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Electoral Register (Military Personnel)

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013

1. How the Electoral Commission proposes to increase the numbers of military personnel on the electoral register. (901188)

The Electoral Commission, working in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, runs a campaign each year to encourage service personnel and their families to register to vote. All military units worldwide run a unit registration day, and the commission encourages electoral registration officers to work closely with unit registration officers in their areas.

I thank my hon. Friend for that, but is he aware that of the 200 military at the Citadel, where 29 Commando are based, only 17 are currently on the register? May I therefore suggest that the adjutant on bases should be given the job of ensuring that everybody is registered?

My hon. Friend raises a serious and important issue that he should discuss directly with the commanding officer of the Royal Marines in his constituency, which of course borders mine. However, he will be pleased to know that in February 2014, the Electoral Commission will undertake a joint campaign with the MOD—this might help in the Citadel—in advance of the European elections to raise awareness of the importance of military personnel registering to vote.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not good enough? We know where our service personnel are, and we know that they have a duty to be registered. Their commanding officers should publish the figures, so that we know where they are when a vote takes place. In that way, the ballot papers can get to them and be returned in time; alternatively, a proxy can be appointed.

The Electoral Commission completely agrees with my hon. Friend, but these are questions that must also be put to the Ministry of Defence, because a more joined-up effort is required to ensure that the young men and women serving in our armed forces here and overseas have the opportunity to vote in British elections.

Given the high turnover in voter registration, could the upcoming awareness campaign be highly targeted at military families?

It is certainly the Electoral Commission’s intention to target military families, and I will take the hon. Gentleman’s representations back to the commission and ensure that that does indeed happen.

Does my hon. Friend agree that now is a particularly good time for such a campaign to be launched? We are bringing our troops back from Afghanistan and Germany, and we are establishing five super-garrisons around Britain, which will mean that troops will be based in one place for their entire lives. Now is the moment to get them on to the electoral register.

As usual, my hon. Friend makes a strong point. Perhaps we should really be looking for a change in the culture of the armed forces, so that it becomes the norm for our fine young servicemen and women to register to vote and to take part in our democratic processes.