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Individual Electoral Registration

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 14 October 2014

3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the roll-out of online individual electoral registration; and if he will make a statement. (905400)

4. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the roll-out of online individual electoral registration; and if he will make a statement. (905401)

Voter registration is now easier and more convenient than ever before with the launch of online registration. Applying to register now takes as little as two to three minutes. It has been a big success so far. More than 90% of users who have provided feedback on the “Register to Vote” website have said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the service. To date, more than 2.5 million applications have been made under individual electoral registration, with the majority made online.

I welcome the growth in online registration, but is the Minister satisfied that the procedures for those with a learning disability are sufficiently robust to allow them to participate fully in the online process? Does he have any record of the numbers currently utilising that assistance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The Government are taking action to target all those missing from the electoral register, such as students, those in residential care homes or those with learning disabilities. We have learnt lessons from places such as Northern Ireland. We are currently funding not just electoral returning officers but a number of organisations, including Mencap, to ensure that people end up on the register.

One problem with the electoral register in my constituency is that in areas with lots of students and rented properties those on the register will often have moved, so one can imagine more and more people being registered at the same property. What steps are being taken to remove people from the register when they no longer live at a property?

First, let me clarify that no one who registered to vote at the last household canvass will be removed from the electoral register before the general election. Secondly, those who did but were not automatically confirmed—a small minority of those registered to vote—have at least until the end of 2015 to register. It is the job of the electoral returning officer to contact people and ensure that the register is as complete and accurate as possible.

I have concerns about people missing from the register, but I am also concerned about extra people on it. What obligations will there be on EROs to ensure that those on the register are real people? Concomitantly, does that mean that people will have to prove their identity when they vote?

I thank the hon. Lady for a very good question. The purpose of IER is to match people on the register through the Department for Work and Pensions matching service and local matching. Currently, 80% of people on the register have been matched, but the job of EROs is to ensure it is as complete and accurate as possible, and that involves writing to people and, where there is not a match, getting further proof of identity.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment.

In the other place, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Roberts has moved an amendment to the Wales Bill placing a duty on EROs to organise voter engagement sessions in schools and colleges. The amendment is supported by all four main political parties in Wales. We will support it: will the Government?

The Government are conscious that as part of the move to IER we must make efforts to maximise the register. To do that, we have allocated £4.2 million to 363 local authorities and partnered with five national organisations. We will obviously take a look at what is happening in Wales, but we are already taking steps to maximise the register.

10. Having stood in his shoes, I support my hon. Friend’s work on registration. Does he agree that the time has come to consider updating our voting methods to include online and mobile options, in line with the way in which an entire generation lives its life in other spheres? (905408)

That is a good point. It is worth noting that the move to online registration, which the Government introduced, represents the biggest modernisation of our electoral registration system in more than 100 years. However, registering to vote is very different from actually casting a vote online. Currently, if there is an error, we can check it, but if someone voted online and there was an error there would be no mechanism for checking it. So that is a step we will not be taking at this moment.

When IER was introduced in Northern Ireland, the number of people registered to vote plummeted. If a similar proportion of the register disappeared in London, nearly 1 million people would lose the ability to vote. How on earth does that increase democratic engagement and participation?

IER was first introduced by the Labour party; the coalition Government have taken it forward. It is an incredibly good modernisation process, ensuring for the first time that the head of household does not determine who gets on the electoral register, which I am sure Opposition Members welcome. As I said in a previous answer, we already have an 80% match under IER, and the Government are taking steps to maximise the register further. No one who was on the canvass before the introduction of IER will not be on the electoral roll come the general election in 2015.