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Taking a power to create the corporation sole in secondary legislation is designed to provide an appropriate degree of flexibility so that the precise detail of the structure and operation of the body, and the timing of its creation, can be developed consistently with the CORE scheme order. The amendment provides for necessary matters of detail concerning the creation of the corporation sole to be addressed in the order, and makes provision for a number of matters that would be consequential on the establishment of the corporation sole. In particular, it amends Section 1(10) of the 2006 Act expressly to provide that a person designated as the CORE keeper under the CORE scheme must be a corporation sole established under the new power, or some other public authority. This preserves the ability for another public authority to take on the role of CORE keeper if that is considered appropriate in the future. It also provides for an order establishing the new corporation sole to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and provides that, before the order can be made, the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner must be consulted. These requirements are designed to ensure that the order will be subject to a high degree of scrutiny.
Moving on to the other amendments, Amendment 86 is intended to provide additional protections around access to the electoral register from the CORE keeper. The effect of current provisions in the 2006 Act is that the regulations governing the supply of the electoral register by EROs will also apply to the CORE keeper, subject to any modifications that the Secretary of State considers appropriate. This means that bodies entitled to receive copies of the electoral registers and related information from EROs will be entitled to receive the same information from the CORE keeper, subject to the same restrictions on access and use. This does not expand the range of bodies with access to the registers, but the creation of the CORE scheme would enable the registers to be accessed from a single source on a national scale. In light of this, specific arrangements may be required where information is supplied by the CORE keeper to ensure that the provision of data is appropriate. Accordingly, Amendment 86 supplements the Secretary of States existing power to modify the application of the regulations by enabling additional or different conditions to be imposed on the supply of material by the CORE keeper.
Amendment 87 relates to Section 3 of the Juries Act 1974, which currently requires EROs to supply copies of the register for the purpose of jury summoning. Once the CORE system is operational, it may be more efficient and convenient for the registers to be supplied on a national scale by the CORE keeper, rather than
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Finally, Amendment 88 extends the Secretary of States existing powers in relation to the CORE scheme order so that the order can authorise information sharing between the CORE keeper and the Electoral Commission. As I have already detailed, the original intention was for the Electoral Commission to be the CORE keeper. However, now that this is not to be the case, it is important that the CORE keeper is able to furnish the commission with information that is relevant to its functions. It is envisaged that the power may be exercised to enable the CORE keeper to provide the Electoral Commission with statistical reports, for example, regarding registration patterns or the number of notifications made by the CORE keeper to EROs about circumstances that may be indicative of absent voter fraud or other improprieties. The power may also be used to enable the CORE keeper to inform the commission where an ERO has failed to report back to the CORE keeper on steps taken to investigate potential instances of fraud or other improprieties, as may be required in the CORE scheme order. I beg to move.
Modifications under this subsection may, in particular, provide for the supply of material by a CORE keeper to be subject to conditions or restrictions which do not apply in the case of an ERO (or which differ from those that apply in the case of an ERO).
(a) so as to require a CORE keeper to supply a designated officer with any documents or information referred to in that section (as it had effect immediately before the establishment of the scheme), and to make provision as to when the CORE keeper is to do so;
(b) so as to require an ERO to supply a designated officer with any such documents or information, but only when requested to do so by the officer.
In this subsection designated officer means an officer designated by the Lord Chancellor.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government have tabled a number of amendments to the individual registration clauses. Many of these, with the exception of Amendments 90, 91, 92, 99, 100, 101, 114 and 117, are minor technical changes that tidy up the way that these clauses are intended to work and I do not propose to say anything about them. There is also a small number of more significant changes that I will describe shortly. I do not think that I need to go into detail at this hour about the importance of the shift to individual registration, which as a principle I know has the support of all the main parties in the House. It marks a significant point in the evolution of our electoral registration processes in Great Britain.
I wish to mention briefly five changes. The first concerns Amendment 90, which amends Clause 27(2)(d) to broaden the purposes for which EROs can check information provided from the national insurance number (NINO) database during the voluntary phase of individual registration. The purpose of this amendment is to give EROs more flexibility in using data from the NINO database, while also ensuring that data are used only for appropriate purposes relating to checking a persons entitlement to vote.
Amendment 91 provides for the disclosure of information by the CORE keeper to a registration officer for the purposes of registration. Amendment 101 introduces a requirement for registration officers to provide assistance to the Electoral Commission for the purpose of compiling its reports, and thus is very close to what the Official Opposition are looking for in their Amendment 96. In practice this is likely to cover the provision of information that the commission is likely to require. The Electoral Commission specifically asked if we might include this requirement in our legislation.
Amendments 99 and 100 make a number of amendments to the steps the Secretary of State needs to take in the event that there is not a positive endorsement of the shift to individual registration in 2014 by either the Electoral Commission or Parliament. If noble Lords require more detail on those amendments, I shall be happy to give them that information. Those are the government amendments in short. I shall now sit down as I know that there are opposition amendments in this group. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the government amendments. I wish to comment briefly on the two amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Bates, and on Amendment 98, to which I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will want to speak, and which my noble friend and I also support.
As regards Amendments 96 and 97, in light of what the noble Lord said about achieving most of what we were trying to do in those amendments, and in view of
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The integrity of the register is incredibly important and we welcome the moves that the Government are making towards personal identifiers. I think I am right in saying that the Electoral Commission made its recommendations as long ago as 2003. It is a very long time ago; we ought to have made more progress by now. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, the purpose of Amendment 98, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rennard and supported by the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Bates, is to try to build back into the Bill a little more flexibility. If we can make some progress, it surely would be right to do so.
In Grand Committee, the argument that the Minister gave was that if we were to move more quickly it might conflict with the run-up to the general election. He is obviously greatly better informed that I am, because who knows when the election after next is likely to be? We might indeed find ourselves with a very short Parliament. I was the victim of the very short Parliament in 1974in and out within eight months. Who knows? I therefore do not regard that argument as being conclusive, unless of course the Government are going to move towards fixed-term Parliaments as part of their package of reform proposals that are due any moment now.
We simply thought that it was sensible to ask the Electoral Commission not to be boxed into a corner of automatically doing nothing until 2014 and that if there was a possibility of moving further and faster, we should do so. But we recognise also that there are
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I shall listen with interest to what the Minister says on this subject in a moment. I assume that he is going to address that particular point, and then we will have to think very carefully whether it is appropriate to pursue this any further at this late hour, or whether it is more sensible to look at it again, in the light of the Ministers response, in time for Third Reading.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords. Amendment 98 is an important amendment. It provides the Electoral Commission with a discretion to make an assessment before 2014 of whether the registration objectives would be helped or hindered by a move towards the compulsory collection of personal identifiers. In tandem, it also provides the commission with the ability to make a recommendation before that date on whether the provision of identifiers should be made compulsory. Our proposal is well known.
Of course, I am aware that some noble Lords believe that we should be moving more quickly towards a system of individual registration. As I argued in Grand Committee, a phased approach is the only way to ensure that this very radical change is made effectively. We should not rush it. The specific timetable we have set out delivers on this phased approach. It has been developed with great care, with due regard to the magnitude of the change and the risks involved. What this timetable allows is, first, sufficient time for the public to acclimatise itself to the change; secondly, time for each and every one of the 400-plus electoral registration officers to adapt to the new system and to ensure that all are working to the level of the best; thirdly, time to investigate and test which public sector databases will be of most assistance to registration officers in targeting people not included on the register; and, finally, time to design the infrastructure for the validation of national insurance numbers, which will underpin the new system. Importantly, the proposed timetable will also allow us to minimise disruption to elections by avoiding, so far as is possible, national and sub-national elections, such as the 2014 elections to the European Parliament.
In developing that timetable, we have paid careful attention to the Northern Ireland experience when implementing individual registration. That is an important point in my argument. The registration rate fell significantly in Northern Ireland when individual registration was introduced. There is an ongoing debate about why that happened, and at least some of the decrease in the numbers registered in Northern Ireland in 2002 was due to the removal of the carry-forward, but the Electoral Commissions analysis tells us that the impact of that change was keenly felt among particular groups. It states that individual registration,
While these findings relate directly to Northern Ireland, they are not unique and reflect the wider picture across the UK. They present a major challenge to all those concerned with widening participation in electoral and democratic processes.
We all agree that making the shift towards individual registration is right but, in doing so, we have to ensure that we do not disfranchise large numbers of people who may find the new system more onerous. That becomes especially important when you consider that already an estimated 3 million individuals are not registered to vote. We must do all we can to ensure that that figure does not increase. By taking time to prepare both the system and the public for the change, to analyse registration performance and to develop a better understanding of the issues impacting on registration rates, we mitigate the risk of that outcome. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that we do not take steps that risk discouraging individuals from engaging in our democracy. A more effective and secure registration system is more likely to be achieved by building in time, to ensure to that the factors that I have mentioned can be fully taken into account in a realistic timeframe. That is what our proposal is designed to achieve.
The work that I have described would be vital to the success or otherwise of the shift to compulsory individual registration. The Electoral Commissions reports will provide invaluable evidence about registration rates, the performance of EROs and the operation of the system, which will inform our understanding of its preparedness for the change. Without that information, we cannot have a full understanding of whether the system is ready for the shift. We must protect the space for the Electoral Commission to undertake proper and robust analysis during the voluntary phase. It is only on the basis of that evidence that we can be confident that the system can withstand the change.
If the idea is that a pre-2014 recommendation should be permissible and brought before Parliament if made in favour of individual registration, we would resist that. Furthermore, the existing proposed timetable is a fair balance between the role of the Electoral Commission and that of Parliament. It is right that Parliament should set the agenda for moving towards a compulsory phase, taking into account the recommendations of the commission. A decision as historic as this should be made only after a thorough and informed parliamentary debate.
The purpose of a phased approach to implementation is to ensure that we take the necessary time to bolster, adapt and improve the current system for registration, in readiness for the major shift in process. Any attempts to introduce individual registration at a faster rate might risk damaging the integrity of the system and, worse still, the publics confidence in it. If that were to happen in the run-up to a general election, the consequences could be dire.
(ee) provision for the disclosure by a CORE keeper to a registration officer, for the purpose mentioned in paragraph (d), of information within sub-paragraph (i) or (ii) of that paragraph;
(a) for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2)(d), or
(b) for the purposes of any criminal or civil proceedings,
or, in the case of information obtained by a registration officer, to a person to whom the officer may delegate his or her functions.
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine, or to both;
(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales and Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;
(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.
99: Clause 28, page 29, line 42, leave out the Secretary of State may require the Electoral and insert within 12 months after the day on which the report is submitted by the Electoral Commission (in the case mentioned in paragraph (a)) or disapproved in Parliament (in the case mentioned in paragraph (b)), the Secretary of State must require the
(a) a report is disapproved in Parliament when either House decides against resolving to approve the report (or, if both Houses so decide on different days, when the first of them so decides);
(b) the date specified by the Secretary of State must be at least one year, but no more than two years, after the day on which the requirement under that subsection is imposed.
( ) A registration officer must comply with any request made in writing by the Electoral Commission for assistance that they reasonably require in connection with the preparation of a report under this section.
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