I have discussed that issue with the Minister responsible for defence personnel, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), and our officials in the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence are continuing to work on proposals to make it easier for our brave service personnel abroad to be able to participate in general elections. The hon. Lady will know some details about that from the written answers I gave her last week.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am disappointed by the lack of urgency with which his Government are addressing the matter. I was shocked to find that, as a result of the Government’s initiative in relation to voting on 5 May this year, only 40 of the thousands of service personnel deployed in Afghanistan voted in secret by post in the referendum, compared with the 217 who voted by post in the general election last year. At a public meeting in October 2008—
I thought that we were going to get something good then, but that was clearly rehearsed. The hon. Lady will know from my detailed answer that the number of people who voted in the specific initiative that we set up, building on the one that the Labour party undertook for the general election, does not take into account all personnel in Afghanistan, some of whom will have registered separately. She will know also that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government plan to lengthen the campaign period for general elections so that overseas voters, including our service personnel, have more opportunity to vote. That is a very clear promise—
I agree, and we are doing two things. We are going to make registering as a service voter more straightforward, and we are going to undertake some data-matching pilots with a number of local authorities, working with the Ministry of Defence, so that we can look at improving the way service personnel are registered so they all have the chance to register and vote in elections.