Clause 43 - Marked postal voters list

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 17 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 2:00, 17 Tachwedd 2005

Clause 43 concerns the marked postal voters list. Rule 37 of the parliamentary election rules, contained in schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983, makes provision for the full electoral register to be marked at polling stations—as we discussed with the last amendment—to show whether an individual has been issued with a ballot paper. Obviously, that is done to prevent electors from voting more than once. Because people who vote are not allowed to remove ballot papers from the polling station, it can be assumed that if an elector's name has been marked on the register, that person has cast a vote. However, that is not the case with postal votes. There is an absent voters list of electors who have voted by post, which is drawn up by the returning officer, but when the ballot papers have been issued, that list is marked to indicate that the ballot papers have been sent out. However, there is no list to indicate whether postal votes have been returned.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 62 would ensure that the marked postal voters list is as comprehensive as possible by ensuring that it is marked not only when a postal vote has been returned, but when a person registers for a postal vote. The list will then be required separately to show electors who are registered for a postal vote and electors who have voted already by post. A BBC presenter made much of being denied a ballot paper because he was listed as having been sent a postal vote. If there were a more comprehensive list, it would clearly show who had cast a postal vote, enabling the electoral registration officer to see quickly whether someone is entitled to cast their vote in person. At present, there is no way to check that, and our amendments would rectify that.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

The purpose of amendment No. 61 appears to be to ensure that separate records are kept of persons who register for a postal vote before or during the election.

Mrs. Laing indicated dissent.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

I think that that was not what the hon. Lady wanted to discuss, but may I deal with the issue that she left hanging? It may be thought that the clause would increase the instances of late applications for postal votes, which means more fraudulent activity. If that were the case, I would be able to tell her that I was not convinced by the strength of that   argument, which she did not make. None the less, I shall make it for her, and knock it down. There is, of course, nothing inherently suspicious about applications being made close to the deadline—

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

—although, of course, in other legislation, we are going to move the deadline. However, there would normally be a good reason why an elector would wish to apply for a vote nearer to the deadline. We think that it is good that people have the option of applying for a postal vote, so avoiding being disenfranchised.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

The Minister is answering an argument that I did not make. He is not wrong; I agree with him.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

I think that I may be able to answer the hon. Lady's question now—but no, perhaps I shall wait for inspiration that is rather more legible. I think that I am correct in saying that in the instance that she quoted—for reasons of pure cowardice, I am not going to cast aspersions on the individual, lest I face him at the crack of dawn one day—the matter was resolved to the extent that he had applied for the postal vote, but had forgotten that he had done so. He may have ticked the box requesting postal votes for ever, but he thought that he had ticked the box for just one election. I think that that was the resolution of that. I remember seeing a exchange of particularly furious e-mails from that presenter and the returning officer for Hammersmith and Fulham—or wherever it was.

There is already a list of people who have applied for postal votes, but what was at stake in that case was that the officials told the presenter that he had applied for a postal vote and he said that he had not. That was the dispute; it was not that there was not a list available for the officials to consult. I am not sure that the hon. Lady's amendment addresses that matter.—[Interruption.] By happy, fortuitous coincidence, that is exactly what my inspiration was trying to tell me, so I think that I have addressed the point.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 2:15, 17 Tachwedd 2005

I accept the Minister's explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.