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Electoral Register (Britons Abroad)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

4. What estimate the Electoral Commission has made of the number of Britons living abroad who are on the electoral register. (312129)

The Electoral Commission informs me that although it has not made such an estimate itself, the Office for National Statistics collects and publishes annual electoral registration data. The most recent figures are for the electoral registers of 1 December 2008, and they show that there were 13,695 entries for overseas voters on UK electoral registers. The ONS is due to publish figures for the 1 December 2009 electoral registers next month.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us those figures, which appear at first sight to reflect a decline of some 2,000 since the previous year. Does he agree that this is a disgraceful performance, and what can he recommend that the Electoral Commission can do to give recommendations to any incoming Government to improve the ability of overseas expatriate citizens to participate in our national election?

It is a matter for the Government and for this House whether the law on how people can register and vote from overseas is changed. The Electoral Commission is committed to increasing the number of eligible people who are registered to vote, and has recently conducted a campaign that resulted in nearly 7,400 overseas voter registration forms being downloaded from the commission’s website. The commission plans to run further activity in advance of the general election targeting British citizens living abroad.

We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those answers. First, will he encourage the Electoral Commission to continue to work and to do more, because there are huge numbers of people in all categories, including overseas voters, who are clearly eligible to vote but are not yet on the list? Will he suggest that colleagues from all parties might like an urgent meeting with the commission to discuss maximising activity, and therefore the number of people who are on the register, and therefore eligible to vote in the elections that we know will happen this spring?

I am sure that the Electoral Commission is amenable to such a meeting. It plans to spend a further £189,500 targeting overseas voters in this financial year, and is committed to ensuring that the number of overseas voters who take part in our elections increases.

Order. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is a case of third time unlucky. He cannot expect me to help him out again. I call Mr. Hugh Bayley—[Interruption.] I have to say to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) that the length of time for which he lived abroad is neither here nor there when it comes to the selection of who asks questions—[Interruption.] With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman will hear this. He had two opportunities and I am not obliged to offer him a third.