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Elections: Fraud

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 5 October 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have given any evidence of electoral fraud they hold to the relevant authorities for investigation.

My Lords, that is a very interesting Answer. Does the noble Lord agree that high public office, including chairmanship of a party and membership of the Cabinet, comes with real responsibility? If serious allegations are made about electoral fraud, is there not a responsibility to report them to the police? The noble Lord has been given a sticky wicket today and I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, is not present. At the Conservative Party conference, the noble Baroness said that,

“when there are cases of electoral fraud, I will always speak out”.

If that is the case, why has she failed to name the three constituencies concerned? Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to do so today on behalf of the Government.

My Answer reflected the truth. The Government do not have information and neither is this the Government’s direct responsibility in these matters. If anybody has evidence of electoral fraud, they should report it to the returning officer concerned and to the police. The Government’s attitude is that they would then expect the authorities to prosecute any offences thoroughly and vigorously.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, as I read it in the newspapers—I must admit that the press are not always accurate—said specifically that the Conservative Party had lost its overall majority in the House of Commons on the basis of fraud in three or four constituencies, perpetrated majorly by Asian minorities. Ministers cannot do that and say, “It was just an off-the-cuff remark”. It is a serious matter for any government Minister to traduce the constitution of this country and its electoral system. The noble Baroness ought to come to this House and apologise.

I am sure that my noble friend will read those remarks. As far as I understand it, specific complaints have been made in a range of constituencies and are being investigated. However, I ask the House for pause on this. Research after the general election showed that 30 per cent of people thought that there were some elements of fraud in our electoral system. I do not believe that that is true, but it is a worrying factor that over the past few years, for the first time in my life, the integrity of our electoral system has been called into question. All major political parties have a duty to look at themselves and to make sure that fraud of any kind does not seep into our system. I emphasise that those who commit electoral fraud will be prosecuted and will face severe penalties.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Government are actively considering two important safeguards to prevent the increase in electoral fraud, as perceived: first, an increase in the proportion of postal votes that are verified—I believe that at the moment it is only one-fifth—and, secondly, an acceleration in the change to individual registration, to which my noble friend referred, so that it can take place before 2015? Neither was a change with which the previous Government decided to proceed.

The short answer is yes, we are so doing. However, I do not want to score party points on this. I remember asking questions from the opposition Benches before the election about the loss of confidence, particularly in postal voting. We need to follow through some of the reforms that are now in chain and to look to our own houses in terms of how we expect our members to behave. We need to be willing to push forward the process by which people respect our electoral system.

Given the importance of this area and the seriousness of the allegations made, will the Minister explain why the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, is not in the House to answer the Question standing today?

I am Deputy Leader of this House and a member of Her Majesty’s Government. The answers that I give from this Dispatch Box are answers for Her Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, the Minister may be interested to know that after the 1992 general election I attended a meeting in the Home Office as a representative of the Ulster Unionist Party. In the margins of that meeting there was an interesting discussion involving the representatives of two other parties, who discussed the prevalence of electoral fraud in certain regions of England among certain sections of the population, along the same lines as the comments of the noble Baroness that have been referred to. This issue has been around for a long time. People have been pussy-footing around it and failing to deal with a serious problem. Would it not be good if the party opposite, which has neglected to deal with this issue, was a bit more responsible now?

I again make the point that anybody who has specific allegations or evidence should report that to the police and to the returning officer in the constituencies concerned. We are open to discussing with all parties how we can improve the integrity of our system. As my noble friend said, this is not a matter that has blown up simply since the last general election. There will be a full report in January by the Electoral Commission and the police. I suggest that at that time it might be open to the major political parties to look at that report to see whether there are other ways in which we can take this forward. The integrity of our system must be protected.