HC Deb 02 February 2004 vol 417 cc525-6
19. Michael Fabricant(Con) (Lichfield)

If he will urge the commission to recommend the expansion of all-postal elections; and if he will make a statement. [151911]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

No. The Electoral Commission is an independent body, and the statutory functions of the Speaker's Committee do not extend to influencing its position on matters such as this. The commission itself, in its July 2003 report "The Shape of Elections to Come", recommended that all-postal voting should become the norm for local elections in England and Wales, but it believes that it would first be necessary to tighten the law relating to electoral fraud and, in particular, to move to individual electoral registration.

Michael Fabricant

I am reassured by that answer. What steps can my hon. Friend take to ensure that, for example, when postal ballots are delivered to large blocks of flats they are not stolen? We want to see as many people as possible vote in general elections, but what steps can be taken to ensure that personation does not take place?

Mr. Viggers

My hon. Friend is on to an important point. The commission recognises that all-postal voting has resulted in increased turnout, which it welcomes. It has made it clear in all its published reports, however, that it is convinced that the risks of personation and intimidation must be addressed through specific changes to the law before all-postal voting is made more widely available.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey(Lab) (Milton Keynes, South-West)

When the Electoral Commission has considered all-postal voting in the past, has it taken into account the fact that young people are more likely to vote if there is a facility for postal voting, and that all-postal voting therefore has a particularly helpful effect in encouraging young people to exercise their right to vote?

Mr. Viggers

Turnout among younger people has been disappointing. In fact, it is estimated that the turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds in the 2001 general election was only 39 per cent. Moves to encourage voting by all people, especially young people, will indeed be welcomed.

Mr. David Heath(LD) (Somerton and Frome)

What is the point of the Electoral Commission producing well-researched reports if the Government ignore the results? In the forthcoming European elections, only two regions were suggested as suitable for all-postal ballots, yet the Government have decided to go ahead with the pilot in four regions—including the whole of the north of England—disregarding colleagues from Scotland who supported Scotland's case to be included and without the safeguards that the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) mentioned earlier. Does he find that satisfactory?

Mr. Viggers

The Electoral Commission was invited by the Government to nominate up to three regions in which all-postal voting could take place. It recommended two, and the Government have announced four.

Mr. Eric Forth(Con) (Bromley and Chislehurst)


Mr. Viggers

It is not for me, as a ventriloquisee, to have a view on those facts.