Peers debated the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill at
on 24 July 2012.
The bill aims to reduce electoral fraud by requiring all voters to register individually. The bill amends rules governing UK electoral administration to account for changes to the Parliamentary cycle.
Opening debate, government spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire said the bill would "give people greater ownership of their own registration and...improve the integrity of the register".
He argued that the UK was now one of the few countries in the world still using a system of household registration.
"This bill, by facilitating the use of such things as online registration... will help tackle the problem of declining registration," he said.
The Electoral Commission has been calling for a switch to individual electoral registration (IER) since 2003 and has welcomed the general principles of the bill, but has warned that ministers need to "design the transition carefully".
Opposition constitutional affairs spokesman Lord Falconer of Thoroton accused the government of rushing individual registration which, he said, could drive down voter participation and even risk the future of democracy in the UK.
The former lord chancellor told the House: "There is no dispute from anybody that the people who are least likely to register are the young, the very old, the disabled, those from a black or minority ethnic communities and those in private rented accommodation."
He claimed the result could be "social class or your colour or your capacity determining whether you are registered or not", adding that he supported the "sensible, monitored" introduction of individual registration.
Labour's Baroness Gould was concerned that "those with a postal or proxy vote will have to register under the new system in 2014 or they will forfeit their absent vote and will have to vote in person or not at all" which could discriminate against elderly and disabled people who were unable to get to a polling station.
Conservative Lord Lexden said he supported the government's aim of creating a more accurate register but warned: "We must take care to ensure that this major reform is not seen as a change designed to benefit a particular political party."
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tyler said the present system was "broken and needs fixing" and the bill could make the electoral register "more accurate, more comprehensive".
At second reading, peers take part in a general debate on all aspects of the bill. The bill will be debated in
when peers return from the summer recess.