Author Topic: Committee (8th Day) | Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill | Lords debates  (Read 786 times)

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Committee (8th Day) | Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill | Lords debates
12 January 2011, 5:00 pm

I support all the amendments to this clause, but I incline most to the amendment to which my noble friend Lord Grocott has just spoken. They all speak to the folly of the unmerited speed of what the Government are doing with these boundary reviews. The risks of their approach are manifold, and we have heard some of them already rehearsed this afternoon. I focus on one: the statistical inadequacy of conducting reviews on the basis of what is universally acknowledged to be a flawed electoral register. The best estimate that we have is that 3.5 million people are eligible to vote but are missing for one reason or another from the electoral register. How on earth can the Government propose to rush through a boundary review on the basis of such a flawed register?

The Government must be aware that the Labour Government took significant measures and passed legislation to ensure that the flawed electoral register was repaired. It gave the duty to the Electoral Commission of ensuring that by 2015 the electoral register was comprehensive and accurate, and gave it significant powers to achieve that end-powers that I see the Deputy Prime Minister is now claiming as his motivation and responsibility. Actually, the previous Government passed the legislation that gave the Electoral Commission those powers.

Why are the Government rushing ahead to conduct a wholesale and radical review of boundaries when they know they do so on the basis of a flawed register? If they only waited a few months they would have the judgment of an independent body, the Electoral Commission, on whether the register was indeed comprehensive and accurate. Surely the Government can see the case for waiting. All these amendments speak to that end: to delay this review. I urge the Government to take heed of these amendments and wait for the results of the work of the Electoral Commission in ensuring that the register is comprehensive and accurate.

This is a complex task. On many occasions in the debate on this legislation we have heard some of the problems that the Electoral Commission will face. Everyone knows this is a difficult task and that is why we gave them significant powers, such as data-sharing, to try and help them, for the first time, to get a register that is comprehensive and accurate. It cannot be rushed. No serious, objective and independent expert observer believes that we can get a comprehensive and accurate register by 2013. It is nonsensical. I am sure the Government themselves do not believe it.

In the House of Commons before the last election, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties agreed that 2015 was a reasonable timescale to achieve a comprehensive and accurate register, so why have they changed their minds and decided to rush through this review on the basis of a register which is by all accounts not going to be comprehensive nor accurate? Why have they changed their minds? If they have not changed their minds, why do they believe that the register can be comprehensive and accurate by 2013? If they do not believe that, why are they proceeding with such a radical and comprehensive revision of boundaries on the basis of an inaccurate register? Why are they doing this? Could the Minister answer that? In the absence of an answer, I hope the Government will look at these amendments favourably and support them.

Source: Lord Wills's recent appearances (TheyWorkForYou)