Voter Registration and Boundary Commission Review

Oral Answers to Questions — Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 2017.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention) 12:00 am, 20th July 2017

What discussions the Committee has had with the commission on the effect of (a) recent rises in voter registration and (b) the 2017 general election on the conclusions of the most recent Boundary Commission review.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

The Electoral Commission this week published a report on electoral registration at the June 2017 UK general election. It highlights that online electoral registration resulted in a record electorate of an estimated 46.8 million people. The commission’s report argues that further modernisation is required to reduce the impact of large numbers of duplicate registration applications, and to ensure that the registration process is more joined up with other public services. The commission does not have any responsibilities in relation to the review of parliamentary constituency boundaries, which are a matter for the UK’s boundary commissions.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

As my hon. Friend points out, 2.9 million new people registered to vote and became part of a record electorate in the recent general election. There was a similar spike before last year’s referendum. Surely we should now heed the Electoral Commission’s recommendation that boundary reviews take place after a major electoral event, to take those new people into account and to ensure that the 2022 election does not hark back to the outmoded situation of 2015.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

The current review of parliamentary constituencies is a matter for the boundary commissions, but the Electoral Commission has previously recommended that Parliament and the Boundary Commission consider whether it would be more appropriate to base reviews on electoral data taken from the registers used for elections, rather than from the register published on 1 December.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

It is perfectly reasonable for students and others to be registered in two places if they are normally resident in both. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be sensible to check one in 100 late registrations to see whether they are double-registered and whether double voting has taken place? That would give us more scope to determine whether and how much fraud took place at the last election.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

I am sure that the Electoral Commission will take heed of the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. It takes seriously any suggestion that an individual might have voted twice, but so far there is little evidence of widespread abuse in the recent general election. As he says, it is possible in certain circumstances for people—including students and MPs—to be lawfully registered to vote in more than one place. However, it is a criminal offence to cast more than one vote on their behalf in a UK parliamentary general election.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Shadow Minister (Wales)

One of the most efficient organisations in recruiting young people to the electoral register is Bite the Ballot. It can register 16 to 18-year-olds for as little as 25p per elector; by comparison, the Electoral Commission’s advertising campaigns cost £80 to £90 per download. Will my hon. Friend liaise with the Electoral Commission and ask whether it will develop service level agreements with this excellent organisation?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

I am more than happy to take up my hon. Friend’s suggestion. He is a doughty campaigner on this issue, and I am sure that he will continue that work now that he is back with us in this place.

Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil

The commission is correct to highlight the discrepancy between the 1 December assessment of our electorate, and the electorate in our most recent election. In my constituency, the difference between the 2015 and 2017 elections was 8,000, which is over 10%. Would the hon. Lady welcome an investigation by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee into how we deal with such discrepancies?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

It will be for the Committee and its new members, when it is constituted, to consider the best way of examining the issues. We all want to ensure that registers are as complete as possible, that people are not missed out and that there is no reduction in the number of people registered to vote, so that the boundary commissions can consider parliamentary constituency boundaries based on the best available registers.