Electoral Registration — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:50 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 1:50 pm, 12th January 2012

The Government and the Electoral Commission are both looking at this. Regarding the question of where canvasses are concentrated and how far one looks at suggestions such as the need to supply postal addresses on envelopes, council tax bills and utility bills, other Governments have experimented with, for example, the need to provide utility bills. This is part of the issue of asking what relevant data one might be able to use to help to pick up, as the noble Baroness said, particularly those who are young and unmarried, who move much more often or who live in private rented accommodation-those who, as we all know, are in the vulnerable sector.

One thing that we have done is to publish draft legislative provisions to extend from 17 to 25 working days the timetable for registering to vote in parliamentary general elections. This will take effect in time for the intended 2015 general election. Part of the reason for that is that we have discovered a surge in late registrations once an election has been announced. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, remarked, once polling cards are sent out, people living in multi-occupancy accommodation sometimes think, "Oh dear, I didn't get a polling card. I am not on the register, and I must register". On the other hand, that of course opens opportunities for fraud, particularly regarding late applications for postal votes. Therefore, there has to be sufficient time for some checking of late applications in those terms. That is the game we are attempting to negotiate, so to speak.

The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, says that voting is rather old-fashioned in the electronic age and that we should be using much more modern technology. The Government propose to move towards electronic registration, but we are approaching somewhat more cautiously the issue of moving towards electronic voting. Once I had been briefed on cybercrime, cyberwarfare and the ease with which one can hack, I was a little less enthusiastic than I had been previously about moving immediately to electronic voting.

As to the problems of citizenship engagement, I have some sympathy with the preference of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for the democratic moment in which the majority of people-