Increasing the integrity of the electoral process is one of the fundamental reasons behind the introduction of individual electoral registration. Unlike the previous system, under which the head of the household registered people, people now have to register and have their entry verified against Government and local authority records. That is one way in which we are ensuring the integrity of the register. Furthermore, we have ensured that anyone wishing to vote by post or by proxy at the elections on 7 May must have been verified through IER. That safeguards the integrity not only of the register but of the ballot.
There are almost 4,000 so-called red voters—I hope the colour is not symbolic—who were already registered in Gloucester before IER was introduced. They cannot vote by postal vote, but if they exist, they are entitled to vote in person. What steps has my hon. Friend’s Department taken to ensure that people do not impersonate others in polling stations?
I thank my hon. Friend for a very good question. On the numbers of people, the number of voters carried forward from the last annual canvass who have lost their postal vote is actually very small—it is about 3% in total—and the remainder have been confirmed against Government records. This is in the context of an important safeguard that was introduced during the transition to IER, ensuring that no one registered to vote at the last annual canvass will lose their vote in May. I would add, however, that any attempt to impersonate someone at a polling station is a criminal offence.
Will the Minister tell the House what he believes has been the effectiveness of individual and continuous registration in Northern Ireland? Does he accept the importance and value of continuing the annual household canvass to achieve robust electoral registration?
We have learned the lessons from Northern Ireland. One of the things we have preserved in the transition to IER is indeed the annual canvass. That is also why we have carried over people from the last annual canvass to ensure that no one who was registered to vote as at January 2014 will lose their right to vote come 7 May.
Voting integrity is obviously important. There are real concerns that many students, particularly first-year students, will not get on the register. I have been trying to encourage them to register and to vote. What has the Minister done to make sure that they have a chance to vote?
Ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote is on the register and can exercise that right has been a priority of the Government throughout the transition to IER. We have made £500,000 available to the National Union of Students to run a programme to register students to vote. We are also working with universities so that they can provide data to local authorities, which can then chase up students not on the register to get them on to the register.
Despite the warm words from the Minister, at the end of this Parliament there will be many millions who are entitled to vote but missing from the electoral register. The Government’s cack-handed and rushed move to individual electoral registration has made things worse. Fortunately, others are trying to repair the damage—Hope not Hate, Bite the Ballot, Operation Black Vote, the Daily Mirror, trade unions, Operation Disabled Vote, faith groups, the Labour party and many others. Will the Minister join me in thanking and commending all those working hard to ensure that all those entitled to vote are registered to vote?
I will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman. The Labour party left office with 7.5 million people missing from the register. IER was Labour’s policy, and this Government have taken it forward. Of course the Government have worked with a whole series of groups, including private organisations such as Facebook, to promote registration. Indeed, national voter registration day saw 166,000 people register to vote. Operation Black Vote has received funding from this Government to get people on the register. You left the register with 7.5 million people missing; we are putting it right.