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 Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 8th October 2020

My Lords, in the debate on this Bill in the other place on 14 July, the Minister Chloe Smith spoke about

“what we are doing to ensure that the registers are as accurate and complete as possible” and said:

“We should encourage more people to register to vote.”—[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/20; col. 1466.]

This amendment does nothing more than ask the Government to say how. It requires them to set out proposals for doing what they say they want to do in relation to young people and makes suggestions. It asks the Government to consider two different ways in which we could easily, and without cost, ensure that more young people are added to the electoral registers by the time they are first entitled to vote.

The Government say that the completeness of the electoral registers is back up to the levels that predated the introduction of individual electoral registration. However, as my noble friend Lord Shutt pointed out, the Electoral Commission showed in 2019 that while 94% of over-65s are registered to vote, only 66% of 18 to 19 year-olds are registered to vote. Those who will attain the age of 18 in the next year or two are supposed to be included in the electoral registers for the purposes of the Boundary Commissions. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, pointed out, the registration rate for this group has fallen dramatically. According to the Electoral Commission, only about 25% of attainers are currently registered, compared to about 45% in 2015. It is therefore perfectly reasonable for this House to insist that the Government lay proposals before Parliament to implement their declared policy of improving the completeness of the electoral registers and recognising the problem with young people in particular.

Linking the registration process to the issuing of national insurance numbers is an obvious way in which that can be done. If the Government were willing, the Department for Work and Pensions could notify electoral registration officers that young people must be added to the registers when they get their national insurance numbers. All their rights to be registered anonymously and not be on the public register could be properly protected. The Government have been reluctant to extend across Great Britain the model successfully used in Northern Ireland to register 16 and 17 year-olds at school but accepted that students, when registering for university, should be notified of the electoral registration process, thereby encouraging them to register, as the Government say they want.

We need a system for registering young people that works. I can think of no better way to do this than by linking the process with the issuing of national insurance numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, who sadly cannot be here this evening but is trusted by many Conservative candidates to advise on their campaigns, said on this issue in Grand Committee that he supported either assisted or automatic registration for all those about to attain the age of 18 and that they should be included in the electoral registers. Both options are possible with the amendment. He said that it was crucial to get people involved in the community and the politics of society from an early age. The amendment is about enabling that. We encourage young people to think for themselves and vote accordingly, and I urge this House to do the same.