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

That might well be the case, and I shall come to that point in a moment. I hear what the hon. Lady says, but in my opinion the majority of people who are entitled to vote but missing from the electoral register do not deliberately choose not to be registered. However, it is quite true that during the furore over the poll tax a large number of people deliberately left their names off the electoral register, because Mrs Thatcher's Government, in their wisdom, decided to use the electoral register as the basis for levying it.

By far, the majority of people who are eligible to be on the electoral register but not registered are younger people, those from lower-income social groups, those who live in rented subdivided houses, people who do not have a strong command of the English language and individuals who have learning difficulties. If voting were obligatory, there would be a much stronger emphasis on electoral registration officers ensuring that, in every household, everybody who was eligible to register was registered.

I very much hope that the Government will seriously consider allowing the electorate to express their opinion on obligatory voting in the United Kingdom, particularly given that we are moving towards a system that is used by Australia, where voting is obligatory and, in comparison with Britain, the turnout is more than 90%. Indeed, it would make absolute sense if such a question were on the same ballot paper as the one under discussion, because the argument about cost just does not come into the debate. We are going to have a referendum anyway, and nobody can convince me that two questions on a ballot paper would increase the cost. So, if ever there were a time when the Government could hold a ballot, it is now.

If the coalition Government say, "No, we are not going to do that," we will be left with the bizarre situation in which the Conservative party does not want AV, and in which the Liberal Democrats do not want AV-because they want PR-but will vote for AV for reasons of expediency and still hold a referendum on it. If the answer to that question is no, however, they are not going to hold a referendum to ask the people whether, on a second question, there should be obligatory voting in the United Kingdom. That is bizarre. I do not wish to make a partisan point, but the Deputy Prime Minister dotted his speech with phrases such as, "Not for us to decide," "The will of the people must prevail," and "The final decision should be with the electorate." I suspect that, if nothing else, such a question would certainly engender a lively debate throughout the country, and I commend it to the Government.