§ Mr. Wray
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what help and opportunities psychiatric patients in British hospitals received in order to exercise their right to vote in the last general election, according to the Representation of the People Act 1983; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mrs. Currie
The Representation of the People Act 1983 ensures that informal patients in mental hospitals who are not registered as electors in respect of their home address are able to register as electors by making a "patient's declaration." This declaration entitles patients to have their names included on the electoral register in respect of an address outside the hospital where they would be resident if they were not in hospital (or, if the patient cannot provide such an address, a former address). Patients who are unable to vote in person at an election may apply to vote by post or by proxy.
Current guidance from the Department to health authorities in England recommends that at the time of an election a member of the hospital's administrative staff—that is, someone who is not directly involved in the patient's treatment—should personally deliver the voting documents to the patient and then, or subsequently, be present not only to assist the patient, if required, but also to ensure the patient may record his vote without any person seeing how he has recorded it.
Leaflets for the use of the patients notifying these provisions and telling them how to register to vote in elections have been provided by the Department. Health authorities are urged to take all practicable steps annually to ensure that patients are informed of their entitlements; and the staff of the hospital should help patients who have difficulty in reading the leaflet.
Responsibility for help and opportunities given to psychiatric in-patients in Scotland and Wales to enable them to exercise their right to vote in parliamentary, European or local government elections, is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.