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House of Lords Hansard
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12 September 2016
Volume 774

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to amend electoral legislation as a result of the report of Sir Eric Pickles’ review into electoral fraud.

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The Government have received Sir Eric Pickles’s review and will carefully consider its findings and recommendations. We are committed to tackling any form of fraud in the UK polls and this report will help inform the debate to ensure that our elections have the highest integrity. We will look closely at the proposals set out in the report and provide a full response in due course.

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My Lords, does the Minister accept that a report proposing changes to the way in which we conduct our elections would have greater credibility if it was not simply the work of a former chairman of the Conservative Party? Why does she think that the report did not look into such important issues as the underregistration of voters, which distorts the outcome of our elections and the Boundary Commissions’ processes?

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I think there were two questions there. Sir Eric, as the anticorruption champion and as a former Minister for communities and local government, is the ideal person for the job. He has taken a close interest in election fraud for many years and noble Lords who have read the report will surely agree that it has been conducted in a completely independent way. On the second question, there are indeed vulnerable people who are not on the register; that is why the Government have funded civil society organisations to engage with groups which are known to be reluctant to register. In fact, the Cabinet Office is supporting an innovative research project in Grampian, which is looking into how trusted data sources can be used to target canvassing activity more effectively. We are also exploring ways to limit the number of frequent home movers who drop off the register, particularly those in the private rental sector, by piloting ways effectively to move your home address on to the electoral register when using local authority services, such as council tax.

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My Lords, I ask my noble friend yet again: what is the logical argument against compulsory registration? There are penalties for those who do not register; surely it is right to make this compulsory.

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We do not plan to make registration compulsory.

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My Lords, why do we not stop wasting public money on a national individual registration scheme and target the resource on those areas where there is a real problem? Is political correctness getting in the way of pursuing that approach?

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I cannot agree with the noble Lord. The principle of IER was supported on a cross-party basis when it was introduced. It brings us into line with every other serious democracy in the world, and it meets the expectations of British citizens who live fast-paced digital lives and expect to be able to interact with public services digitally. It is important that we carry on with this reform.

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Individual registration has been speeded up by this Government and the coalition Government. It is a principle that we can all support, but if it is being forced through at a speed that means that people will be dropped off the register, that is totally unacceptable, especially as this Government are pushing through boundary changes that will be impacted severely by the figures of this registration. Why do the Government not delay the process and give proper time to it?

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The Government are currently looking at how electoral registration could be made more efficient. Officials are piloting changes to the annual canvass this year. We are concentrating on making sure that it is quick, convenient, easy to use, reaches everyone, is digital by default, data driven, transparent, more affordable and, importantly, outcome based, not process based.

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My Lords, is not the real problem with electoral fraud based on postal voting on demand? Should we not get rid of that? That would sort out much of the electoral fraud.

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Postal voting is incredibly useful for many people. It would be disastrous to get rid of it.

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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It is the turn of the Liberal Democrat Benches.

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My Lords, given that the only two Members of Parliament who gave evidence to the report were Conservatives, and given the Minister’s statement about the independence of the report, will she say what evidence will be taken from other parties on the incidence of electoral fraud, which is the main thrust of the report?

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We are pleased that Sir Eric Pickles has produced this report. It is now up to us to look at it and decide the way forward. We will be reporting back on it soon.

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My Lords, is it not the case that the most obvious way to reduce electoral fraud across the board is the compulsory introduction of an ID card with smart card technology and an identity built in—either fingertip, eye or, preferably, genetic material at birth—and then that card has to be used before you can vote? Eventually, that will lead to electronic voting as well.

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This is obviously one of the things that will be looked at following the report. We will report back further on better ways of making sure of people’s identity when they go to the polling station.

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My Lords, why do we not do what the Australians have happily done very successfully for 90 years and make voting compulsory as a civic duty?

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As I said in answer to my noble friend Lord Cormack, we have no plans for that. In fact, the Australian system has not been absolutely perfect. There are still quite a lot of people who do not vote. It is not failsafe.

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My Lords, the Minister talked about the integrity of the voting system, and that is obviously something that we all want to see. Why, then, are the Government pressing ahead with boundary changes on an electoral register which they know is out of date given that so many extra people registered in time to participate in the European referendum? Would it not be better for the integrity of the voting system to use a register which is more current than the one they have chosen to use?

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I do not think this is anything to do with the Question, but I am very happy to answer. Parliament has already agreed that 15 December should be used as the date for the registers for this review. Unless you have a defined date and set of registers to assess it, it is impossible to run a review. Registers used for the boundary review are necessarily a snapshot, and the registers have always continued to change while the review is taking place.