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Individual Electoral Registration

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012

The Government are fully committed to delivering individual electoral registration. In the coalition agreement we promised to speed up its implementation to improve the integrity of the electoral register, and that remains the Government’s policy.

Given how critical the Deputy Prime Minister said the Bill on individual registration was, why has it now disappeared?

It has not disappeared, but, as you know, Mr. Speaker, by convention we in this House do not comment on the workings of the other place.

Before I ask my question, may I just say that Labour did not do enough to increase electoral registration during our 13 years in power?

May I ask the Minister, in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, what we can do together—as Members of Parliament, as political parties and as democrats—to put the 6 million unregistered voters on to the register and to improve democracy?

I truly welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said. I think it is of concern to everyone in the House that, for example, 36% of people—according to a recent Electoral Commission survey—believe that electoral fraud is a problem. We are introducing safeguards to ensure that the maximum number of people can be individually registered. That includes the use of techniques such as data-matching, phasing in the transition over two years, a write-out to all electors in 2014, and a programme of work to maximise registration among previously under-represented groups.

One of the lowest rates of electoral registration is found where it should perhaps be the highest, namely among our armed services. What can individual voter registration do to help to increase the number of soldiers, sailors and airmen who are registered to vote?

My hon. Friend is right. Much needs to be done to make it easier for those people to register and to place their votes. As I have said, we are undertaking a comprehensive programme of reforms through individual electoral registration. We are also interested in looking into methods such as online registration, which might help the community whom my hon. Friend holds so dear.

The Government told us that the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, which would introduce individual electoral registration, was a priority and must be introduced as quickly as possible, but we have now been told that the Conservatives are delaying it in the other place. What is the reason for that delay? Has it anything to do with parliamentary boundaries? Yes or no?

Again, Mr. Speaker, you would no doubt remind me not to discuss the workings of the other place here. I have every confidence that the hon. Gentleman can read for himself the speeches of my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde, who made clear what that place must do with potentially inadmissible amendments. I also think it is clear that the programme designed by the last Government—a voluntary version of individual electoral registration—would have led to confusion and significant extra cost, and I therefore do not think it right for Opposition Members to lecture us about such matters.