http://www.publications.parliament.uk/p ... 146301.htmThe Government's proposals on Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration
UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1463-iv
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration
THURSDAY 13 October 2011
Evidence heard in Public Questions 219 - 287
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
1. This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
2. Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Witness: Mark Harper MP, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, gave evidence.
Q219 Chair: Mark, we are talking this morning about electoral registration and electoral administration. No doubt there may be colleagues who want to throw in some other stuff, they have not indicated that they will but I do mention it just in case.
Mark Harper: Absolutely fine.
Q220 Chair: You are very welcome, Mark. Would you like to make an opening statement and bring up to date those of us who unfortunately were not able to be at DPM’s Questions yesterday? I understand there are one or two possible interesting developments. Welcome, Mark.
Mark Harper: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. I will just make a brief statement, if I may, and this touches on a couple of the issues that did come up at the Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions on Tuesday. I think it is worth saying the Government is very clear, and I made it very clear when I did the oral statement last September, that we are as focused on completeness of the register as we are on accuracy, and that remains the case.
It is also worth saying that the move to individual registration was supported by all the parties in the last Parliament, was in everybody’s manifesto, and indeed, I think I am right in saying, looking at a summary of the evidence you have had, that all of the witnesses you have had support the move to individual registration. Obviously one or two of them have some concerns about some of the specific proposals and the detail, but they are all broadly in support of the process.
It is also worth saying that we were not convinced, when we came to office, that the way it had been enacted by the last Parliament and the last Government, of having a parallel running voluntary process first, was very sensible. We thought that would have led to a lot of confusion. It also had a very significant cost, so, by speeding it up, we think it will be clearer and easier to communicate to people what we are doing, and it does save a significant sum of money, about £74 million.
I will just say a couple of things about the issues that I know will come up. Members of the Committee can probe them in more detail. We absolutely take issue with some of the reporting around the idea that a significant number of people will drop off the register as a result of the move to individual registration. That view fails to take into account the lessons that we have learned from the process in Northern Ireland, and I think the witness you had from the Northern Ireland Electoral Office made the point that one of the key features that we have proposed in our White Paper is around the carry-forward in that first year, to take account of the people that don’t register in the first year but that we keep on the register. They said that was critical. They didn’t do that in Northern Ireland because of the extra focus they had there on accuracy and some of the problems with fraud, and that is one of the key lessons we have learned. We are also trialling, as you know, data-matching pilots to see the extent to which using some of those other public authority databases can be successful in identifying people who are not registered.
The other thing I would say about the Government’s approach to databases as well is that of course we have just passed a piece of legislation getting rid of the National Identity Register, which was a register that people would have had to put themselves on by pain of criminal offence, and we are not going to recreate one by the back door. We are very careful to emphasise that we are keeping local electoral registers. We are not turning this into some kind of cover national database, so we are very reluctant to go down that path.