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Voter Registration

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2013

6. What steps the Government plan to take to improve registration levels when individual voter registration is introduced. (149760)

It seems that some would like to promote me, which is no doubt a question for a commission to look into.

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 to make it as convenient as possible for people to register to vote.

I am sure the Minister is aware that, in principle, I am a supporter of individual voter registration, but I am concerned about the current low levels of voter registration. Will she therefore give an assurance that the steps taken with regard to data matching will ensure that there is no fall in the level of registration? Hopefully there will be an increase, but what will she do if it does not work out that way?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to see the greatest possible levels of both accuracy and completeness in the electoral registers, and I look forward to working with him and others to do that. Solving the problem of under-registration is not the responsibility of the Government alone; it is the responsibility of all politicians and many people across the community to work together to drive up rates. As I hinted in my previous answer, we are taking a number of measures as part of the individual electoral registration programme including: data matching, phasing in the transition over two years, a carry-forward to allow some of those not individually registered to vote in the next general election, a write-out to all the electorate in 2014, a publicity campaign and doorstep canvassing as at present.

The areas where the electoral roll is most inaccurate in Chester are those with large student populations. Some students register in Chester where they are at university, some register at home, some register at both and some register at none at all. Has the Minister given any consideration to the registration of students under individual voter registration?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. As I mentioned in my previous answer, we all wish to see the greatest possible level of registration across all groups in society. We are running data matching scheme pilots aimed specifically at students and young people who are about to obtain the franchise. I look forward to his help on that in his university area, and that of other Members.

Working-class areas across the United Kingdom are quite often the areas where voter registration is lowest. Will the Minister ensure that they are targeted by both the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland to ensure maximum registration in those areas?

I can reassure the House that we are working with both the Electoral Commission, and, of course, electoral registration offices and administrators in all parts of the United Kingdom, to make the programme a success. In response to the hon. Gentleman’s particular concern about people in both his constituency and others, we expect EROs of particular local authorities to know their areas best and to work with us.

I share the concerns of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) about student registration, which is a big issue in my constituency. I heard what the hon. Lady said. Will she be working with universities, colleges and student unions to ensure a strong campaign to get every student registered?

We are already doing that. Work has been undertaken with the National Union of Students. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that campaign. I also note that one of the points of the programme is to encourage individual registration, and I hope that many students—highly educated as they are, after all—would recognise the benefits of doing so.

Will the Minister update us on the administrative need to provide one’s national insurance number on registration and say whether she has modelled the impact of this on take-up?

I certainly can confirm that the national insurance number will be used in registration. It is an important part of the process and one of the primary identifiers that we will be using. There will be others, as part of the exceptions process, which will perhaps be important to the people the hon. Lady may be concerned about. I would be happy to provide her with more detail as she requires.

It seems to me that every time someone comes into contact with their local council, makes a benefit application, buys a house or rents a property, someone should ask them, “Are you on the electoral register?” What can the Minister do to encourage Government agencies, local government agencies and private companies to ask that question?

My hon. Friend underlines the point I was making earlier, which is that there is a responsibility across society to encourage people to take part in politics by registering to vote. I am sure he will be working with a range of groups in his constituency to do that. I can also confirm that the programme is using extensive data matching to ensure that records can be shared where appropriate, certainly between public sector bodies, to do the best job we can.