To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent of postal voting fraud at the recent general election.
My Lords, the Government are not aware of any issues in relation to postal voting at the recent general election, although no formal assessment has been made. The Electoral Commission will produce a report on the general election in the coming months, which will include any concerns around the use of postal votes at the general election. A range of measures is in place to combat electoral fraud in the UK.
Do the Government agree with Mr Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, who said last month:
“One of the big problems is that victims who have their votes”,
“taken from them won’t come forward … We need the police to be much more proactive”?
He added that consideration should be given to establishing,
“a national, high-profile police hotline”.
Will the Government also ensure that the large number of complaints by registered overseas electors who failed to receive the postal votes for which they applied are fully investigated and the results made public?
My Lords, we are in the early stages of a discussion with the Electoral Commission about how to take forward the manifesto commitment to ensure that it puts greater priority on tackling fraud. Obviously, all these issues will be considered in that discussion. On my noble friend’s second point concerning overseas voters, for the 2015 general election—as with future general elections—postal votes were able to be sent out as soon as practicable, 19 working days before the day of poll. These changes were made specifically to meet the needs of overseas voters.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness acknowledge that the greatest electoral fraud of all was committed by the Ministers of the last Government, Liberal Democrat and Conservative, in wilfully adopting policies that kept millions of people off the electoral register?
My Lords, I do not accept that. The latest figures published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Electoral Commission, on 19 March 2015, show that police forces had only 272 cases of alleged electoral fraud in the UK in 2014, out of a total of 29 million votes cast.
My Lords, is not the first past the post system pretty much an undemocratic fraud, when the Government are elected by only 24% of the electorate and UKIP gets only one MP with 4 million votes? I might add that, although of course your Lordships’ House is appointed under patronage, with no pretence of democracy, we have only three Peers here whereas the Liberal Democrats now have 100, even though they got only a measly 2.4 million votes.
My Lords, I am not quite sure how that is about electoral fraud, which is what we are discussing today.
My Lords, given the widespread abuse of the postal voting system and the ease with which it was possible to cheat in the most recent Tower Hamlets mayoral election, will the Government accept the need to review our election laws to provide more safeguards for democratic principles? If so, what is the justification for the abolition of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, which examines such matters?
My Lords, the Tower Hamlets situation was dealt with in the courts, so I do not want to comment on that. I am sorry, but can the noble Lord just repeat the other part of the question?
I understand. If election law were to be revised, in the previous Parliament the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in the other place would have looked at that revised law. However, the Government are now abolishing that Select Committee, which I believe cannot be justified. What is the justification for the abolition of that Select Committee?
My Lords, as is known, the Government do not get involved in Select Committees, so that is not a point for me to answer here.
My Lords, I would not want to refer my noble friend to the case of the Tower Hamlets mayoral election, but could she write to me, if she cannot answer me today, about whether the Government’s understanding of the law in relation to undue spiritual influence is clear? Can the Government be sure that the law in relation to undue spiritual influence at the time of elections is being consistently applied across different religious communities?
My Lords, I will certainly get back to my noble friend on that question. The Government consider tackling electoral fraud to be a very high priority and they believe that more needs to be done to safeguard the integrity of elections. Indeed, this will certainly be looked into in the future with the Electoral Commission.
Given the large number of people not currently registered and the likelihood that that number will grow with the introduction of individual registration, how much are the Government prepared to invest in supporting local authorities in ensuring that people do register?
My Lords, in 17 local authorities where there is a feeling that there is a problem at the moment, £500,000 has been made available to increase the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register. This should improve research and intelligence gathering, and help with the production of videos to educate the public.