Electoral Registration — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 22 January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour 3:15, 22 January 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that electoral registration levels do not decline between the 2010 and 2015 general elections.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government are safeguarding the completeness of the register by using data matching to ensure that the vast majority of existing electors are reregistered in the transition to individual electoral registration. We are phasing the transition over two years, with a carry-forward to allow those not individually registered to vote in the 2015 election. We are making registration more accessible by introducing online registration and are providing additional resources at a national and local level to fund activities to boost the completeness and accuracy of the register to the greatest degree possible.

Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour

I thank the Minister for that Answer. I welcome all the measures that he has described and all the other measures that the Government have taken to improve the levels of registration. I also recognise his own personal commitment to that goal. However, he must recognise that every independent authority has warned that the approach that the Government are taking to changing the method of registration carries risks to levels of registration among particular groups of people—young people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and people living in areas of extreme deprivation. In the light of that, does he recognise that, in what is likely to be a very tightly contested general election next year, levels of registration could significantly skew its outcome? They are likely to benefit one party alone: the Conservative Party. In the light of that, will he give an assurance that he will monitor levels of registration later this year and, if they have declined, will he make more money available to local authorities to increase levels of registration?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I think the noble Lord knows that we are working extremely hard across the board on all this. In the confirmation dry run on data matching, the two boroughs that came out with less than 50% successful data matching were Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea—not exactly the areas with the lowest level of income in the country.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat

My Lords, since the Electoral Commission report in April 2011 indicated that some 17.7% of the eligible electorate were not registered at that time, and my noble friend has indicated that he does not have centrally held information about funding allocated to electoral registration, could he not invite local authorities to indicate to the Government how they are handling this and what money is still required in order to make sure that individual registration is completed by the time of the next general election?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, my right honourable friend Greg Clark made a speech to the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives only last week in which he spoke about the provision of targeted additional funding to those local authorities that are shown in the confirmation dry run to have the greatest difficulties. There are now a number of local authorities where, on the data matching, we are already above 85% confirmation, and that is much better than we had initially thought.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

My Lords, while it is too late for this for the next general election, surely the Government have to wake up to the fact that we need electronic registration, done with ID cards, and that, by 2020, the general election will be held not only with a register based on ID cards but will be electronic itself.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I admire the noble Lord’s commitment to everyone going online; the Government, as noble Lords will know, are encouraging people to go online. As I have said before, a number of social housing authorities are particularly assisting their tenants to use online registration and online communication with the Government. We are working in that direction.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that those political parties that have frustrated the opportunity for the next election to be fought on the basis of fair boundaries, as recommended by the Boundary Commission, are in no position to talk about fairness in elections?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, if we were to attempt to discuss fairness in elections in this House, we would spend a very long time not reaching a conclusion.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Labour

My Lords, estimates suggest that more than 6 million of our fellow citizens are not eligible to vote because they are not on the electoral register. That is a shocking situation. Can the noble Lord tell the House what the Government are doing to get these people registered? Will he also join me in urging local councils across the United Kingdom to do everything in their power to get people who are eligible to vote on to the register?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I remind the House that it was the previous Government who started the move to individual electoral registration. I also remind the House that the number of people registered has been going down for the past 10 years or more. Research shows that the largest single reason for declining registration is a decline in interest in politics more generally, followed by a more mobile population and the greater difficulties we now have with canvassing. We all share an interest in raising the level of popular interest in politics and making sure that the turnout in the next election is not low.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on the point that my noble friend has just made about creating an interest in and understanding of politics, will he please ensure that citizenship education of young people in schools is increased? At the moment, that is declining rapidly and it seems wholly counterproductive to his last remark that that should be so.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I entirely take the noble Lord’s point. Next week my right honourable friend Greg Clark will announce partnership arrangements with a number of voluntary organisations to encourage young people to register and take a greater interest in politics.