of the 1983 Act;

  • persons registered as service voters: subsection (7) amending section 15(2)(a) of the 1983 Act; and

  • persons registered as overseas electors: subsection (9) amends section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1985.

79.     Subsection (4) amends section 10A of the 1983 Act (maintenance of registers: registration of electors) by adding a new subsection (3A). This will establish that objections to another person's registration, to which 10A(3) of the 1983 Act applies, may be made both before and after that person's registration.

80.     Subsection (5)(b) replaces existing section 10A(5)(b) of the 1983 Act. This gives the ERO the power to remove an elector from the register if the ERO determines that the elector is no longer resident, or for other reasons, has ceased to satisfy the conditions of entitlement to be registered. This power to remove will also apply in relation to persons registered as anonymous electors.

81.     Subsection (6) adds a new section 10A(5B) of the 1983 Act to give the EROs the power to obtain information via house to house inquiries for the purposes of determining whether a person has ceased to be resident or to satisfy the conditions of entitlement to be registered.

82.     Subsection (8) amends section 56 (registration appeals) by adding a new subsection (1)(aa). This clarifies that the right of appeal to a county court from the decision of a registration officer also applies where the result of an objection made after registration is that the person ceases to be registered on the electoral register.

Part 3: Anti-Fraud Measures

Clause 13 Registration: personal identifiers

83.     Subsection (2) amends the 1983 Act to impose an obligation to provide 'personal identifiers' when registering to vote or applying for an entry on the register to be amended. Currently, such provisions apply solely to Northern Ireland. The personal identifiers to be provided are specified in the new section 13E of the 1983 Act, which is inserted by clause 14(1). The new provisions also provide a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide that electors do not need to provide their personal identifiers at each annual canvass, where they have provided them previously and their details have not changed.

84.     Subsections (3) and (4) provide that personal identifiers must be provided when a person registers to vote through 'rolling registration' at a time other than the annual canvass or applies for an alteration of the registers.

85.     Subsection (5) provides that a person may be provided with a tendered ballot paper in a polling station if he is unable to give his correct date of birth when asked, but is able to answer satisfactorily the other statutory questions listed in rule 35 of the 1983 Act. The ability to ask the question 'What is your date of birth?' is extended to the entire UK from Northern Ireland by paragraph 70 of Schedule 1.

86.     Subsection (6) amends rule 45(1B), which governs the requirements for validly returned postal votes. A postal vote will not be valid, and not counted, unless it is accompanied by the elector's signature and a date of birth which corresponds with the personal identifiers provided to the registration officer. Clause 35 substitutes a new rule 24 which will require postal ballot papers, when issued, to require the elector to sign it and state his date of birth, is to apply to the whole of the UK.

Clause 14 Personal identifiers

87.     Subsection (1) inserts a new section 13E into the 1983 Act. Subsections (1), (2) and (3) of new section 13E specify the personal identifiers referred to in paragraph 83 above. In relation to Northern Ireland, these identifiers remain the same as is currently the case. In relation to Great Britain, the identifiers specified are a person's signature and his date of birth. Subsection (2)(c) of new section 13E provides a power for the Secretary of State to add additional personal identifiers through regulations, to which exceptions can be made under subsection (5).

88.     Subsection (4) of the new section 13E extends to the entire UK the provision which already exists in Northern Ireland for the registration officer to dispense with the requirement for a person to sign a form, if that person is unable to sign in a consistent or distinctive way due to incapacity or an inability to read. Providing false information in order to gain this dispensation will be an offence (see clause 18(4)).

89.     Subsections (8) and (10) of new section 13E, and subsection (3) of this clause, provide for the creation of a list of personal identifiers, with the details to be prescribed in regulations. Relevant parts of this list are to be supplied to polling stations to allow an elector to be asked to confirm their date of birth. At the close of poll, subsection (3) provides for the relevant parts of this list to be sent to the Returning Officer. Following the count, subsection (3) further requires the relevant list to be sent with other specified documentation to the Clerk of the Crown.

90.     Subsection (9) of the new section 13E, sets out the circumstances in which personal identifiers may be disclosed and to whom. One effect of this subsection, along with subsection (2) of clause 14, is that in Great Britain an ERO may disclose personal identifiers to other EROs, in order to assist with that registration officer's registration duties. A registration officer may compare personal identifiers given by an individual with those provided by him to another ERO, and may take into account this information in determining whether to grant a registration application.

     Clause 15 Personal identifiers: piloting

91.     Clause 15 provides for the personal identifier provisions (defined by subsection (13)) to be piloted in Great Britain prior to national implementation. Under this clause, local authorities will have the power to apply to run personal identifier pilot schemes, which if approved will be given effect by the making of a 'pilot order' by the Secretary of State.

92.     Subsection (2) provides for a pilot order to specify which of the personal identifiers (defined by subsection (12)) and personal identifier provisions are to be piloted, the duration of the pilot scheme and the geographical area to be covered. Subsection (4) provides that a pilot scheme must not include personal identifiers not included within a local authority's piloting proposal. Subsection (7) provides a power for the Secretary of State to end a pilot scheme prior to the end date as specified in the original pilot order.

93.     Subsection (3) provides that a pilot order must not be made without the Secretary of State first consulting the Electoral Commission.

94.     Subsection (5) provides that a pilot order may amend the personal identifier provisions of the Bill, as well as other legislation relating to elections and referendums, for the purposes of setting up a pilot scheme, if the Secretary of State believes that this is necessary or expedient.

95.     Subsection (10) excludes parish and community councils from the ability to apply for a pilot scheme.

96.     Subsection (15) provides that a pilot order is to be a statutory instrument, which must be laid before Parliament after it has been made.

Clause 16 Evaluation of personal identifier pilots

97.     This clause provides that a pilot order made under clause 15 may include a direction to the Electoral Commission to provide an evaluation of the pilot scheme to which the order relates.

98.     Subsections (2) and (3) provide that such an evaluation must assess the impact of the piloted personal identifiers against any objectives set out in the pilot order, and must use or apply any methodology, data or criteria that may be specified in the pilot order.

99.     Subsection (5) provides that when the Secretary of State includes within a pilot order a direction to the Electoral Commission to conduct an evaluation, he must inform the relevant local authority. Under subsection (6) the Electoral Commission must consult the relevant local authority in producing its evaluation, and under subsections (7) and (8) that local authority must provide the Commission with certain assistance.

Clause 17 Revision of personal identifier provisions in consequence of pilot

100.     This clause provides for the national 'rolling out' of personal identifier provisions, which have been piloted under clause 15.

101.     If the Secretary of State wishes to commence the personal identifier provisions as set out in this Bill on a national and permanent basis, he must do so under the commencement provisions included at clause 69.

102.     If the Secretary of State wishes to implement on a permanent basis a personal identifier scheme which has been piloted under clause 15 and evaluated under clause 16, and which includes variations of the personal identifier provisions or other enactments, he must do so by order under subsections (1) and (2) of this clause.

103.     Under subsection (3) such an order may not be made without prior consultation with the Electoral Commission. Such an order must be made by affirmative resolution under clause 69(5), and under subsection (6) a copy of the relevant Electoral Commission evaluations made under clause 16 must be provided to Parliament.

104.     Subsection (4) provides that a commencement order made under subsections (1) and (2) may exclude any local government area (e.g. a parish or community) from using personal identifiers at the conduct of local elections. This would mean that although personal identifiers will still be collected for the purpose of registration, the question provided for by clause 15(13)(b)('What is your date of birth?') to be asked in a polling station prior to an elector being provided with a ballot paper need not be asked.

Clause 18 Offences as to false registration information

105.     This clause amends section 13D of the 1983 Act, which currently only extends to Northern Ireland. As well as extending its application to the whole of the UK, it expands the offence stated in section 13D(1). It will be an offence to provide false information for any purposes connected with registration. Section 13D(3) currently states that in relation to a signature, "false information" means a signature which is not the usual signature of the person, or was written by a person other than the person whose signature it purports to be. The amendments made to section 13D, as it will have effect in Great Britain, also cover information required by the Representation of the People Act 2000 Schedule 4 for the purposes of applications for absent votes. False information provided for the purposes of such applications is also to come within the scope of the offence.

106.     Subsection (8) ensures that the penalty provisions of this offence are in line with section 281 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Part 4: Review of Polling Places

Clause 19 Review of polling places

107.     This clause substitutes new sections 18A - 18E for the current section 18 (place and manner of voting at parliamentary elections) of the 1983 Act. Sections 18A to 18E clarify the duties and powers of LAs, the Electoral Commission and returning officers. The new provisions also detail the time and manner in which reviews are to take place and how representations can be made, in particular by those concerned to ensure accessibility of polling stations to persons with a disability.

108.     Subsection (1) substitutes the new sections 18A - E. Section 18A (Polling stations at parliamentary elections) makes provision for each constituency to be divided into polling districts. It makes no substantive amendment to subsections (1) to (4) of section 18.

109.     Section 18B (Polling places at parliamentary elections) provides for the designation of polling places within each polling district. It sets out the basic ground rules relevant to the designation process, in particular (see section 18B(4)(c)) that the authority must have regard to the accessibility to disabled persons of potential polling stations within a designated polling place (for example, which part of a school building is to be the polling station). Apart from section 18B(4)(c), this provision is in similar terms to the current section 18.

110.     Section 18C (Review of polling districts and places) provides that LAs must complete a review of polling districts and places throughout their area within 12 months after the coming into force of this clause. They must make further reviews within four years of the last such review. Subsections (2) and (3) deal with alterations to the process to take account of newly created constituencies or when boundary changes alter constituencies.

111.     Section 18D (Review of polling districts and places: representations to Electoral Commission) sets out the process for, and who may make, representations during the review process. It clarifies, without substantive amendment, the Electoral Commission's role in section 18(5) of the 1983 Act. However, section 18D(1)(d) includes amongst the persons who may make representations to the Electoral Commission, persons who, although not electors, are regarded by the Electoral Commission as having a sufficient interest or particular expertise in the issue of disabled access.

Part 5: Standing for election

    Standing for election

Clause 20 Minimum age

112.     This clause reduces from 21 to 18 the age qualification for membership of the House of Commons, membership of a LA or as an elected mayor, and election as Mayor or Assembly Member of the Greater London Authority. This clause will require that the candidate is 18 on the day of nomination or, in the case of LA election and election to the Greater London Authority where the election is not preceded by nominations, on the date of the poll.

113.     Under Subsections (2) and (3) the election of a person under 18 to the House of Commons will be void unless the House of Commons makes an order waiving the disqualification. It has a power to do so in the circumstances referred to under section 6(2) of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.

Clause 21 Certain Commonwealth citizens

114.     This clause limits the right of Commonwealth citizens to stand for election to the House of Commons to those with a right of abode or with indefinite leave to remain in the UK. This will help to ensure that the only Commonwealth citizens who may stand for election and be an MP are those who have a right to live in the UK throughout the term of their office.

115.     Subsection (1) amends provisions of the Act of Settlement 1700 governing who may be a member of the House of Commons to require that, in order to be eligible for election as a member of the House, a Commonwealth citizen must be a "qualifying" Commonwealth citizen. Subsections (2) and (3) define qualifying Commonwealth citizens for these purposes. Subsection (4) provides that, subject to provision for waiver of the disqualification by the House of Commons, the election of anyone elected whilst disqualified by this clause is void, and that anyone who becomes disqualified after having been elected must vacate his seat. Subsection (5) applies specified provisions of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 relating to persons who are disqualified under that Act to persons to whom subsection (4) applies.

116.     Subsection (6) gives effect to Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. This makes similar amendments to provisions governing election to bodies other than the House of Commons, namely the European Parliament, the Greater London Authority and LAs throughout the UK. As the right to stand for election and be a member of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly depends on whether the person is disqualified for membership of the House of Commons, there is no need to make express provision in those cases in order to have the same effect. However, consequential amendments are made in the case of those elections where necessary.

Clause 22 Nomination procedures

117.     This clause makes amendments to Schedule 1 of the 1983 Act (parliamentary election rules).

118.     Subsection (2) amends rule 1 to require returning officers to publish the statement of persons nominated, where no objections are made, once the time for making objections has passed. Where objections have been made the statement must be published once all objections have been disposed of, and in any event within 24 hours of the last time for the delivery of nomination papers. Subsections (6) and (7) amend rule 12 so that returning officers must make any decision on the validity of nomination papers within 24 hours of the close of the period for the delivery of nomination papers.

119.     Subsection (5) amends rule 9 so as to clarify that the returning officer may at his discretion accept the use of debit and credit cards or electronic transfer of funds by candidates in lodging their deposits. Subsection (3) amends rule 5 to require that the notice of election must contain details of the arrangements for such electronic transfer of funds.

120.     Subsection (4) amends rule 6 to take account of the introduction (by clause 23) of the use of descriptions on nomination papers for independent candidates.

121.     Subsection (8) confers on returning officers the power to correct minor errors made in nomination papers, such as obvious spelling errors.

122.     Subsection (9) amends rule 53 to reduce the proportion of the votes cast at an election that a candidate at a Parliamentary election has to poll in order not to forfeit his deposit. Currently he has to poll 5% (one-twentieth) of the votes cast; the amendment reduces this to 2% (one-fiftieth) of the votes cast.

Clause 23 Description of independent candidates

123.     This clause makes amendments enabling independent candidates (i.e. those who do not purport to represent any party) to include a description on their nomination papers and on the ballot paper. Amendments are made to the parliamentary elections rules in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act.

124.     A new rule 6B is inserted. Independent candidates may only include a description on their nomination paper if it complies with specified criteria. The criteria are set out in new rule 6B(2) and (3). The limitations are similar to those applicable to registered party descriptions. The description must not exceed 6 words, or in Wales, 6 words in English or 6 words in Welsh. It must not be the same or confusingly similar to the description of another candidate, except in the case of the use of the word "Independent", which may be used by any or all independent candidates. In the case of elections in Wales, independent candidates may use the Welsh equivalent "Annibynnwr". A description must not be obscene, nor use any prohibited word or expression. It must not be likely, when it appears on the ballot paper, to give misleading directions to the elector. Other requirements may be prescribed by regulations.

125.     The inserted rule 6B(4) specifies that returning officers exercising their functions under this rule must have regard to any guidance issued by the Electoral Commission.

126.     The inserted rule 6B(5) specifies that the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission before making any order prohibiting the use of certain words or expressions in an independent candidate's description. Any such order is to attract the negative resolution parliamentary procedure.

127.     Subsection (3) amends rule 8 in Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act, so that an independent candidate must state that he or she has not been selected or authorised to stand for a registered political party.

128.     Subsection (4) amends rule 12 so as to require the returning officer to inform a candidate if he considers that the candidate's desired description is misleadingly similar to that of another candidate.

129.     Subsection (5) amends rule 19 so that any independent candidate other than the Speaker seeking re-election will be shown on the ballot paper as having the emblem "IND" next to the candidate's particulars, or in Wales the emblem "IND/ANNIB" or, if the candidate prefers, "ANNIB/IND". ("Annib" being the abbreviation of "Annibynnwr", the Welsh for "independent".)

130.     Subsection (6) amends section 29 of the 2000 Act so that the emblem "IND", "ANNIB" or any combination of these cannot be registered by the Electoral Commission as the emblem of any registered political party.

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Prepared: 12 October 2005