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Individual Electoral Registration

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 19 November 2013

4. What steps he has taken to prevent a reduction in those registered to vote as a result of the introduction of individual electoral registration. (901057)

6. What steps he has taken to prevent a reduction in those registered to vote as a result of the introduction of individual electoral registration. (901059)

The Government are safeguarding the completeness of the electoral register by using data-matching to confirm the majority of existing electors to ensure that they are all automatically enrolled during the transition to individual electoral registration. We are also phasing in the transition over two years to allow those not individually registered to vote in the 2015 election. We are making registration simpler and more convenient by enabling online registration for the first time. In addition, resources have been provided to maximise voter registration ahead of individual electoral registration.

How many eligible voters would have to drop off the register for the Government, the Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to pause and review this policy?

The hon. Gentleman should know that the tests that have been done and the safeguards that are in place, including carrying over the existing register to the 2015 election, mean that there is every prospect that the number of people able to vote in that election will increase. That is what has led the chair of the Electoral Commission to say:

“We have independently assessed how ready the plans are for this change to the registration system and have concluded that it can proceed”.

Does the Minister support Labour’s policy of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, and, in that context, what preparations are being made to learn from the experience of the referendum in Scotland?

Obviously, an exception has been made for Scotland, but the Government have no plans to extend it to the rest of the United Kingdom.

We warmly welcome anything that increases the integrity of the electoral register, but is my right hon. Friend aware that although it takes only 10 or 15 seconds for someone to put their name on the register, it can take months, if not years, and considerable expense to remove someone who has inadvertently or illegally put their name on it? What is he going to do about it?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Part of the transition is to ensure the integrity of the electoral register and to make sure that electoral registration officers target the accuracy, as well as the completeness, of the register. I was struck by some figures from the Metropolitan police, who disclosed that of 29,000 forged identity documents they had seized, 45% had a corresponding forged entry on the electoral register. That underlines the importance of the changes we are making.

Students tend to move very regularly, and previously there have been good systems in, for example, the Cambridge colleges to register them all automatically. Under the proposed changes, they will be particularly at risk of falling off the register. What steps is the Minister taking to try to make sure that that problem is reduced?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He will know that I have allocated funding to electoral registration officers in proportion to the risk of under-registration, and places with a high student population are included in that category. He will find that his electoral registration officer has the funds that are required to target that group of people.

10. If the Electoral Commission determines in any report it may produce before the 2015 election that the current procedure is not fit for purpose, will the Government scrap it? (901064)

The Electoral Commission has given its view, and it says that there is no reason why it should not proceed. The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the difference between the procedure for the 2015 general election and the later transition to full individual electoral registration. In the 2015 election, the existing carried-over register and the individual register will both be available. That will provide a safeguard in relation to the concerns that he might otherwise have had.

As has already been said, young people and students are those most likely to fall off the register. May I press the Minister on what more the Government can do, particularly working with universities, sixth-form colleges, schools and further education colleges to maximise the number of young people who will register? I understand that the Electoral Commission has the power to recommend a delay if it feels that the situation is not ready in 2015. If it gives him that recommendation, will he heed its advice?

As I said, the Electoral Commission has made its assessment and, having independently assessed readiness, has concluded that it can proceed. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to talk about groups that have historically been under-represented and might be so in future. That is why I have announced £24 million of funding for electoral registration officers to make sure that, in addition to their usual work, they target the groups who may otherwise drop off the register and canvass them properly to make sure that they register.