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Postal Voting

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

We are introducing a range of new measures at the May 2007 local elections that are designed to strengthen the security of postal voting. They build on the measures that were successfully introduced in May 2006. The introduction of personal identifiers for postal voters is especially important and will help ensure that postal votes are safe and secure.

During the passage of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, I raised with the Minister of State advice from the banking sector and subsequently wrote to her. The Under-Secretary kindly replied in April last year. Will she update the House on the discussions with the banking sector and their results?

I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman and the House. Thanks to his question, I have discovered that no such discussions took place. It is often said that “Questions were asked in the House”—I shall certainly ensure that questions are asked elsewhere about why the discussions have not yet taken place and that he is informed of them as soon as they do.

Has the Department put in place any mechanism to examine how many people have not renewed their postal votes under the new regime? Will the Department consider the effectiveness of the verification procedures after the elections?

I assure my hon. Friend that we will consider carefully, with the Electoral Commission’s support, the effect of the new legislation on postal voting. We are constantly gathering information about the number of people who apply for postal votes. We will ensure that we can make comparisons about the new system’s effect on the electorate.

In response to a written question of mine on 28 March, in regard to postal vote fraud, the Under-Secretary said:

“The Government do not consider there is sufficient justification to make further changes that would restrict the availability of postal voting… as is the case in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1597W.]

Does the Under-Secretary claim that availability to vote surpasses the integrity of the vote? Is not that Government approach one of extreme complacency?

The hon. Gentleman constantly raises the example of Northern Ireland and I constantly have to remind him that the measures that we took in Northern Ireland meant that registration dropped by more than 10 per cent. Approximately 3.5 million people who should be on the register in England and Wales are not. That is a great democratic deficit. It might suit the Conservative party for fewer people to be on the register and able to vote, but it does not suit those of us who believe in democracy.

Why did not the Under-Secretary ensure that all the secondary legislation was correctly drafted and in place to give returning officers the full power to enforce the postal vote safeguards in the way that Parliament intended?

The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is most unfortunate that we could not do what he suggested. We will ensure that the regulations are drafted correctly in future. It was unfortunate that we could not get that right for 3 May, but I hope that we shall ensure that everything is exactly as it should be in future.