Electoral Fraud

Oral Answers to Questions — Constitutional Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 17th April 2007.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 2:30 pm, 17th April 2007

What recent steps she has taken to prevent electoral fraud in local elections.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

The Government have taken significant steps in recent years to tighten up the security of the electoral process, and to assist police and prosecutors in tackling electoral fraud. Those measures are primarily established by the Electoral Administration Act 2006, and associated secondary legislation.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I welcome those improvements in security, but I am sure that the Minister agrees that the introduction of postal voting damaged public confidence in the voting system because of the increased risk of fraud. What specific parallel measures has her Department introduced to ensure that the internet, telephone and advance voting pilot projects, too, are not subject to fraud?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

First, may I make it clear that incidents of fraud remain isolated, and have arisen in a relatively small handful of wards? As for the pilots, we have put in place clear security measures, which will be monitored by the Electoral Commission and by ourselves. Every local authority that has asked to pilot innovative ways of allowing people to vote has done so in the clear knowledge that it wants to make sure that the system is as secure and accessible as possible.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that an important weapon in combating electoral fraud is the requirement to ensure that the electoral register is accurate and up to date? Will she therefore place a duty on electoral registration officers to use all available databases to make sure that the registration system is as accurate and up to date as possible?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As I have often said at the Dispatch Box, the fact that 3 million people are not on the register who should be on it is a slight to our democracy and something that we must challenge. He is quite right, too, that the Electoral Administration Act has given local registration officers further powers to use all means of registration to ensure that people who are eligible to vote are on the register and able to vote. I am constantly hearing about new ways of trying to provide further opportunities for registration officers to make such changes.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

The Minister seems to be living in a slightly different world from the rest of us. Has she read Sir Alistair Graham's speech in January, in which he said:

"How does DCA or the Electoral Commission know about the extent of electoral fraud when neither of them have kept any statistics nor have undertaken any research on the issue? Is it that, in their obsession with increasing participation at all costs, they have turned a blind eye to the risks of electoral fraud and its consequences on the integrity of our democratic system?"

Will the Minister respond to Sir Alistair Graham, who made a telling point?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

Frankly, Sir Alistair Graham made no such thing. In that speech, which I have read in detail, Sir Alistair Graham waved about the figure of 390 cases of electoral fraud. In fact, the Electoral Commission has been conducting a detailed analysis of those cases, and so far it has discovered that very few of them include allegations relating specifically to voting offences. Sir Alistair Graham and the hon. Gentleman need to understand the difference between offences involving under-age candidates, imprints on leaflets and so on and offences involving people personating others and other kinds of voting fraud. Those are very different things, and they should not be put in the same basket.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Has the Minister had the opportunity to read the Electoral Commission report on allegations of electoral malpractice between 2000 and 2006? It shows that in 25,057 elections in seven years there were only 91 cases involving any allegations of electoral malpractice. That represents 0.00363172 per cent. of elections in which there was even an allegation of malpractice. Is it not more important that we make sure that everybody has a chance to vote as easily as possible than following up the rumour-mongering and scandal-mongering by Opposition parties?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

The Minister will know that the Committee on Standards in Public Life warned that impersonation was the most common form of electoral fraud. The election commissioner in Birmingham warned that well-organised fraudsters were getting away with scores of personated votes. Given that, which Minister is responsible for the latest fiasco that the new laws to tackle impersonation will not be introduced for this year's major set of local elections, because they were so badly drafted? Is that not yet another sign of Government incompetence in the face of growing corruption and fraud?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is just plain wrong. In the local elections in May, there will be personal identifiers for postal votes, which is where there have been allegations in the past of possible fraud. All local authorities involved in local elections in May have already sent out all the information to potential postal voters, and I am confident that they will work as hard as possible under the guidance of the Electoral Commission and with the support of the police to ensure that our elections are, as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant has said, as safe, secure and democratically available as we can possibly make them.