We will indeed be publishing an implementation timeline with our response to the Select Committee’s report. In it, we will consider implementing individual registration from the point of view of the elector, the administrators and the Government.
The truth is that this is one of the most anti-democratic Governments of modern Britain. They are having the longest parliamentary term in the world outside Rwanda, and their rushed plans for voter registration now threaten to disfranchise Britain. As well as committing himself to publishing an implementation plan, will the Deputy Prime Minister commit himself to a phased introduction of voter registration, an end to the opt-out clause, and a full household canvass in 2014?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman received the memo from his Front Benchers, who took a much more sensible position during the debate the other day. The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) said:
“I welcome the process that the Government have adopted and how they are acting on this matter. We have had a draft Bill and a White Paper with pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Deputy Prime Minister has said twice on the Floor of the House that the Government are willing to listen to concerns”.—[Official Report, 16 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 475.]
I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to check what his party’s position is.
I have been in touch with my hon. Friend and neighbour about the case of my constituent Mr Brian Hudson following his removal from the electoral register in Weymouth and Portland borough council simply because he had a second home. He had been on the list for three years. Does my hon. Friend think it right that anyone can be arbitrarily removed from an electoral register on the grounds that he does not have a “proper” second home?
The law makes clear that it is a question of where people reside, not necessarily a question of where they simply own property. It is up to the electoral registration officer to make a judgment about whether people actually reside in an area. If my hon. Friend’s constituent thinks that he has been hard done by, he should go back to the ERO with some evidence about his residence, and take the matter from there. There is an established independent appeals mechanism.
The Government have said that they accept that registering to vote is a civic duty. They have also indicated that they do not believe that the threat of a criminal conviction is appropriate when an individual fails to complete a registration form. In line with those positions, will they now commit themselves to a system of civil penalties in cases in which a person has been wilfully unco-operative with an electoral registration officer?
We are going to consider that, as the hon. Gentleman will know from the debates that we have had. We have made clear that we do not think criminalising millions of people is very sensible, and I am glad that he welcomes that view. We will think about civil penalties, which have been recommended by the administrators in the Electoral Commission, and will say more when we respond to the Select Committee shortly.