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James Duddridge: I thank my hon. Friend for correcting my obvious mistake. I am not an expert on fraud prevention, but I was involved in the banking system in both the UK and Africa for several years, so I know that a lot of research has been done on personal indicators. We should bear in mind that the matter is in the financial interest of banks, especially as the House has legislated that banks, not the customer, must pay for mistakes. Banks have to make billions of decisions worldwide about whether or not to pay that are based on personal indicators and personal information. Millions of such decisions are taken in the United Kingdom.
The banking system has moved away from signatures. Dates of birth are useful and, interestingly, national insurance numbers are especially useful for complicated and expensive financial products for which risk is greater. I have not heard anyone mention mothers' maiden names[Interruption.] I apologise; I did not hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham mention them. Mothers' maiden names are especially useful because although they are good personal indicators because they are known by everyone, they are not reproduced on many documents, so they are unlikely to be of much use to a fraudster.
We should consider when personal indicators are used. In the banking system, certain indicators are useful for different distribution channels. If the Bill is to stand the test of time in the longer term, we will need to examine different delivery channels for voting, be that postal voting, or using the internet, phones and so forth.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) has found the answer to his question with just a little glance around. Otherwise, there are excellent publications that repay close attention with which he may know every Member of the House.
Signatures are useful when people meet face to face, but photo ID could be more useful in the longer term as a personal identifier that would allow us to move away entirely from national insurance numbers and signatures. I hope that I am not broadening the debate too much, but many people have talked about fraud regarding information that is provided. National insurance numbers could be used in such a way. It would
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be of benefit to consider holding a pilot using some of the fraud prevention systems that the banks use to examine spurious information that is provided as a personal identifier. That would alleviate the problem of having anagrams of "I'm a made-up voter" and the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse-type submission on electoral forms and, as we see as Members of Parliament, on petitions. It could be useful, and I am mindful of the Minister's comments about a centralised web-based computer system that would facilitate a form of interaction at a national level to validate and spot trends.
I know that it is late in the debate to raise issues on personal identifiers, but there is an opportunity to consider some of the pilots. Although I am not bold enough to disagree entirely with my Front Bench[Interruption.] Perhaps I will do so just this once, to create a reputation so that my constituency of Rochford and Southend, East is known. We could flip things on the head and in one pilot severely reduce the amount of information that is needed to get on to the register while severely increasing the information we need, in banking terms, at the point of salethe point of voting. That would be useful when people sign up remotely and by different methods, and it would increase overall registration, which I would welcome.
Jeremy Wright: I will happily support the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). Indeed, I would much rather support the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) that we use national insurance numbers to ensure that the register has integrity. I am happy to do either or both of those things because I do not want, and I hope that no other hon. Member would want, to have the same experience that I, and I am sure many others, had during the last general election campaign of the unwillingness of those who had applied for postal votes to use them because they had insufficient faith that the postal vote would not be interfered with.
Although we are talking about registration, the integrity of the register and the voting system as a whole has a substantial effect on whether those people cast their vote. They do not have a choice between voting by post or voting in person at the ballot box. Their choice is between voting by post or not voting at all. If the House attempts to increase registration, which I fully accept is a desirable goal, but, in the course of doing so, damages turnout, that will be a strange and undesirable outcome. The House has an obligation, and we in this debate have an obligation, to find a way in which we can make a register as safe, reliable and complete as it can possibly be. The proposals that give us the most safe, reliable and complete register, from whichever side of the House they come, are the ones that should command the support of the whole House.
The objections by Labour Members that the national insurance number would do even greater damage to the level of registration do not hold water. It is improbable that the reason people do not register now is because of the obligations on them, by which I mean the obligation to give their name, signature or, in the future, national insurance number. The reasons for not registering are far more fundamental than that. I agree, as I am sure does pretty much every hon. Member, that something
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serious has to be done to address that level of disengagement, but adding the requirement to supply a signature or a national insurance number would not damage registration.
Mark Tami: If the hon. Gentleman believes that that is the case, how does he explain the collapse in registration in Northern Ireland, which was far beyond anything expected as a result of concerns about fraud?
Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend will know from his work on the Committee that the Electoral Commission looked at the question of whether or not the 120,000 fall in the number of voters was a genuine reflection of an accurate register, and it found that it was. It was not a case of people who were entitled to vote being taken off the register.
Jeremy Wright: My hon. Friend has encapsulated the issue perfectly. We want to achieve the maximum registration of people who are entitled to vote. We do not simply want to increase the numberwe want to ensure that people who are entitled to vote have the opportunity and are encouraged to do so. People who should not have the opportunity to vote, because they are not so entitled, should not be on the register in the first place. It is important to look at the circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland and the reasons why turnout was not as great as it had been previously. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome expressed clear support for a system using national insurance numbers, as proposed by the Opposition.
Barbara Keeley: The hon. Gentleman is talking about efforts to achieve the safest and most complete electoral system. First, to return to a point that I made earlier, he was present when the Constitutional Affairs Committee took evidence from the Electoral Commission. Its chairman, Sam Younger, talked about the tension between participation and security. We are juggling with a dilemma, as we cannot achieve the safest and most complete system at the same time. Sam Younger said:
Jeremy Wright: I accept what the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) said. I was present at that hearing, and the Electoral Commission has indeed come to the conclusion that national insurance numbers are not the best way forward. I disagree. As I have said, it is vital that everyone who is on the register and who is entitled to vote should have absolute confidence that everyone with whom they share the register is entitled to be on it and that the system has integrity. We should therefore seek to make the system as safe as possible.
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