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Electoral Register

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2015

2. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of his policies on the completeness of the electoral register. (907513)

I am pleased to report that the implementation of individual electoral registration is proceeding smoothly. [Laughter.] We have safeguarded the register by automatically transferring nine out of 10 existing electors on to the new system, and by ensuring that no one registered to vote at the last canvass will lose their vote in May. More than 5 million people have registered to vote since May; there have been more than 1 million applications since December; 35,000 people per day are registering on the Government’s new online system; and 166,000 people registered to vote on national voter registration day. In addition, the Government have invested £14 million in the completeness and accuracy of the register, working with local authorities and national bodies.

I missed the beginning of the Minister’s answer because of the hilarity it caused in the House. I understand that 1 million people have been lost from the register in the past 12 months. I asked him about the completeness of the register and the impact of his policies on that. Despite his very long previous answer, can he add anything that is pertinent to the question I asked?

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman revels in his 2011 nomination for the Total Politics Labour point-scorer of the year. In fact, he has plastered the information all over his website. To answer his question specifically, since December, 1.3 million have been added to the register. Each day and each month, more people are being added to the register, so it is about time the Labour party stopped creating fear and uncertainty where there is none.

15. What measures is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that people who live overseas and wish to register to vote are able to do so? Equally, has he taken account of the fact that people who have lived overseas for longer than 15 years should also have the opportunity to vote in this country? (907526)

My hon. Friend asks a very good question. With the introduction of online voting, people who live overseas can register to vote more easily. We have made it easier for them as they do not now need another British citizen to attest to their citizenship before they register to vote. There is no consensus within the Government to change the 15-year rule at the moment, but, as he well knows, the Conservative party’s manifesto pledge is that, when elected after 7 May, we will get rid of it.

14. In 2010, the Deputy Prime Minister talked about the need for the biggest shake up of democracy since the Great Reform Act 1832. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, is not the reality that, instead of extending the franchise, millions of voters are being lost from the electoral register, including 4,000 from my own constituency. Will the Minister agree to delay IER implementation? If not, why not? (907525)

The hon. Lady talks about the register. Let me make it clear: Electoral Commission data show that 3 million people were missing from the register in 2000. By 2011, 7.5 million people were missing from the register. The deterioration of the register happened when the Labour party was in government. IER is part of the solution to get the register right. Under the old system, people moved house but the register did not. With online registration, we are making it simpler and easier for people to get on the register. That is how we will ensure that more people get on the register.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the initiative, by Facebook and the Electoral Commission, to contact 35 million users of Facebook and encourage them to register online? Does he agree that this sort of innovative approach will lead to better use of online registration?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The way forward for the completeness and accuracy of the register is not to go back to the old system of block registration—I know the Labour party likes its block votes—but to use initiatives, such as using Facebook, to market to the vast majority of the British public who should be on the register but are not.

I join the Minister in welcoming the huge success of national voter registration day. Will he join me in praising the brilliant work of Bite the Ballot, which organised national voter registration day last week? If we are to maximise the number of young people on the register, will he think again about extending the Northern Ireland schools initiative so that it applies in the rest of the United Kingdom?

The Northern Ireland schools initiative was introduced after the introduction of IER, when Northern Ireland did not have the annual canvass, and voter registration rates plummeted to about 11%. In contrast, in the rest of the UK we moved to IER, but nine out of 10 electors are on the register. Specifically on schools, we are funding national organisations with experience of working with schools and getting attainers on to the register. I know the Labour party would like us to introduce some kind of duty on schools, but that would increase the burden on schools. We can do this through national organisations and electoral registration officers, who know their local area. In some local areas, the issue will be to do with the elderly population; in others, it will be to do with young people. There is no need for a legislative sledgehammer. We should leave it to EROs, who have a duty to maximise their local registers.

The Minister says it would be a burden on schools, but I spoke to the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents school head teachers. It says that to have such a scheme would be “easily organised” and deliver real benefits. The Northern Ireland electoral registration officer says that the schools initiative has been

“very successful in improving the rate of registration amongst young people”.

The Minister talks about nine in 10 being carried across. That is right, but the one in 10 are disproportionately students and young people. Why is he so afraid of getting more young people registered to vote in this country?

If it is so easily organised, as the organisations the hon. Gentleman spoke to have said, then we do not need legislation. As I said, every local area would have differing circumstances as far as the register is concerned. What we do not want is EROs spending their time having to go to schools because of legislation, when to maximise the register in their areas they should be going to care homes and talking to elderly people.

The shadow Justice Secretary asks me what I am scared of. What we know is that the Labour party is not against IER. Labour Members are pretending in this House that they are interested in students and young people when they are not. It is all about the block vote—that is what they want.