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European Parliamentary Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2015

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the European Parliamentary Elections (Forms) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I shall also speak to the next three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper. The four statutory instruments before us today form a package of legislation to update the design of voter-facing forms used in all four types of elections in Northern Ireland; namely, UK parliamentary, European parliamentary, Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections.

Noble Lords will be aware that forms for elections are one of the primary ways in which voters receive information about elections and are encouraged to participate in them. Over time, some forms have become outdated and voters find some of the language used in the forms hard to understand. The Government are committed to making the process of voting as accessible as possible, while maintaining the security of the poll. In recent years, the appearance of voter-facing forms has been modernised at some polls, such as the 2012 police and crime commissioner elections and the 2014 European parliamentary elections in Great Britain.

The Government believe that there is value in using the same or similar forms for all elections in Northern Ireland to help avoid voter confusion by ensuring that information is provided in a consistent and recognisable format. It is also the Government’s view that voter-facing forms should be as similar as possible in all parts of the United Kingdom participating in an election, taking into account local differences in legislation.

The Government issued a public consultation paper on this issue in April 2014. The response from the Electoral Commission recommended that user testing be conducted in Northern Ireland and the commission subsequently commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct user testing of the forms proposed in the consultation paper. A number of changes were made to the forms following the user testing, in consultation with the Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer.

The forms being changed for all four elections are poll cards, postal poll cards, proxy poll cards, proxy postal poll cards, proxy papers, certificates of employment and declarations of identity, including for combined polls. Additionally, for European parliamentary, Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections, the ballot papers, directions for printing the ballot papers, declarations to be made by the companion of a voter with disabilities and guidance for voters are also being updated. Changes have been made to use a clearer font and a clearer layout, and to highlight and distinguish important information. Headings have now been added to each form to state clearly to which election it relates.

I hope that the Committee will agree that modernising these electoral forms is an important part of encouraging voter participation in the democratic process and are reassured that these changes are fully supported by the Electoral Commission and chief electoral officer. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very clear exposition of what is entailed in these regulations and orders. It is quite right that there should be reform and remodelling of the papers associated with elections in Northern Ireland. It is also right that a large element of standardisation is taking place within the whole of the United Kingdom. We are one country and it is right that these forms should be standardised and modernised in this way.

The forms used for elections are the main formal contact that we have with voters when they come to vote. It is essential that they be kept clear. I totally agree with the noble Baroness when she says that, over the years, some of the language has become a bit dated and confusing. I welcome bringing it up to date; that is certainly the way to go about it.

There was some consultation on the issue in Northern Ireland and I understand that seven responses were received. It was recommended that separate user testing be conducted in Northern Ireland. The Electoral Commission subsequently contracted Ipsos MORI to conduct user testing of the forms proposed in the consultation paper. It is to be hoped that that is reflected in the changes that were made.

There is not much more to say, other than that Her Majesty’s Opposition welcome the changes and support the Government in what they are doing.

Motion agreed.