HC Deb 18 February 1982 vol 18 cc385-6
1. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what languages it is the practice for returning officers to publish notices giving general directions and guidance on how to vote.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

The only language in which election notices must be published is English and, where appropriate, Welsh. We understand that one returning officer has announced his intention of adding notices in Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujerati.

Sir William van Straubenzee

In the Bradford case—and I ask this in case the practice is followed elsewhere—is it clear that the notice was instituted by agreement with all the political parties in Bradford? Is it equally clear that the guidance will be strictly limited to technical guidance about voting?

Mr. Raison

I believe that in the Bradford case the procedure was instituted with the agreement of the political parties. However, the conduct of an election is a matter for the returning officer concerned, who is answerable to the courts, and not to me. I imagine that a returning officer would think very carefully about the wisdom and propriety of any instruction recommending that voters should seek oral advice from presiding officers.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Where all the parties agree, as they have on the council, that people should be encouraged to exercise their democratic rights, by notices that will help them do that, albeit with impartial guidance, does the Minister agree that that should be done?

Mr. Raison

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's comment, or question, but I reiterate that the conduct of an election is a matter not for me but for the returning officer.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What my right hon. Friend says is interesting, but not sufficient. Is he not aware that in many county areas the returning officer is the lord lieutenant, who doe not answer to anybody but the Crown? The conduct of the election is subcontracted to a deputy returning officer, who in turn subcontracts to a deputy acting returning officer. Therefore, does my right hon. Friend really mean that the matter should be discussed with the returning officer, who is the lord lieutenant, or with the deputy returning officer, who does not do the job, or with the deputy acting returning officer, who actually——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Raison

The answer to my hon. Friend is that it is the deputy returning officer.