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Individual Voter Registration

Volume 573: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2014

1. What measures are in place to prevent a fall in the number of people registered to vote after the introduction of individual voter registration. (901779)

4. What measures are in place to prevent a fall in the number of people registered to vote after the introduction of individual voter registration. (901782)

A happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to colleagues.

There are three ways in which the Government are ensuring that the electoral register under individual registration is complete and accurate: first, using data matching so that the majority of voters are automatically registered; secondly, phasing in the transition over two years so that people who are not individually registered can nevertheless vote in the 2015 general election; and, thirdly, providing additional resources above what is usually spent at a national and local level to fund activities to boost the completeness and accuracy of the register.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What are the Government doing to ensure that when members of the public come into contact with Government agencies such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or the UK Passport Service, that is used to promote electoral registration?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. One of the features of the transition that we are putting in place is to use Government databases automatically to register those whose details are held. In the test of this, well over three quarters were automatically registered; in fact, in his constituency the figure was 84%. We are continuing to make use of those sources.

Ministers will recognise the particular challenge of encouraging young people to engage in the electoral process, so what consideration has been given to having polling stations in sixth-form colleges, further education colleges and universities to encourage 18-year-olds to vote?

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Of course, it is in all our interests to ensure that as many young people register as possible, especially in student cities such as his. It is for local authorities to determine polling places, as he knows, but I will take away his suggestion and raise it with the relevant authorities.

Does the Minister agree that increasing voter registration and voter participation is absolutely vital, but that we must not do so in any way that increases the incidence of voter fraud?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The purpose of individual electoral registration is to make sure that those who vote are those who are entitled to vote, so the accuracy of the register is important as well. It is not just important, vital though it is, for voting, because identity fraud is often associated with a fraudulent entry on the electoral register. In fact, the Metropolitan police found that nearly half of fraudulent IDs corresponded with a fraudulent entry on the register. That is another good reason why this change is important.

Surely the way to stop a decline in individual registration is to make politics interesting. Is it not therefore essential that we continue with the leaders’ debates and that they should include the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the UK Independence party? Does the Minister agree that afterwards it will not be a case of “I agree with Nick” but “I agree with Nige”?

All I would say is that my hon. Friend is a personal example of someone who makes politics interesting, and there is a good case for his being included in those debates for that reason.

11. In a debate on a statutory instrument before Christmas, the Minister indicated that where local authorities needed extra resources to make proper efforts to maximise the number of people on the register, those resources would be available to them. How are they going to go about applying for them—what will the process be? (901789)

The process is already under way. There has been an allocation based on the assessed requirement of the local authority, but it has been made very clear that if it produces evidence of why its need is higher, that need will be met. In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, in Sheffield, £240,000 has been allocated on top of what is usually spent on electoral registration for this purpose. If there are any exceptional circumstances, they are being considered by my officials right now.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) made an extremely good point. Will my right hon. Friend use his considerable influence across all Government Departments to ensure that whenever a member of the public comes into contact with one of those Departments, or a local authority, they are asked, “Are you on the local electoral register”, and if they are not, they are helped to fill out a voter registration form then and there?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. A public awareness campaign promoting electoral registration will be held during the summer and beyond. My hon. Friend makes a valuable contribution in suggesting that every Department that has contact with the public can play its role.

At a statutory instrument Committee last month, the Minister said that the point of individual electoral registration

“is to drive up registration”.—[Official Report, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 16 December 2013; c. 12.]

Frankly, most people expect the opposite. How many people would have to fall off the register for the Government to consider using their power to delay implementation of full IER?

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question, given that this policy was originated by the Labour party. Everyone agrees that we should modernise our electoral system so that people vote individually. The hon. Gentleman did not oppose the passage of the legislation. We need to proceed with it. The Electoral Commission will monitor it and provide advice as we go.