Electoral Register
Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister
2:30 pm

Photo of Paul Uppal

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West, Conservative)

What plans he has to improve the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register.

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Mark Harper (The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)

In order to deliver a more complete and accurate electoral register, we will introduce our proposals for individual registration, the principle of which is supported on both sides of the House. We have published our

proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny and we will respond to the Select Committee shortly. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome these changes.

Photo of Paul Uppal

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West, Conservative)

I welcome the Government’s initiative on individual voter registration, especially the provision to deny the postal vote to people who are unable to provide national insurance details. Does my hon. Friend agree that we might expand that principle by considering the option of requiring individual voter ID from people voting at polling stations?

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Mark Harper (The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)

The Government do not have any plans to introduce a requirement for voters to present ID when they vote. We think the current arrangements get the balance right between accessibility and security. We keep these matters under review, however. My hon. Friend will know that there is such a requirement in Northern Ireland, which has a different history in this regard, but it is not in the Government’s plans at present.

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Chris Ruane (Opposition Whip (Commons); Vale of Clwyd, Labour)

The number of unregistered voters increased from 6 million in December 2010 to 8.5 million in April 2011, so there has been a huge 2.5 million extra unregistered voters in the space of four months. Will that devastatingly high figure increase still further as a consequence of the rapid introduction of individual electoral registration?

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Mark Harper (The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that the research that the Electoral Commission carried out—and which was funded and conducted at the initiative of the Government so that we could see the state of the existing registers—should shake any Members who had a sense of complacency, and who thought the existing system was perfect, out of that complacency. These findings show that there is an urgent need to move to a more accurate and complete system. If the hon. Gentleman waits for the response that we will give to the Select Committee report, he will learn that we have acknowledged some of those concerns, and I think he will be pleasantly surprised by our response.

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Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North, Conservative)

Following the data-matching pilots, what assurances can the Minister give that information and data held by the Department for Work and Pensions will be compatible with the current systems used by electoral registration officers throughout the country?

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Mark Harper (The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The initial response to the data-matching pilots has been very positive. The Electoral Commission will publish its own independent assessment in March, and we will be saying a little more about that in our response to the Select Committee. Data matching opens up ways of ensuring that the register is more complete and accurate and requires voters to do less work.

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William McCrea (Shadow Spokesperson (Justice); South Antrim, DUP)

Will the Minister assure me that he and his colleagues will carefully examine the implementation of the individual electoral registration which has already taken place in

Northern Ireland, that any lessons will be learned and that any necessary changes will be made to enhance the situation?

Photo of Mark Harper

Mark Harper (The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have already set out some of the lessons we have learned, such as on implementing a carry-forward from the beginning. I have visited Northern Ireland, talked to the chief electoral officer there, looked at some of the very exciting outreach work that people there are doing to get younger voters registered and talked to people about how data matching works. We have learned lessons already and we will continue to work with people in Northern Ireland.