Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:51 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 4:51 pm, 26th September 2019

I will not take interventions, given that I have given up time to allow more Members to contribute to the debate.

We are also looking at reforming the annual canvass and are working constructively with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. The system is great at identifying people who have lived in one location for a long time, but we want to reform it, through the use of databases and other information, so that it targets other communities that we also want on the electoral register. We want a modern system. Fundamentally, the system originated in the 19th century, when heads of household would register to vote on behalf of the whole household, but that does not reflect modern lifestyles. It also means that resources are not targeted to getting the most vulnerable on the roll.

It has been good to hear some of the other speeches. I cannot go through them in detail, but I certainly enjoyed the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), especially when they talked about picking and choosing results. It is interesting to see how referendums described as once in a generation or once in a lifetime, with people told, “You have the power in your hands to make a sovereign choice,” suddenly, a couple of years later, become a matter of, “Actually, we’d like to have a rethink, please, and it was only an opinion poll.” In fact, referendums are different: people are told that they will make the decision and it will be binding.

People know my views on the separation of the Union; I think it would be a hugely retrograde step. However, had that been the decision of the Scottish people in 2014, we would have had to vote through the legislation. We cannot pick and choose which result we respect.