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Electoral Commission Committee

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 4 March 2021

The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Statutory Election Period

What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the adequacy of the length of time of the statutory election period. (912862)

The Commission recently submitted evidence to the Joint Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, setting out the background to the current minimum timetable of 25 working days for UK elections and the administrative and regulatory implications if the timetable were to be shortened. While the specific period is for Parliament to decide, the Commission emphasises that sufficient time must be allowed for campaigners to put their arguments to the electorate, for voters to decide how to cast their vote, and for returning officers to deliver the election process.

I thank the hon. Member for his answer. As he says, this point has been exercising the Joint Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, on which I and many other Members of this House sit. Election periods have grown considerably longer over the years, which is not necessarily in the best interests of our constituents and democracy more widely, especially when an election is called to resolve an impasse. Will he be willing to inquire further from the Electoral Commission as to what the shortest potential statutory period that could reasonably adopted is, and then write to me or the Committee?

I will indeed inquire about that. Informally, the suggestion to me has been that the Commission does not particularly want it shortened too much further because of all the administrative burdens and the administrative marker points that electoral registration officers and others would have to go through, but I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request and ask the Commission to write to him.

Automatic Voter Registration

What recent assessment the Committee has made of the potential merits of introducing automatic voter registration. (912863)

The Commission supports electoral registration reform, as it would make it easier for people to register or to update their details throughout the year. This might include adding people automatically from other datasets or other automated solutions that still require confirmatory action by the voter. In 2019, when the Commission investigated the feasibility of such reforms, it found that these were possible from a technical perspective and could be implemented without radically altering the structure of the electoral registration system in the UK. The Commission’s view is that that could help to improve registration levels among some under-represented registered groups, including the youngest part of the franchise. This would ensure that as many people as possible were able to participate in our democracy.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The Capitol insurrection in Washington, fraudulent elections in Belarus and the military coup in Myanmar provide three very recent and very real reminders of the importance of defending democracy. Does my hon. Friend agree that democracy is sacred, and what better way to protect it than to automatically ensure that everyone is able to take part in the process?

The Commission absolutely sees its primary role as ensuring the smooth delivery of the democratic processes fairly and responsibly across the whole of the UK. It has looked at ways of improving registration and looked at evidence that has previously been given, but ensuring that as many people as possible are able to register to vote and deliver that vote is one of its primary concerns.