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Electoral Register: Local Government

Volume 488: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what assessment he has made of trends in the annual expenditure of local authority electoral registration officers over the last 10 years; (257464)

(2) if he will assess the merits of ring-fencing funds allocated to local government for registration of voters.

As my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) explained in answer to a similar question from the hon. Gentleman on 24 June 2008, Official Report, column 241W there are no current plans to ring-fence funding for electoral registration activities. Funding is included in the local authority formula grant issued by central Government. Once these funds are allocated, decisions on how it is utilised are a matter for the local authorities concerned. There is also a parallel protocol which states that unless there is an exceptional reason to do so, money provided to local authorities for discharging their statutory responsibilities should not be ‘ring-fenced’.

There has been no assessment of the trends in the annual expenditure of local authority electoral registration officers over the past 10 years. However, as part of its work in developing Performance Standards for electoral services, the Electoral Commission launched its financial information survey across Great Britain on 10 September 2007. Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers were asked to complete the survey and return it by 31 July 2008. The Commission is currently analysing this information in conjunction with CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants) and will publish results in due course.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what assessment he has made of the adequacy of funding of local authority registration officers in relation to their objectives to increase voter registration; what assessment he has made of the relationship between additional funding and increased voter registration; and if he will make a statement; (257709)

(2) how much of the funding allocated to local authorities for registration for elections taking place in 2008-09 has been spent on voter registration.

As my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) explained in answer to this question from the hon. Gentleman on 24 June 2008, Official Report, column 242W, as part of the development of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which included a new duty to undertake work to ensure all eligible people were registered to vote, a need for additional resources was identified. Monies were made available to support this work as part of the funding provided for the implementation of the Act.

Section 67 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 allows the Electoral Commission to set and monitor performance standards for electoral services. As part of its work in developing performance standards for electoral services, the Commission launched its financial information survey across Great Britain on 10 September 2007. Electoral registration officers and returning officers were asked to complete the survey and return it by 31 July 2008. The Commission is currently analysing this information in conjunction with CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants) and will publish results in due course. It will be for the Commission to decide whether it wishes to collect and publish financial information in relation 2008-09.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what assessment his Department has made of the reasons for any variation in levels of electoral registration between different local authorities; (257726)

(2) if he will commission research on the effects on electoral registration rates of levels of functional illiteracy in the population;

(3) what estimate he has made of the number of those eligible to vote but not registered to do so in each parliamentary constituency.

As my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) explained in answer to similar questions from the hon. Member on 18 June 2008, Official Report, columns 1000-01W, the Government have not made an assessment of the reasons for variations in the levels of electoral registration between different local authorities. There are no plans at present to commission research on the effects of functional illiteracy in the population on electoral registration rates. The Government have not made any estimate of the number of people eligible but not registered to vote in each parliamentary constituency. Whatever the reasons for shortfalls, the Government are determined to take all practicable measures to increase levels of registration. Since 2006. the numbers of those registered to vote have increased by 679,439 for parliamentary elections and 976,394 for local government elections.

The Electoral Administration Act includes a provision for the Electoral Commission to introduce new performance standards for Electoral Registration Officers. The Electoral Commission published its Performance Standards for Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain in July 2008. A copy of these standards has been laid before the House and the information obtained from local authorities as a consequence will enable us to get a better understanding of the actions taken to increase registration. The Commission intends to produce a report on performance against the standards during spring 2009.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what (a) duties and (b) powers local electoral registration officers have to promote electoral registration. (257988)

The Government have taken a number of steps to help Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) promote and increase electoral registration rates. Section 9 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 (EA Act) placed a new duty on EROs to take all necessary steps to maintain the electoral register, including sending the annual canvass form more than once, making house-to house-inquiries and inspecting records that an ERO is permitted to inspect. These records are those held by the local authority and include council tax, land and property, housing benefit and educational where available. It is for each ERO to decide on the best steps to use in conjunction with their local knowledge to ensure that requirements for making contact with persons and maintaining the register are complied with.

Section 69 of the EA Act imposes a duty on EROs to promote local participation within their areas. Assisting EROs in meeting this obligation falls within the Electoral Commission's remit, as does issuing guidance to electoral registration officers more generally.

The Act also included a provision for the Electoral Commission to introduce a new performance standards framework for electoral services. The Commission published a final set of performance standards for Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain in July 2008, details of which have been laid before the House. The Commission will publish the results of EROs' self-assessments against these standards in spring 2009.