By Jonathan Isaby
Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper is a busy man at the moment. Not only has he got the bills to introduce fixed term Parliaments, the AV referendum and the reduction in constituencies on his plate right now, but he was back in the Commons this afternoon to make another announcement.
The Government will introduce a system of individual voter registration across Great Britain, akin to that which was introduced to Northern Ireland in 2002.
He told the Commons:
"At present, there is no requirement for people to provide any evidence of their identity to register to vote, which leaves the system vulnerable to fraud. Household registration harks back to a time when registration was the responsibility of the head of the household. Access to a right as fundamental as voting should not be dependent on someone else. We need a better system of keeping up with people who move house or who need to update their registration for other reasons. Individual registration provides an opportunity to move forward to a system centred around the individual citizen.
"I am sure that Members on both sides of the House are concerned when they read of allegations of electoral fraud, including those alleged to have taken place at elections this year. Although proven electoral fraud is relatively rare, we should be concerned about the impact that such cases have on the public’s confidence in the electoral system."
"Individual registration will require each person to register themselves and to provide personal identifiers—date of birth, signature and national insurance number—which will allow registration officers to cross-check the information provided before a person is added to the register, which should tackle the problem of fraudulent or ineligible registrations.
"However, I want to make it absolutely clear that there will be no new databases… Electoral registration officers will check the information they receive from people applying to be registered with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the applicant is genuine. People seeking to access public services are already subject to various similar authentication processes, for example when applying for benefits, and I do not believe such a check, which will help to eliminate electoral fraud, is disproportionate or that it represents an invasion of privacy. Naturally, we will ensure that robust arrangements are put in place to ensure that personal data are securely held and processed by electoral registration officers. Personal identifiers will not be published in the electoral register."
He outlined the timetable for introducing the changes as follows:
"Individual registration will be made compulsory in 2014, but that no one will be removed from the electoral register who fails to register individually until after the 2015 general election, giving people at least 12 months to comply with the new requirements, and ensuring as complete a register as possible for the election. From 2014 onwards any new registrations will need to be carried out under the new system, including last-minute registrations. We will also make individual registration a requirement for anyone wishing to cast a postal or proxy vote."