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Electoral Registration

Volume 629: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2017

2. What steps the Government are taking to support the integrity of the electoral registration process. (900873)

3. What steps the Government are taking to support the integrity of the electoral registration process. (900874)

According to the Electoral Commission, the register used for June’s general election was the most accurate for years. The identity of applicants is verified by electoral registration officers using digital services provided by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Work and Pensions, and we have seen record levels of engagement. Recommendations in Sir Eric Pickles’ report have been accepted by the Government and will be used to improve the integrity of electoral processes further.

Given concerns about students having the opportunity to vote twice, will my right hon. Friend consider joining me in supporting the private Member’s Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)?

Although being registered at more than one address is perfectly legal, voting more than once at a general election is a crime that currently carries an unlimited financial penalty. The Government are reviewing a range of measures to prevent people from voting twice at general elections, and I also understand that the police are investigating allegations in several local authorities on this issue. I remind hon. Members that any evidence that individuals might have voted twice must be reported to the police.

I recognise the fines that my hon. Friend has drawn to the House’s attention, but is it not time to consider custodial sentences for election fraud?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. At the moment, there is an unlimited fine, but the Government are considering a range of other measures, including in relation to criminal proceedings, in order to move forwards.

11. Rather than focusing on the very few cases of fraud and the limited number of convictions—the same issue the Trump Administration have raised to discredit the democratic process—why does the Minister not worry about the millions who are not registered and consider using national insurance numbers and automatic registration in order to ensure both an accurate and a complete register? (900882)

The Government are committed to ensuring individual voter registration. A complete register means nothing unless it is underpinned by accuracy, and we have the most accurate register. On electoral fraud, I make the point, as I have done repeatedly before, that it is the perception of fraud that is so corrosive to our democracy. The Electoral Commission’s report published today shows that 38% of people recognise that electoral fraud is an issue at general elections.

The integrity of the electoral register suffers while millions of British citizens are unregistered. What specific measures is the Minister taking to register the millions of young people who remain off the register, and what specific funds has he allocated to that worthy cause?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that at the last general election there were more people on the electoral register, and more people voting, than there have been since 1992. We should bear in mind the state of the Labour Government between 2001 and 2005, when there were far more people off the register. We are determined to have a democracy that works for everyone, and we are introducing a range of measures to that end. They include the publication of a democratic engagement strategy later this year, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will read.

Is the Minister aware of the massive change in Northern Ireland constituencies in terms of proxy votes between the 2015 general election and this year’s election, when thousands of people applied for and received proxy votes, which, in some constituencies, resulted in a virtual usurping of the election result? What plans has the Minister to address that?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, electoral policy in Northern Ireland is dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office, but the Cabinet Office is working closely on how individual electoral registration can be introduced in Northern Ireland. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s point to the Northern Ireland Office, but proof of identity has been required in polling stations in Northern Ireland since 1985, and the Labour Government introduced photo ID in 2003. Northern Ireland has led the way when it comes to ensuring that we can crack down on electoral fraud.