Clause 69 Commencement

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 12:00, 22 Tachwedd 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 69, page 68, line 22, at end insert—

‘( )section 13;

( )section 14;’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 2, in clause 69, page 68, line 37, leave out subsection (5).

I point out that the amendments are very narrow.

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

It would be quite wrong of me, and out of order, to return to our debates about the scope of pilot schemes and whether they should be introduced as a general provision, but we must address a strange anomaly regarding commencement. Ministers must explain why clauses 13 and 14 are to be commenced by an order subsequent to the Act, whereas clause 15, which is the operative clause in relation to the pilot scheme, is not to be commenced by order but is included in clause 69(1) among the provisions that will come into force on the day on which the Act is passed. Clause 15 cannot operate without clauses 13 and 14, which deal with the mechanics of the registration process and providing personal identifiers, and it is hard to see how a clause that essentially depends on earlier clauses can be used when they have not come into effect because they are omitted from the list.

That method of commencement suggests that the Government will continue to delay doing anything about this important subject. Given that the clause contains a limited number of identifiers—not the wide group that we debated in Committee and on Second Reading, but simply the basic signature and date-of-birth identifiers—there is no obvious reason why changes to the 1983 Act should not have immediate effect, so that the identifiers can be included from day one. That would provide clarity and the wherewithal for pilots to take place irrespective of their scope and whether they will turn out to be the preferred solution, as many of us hope.

The Minister must persuade us why we should have a delay of any kind in the commencement of clauses 13 or 14 but not clause 15, which requires subsequent orders to specify the scope of the pilots, and which could not possibly be implemented without clauses 13 and 14. That is the purport of the amendment. I hope that I have kept within the strict constraints of the commencement of the Bill, Mr. O’Hara. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

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

The amendments seek to roll out the collection of personal identifiers when the Bill receives Royal Assent without first holding pilots, but there is not yet enough evidence on which to base a decision about national roll-out. Our proposal to trial the system using pilot schemes is a practical way in which to test policy.

We want clause 15 to come into effect on Royal Assent so that individual identifier pilots can be in place for the annual canvass in 2006. If the personal identifier pilot schemes are successful, they might be implemented nationally to improve the integrity of registers without reducing registration. That would affect the electoral process as a whole by 2008. That timetable requires that individual pilots should take place at the annual canvass in September to October 2006. We do not want to roll the scheme out without giving Parliament the chance to debate the outcome of the pilots. That will be a big decision and therefore needs parliamentary consideration.

Clause 15 is a stand-alone clause and includes a power to bring into force the relevant provisions of clauses 13 and 14 for the purpose of the pilot. Bringing those clauses into force would commence national   roll-out of personal identifiers on Royal Assent. Initially, the pilots would go ahead, without delay. A debate would follow, and we would consider whether to proceed to national roll-out in the light of the effect of the pilots.

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

I hear what the right hon. and learned Lady says, but clause 15(13) states:

“The personal identifier provisions are—

(a)the amendments made to the 1983 Act by section 13 ... and section 14” which will not have come into effect when clause 15 does. The argument is a circular one that does not bear close scrutiny. I shall return to the matter in the wider context of the pilots, because, as the right hon. and learned Lady knows, we are unpersuaded of the need for pilots in this context. We want integrity of the ballot box rather than further experimentation.

Nevertheless, on my rather incomplete understanding of the Minister’s response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.