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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend taken cognisance of the fact that, particularly in London, a growing number of people have two homes? We should encourage them to be registered at both homes, especially as they have a legitimate interest in municipal government, but many of them will be exercised by the fact they could be twice required to serve on a jury in two jurisdictions. I wonder whether he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will consider allowing such people to opt for jury service in one of the areas where they have a home, rather than in both. Such a double requirement serves as a disincentive for people to register in London.
I shall take my constituency as an example of the consequences of under-registration. About 10,000 people who live in my constituency are not registered. As a result, we had to go through in a boundary redistribution, as did every constituency in the country. Although my area has the same number of seatsin fact, the changes made locally are relatively minora significant number of seats disappeared nationally. That leads to the conclusion that the number of people not registered significantly contributes to the reduction in representation in different parts of the country.
Dr. Pugh : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that such things as Government grant are based on the number of people whom the Government believe to be living in a place. The most deprived areas thus suffer from inaccuracies in the electoral register because although many people live there and are in need, there is a shortfall of people on the register.
Interestingly enough, we have no representative from the London borough of Westminster. Such a point about the borough's estimated population was raised at the time of the census. The situation causes
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real problems. The under-registration in my constituency means that we often do not get the central support that we would perhaps receive if everyone were on the register.
That situation is the backdrop to any consideration of the amendments. Of course, clause 9 is at the heart of what the Bill is trying to achieve. Everyone would agree with the proposal in amendment No. 14 that electoral registration officers should be aware that people who are ineligible to remain on the register should be removed from it. We should remind electoral officers of that, but it is not the primary focus of what the clause should achieve.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): We are in a bit of danger of confusing two issues. Registration officers have a duty to facilitate registration, but encouraging registration is a completely separate issue. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such encouragement is perhaps a political activity, rather than a registration activity?
Mr. Love: The hon. Gentleman will find that other measures give electoral registration officers the powers and resources with which they can try to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of their right to register for, and participate in, elections. A line must be drawn when an attempt to encourage people to register and participate shaves into political considerations. However, the Bill does a good job by drawing the line in the right place.
I did not want to comment on amendment No. 14 in any great detail. I hope that the Minister will treat it in the way in which the Opposition intended. We should remind electoral registration officers of their duty to ensure that they maintain an accurate register and I hope that that duty will be encapsulated in the final version of clause 9. However, that duty is not the essence of what the clause is about.
The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe go to the heart of the concerns that many hon. Members have expressed. Clause 9 simply requires registration officers to maintain the register. We must, of course, ensure that the register is accurate and that people who wish to be placed on it may do so, but a greater sense of urgency and priority is needed, so we should encourage officers to maximise the numbers on the register, which would be the effect of amendment No. 30. Although the wording of that amendment might not be acceptable to the Minister, I hope that she will take on board the spirit in which it was tabled and the support that I suspect it would receive among hon. Members.
I am pleased that amendments Nos. 28 and 29 have been tabled because the question of data sharing goes to the heart of what we can do to try to maximise the number of people on the register. I have talked to my electoral registration officer at great length about what can be achieved by knocking on doors and sending letters. It is extremely difficult to boost the number of people on the register by using simply those mechanisms. We need information from data sources so that we can target the people who are not on the register more effectively. I accept that there might be data protection problems with that. Additionally, we should not set up a mechanism that would overload electoral
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registration officers because they can do only a certain amount of work with the limited resources available to them.
Chris Ruane: Research from the Electoral Commission shows that many of the 3.5 million to 4 million people who are not on the register are unemployed, so does my hon. Friend think that it would be a good idea to use the central Government's unemployment register? Many such people are poorly paid, so should we use tax credit registers, such as that for child tax credit? Many such people live in social housing, so would it be a good idea to use housing records on public, social and private sector housing, especially those for houses in multiple occupation and caravan parks?
Mr. Love: I would endorse all those sources, but we could use other data sources, such as the comprehensive records of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea. Indeed, the judicious use of a mix of other local and national sources should make it possible not to overload electoral registration departments with too much work. That would be one of several mechanisms through which we could ensure that we were targeting people who were not on the register.
Mr. Andrew Turner : Problems would be likely to arise when drawing on data from other sources when individuals wished to protect their anonymity. The Bill makes sensible provision for anonymous registration in certain circumstances. How does the hon. Gentleman suggest that data from the register on child tax credit should be deployed? Should people's names simply go on to the electoral register, or should an approach be made not only to ensure that such people exist, but to determine whether they wish to have their names recorded in public or private?
Mr. Love: Any information that goes alongside the name and address of a person claiming child tax credit should of course remain confidential and none of it should be shared with anyone. Before any such changes took place, we would need to ensure that people who put themselves on any of the registers about which we are talking were aware that basic information about their names and addresses could well be used for electoral registration purposes. It goes without saying that we would need to consult the data registrar to ensure that we were not falling foul of any of the many provisions that exist to protect an individual's anonymity. I would certainly not want this or any other Bill to tamper with such necessary protections. However, given all the different data sources that we have, surely we can find appropriate sources through which we would not fall foul of such provisions and that would give electoral registration officers the targeted information that they need.
I accept my hon. Friend's point about the need to get the right data sources. He mentioned resources. I am partly arguing that resources could be switched in the longer term from canvassing people whose circumstances have not changed, to getting more useful information from other data sources. In the meantime, does he accept that we might have to spend
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more money on our electoral registration process and perhaps even think about giving local authorities a specific grant in recognition of the fact that we are creating electoral registers throughout the country that will eventually be used for national purposes?
The Government have made an announcement on the money that will accompany the implementation of the Bill, which is welcome. I ask for two things regarding the resources that will be made available. First, when the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament there should be a recalculation so that the resources provided are adequate to ensure the implementation of powers to improve registration. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, those resources should be ring-fenced. Advertising resources will be ring-fenced to enable electoral registration officers to persuade people to go on to the register. However, all the resources for electoral registration purposes should be ring-fenced because there are great worries among local authorities that additional resources may, as happens on many other occasions, filter out of electoral registration into other local government services. However, we want to ensure that the resources dedicated to the Bill are spent on electoral registration.
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