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Individual Electoral Registration

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

I am announcing today the publication of draft legislation on individual electoral registration (IER) for pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft legislation is accompanied by a White Paper which sets out the proposals for how this will be implemented.

An electoral register that is secure and trusted, and as complete and accurate as possible, is a key component for our democracy. It is widely recognised that the current system of electoral registration, which has been in place since the early twentieth century, is outdated and requires change. It is also clear that, although proven electoral fraud is relatively rare, there is widespread concern about electoral fraud in this country.

In the coalition programme for government we said we would

“reduce electoral fraud by speeding up the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration”.

I announced on 15 September 2010 our intention to legislate to speed up the move to IER by introducing it into Great Britain fully during this Parliament, in 2014. Individual electoral registration will bring greater protection against electoral fraud and modernise our electoral system. IER will ask each person to register themselves, rather than by household, and provide information which will be cross checked by registration officers before a person is added to the electoral register.

Learning from the experience in Northern Ireland we have put in place arrangements to help people manage the transition to the new system. Any electors who do not respond to the initial invitation to register under IER in 2014 will be carried forward unless the registration officer has concerns the registration is ineligible. An individual registration would be required for new registrations and for any elector who wishes to use an absent vote.

The White Paper also considers how else the system of electoral registration could be modernised, making it easier and more convenient to register to vote. Reforming the system also provides the opportunity to take steps to tackle the problem of under-registration. The UK’s registration rate compares well internationally but evidence suggests that a significant number of people are missing from the register. This year data-matching pilots will allow registration officers to compare their electoral register with other public databases to identify people missing from the register or entries on the register that are inaccurate or fraudulent. If data matching proves effective, we will consider rolling it out more widely across the country.

It should be made absolutely clear that no new national databases will be created and that no additional information will be placed on the electoral register as a result of the changes to the system.

We are committed to ensuring there is sufficient funding for implementation, with £108 million allocated over the course of the spending review period. We have also sought to reduce costs where possible and have already cut £74 million of the costs of the previous Government’s plans by dropping the voluntary phase.

In developing the proposals in the draft legislation and the White Paper we have worked closely with and listened to the views of stakeholders. I thank those who have already provided valuable input into the development of the proposals, and welcome input during the pre-legislative scrutiny period from those and others who have not yet had the opportunity to engage with us.

Copies of the White Paper and draft legislation have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.