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Electoral Fraud

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 5 February 2009

3. What guidance the Electoral Commission has issued to electoral registration officers on steps they should take in constituencies where fraudulent entries on the electoral register have been revealed by prosecutions. (254300)

The Electoral Commission informs me that where malpractice has been exposed, it discusses lessons learned in detail with the electoral registration officers. More generally, the commission issues guidance to all electoral registration officers on suggested approaches to adopt in compiling and maintaining complete and accurate registers. This guidance reflects lessons learned from instances where there has been evidence of malpractice.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. There is a particular problem in my constituency, where a criminal case has arisen that is being dealt with in Reading court, and there has been an electoral case demonstrating that people are listed on the register who do not exist, but who have postal votes. I am profoundly concerned that when postal votes are issued, they last five years before they can be removed by the electoral registration officer, and if the person on the register does not exist, there is no way of confirming it. Will the hon. Gentleman discuss with the Electoral Commission whether there is something it can do in these circumstances to ensure that we avoid the fraudulent voting that has occurred in Slough?

The commission shares the court’s very serious concerns about the system of voter registration in Great Britain. Since 2003, the commission has called for a reform of the system to provide security where it is needed, which is at the point of registration, and it argues that a system of individual electoral registration with personal identifiers is needed to provide a secure foundation for both registration and postal voting.

What research has the Electoral Commission undertaken on the extent of fraudulent entries on the electoral register? I am thinking about not just the deliberate fraud that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned, but the overall accuracy of the electoral register throughout the UK. That seems to me to be a rather fundamental point as we approach a possible general election.

Malpractice has been the subject of a study and statistics are available. The amount of malpractice is in fact comparatively small, but it takes only a small amount of malpractice to create a great deal of suspicion and concern about the system generally. The United Kingdom is one of only two countries in the world to have a system of household registration, which, as the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) pointed out, provides an opportunity for the head of the household or anyone who interferes with the post to carry out such fraud. The other country that has a system of household registration is Zimbabwe.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I agree with the Electoral Commission about the need for personal identification, but I think that the point made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) about the integrity of the electoral register is extremely important. The issue is not just fraud, but one of attrition, as to whether the electoral registers are kept up to date when people die or move away, for example. What research has been done on that aspect, and what guidance can be given to electoral registration officers to ensure that they keep a fully up-to-date and accurate register, which is essential?

Recent legislation has given the Electoral Commission power to issue more guidance to electoral registration officers, and the commission is taking that power. The commission feels strongly that the best way ahead is through individual registration, and its call has been backed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and, most recently, the Slough electoral petition, in which Richard Mawrey, QC, called for immediate reform of the voter registration process to remove opportunities for electoral malpractice.