Another voter registration retreat in the offing?

Clegg gave evidence to the Lords constitution committee this morning
Clegg gave evidence to the Lords constitution committee this morning

The final question of Nick Clegg's evidence session to the Lords constitution committee this morning was on an extremely controversial topic - the coalition's plans to reform the system used for registering voters for general elections. Opponents claim the switch from household to individual voter registration will result in millions of people falling off the electoral register - especially in urban areas, which could hurt Labour disproportionately.

Today Clegg gave a clear suggestion that further concessions can be expected from the government when it issues its response to the Commons' political and constitutional reform committee's report on the issue. Former Liberal Democrat party chief executive Lord Rennard asked the deputy PM whether we could expect "significant changes in the government's approach from that initially outlined".

"The short answer is yes," Clegg responded. He said the consultation process had been "incredibly fruitful" and that ministers were prepared to listen to "heartfelt concerns" - even if some of them were "exaggerated and misplaced".

Ministers have already caved in over plans to give voters a simple tick-box 'opt-out' option from voting. As the select committee's main gripe with the government was over whether the 2014 household canvass should go ahead, could this be the area where the government is now prepared to cede ground?


Two other interesting nuggets we learned from this session:

- The Lords reform bill is likely to be included in the Queen's Speech. Clegg made very clear that, working back from 2015, pushing the legislation through parliament (and probably having to rely on the Parliament Act) means the bill is going to have to be taken forward in the next session. Whereas constitutional reform minister Mark Harper was tight-lipped when I interviewed him about Lords reform last week, Clegg was a little more open: he said he would have to move "pretty quickly" and explained Lords reform could not be the flagship bill in the Queen's Speech - on account of the economy, as Bruce Springsteen sings. Make of that what you will.

- The Lords might not be about to grow again, after all. It's David Cameron who controls appointments to the upper House as things stand at present, but Clegg is the Cabinet minister with the relevant portfolio. So when he says he's not in the mood for creating a "self-denying ordinance", as UCL's Meg Russell and co would prefer, his view matters. Interestingly, he denied outright the rumours that the government is about to ennoble 60 political peers.
 

-- Alex Stevenson
 

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