The Electoral Register

2. Questions to the Counsel General – in the Senedd at on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour

(Translated)

6. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the Electoral Commission concerning the number of Welsh citizens whose names are missing from the electoral register? OQ61157

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:14, 21 May 2024

(Translated)

Thank you very much for the question.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour

It is estimated that up to 400,000 eligible Welsh citizens may not be properly registered to vote in local government and Senedd elections, and I've raised my concerns with the Electoral Commission. This is one of the reasons that we will be introducing the automatic registration of electors through the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, which has gone through Stage 2 and is now headed towards Stage 3 later on in June.

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 3:15, 21 May 2024

Well, thanks to the Counsel General for that. I listened carefully to the earlier exchange with Rhys ab Owen on ID cards. I think what Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg actually said, Dirprwy Lywydd, was that the Government's ID policy was a failed attempt at gerrymandering, and, on that matter, I think we ought to bow to his expertise. By contrast, your own proposals will tackle that astonishing number of Welsh citizens who never have an opportunity to vote at all. I believe, as I know others in the Chamber do, that taking part in a democratic election is a duty of citizenship, but if 400,000 Welsh citizens aren't even on the register, they never have that opportunity, and the work that you are doing on automatic registration will go a very long way to putting that democratic deficit right. So, I'd be grateful if you could give the Chamber an update on how quickly you think we may be able to make that progress here in Wales.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:16, 21 May 2024

Thank you for that question and those comments. I think there is an amount of very transformative legislation that has been going through the Senedd, which started at the beginning of the session, and that is that not only are we reforming the Senedd and we're removing I think the undemocratic first-past-the-post system, the big challenge we have is to start talking seriously about democratic health. That is, the stability of any society is dependent on the extent to which people are prepared to participate and give it its support. The fewer people who participate, the weaker the mandate of any Government, and I think this is something that is beginning to resonate through, I think, countries where you have had falling participation.

Now, we cannot force people to vote, but what we can do is to ensure that the first step is there, that people are actually in place and able to vote. And, of course, as the Electoral Commission noted, in Wales, we are 400,000 people short of those who should be. That is probably something like 8 million in the UK. That raises a real credibility issue in terms of democratic mandate. We can't force people to vote. Obviously, we want to ensure that people do vote, but, unless they're on the register in the first place, then that becomes something that we know from elections is not possible.

So, this is not a silver bullet, but it is a starting point on greater reform in terms of the recognition of the weaknesses within our current structures. I actually think that the legislation, which I think goes to Stage 3 on 17 or 18 June and I hope will have completed its passage this summer and gone for Royal Assent, that it will apply, then, for the 2026 elections—. And I think this is legislation where we show how it can be done, and other countries in the rest of the UK, I think England and, indeed, Scotland, and other places, will see this as a model to follow on, as a starting point for improving our democratic health and greater participation in elections.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 3:19, 21 May 2024

I do find it somewhat astonishing that the Counsel General and former First Minister haven't made any reference at all to the fact that any UK resident can apply for a voter authority certificate, which is completely free of charge on the UK Government's website. And if we are serious about increasing voter turnout, which I do agree with—it was woeful during the police and crime commissioner elections recently; in my constituency, I think some ballot boxes were as low as 8 per cent in some areas—if we're really serious about increasing voter turnout, will you join me in putting on the public record that people in Wales can apply for a voter authority certificate via the UK Government's website, completely free of charge?

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour

Well, you make a partly valid case in the sense that the Electoral Commission did a lot of work to tell people, but there are still many people who actually weren't aware. Where you have to go back to is, of course: what was the motivation for introducing this? Was this motivation because of some great concern over electoral fraud or over the robustness of the electoral system? There was no—[Interruption.] There was no evidence—[Interruption.] There was no evidence—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:20, 21 May 2024

Can you allow the Member to respond please?

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour

Yes, it's difficult when you are heckled by your own side, isn't it? There was no evidence for this. As Mark Drakeford mentioned, the purpose it was introduced—. Let's be clear—because the cat was out of the bag from Rees-Mogg, wasn't it—it was about voter suppression. It was about trying to make it more difficult for people to vote. Clearly, that happened when one of your former Prime Ministers turns up and he can't vote, when a veteran can't vote, when a student on his ID card can't vote. It raises the question as to why is it necessary to actually produce an ID card if there is no evidence that they are actually required. You know as well as I do that the purpose behind it is voter suppression, because there are categories of voters that you don't actually want to participate in our elections. That is the reasoning behind it. Rees-Mogg let the cat out of the bag and you're afraid to admit it.