Voter Registration Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:24 pm on 23rd November 2018.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 2:24 pm, 23rd November 2018

Given the frequency of snap elections—past and potentially future—I do not think that we should necessarily be arguing for people to plan their residency arrangements around the whims of the Government, whether they collapse or not. Also, people are not able to apply for a postal vote right up until the last moment, and they do not always know whether they will have to be away from their home address for an election. There are many circumstances, whether relating to education or to work, that will mean they need to move between different locations where they are registered, which makes that a more difficult argument. I think that we should be focusing on getting more people registered to vote, rather than making it harder for those people who are already registered to use their vote.

The point I was making about the armed forces is important, because we should go further to ensure that those who serve our country in uniform can use their vote to elect people to this place, and to local government and other offices. We must recognise that deployment patterns mean that they need to move to different locations, away from their homes and families. Indeed, voter registration already recognises that and allows it to be done.

A similar argument can be made for students, especially those studying away from home. The ability to register and to use their vote, whether they are at university in Plymouth or Exeter—wherever they might live—is an important part of ensuring that our young people and others in education do not lose their right to vote.

I think that there is an argument about making it easier for people to register to vote and then to use their vote. Instead of removing the flexibility that comes from having complex lives, often involving unpredictable travel patterns, we should be using this opportunity to talk about how we get more people on the electoral register, how we encourage our 16 and 17-year-olds to register at an early age—even though they are currently denied the right to vote—and how we can move to automatic voter registration, so that when someone registers for council tax, for instance, they are automatically passed on to register online.

This morning I registered to vote in my place in London, because I moved house a couple of months ago. When I filled in the online registration—I did it on my mobile from the Front Bench—I was asked, “Have you moved house recently?” There is progression in making registration easier. In fact, some of the points that Sir Christopher Chope made in his speech dealt with how people currently register to vote online. Online electoral registration has been an improvement in the system. It has not yet reached what I think should be its final destination, which is more automatic registration so that everyone is registered, regardless of whether they can fill in the details, whether their national insurance number matches Department for Work and Pensions records, or whether they follow things up with a letter along the way, which are the complications that have come from the registration system.

I think that potentially denying people the right to vote based on this type of legislation would be bad for our armed forces and bad for our young people studying in higher education, and for that reason I cannot support the Bill.