Labour bid fails to protect household canvass

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An attempt by Labour to protect the annual household canvass of electors has foundered in the House of Lords.

Labour had tabled an amendment on 23 January 2013 during report stage to remove part of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill giving the government the power to abolish the canvass.

Moving the amendment, shadow Cabinet Office spokesperson Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town described the canvass as "a critical tool not only in compiling the register but as the only way of judging whether other systems taking information from a variety of data sources is actually working".

She called data-matching an "insufficient" way of keeping track of electors and said that when it comes to household visits, "nothing else competes".

Crossbencher and former Commons Speaker Lord Martin of Springburn backed the move.

He called canvassers the "unsung heroes of the democratic process" and said it would be "very sad if we did away with it".

Lord Martin argued that it was an effective way of ensuring accuracy, particularly in the case of boundary changes.

The Liberal Democrats' former chief executive, Lord Rennard, claimed it had been a "mistake" to remove the household canvass in Northern Ireland when individual voter registration was introduced.

He said there "may be a case in the future for abolishing it, but not now".

Responding for the government, Cabinet Office spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire told peers that new housing was making it "increasingly difficult" to carry out the canvass and stated the Electoral Commission would have a statutory role in any changes.

He reminded the House: "All of us share the goal of getting as complete and accurate a register as possible."

Labour forced the issue to a division and was defeated by 223 votes to 199.

The bill aims to reduce electoral fraud by requiring all voters to register individually. It amends rules governing UK electoral administration to account for changes to the Parliamentary cycle.

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