Electoral Register

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th January 2013.

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Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Labour, Newport East 11:30 am, 8th January 2013

What steps the Government are taking to ensure that under-represented groups are included on the electoral register.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As I mentioned in my previous answer, it is important that we ensure that all those who should be are included on the electoral register, including the under-represented groups to which the hon. Lady’s question refers.

The Government, politicians, parties, electoral administrators and plenty of others have a role to play in encouraging people to register to vote. The Government are committed to doing all they can to maximise registration, including among under-registered groups. They are looking to modernise the system to make it as convenient as possible and are running various sets of data-related pilots to find out how we can best identify unregistered groups and add them to the register.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Labour, Newport East

Does the Minister agree that the annual canvass is a really important part of ensuring that under-represented groups are on the register and that any attempts to water down the frequency of the canvass, or give powers to Ministers to abolish it altogether, should be avoided?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Our current plans for electoral registration do include the annual canvass, which will continue to be used for as long as it remains the best way to ensure that the register is as complete and accurate as possible.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

Will the Minister clarify what penalty, if any, will be imposed on those who fail to return an individual electoral registration form?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

There will be a set of penalties that relate to those actions. I will be happy to write to my hon. Friend so that he gets the fullest possible detail.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

When does the Minister expect a national online electoral registration system to be in place?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Many Members take an interest in that issue. I do not have a specific date to give the hon. Gentleman. The Government are looking at the matter and I shall be happy to discuss it further with him.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

We all want a register that is complete and accurate. The Electoral Commission’s recent damning report on the move to individual voter registration in Northern Ireland is extremely worrying, yet the Government have decided to speed up the implementation of individual voter registration and to remove the safeguards that Labour put in place.

All this is happening at a time when local authorities are having to make record cuts, including to the amount that they can devote to electoral registration. Given the criticism levelled by the Electoral Commission’s report, what extra are the Government considering to avoid a repeat in the rest of the UK of the experiences in Northern Ireland, which could see millions of eligible voters dumped off the electoral register?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I think the right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting some of what the report says. The evidence from the report is that continuous registration is working for the majority of the population in Northern Ireland. The report notes that many of the key lessons from the experience in Northern Ireland have already been addressed by the proposals. It also states:

“The findings from this research do not undermine the principle of individual electoral registration or mean that the introduction of this system in Great Britain will necessarily lead to similar declines in accuracy and completeness.”