Postal Voting

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 James Duddridge James Duddridge Conservative, Rochford and Southend East 2:30 pm, 17th April 2007

What mechanisms are in place to verify the legitimacy of postal votes.

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

We are introducing a range of new measures at the May 2007 local elections that are designed to strengthen the security of postal voting. They build on the measures that were successfully introduced in May 2006. The introduction of personal identifiers for postal voters is especially important and will help ensure that postal votes are safe and secure.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

During the passage of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, I raised with the Minister of State advice from the banking sector and subsequently wrote to her. The Under-Secretary kindly replied in April last year. Will she update the House on the discussions with the banking sector and their results?

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

I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman and the House. Thanks to his question, I have discovered that no such discussions took place. It is often said that "Questions were asked in the House"—I shall certainly ensure that questions are asked elsewhere about why the discussions have not yet taken place and that he is informed of them as soon as they do.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper PPS (Rt Hon Lord Rooker, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Has the Department put in place any mechanism to examine how many people have not renewed their postal votes under the new regime? Will the Department consider the effectiveness of the verification procedures after the elections?

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

I assure my hon. Friend that we will consider carefully, with the Electoral Commission's support, the effect of the new legislation on postal voting. We are constantly gathering information about the number of people who apply for postal votes. We will ensure that we can make comparisons about the new system's effect on the electorate.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice)

In response to a written question of mine on 28 March, in regard to postal vote fraud, the Under-Secretary said:

"The Government do not consider there is sufficient justification to make further changes that would restrict the availability of postal voting... as is the case in Northern Ireland."—[ Hansard, 28 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1597W.]

Does the Under-Secretary claim that availability to vote surpasses the integrity of the vote? Is not that Government approach one of extreme complacency?

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

The hon. Gentleman constantly raises the example of Northern Ireland and I constantly have to remind him that the measures that we took in Northern Ireland meant that registration dropped by more than 10 per cent. Approximately 3.5 million people who should be on the register in England and Wales are not. That is a great democratic deficit. It might suit the Conservative party for fewer people to be on the register and able to vote, but it does not suit those of us who believe in democracy.

W

It's reassuring to see that despite appearances to the contrary Labour Members of Parliament are alarmed by the democratic deficit in England. What puzzles this English voter is why, although they are concerned that 3.5 million people have chosen, let it be remembered, to disenfranchise themselves in...

Submitted by William Gruff Continue reading (and 1 more annotation)

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Constitutional Affairs Committee

Why did not the Under-Secretary ensure that all the secondary legislation was correctly drafted and in place to give returning officers the full power to enforce the postal vote safeguards in the way that Parliament intended?

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

The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is most unfortunate that we could not do what he suggested. We will ensure that the regulations are drafted correctly in future. It was unfortunate that we could not get that right for 3 May, but I hope that we shall ensure that everything is exactly as it should be in future.