Electoral Register

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 15th October 2013.

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Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes 11:30 am, 15th October 2013

What steps his Office is taking to improve the completeness and accuracy of the Electoral Register.

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

The Government will shortly publish the results of our confirmation dry run exercise, which matched almost 47 million electors against Department for Work and Pensions data. The results were much better than we anticipated and, using a combination of national and local data, could lead to an overall average match rate of 85%. In addition, we are making registration simpler by enabling online registration, and in June we announced £4.2 million-worth of measures to maximise voter registration ahead of the transition to individual electoral registration.

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer, but will he explain what he is doing to promote voter registration among our armed services personnel, whose percentage registration has been highlighted as a cause for concern?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I know that the Cabinet Office has been working with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that efforts are undertaken. Considerable efforts have been made in the past, but where we can do more, we should do more, in order to encourage anyone who is eligible to vote to do so and to enter into the new individual voter registration system, as I explained earlier.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

As well as the problem of not enough voters being registered, there is a problem of voters registered under the wrong category. Given the growing number of EU nationals in this country who can vote in local and European elections but not in Westminster parliamentary elections, may we have clearer guidance from his Office to that effect?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I am not sure precisely what my hon. Friend is referring to, but the rules are very clear: EU nationals may vote in local and European elections but not national elections, and electoral registration officers are fully aware of that and, in my experience, are scrupulous in ensuring that the system reflects it. If he has any particular reservations, however, he can of course bring them to my attention.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Leader of the House of Commons

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that in Northern Ireland there is a new drive for individual registration, and would he find it helpful to monitor the success of that exercise and to learn from the experience?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Absolutely; in designing the system of individual voter registration that we are introducing, we looked very carefully at the strengths and weaknesses of the experience in Northern Ireland. The most important innovation on which we have embarked is the one I explained earlier, which is matching the very large databases that we already have with information on the electoral register and, in effect, automatically enrolling millions of people on the individual voter registration system.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

What will be the Electoral Commission’s budget for raising awareness of the introduction of individual electoral registration?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific figure, but of course we work very closely with the Electoral Commission to ensure that we pull in the same direction to raise awareness of the changes to the new system, and we have allocated just over £4 million to various groups locally working with us and the Electoral Commission to raise awareness among those groups where under-registration has historically been a problem.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

First, I join the Deputy Prime Minister in congratulating the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, Greg Clark, on his appointment.

The Deputy Prime Minister spoke about the data-matching dry run this summer, which I understand produced an outcome nationally of 78% accuracy. Within that, however, was a range of 47% to 87%. Is there not a risk that even more electors will fall off the electoral register because of the speed at which the Government are introducing the new system? Will he consider delaying the introduction of individual voter registration in order to maximise the completeness and accuracy of the register?

Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg The Deputy Prime Minister , Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office), Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the data-matching tests are a dry run and have exceeded expectations. We think that the use of those central databases, particularly the DWP database, combined with what we do with other databases, should raise the overall figure of automatic enrolment when that finally happens. As he also knows, we have done a considerable amount to ensure that there is a two-year roll-over period, so that people who do not automatically register before the next general election will still have an opportunity to do so, while door-to-door information will be provided to people so that they will know how the new system works. We have put as many belt-and-braces provisions in place as possible, therefore, to ensure that the maximum number of people are on the new IER system.