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National Voter Registration Day

Volume 573: debated on Thursday 9 January 2014

The Electoral Commission supports any initiative to encourage voter registration, particularly among under-registered groups, and it provides resources to help others to do this, in addition to its own public awareness campaigns. The commission has provided such resources to Bite the Ballot, which has organised national voter registration day, and it will also be informing electoral registration officers about the initiative so that those who are able to support it will do so.

What assessment has been made of the commission’s proposals to require people to provide photo identification in order to vote by 2019? Does the hon. Gentleman believe that there could be a reduction in the number of young people voting as well as registering to vote in the first place?

Those hard-to-reach groups are certainly a matter of concern to the Electoral Commission. There will be a significant public awareness campaign between now and this year’s elections, and it will be reviewed to determine how successful it has been. I think the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to learn that, in the transition to individual electoral registration, those who are already on the register will automatically be transferred to the register for the next general election.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of expatriate United Kingdom citizens who—like Harry Shindler, 93, who received an MBE in the new year’s honours list—are disfranchised because of the 15-year rule, there are also tens of thousands of expat citizens who could vote but who are not registered. What is the commission doing to ensure that they can be registered to vote?

My hon. Friend raises an important question; this is a matter of concern across the House. A recent meeting was held between the Electoral Commission and representatives of the political parties and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and attempts are being made to increase awareness among expats that they have the opportunity to register to vote in the next election. There will be a significant public awareness campaign in overseas literature and online to try to encourage more voter registration, and there will also be an expat voter day in February this year. The success of that event will be reviewed after the May elections.

Given that the franchise for the Scottish independence referendum will extend to 16 and 17-year-olds, will the Electoral Commission make a major effort on national voter registration day and at similar events to ensure that as many of that group as possible are registered to vote in the referendum later this year?

The Electoral Commission is keen to ensure that young people who are legally entitled to vote should register and take part in any elections. Let us not forget the vital role of the electoral registration officers in every local authority throughout the United Kingdom. They have a duty to promote voter registration in their locality, and each of us has the opportunity to go to our own local authorities and ask what they are doing in this regard, and to make an assessment of whether they are doing it well enough.

Will the Electoral Commission encourage the Cabinet Office to co-ordinate all Government Departments to ensure that every time a member of the public comes into contact with a Department, a check is made to ascertain whether they are on the electoral register and, if they are not, that they are helped to fill out an application form there and then?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting idea, which I will certainly take back to the Electoral Commission. This is perhaps more a matter for the Cabinet Office than for the commission, but my hon. Friend has raised it in this forum and it is worth investigating further.

I was a little disconcerted by one thing the hon. Gentleman said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), which was that electoral registration officers will be informed of what is happening on 5 February. EROs are operating in local authorities, which are pressed for cash, and if they do not already know about this important day, the opportunity to increase electoral registration, particularly in constituencies such as mine, where there are many hard-to-reach voters, will be lost. What is the hon. Gentleman doing about that?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. She may be interested to know that the Electoral Commission has only just been officially notified of the national voter registration day, which is why it is now in the process of informing EROs. Obviously, until the Electoral Commission knows about something, it cannot pass the news on to the people to whom it is responsible.