Amendment 16

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour 7:00 pm, 8th October 2020

My Lords, I want to say a few words in support of the amendment, to which I have put my name.

In Committee, your Lordships heard a lot about the incompleteness of the electoral register and about the 8 million or more who are eligible to be on it but are not and are therefore unable to vote. We could, and should, do better in securing a more complete register. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, who so ably chaired the Select Committee on which I served—it was a pleasure to serve under him—has set out the compelling reasons why this is so important.

The amendment asks the Government to produce proposals to improve the completeness of the register. I can see no reason for that to be resisted unless, despite what they have said repeatedly, the Government do not want to improve the register’s completeness. Beyond that, the amendment encourages the Government to make improvements in one area of the electoral register that particularly needs improvement.

As the Electoral Commission and many others keep pointing out, and as the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, has just demonstrated, the number of attainers on the register has fallen significantly over the last few years. Between 2015 and 2018, the registration rate for eligible 16 and 17 year-olds almost halved, and the introduction of individual electoral registration, for various reasons, has been a significant driver of such decline.

Quite apart from the general imperative, which, again, was much discussed in Committee, to ensure that the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies should be drawn on the basis of the most accurate and complete electoral register possible—the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, has just reminded us of those arguments—there is, I believe, another reason why the amendment matters. Attainers are not the only group significantly underrepresented on the electoral register but they are important in one particular respect: Parliament makes the laws that shape the country that they inherit, so it must be right to do everything possible to ensure that they have every opportunity to shape Parliament.

I recognise that there may be libertarian concerns that registration should not be automatic but a matter of choice for individuals. However, the measures suggested in the amendment would be enabling; it is not a back door to compulsory voting. It would still be for the individual to decide whether or not to vote, but individuals cannot make that choice if the process of registration has passed them by—and the data show that all too often, that process does pass attainers by.

There may also be concerns about privacy. But as more and more services move online, the Government have developed some considerable expertise in securing the privacy of users. I support the amendment on the basis that the Government would be able to address any such concerns if and when they introduced any measures to increase the electoral registration of attainers.

The amendment would require the Government to take steps to improve the completeness of the register, and would encourage them to do so, for the young people who will inherit this country from us. I therefore hope that it is an amendment that all sides of your Lordships’ House will support.