Clause 31 - Observation of proceedings and working practices

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 am ar 17 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I welcome this small but necessary change to electoral practice allowing for the observation of elections. For many years, I have been a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and had the opportunity to monitor a number of elections, principally in central and eastern Europe. That is an important function of the OSCE and of the Council of Europe.

There has been growing disquiet over recent years among many of the developing democracies that different standards appear to apply to them than to those of us in the longer established democracies of western Europe and north America. One of the long standing concerns is, first of all, that regular observation missions have not taken place for elections in the United States, where some might argue that there was considerable need, or in member states of the European Union. That was not felt to be a level playing field. It has now begun to happen; the last US presidential election was monitored by the OSCE in line with other elections.  

In the United Kingdom, there is an obstacle as it is not possible under statute law to allow outside observers to observe our electoral practices. That is what the clause would remedy. I have one question for the Minister. It applies to two sections of the Bill, sections 6B and 6C, which refer to the observation of working practices by representatives of the commission. I find it slightly odd that it is possible for a registration officer, a returning officer or a county officer to refuse admission to the Electoral Commission. An application is made to the officer rather than a notification given that an observation is to take place.

Given the specific role that we have given the Electoral Commission, it ought to have a right of observation, albeit with sensible administrative arrangements, so that people will know that an observer is coming, who it will be and how the work will be conducted. It should be a right rather than something that can be refused by the relevant officer. I can foresee it causing even more problems if overseas representatives of the OSCE or the Council of Europe, accredited as organisations or as individuals, were to monitor our elections and observe proceedings.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o'clock.