My Lords, I was a member of the Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, which reported earlier this month. I intervene in this debate to underline that some of the key conclusions of that Select Committee report bear directly on the aims of the Bill.
As the Minister stated, the Government wish by the Bill to deliver their manifesto commitment to have
“updated and equal UK Parliamentary boundaries … making sure that every vote counts the same”.
The process to determine this level playing field that would achieve this depends crucially on the quality of the data used, in particular the completeness and accuracy of the electoral registers. The Government clearly recognise the importance of good data; as has been stated, it was one of the reasons for introducing this legislation and it led the Government to introduce the new Clause 8 in the Bill.
But the Government need to think about going further. They need to address the important finding of our committee report that much more should be done to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the electoral registers, the key data for future boundary reviews. In our committee hearings, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and other noble Lords, we heard in evidence that millions of eligible voters are missing from the registers. The UK lags behind other countries in addressing this issue. We heard that there are regional disparities and that underrepresentation was more likely among certain demographic groups, including the BAME community, the young and students, the disabled and those in care homes. The committee specifically drew attention to the serious implications of this on the work of reviewing parliamentary boundaries and achieving the level playing field we all want.
Talk of completeness and accuracy of electoral registers may sound esoteric to some, but it certainly goes to the heart of much of the wider political debate about trust in the democratic process, regional disparities, race and inequality. I urge the Minister to prioritise work to improve the electoral registration process and ensure that the wider aims of the Bill can be achieved in the longer term.