Clause 4 - Electoral Commission

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 15 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That clause 4 stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Once again the provision refers to Wales. I am glad that we are considering Wales in great detail, as the administration of democracy in Wales has been a key part of our deliberations for many years.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I would hate the hon. Lady to misdirect her comments. The provision merely happens to lie in the Bill after the section that refers to Wales. The clause is not specifically about Wales.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which, as usual, is perfectly reasonable. I appreciate that the clause does not refer specifically to Wales; I was merely taking the opportunity to compliment those who deal with electoral administration in Wales. They had to administer one of the closest results of any recent democratic exercise undertaken in the United Kingdom; namely, the referendum on the Welsh Assembly.

I was about to say that that referendum is a very good example of why it is important that the rights systems are in place, and that they are financed in the right way and use the best modern technology that is available. When a result is so, so close, and it affects many people and the governance of a large part of the United Kingdom—

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane PPS (Rt Hon Peter Hain, Secretary of State), Wales Office

I have the amount spent per elector for Wales for the past 10 years in front of me. In 1998, the year in which the referendum was held, 17p per elector was spent. This year it is £1.25 per elector. Such a small amount was spent that the result of the referendum may have been down to an inaccurate register.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Another excellent point by the hon. Gentleman. Had Wales spent more, it might have got a better result. Mr. O'Hara, I may not be allowed to say that.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. An incidental reference is made to the Local Government Boundary   Commission for Wales in the clause. I ask the hon. Lady to come to order.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. I do not intend to try your patience further.

When does the Minister propose to make a decision on whether the Electoral Commission should be a designated CORE keeper? My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk raised the following point earlier in a completely different context. Does proposed new section 20A of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 mean that the Electoral Commission will be the CORE keeper for all purposes, or are we still talking about the Electoral Commission being the CORE keeper for national matters but not the CORE keeper of information in individual constituencies or districts?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I hope that I can assist the hon. Lady by saying that, during the consultation and before we introduce regulations, the House must consider, among other things, whether to establish CORE through a big bang, where suddenly it is all over the country in one go, or to introduce it in a couple of regions and build it up. If we build it up, it might be sensible for one of the electoral registration officers in that region to be the CORE keeper for that regional roll-out.

Other countries that have a national register, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, use their electoral commissions. Proposed new section 20A makes it possible for the commission to be a CORE keeper at national level, but it is just a possibility. We do not rule out, as the national scheme builds up, transitional CORE keepers, who might be well-experienced registration officers in particular regions, starting the CORE ball rolling.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South 12:00, 15 Tachwedd 2005

For certain members of my party, including myself, the word ''regionalisation'' sends shivers up and down our backbone. I want to be assured that the matter is in no way related to the whole concept of a united Europe.—[Interruption.] I said it sent shivers up and down my back. Secondly, as to the term CORE keeper, which has a Harry Potter connection in a sense, will the Minister be kind and explain what sort of establishment she feels might constitute the CORE keeper's office?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The flexibility in allowing designation of CORE keepers is due to the argument that can be made, on which we shall want to consult, for a staged approach to implementation. The CORE keeper might, ultimately, look pretty much like the Electoral Commission. That is what it looks like in other countries. When the national scheme is ready, that becomes one of that body's responsibilities. I should like to empathise with the hon. Member for Northampton, South, who is obviously having panic attacks about Europe, but his point has completely passed me by. I do not see how what he has been saying has anything to do with Europe.  

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. Part of the answer to the hon. Gentleman's questions is in clause 1.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.