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Election Ballot Papers (Secrecy)

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 7 April 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to enable him to have numbers and other marks which can identify the voter removed from ballot papers; and if he is satisfied that the secrecy of the ballot in general elections, by-elections and local elections is assured under present arrangements.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "No, Sir." The ballot papers are marked so that particular votes may, if necessary, be scrutinised by order of a court on the trial of an election petition or in connection with other legal proceedings. The counterfoils are sealed on completion of the poll, and the used ballot papers are sealed in a separate packet on completion of the count. In the case of parliamentary elections, these packages must be kept in the custody of the Clerk of the Crown for 12 months and then destroyed; they can only be opened by order of this House, or of the High Court, in connection with legal proceedings relating to the election. For local elections the packages must be kept in the custody of the clerk to the local authority for six months and then destroyed; they can only be opened by order of a county court or an election court. I am satisfied that these arrangements assure the secrecy of the ballot.

In view of the widespread belief that the ballot is not secret, and of the fact that some people believe it is used to bring pressure to bear on people who vote anti-Socialist, will the Home Secretary give the further assurance that the ballot is secret?

I have no doubt that the ballot is secret, but I really cannot take into account the views of eccentric people.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for making it absolutely crystal clear that the ballot is secret, because there seems to have been a campaign recently to scare people into the belief that it is not?

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) can really vote Labour without the fact becoming known?

If the hon. Member is under any fear that his vote might become known, I can give that assurance.