Skip to main content

Electoral Commission Committee

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2011

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter Participation (Overseas Residents)

9. What recent discussions the Electoral Commission has had with Ministers on increasing the level of (a) registration and (b) turnout of electors resident outside the UK. (42469)

The Electoral Commission meets Ministers regularly to discuss the delivery of elections and referendums, including how to ensure that all electors, whether overseas or in the UK, can cast their votes easily and securely.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the shockingly low participation by overseas electors in UK elections. Of the potential 5.5 million British subjects living abroad, only about 15,000 are registered. What work has the Electoral Commission done on the implications of fixed-term Parliaments for sending out postal ballot papers significantly earlier in the electoral cycle, thereby improving the participation rate of overseas electors?

My hon. Friend is a consistent advocate of overseas voters. The Electoral Commission has done work on the issue and submitted representations to the Deputy Prime Minister as part of a comprehensive modernisation strategy for our electoral system. We wait to see what the Government will do with that report.

As I am out knocking on doors just now in East Lothian, encouraging people who are not on the register to register, or those who are on the register to register for a postal vote, I am not always confident that the forms will be returned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a freepost return facility on all the forms would increase participation and registration?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her recommendation, which I shall certainly pass on to the Electoral Commission. I thought that that already happened. Obviously it does not, so I shall make representations, and we will write to her with our response.

Voter Registration

10. What discussions the Electoral Commission has had with electoral registration officers on their performance in respect of voter registration. (42470)

Since 2008, the Electoral Commission has monitored the performance of electoral registration officers in Great Britain against a set of standards, and it publishes an annual assessment of those standards which covers the key planning and management processes put in place by EROs. The Electoral Commission advises and works closely with EROs who do not meet these standards in order to improve their performance.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and welcome the steps that he has outlined. Should those steps not bear fruit, has the Electoral Commission considered any other, more directly interventionist actions that it could possibly take?

Once again, my hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Electoral Commission does work with EROs who underperform, but they remain at all times employees of the local authority, and the commission has no statutory power to intervene. It is of course a matter for this House whether we wish to consider further powers to enable the Electoral Commission to do an even better job.