Voter engagement in the UK - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

A chance to engage

1.  We believe that improving voter engagement is crucial to the long term well-being of democracy in the UK. Unusually, therefore, the following Report is an interim report—a draft—for public consideration, rather than the Committee's final word on the issue of voter engagement. Appropriately, we publish it in the annual Parliament Week since we wish it to be subject to wider discussion involving all those who care about the UK's democracy, including all those who submitted evidence to the Committee. All of our draft recommendations are open to possible change following public consultation. (Paragraph 1)

2.  As part of this process, we have been in discussion with the independent and impartial Hansard Society, which we understand may be looking at some of the issues considered in this report as part of its regular Audit of Political Engagement. We hope that the Hansard Society's findings in this area will inform our final judgment about the reforms which can be achieved in practice. We plan to issue a final report before National Voter Registration Day on 5 February 2015, to frame debate on these issues ahead of the 2015 general election. We hope that citizens feel we are being open and inclusive about the improvements which must be made. In that spirit we hope that everyone reading this Report plays their part by engaging and responding to it. We also propose to write to the political parties and their leaders requesting a preliminary response to our interim proposals. It is appropriate that as 2015 dawns the UK's history on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is celebrated by stepping up to meet the enormous challenges that face the UK in renewing its democracy for the future. (Paragraph 2)


3.  Democracy is working less well than it used to and we need to move swiftly to pre-empt a crisis. The scale of the response must be equal to the task. Millions of people are missing from the UK's electoral registers. Many of those who are registered—and in many cases the majority—choose not to participate at elections, be they for the UK Parliament, local government, or the European Parliament. In a modern democracy, it is unacceptable that millions of people who are eligible to vote are missing from electoral registers. We believe it should be made clearer in law that any person who is eligible to vote in a UK election should be on the electoral register. We also believe that it is desirable in a representative democracy for turnout at elections of all kinds to be higher—and ideally far higher—than has been the case in recent years. (Paragraph 9)

Reasons for low voter engagement

4.  There are broad negative stereotypes about Parliament and Government—two separate institutions—which go beyond healthy and necessary scepticism and into a cynicism which if unaddressed could undermine the very basis of our representative democracy. (Paragraph 15)

5.  Centralisation of political party activity, not least to aid party discipline and the demands of the media and messaging, is a recurrent theme in the decline in the local strength and activity of political parties. The unitary system in the UK, where all roads lead to Whitehall, means that political parties focus more and more on power at the centre and less on effective engagement not only with their membership but also with the public. This "hollowing out" must have a clear adverse impact on how people engage with elections, as well as politics more broadly. Political parties have become leader-centric. We recommend that party leaders consider how party structures could be reformed and localised to better engage with the public. We will write to each party leader and request that they engage with the Committee directly in respect of this recommendation. We look forward to their responses and to taking proposals forward. (Paragraph 21)

6.  We have previously called for progress to be made on broadening the base of party funding: this is an area where reform could strengthen local party structures, increase confidence in the independence of political parties and therefore strengthen politics more broadly. Cross-party talks on party funding will be most successful if no pre-conditions are set, but some members of the Committee believe that increased taxpayer funding of political parties is not likely to be part of the solution. We recommend that all-party talks on party funding are resumed urgently with a view to reaching a swift, agreed settlement before the general election. (Paragraph 22)

7.  The media plays an essential role in informing the public about political news, in relation both to elections and politics more broadly. While it should be understood that public education and increasing levels of voter engagement is not necessarily a priority for news media, we note that the BBC does have a clear duty, through its Charter, to sustain citizenship and civil society. Innovations such as televised debates ahead of general elections have proved to be popular as television events but have not resulted in sustainable engagement with the political process. We have also received evidence that relentless and disproportionate focus of the media on negative news stories and "the very worst of party politics" can have a negative impact on how the public perceives politicians and the political system, reinforcing a cynicism that makes people less likely to vote. It is our view that politicians and media outlets could both do more to move the media focus away from denigration and trivialisation and more towards analysis and reporting, with the hope of better engaging the public with issues that concern them to make politics and elections more relevant. This is a sensitive area with strong default positions on all sides but, again, the future of democracy in the UK demands that business as usual is not an option. We intend to hold a summit with willing participants in the New Year to start a discussion on whether, and how, the media and politics can interact for the greater good of a healthy democracy. (Paragraph 31)

8.  Overcentralisation of power in Whitehall has had a clear adverse impact on how people engage with and perceive politics and elections for the localities and nations of the UK. Measures that appropriately devolve decision-making and power from Whitehall to a lower level might have been thought to be likely to have a positive impact on engagement with non-Westminster politics and elections, although this failed to happen in respect of elected police and crime commissioners. This sentiment is not just evidenced in Scotland but is also prevalent in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the localities within. While devolving power to the localities would be an improvement most political parties believe it should not stop there but also go deeper to neighbourhoods and communities, so-called "double devolution". (Paragraph 35)

9.  This Committee has produced a number of reports over the course of the Parliament looking at the relationship between local and central government and urging much greater devolution; we are consulting, through "A New Magna Carta?" on several options for a new structure and constitutional framework for the UK, and we are currently undertaking an inquiry looking at how devolution should take place across the United Kingdom. In a time of political volatility, clarity about a future democratic settlement is vital. It is clear that engagement with politics and elections at a local level suffers from overcentralisation, and the rhetorical commitment of all parties needs to find concrete form in substantial changes to the devolution settlement across the UK to reinvigorate local politics. We recommend that, at a time when manifestos are being written, party leaderships make real, not least in England, the undertakings given to ending overcentralisation and to extending devolution, not least as a means of engaging the electorate much more in deciding their own affairs. (Paragraph 36)

10.  A number of factors have contributed to low levels of voter engagement in recent years. The evidence we have received indicates that the most significant of these is political disengagement and dissatisfaction with politicians, political parties and UK politics more broadly. Issues such as the perception that voting does not make a difference and dissatisfaction with where power lies in the UK system have also been cited as reasons for low levels of participation at elections. These are all legitimate reasons for people to disengage from the electoral process, and it cannot be said that low turnout levels and registration rates are the result of apathy on the part of the public. Just as the exposure of abuse of parliamentary allowances and the subsequent establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has purged the expenses scandal, so an equally serious and perhaps uncomfortable set of reforms are needed to renew democratic participation. In a consumer society, there is a danger that the enormous demands placed on democratic institutions to gratify expectations can lead to short-termism and a lack of substantive engagement. However, the decline in voter engagement is a result of failures by the governing political and administrative elite, and responsibility for initiating the re-engagement of the electorate with existing and future political processes lies with politicians. We recommend that political parties come forward with a package of measures to renew democratic participation which are based squarely upon those in this Report. (Paragraph 39)

11.  There is a strong perception that elections themselves are hidebound by process, bureaucracy, rules and restrictions and that the electoral process in the UK needs to be part of rediscovering a sense of excitement and engagement, to celebrate democratic values and to cherish the history of extending the vote to both sexes and all classes. This should not only occur on National Voter Registration Day but be a part of culture and education. It must also be supported by reinvigoration of the UK's electoral administration, and we propose measures to achieve this in the remainder of this Report. We are conscious that we are placing a heavy burden on the Electoral Commission and Electoral Registration Officers both now and for the future. In this context of constant improvement we also draw attention, for consideration by the public, to the proposal for a standing Commission for Democracy, akin to the Electoral Commission, but as a permanent mechanism for broader democratic reform and renewal which is floated in our report A new Magna Carta?, currently out for public consultation. (Paragraph 40)

Recent developments

12.  We believe it is an inseparable part of the UK's social contract that in a democracy every citizen should, as a bare minimum, register to vote. We recommend that the legal requirements to register to vote are clarified, and that this basic civil duty be enforced. (Paragraph 43)

13.  The move to Individual Electoral Registration has created both opportunities and challenges. Making it possible to register online is an extremely welcome change, and one that has been taken up by over 1.8 million people already. Moving registration online will make registration more accessible to many people and will also make it much easier for groups working to increase registration rates to run more effective campaigns. (Paragraph 51)

14.  Implementation of IER also presents risks. 5.5 million registered voters have not yet been transferred to the new electoral register following data matching. A disproportionate number of these people are from particular groups—private tenants, students and attainers. We recommend that every effort is made by Electoral Registration Officers to reach all registered voters who have not been automatically transferred to the new register, to give them the opportunity to register under the new system. The Electoral Commission must make it a priority to ensure that this happens and we are asking the Commission to give a progress report to us in the New Year. We understand that the Cabinet Office is considering another canvass in the spring to improve the electoral register before the election. The committee fully endorses this. (Paragraph 52)

15.  It is essential that, before it advises the Government on whether it is appropriate to bring forward the end date for the transitional arrangements for IER, the Electoral Commission consider not just the "headline" figures of how many people would drop off the register if the end of the transition period were brought forward, but pay particular attention to the differential impact across the country, and different demographic groups. We will be closely monitoring the Electoral Commission's reports on the progress of the transition to IER, and we recommend that the select committee with oversight of the process in the 2015 Parliament continue this monitoring. We recommend that, with 5.5 million voters not yet confirmed on to the new electoral register, unless the electoral registers are substantially more complete than at present by May 2015, the Government not bring forward the end date for the transitional arrangements for IER. (Paragraph 55)

16.  As well as the direct impact on the quality of the electoral registers, the Government and Parliament will need to consider—as we are currently doing in our inquiry into the rules for redrawing parliamentary constituency boundaries—how any bringing forward of the end of transitional arrangements will affect the next review of parliamentary constituency boundaries. (Paragraph 57)

17.  Even—or especially—in a time of austerity it is vital that funding for elections is protected. While we welcome the £4.2 million the Government has made available to maximise registration during the transition to IER, it is likely that further funding will be necessary to ensure that levels of voter registration are not adversely affected by the implementation of IER. We recommend that in order to safeguard levels of voter participation, the Government commit in its response to us to look favourably on requests for additional funding to be made available to EROs to support their work in maintaining and enhancing the levels of electoral registration, and to other bodies and organisations that have a proven track record of increasing voter registration in the most economical and effective way possible. We also recommend that the Electoral Commission look into service level agreements with agencies, bodies and organisations such as Bite the Ballot and Operation Black Vote who have a proven track record in increasing electoral registration and can do it a fraction of the cost of the Electoral Commission or Government Departments. (Paragraph 59)

18.  Any fraud committed in elections undermines our democratic system and must be dealt with severely. That said, with only three convictions for electoral fraud in 2013—all of candidates and not voters—compared with 7.5 million people not being correctly registered to vote, and almost 16 million not voting in the last general election, it is clear where the biggest issue lies in respect of electoral administration in the UK. It is essential that any changes to electoral registration and voting procedures intended to combat fraud are proportionate to the scale of the problem. The benefits of measures that could create barriers for legitimate voters wishing to participate in elections need to be carefully weighed against the potential risk of voter suppression. Any new measures likely to have a disproportionate negative impact on groups that are already less likely to participate at elections must be assessed with the utmost care. (Paragraph 64)

19.  Several of our witnesses raised particular concerns about the Electoral Commission's proposal that voters be required to present photographic ID at polling stations. We believe that such a requirement cannot be justified at present, and we recommend against its adoption. (Paragraph 65)

Unequal registration and participation

20.  Low levels of registration and turnout amongst students and young people are a serious problem now and could get worse. If a generation of young people choose not to vote, and then continue not to participate at elections as they grow older, there will be severe and long-lasting effects for turnout at UK elections, with consequent implications for the health of democracy in the UK. We propose later a series of recommendations, not least on registration and voting, which if implemented will help halt and reverse the disengagement of young people. (Paragraph 74)

21.  Registration rates for certain BME groups are substantially lower than for White British residents, but turnout for people from BME groups once they are registered to vote does not differ significantly from turnout for White British residents who are registered to vote. It is not acceptable that registration rates and turnout levels vary so significantly in relation to ethnicity, although it should also be understood that registration rates and turnout levels vary significantly within both the White British and BME groups, so the question requires more careful consideration than simply comparing these two figures. The relevant recommendations set out in this report should be implemented in full in order to redress the current imbalance. (Paragraph 78)

22.  It is clear there is a particular problem with the accessibility of registration and voting for a large number of people with specific needs resulting from a disability. It is unacceptable that people face barriers registering to vote or participating at elections because of a disability. We have heard several practical suggestions that could make elections more accessible—including making information available in British Sign Language and "easy read" format, large print, audio and braille. (Paragraph 83)

23.  We recommend that within three months of the publication of this Report, the Government consult with the Electoral Commission, EROs and disability groups and publish clear and stretching proposals setting out how registration and voting will be made more accessible to people with disabilities. We also recommend that political parties work with disability groups to make manifestos and other election material accessible in formats which people with disabilities find easier to use. (Paragraph 84)

24.  Although British citizens are only entitled to register to vote for UK elections if they were resident in the UK in the previous 15 years, it is clear that only a very small percentage of those who are likely to be eligible to register to vote are actually on the electoral register. It is not acceptable that such a small proportion of this franchise is registered to vote, and we welcome the fact the Minister for the Constitution has asked officials to look into this issue. We expect to see a comprehensive plan from the Government in response to our Report, setting out how it plans to increase registration rates for overseas voters. We recommend that, at a minimum, this include using UK embassies to promote registration to British citizens living abroad, working with the BBC to put out information through BBC World and the World Service, and making changes to voting to make it more convenient to overseas voters. (Paragraph 90)

25.  EU and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK are amongst the most under-represented groups on the electoral register. We recommend that the Electoral Commission should run a specific campaign aimed at Commonwealth citizens and citizens of other EU member states resident in the UK, focussing on eligibility to participate in elections, and how to register to vote. The Electoral Commission should also bring forward proposals for simplifying the process for EU citizens living in the UK to register to vote at European Parliament elections promptly so that the necessary changes can be made before the next European Parliament elections in 2019. (Paragraph 94)

26.  It is deeply concerning that certain groups of people—including young people, certain Black and Minority Ethnic groups, disabled people, and British citizens living overseas—are far less likely to be registered to vote and turn out at elections than others. Given current inequalities in the completeness of the electoral register, there is a strong case for focusing efforts to increase registration rates on those groups that are currently underrepresented. We recommend that the Government produce a plan well before May 2015—working with all parties, the Electoral Commission and EROs—for targeting those groups that are least likely to be registered to vote. There is also scope for politicians and political parties to have a continuous dialogue with these groups and convince them of the value of participating in all the elections for which they are eligible. (Paragraph 95)

Improving levels of electoral registration

27.  The Electoral Commission's performance standards have had a positive impact on the performance of Electoral Registration Officers, and these should be maintained. We recommend that in future targets for registration should be included in performance standards for EROs. The Electoral Commission will need to consider how such output targets should be set, and the steps which would be most effective in securing attainment of such targets should they not initially be achieved. Best practice, as identified by EROs and the Commission, should also be incorporated in the performance standards. We believe that the outcomes on the number and percentage of those registered to vote should also be a key performance indicator for the Electoral Commission. (Paragraph 104)

28.  We recommend that proposals for annually recognising notable successes and best practice in electoral registration be presented in the Government's response to this Report. We also believe that MPs should be more closely engaged with the monitoring of electoral registration in their constituencies and that the Electoral Commission should provide them with specific data on the outcomes of the number and percentage rates of registration in each ward within their constituency. We recommend that the Government commit to finding parliamentary time for an annual debate in Parliament to allow registration issues to be discussed. This could be held on National Voter Registration Day or on a "Democracy Day". (Paragraph 105)

29.  Under the Representation of the People Act 1983, as amended, there is a statutory requirement that Electoral Registration Officers conduct house-to-house enquiries as part of the canvass. The Government should communicate this much more strongly to the public and put the legal requirements of EROs on the public record. We welcome the news that every ERO has plans to conduct house-to-house enquiries as part of the 2014/15 canvass, but this legal duty has in some cases not been taken seriously enough until now. Twenty-two EROs failed to fulfil this statutory requirement in the previous canvass, some for a number of successive years. We particularly welcome the explicit statements from Ministers that they are prepared to issue a formal direction to any EROs not complying with their statutory obligations, and we would support the issue of any such direction which had the objective of increasing levels of voter registration. We recommend that if any ERO repeatedly fails to fulfil their statutory duties in a way which has an adverse effect on the quality of voter registration in their area, the Government should take enforcement action against them. This could include consideration that this function should be taken from the local authority and handed to a neighbouring local authority which has had greater success. We also recommend that the Government set out the circumstances in which it is prepared to seek a prosecution of any electoral official considered to be in breach of an official duty under the provisions of the 1983 Act and bring forward proposals to amend the law if it is not sufficiently clear. We recognise that the Electoral Commission, Government Departments and EROs have allocated more effort, time and money to ensuring a more complete electoral register for the purpose of IER, to prevent the 5.5 million voters who have not yet been confirmed on to the new electoral registers from dropping off the register. We believe that such rigour should have been shown in the past, and should be shown in future, in order to get the 7.5 million who are not correctly registered to vote at present. (Paragraph 110)

30.  We will monitor how the canvass proceeds in the coming months and hope that increased scrutiny of performance standards will lead to improvements in the completeness and accuracy of the next electoral register. We will report again in the New Year on the 2014/15 canvass. (Paragraph 111)

31.  It appears to be an oversight that Electoral Registration Officers, and Returning Officers, are not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. EROs and ROs clearly exercise functions of a public nature and it is in the public interest for them to be required to respond to requests for information in the same way as other public authorities. The Committee notes that despite evidence from the Electoral Commission that they would advise EROs to respond to FOI requests as though they were subject to the Act, East Devon District Council has been refusing to respond to requests for information under the FOI Act from members of the public in respect of electoral registration activity. We recommend that the Government issue a section 5 Order designating EROs and ROs public authorities for the purpose of the Act. In the meantime, the Electoral Commission should make it clear that it is best practice for EROs to respond to requests for information as though they were subject to the Act. (Paragraph 115)

32.  The Electoral Commission's goal should be that every person eligible to be registered to vote is on the electoral register. Given there are 7.5 million people not correctly registered to vote, and also millions of British citizens living overseas that are not registered to vote, we welcome the news that the Electoral Commission aims to have one million more voters registered ahead of the 2015 general election. This is a substantial increase on previous targets for registration campaigns. (Paragraph 122)

33.  It is disappointing to note that one of the Electoral Commission's key measures of success for the next five years is that "completeness of the registers does not deteriorate". Since the level of completeness for the electoral registers is not currently satisfactory, we do not consider it to be a success simply for them to deteriorate no further. We recommend that the Electoral Commission review its success measures in respect of voter registration and set itself much more challenging measures for the completeness of the electoral register. (Paragraph 123)

34.  Registration campaigns run by independent organisations such as Bite the Ballot, Operation Black Vote and Mencap are extremely important in supplementing the efforts of electoral officials, and can also be highly cost effective. We welcome the Electoral Commission's stated intention to work closely with such organisations, and call on the Commission and the Government to support all organisations genuinely concerned with increasing the number of people who are registered to vote. (Paragraph 128)

35.  We recommend that, while every day should be a voter registration day, in its response to this Report the Government should set out how it plans to support Bite the Ballot's National Voter Registration Day 2015, on 5 February 2015. The Electoral Commission, electoral officials, and all public sector organisations should put specific plans in place to take advantage of National Voter Registration Day to make a significant difference to the number of people who are registered to vote ahead of the 2015 general election, and future elections. (Paragraph 129)

36.  We recommend that in its response to our Report the Government make specific proposals about how people could be prompted to register to vote when they access other public services, particularly those services associated with a change in address, such as registering to pay council tax. The Electoral Commission and EROs should also seek to work with private companies who interact with the public so they can, as part of their corporate responsibilities, prompt those people who are currently not registered to vote to register. (Paragraph 133)

37.  Given the low registration rates amongst young people, there is a strong case for making greater efforts to register 16 to 18 year olds at school and in college—particularly as registration now takes place on an individual basis and can be done, easily, on-line, from school. We particularly ask the Secretary of State for Education to promote this to schools and colleges. EROs also should now be working with schools and colleges to register students, and we recommend that the Electoral Commission explicitly include this action in its performance standards for EROs. This could be integrated with broader citizenship education, and include a discussion about how to register to vote when moving to university or away from home. Successful initiatives developed by EROs and Universities—such as those we heard about in Sheffield—should also be replicated across the country. (Paragraph 135)

38.  There is persuasive evidence that enabling people to register closer to the date of an election, or on an election day itself, would lead to increased registration rates and turnout at elections. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government set out proposals for reducing the number of days between the cut-off date for registration and the election day, with a view to implementing them as soon as possible. We also recommend that the Government set out the steps to achieving by 2020 the objective of allowing eligible electors to register and then vote at the Town Hall or equivalent up to and on the day of an election. We acknowledge the need to consider how to accurately verify registrations made on the day, and to provide any additional resources required by local authorities to implement such a system. (Paragraph 138)

39.  We have previously recommended that the edited electoral register—now called the "open register"—should be abolished. We reaffirm this call in the light of the clear and significant public dissatisfaction—which has reached the ears of the Minister for the Constitution—with the sale to private companies of data that electors provide to electoral registration officers to enable them to register to vote. We recommend that the Government take immediate action to abolish the open electoral register before new registers are published. We believe that the full electoral register should continue to be available to political parties and candidates, as it is at present. (Paragraph 141)

Proposals to improve voter turnout

40.  We reaffirm our view that voters should ideally be registered to vote automatically. The fact that the latest parliamentary electoral registers were only 85.9% complete and 86% accurate makes a strong case for a system of automatic registration, which could include the use of the National Insurance number. We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government clearly set out its view on moving to a system of automatic registration. Such a system could operate alongside Individual Electoral Registration. (Paragraph 144)

41.  The idea of a "Democracy Day" fits closely with our view that greater esteem and excitement should return to the electoral process. We recommend that the Government explore further proposals for weekend voting, extending voting and designating election days as public holidays. We acknowledge the resource implications of some of these proposals, particularly for rural communities. (Paragraph 149)

42.  Online voting is a proposal for increasing levels of participation that has received strongest support from our witnesses, although support has not been unanimous. Enabling electors to cast their vote online if they choose to do so would make voting significantly more accessible. In light of the move to IER, and the already high take up of postal voting, there is scope for giving online voting further consideration, although this would need to be balanced with concerns about electoral fraud and secrecy of the ballot. We believe that online voting could lead to a substantial increase in the level of participation at UK elections, and we recommend that the Government should come forward with an assessment of the challenges and likely impact on turnout, and run pilots in the next Parliament with a view to all electors having the choice of voting online at the 2020 general election. (Paragraph 156)

43.  The extension of the postal vote has been a success and those who choose to vote by post should be facilitated to do so. The Committee recognises the importance of postal voting in increasing democratic participation and calls upon political parties, Electoral Registration Officers, the Electoral Commission and the Government to make postal voting more accessible. We note with concern that under the transitional arrangements for IER, almost half a million postal voters who were not confirmed automatically will lose their entitlement to a postal vote if they do not register under the new system. (Paragraph 159)

44.  We recommend that further trials of all-postal voting in elections should be held. (Paragraph 161)

45.  Given its importance to our democracy we feel that there is a need to revisit electoral administration on the basis of convenience for electors and no other interest. Several changes, which have in the past been of academic interest, including online voting, holding elections on weekends or over several days, having a "Democracy Day" public holiday for voting, letting voters cast their vote anywhere in their constituency and having all-postal votes, are now measures which need to be considered in the context of improving voter participation. There is compelling evidence that some of these changes could have a substantial, positive impact on the levels of voter participation. Particularly if taken together, these changes could demonstrate that "the powers that be" are serious about voter engagement. We recommend that the Government, working with the Electoral Commission and EROs, bring forward a package of reforms to electoral arrangements to increase accessibility and turnout, and establish a series of pilots early in the next Parliament to test the various proposals that we have considered, with a view to making permanent changes to electoral arrangements by 2020. (Paragraph 162)

46.  There is demand for an improvement in the level and quality of information available to voters, and scope to improve delivery, particularly through new technology such as apps and social media. New technology could also be used to promote public awareness of elections. Some ideas—such as voting advice applications designed to tell voters which parties most closely represent their views—would need to be taken forward by independent organisations, but others could be pursued by the Government or the Electoral Commission. (Paragraph 165)

47.  We recommend that the Government discuss with the Electoral Commission and include in its response to this Report details of arrangements that are currently in place to provide information to the public about elections and registering to vote, and bring forward proposals for the effective use of new technology to better inform the public and increase awareness of elections. This could include having a central source of information about election results, and better advertising of elections on the day. The Government and Electoral Commission should also examine the changes which can be made to provide more and better information to voters, and should actively support the work of outside organisations working to similar goals. (Paragraph 166)

48.  Both the Government and Parliament, and not least select committees, can be even more innovative about the way they engage with the public, enhancing not superseding our representative democracy. We note that the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy is looking at proposals in these areas. (Paragraph 167)

49.  Effective citizenship education is an important part of the process of becoming an engaged voter, and should continue to be a part of the national curriculum. We recommend that the Department for Education ensure that schools' citizenship education courses specifically include discussion of the political and governmental structures of the UK and the electoral systems that operate in the UK, and also the practicalities of registering to vote and actually participating at an election. We expect that Department to respond to this report to indicate progress in this area. (Paragraph 172)

50.  International experience demonstrates conclusively that making voting a mandatory civic duty ensures that the vast majority of eligible voters participate in elections. Making voting compulsory is not the sole solution to voter engagement or to political engagement more broadly. Some members of the Committee believe there is now a strong case for including it in a package of measures to meet the threat of disengagement, though provision for those who wish not to take part should be respected by including an abstention provision on the ballot. However, other members believe that voting should not, as a matter of principle, be made compulsory, and that people should be free not to participate at elections if they so choose. We recommend that the Government report to the House setting out how a system of compulsory voting could operate in the UK, including an assessment of international experience, and an assessment of whether voting should only be compulsory for certain types of election. This would mark the start of a public debate. If the 2015 Parliament were to agree, compulsory voting could operate at the following general election. If Parliament did not agree the current system would continue. (Paragraph 177)

51.  We recommend that, in the event that voting in certain elections is made compulsory, an option to vote "none of the above" or to "abstain" should be one of the options set out. These options could also be included even if voting were not compulsory. (Paragraph 178)

52.  Westminster has a settled view on First Past the Post. The more that centralisation gives way to devolution, the more that electors at the level of the nations, regions or localities will wish to exercise choice over their electoral systems. We accept that democratic institutions outside Whitehall, be they Parliaments, Assemblies or institutions in localities, will increasingly be the place where the debate about their own electoral systems should take place and be decided and that this will have a positive impact on engagement and participation (Paragraph 181)

53.  We have received a significant amount of evidence that extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds could have a positive impact not just on voter engagement for young people, but also on voter engagement overall in the medium to long term. We as a Committee take no view on whether the franchise should be extended, but recommend that Parliament leads a national discussion on this matter and that a motion on the issue is brought forward in 2015 to allow the House of Commons a free vote on its view, with a view to the introduction of legislation if appropriate. (Paragraph 186)


54.  We have outlined a number of proposals that we believe could have a positive effect on voter engagement, in terms of both registration rates and turnout at elections, but there is no single change that will suddenly re-engage the electorate. The problem of low voter engagement is to a large extent a manifestation of broader political disengagement and dissatisfaction with politics in the UK. The recent referendum on independence for Scotland, where 84.5% of the registered electorate turned out, shows that people will vote if they are engaged and believe their vote will contribute to making a difference, but substantial cultural and structural changes are necessary to convince the public that registering to vote and participating at other elections is worthwhile. This work must go hand in hand with renewing the public's faith in the UK's political institutions. This is a task that requires the support of political parties, individual politicians, electoral administrators and the Government. On the broader issues there may also be scope for the establishment of a new forum—such as a Commission for Democracy—specifically to address these issues over the long term. (Paragraph 190)

55.  Political parties, individual politicians and the Government must take action to re-engage the electorate. We call on each political party to include plans in its manifesto for the 2015 general election for improving voter engagement—in terms of voter registration and turnout—as well as how they will work to rebuild the trust of the public in politics more broadly. Specific proposals that should be considered for inclusion in party manifestos include:

·  The civic and legal duty of all citizens to register to vote

·  Registering to vote closer up to or on the day of an election

·  Online voting

·  Extended or weekend voting, or a public holiday for voting

·  Compulsory voting

·  All-postal voting

·  Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds (Paragraph 191)

56.  With the date of the next, and future elections, set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, it is possible for the Government and other political parties to consider what plans they wish to make in this area and consult with the Civil Service on them so they are ready for implementation immediately after the general election. (Paragraph 192)

57.  Throughout this inquiry we have made a particular effort to take into account the views of the public, and the evidence we have received from individual members of the public. It is now for the public to dictate to the parties what changes they expect to be implemented after the next general election. This should be done throughout the election period and—crucially—at the ballot box. (Paragraph 193)

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Prepared 14 November 2014