Skip to main content

Electoral Fraud

Volume 626: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2017

The Government believe that electoral fraud is unacceptable on any level. We have a clear path to building a democracy that is both clear and secure, and we will work closely with key partner organisations to deliver a comprehensive programme of work for reforming our electoral system and strengthening electoral integrity.

Is the Minister aware that there is now clear evidence that many students boasted on social media of voting twice—once at university, and once by post at home? Surely this is straightforward electoral fraud.

The offence of double voting that my hon. Friend mentions is completely unacceptable. Indeed, it is nothing less than an abuse of our democracy. I am meeting Sir John Holmes, the chair of the Electoral Commission, this afternoon, and I intend to raise this with him as a priority. Let all of us in this House be clear: this is a crime. If anyone has any evidence of people voting twice, they should report it to their local returning officer and the police, who must take this issue seriously.

Will my hon. Friend provide more information about how the introduction of individual electoral registration has assisted in preventing electoral fraud? What checks are in place to ensure that a person is eligible to vote when they register online?

The IER digital service operated by the Cabinet Office checks the details provided by the applicant, including their national insurance number, against government data before passing on the application to the relevant local electoral administration teams.

It has been highlighted that all someone needs when they go to vote is a name and an address. In theory, someone could get hold of a telephone directory and vote all day in different polling stations. Does the Minister agree that it is time to use photo identification to prevent electoral fraud?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People deserve to have confidence in the security of our democratic system of elections. Voter ID has been in place in Northern Ireland for decades, and the use of photographic ID was introduced in 2003 under the previous Labour Government. The Electoral Commission has consistently called for use of ID in polling stations to protect the integrity of the polls. The Government will conduct voter ID pilots in the local elections in May 2018 to enable us to learn what works best, and to ensure that we develop a system in which there is full public confidence.

Are we not supposed to have policy driven by evidence, and is it not significant that the Minister gave not one shred of evidence in his reply? Quite frankly, in every election there are one or two cases of people being convicted of fraud, out of tens of millions of voters. This is straight out of the Donald Trump disinformation playbook, because Ministers are again trying to suppress voter participation. The Minister cannot come up with any evidence—if anyone has such evidence, they should take it to the police—and he should be ashamed of himself.

I missed the last part of that rant, but this idea has the backing of the Electoral Commission and electoral authorities, so that we can deliver a secure democracy that has the confidence of the public. The last Electoral Commission report on the subject shows that 38% of people felt that electoral fraud was an issue. Since 2010, 2,394 alleged cases of electoral fraud have been reported to the Electoral Commission.

Electoral fraud, whenever it occurs, is a serious business. The fact that there were two successful prosecutions in 2016 shows the size of the problem. Does the Minister agree that the bigger crime is having 7 million people off the electoral register?

When it comes to the size of the electoral register, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will share my delight that we have the largest electoral register since records began, at 46.9 million people. A record 3 million people registered to vote at this election. The Government believe in a democracy that works for everyone. Tackling electoral fraud means making sure that people are not disenfranchised by losing their vote, and protecting the most vulnerable communities, such as those in Tower Hamlets.

But surely the time has come for automatic electoral registration. How can it possibly be fair that, according to the Office for National Statistics, in my inner-city Nottingham constituency, less than three quarters of adults are on the electoral register, but in the Minister’s constituency, over 97% of adults are? Is not the real electoral fraud those policies that stand in the way of citizens exercising their democratic rights?

The introduction of the individual electoral registration website has seen 27 million people register to vote using that system. We want to ensure that registering to vote is as easy and effective as possible, but voting and registering to vote have individual responsibility at their heart. We need to protect the integrity of the polls and, equally, all MPs have a duty to encourage registration in our constituencies.

In Eddisbury there was clear evidence of double registrations, even within the constituency. Does the Minister agree that we should have a central system that flags up people who are double-registered, wherever they are in the country?

The electoral register is held by 380 electoral registration officers. It is right that that remains locally accountable to communities. We do not intend to introduce any central registration system, which would cost upwards of £80 million, but we are interested in looking at this issue, which is a serious one. As I said, I am meeting the Electoral Commission and look forward to taking forward proposals in due course.

This new ministerial team would be wrong to pander to the near-obsession of their own Back Benchers with the idea that the principal problem of our electoral system is voter fraud. In fact, the biggest thing that undermines our parliamentary democracy is that more than 14.6 million of those who were registered to vote did not do so four weeks ago. Will the Minister make good on the promises, which I have received twice already in this Chamber, to bring forward proposals to increase democratic participation in our country?

The hon. Gentleman mentions a 14 million figure, and we heard a 7 million figure earlier from a Labour Member. What we know from the data is that there is a specific churn of people moving properties, particularly renters and home movers. The Government want to address that to make sure that we have better data, so that we understand where people are registering and why they are registering. That is why we will bring forward a democratic engagement strategy to ensure that we have a democracy that works for everyone.