HC Deb 13 September 2004 vol 424 cc980-2
21. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)(Lab)

What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to improve turnout at general elections; and if he will make a statement. [187918]

Mr. Viggers

Under section 13 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Electoral Commission is responsible for promoting public awareness of electoral and democratic systems. It does so through programmes of education and information. The commission aims, through that activity, to contribute to increased electoral participation over time.

Mr. Allen

Will the hon. Gentleman pass on to the Electoral Commission the congratulations of many hon. Members on the campaign that it mounted before the European elections to publicise people's rights to get involved in politics and participate in elections? Many of us have a sense of embarrassment at the number of people who failed to vote, even in our own constituencies. Will he request the Electoral Commission to consider the possibility of running pilot schemes in the constituencies of Members of all parties to try to discover why people do not vote and what steps we can all take to improve participation in our democracy?

Mr. Viggers

Indeed, evidence seems to indicate that the Electoral Commission's campaigns have had considerable effect, and the hon. Gentleman has taken a keen interest in the subject—and indeed met the chairman of the Electoral Commission this morning.

You know, Mr. Speaker, that the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission has no direct responsibility in these fields, and to that extent, as the spokesman of the Speaker's Committee, I am merely the drone target against whom hon. Members can essay their flights of wit and wisdom. However, hon. Members who have a view on postal voting and other matters have two opportunities to contribute this week: first, the Minister for Local and Regional Government hopes to catch your eye to make a statement later this afternoon, Mr. Speaker; and secondly, on Thursday in Westminster Hall there will be a debate on the report from the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on postal voting, which will give an opportunity to all hon. Members to contribute to the discussion.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)(PC)

Is the Electoral Commission considering the issue of Thursdays? We in the United Kingdom have a tradition of voting only on Thursdays and for one day only. Many other countries achieve higher participation in their general elections by voting on more than one day, and in particular at weekends. What consideration is being given to those moves?

Mr. Viggers

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Electoral Commission has an open mind on the issue and believes that it requires further study.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)(Lab)

Regarding what the hon. Gentleman said about links with education, does he know—if not, will he arrange for a letter to be sent to me afterwards—whether the Electoral Commission has links with curriculum co-ordinators who are responsible for delivering the citizenship curriculum in schools? One role of citizenship lessons in schools is to develop political literacy among young people, and of course young voters are the ones who stay at home the most.

Mr. Viggers

I have no doubt that that is exactly the kind of matter on which the Electoral Commission is active. Rather than attempting to respond at this point, I am sure that the commission would welcome the opportunity to write to the hon. Gentleman with further information.