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Electoral Registration

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

We have received a number of representations on our proposals for individual electoral registration, including an excellent report from the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, to which we have responded.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that if we are to avoid the prospect of many people leaving the electoral register when IER is introduced, we need a significant and robust system of data swapping. If that cannot be achieved in time for the date when the Government plan to introduce IER, will the Minister delay that date or run the risk of millions of people falling off the electoral register?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has studied our response to the Select Committee’s report, so he will know that one of the things that arose from our data-matching pilots was that there is a good opportunity to use a pre-verification process to ensure that we, in effect, put a floor under electoral registers to reduce the risk of people falling off the register. We will test that further and no doubt debate it when the proposed legislation is going through the House. That can give us a great deal of confidence that we will not see the problems the hon. Gentleman mentions.

9. Does the Minister agree that all rights should be exercised with responsibility and that where people have the right to vote they should exercise their personal responsibility of registering to vote, and thus, through the Minister’s introduction of individual electoral registration, the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register will be improved? (100630)

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who is a prominent member of the Select Committee that looked at this in great detail. I absolutely agree with her. Registering to vote and voting is an act of personal responsibility, but we are also looking to make sure that we reduce the risk of people falling off the register and increase the tools at the disposal of registration officers to ensure that the register is complete.

Does the Minister share my concern that the Electoral Commission said that its main conclusion about the Government’s data-matching pilot schemes is that they

“do not provide sufficient evidence to judge the effectiveness of data matching as a method for improving the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers”?

If he shares my concern, what action will he take?

Part of the reason for having the pilots was to learn some information. One thing that we found was that the data-matching pilots were less successful at improving completeness and accuracy, but very good at pre-verification, as I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) will know that we plan to have further data-matching pilots, subject of course to parliamentary approval of the appropriate orders. That will build up further evidence, which will show Members that this system will be robust in improving the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register.