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(3) The Commission shall make reasonable efforts to give a notice under sub-paragraph (2)(a) in any case where, if a notice is not given, sub-paragraph (2) prevents information from being included in the register.
(4) The Commission shall not make a decision on the matter referred to in sub-paragraph (2)(b) until after the period of 45 days beginning with the date on which they gave the notice under sub-paragraph (2)(a), unless representations from the person concerned are received before the end of that period.
(2) Anything given or transferred to any officer, member, trustee or agent of an unincorporated association in that persons capacity as such (and not for the persons own use or benefit) is to be regarded for the purposes of this Schedule as given or transferred to the association (and references to gifts received by an unincorporated association are to be read accordingly).
and subsection (6) of that section.
and sub-paragraph (6) of that paragraph respectively.
(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument make provision (referred to below as a scheme) authorising or requiring specified persons to provide to a specified registration officer, for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2), information contained in records kept by those persons.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 22 Schemes under section [Schemes for provision of data to registration officers]: proposals, consultation and evaluation.
Mr. Wills: These new clauses form an important part of our plans to transform electoral administration. It is significant and complex, so I hope the House will bear with me as I set out first the context of the new clauses, which I hope will assist the House in forming a judgment, before turning to deal with the details. In Committee, we discussedand, it is fair to say, we all agreedthat democracy is undermined when significant numbers of people are not able to participate in elections because they are not registered to do so. Registration is the source from which democratic participation flows. Those who are not registered are denied that participation, so we must all be concerned that it has been estimated that more than 3 million eligible people are not able to vote in this country because they are not registered.
That is not acceptableI hope we can all agree on thatand I hope we can agree that particular effort needs to be directed at registering voters in those groups who appear to be most at risk of not being registered. I hope that we can also all agree that the steps taken to tackle that problem must be on the basis of a level playing field for all democratic political parties. Anything that undermines that principle is partisan and risks illegitimacy. We must constantly strive to ensure that the register is as comprehensive as is reasonably possible, on the basis of a level playing field. That is one fundamental principle of electoral registration. The other such fundamental principle is that the register must be as accurate as possible.
I am going to assume that if I say anything about these fundamental principles with which Opposition Members disagree, they will intervene to tell me. Otherwise, I shall assume that they agree with the fundamental principles that I am setting out. Indeed, I would be surprised if they did not.
David Howarth: The only fundamental principles that I would raise at this point are those of data protection. Will the Minister explain why new clause 21 seems to allow an order to be made that completely ignores those principles?
Mr. Wills: Of course data protection is a fundamental principle as well. It does not apply specifically to electoral registration in general in the terms that I am discussing right now, but I have registered the hon. Gentlemans concerns and I will come to them in due course, when I deal with the detail of the new clauses. They are important concernsI understand thatand I am happy to address them.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the Minister agree that another fundamental principle is that the registration should be accurate, bearing it in mind that this is a gateway to, for example, absent voting? These things must be done in such a way as to provide good identifiers that stand in the way of fraud.
Mr. Wills: I absolutely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that is precisely what I said. It is one of the two fundamental principles of electoral registration that the register should be as accurate as is reasonably possible. Electoral registration should be comprehensive and accuratethose are the principles.
On that basis, therefore, the Government are introducing measures that will transform the system of electoral registration. We agree with those who have argued that a system of individual registration in Great Britain would represent a significant step forward in improving the integrity of the electoral register. We also believe that there are other principled, important arguments in favour of individual registration, but our concern has been that, in pursuing the realisation of one fundamental principle of electoral registration, we should not jeopardise the achievement of the other. The simple fact that many individuals, currently registered under the system of household registration, would under a system of individual registration be required to provide personal information for the first time in order to register is very likely to deter someperhaps manyfrom registering unless we take important remedial action.
The Northern Ireland experience is often cited in debates of this nature, and it is right that we should learn the lessons, both positive and negative, from that experience. At least some of the drop in the numbers registered in Northern Ireland in 2002 was due to the removal of the so-called carry forward, but as the Electoral Commission noted in its report on the implementation of individual registration in Northern Ireland:
Individual Registration tended to have an adverse impact on disadvantaged, marginalised and hard to reach groups. Young people and students, people with learning difficulties and other forms of disability and those living in areas of high social deprivation were less likely to be registered and encountered specific problems with the new registration process.
Mr. Wills: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. The passage from which I am quoting does not make any specific reference to illiteracy, but it is another problem, a barrier and something that we must address if we are to fulfil and deliver on both the fundamental principles that I have suggested.
While these findings relate directly to Northern Ireland, they are not unique and reflect the wider picture across the UK. They present a major challenge to all those concerned with widening participation in electoral and democratic processes.
We believe that the way forward is to combine the implementation of individual registrationon a careful but fixed timetablewith significant new measures to increase registration, so that we do not jeopardise the reach of the register in seeking properly to improve its integrity.
Today, I am announcing the historic steps that we are taking to entrench those two fundamental principles of electoral registration, which underpin our democracy. The Government have already been taking significant steps to increase registration. The Electoral Administration
Act 2006 placed a statutory duty on electoral registration officers to take all necessary steps to maintain the electoral register, including sending the annual canvass form more than once, making house-to-house visits and inspecting records that electoral registration officers are permitted to inspect. Much of that is common sense, and many electoral registration officers are doing excellent work in maintaining and expanding their registers.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I echo my right hon. Friends comment that many electoral registration officers are doing an excellent job, but the reality nationwide is that only 91 per cent. of those eligible to be registered are registered. Must not we prioritise getting a comprehensive register before we do anything else?
Mr. Wills: My hon. Friend is quite right. Those two things have to go in lockstep together, but 91 per cent. is not acceptable. As I will point out in a few moments, any of us can be satisfied only when we can be absolutely confident that the register is at 100 per cent. of those who are eligible to vote.
As I say, many electoral registration officers are doing an excellent job. Some, however, need to raise their game. The new duty has required them all to raise their game. Since its introduction for the 2006 annual canvass, registration rates have increased year on year. In the past three years, the registration figures for parliamentary elections have increased by 371,000 in 2006; 307,669 in 2007; and 111,595 in 2008. There are now 45,194,449 parliamentary electors registered in the UK.
Similarly, the registration figures for local government elections also increased by 513,054 in 2006; 463,000 in 2007; and 227,374 in 2008. There are now 46,147,877 local government electors registered in the UK. Those increases are a great achievement and they show what can be done, but that is a beginning, not the end. That end will come only when 100 per cent. of those eligible to vote are so registered to vote.
I am sure that the House will have registered the fact that the figures that I have been referring to are national figures, and there are significant differences in different parts of the countryagain, as my hon. Friend has just said. Some parts of the country having fewer of their eligible voters registered to vote than others corrodes democracy in this country. We must do everything possible to tackle that problem.
Going forward, section 67 of the 2006 Act also empowered the Electoral Commission to set and monitor performance standards for electoral services. Electoral registration officers in Great Britain have recently self-assessed their performance against 12 individual performance standards, and the Electoral Commission will publish the results of that this month. After that, local authorities will be required to report annually on their performance. The commission will also shortly publish data on the financial resources devoted to registration by local authorities.
The performance standards framework will be vital in driving up the numbers registered to vote. The standards will give the public much greater understanding of the effort being put into registering votersgood and bad, excellent and indifferent. Practice in individual areas throughout the country will quickly become apparent.
Mr. Love: Does my right hon. Friend accept that a great difficulty here is whether the council giving the funds for electoral registration prioritises that as an activity? In such circumstances, would it not be better for us to ring-fence funding for electoral registration to ensure that it is done properly?
Mr. Wills: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and I am aware of that strongly held point of view. There are measures that I want to announce today; there are further measures that I will announce shortly, just before the summer recess. I can absolutely assure him that everything possible that we can do, we will do in this respect.
Chris Ruane: When I have tabled parliamentary questions asking about the amount per elector in each local authority area, I have been told that the information is not collated in England, but it has been collated in Wales. The point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) about the importance of ring-fenced funding is crucial. In Wales it was foundlo and beholdthat the authorities that spent more money on electoral registration had bigger, better registers, while those that spent less had worse registers. Funding is key. If the Ministry of Justice sends the money to local authorities for that purpose, it must be spent for that purpose.
Mr. Wills: As I have said, what I am announcing today is only the start of a process to increase the numbers on the register. As always, we will be driven by evidence, and I assure my hon. Friend that we will take every bit of it into account.
We believe that the performance standards will help to increase registration and participation rates across the country. It is important for that to happen, because it is crucial for every part of the country to be able to expect the highest possible levels of performance from the electoral registration officers. Disadvantage should not exist in electoral registration any more than it should in any other area of public life.
David Howarth: I fully support the sentiments that the Minister is expressing, but there is a problem with uniform national standards in the context of electoral registration. It has nothing to do with deprivation; it simply has to do with the demographic circumstances of different authorities. Cambridge has a massive turnover of populationnot just the student populationand to hold such areas to the same standards as even neighbouring authorities such as South Cambridgeshire, which has a very stable population, would not be fair on the authorities in the city of Cambridge.
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