HC Deb 24 June 2002 vol 387 cc606-7
31. Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

If the Commission has commissioned research into the effects of introducing compulsory voting. [61204]

Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission)

I understand that the Commission intends to carry out research into the operation of compulsory voting in other countries. This research project is expected to begin later this year and the results will be published in 2003.

Mr. Plaskitt

Although it is worth conducting research into compulsory voting, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it is probably not the solution to falling turnout, because it is incompatible with freedom of choice? Will he concentrate instead on investigating increasing turnout through voluntary processes?

Mr. Beith

The commission has said that the main responsibility for increasing turnout in elections must lie with the politicians and parties themselves. It does not regard compulsory voting as the answer to this problem, but it considers it appropriate to carry out research. I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's views on this subject.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

It is encouraging to hear that response, but will the right hon. Gentleman go further and say that the franchise implies a degree of responsibility and consideration on the part of the person exercising it? If someone cannot be bothered to vote, they should not be forced to do so.

Mr. Beith

I have a similar view, but we probe voters' motives at our peril.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered compulsory postal voting, and moving polling day from a Thursday to the weekend?

Mr. Beith

I have never before heard the suggestion that compulsory voting and postal voting be combined, but I suppose that might follow if compulsory voting were introduced. Changing polling day is precisely the sort of issue that the Electoral Commission considers from time to time, and on which it might at some point make recommendations to Government.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one obvious disadvantage of compulsory voting is that it would be not nearly as easy to judge how happy the electorate are with politicians as it is under a system that allows them to choose whether to vote? Is not a bigger priority to concentrate first on making registration—which is already compulsory—work effectively, given that, in many parts of the country, it does not? Should we not also consider providing a financial incentive to vote? Such an incentive might encourage many more people to vote, but it would still leave them the freedom not to do so.

Mr. Beith

Later this afternoon, the Electoral Commission Committee will consider increasing the commission's expenditure on raising awareness of the need to register to vote, which the commission regards as particularly important.