HC Deb 28 June 2004 vol 423 cc17-8
22. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

What evaluation the Commission has made of the effects of holding council elections in June rather than May. [180454]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con)

The commission has no statutory duty to report on local authority elections and has therefore made no such evaluation. However, the commission will consider the impact of combining the local elections with the European parliamentary elections in its statutory report on the latter, which it plans to publish by the end of the year.

Chris Bryant

I hope that when the commission does so it will note that the turnout in the local council elections was significantly up, partly by virtue of their being held on the same day as the European elections and also—I suspect—by virtue of their being held in June. After all, canvassing in April, with its regular showers, is much more difficult and it is easier for people to get out to vote during the lighter days. Will the hon. Gentleman urge people to move towards a single date in June for all our elections, so that everybody can be clear where they stand?

Mr. Viggers

The commission has not, to date, considered the timing of local elections and has no current plans to review the matter. However, the commission has previously expressed concern about dates of fixed elections being moved and the potential impact on voter comprehension of combining elections. The commission has also expressed concern about the principle of combining referendums with party-based elections.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is true that turnout increased where there were all-postal ballots, that may have more to do with the fact that the local authority and European elections were combined than with the fact that there was an all-postal ballot?

Mr. Viggers

Indeed. Concern has been expressed about postal ballots; we have come quite a long way from the 1870 Elections Bill, which sought to introduce secret voting in parliamentary elections and was intended to rid British politics of some of the abuses that had disfigured its elections. My right hon. and learned Friend makes a fair point, but it is also true that turnout increased significantly as a result of the introduction of postal ballots; for instance, in the east midlands, it increased from 22.6 per cent. to 44.6 per cent.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)

In the hon. Gentleman's discussions with the Electoral Commission will he also pass on the observation that in Wales, where unitary authority elections in every council area and European elections were held on the same day, turnout in the European elections rose by about 12 per cent. As a result, turnout for the European elections was higher in Wales than in some of the compulsory postal voting areas, so will he recommend to the commission that elections should be held on the same day in June?

Mr. Viggers

I shall indeed pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to the Electoral Commission. That is exactly the kind of thing it will consider in its report on 13 September.