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Voter Participation (Overseas Residents)

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2011

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.