Draft Representation of the People (Electronic Communications and Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2016

Commons Hansard
5 Dec 2016

Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Flello; I had not realised you had risen up the ranks, but well done.

I welcome the Minister's statement, and particularly what he said about the fact that digital registration will be a choice, rather than compulsory, which is really good. There would be worries about people's access if this were made compulsory, but he put my mind at ease on that straight away. More choice in the way that people can sign up is really good. I acknowledge what he said about the number of people - young people in particular - who have been added to the list over the last couple of years. It is a shame that those 2.4 million people have been excluded from the Boundary Commission review that is under way at the minute, but that is a debate for another day.

It is very welcome that fraud prevention is a key part of this. Given the discussions had about digital registration, will the Minister assure the Committee that he will keep this under review and report back to the House about whether it is working? If there are problems, we need to work together to ensure we put them right. I welcome what he said about the security within the system - clearly none of us wants to do anything that will create opportunity for fraud - but I want to ask him a more basic question: is he confident that the system will be effective? Will it work? Is it exactly the same system as the one working in the rest of the United Kingdom? If so, has that system been shown to be effective? If not, what assurance can he give us that the system will work?

I do not have much more to say. At the moment, there are five electoral offices in Northern Ireland, and people working in those offices have expressed concerns to me about whether these measures will ultimately have an impact on their jobs. I know that the Minister shares my concern about the loss we have seen in recent months of a huge number of private sector jobs in the north. Really good, high-level, strong jobs in manufacturing have basically disappeared. Despite the Government's attempts to rebalance the economy, outside forces have put that beyond the Minister's and my control. Will he assure us that there will be no impact on either individual staff working in electoral offices or the towns in which those offices are based?

Kris Hopkins, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office): I thank the hon. Member for Blaydon for his simple questions, compared with more challenging ones offered by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton ?South West. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Blaydon. We have common cause on young people voting, and we obviously never want to see fraud in an electoral system, so we have ensured that the system is robust and has been well tested. The system we are discussing is the same system, with one or two modifications, as is in place in the rest of the United Kingdom, which has proved to be very successful in its roll-out. I reiterate that if Members from Northern Ireland would like a demonstration of that, we would welcome any feedback from them, from people on the ground and from officers who are delivering the service during the roll-out of the system.

The hon. Member for Blaydon spoke about challenges in the system. I encourage all Members to participate in the ongoing electoral consultation. I have had constructive dialogue with the trade unions. The consultation remains open until 9 January, and I am sure that, with his interest in this subject, he will make a positive contribution.

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Mr Anderson: I might have missed it in thinking about the shoot in Northern Ireland, but are the jobs at the five offices secure? Are there going to be any issues for them?

Kris Hopkins, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office): It is for the chief electoral officer to make that choice, and they will make the choice as a consequence of the consultation. I cannot make a commitment now because we are talking about the specific issue of digital registration.

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