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Voter Registration

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the system of voter registration in Great Britain. (11075)

The Electoral Commission reports that the completeness of Great Britain’s electoral registers remains broadly similar to the levels achieved in comparative countries. The Government want to improve the accuracy of the register by speeding up the introduction of individual electoral registration in Great Britain. We are also considering giving electoral registration officers the capacity to compare the data on their electoral registers with other, readily available, public data to identify individuals who may not be registered.

Over the past 13 years, there was much talk by the last rotten Labour Government about sorting out the shambles of electoral registration. What plans do the new Government have to speed up the process of introducing individual registration?

I agree with my hon. Friend that far too little progress was made by the previous Government in dealing with this issue. We will accelerate the process of individual electoral registration, and we will make announcements about that shortly. Our whole approach to this is governed by two principles: first, to bear down on fraud in the system, of which individual electoral registration is a key component; and secondly, further to improve the completeness of the register itself. If Members in all parts of the House have particular ideas about how the annual canvass can be improved, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is responsible for constitutional reform, will be keen to hear their views. That is why we are having the pilot scheme this autumn to allow electoral registration officers to compare the register with other databases, go to the homes of people who are not on the electoral register and ensure that they get on to the electoral register.

Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister would turn his mind to the reality of what is about to happen with the boundary changes that we have been discussing. Is it not a fact that this is a straight gerrymander, and that if he meant what he said, he would delay the boundary changes until there was a full 100% compulsory register based on the reality of where people actually live so that we do not end up with the distortion of taking away seats in inner-city areas?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about straight facts; here are some straight facts. Last December, Islington North’s electorate was 66,472. Just 10 miles away, East Ham’s electorate was 87,809. It cannot be right to have constituencies in which the worth of people’s votes is so very different from place to place. Fairness is a simple principle that should operate in our democracy. He should also be aware that 218 of the existing constituencies are already within 5% either side of the 76,000 threshold that will operate when the boundary review is conducted. In other words, more than a third of Members here are already in line with the new rules. What on earth is wrong with fairer votes across the whole of the country?

Would it be possible to go to those who have great details, such as credit agencies and mobile phone operators, and within data protection law use their private information to help to ensure that the canvass is complete?

We certainly want to see what we can do in the pilot schemes that will start this autumn to compare the electoral register database with other readily available databases, public and private, obviously entirely in keeping with data protection rules. The sole objective will be to allow electoral registration officers to go to people’s homes and say, “We’ve seen by comparing these databases that you’re not on the electoral register. That’s why we would like you to come on to the electoral register.” Let us remember that Opposition Members, who are making a great deal of noise about this now, did nothing to improve the electoral register for 13 years.