Electoral Registration and Administration Bill
Bill Presented — Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd, Labour)
It is a pleasure and an honour to follow Mr Williams, who has been a staunch campaigner on these issues for many years, ever since I informed him that his Bronglais ward had the worst registration rate in the whole of Wales, at just 56%.
I wish to touch on a number of issues. I have had a big interest in this subject for 10 years, and I have tabled about 300 parliamentary questions and spoken many times in Parliament on it. We all thought that there were 3 million to 3.5 million people missing off the register. Two or two and a half years ago, I had a meeting with people from Experian, who told me that the real figure was nearer 6 million to 6.5 million. I took that figure to the Electoral Commission, which said that it was not true. It then undertook its own research and, lo and behold, it said last November that 6 million to 6.5 million people were missing off the register—but they were not the same as Experian’s missing 6 million, so even more people may be missing off the register. I mentioned in an intervention that I think that the private sector has a role to play in helping us to improve the registers. It has the detail already and we should be listening to it.
The profiles of the missing 6 million people include, in the main, the poor, those living in social or council housing, those on the minimum wage, the unemployed, black and ethnic minority people and young people. At the moment, 6 million people fitting those profiles are
off the register and had the changes gone ahead as originally proposed, the Electoral Commission—not Chris Ruane, Labour MP—said that that figure would have gone up to 16 million. We would have been left without a properly functioning democracy. I give credit to the Government for listening to many calls from Members on both sides of the House and from civic society, but the Electoral Commission has stated that the registration rates could go down as low as 65%.
I want to contrast the previous Labour Government’s attitude to constitutional issues with that of the Conservative and Liberal Government over the past two years right up until very recently. We never treated the issues as party political, but pursued them in the interests of democracy. In 2001, Labour instituted a rule that took people—often quite poor people—off the register if they failed to sign their electoral registration form for two years on the trot, as we wanted an accurate register. Millions disappeared, mainly Labour voters. We did not do that for party political reasons, as it worked against us.
In 1998, we proposed proportional representation for European elections. We did not have to do that, but we did because it was the right thing to do, and Labour suffered in Wales, going from four MEPs to one. We had a Scottish consensus on Scottish devolution that lasted for three or four years, and we introduced PR knowing that Labour would not get full control.