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Electoral Registration

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015


Asked by

My Lords, the Government welcome all initiatives to promote engagement and voter registration, particularly Bite the Ballot’s National Voter Registration Day, as well as the work of others such as the British Youth Council’s Make Your Mark and vInspired’s Swing the Vote. Among other government activities ahead of National Voter Registration Day, we announced today that organisations that work with people who are underrepresented on the electoral register, including students and other young people, and people from black and ethnic minorities, will share some £2.5 million of additional funding.

My Lords, I cannot say how much I appreciate the Minister’s Answer and the moves we are making in this direction. We appreciate everything that is happening. I hope that this House will be enthusiastic about enrolling young people and giving support to all these voluntary organisations and to the youngsters who work day and night to try to get as many young people as possible registered. I hope that we will give them support, and with great enthusiasm. We thank those organisations—I am proud to be president of one of them—for all that they have done. They have earned their spurs at this moment.

My Lords, it is up to all of us involved in politics and all parties to promote maximum registration between now and May. The Deputy Prime Minister went on “The Last Leg” late last Friday night—I think not a programme that most Members of this House watch, but very popular with young people. I will be talking at an event tonight with a group of young Explorer Scouts from Tower Hamlets to show our support for Scout and Scout leader work in encouraging people to vote with the Cabinet Office’s programme, Rock Enrol!

My Lords, we are now told that there are 7.5 million potential voters missing from the national register. That is up on 2010 yet we have a general election within a few months. Why has that happened?

My understanding is that the adjustment between 6 million and 7.5 million from 2010 to 2012 was in line with the census. I am told by the statisticians that it represents an actual stabilisation. As I have said at this Dispatch Box many times before, the major reason why people who are not registered say that they have not registered is because they are not interested in politics and not interested in voting. I repeat that it is up to all of us to do our utmost in the next 90 days to enthuse particularly young people and those most disengaged from politics to re-engage, to register and then to vote.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think that the Government are creating a very dangerous precedent by insisting, in the new powers for the Scottish Parliament, that changes in the franchise—or indeed boundaries—require a two-thirds majority?

My Lords, I am not entirely sure that the Government are creating a dangerous precedent. I suspect that the noble Lord and I may disagree on the age at which people might start to vote.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the chair of the All-Party Group on Voter Registration. According to Electoral Commission research, 30% of our young people aged 18 to 24 are not on the register of electors. If this was the situation in any other country in the world 93 days before a general election, the British Government would be urging the country to pull its finger out and get people on to the register. The problem is that this is in their own backyard and entirely of their own making. What are the Government going to do to get people on the register before applications close on 20 April?

My Lords, the Government have engaged in a range of activities on social media and are using National Voter Registration Day as a means of raising national attention. Two of my ministerial colleagues are speaking in parallel at a barracks tomorrow to deal with the problem of underregistration among defence personnel. The Government will also, through the FCO, be attempting to raise the amazingly low level of overseas registration. We are working on this, but I repeat that the Government cannot do all of it on their own. I put something out on Liberal Democrat Voice, my own party’s site, two weeks ago encouraging all our activists to engage with local schools and other bodies. I am sure that the Labour Party is doing the same, in so far as it can.

In view of the success of the work done in schools in Northern Ireland by its chief electoral officer, will the Government encourage his counterparts throughout the country to publicise the details of the work that they are doing in schools and the results that flow from that?

My Lords, I have been in active conversation with electoral registration officers over the last year and more. The Government have just provided another £6.8 million for electoral registration officers, targeted on particular areas which have low registration, by and large in the cities. I also stress that the provision of online registration, which has been going now for a year and through which 3.33 million people have already registered, is very much one of the ways we get at young people. Knowing young people, including my own children, I think this is something that young people are likely to register on at the last minute.

My noble friend may be aware of an electoral registration app that can be downloaded on to smartphones, which was launched in Dundee. Have the Government any plans to use smartphone technology to increase voter registration?

My Lords, you can register online on smartphones. The Government are also using social and other media to add links to the registration website and to remind people as they use social media that now is the time to register to vote.

My Lords, I am sure that we all wish my noble friend success in his mission to Tower Hamlets this evening. Could I ask him to reconsider the Government’s attitude on compulsory registration? It would really be very sensible, and I am glad to see noble Lords opposite nodding. I hope the Government will consider it.

My Lords, the Government are not convinced about compulsory voting, which raises some large questions about the relationship between the citizen and the state—

Excuse me, registration. It raises some large questions about the relationship between the citizen and the state, which perhaps the next Parliament will discuss.