HC Deb 19 April 2004 vol 420 cc14-5
18. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)

What discussions the commission has held on the security of postal ballot papers delivered to premises in multiple occupation. [166159]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con)

The security of postal ballot paper delivery, including delivery to houses in multiple occupation, has been discussed by the commission on several occasions. Those have included meetings with the Parliamentary Parties Panel, the Local Government Association and the regional returning officers for the European parliamentary elections.

Bob Russell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he give me an assurance that every returning officer will be instructed to issue to every candidate and agent notice of the consequences of any illegal activities connected with the improper use of postal votes?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and the Commission recognises the concern that he expresses. In order to minimise the risk of fraud in relation to postal votes, the commission is developing a series of tools for use by local administrators, including best practice guidance on delivery to multiple occupation households. The guidance is planned for publication later this year and will take on board the experience of the pilot schemes planned for this June.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab)

May I suggest that the Commission take note of what has already happened in areas with many houses in multiple occupation that have run all-postal vote pilot schemes, such as in my own borough in Blackpool? It obviously has many HMOs but few problems were reported with the all-postal ballot last time.

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman balances the point. The Commission has made it clear in its published reports that it is convinced that the risks of personation and intimidation must be addressed through specific changes to the law before all-postal voting is made widely available. However, the Commission also argues that the benefits of all-postal voting in terms of increased convenience and turnout are significant and demonstrable.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend ask the commission to ensure that after the next round of postal voting in major elections it will publish research that shows those areas with unusually high or low participation? I can understand why the commission would not wish to publish its methods of research in advance, but we need to see afterwards what has happened.

Mr. Viggers

The Commission intends to carry out scrupulous research and I think that my hon. Friend's point should be covered. However, it will be drawn to the Commission's attention.