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Electoral Registration System

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the electoral registration system. [15752]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. George Howarth)

The House will be aware that my hon. Friend has a distinguished record in the House on raising electoral register issues— [Interruption.].

Order. The Minister is replying to Mr. Barnes, who is right behind him.

The 1997 electoral register for the United Kingdom had the highest ever number of parliamentary electors registered to vote—44.2 million. We shall examine options for improving the effectiveness of the registration system still further in the coming months and shall consult the other parties in the House on that process.

Is not this stakeholder idea a good notion, because there could be equal stakeholding in electoral registers for everyone? Millions of people are missing from the electoral registers, disabled people find it difficult to get to polling stations and the homeless face legal impediments to being on the register. Could we have an up-to-date, modern register? That is another good idea—modernisation. We could have it for electoral stakeholders.

My hon. Friend is known as one of the great modernisers in the House. He raises some interesting ideas, several of which I intend to pursue and one or two of which I do not. If he waits with some patience, he will find out in due course which falls into which category.

I share the view of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), but would the Minister also look at the converse of that point? It seems that, all too often, names are left on registers when people have moved from an area, even years ago. Will he look at the possibility of ensuring that electoral registration officers act together in dealing with that matter, which ought to be solved with the introduction of information technology?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. Given the modern databases and computer technology that are available to electoral registration officers, the sort of phenomena that he has described should not happen. Certainly, such considerations will be taken into account during the review that we shall undertake. Hopefully, the practices that are involved in electoral registration can be improved as a result of some of the suggestions that we shall examine.