Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England) Order 2016.
My Lords, the instrument before the Committee establishes a pilot scheme under Sections 7 and 9 of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. New Section 9D(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, inserted by the 2013 Act, requires the annual canvass to be conducted in the manner set out in the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001. However, this draft order disapplies that requirement for electoral registration officers—EROs—in Birmingham, Ryedale and South Lakeland; instead it requires EROs in the specified areas to attempt to make contact with a person at each residential address in the area for which they act at least once between the date when the order comes into force and 2 February 2017. The manner in which they do so, however, and whether they take further steps where no information is received in respect of a particular address, will be at the ERO’s discretion. This will enable EROs to test new and innovative approaches to canvassing. The Electoral Commission will report on the pilot scheme and provide a copy of its evaluation to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the EROs by 30 June 2017. The order ceases to have effect on 7 July 2017.
As some of those in the Room may already be aware, the process for the household canvass is prescribed in the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 and requires electoral registration officers to send an annual canvass form—that is, a household enquiry form, or HEF—to every property in their area. The HEF asks residents to set out whether there have been any changes in the composition of the household since the previous year’s canvass and enables electoral registration officers to identify whether any residents should be added or removed from the register. Where no response is received, as is more often than not the case, EROs are required to issue up to two further forms and to carry out at least one visit.
While the fundamental objective of the annual canvass—namely, the maintenance of a complete and accurate register through regular data collection—is and will continue to be a government priority, informal consultation with EROs over an extended period has indicated that the annual canvass in its current form is not a sustainable way to achieve that aim.
Many EROs, who are on the front line of canvass activity, have told the Cabinet Office that electors find the canvass procedure frustrating and confusing. When electors might know themselves to be registered, perhaps from having recently participated in an election, they do not understand why they have none the less received three letters and a visit from their local ERO.
This year, for example, many citizens will have voted in the local, devolved or police and crime commissioner elections in May, the EU referendum in June and perhaps even a by-election, yet, when the annual canvass takes place between July and December this year, they will receive fresh inquiries about their registration status. The reality is that household churn is only around 20% per annum, thus the majority of canvass activity is redundant. Some 80% of households will be a “no change” on the electoral register.
This tremendously bureaucratic process is no less frustrating for administrators. Having to follow steps prescribed in statute stifles their capacity to innovate and adopt new and more digital approaches to canvassing. From knowing their local area, or from having access to other local council data, EROs may well be aware of the registration status of households in their area. However, the system currently in place does not allow them to draw on their own expertise or on other information held by the local authority. This is not an example of smart working.
The solution that is therefore being proposed, the impetus for which has come from EROs themselves, is to enable local authorities to test alternative methods for conducting the annual canvass, which have the potential to be more cost effective while still securing the same or higher levels of information on population churn—and subsequent potential additions, deletions and other changes to the register—compared with the current annual canvass process. The pilots will take place in Birmingham, Ryedale and South Lakeland. In each area, the EROs will be operating control groups and pilot groups so that the results of these approaches can be rigorously evaluated.
In Ryedale, which can be characterised as a predominantly rural area with a largely static population, pilot groups will receive household notification letters—HNLs—rather than the usual household enquiry form. The HNL, sent by post, will list the details of everyone registered to vote in that household and advise residents to take action only where the details held are no longer up to date. They will be able to do this by informing the ERO of changes over the internet or phone. New residents will be asked to register online or invited to register by their ERO. The issuing of HNLs will be supported by awareness-raising activities in the media, on the council website and on social media.
In Birmingham and South Lakeland, electors’ registration details will be compared against local data sources. Where details are found to match, households will be sent an HNL, to which electors will be required to respond only if changes are needed. Households not matching local data sources will be sent a customised HEF—by email where possible —encouraging residents to identify any new electors or other changes. Any non-responders will then receive a second HEF, followed by a visit to the property.
The Government have, of course, consulted with the Electoral Commission on the pilot proposals. The EC has been very supportive of these plans and has been involved from the early stages of their development. Consultation has also taken place with bodies such as the Association of Electoral Administrators, the AEA, and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, SOLACE. This is in addition to the work the Government have been doing with interested councils directly, which have helped breathe life into these pilots.
As we have discussed with the Electoral Commission, subject to the outcomes of the pilots, the Government’s intention is to make permanent, legislative changes to the annual canvass. It is likely that we will look to launch a second round of canvass pilots in 2017 to maximise our evidence base, building on the learning from these pilots.
While the purpose of these pilots is to give EROs the space to innovate and test alternative, more effective approaches in relation to the annual canvass, I would like to underline that the integrity of the register will be maintained throughout the pilots. EROs have a duty, under the Representation of the People Act 1983, to maintain their registers and nothing in this order changes that.
With this in mind, the Government believe that the instrument before the Committee today is a crucial step towards improving the annual canvass and wider registration process. I commend it to the Committee.
My Lords, I am in awe of my noble friend’s expertise and knowledge on the whole issue of electoral registration. If the noble Baroness is not already in the same position, I think that she will be after my noble friend has spoken to the order.
I already am.
I would not be so sure.
My Lords, I come to this order with a slightly different approach and a different range of concerns from those on which I expect my noble friend will concentrate. We are now in a situation where, whatever happens to the process as outlined by the noble Baroness, the constituency boundaries at the next general election will—contrary to the recommendation of the Electoral Commission—be based on the register as it stood in December 2015. Of course, that does not mean that anyone registering since that date will not have a vote, but it means that the constituency boundaries will not necessarily reflect the, I hope, improved system of registration. Let me give an illustration of the potential differences. In my own city of Newcastle, the number on the electoral register as of last December was 183,961, and it is now 190,770, which is an increase of 6,809 or, by my calculation, an increase of 3.7% on the figure that will be the basis on which the new constituency boundaries are drawn.
The Government have introduced other significant changes, using their majority in another place, to change the whole system. I say that because local authority boundaries will become irrelevant under the new dispensation. I am wondering whether the Minister has—I do not blame her if she has not—seen the report by Lewis Baston, who is an expert in these matters. He recently produced a report for the Constitution Society in which, among other things, he states:
“As it currently stands under IER, the electoral register is too incomplete and unstable to provide a suitable basis for allocating parliamentary representation”.
“There have been noticeable levels of under-representation, which has varied with social and demographic characteristics”.
He also says:
“The use of the December 2015 purged register has also had a regional effect. London has three seats fewer than it should. Nationally, it has mainly affected urban areas, with the big core cities in particular had poor net completeness in electorate registration”.
However much that is corrected, partly as a result of the order we are discussing, it will not affect the boundaries that will apply in the next Parliament.
Lewis Baston also says:
“If the register numbers in December 2015 are inaccurate”—
they clearly were—
“the boundary review will contaminate the entire basis of the electoral system”.
He points out in relation to the discussions and debates before the boundary review was implemented that the,
“warnings made in 2014, of damage to the representation of London and the metropolitan areas, have come true and the map drawn in the 2016-18 boundary review will under-represent these areas”.
It is of course entirely coincidental that those are the areas in which the Labour Party is currently most strongly represented.
Lewis Baston goes on:
“The dramatic variations in total electorate that have taken place … between December 2012 and December 2015 undermine the idea that at any stage the electoral register is a reasonable estimate of the total local population entitled to vote”.
He cites examples demonstrating that in some places, such as Liverpool, the estimated net completeness of the register as at December 2015 is as low as 81%. By definition, it is therefore about 20% short of what the figure should really be. I repeat that that does not stop voters being registered, but it means the boundary situation has in effect been corrupted. One of the problems, as he concludes, is that there is,
“simply nothing that can be done under the current rules to rectify the problem that student constituencies are likely to be oversized (in terms of registered electors) when the election takes place”.
That is one facet of an issue which is generally of much wider application.
I am not sure whether the Minister will be able to respond to this today, but in my submission there is a very strong case for the Government to review and, indeed, to alter their decision to require the next general election, or at least any general election taking place after 2017, to be held on the basis of the boundaries as currently drawn. There is a need for a proper review of constituency boundaries to reflect the increase in the electoral register and other changes, which, I repeat, the order will help to facilitate. If the Government do not do so, they will have taken such a decision because they perceive a political advantage for the Conservative Party. That is no way in which a democratic process should be regulated, and I hope that the Government will reconsider their position. I repeat that they will return to the recommendations made by the Electoral Commission, who should be consulted in the light of the developing circumstances as we now see them.
My Lords, before I come to the specifics of the order before us, I want to refer to two extremely important issues about the context in which we are discussing it. In the first place, both the Law Commission and the Electoral Commission have given recent advice to government and Parliament that the time is long since past when it was necessary to bring together a lot of the electoral legislation. We have an extraordinary situation now, and it is repeated again this afternoon, where we are referring right back to the 1983 Act. The good ship “RPA” has been covered with so many barnacles over the years that it is hardly recognisable as being a ship at all. The Law Commission has made it clear that it is urgently necessary, in this Parliament, to bring together the legislation that refers to electoral matters. This is for clarity for the parties, for individual electors and, frankly, for us parliamentarians.
For over 11 years, I have been in this Room when we have been amending and referring back to the 1983 Act; on one occasion, I think we even referred back to the 1883 Act. It is not acceptable for the Government to keep putting off this issue. Paragraph 4.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum that accompanies the order—and just that one paragraph, about how all these things fit together, is so complex—makes a very cogent case for a degree of co-ordination and consolidation. In paragraph 8.3, there is the added dimension of ensuring that all parts of the UK march in step. The register is something of such basic importance to our representative democracy that we cannot accept differences taking place on such a scale as has been happening in recent years between the devolved nations of the UK.
In paragraph 7.6, ironically, there is the wonderful statement:
“Consolidation does not apply to this Order”.
You can say that again; there is absolutely no consolidation in this, and it is time that there was. I know that in this particular context that is a technical term, but it makes the point very strongly. We cannot go on with these piecemeal additions, subtractions and amendments to electoral legislation. That is not acceptable, and the Law Commission and the Electoral Commission have been unanimous in making that recommendation to us in Parliament as well as to the Government.
I turn to the issue of the accuracy and completeness of the register, and its integrity. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has quite rightly said, this is a matter of wide concern. The Minister herself said in her introduction that the integrity of the register was the solid basis for our confidence in the way in which our elections happen. As was so clear from the brief exchanges that she and I had last Thursday, the Government simply have not taken on board the fact that we lost some 2 million people off the register last December, and some 2 million people—not necessarily the same people, of course—reappeared to vote on 23 June. In the closing months of last year, we were constantly told by Ministers—I absolve the Minister herself from this; it was not her line of argument—that those who were coming off the register were “ghost voters”. The fact that many of them had voted in the general election some months before was ignored. We now know that there are 2 million-plus more people who voted on 23 June, who were accepted at the polling stations as being eligible to vote and did so, than there were in December. The people who turned up in those many polling stations throughout the country 10 days ago were not ghosts; I hope that the Government will now accept that they were perfectly valid people who were undertaking their democratic right. It is completely ridiculous that we should now be going back to the 1 December 2015 basis for any acceptance of the register as a complete and accurate reflection of those who are eligible to vote in elections in this country.
I know that the Minister had some difficulty last Thursday in getting appropriate briefing for it, because at that stage she was finding some difficulty—she was very honest to say so—in getting abreast of this. However, apparently she was given the brief that, if we were to make any change, this would mean that the register would be more out of date. That is ridiculous—of course it would not be. Simply by making sure that we were using the register of 23 June rather than the December register, it would be much more up to date rather than less.
It may be said that it is impossible at this stage to make a major change to the statutory basis on which the boundary commissions will now work, but a comparatively modest change to the law by extending the 5% variation either side of the mean electoral figure that is given for constituencies to, say, 8%— which was analysed by the House of Commons Select Committee in the last Parliament as being much less destructive—would also enable the boundary commissions to take account of the variations that have taken place since December without having a dramatic and very difficult situation to face, and it would not mean a major delay in the application of those figures in time for the 2018 completion of the review process. I hope that this afternoon she will again acknowledge that, because it was not confirmed on Thursday.
Of course, if we have an early general election this year or next year, it will be under the existing boundaries, so there is no question of there being any difference there, and there will be no change in the size of the House of Commons—no reduction from 650 to 600 MPs.
The context of the order we have before us this afternoon in those two respects is extremely important. It is controversial, and as has already been said, this is an opportunity for the Government to think very carefully about ensuring that the register, for which we all have a responsibility, is as complete and accurate as possible and therefore carries the integrity that the Minister referred to in her opening remarks.
On the order in more detail, I and my colleagues—I think this is common around the House—accept that there is a substantial, sensible rationale for these pilot exercises. There is no problem about that. We all recognise that the annual canvass has become a rather rusty instrument for seeking to get the maximum amount of information in an effective and economical way, and the current proposal that there should be greater flexibility for a number of authorities to approach this issue, and that that should then feed into a wider consideration for the future is of course very sensible. We do not spend enough time establishing a good evidence base for changes of this nature. It is certainly true that the IER transition has been and should be an opportunity to review this process, and I and others will certainly support these pilots.
There was some concern among electoral registration officers that major social and other changes were taking place which also prevented the annual canvass being as effective as possible. I heard Ministers say, “Oh, the great increase in the number of gated communities made it necessary to find different ways of obtaining the necessary information”. There are only a small number of gated communities—I think 1% of the total population of the United Kingdom lives in a gated community. I found my way into one with no difficulty at all on 23 June, polling day, just by getting a little local information from tradesmen and postmen. They know how to get in, and surely representatives of the local authority will always be able to find out how. I do not think that that has been the conclusive reason.
It is much more that there are elusive groups in the community that are difficult to track down with the annual canvass. The one group of which we are all very aware is students. It is noticeable that some of the authorities that lost most from the register in December were cities and towns with a major student population. The highest figure of all was in Cambridge where 16%—12,890 people—were excluded from the register. I will come back to the point about students because there are some examples, but that is an obvious target. If, by reallocating resources, electoral registration officers can make a specific target of the student community—and incidentally ensure that, if elections are likely to take place during periods when the academic year is not in full flow, their postal and proxy votes are drawn to the attention of those concerned—it would be a far better use of scarce resources than simply pursuing the old annual canvass series of approaches.
So in Cambridge the figure was 16%, but it was not common. I know, for example, that in the city of Sheffield there were two quite different circumstances. Sheffield University went to great lengths to ensure that students were enrolled at the beginning of the academic year, and the enrolment for the electoral register was put before the individuals as they came into the university, while Sheffield Hallam, just down the road, did not undertake that responsibility. The difference was really dramatic between those two areas. Looking through the numbers for other university cities, I see that that is also true. I hope that the Minister and the Government would accept that in due course they should release electoral registration officers from the expensive and perhaps rather less effective requirements of the annual canvass, and they should be given every encouragement and resource to concentrate on that particular group.
The other group that tends to be elusive is young and urban—primarily males, rather than females. It was during the previous Government that we persuaded Ministers to include data matching from DVLA to enable the electoral registration process to take better account of people reaching the appropriate age, which tended also to be the moment when they had to try to find some form of transport. It is noticeable that a number of the areas—again, on the list of those that lost out in December—tended to be where there is a very considerable mobile, young population. I see that Hackney lost 13%, and some other areas also lost out.
In redirecting the priority of the ERA, I hope that the Minister and the Cabinet Office will do everything they can, obviously in co-operation with the Electoral Commission, to identify those particular elusive groups to whom special attention should be targeted. Was the choice of the three specified areas in the order in any way informed by the number of people who might be in those rather difficult-to-access groups? Birmingham lost 5%, which may be because there is a considerable young, mobile and student community there. I would have thought that Ryedale probably did not lose, but maybe that is a good marker—a corrective, as it were—and a comparison. In South Lakeland, which I happen to know quite well as one of my parliamentary colleagues represents that area, the figure was minus only 1%. So there seem to be two markers to check on against the bigger area of Birmingham. It would perhaps have been interesting to have included Cambridge and Hackney, which, as I have said, have considerable numbers to include.
Otherwise, it may well be that the pilot proposals are both practical and reasonable. I listened with interest to the way in which the noble Baroness described them. My concern, though, is about how quickly we will be able to learn from them, particularly since, as she said, we may well want to have a second tranche. It seems to be a pretty extensive period—nearly a year away, at 30 June 2017—before we will get any report back on the pilots. I mean, the whole purpose of a pilot is to learn and move on, and to see whether it gives us useful lessons for other areas.
I must put one other little query to the Minister that is also relevant. Article 1(2) of the order says, very firmly and with complete authority, that:
“This Order extends to England and Wales”,
but paragraph 3.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“This entire instrument applies only to England”.
Maybe I have missed something here, but it seems a bit curious that those statements are so firmly in opposite directions. In the era of EVEL, everything has to be looked at in relation to whether it applies to one part of the UK or another, and whether English MPs uniquely have a role to play on their own or whether English and Welsh MPs have a particular responsibility and interest. As I said earlier, given the need to make sure that the whole of the UK is marching as one, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain exactly what the application of the order is.
My Lords, I have a few comments to make in respect of the order. As we have heard, the order establishes a number of pilot schemes, all of which are in England—which may cause a discrepancy in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said. The pilot schemes all actually refer to councils in England, although the order itself certainly covers England and Wales. I do not have any objection to pilot schemes in principle: they enable us to see how other methods of collecting data and electorate details work and, if they prove to be more effective, they can be rolled out further to a wider area, which is very good.
My concern with these regulations is that we could get to the point at which the system that we end up with is not as effective as what we have in place now. I am a little worried about the references to cost in the notes. I want an absolute assurance from the noble Baroness that this is not just about driving down costs at the expense of having a robust system in place to make sure that we have a complete and accurate register.
I see the point—as we saw in the guidance note—about how the two-stage process could cause some confusion, but I still think that it is important that we have a robust process in place. Therefore, can the noble Baroness give a guarantee to the Grand Committee that nobody will be removed from the register due to a funding exercise to reduce costs? That would be a terrible place to find ourselves in.
One of the problems the Government have got themselves into, of course, is that they have not sought a wider range of partners to get people to register to vote. I have spoken in the Chamber many times about registration—as have the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm. It is important that we look at how we can use other organs of the state to get people to register to vote. Obviously local authorities have a major role, but we also talked about how we want universities to make a habit of getting young people to register to vote, as well as the Post Office and other organs, such as the DWP, where people go to pay their rent and things. How can we use those organs to get people to register to vote? There are other private organisations, delivering public services that we could also involve. I remember many years ago, when I was in New York, people would register to vote at the counters in the post offices. That was quite common. It was about 15 years ago and there was nothing unusual about it at all. In that state at least, they were using other organs to get people on to the register. It was actually part of the service: “Are you registered to vote? We have the forms here, and if you fill them out, we’ll do that”. We need to look at that along with the other organs of state and not just restrict ourselves to people having to respond to a canvass or fill in a form online themselves and submit it.
We have heard about the 2 million people who were removed from the register in December 2015 and the 2 million who have now come on to the register. Maybe they are the same people; if so, they were not ghosts after all. We need a system to enable people to check that they are on the register. We may find that the millions who applied to vote in the referendum were actually on the register but did not know it, so reapplied. That is great but, of course, it clogs up the system with unnecessary applications. We need to have a situation where people can check whether they are registered to vote. We must not forget the people who are most likely not to be registered: as we have heard, that is young people, students, black people and people living in rented accommodation.
I agree very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. He is an undoubted expert in these matters, and the Grand Committee would be very wise to listen to the points he makes. He is right to say that the legislation governing elections needs urgent consolidation, review and reform. The complexities now cause everyone great problems at all levels, and they need to be dealt with. That matter is in the hands of the Government. It is time for them to respond to the views of the Law Commission and the Electoral Commission and sort this matter out, and to find government time in this Parliament to consolidate all electoral law in this area. That would benefit everyone concerned.
My noble friend Lord Beecham is right to raise the issue of the basis of the boundary review being based on the register as of December 2015. Let us not forget that the recommendation from the Electoral Commission was that it should be based on the registration as of December 2016. It was the Government who completely ignored that advice and took a year away. In my own borough of Lewisham, our register has grown by 20%—the biggest growth in the whole country. At the moment Lewisham has two and half MPs, with two MPs in the borough and one shared with the London Borough of Bromley. All three are Labour Members of Parliament. Years ago we used to have four MPs in the borough, and then more recently we had three. We now run the risk of going down to two MPs. I contend that as our number of voters has grown by 20% in a year we should at least retain our two and a half MPs, and maybe, in fact, we should go back to having three. One-fifth of our electorate is coming back on, and that should be a matter of great concern for the Government. If we end up with this review going through and there is great disparity regarding who represents people and the size of the seats they cover, that would be completely wrong.
I agree with my noble friend: I believe the Government very cynically brought the date forward by one year for party political advantage, and for no other reason at all. They completely ignored all the independent advice, stood there at the Dispatch Box and brought the review forward by one year. Why did they do that? It is purely because they thought it would be better for them in a future general election, and that is a terrible place for us to be. All legislation regarding elections should be done on the basis of consensus and agreement because our democracy is worth much more than party political advantage.
I have no further points to raise on the order itself as I have no great problems with it, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, that was certainly an interesting debate. Indeed I feel I am in the presence of great experts, with the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Tyler, so I start from a position of great humility. However, I certainly intend to answer most of their questions.
The noble Lords, Lord Beecham, Lord Tyler and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, all mentioned the boundary reviews and the change in the register following the take-up during the referendum. I covered this pretty well last Thursday, but unless we have a defined date and a set of registers to assess, it is impossible to run a review. The registers used for a boundary review are necessarily a snapshot, and registers always continue to change while a review is taking place. As all noble Lords know, without the implementation of the boundary reviews, MPs will continue to represent constituencies drawn up on the basis of data that will be over 20 years old at the next election. That would be to disregard significant changes in the population in relation to the principle of equal-sized constituencies, which were endorsed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The reforms have already been delayed once, and it is vital that we do not delay them any further so that the 2020 general election is not fought on boundaries that will by then be nearly—
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but I have not yet heard any explanation—I fear none is coming—of why we should not use the absolutely solid evidence of the electoral register that was, as it were, tested to destruction on 23 June 2016. What is the objection to using that register for the basis of this discussion? I cannot understand that.
May I, too, come back to that point, rather than interrupt again later? I agree entirely with the Minister’s point about the need to have a defined date. It is absolutely right that we have to fix the date—I have no problem about that—and draw the boundaries on the basis of the figures at that date. It is absolutely spot on to say that we cannot move the date around. The problem the Government have to contend with is that we had a fixed, defined date, which was 1 December 2016, but they chose to scrap it and bring it forward by a year. The problem is that that was going to be the date, so all these people would have been on the register and would have been counted. I do not think the Minister was involved, but somebody in government sat around the table and decided to bring this forward by a year. We have never had an explanation of that. We have talked about ghost voters and other problems and this and that, but it was the Government’s decision. The December 2016 date clearly guaranteed the commission plenty of time over the next couple of years to have a review. The review would have come to both Houses some time in 2018, been approved by both Houses and been in place for the election in 2020. However, somebody in government took a decision to bring it forward by a year, and I suspect that decision was made purely for party political advantage. If that is the case, it is absolutely disgraceful.
Obviously, that was before my time. The reason why the date cannot be changed now is that doing so would involve primary legislation. If such legislation was brought in to change the whole system, it would mean that we would definitely not get the boundaries reviews done in time for 2018.
I do not know whether that would have to be done through primary legislation, but I guarantee the Minister—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would do so as well—that the Government would get the full co-operation of both opposition parties and would get it through in a day or two. That would be absolutely no problem whatever. They could get it through next week if they needed to do so. I would provide complete co-operation on that, so there would be no problem about delaying things.
The problem is that the boundary review has already commenced and the Boundary Commission is expected to report later this year, so that would all go down the drain. There would definitely have to be primary legislation, and there is quite a lot going on at the moment, so would there be time for it? We would need to get it through so that we could do the boundary reviews by 2018, ready for the general election in 2020, so there really is not the time. The review has already started—I ought to move on, otherwise we will move round and round in circles—but that is the reason.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, wanted to know how the pilots were chosen. They have been chosen through the EROs, who came forward with ideas and proposals and expressed the wish to participate. He also talked about the Law Commission. The Government are currently considering the commission’s recent interim report on electoral law. This comprehensive and wide-ranging report makes a number of recommendations, including in relation to electoral registration, and it is important that the Government give the report due consideration before making a formal response. I hope he will understand that I cannot pre-empt the Government’s response at this stage. I look forward to continuing the work to improve electoral registration.
The noble Lord asked why the Government do not change the registration on which the boundary review is concluded. I think I have already covered that. As I said, it would need primary legislation, which is not possible at this time. The noble Lord also mentioned the extent of application. I think he was talking about England, Wales and Scotland, and how that worked. The legal jurisdiction is England and Wales, and that is its extent. The order applies only to England because the authorities concerned are all in England.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about looking at postal databases to boost registration levels. The use of data to improve electoral registration is an important tool, and indeed Birmingham and South Lakeland will look to harness the information from multiple local data sources to help target their activity at households. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned, there is indeed a terrible problem with take-up from certain representations in the country, particularly BMEs. We are looking at that, and it really has to be sorted out. It is a problem that seems to keep going on and on. The Cabinet Office is putting this at the top of its list.
Students are a difficult problem as they tend to move house every year. Part of the problem is that the actual academic year starts in September and October but the registration is done in the December the year before. Again, that is being looked into. We are hoping that civil organisations such as Bite The Ballot are having some impact in getting students to register. It was interesting that it seems that a lot of students registered to vote in the EU referendum but did not actually vote when the day came. We are looking into why that was the case. It cannot be that they all slept in from 7 am until 10 pm.
I think the answer is that not all of them were given the opportunity, or saw that there was an opportunity, to register for a postal vote. When the period for registration was extended—when, as the Minister will recall, the system collapsed—we did not extend the deadline for postal votes. There was a whole 24 or 36 hours when they could register but could not then get a postal vote. Obviously, many of them would have found that they would not be in the place where they had anticipated registering because it was the end of the academic year.
I take the noble Lord’s point. Interestingly, all chancellors at universities were written to at the start of the referendum to say, “Please encourage students to register”. At that time the students would have been able to get a postal vote, but I certainly take the noble Lord’s point. I have probably covered all the questions. Is there anything I have left out?
The Minister has covered the points and we are very grateful for that. However, I think generally that the Government have to do more in this area. I am sure that they wrote letters to the vice-chancellors, which is great, but this should be included as part of the normal work of the university; they should have to get people to register to vote. With all the thousands of young people turning up at universities every year, part of their induction should be getting them to register to vote. Registration is often seen as going on in the corner over there with the door shut, and few other people get involved. It must be much more of a responsibility when public servants in a variety of roles meet members of the public. That is what we need to do to make it work.
I agree with the noble Lord. Of course students can register at home as well. However, we are very fortunate today to have a Minister for higher education here, so I am sure she is taking note of everything that everyone has said and will go back and make sure that we concentrate on this one. It is a very important point and the Cabinet Office is well aware of it. We need to make sure that we do more.
Also, I thank the Minister for saying that she was in awe of all the experts sitting around the Room. I hope that one day we might be listened to.
I always listen to the noble Lord. I thank everyone who has taken part and I commend the regulations to the Committee.