The Electoral Commission informs me that its public awareness campaign for the June 2009 elections includes online, radio and press advertising targeted specifically at EU nationals, explaining who is eligible to register to vote and how to register.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his answer and for that information, but I hope he will pass on the message that, given that we are only four weeks today from the European Parliament elections, there is not as much publicity as there should be to ensure the maximum turnout that I am sure we all want. Will he pass on the request that serious efforts be made over the next week or so, so that EU citizens—whether foreigners in Britain or Britons abroad—can participate in ensuring that the next European Parliament will be the most representative ever?
Indeed, the Electoral Commission seeks to encourage registration. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are two phases: the first is registration for local elections, and the second requires a statement that the individual will not vote elsewhere in the European Union if he or she wishes to vote here. The hon. Gentleman may also be interested to know that the Electoral Commission does not actually have the number of the 961,681 overseas voters from the EU—excluding Cyprus, Malta and Ireland—who are registered for the European elections, but it intends to collect such numbers after the next election. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the last date for registration for these elections is 19 May.
The hon. Gentleman has reminded the House that EU citizens have to fill in a statement sent to them by the electoral registration officer if they wish to vote in this year’s European elections. My understanding is that there is a vast disparity in different parts of the country about when those statements were sent out. In some places, they were sent out before Christmas; in others, they were sent out only in the last couple of weeks. Given that vast disparity and in order to ensure fairness across the country, will the hon. Gentleman suggest to the Electoral Commission that it needs a very urgent advertising campaign to ensure that statement forms are returned before the qualifying date so that people are not disfranchised as a result of slow procedures by some local authority registration officers?
Electoral registration officers have no specific statutory duty to seek out such citizens for this purpose. However, the commission informs me that it has recently issued guidance to administrators, suggesting that they send a European Parliament registration and declaration form to those citizens registered for local elections.
What is the Electoral Commission’s assessment of the extent to which EU citizens in this country are wrongly registered as British voters?
Almost by definition, the Electoral Commission does not possess such numbers, but in view of my hon. Friend’s question, I will raise it with the Electoral Commission and write to him with the answer.