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Electoral Register

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2012

1. If he will estimate the change in the number of voters on the electoral register between 1 December 2014 and 1 December 2015. (115845)

Before I answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering our deepest sympathies to the family of PC Ian Dibell and his colleagues in Essex police. Our police officers keep us safe day in and day out, and they act when they see public safety at risk, whether on duty or not. PC Ian Dibell was a dedicated professional who sadly has paid the ultimate price.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the maximum number of eligible people are registered to vote. Our impact assessment report on individual electoral registration predicted that the current completeness of the electoral register is expected to be maintained during the transition to IER. As part of IER, we are actively exploring ways in which we can make it as easy and secure as possible for citizens to register to vote—for example, by enabling online registration. The Government are also working to raise registration rates among under-registered groups prior to the transition to IER.

May I associate myself, and doubtless all right hon. and hon. Members, with the Deputy Prime Minister’s opening remarks?

Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in welcoming the increase in voter registration of 40,000 in the past four years that has been secured by Labour-run Glasgow city council? Is not this rise of more than 10% in danger of being wiped out by his proposals for individual voter registration, which when tried out in Northern Ireland took more than one in five voters off the electoral roll?

The hon. Gentleman might be unaware of the record on overall levels of registration during the years in which his party was in office. In 2000, 91% to 92% of all people were registered; in other words, 3.9 million people were missing from the register. By December 2010, the completeness of the register had gone down to 85% to 87%. Labour therefore presided over 2 million people being lost from the register —not a record that I suggest he should be proud of.

Many people go missing from the register when they move home. What is being done with estate agents and letting agencies to make sure that people are registered when they change their address?

We have been working with those involved to make sure that the system is as complete as possible. That is in addition to many other measures that we have developed, most notably the data-matching work that we have done such that many people do not need to register if they already exist on a database. All the evidence is that that will provide automatic registration for a very large number of people.

Many people believe that the number of electors on the new electoral register will be significantly depleted by December 2015. Given that this is when the new boundary review is to begin, would it not be sensible to use the old register for the boundary review?

As we have seen from the latest statistics, the old register appears to be much more flawed than the hon. Gentleman’s question implies. We are trying to learn from that experience and from other experiences such as individual voter registration in Northern Ireland. We are not only carrying out the data-matching initiative that I mentioned, but moving the 2013 household canvass to early 2014 to make sure that it is as up to date as possible ahead of the next general election; phasing the transition over two years to carry forward existing electors who are not registered under the new system in the first year so that they are eligible to vote at the next general election; and writing to all voters with reminders and doorstep canvassing in 2014.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that individual voter registration will get us not just a fairer but a much more accurate voting system?

Absolutely. Let us remember that the point of this measure, and the reason why both parties on the Government Benches agreed to put it in the coalition agreement and to accelerate the process started under the previous Government is to bear down on fraud on the electoral register. I hope that all Members from all parts of the House think that we need to stamp on that.