David Cameron’s reforms to the voting system have narrowly survived an attempt to kill them off in the House of Lords, despite warnings from the Electoral Commission that people could be disenfranchised.
Peers rejected a fatal motion that would have stopped the Conservatives bringing forward use of a new electoral register to December 2016, even though it contains up to 1.9 million fewer names than the old register.
The new register requires everyone to be registered as an individual, which differs from the old system under which the head of a household was able to register all occupants.
The narrow win will be a relief for Cameron after the House of Lords voted down the government’s cuts to tax credits on Monday.
The Electoral Commission said it would now focus on trying to make sure “as many as possible are registered to vote before the important set of polls scheduled for May 2016”.
“We’ll also be running our own campaign to help anyone who might be affected, particularly students and people who have recently moved house. The ability to register online will be a big help in this,” said Jenny Watson, chair of the commission.
The controversy arose after the new Conservative government decided to bring forward the transition to the new register by a year against the advice of the Electoral Commission.
Labour has strongly opposed the move, which it estimates could lead to about a million people dropping off the list, and has launched a huge electoral registration drive.
The fatal motion in the Lords was tabled by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tyler, who argued it was highly likely that people who think they are on the register will find themselves unable to vote when the time comes.
“It means fewer seats in densely populated, highly mobile areas, and more seats in rural areas with more stable populations,” he said.
“Conservative ministers have introduced a deliberately partisan order in direct contrast with the recommendation of the independent commission which is appointed by parliament to ensure fair play.”
Conservative minister Lord Bridges told peers the government did not have to abide by the advice of the Electoral Commission and warned the Lords against voting down another government measure.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 27th October 2015 19.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010