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Electoral Registration (Barnet)

Oral Answers to Questions — Constitutional Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 28th February 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 2:30 pm, 28th February 2006

If she will make a statement on the level of electoral registration in the London borough of Barnet.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In the London borough of Barnet, there are probably some 22,000 people who are eligible to vote but who are not on the electoral register, and who are therefore unable to vote.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that this is a lamentable performance by Conservative-run Barnet council, given that almost a quarter of voters have not been registered? Does this not demonstrate the council's complete lack of commitment to the democratic process? It put out 64 canvassers only last year and it is now reduced to paying them £1.50 per voter signed up; such paying by piece rate is a real sign of desperation. It has not, so far as I can see, taken up the issue of data matching or been imaginative by, for example, trying to register people at supermarkets and further education and sixth-form colleges. Does this not show that the Conservative party really has no interest in democracy?

S

If you want to register to vote, it is rather easy to have a form sent to you, which you can then fill in and return. If you can't be bothered to do that, are you likely to bother to go out and vote when an election comes round?

Submitted by Sam Evans Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are probably more than half a million Londoners who are eligible to vote at the forthcoming council elections, but who will be unable to do so because they are not on the electoral register. The important thing is for electoral administrators in all boroughs to find those hard-to-register voters. This is not, by and large, a problem associated with white home owners aged over 55; rather, it is associated more with young members of black and minority ethnic groups who live in private rented accommodation. That is the information given to us by the Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Electoral Commission, and all electoral administrators in London need to work on this issue.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The situation in Barnet—and, indeed, across London—is, as Mr. Dismore says, disgraceful. It is unacceptable that more than half a million Londoners who should be registered to vote are not. Has the right hon. and learned Lady had a chance to progress the excellent suggestion, made by my hon. Friend Simon Hughes during Second Reading of the Electoral Administration Bill, of having a democracy day, on which we can really sell the concept of electoral registration? Can she report such progress to the House?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I agree with the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I pay tribute to the contribution made by Simon Hughes to the debate on electoral registration. Those Opposition Members who do not represent inner-city areas, where there are very low levels of registration, might not understand the true position in the way that we do. The point is that our democracy is worth its name only if it is equal, and at the moment it is not equal. Those who are black and young and live in rented accommodation in an inner city are less likely to have a vote. We should all be concerned about this issue.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in Islington, which has a Liberal Democrat-run council, only just over 67 per cent. of those eligible to vote have been registered? The Labour group attempted to pass a motion relating to this issue at a council meeting, but it was voted down by the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrat councillor responsible for performance, Terry Stacy, shouted, "That's why we win elections"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. The hon. Lady should have read the original question, which is on Barnet. Although she can allude to London, she cannot major on another London borough within the scope of this question.