Geraldine Smith: I think that there are dangers with open primaries. Supporters of the Opposition parties may turn up and vote for the weakest candidate, or there may be a candidate with a particular interest-for example, a pro-life candidate-who floods the place with their supporters. This could end up being very undemocratic.
Geraldine Smith: I welcome the Minister's comments, but does he appreciate that this is a cross-party issue? Indeed, we agree with Mr. Speaker when he says that we do not want slow-motion democracy, but instant democracy. In a modern democracy, we should be able to achieve that.
Geraldine Smith: My right hon. Friend is right. All returning officers will act in an honest and honourable way, but most people also like the easy option-and the easy option in this regard is counting the votes the next day. The onus, as the hon. Member for Epping Forest pointed out, should be on the returning officer to justify why they cannot count the votes immediately after the poll.
Geraldine Smith: rose-
Geraldine Smith: rose-
Geraldine Smith: As the hon. Gentleman has said, the problem that has been identified is that returning officers are not behaving reasonably and they are using money allotted to them for other purposes. He cannot have it both ways. That money should be ring-fenced if they are not using it appropriately.
Geraldine Smith: Does my hon. Friend agree with Mr. Speaker that we should have instant, and not slow-motion, democracy? In my constituency we managed to count the votes at the last election straight away, even though county council elections were taking place at the same time. I do not know why that cannot be done again. What has changed? The old Morecambe and Lonsdale constituency used to go right up to the...
Geraldine Smith: My biggest concern is about the security of the ballot boxes when they are left overnight. We need assurances that they will be properly policed, because that is a real concern.
Geraldine Smith: What steps he plans to take to maintain the level of demand in the economy in the next 12 months.
Geraldine Smith: Does my right hon. Friend agree that priority must be given to economic growth and protecting jobs and services and that, while it is important to reduce the deficit, immediate cuts could plunge this country into recession?
Geraldine Smith: My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union are making good progress on modernisation and addressing the industrial relations problems that have bedevilled the industry. Can she now say when the Government will sort out the pensions deficit, which needs to be done as a matter of urgency?
Geraldine Smith: I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is looking to scrap or rationalise 123 quangos for starters-not before time. One chief executive of a quango told me that he was on £1,000 a day. That is disgraceful when there are public sector workers at the bottom who are paid £10,000 a year. We need to protect them and keep them in work to keep the economy going, and we need to ensure that we get...
Geraldine Smith: Five young people are alive today because of the tragic death of a wonderful little boy, George Higginson. George was an organ donor. His father feels that it would be beneficial if people had an opportunity to sign up as organ donors while voting at elections, particularly the general election.
Geraldine Smith: It is painfully clear to the whole country that the two sides in the postal dispute cannot reach agreement. Will the Minister with responsibility for postal services come to the House and explain why he will not instruct Royal Mail to go to arbitration so that we can stop the dispute?
Geraldine Smith: It is important that the Minister takes note of the ombudsman. However, it is equally important that we introduce a scheme as quickly as possible to help as many people as possible. No one has mentioned the financial cost, but that must be a consideration.
Geraldine Smith: The costs are very important, as is the time scale involved. How much does the hon. Gentleman expect the proposal to cost, and according to what time scale does he see the money being spent?
Geraldine Smith: rose-
Geraldine Smith: If Royal Mail's case is so strong, why is it not prepared to go to arbitration? Why is it saying that it will consider it only if the union calls off the strike? That is silly playground posturing. It should get to arbitration, and arbitration should be binding on both sides. This is causing misery for businesses and people up and down the country, and the Government are washing their hands...
Geraldine Smith: What is the point of the ombudsman doing her report if the Government do not accept the recommendations? Is it not time that the policyholders had the justice that they deserve?
Geraldine Smith: Of course a proper public debate is important, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever system we have and whatever reform takes place, it is also important that we retain the constituency link and constituency representation? What we do not want are any list systems.