Lord Greaves takes action to ensure all UK Citizens can vote in EU Referendum Bill
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On Wednesday 4th November, Lord Greaves moved an amendment on the EU Referendum Bill to ensure that UK citizens who are eligible to vote in the referendum would be able to get registered and receive their postal vote.
EU Referendum Bill Debate in House of Lords
My Lords, this amendment moves back one stage, from talking about how to get people to vote, and how to get them to vote in different ways, to the question of registration, which is how to make sure that people are actually on the electoral register so that they have the opportunity to make a decision whether or not to vote.
Electoral Register to lose 1.8 million people
The House got terribly excited about registration last week when we were talking about the statutory instrument, and a decision was made. As a result of that decision, the new system of individual registration will come in from December this year and something like 1.8 million names will be removed from that register. What nobody really knows, as far as I can see, is how many of those names are genuine voters who should be there and how many are not. However, it is very clear—from talking to some of these people locally and helping them to get registered—that many of the 1.8 million are people who should be on the register and, indeed, many of them are people who voted in the elections in May this year. I do not think anybody knows exactly how many of the 1.8 million voted this year. There is a problem and a challenge there now for everybody to try to make sure that as many of them as possible who are real voters get back on the electoral register.
8 million voters not registered
In addition, according to the Electoral Commission, throughout the UK there are something like 8 million voters who ought to be registered but are not. Although some of them may be people who have no interest, do not want to be registered and never will be, whatever the law may say, quite a few of them are people who ought to be registered and, if they were, might take the opportunity to vote.
The purpose behind the amendment is to probe the Government and the Electoral Commission about what they are going to do and what they think should be done specifically to get people on to the electoral register for the referendum, when it comes. Of course, we also have elections in May next year, but this is specifically about the referendum.
Who else is at risk of missing out on EU Referendum?
In the amendment, I have highlighted two groups of people who are under-registered: young voters and eligible voters who live in the rest of the European Union—although many eligible voters who live abroad live in other parts of the world and would have the right to vote in the referendum if they were registered. They are eligible if they are UK citizens living abroad and have not lived abroad for more than 15 years—or whatever period we end up with in the Bill; at the moment, 15 years.
I had a very useful letter about the amendment from the Electoral Commission, which rightly points out that there are other underrepresented groups that it will wish to target. It points out that the two groups that I have mentioned are two among several more groups that it targeted before the general election with some success—different levels of success, I think. They include people who have moved house recently, people in private rented accommodation—in areas where private rented accommodation is pretty well at the bottom of the housing market, they are often the same people who are moving around all the time—and some BME groups, not all, but some, which are underrepresented.
UK Citizens living in the European Union
I want particularly to focus on the question of people living within the European Union, because these are clearly British citizens who have a particular personal, direct interest in the outcome of the referendum, whatever they may think about it. According to the Electoral Commission, something like 100,000 overseas voters were registered at the general election. Whatever the total number of British citizens abroad eligible to vote in UK elections, 100,000 is a small proportion of them. It was higher than it has ever been before—three times as high as it was at the previous election, I think —but still very low.
It is said that there are 2 million or more United Kingdom citizens resident in the EU. I do not know how many of those are entitled to vote under the 15-year rule, and I do not know how many of them are adults—not children, who cannot vote—but it is clear that there is a large number of British citizens living in the EU who have a direct interest in the referendum who are not registered at the moment. I have seen estimates from other people suggesting that the figure of 2 million is on the low side, because it is based on people who are registered as living in other European countries, and there are lots of British citizens who do not register with the local authorities. Many of these people have dual addresses; they have an address in this country, and they spend part of the time in the rest of Europe. They ought to be registered here, where one of their homes is. So perhaps 2 million is the figure to consider.
Anecdotal evidence from people I have talked to in other EU countries—including people I talked to in the south of France when I was there fairly recently—is that if you live outside this country, registering to vote as a UK elector is not as easy as it ought to be. I have spoken to people who tried to vote at the general election but failed the double obstacle that they have to go through. The first obstacle is registering to vote and the second is applying for and receiving a postal vote—getting on the postal voters register.
EU Referendum Bill Technical Issues
The electoral registration can now be done online, and that applies wherever you live in the world—so that is okay. But what if the national insurance number that you have to give now in order to be put on the electoral register is not validated by the DWP? That happens with lots of people. I do not know why that is the case; I have not got to the bottom of it. However, there is no doubt at all that the validation has not worked for lots of people, which is one reason why there are many among the 1.8 million coming off the register who are genuine voters and genuine people. They have not been able to match up their national insurance numbers and not provided other means of identification to replace the NI number. Providing those other means of identification is more difficult and messy if you live abroad The anecdotal evidence is that, before the general election this year, local authorities were not always quick enough in processing and dealing with these applications.
Secondly, the postal vote applications have to be in writing. There must be a piece of paper which is sent off, or it can be scanned and sent by email—and perhaps by fax as well. That is a more complicated process. I have talked to people who managed to get on the electoral register but did not manage to get through the hoops of getting a postal vote when they were up against the deadline shortly before the elections. There seem to be some bureaucratic obstacles in this situation which are causing more difficulties for people in Europe than for some of the people here.
Registration for people whose NI numbers do not match with the DWP and are not validated is sometimes a nightmare in terms of getting the appropriate documentation in. It is not easy—and I have been dealing with some specific cases back in Lancashire where I live. In addition to what the Electoral Commission tells me it will do—that is, conduct a similar campaign to the one it held to get people registered before the general election; it had something called a “boats and planes” campaign for people outside this country—it will have to make very special efforts indeed, together with the Government, starting as soon as possible, if people living in other European countries are not to be deprived of the vote in the referendum to which they are properly entitled.
EU Referendum Bill Amendment moved by Lord Greaves
(1A) The steps mentioned in subsection (1) must include taking action, as soon as the date of the referendum has been announced, to bring to the attention of eligible electors who are not registered what they must do in order to register in time to vote in the referendum.
(a) young voters, and
(b) eligible United Kingdom electors who are resident in other member states of the European Union.”
To see the full debate follow the link:
Contact Lord Greaves
If you have any thoughts or information on the EU Referendum Bill and who should be able to vote then please contact Lord Greaves directly using the contact page on this website. We would also like to hear specifically from people who have tried to vote in the general election but were unable to do so, for whatever reason. Please fill out your details in the contact form provided or write your comments in the space provided.