Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a short supplementary business statement.

Thursday 9 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the European Union Referendum (Voter Registration) followed by the previously envisaged general debate on carers, as determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

I will, of course, make my usual business statement announcing future business tomorrow morning.

I am very grateful to the Government for doing what we asked earlier. It is obviously important that we try to make sure that everyone who is trying to take part in the referendum is able do so. I am grateful for the consultation there has been between the two Front-Bench teams. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to confirm that there will be no other extraneous statements tomorrow, but only his business statement. The debate on carers is very important—it is national Carers Week and many people care about the issue.

We will see tomorrow morning, as normal, whether there is other business, but I am acutely aware that the debate on carers is a matter of great importance to people in this House. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words.

Order. I will call Mr Wishart first. [Interruption.] Order. That is a perfectly proper way to proceed, to which no one should object. I simply say to the House that this statement is on a narrow, although very important, matter. Exchanges are therefore necessarily limited—I will not say circumscribed—to the question of the rescheduling of business tomorrow. This is not an opportunity for a general airing of opinions about overall business, still less for an exchange of views about aspects of the EU referendum question. [Interruption.] I do not know why I thought the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) might be so tempted—perhaps it is simply the cheeky expression on his face—but this is purely about the scheduled business for tomorrow, to the narrow confines of which I know the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will stick with rigid propriety, as always.

Most certainly, Mr Speaker, and may I add our gratitude to the Leader of the House for changing the business for tomorrow? However, this situation demonstrates a deep systemic failure in our electoral registration system. It should be a gold standard, for what is probably the biggest decision that this House and this country have ever taken, yet we have descended into a panicky response to a potentially disastrous situation in which loads of people could have been disfranchised. I hope that when we have the debate tomorrow all the issues are properly aired, so we get to the heart of what actually happened and what the Government will do to make sure that something like it never happens again.

You granted the urgent question earlier, Mr Speaker, and we will have a debate tomorrow morning, so I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to make points about the process he will have plenty of opportunity to do so.

In order to assist the House in its deliberations tomorrow will my right hon. Friend publish any precedent for any Government of any colour changing electoral law during an election period?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will take part in the debate, is sitting alongside me and I am sure will take note of that request, as he will want to do everything he can to keep the House as fully informed as possible.

I entirely support the decision to extend the registration period, but given the shambles that has occurred will the Leader of the House guarantee that everyone who wants to register will now be able to do so? Will he consider looking at automatic registration for the future, so that we can try to avoid these problems?

Those are really matters for the debate tomorrow, but I assure the House that the Government are seeking to ensure that all those who have been attempting to register—that is what this is about—have the opportunity to do so.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that people have had months and months to register, and that if they left it to the last minute and all tried to register yesterday that is their fault, and we should not change our regulations in the middle of a very important referendum campaign simply to suit those who have not organised their personal affairs well enough to secure their registration in good time?

I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about these matters; the benefit of tomorrow’s debate and vote is that he will have the opportunity to participate fully and express his views in both parts of the process.

Order. This is purely a question of the scheduling of the business. If people wish to opine on the merits or demerits of the legislation to be brought before the House they will have that opportunity tomorrow. I wonder whether that will burn off a few colleagues.

Will the Leader of the House make sure that the Government send out a clear message, after a decision is taken tomorrow, to ensure that people actually use their vote once they have registered and know how to do so?

I can assure the House that that has already happened. Their votes clearly will not count unless the measure is passed, but we continue to encourage people to participate, in case the House decides that way.

Will sufficient time be made available tomorrow to discuss the fact that a number of EU citizens who are ineligible to vote are being sent registration or ballot cards? Will the Government have an opportunity to say what action they are taking to ensure that those people will not be able to register in the first place?

As my hon. Friend will recall, this matter was raised in the urgent question earlier, but he makes an important point. Ministers have already reassured the House, but I am sure they can do so again tomorrow morning, if required.

It will be a standard 90-minute statutory instrument debate, as is customary for secondary legislation.

The extension of registration will not apply to Northern Ireland, so will the measure be subject to certification under English votes for English laws?

I can inform the House that the drafting of the SI for tomorrow’s debate will include Northern Ireland.

The ability easily to register online meant that many applications last year were duplicates, which meant that otherwise unnecessary extra work was required from election teams. How many applications were genuine, and how many were duplicates?

My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to raise that and other such important issues in tomorrow’s debate.

I wish to clarify the Northern Ireland situation. It is still subject to discussion, but because Northern Ireland has a different system of registration, we want to make sure it is handled in the appropriate way.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his supplementary business statement and to colleagues.