HC Deb 20 March 2002 vol 382 cc287-8
1. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)

When the new measures to combat electoral fraud in Northern Ireland will come into force. [142003]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne)

It is intended that all the measures proposed in the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill will be in force in time for the scheduled Assembly elections on 1 May 2003. This represents a major step forward in tackling electoral abuse.

Mr. Stewart

Does my hon. Friend share my view that the elimination of electoral fraud should be a key priority for the Government? Will he also condemn the abuses perpetrated through the multi-registration and proxy vote procedures? Is he confident that the planned changes, which include the national insurance check for absent voters, will not deter legitimate electors?

Mr. Browne

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Bill sends a clear signal to people intent on committing electoral fraud, which is a crime that the Government are determined to combat. I thank him too for his question about national insurance numbers, as it gives me an opportunity to announce for the first time in this House that, from this year's annual canvass, applicants to the Northern Ireland electoral register and for an absent vote will be required to provide a signature, a date of birth and a national insurance number. However, to assist applicants, registration will be facilitated by a canvasser on an individual basis, and it will be preceded by a significant publicity campaign.

The House should bear in mind also the fact that, until mid-March 2003, anyone who is not on the register on 1 December will still be able to get on to it on a rolling basis. I am satisfied that, in all circumstances, the proper balance has been struck.

Lady Hermon (North Down)

Given that the electoral office will clearly have enhanced powers to combat electoral fraud, will the Minister give an undertaking that it and other offices, such as the office of the police ombudsman, will come within the remit of the new chief inspector of criminal justice?

Mr. Browne

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. I cannot give her the assurance that she seeks today, but I can tell her that I am consulting 18 agencies—among them the chief electoral officer and the police ombudsman—with regard to their inclusion in the remit of the criminal justice inspectorate.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Will the Minister confirm that the registration of a person's death will lead to that person's name being crossed off the electoral register at once?

Mr. Browne

I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance immediately, but I shall write to him on the matter.