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Voter Registration

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

3. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to include on electoral registers eligible unregistered voters resident (a) in the UK and (b) overseas. (11094)

Individual electoral registration officers are responsible for the management of electoral registration. However, the commission undertakes public awareness activities to encourage voter registration. As a result of its campaign before the general election, more than half a million standard and 40,000 overseas voter registration forms were downloaded from its website.

What is the commission’s estimate of the number of unregistered voters in the United Kingdom and overseas? Would it not be a good idea if every time an unregistered voter came into contact with a Government Department, the Department asked the voter, “Are you on the electoral roll?”

I think it is fairly well known that there are estimated to be about 3.5 million unregistered voters in England and Wales. As several million British people live overseas and only about 15,000 are on our voting register, there is clearly a huge job to be done in relation to overseas voters. I will pass my hon. Friend’s interesting suggestion to the powers that be.

One of the main reasons why people, especially young men, stay off the electoral register is the fact that their partners can often receive the single person’s council tax discount. Does the hon. Gentleman think it would be a good idea to look at that relationship to establish whether the benefits and, indeed, the tax system could be used to encourage electoral registration?

I am not sure that that is a matter for the Electoral Commission, but the hon. Gentleman will have heard the Deputy Prime Minister say earlier today that the Government were considering using existing databases to inform electoral registration better, and I think that that is probably one of the answers.

In recent years, thousands of Polish nationals in Hammersmith and Fulham have voted in Polish national elections at polling stations set up for the purpose in locations such as the Polish cultural centre in Hammersmith. Has the Electoral Commission had any discussions with the Government to establish whether we might be able to do the same for United Kingdom nationals based abroad, enabling them to vote in United Kingdom embassies and consulates?

My hon. Friend has made a good point. I believe that such discussions have taken place over the last two or three years. However, decisions of that kind are ultimately a matter for Government, and it will be for Government to make any changes to the existing law.

Has the Electoral Commission conducted any research into the impact of our process of applying for citizenship on a reluctance to register, and if it has not, may I urge the hon. Gentleman to encourage it to do so? I am thinking in particular of the level of fees that are charged; does that put people off becoming citizens and therefore going on to acquire the right to vote?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. I am not aware of any such research, but I will certainly pass that suggestion on to the Electoral Commission.

Will the hon. Gentleman invite the Electoral Commission to come up with radical proposals for improving the level of registration of people entitled to vote in the UK and to consult with the public urgently on ideas for achieving that, because there are many ideas out there that need to be collected and shared with Government so we can have a much better registration system?

I am very happy to pass those suggestions on to the Electoral Commission. It is worth making the point that Governments of all colours have attempted over the years—indeed, over the decades—to improve voter registration and the Electoral Commission runs well-resourced public awareness campaigns, but there is still a group of hard-to-reach people in this country. I will certainly pass his suggestions on to the Electoral Commission, however.