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UK Voters Overseas

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

2. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to improve registration of UK voters resident in Europe, North America, Israel, the far east and Australasia; and if he will make a statement. (904899)

The commission runs awareness campaigns to encourage expatriates to register in advance of all elections in which they may vote. These are predominantly online campaigns aimed at countries with the highest number of British expats. Thanks to the introduction of individual electoral registration, overseas electors can now register online and no longer require another British passport holder to countersign the registration form. That change, supported by the commission, should make it easier for overseas voters to register.

I am very grateful for that answer. Online registration is good news for Brits overseas. My hon. Friend will know that there are some 1.4 million Brits in Australasia and the United States, and 43,000 in Israel. How is he going to advertise the fact that online registration is available to them?

The Electoral Commission will continue to get the message across with targeted press releases to English-language papers and radio stations in the countries where there are large numbers of expats, but its predominant means of seeking to do so is through online campaigning and advertising on websites most likely to be read by expats. Of course, all of us who use social media—my hon. Friend is very skilled at using it—can get this simple message across: “You can now register online!”

The hon. Gentleman should always be careful not to put divisible propositions to the House. I will leave it there.

It is important to allow British citizens living abroad to register to vote, but it is also important that they are able to cast that vote and that it can be counted in good time. What discussions is the hon. Gentleman having with the Electoral Commission to improve the ability of people living abroad to have their vote counted?

That is a very good point. This is about not just registration but getting the paperwork to the expat so that they can fill it in as a postal vote and send it back in time. The period for so doing has been extended under recent legislation, and that should make a real difference at the next general election.