The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Voter Participation (Overseas Residents)
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?
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.
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.