Overseas Electors Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 22nd March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:15 pm, 22nd March 2019

My hon. Friend is right, and given that the new clause seeks to reduce the burden on electoral registration officers, we would not want as an unintended consequence to increase that burden on officers, who would have to find voters who formerly lived in their constituency but who now live abroad. I imagine that the ERO would prompt people who are about to move abroad to register.

The new clause seeks to strengthen our democratic culture by encouraging voter registration. As my right hon. Friend Mark Tami and my hon. Friend Anna Turley said earlier, the Government are currently narrowing that group by making it harder for people to register and vote in certain pilot areas where ID requirements have been introduced. I call on the Government to think again about whether they are genuinely concerned with widening voter participation and registration, or whether they are considering such matters only for overseas voters.

Under new clause 1, EROs must ensure that the voting register is as accurate and complete as possible. Each year they conduct an annual canvass of households, issuing and chasing inquiry forms. Household inquiry forms are sent to every household to confirm the details of those living at the property. Although those forms do not directly generate new registrations, they are critical to producing information about the country. Under the new clause, any information generated from those forms that suggests that a British person is moving or has moved abroad, should lead to a notification from the ERO to prompt that person to put themselves on the overseas voters register.

Voter awareness is crucial to this legislation. Neil O’Brien spoke about the role that British diplomatic posts could play in registering UK citizens abroad, and letting them know about the importance of voting. Once overseas voters are made aware of their eligibility, they are more likely to vote. The earlier that someone registers within the current 15-year time limit, the easier it is to keep them registered after that time limit, and we will therefore remove the possibility of a rush to register immediately before an election, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Shipley.