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Electoral Law

Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce legislation further to amend electoral law; and if he will make a statement.

During the next Parliament we intend, after the usual consultations, to bring forward legislation to extend the period during which British citizens may live overseas and continue to register as overseas electors.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider issuing advice about the legality of direct mail letters that are targeted to particular constituencies during election campaigns? Is he aware that, according to The Guardian, the Conservative and alliance parties have received legal advice that such practice is illegal, and that they do not propose to use it during an election campaign, but that the Labour party proposes to do so? Would it not be a good idea to clarify the matter beyond any doubt?

We should be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is obviously an important point. I am sure that the public would expect fair play and a reasonable understanding between the parties as to what is allowed by law. The public would not look kindly on a party that they thought had cheated.

The Minister's views on electoral reform have been publicised. We know that he is in favour of it. Is it too much to hope for that, in the next few days, he can put through a Bill to conduct an election on a system of proportional representation? Given that the Government are often critical of extreme militants on local authority councils, does he accept that one way of controlling them is to have lair representation on local authority councils to ensure that extremism does not have its head in a minority of votes.

There will certainly be no extremism when the Government are returned at the next general election. The Government believe that the simple majority system is the best system. It is well established, it is easily understood and it is most likely to produce Governments for whose policies the electorate has voted.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the dissatisfaction that has been expressed over the forms available for absent voters to be able to record their votes? Will he urgently consider the form and determine whether it could be simplified and made clearer in time for any possible early election?

I am told that the form was designed on advice from electoral registration officers. Obviously, I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend.