Political Parties and Elections Bill

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Q 95Mr. Tyrie: Is the general improvement of the register a necessary condition for getting on with introducing—
The Chairman: May I ask you to direct your speech into the microphone so that I can hear?
Q 96Mr. Tyrie: I shall put my question differently since I have been given the opportunity. How quickly do you think—realistically—we can and should get ahead with the introduction of individual voter registration with voter identifiers?
Sir Christopher Kelly: I do not know the answer to that question because it is on a practical matter on which I am not an expert. If the burden of the question that Mr. Wills asked me earlier was, “Should we do all these things first before we introduce individual registration?”, I may have given a misleading answer, because it seems to me that we need someone to look carefully at how quickly it can be done and what steps need to be taken. On whether those steps need to be taken before such a scheme is introduced or as part of its introduction, I bow to the wisdom of others who know much more about the practicalities of implementation than I.
Q 97Mr. Tyrie: Two further questions. Just to be clear, I do not want to put words in your mouth, but I think that you have described the Northern Ireland experience in a way that suggests that you think it was a considerable success.
Sir Christopher Kelly: That is my belief, yes.
Mr. Tyrie: And that a crucial part of that was not only individual registration but voter identifiers. You see those as coming together and needing to be together in any package.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Subject to arguments to the contrary, yes, I do. I also added a third thing, which was an energetic and robust administrator.
Q 98Mr. Tyrie: My last question. You have said that the combination of household registration and postal voting on demand is fundamentally flawed—toxic, one could perhaps argue, to the integrity of the system. In the absence of the reform that you would prefer and that your committee and your predecessor argued for strongly, do you see a case for withdrawing postal voting on demand and returning to the pre-existing system for postal voting, to try to bring some measure of integrity back into the system and make it less vulnerable and flawed?
Sir Christopher Kelly: Is there a case for that? Yes. Would I favour doing it? I do not know, is the honest answer.
Q 99Mr. Tyrie: Would you be prepared to give it thought and come back to us?
Sir Christopher Kelly: How can I answer other than, “Yes, of course?”
Mr. Tyrie: Thank you very much.
Q 100Mr. Djanogly: Do you think that removing the Electoral Commission’s statutory duty to encourage democratic participation and voting would allow an increased focus on the regulation of party finance and electoral administration? I put that to both of you.
Sir Christopher Kelly: Shall I answer that? My answer has to be yes, because that is precisely what my committee recommended. It was after a more focused commission, and thought that that would achieve that result.
Sir Hayden Phillips: I agree with that. Perhaps I could just add, though, that I happen to favour individual voter registration, too. I am speaking as a private citizen rather than in any official capacity. You combine it, though, as Chris implied, with a serious and vigorous campaign to get more registration going. That costs money, and if we want it to succeed we have to pay for that campaign to get people on it.
Q 101Mr. Djanogly: I would point out that not to register is, of course, a criminal offence. What we currently have is a mass of people breaking the law. Do you think that the law should be more rigorously enforced?
Sir Hayden Phillips: The spectre of a lot of people who are hiding from electoral registration, possibly not knowing so, being harried through the criminal courts would make the authorities pause before pursuing the policy that you have described. Were I to return to my old role of advising Ministers, I would say that it would be courageous. Vigorous leadership of a programme of encouraging registration, and being prepared to spend some money on it—whether local authorities or the Electoral Commission—would be a very good thing for democracy in this country.
The Chairman: If there are no further questions, I record our gratitude to Sir Hayden and Sir Christopher for their patience in sitting through the previous session this morning to hear our disagreements, and especially for the clarity, tolerance and good humour with which you have responded to our interrogations. Thank you very much.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Ian Lucas.]
Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to One o’clock till Thursday 6 November at Nine o’clock.
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