Elections (Business Vote)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1981.

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Photo of Dr Edmund Marshall Dr Edmund Marshall , Goole 12:00 am, 5th February 1981

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his estimate of the number of local government electors in England and Wales who are entitled to vote in respect of more than one entry in the electoral registers.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

The information needed to make such an estimate is not available and could be obtained only at very considerable cost.

Photo of Dr Edmund Marshall Dr Edmund Marshall , Goole

Will the hon and learned Gentleman confirm that it is an offence for an elector to exercise his franchise more than once in the annual elections for a particular local authority? Would not that basic democratic principle be breached by reintroducing the business vote?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is an offence to vote more than once in an election for any one authority. However, I do not believe that if the law were changed to restore the business vote there would be a breach. By definition, it would become lawful. However, there are many difficulties and no one has sought to go behind them.

Photo of Mr James Dunn Mr James Dunn , Liverpool Kirkdale

Will the Minister take steps to remove some of the financial difficulties of acquiring the information by altering the electoral registration forms? Does he agree that, if people were asked to declare whether they were registered on more than one constituency or ward boundary register, the information would be readily available?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

It is not quite as simple as that. There are 400 separate electoral registers in Great Britain. The concern that the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) is voicing relates to those who are prepared to be dishonest. The only way to get a clear indication of the true position is to have one central register, which we do not have.