§ Viscount Davidson rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 13th May be approved. [23rd Report from the Joint Committee.]
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Representation of the People Regulations 1986 be approved. Similar sets of regulations for Scotland and Northern Ireland are on the Order Paper and, if your Lordships agree, it might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke to the three sets of regulations together. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has considered all three sets of regulations and has made no comment.
§ These regulations replace the Representation of the People Regulations 1983. They are needed to lay down procedures for British citizens abroad to register as overseas electors and for holidaymakers and others to apply for an absent vote under the new provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1985. The regulations have been the subject of full consultations with representatives of the political parties and the local authorities and reflect the many helpful comments we received.
§ Regulations 23 to 28 deal with the new procedures for overseas electors to make declarations with a view to their being included in the electoral register. The same procedures will apply to Members of your Lordships' House resident abroad who, subject to the requirements in the Act, may register as electors at elections to the European Assembly. This is covered by Regulation 14.
§ Part III introduces changes in registration procedures including, for England and Wales, the identification of new names on the register and, for England and Wales and Northern Ireland, a regulation allowing the draft register to take effect as the final register. Part IV introduces new provisions on absent voting. Applicants for an absent vote at a particular election will need to say why they cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person. Applicants for an indefinite absent vote for an indefinite period will have to meet the countersignature and other requirements in Regulations 64 and 65. Part V allows the proceedings on the issue and receipt of postal ballot papers to be taken together when the polls at elections are combined, and Part VI deals with the combination of polls.
§ The regulations for Scotland and Northern Ireland contain similar provisions except in the few cases I have mentioned, and with the exception also of Regulation 13 of the Northern Ireland regulations relating to documentary evidence of identity.224
§ We plan to make a commencement order as soon as possible following the approval of these regulations bringing the remainder of the 1985 Act into force. Our intention is that overseas electors should be able to start making their declarations straight away. The changes relating to applications for absent votes will be brought into force from 1st January next year and other changes relating to the conduct of elections will apply to elections held on or after 16th February 1987. Post Office regulations will be made before then dealing with the free delivery of unaddressed electoral material.
§ We shall be making new local elections rules later this year in order to apply to local elections the changes which have been made by the 1985 Act and these regulations to the parliamentary elections rules. New European Assembly regulations will also be made so that the new absent voting provisions and provision on the lines of these regulations can apply at European Parliament elections held on or after 16th February.
§ I hope that your Lordships will be content to approve the regulations. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 13th May be approved. [23rd Report from the Joint Committee]—(Viscount Davidson.)
My Lords, I welcome the explanation of these regulations given by the noble Viscount, which I am sure will be appreciated by all concerned with running elections, both on the official side and on that of the election agents. We now have up-to-date regulations.
I am pleased to have the assurance from the noble Viscount that these regulations have been the subject of consultations with local authorities and the political parties and that no items are included which were not covered by primary legislation, particularly the 1985 Act. I am particularly pleased to note the extension under the Northern Ireland regulations—No. 13, I think—to which the noble Viscount referred, which extends the documents which must be presented by electors to polling stations to include a driving licence issued in Northern Ireland and a merchant seaman's card. Those regulations will be appreciated by all in Northern Ireland.
With those few remarks, I support the three regulations.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.