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Electoral Register

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013

5. What assessment he has made of the most effective ways of ensuring the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register. (142517)

The Government are committed to doing all they can to maximise registration. We have published detailed research, which has informed our plans to use data-matching, targeted engagement with under-registered groups, and new technology to modernise the system as we go into individual electoral registration, to make it as convenient as possible for people to register to vote.

Wigan has had great success in increasing the number of people registered to vote. However, there are still many more people recorded in the census than in the comparable electoral register. Does the Minister therefore agree that drawing the parliamentary boundaries on the basis of census data is a much fairer way of achieving equal constituencies?

In short, the census data come out only once every 10 years, which is rather a drawback. There are a number of other differences as well, which suggests that the electoral register is a better source to use.

My hon. Friend and the House will be aware that only 23,000 out of 4.4 million British citizens living abroad are registered to vote. This is a huge disfranchisement of British citizens. Can my hon. Friend say any more about the committee that may be set up as a result of discussions in the other place on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there is a great mismatch between the number eligible to vote and the number who are registered to vote. We all have a duty to seek to get those numbers up, as we do in the context of any category of voter. I look to all the organisations involved in that effort, including the Electoral Commission, political parties and many more, to seek to encourage registration to vote both here and overseas. My hon. Friend will know well that noble Lords in the other place are taking a great interest in this, and I wish a cross-party inquiry all positive results.

Recently an independent watchdog body expressed concern about the accuracy and completeness of the register in Northern Ireland, 20% of which could be inaccurate. As this has serious implications for our democracy, has the Minister been in contact with the chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland to find out how that happened and what lessons can therefore be learned concerning the register here?

There are indeed many helpful lessons to be learned from the experience in Northern Ireland. The Electoral Commission notes that many of the key lessons from the experience of Northern Ireland have already been addressed by the principles included in what is now the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013.

The Government have said that the official date for the implementation of individual electoral registration is to be December 2016, yet they have also said that they want to bring forward IER by one year. Why are the Government facing both ways on the issue?

It is clear from comments that I have made at the Dispatch Box and that our noble Friends have made in another place that the Government’s implementation plan remains firmly committed to 2015 as the date for transition to an IER-only register. Amendments made during the Bill’s passage through Parliament provide a safeguard that extends the final point for transition to an IER-only register to December 2016. Those amendments, however, do not alter our aim to deliver that register in December 2015. They simply add a safeguard so that Parliament has a say, but I do not expect Parliament to have to make that call because I expect our transition plan to be robust.