HC Deb 24 June 2002 vol 387 cc607-8
32. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

What discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on introducing an all-postal ballot for elections to the National Assembly for Wales. [61205]

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

There have been no such discussions, but I understand that the commissioners have discussed with the First Minister and his colleagues a range of options for increasing turnout at the Assembly elections in 2003.

Kevin Brennan

Do we not want to encourage maximum possible turnout for elections to a new institution such as the National Assembly? Is it not particularly suited to an all-postal vote, and would not extending that idea to next year's elections ensure a high turnout and thus increase the credibility of the results?

Mr. Beith

All-postal voting in the National Assembly elections would require primary legislation. The commission is evaluating the use of all-postal voting in recent local elections, but because of the time needed to make that evaluation, and to introduce primary legislation, it is fairly unlikely that all-postal voting could be introduced in time for the Assembly elections.

33. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

What special measures the Electoral Commission is considering to ensure access to polling stations in the Welsh Assembly elections. [61206]

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

The Commission will fund the development and delivery of training for electoral services staff in Wales in advance of the 2003 National Assembly elections. The training programme will address how to ensure access to the electoral process for people with disabilities. Later this year, the Commission will also publish a series of "good practice" handbooks, which will include advice to returning officers on this matter.

Mr. Bryant

Are the right hon. Gentleman and the commission aware that many electoral registration officers in Wales are already worried that literally hundreds of polling stations will not meet the legal requirements for disabled access next year? Thousands of people could be disfranchised because of the absence of a local polling station. If the commission will not consider all-postal ballots, will it at least consider requiring local authorities to write to every constituent, suggesting that they might none the less have a postal vote?

Mr. Beith

I shall certainly put the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to the commission, but it should be borne in mind that a long-standing legal requirement exists that, so far as is practical, all electors should have reasonable facilities for voting, and, in particular, that local authorities should designate as polling stations only places that are accessible to disabled voters. Indeed, there is a widespread feeling in the House that every polling station should, if possible, be fully accessible to the disabled. However, when a polling station is changed or removed, local electors can petition against that development, and the Electoral Commission has the power to require the local authority concerned to reinstate the polling station. However, to date no such petitions have been received.