Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:56 pm on 24th March 2005.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 1:56 pm, 24th March 2005

Dream on.

I shall certainly look into the issue of multiple sclerosis therapy centres, and the Secretary of State for Health will want to pay attention to what the hon. Gentleman says.

On postal voting, the simple fact is that we did not have a pilot in the west midlands, which is where the case of serious fraud arose—I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about that. The allegations there relate to the traditional method of postal voting, not an all-postal pilot. The Electoral Commission said in its evaluation of the June 2004 elections that postal voting should remain part of the electoral process. We accept its recommendations on strengthening the penalties for malpractice involving postal voting generally—for example, by establishing new offences involving electoral fraud and personation.

The truth is that postal voting is now increasingly popular among many honest and upright citizens throughout Britain, because they find it an easier way to vote, so more are taking advantage of it. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there is a return to 18th-century fraud is pre-election hype and exaggeration, and I am sorry that he has resorted to it.

We are examining individual voter registration, but it is quite a complex matter. We must consider the situation in Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that more voters are not discouraged from registering to vote, because there is evidence that the number of voters on the electoral register is declining. We should be careful not to introduce a system that is so complex that it effectively discourages higher turnout.

We will look at the recommendation to allow the European Scrutiny Committee to deliberate in public when the opportunity arises, and there is a chance to debate the Modernisation Committee's conclusions.