The Minister's claims that the Government want to improve our democratic system and improve faith in the political process are indicated by the presentation of this Bill, which is a symbol of the present crisis of confidence in the democratic process in this country, which has been created and worsened by this Government.
With serious reservations, one could say that considerable advantage is to be gained from more postal voting in particular, provided that the system is rigorously monitored and that opportunities for fraud and undue influence are eliminated. There are two main questions to be addressed. First, why is the turnout in elections, and particularly in European elections, so dangerously low? In the last general election, in 2001, the turnout was a mere a 59.4 per cent. averaged across the country. That represented a massive 12 per cent. fall from 1997, when this Government came to power. Between 1955 and 1997, the turnout was consistently above 70 per cent. In the last European elections in 1999, again under this Government, the turnout across the country was a mere 23 per cent. compared with 36 per cent. in 1994.
The Opposition believe that the decline in turnout for the European elections is partly because of the introduction of party lists under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, which abolished first-past-the-post. It is also because of the centralising, remote and bureaucratic process of further and deeper European integration, now culminating in the disastrous European constitution, which has been agreed to in principle by this Government. That constitution will further undermine the trust and respect in the political system and a referendum on it is now essential. Indeed, the shadow Foreign Secretary and I went to No. 10 Downing street this morning to demand a referendum from the Prime Minister.