Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:06 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of Roger Godsiff Roger Godsiff Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 6:06 pm, 6th September 2010

In theory, registration should be compulsory at the moment. Indeed, I saw something issued by Greenwich council saying that people should put their name on the register of electors and could be fined £1,000 for not doing so. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

We live in an age where all parties, rightly, make great play of the virtues and obligations of citizenship. I would have thought that it was a basic obligation of a citizen of the United Kingdom, who chooses to live in a democratic country, to take the trouble to express their view through receiving a ballot paper when a general election is held. Bearing in mind that the coalition Government are proposing five-year, fixed-term Parliaments, it does not seem to me an onerous obligation to place on a citizen of the United Kingdom once every five years.

Of course, I am not saying that an individual citizen should be obliged to vote for any party or candidate. People are perfectly entitled to do what they want with their ballot paper once they have received it. They could deface it, for example, or rip it up. Indeed, all of us will have stood at counts and seen ballot papers on which electors have put either no mark at all or certain marks in order to express their views on all the candidates-sometimes in the most colourful language. I have absolutely no problem at all with somebody doing that, because the important thing is that they will have expressed their views, whatever they might be and however offensive I might find them, and I believe that that is a basic obligation of a citizen in a democratic society.

Furthermore, by moving to a system of obligatory voting, we could begin to address the very important issue, which several Members have raised and the Electoral Commission has highlighted, whereby 3.5 million-plus people are missing from the electoral register. The majority are not on the register because the head of household did not register them, because they were not in when the council canvasser called or because they did not think that they were entitled to be on it.