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Electoral Register

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

My hon. Friend will know that last Thursday the Government published their White Paper and draft legislation on individual electoral registration, to improve both the accuracy of the electoral register and its completeness.

Does the Minister agree with me and the many people in Brighton Kemptown who believe that accuracy and completeness are very important if fraud and malpractice are to be avoided?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We made it very clear in our proposals that we are interested in reducing the vulnerability of our electoral register to fraud and in ensuring its accuracy. We are also interested in ensuring that it is as easy as possible for anyone who is eligible to vote to get on the register. To that end, we are taking part in some data-matching pilots to improve that situation.

Does the Minister accept that not only registration but counting the votes properly is important? Is he aware that in most constituencies there are a handful of spoilt papers, whereas in mayoral elections there are sometimes more than 1,000? On two occasions at least, the number of spoilt papers has been larger than the majority of the election winner. Will he take that up with the Electoral Commission?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, which will look at our individual elector registration proposals and carry out pre-legislative scrutiny. He has raised that question with me before, and I can confirm that I will ask officials to look into that matter. I will come back to him and the House in due course.

Specific to the electoral register, will the Minister provide precise details on the Government’s plans to extend the franchise to prisoners? Will proposed legislation on that come to the House, or will he defy Europe and uphold the will of the House?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question—this is a subject on which she is pursuing Ministers relentlessly both in the House and in written questions. The Prime Minister was asked a similar question at Prime Minister’s questions, and I can do no better than to say that the Government do not want to enfranchise prisoners, but there has been a clear decision by a court to which we have signed up. The Prime Minister said that the Government will ensure that any legislative proposals are as close as possible to the House’s decision earlier this year.

On 26 October last year, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister how he was going to ensure that everyone forced to move out of central London because of the changes to housing benefit would be enfranchised and end up on the register. He pooh-poohed that at the time, saying it was not going to happen. Now we know that the Department for Communities and Local Government believes that up to 40,000 people are going to have to move. How are Ministers going to ensure that those people are enfranchised?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department does not say that at all—it is not what is stated in the impact assessment that Ministers have signed up to. I do not believe either that that is what the article in the newspaper said. On enfranchisement, we are very clear: our proposals will make it easier for people who are entitled to be registered to be registered. He will know that we are carrying out data-matching pilots across the country, and we will take forward and roll out any lessons from that to make it easier for people who are eligible to be registered.