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Electoral Register

Volume 575: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2014

5. What steps the Government plan to take to improve the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register. (902507)

Individual electoral registration will help to enhance the accuracy of the register and, from June, applications will be verified against Government records. We will also use data matching to ensure the completeness of the register during the transition to the new system, by confirming the vast majority of electors. Moreover, five national organisations and every local authority in Great Britain will be sharing £4.2 million of funding aimed at maximising registration. The introduction of online registration will improve accessibility for groups such as overseas voters and home movers.

The Minister knows that there is widespread concern about the fall in the number of people on the electoral register as a result of individual electoral registration. Just how many people would have to disappear from the list before the Government pulled the plug on the project?

Everyone who has scrutinised this matter knows that every effort is being made to ensure a smooth transition. For example, the existing register will follow into the period of the next general election campaign. Through the funding that we have made available for the year ahead to every local authority in the country, including £26,000 for Greenwich, to promote people staying on the register, there is every opportunity to increase the level of registration. That is one of the features of the new exercise.

11. Does the Minister agree that we could improve the completeness of the register by replicating the Northern Ireland initiative of working with local authorities in schools to register young people in schools? (902514)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is one of the purposes of the funding that we have made available. I participated in a very good exercise organised by a group of young people called Bite the Ballot to encourage registration in my constituency. It was a great success. I can tell my hon. Friend that £48,000 has been provided to the electoral registration officer in Bradford precisely for that kind of activity.

Almost half of all 16 and 17-year-olds are missing from the electoral register. If they are not on the register, they cannot vote when they turn 18. What additional support is the Minister making available to help local authorities to get young people on to the register?

As I have just said, £4.2 million has been made available across the country, the majority of which has gone to the electoral registration officers in local authorities, who know their area best. They have been invited to concentrate on the areas of under-registration, which have historically included schools. There are good examples of lessons and materials that can be used in schools that have a demonstrated record of achievement in enthusing young people and getting them to register, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to do the same in Derbyshire.

The Minister is clearly doing a good job of ensuring that the register is accurate, but may I urge him to check that the people who turn up to vote are actually the people on the register?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about accuracy. The duties of electoral registration officers involve ensuring accuracy as well as completeness. The transition to individual electoral registration is precisely to ensure that the identity of people on the register can be confirmed, which does not happen at the moment. That will be a major step forward for the security of our electoral system.

In Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned, we have individual registration but big problems with registration remain, particularly among young people and in socially deprived areas. Does the Minister not agree that, as well as resources, we need a much more proactive, outgoing approach on the part of registration officers? I find that unless they are pushed they often sit back and do not take a proactive approach.

The lessons that were to be learned from the experience in Northern Ireland have been learned. For example, the canvass that was not followed in Northern Ireland will be followed here in this country. The right hon. Gentleman rightly says that there is a positive duty on electoral registration officers to ensure that the register is complete. I take that very seriously, and I know that they do.

A unique opportunity will arise to improve the scope, depth and accuracy of the electoral register in the next couple of years as our servicemen and women return from Afghanistan and Germany. What new initiative will the Government take to ensure that when these personnel are settled in their seven super-garrisons across Britain they will be almost 100% registered to vote?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is crucial that our armed forces serving the country overseas are part of the franchise. He will know that arrangements have been put in place to make sure that the need for registration—the renewal of registration —should happen only once every five years, rather than annually, to reflect the difficulties that are sometimes experienced in registering during active service.

I welcome the Minister’s praise for the excellent organisation Bite the Ballot, whose national voter registration day last week signed up thousands of young people. Another way in which we could engage more young people would be to allow 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to have the vote. Will he join me in welcoming tomorrow’s lobby of Parliament by the Votes at 16 campaign?

I do welcome the lobby of Parliament; I met one of the young people in my constituency and he made a very articulate case for that measure. The debate is taking off. There is not agreement across the Government —across this House—that this change should take place, but I think it is very good that the debate is happening and that young people are engaged in it.