HC Deb 19 April 2004 vol 420 cc16-7
20. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

If he will invite the commission to examine the potential effect on the electoral process of incumbent elected representatives using resources available to them by virtue of their office to seek to register voters for postal votes. [166162]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con)

If my hon. Friend cares to put that suggestion to the chairman of the Electoral Commission, I am sure that it will give it due consideration. The commission recently published a draft code of conduct for political parties, candidates and canvassers on the handling of postal voting applications and postal ballot papers, the impact of which will be assessed following the election scheduled for June.

Mr. Blunt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. I have already put my suggestion to the commission and hope that he will add his voice, in his representative capacity, to my call for it to be considered. Does he accept that there is a serious potential for abuse if incumbents, when choosing those of their constituents whom they are going to invite to take postal votes, use resources available to them through their incumbency? Will he more widely invite the commission to examine the whole issue of unfair advantages that come to incumbents through the resources available to them from their office, as far as future elections are concerned?

Mr. Viggers

I am sure that we all want to encourage the maximum use of postal votes, but that must be done within appropriate rules. If my hon. Friend is referring to rules relating to the use of parliamentary stationery, that is a matter for the Serjeant at Arms.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)

My constituency will vote entirely through postal votes. I am concerned that 7,500 people have disappeared from the current register when compared with the previous register. What evidence has the hon. Gentleman got that local authorities are doing spot checks to ensure that as many people are on the current register as there should be?

Mr. Viggers

This is a slightly different point, as I think the hon. Gentleman would accept. The commission is seized of the necessity of ensuring that the register is as complete and up to date as possible, and has made recommendations to the Government on that basis.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

The Electoral Commission received considerable publicity for its proposals on the age of voting and perhaps rather less publicity for two rather important documents: the draft code of conduct for political parties, candidates and canvassers, mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and "Perceptions of Electoral Fraud in Great Britain", both of which are relevant in the light of the recent successful prosecution of a councillor—Conservative, as it happens—in Guildford for electoral fraud. Is it not the case that the draft code of conduct should be in the hands of every candidate and electoral agent before the start of the electoral process, so that they are clear about what they are expected to do in the handling of registration of postal votes and, more importantly, what they are expected not to do?

Mr. Viggers

The draft code was published last Friday. It is my understanding that a copy was sent to each hon. Member. The hon. Gemleman makes a good point, however. Every candidate should have access to guidance from the Electoral Commission, and I shall pass that point on to it.