London Mayoral Elections

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 29th June 2004.

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Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative 2:30 pm, 29th June 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why voters in the London mayoral elections were instructed on the reverse side of the declaration of identity to, "Vote once for your first choice and once for your second choice", when there is no obligation to exercise a second choice.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the wording on the declaration of identity in relation to the mayoral election is a matter for the Greater London Returning Officer.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, I am only partially grateful for that reply. Is the Minister aware that I first raised this matter as long ago as 2000 during the mayoral election? I pointed out then that voters were being wrongly instructed that they had to vote twice. Is the Minister aware that I returned to the charge at the beginning of 2003 and I raised the matter again in good time for the matter to be put right for the mayoral election in 2004? However, on 4 March this year a series of orders came before the House. Tucked away in one of them was the same wholly improper instruction to voters.

Is it not obvious from the Hansard report of the proceedings on 4 March that no one—the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, included—noticed that the order contained the improper instruction? In the debate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, suggested various forms of wording to bring home to the voter that he had a choice regarding whether to vote once or twice and no one suggested that the noble Lord was wasting his breath, although the matter was cut and dried in the regulations.

Noble Lords:

Too long.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, no. This matter is important and I must explain the background. Will the Minister state categorically that voters are not required to exercise a second choice? Will he give a categorical assurance that the Government will ensure that that will be made absolutely clear in future orders?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I have some sympathy for the noble Lord and I congratulate him on his diligence, but in the end I cannot agree with his conclusion. It is made clear to voters that they can vote once for their first choice and once for their second choice. It is up to voters whether they wish to use their second vote.

Noble Lords:

Order.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, in the guide that is sent to all electors in the Greater London area it is made clear that they have no obligation to make use of their second vote. That was made clear in the mayoral address booklet that was sent to every elector.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, can my noble friend enlighten me on a matter of elementary logic? Does my noble friend agree that it does not remotely follow from the proposition put in the Question that one has to exercise a second choice? Indeed, it does not even follow that one has to exercise a first choice. There is nothing in the proposition that says that one must exercise any choice at all and, therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is completely misguided—simply as a matter of logic.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am drawn to conclude that what my noble friend says is absolutely right.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a report published after the first mayoral elections for London on how the elections had been carried out showed that a great number of votes were considered to have been invalid? The reason given to the London group of this House was that people had not fully understood the voting instructions. Is it too early to know whether a similar situation exists for this election?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I know that concerns were expressed about the first set of elections for the Mayor and the Greater London Assembly and that greater flexibility was then given to the returning officer with regard to the wording. Fewer ballot papers were spoilt in the most recent elections—a drop of 10 per cent. On an increased turnout, we should be happy with that progress.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as a candidate in the recent Greater London Assembly elections—although the question I ask has no bearing on whether or not I was elected. The instruction given suggested that people had two votes in those elections. Many electors followed that to the letter by voting twice in the same column, thereby invalidating their vote. Did the Greater London Returning Officer take advice from focus groups or take other steps to establish whether electors would understand the instructions given to them?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am not immediately aware of whether the returning officer conducted research with focus groups, but I know that there was extensive consultation. No doubt that will be fed back into the various inquiries which will be undertaken into the conduct of the elections, and suggestions and improvements can be made for subsequent elections.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Shadow Minister (Broadcasting), Culture, Media & Sport, Deputy Leader, House of Lords

My Lords, has the Minister or the Greater London Authority considered inviting electors simply to number their preferences—1, 2, 3, 4—voting for as many candidates as they like? Many trade unions and other bodies use this system, which is clear. Why are we continually making it complicated to vote?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I do not necessarily agree that it was that complex because a large number of electors managed to get it right. We should congratulate them on doing so. However, the noble Lord makes a valid point and no doubt the Greater London Returning Officer will want to consider it in reviewing the outcome of the election.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister remind the returning officer that up until and including the 1945 general election there were a number of two-Member constituencies? It was then accepted that one could use only one vote, called a "plumper" vote, and not be required to use the two votes.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, it is a matter for the electors. Adequate steps were taken to ensure that people were aware that they did not have to exercise both votes.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is the issue here not the advice that was given to returning officers but what was written on the ballot paper? The issue that surfaced in the debate earlier this year was the wording on the ballot paper. Can we be assured that, at the next mayoral elections, the proposal made in the debate in February that there be a particular form of wording on the ballot paper to clarify the position is put into effect?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I take my noble friend's point—it is clearly a matter for the Greater London Returning Officer. Doubtless it is an issue to which the returning officer will give full consideration.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, I apologise to the House for having got over-excited earlier. Can I point out to the noble Lord—

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, can I ask the noble Lord to bear in mind that the regulations do not refer to voters having a choice? They state quite specifically that the voter is "instructed" to vote twice. That is my point—"instructed"—and it is wrong in law.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord's interpretation. The regulations are clear. Obviously noble Lords are exercised about this matter and the Greater London Returning Officer will have to consider it, quite properly, in the fullness of time.

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that anyone who voted only once in those elections was not considered to have spoilt his voting paper?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, electors were fully entitled to vote just once. The fact that they voted only once did not invalidate the vote.