HC Deb 12 July 1999 vol 335 cc11-2
8. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

When he expects the working party on electoral procedures to report; and what changes he proposes to make in the proxy voting system. [89217]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

I am aware that the police are investigating a number of allegations of proxy voting abuse and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any of them specifically.

The final report of the working party on electoral procedures, which I chair, is likely to include a number of recommendations on absent voting. However, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in an earlier answer, we have to be convinced that any changes that are made will not undermine the integrity of the ballot.

Mr. Pike

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I know that he and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are aware that, in May, about 28 per cent. of the electorate in Burnley's Daneshouse ward claimed proxy votes. The working party report will soon be available, and it is important to do everything possible to ensure that people are able to cast a vote, whether it be by post or by proxy. Is not the integrity of the vote the overriding factor, and should not the aim be to ensure that a person's vote is cast as that person wishes?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is right. This country has a long and proud tradition of free and fair elections without any form of corruption. Any changes that we make must uphold both the spirit and the letter of that tradition.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Although changes such as increased proxy voting, voting at the weekend or electronic voting may be introduced, is it not most important that people are on electoral registers? If we can resolve the problem of the 3 million or 4 million people missing from electoral registers, we can move on to consider the other matters that have been raised. Does my hon. Friend agree that the question of electoral registers should be given priority consideration?

Mr. Howarth

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked for a number of years to raise awareness of the problem of the number of people who do not appear on electoral registers. I assure him that we have studied the matter very carefully. An announcement will be made about it later this week.