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Electoral Registration Process

Volume 634: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2018

2. What steps the Government are taking to maintain the security and integrity of the electoral registration process. (903187)

Every application to the electoral register is now subject to identity verification checks, making our system more secure than before. In late December, the Government laid draft legislation aimed at further improving the registration process, including addressing recommendations from the Pickles review of electoral fraud.

Last month, a 21-year-old man was convicted of voting twice—first by post, and then by varying his name and voting in person. He then bragged about it on Twitter. I understand that more than 1,000 similar complaints are being dealt with by the Electoral Commission, mostly relating to students. What steps are the Government taking to deal with this distortion of our democracy?

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns and am glad that he has brought those examples to light. I understand that, following the examination of these reports—or perhaps of reports other than those to which he refers—the Electoral Commission has stated that there is

“a lack of evidence of widespread abuse.”

None the less, we will continue to work with the police and the Electoral Commission to reduce the risk of double voting.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her position. Does she agree that the electoral process, particularly in Northern Ireland, was severely corrupted some eight months ago by thousands upon thousands of proxy vote applications? The previous Member for Foyle, Mr Mark Durkan, lost his seat as a result of thousands of proxy vote applications that were approved without any electoral or photographic identification.

I struggled to hear the hon. Gentleman owing to some noises off. As he knows, and as he knows I know, the electoral system in Northern Ireland is devolved. I am sure that my new ministerial colleagues at the Northern Ireland Office will be taking his concerns very seriously and working with the devolved Administration, where appropriate, to look into them.

I, too, welcome the Front Benchers to their new responsibilities. I am delighted to see the strong team in the Cabinet Office.

Is the Minister giving any consideration to restricting registration for national elections to one address, which may help with the problem of double voting raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen)?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her views. I refer to the breadth of the Pickles review of electoral fraud, which gave us the basis for a number of reforms of our electoral system, all designed to reduce fraud and improve security. In that context, I will look carefully at all its recommendations. As you will know, Mr Speaker, the Government have already accepted and will be moving forward with a number of them. I would be delighted to discuss any issue further with my right hon. Friend.

One of the ways in which the Government could look to give more security to the electoral register is by moving to automatic registration when national insurance numbers are given out. Will the Minister comment on the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), which would resolve any issues with individual registrations?

I am very well aware of the arguments, although I confess that at this point, 24 hours into my role, I have not yet had a chance to study that particular private Member’s Bill. I shall be happy to do that and take up the conversation from that point.

May I, too, welcome the Minister to her post? She is the fourth I have had the privilege of facing in the past two years.

The biggest threat to the integrity of the electoral registration process is the fact that millions of our citizens are not on the electoral register. All the Minister’s predecessors promised that they would bring forward proposals to address this problem. We were told that there would be a plan at Easter last year, then in the summer, then in December, but still nothing. When will she bring forward proposals to make sure that we can increase the number of people on the register?

The hon. Gentleman will know that in fact we have near-record levels of participation in our democracy. Voter turnout has risen. The completeness and accuracy of the electoral register have improved. There have been 30 million new registrations to vote since the introduction of IER—individual electoral registration—in 2014. Seventy-five per cent. of those used the “Register to vote” website, which I am sure he will agree is an important reform. The electoral register for the 2017 general election reached a record level of over 46 million electors. I do not agree with his assessment.