Mr. David Kidney accordingly presented a Bill to make it an offence to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child who is otherwise permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises from feeding milk to that child in that place or on those premises; to make provision in relation to the promotion of breastfeeding; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 November, and to be printed [Bill 79].
(Clauses Nos. 9 to 18; any new Clauses or new Schedules relating to Part 2 or Part 3 of the Bill; any new Clauses or new Schedules relating to the procedure to be followed in an election on the death of a candidate; and any new Clauses or new Schedules relating to candidates standing in more than one constituency at an election)
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): I advise the Committee that the first joint report of last Session from the Constitutional Affairs and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Committees on Electoral Registration and the evidence taken before the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 2 November are relevant to today's proceedings. Copies are available in the Vote Office.
We welcome the intention of the Bill and the Government's belated recognition that all is not well in our once-envied electoral system. It is in urgent need of attention because there is much work to be done following years of neglect. While we support many of the Bill's provisions, there are problems with what it fails to include. That is certainly the case with part 2, and specifically with clause 9. The Bill contains many ideas, but very little is offered in terms of immediate and substantive reform of the electoral system.
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A survey conducted by MORI earlier this year found that 54 per cent. of the public think that postal voting has made it easier to commit electoral fraud. An even higher percentage thought that electronic voting would increase fraud: 74 per cent. thought that that would be the case with voting by text message and 55 per cent. with voting by website. What is needed is genuine reform that will re-establish the integrity of the electoral system. What is also needed is a Bill that will crack down on the fraud that is detracting from the electorate's faith in our democracy. What we have, however, is a Bill that promises a lot, but does not deliver as much as it promises.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the MORI poll, which I think was conducted in May and June. Is he worried that such scientific research was conducted during a period in which there was wall-to-wall coverage in the press and on radio and television about postal ballot fraud? Surely, if changes are going to be made on the back of such research, it would have been better to carry it out at a more stable time.
The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Edward O'Hara): Order. Before the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) proceeds, I should like to draw the Committee's attention to the terms of the amendment. We are not at this point having a general debate on the Bill.
Mr. Djanogly: To answer the question put by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), yes, if a survey were conducted at a different time, it might produce a different answer, but he will appreciate that there are real concerns about the integrity of our voting system. I certainly do not think that the Government would deny that.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I hope that my question is precisely on the matter for debate. One issue involving clear mischief is the repetition of names, either because people have moved and should have come off the register at address A when they registered at address B, or because they have registered in the same name at more than one place. Do the amendments, or the Bill, deal with that mischief? If not, can we ensure between us that we do so? The Minister and I know that this is an issue not only in our borough but elsewhere.
We must be careful not to confuse the overriding need to preserve the integrity of the electoral system with the important but nevertheless secondary issue of increasing voter turnout. The registration process should provide an accurate, comprehensive and secure foundation for the conduct of elections. Registration is the building block on which all else rests. Without a credible system, talk of increasing voter turnout would only be counter-productive. We believe that British citizens should want to vote and should be proud of our democratic system. We also believe that steps need to be taken to facilitate that by making voting more secure and more accessible,
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but we do not believe in focusing on making it so easy to vote that people will vote just because it is easy to do so, rather than out of genuine democratic interest.
For these reasons, I want to focus on what needs to be done to ensure confidence in the integrity of our system. Preventing offences is clearly a more effective way to build public confidence than prosecuting offenders.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I want to ask the hon. Gentleman to address an essential point. Do the Opposition believe that it should be a priority for electoral registration officers to maximise the number of people on the register, to ensure the highest possible turnout at elections?
Mr. Djanogly: We believe that and we support the provisions that say it, but we want electoral registration officers also to be responsible for ensuring that people who should not be on the roll are not on it. Indeed, the integrity of the system is, from our point of view, the priority issue.
Registration is the biggest single issue about which the Electoral Commission receives inquiries from the public. Between the start of February this year and polling day, the commission fielded almost 36,000 telephone calls about registration, representing two thirds of all inquiries. There were a further 318,000 visitors to the commission's voter registration website. Young people are most likely to be unregistered, with 16 per cent. of 18 to 24-year-olds unregistereddouble the national average. The figure is similar for ethnic minorities and the unemployed, among whom 17 per cent. are unregistered.
Among the groups in society where registration rates are below average, lower turnout rates have also been recorded. Younger votersthose aged 24 and underare almost half as likely to vote as the population as a whole.