Voter Registration

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th July 2011.

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Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk 2:30 pm, 5th July 2011

What steps he is taking to increase voter registration.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is the individual responsibility of electoral registration officers to improve registration rates, but the Government are committed to helping them. He will know that the local council in his area is taking part in one of our data-matching pilots. I hope that that will have a positive effect on driving up registration rates, and then we can see whether it has lessons for rolling out such a system across the country.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Although it gave me great pleasure that Iain McKenzie was elected comfortably as the Labour candidate in the Inverclyde by-election—I was doubly joyous that the Liberal Democrats lost their deposit—I was concerned by the number of people I met who did not have an electoral registration card and were somewhat confused. Will the Minister assure me that the data-matching that he mentioned will be followed up by the Government, so that the responsibility, and the blame, is not left to electoral registration officers? It is a Government responsibility, if they want equal votes of equal value, to ensure that everyone is on the register.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I very much agree with the last sentiment that the hon. Gentleman expressed. My officials are working closely with all local authorities that are looking at matching electoral registers with other existing government databases, to see whether we can identify people who are eligible to vote, but not on the register, and to follow them up. The evidence from the pilots will be looked at not just by the Government but by the Electoral Commission, and if the pilots prove successful we will look at rolling them out across the country. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for that initiative.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Given that a key issue in increasing voter registration is the performance of electoral registration officers in every locality, which we know can vary enormously, is it not time that the Government gave the Electoral Commission the power to direct, and not just to issue advice?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend, who answers very ably for the Electoral Commission in this House, will know that it has made that point strongly to the Government. We will look at the analysis of the referendum this year, when the head of the Electoral Commission, as the chief counting officer, had that power of direction. We will look at how that worked in practice and then take a view on whether it makes sense to consider it for elections more widely.