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Volume 450: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

The Electoral Commission informs me that research conducted after the 2006 local elections in England found that the overwhelming majority of voters and non-voters, including 97 per cent. of those who voted at a polling station, found the voting process easy and convenient.

In the Rushden East ward of my constituency, there have been two district council by-elections separated by a few months. In the second by-election, the number of polling stations was halved from what it had been for the first by-election. As a result, turnout in the second by-election was a third lower than in the first. What assessment has the Electoral Commission made of the need for more, not fewer, polling stations?

I am advised that special circumstances may have applied in the Wellingborough district council area. Portakabins were initially used and subsequently found to be inappropriate as regards access for the disabled, and the presence of a contractor outside one of the polling stations required using only one door instead of two. That may have had some special influence. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Electoral Administration Act 2006 requires local authorities to complete a review of the accessibility of polling districts and places throughout their area within 12 months after the provisions come into force. Local authorities must thereafter undertake further reviews within four years of the latest review.

The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the recent changes in electoral law passed by this House, it is likely that the counts for general and local elections will take place on the day after the close of poll instead of overnight immediately after the close of poll. Will the Electoral Commission consider a system whereby any voter can vote at any polling station and polling stations can always be sited in places convenient for large numbers of people, such as railway stations and supermarkets, so that we maximise the catch of people who can vote on their way to, or back from, where they usually go on their business?

The hon. Gentleman will realise that his proposal would require a great deal of technical application and development, but he has made his point and no doubt the Electoral Commission will take account of it.

How easy will it be for the Electoral Commission itself to vote if it does not have a chairman? My hon. Friend will know that the chairman’s present term of office expires at the end of December, but no decision has been announced. Can he tell the House when that will take place?

Yes. Consideration is being given to the reappointment of a chairman and an announcement will be made in due course.