Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour 9:15 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, I hope to be brief and hope that the cameramen from the Independentare taking photographs on that side this time to note those who are closing their eyes and going to sleep.

We have been talking about the 3.5 million who are not registered. I think in a modern democracy everybody has a right to be on the register and therefore a right to vote. It is not just a matter of taking the 3.5 million people into account in dividing up the various constituencies. It should be their right. Whether they vote or not is a matter for them; that is their right. But in my view-and as I listen to these debates it has increasingly become my view-that it should be the responsibility of Government to make sure that people are on the register, not the right of the individual to take that decision. It should be the Government's decision.

In the modern world that is now possible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and I have been having this ongoing debate-it has been a very friendly debate-about the use of other databases to find people who are not on the register. When somebody is found through another data source-social security records, medical records, local government records, housing records, school records, or whatever else-it seems to me that the Government's view is that it is useful to check the register that exists. It is not to be used to ensure that people go on the register. If you find an 18 year-old who has left school and has not registered not on the register when he is clearly living at that address-because that was where he was at school, and as far as you know he has not moved-do you put him on the register? In my view, that is exactly what should happen. He should be put on the register so that we have a register that is much more accurate than the one that we have at present, and we are also fulfilling our democratic duty of giving people the right to vote if they wish to use it. That should be key to what we are doing.

The argument in the past would be that of course you had to send people round to houses and check the register. It was the argument in the past-and listening to these debates, I sometimes wonder what world people in this House live in. It was a physical act, but it is now electronic. You do a search for a particular name on your computer, in the electoral register that you have there, and up will come the name and address. You can then cross-reference that without moving from your desk on your computer with another data source that you have, and you can see whether the names and addresses marry up. That takes a few seconds, not the hours and hours that many noble Lords seem to think it would take to carry out that task. Yes, the records exist and, yes, we should be using all the databases not just to check the register but to put people on the register when we get the opportunity to do so.

Lastly, as I know noble Lords will expect me to say, this whole process would have been so much easier if we had had compulsory ID cards from the beginning. If we had everybody with an ID card who was a British citizen, that would have become the easy, straight source of an electoral register.