Voting Facilities (Service Personnel)

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 24th May 2011.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 11:30 am, 24th May 2011

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on steps to facilitate voting in elections by service personnel serving abroad.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I have discussed that issue with the Minister responsible for defence personnel, my right hon. Friend Mr Robathan, and our officials in the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence are continuing to work on proposals to make it easier for our brave service personnel abroad to be able to participate in general elections. The hon. Lady will know some details about that from the written answers I gave her last week.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am disappointed by the lack of urgency with which his Government are addressing the matter. I was shocked to find that, as a result of the Government’s initiative in relation to voting on 5 May this year, only 40 of the thousands of service personnel deployed in Afghanistan voted in secret by post in the referendum, compared with the 217 who voted by post in the general election last year. At a public meeting in October 2008—

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

The Deputy Prime Minister assured my constituent Devina Worsley that he and the Armed Forces Minister would take action to address the issue. Is that another broken promise, or is he just not up to the job?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I thought that we were going to get something good then, but that was clearly rehearsed. The hon. Lady will know from my detailed answer that the number of people who voted in the specific initiative that we set up, building on the one that the Labour party undertook for the general election, does not take into account all personnel in Afghanistan, some of whom will have registered separately. She will know also that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government plan to lengthen the campaign period for general elections so that overseas voters, including our service personnel, have more opportunity to vote. That is a very clear promise—

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

When the Minister talks to the Ministry of Defence about voting, will he try to ensure that not just the way our servicemen and women vote but the way they are required to register is as simple as possible?.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I agree, and we are doing two things. We are going to make registering as a service voter more straightforward, and we are going to undertake some data-matching pilots with a number of local authorities, working with the Ministry of Defence, so that we can look at improving the way service personnel are registered so they all have the chance to register and vote in elections.