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Electoral Register

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2010

The Government have not made such an assessment, but the Electoral Commission found in its March 2010 report “The completeness and accuracy of electoral registers in Great Britain” that

“it is likely that the accuracy of the registers remains broadly similar to past decades”.

It is clear, however, that more can be done to support accuracy. To that end, I have announced that the Government will speed up the implementation of individual voter registration from 2014, which will ensure that only those entitled to vote get on the register, bringing greater protection against electoral fraud.

I thank the Minister for that answer. We hear a great deal from Labour Members about the missing 3.5 million people. Can he explain what was done over the past 13 years to help them? What are our Government going to do to ensure that people entitled to vote can do so?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that, and I congratulate him on being elected to the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, where he can pursue his interest in these matters. He will know that when in government the Labour party did, to be fair, try a number of things, but the things it tried were not successful. We are going to introduce individual electoral registration and we are going to trial data-matching next year, so that we can see whether there are more effective ways of allowing electoral administrators to get people on the register when they are entitled to be on it.

Does the Minister agree that some individuals deliberately keep themselves off the register because they are partaking in or are aiding and abetting benefit fraud? How does he think we should address that important issue?

One of the things that we will do on individual registration is ensure that people will have to register with a signature and their date of birth and national insurance number details. Those will be checked against Department for Work and Pensions records to ensure that the voting record database is accurate. One of the things that we will be doing when we trial data-matching next year is looking to see what other benefits can be obtained from those public sector databases.

What plans does the Minister have to require voters to produce proof of their identity at polling stations?

The Government do not have any current plans to do that, but we keep this area under review. In January, the Electoral Commission and the Association of Chief Police Officers will bring out their report on this year’s general election. We will look at their conclusions to see whether there is evidence of fraud taking place and whether we need to take any further steps to deal with it.

Okay then. There was a failure to answer the question put by the deputy Leader of the Opposition. No doubt the—

Is the Minister aware of the great efforts made this year by Glasgow city council to increase voter registration? For example, it has worked with minority groups and carried out targeted canvassing. All that work is going to show a big increase in the level of electoral registration tomorrow. Why are his Government not joining good local authorities such as that in Glasgow to get the 3.5 million people not on the electoral register on to the voters roll as soon as possible? Why are they instead rushing to have a boundary review that benefits the coalition?

I congratulate Glasgow city council, if what the hon. Gentleman says is accurate, because the work it has been doing is excellent. He will know that I wrote to the chief executive of every council in the country suggesting that they work with the Government on our data-matching pilots, to which I referred in a previous answer. We want to examine what steps can be taken to enable local government to look at those public sector databases in order to get more people who are eligible to vote on to the electoral register, as Glasgow city council has done.

I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Lady, but that question really was not worthy of her. The completeness of the electoral register is as important as making sure it is accurate. It is perfectly reasonable to move towards fairer and more equal-sized constituencies, as this House has made a very clear decision to do, and their lordships will start debating the matter this very afternoon.

According to research, the level of registration will fall on the introduction of individual registration, and we need only look at the situation that occurred in Northern Ireland to back that up. This was recognised in the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009. Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the advice given by the Electoral Commission? If it decides that things are being done too quickly to improve the register, will he listen to it?

I am pleased to say that I can do better than that. We have already considered the experience in Northern Ireland and the hon. Gentleman will know from my statement to the House that that is exactly why we will not remove anyone from the electoral register before the 2015 general election just because they have failed to register individually. We will leave them on the register to give them an extra chance and to avoid the situation that occurred in Northern Ireland, where there was a sudden drop in the number of voters on the register. I hope that that is helpful.