Parliamentary and Local Elections

Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st February 2018.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield 12:00 am, 21st February 2018

What steps he is taking to increase participation by under-represented groups in parliamentary and local government elections.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

What steps he is taking to increase participation by under-represented groups in parliamentary and local government elections.

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

Last December, we published our democratic engagement plan, setting out our current evidence on under-registered groups, our plans for deepening our understanding of engagement barriers and a commitment to tackling them. This year we are already delivering a number of projects focusing on young people and linked to the suffrage centenary celebrations.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield

The electoral roll would be a good place to start a strategy like that. The Government are perfectly good at finding us when they want our tax, yet an estimated 6 million people—predominantly younger urban voters, particularly those in ethnic minorities—are missing from the electoral roll. Everyone who is on Government registers through the benefit system, the tax system and the health system should be on the electoral roll. The boundary changes based on this flawed register are an undemocratic sham, so why are the Government working to make it more difficult to vote, rather than addressing this national scandal?

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

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my answer. We are not trying to make it more difficult to register to vote. We have set out a full plan about making it easier to do so for the groups who need it most. I take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that we have a number of record highs on our register. Since the introduction of individual electoral registration in 2014, more than 30 million people have registered to vote. Ahead of the general election last year, a record number of additional applications to register were submitted. The electoral register has reached a record level of 46.8 million electors, and we should be proud of that.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The Minister may be interested to know that the turnout in my constituency of Glasgow North East at the last election was 53%, which was well below the national average. It also happens to be an area with some of the lowest incomes and highest unemployment in the country. Research has shown that low-income workers and long-term unemployed people report lower levels of political knowledge and participation in political activities than those from other occupational backgrounds. Given that they are also less likely to be on the electoral register—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Sit down. What I want is a single-sentence question. Forgive me, but these prepared screeds are too long, and they are not fair to colleagues—a single sentence, and then sit down.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Given that these low-income groups are less likely to be on the electoral register, what is the Minister planning to do to actively engage with them and get them on the electoral register?

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

As I say, a range of things are set out in the democratic engagement plan. I look forward to working further with the hon. Gentleman and people across parties in this House and outside it to ensure that all those who are eligible to vote do so.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

Will the Minister confirm how she is ensuring that survivors of domestic violence can participate in our elections?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that very important point. We should be proud that, only last night in the House of Commons we saw hon. Members, cross party, supporting ways to make it easier for survivors of domestic abuse to be on the register. That is something that we should be proud of in this centenary year.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way of increasing participation is through a clear and trusted voting system? Will the Government perhaps look at how they can roll out first past the post in more English elections?

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

My hon. Friend reminds us that in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, there was the commitment to maintain first past the post as the way that we vote in this country and to roll it out to additional elections. I look forward to speaking further to him about that.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is clear that disabled people are under-represented in our democracy and our politics, but in 2015, the Minister’s Government abolished the access to elected office fund, which supported many disabled people in meeting the extra costs in standing for office. How can the Government claim to be making democracy more accessible when these financial barriers are put in their place?

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

The piece of evidence that I am working on at the moment relates to a call for evidence that came back from work on how to make voting in elections more accessible for those with disabilities. It is important to note that we are talking about a range of disabilities, and not just those that may be visible. That is something I am keen to focus on in my work. Indeed, I look forward to working further with the hon. Lady on ensuring that people with any disability feel able not only to participate in elections as candidates, but crucially, to register to vote.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Is it not right that, despite the concerns raised, individual electoral registration has both increased the roll and helped to reduce fraud?

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

That is absolutely correct. According to a 2016 report from the Electoral Commission, both completeness and accuracy have risen, and we should aim to keep it that way.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

Given the Government’s determination to end freedom of movement to and from this country, might this now be an appropriate time to embrace the principle that everyone legally resident in this country should have a say in its governance? Would the Minister therefore consider introducing proposals to allow those born in other countries who decide to stay and make this country their home after Brexit the right to vote and to welcome them to our democracy?

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

I am considering this point—a number of points need to be taken into account as we complete an orderly exit from the EU—but the broader point is that if somebody has citizenship in this country they have the right to vote, which we think is correct.