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Postal Voting System

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2018

1. What recent assessment he has made of the integrity of the postal voting system in local and national elections. (907572)

The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy, and the Government are committed to ensuring that our electoral system, including postal voting, is fit for the future. Next year, Peterborough and Pendle will pilot improvements to the security of postal voting. The Electoral Commission’s evaluation of some similar 2018 pilots was published in July.

Does the Minister acknowledge that the combination of postal voting on demand in Great Britain, but not in Northern Ireland, and large extended family networks sometimes gives rise to accusations of undue influence? What safeguards can be put in place?

I would condemn any such undue influence, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I agree on that wholeheartedly. It is really important that postal voters are aware that their vote is theirs alone. That was the subject of a major awareness campaign at past local elections, and we hope to see similar again.

Will my hon. Friend examine what happened at the local elections last year, particularly those in London? Large numbers of voters were added to the register, had postal votes and then disappeared off the electoral register very soon afterwards. There are clearly potentially fraudulent activities at work.

I would certainly expect returning officers to look into that carefully, and I would support them in their efforts to do so. It is difficult for me to make any more detailed comments on that from the Dispatch Box, but in general terms we certainly wish to keep the postal voting process secure and safe and to ensure that that process contributes to the overall integrity of our elections.

Will the Minister assure the House that if there is an early general election, our postal vote system is robust enough and able to cope?

Does the Minister share my view that strengthening the integrity of the postal voting system will ensure that our electoral system is fit for the future?

Yes, I do, which is why I refer again to the pilots that I mentioned in my first answer. They will be important to give voters reassurance and confidence that our system is doing what we expect it to do and thus that our elections overall are secure.

Does the Minister accept that we must ensure that there is no repeat of what happened in the most recent election in Northern Ireland, where, because the proxy and postal vote system did not require people to produce photographic ID, there was a 600% increase in such voting in one constituency, resulting in a perversion of democracy?

I am happy to take a closer look at the figure that the hon. Gentleman cites and the specifics of that case. I mention again the pilots that we have tested in 2018 and that will run again in 2019, which are about helping voters to be confident that the whole system—not only postal and proxy voting but the rest of the electoral system—is secure, by means of looking into ways for voters to identify themselves and show that they are who they say they are.

Eric Pickles’s report “Securing the ballot” suggested that postal ballot applications should have to be made every three years. Is my hon. Friend looking into that suggestion?

Indeed. I am grateful to Lord Pickles for his report and his work, and we are looking carefully at the huge majority of his recommendations and taking them forward wherever we can.