Since May 2013, the Electoral Commission has met representatives from political parties and officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss how they can work together to reach eligible electors overseas to encourage them to register to vote. That has helped to inform the development of the commission’s extensive public awareness campaign for overseas voters in 2014 ahead of the European parliamentary elections. Finally, the commission has set a target for its overseas public awareness campaign for the 2014 parliamentary elections to be more than three times as effective as the campaign it ran in 2009.
With 1.6 million Brits living in the US and Spain alone, all entitled to vote in the European elections and the general election, what thoughts has my hon. Friend had about advertising in expat newspapers in those areas and others or perhaps using the embassies and high commissions to promote the fact that those people could and should vote?
Those are all issues that the Electoral Commission has considered and will continue to consider. In particular, it sends press releases and articles to English-speaking newspapers and radio stations in areas that are strongly populated by expats. The Electoral Commission also conducts a rigorous online campaign to try to persuade people of the benefits of voting in a British election.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are estimated to be 3 million Britons living abroad who could potentially vote yet at the 2010 election only 20,000 were registered to vote? Does he not think that that is a shocking statistic and will he encourage the Electoral Commission to set a target to increase that figure to 100,000 by the 2015 election?
I certainly agree that it is a shocking figure. Many people are working very hard to try to increase the numbers of British people who are registered to vote. There is a target to increase the number of overseas voters who download the registration form for the 2014 European election to three times the number there were in 2009. If we were to increase the 2010 figure threefold, that would take us to about 100,000 downloads in 2015, which would perhaps be much more beneficial.