The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will tackle electoral fraud by speeding up the introduction of individual electoral registration—that is, requiring electors to register individually rather than by households. In doing so, we will move towards a system in which individuals have to provide information to enable their application to be verified. That will modernise our electoral registration system, facilitate the move to online registration and make it more convenient for people to register to vote. We want to tackle electoral fraud, increase the number of people registered to vote and improve the integrity of the electoral register.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): This is a very early intervention, but 23,388 of our fellow citizens living abroad are entitled to vote, while 1,147,401 French citizens will be voting in the French parliamentary elections next month. Why do we deny that core citizenship right to so many of our fellow citizens simply because they do not live within the UK? I am not sure that the situation is within the purview of the Bill, but it represents a shameful denial when other countries are so much better than we are.
Mr Harper: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. There are about 5 million British citizens overseas, and there is a debate to be had about the length of time—currently 15 years—that one should remain entitled to vote. Of the 5 million citizens overseas, only 30,000 or so are registered to vote, and for those who have been overseas for less than 15 years there is no bar at all on voting.
There are questions to be asked of all of us about why those people do not feel the urge to register and to cast their vote in our elections, but in part 2 of the Bill, which I shall come on to later, we are going to lengthen the period of a general election campaign, making it more practical for overseas voters to receive and to cast a postal vote so that it counts in an election. I hope that that will be helpful.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in our deliberations. The point about overseas electors bears a great deal of exploration. If they are not going to participate, alongside citizens who are still resident, in the democratic process and in our constituency-based system, will more information be provided to political parties and to independent candidates about how to contact overseas electors? The information that has been on the electoral register up until now would not allow for much discussion or interaction with them.
Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point—to which we might return in Committee, given that I have not got very far with my speech and want to make a little progress before I take any more interventions.
As I was saying to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), part 2 also contains provisions to improve the administration and conduct of elections, thereby serving to increase voter participation and to make a number of improvements to the running of elections.
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