HC Deb 17 September 2003 vol 410 cc51-2WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The Government have today introduced a Bill to allow piloting of innovative voting methods at next year's European Parliamentary elections. The European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill also provides for pilots at local elections where these are combined with and take place on the same day as elections for the European Parliament.

This legislation demonstrates the Government's commitment to their goal of making voting easier and more convenient and represents a marked scaling up from previous pilots. The Bill is needed as current legislation does not allow for piloting at European Parliamentary elections and the Government are keen to maintain the momentum gained through previous successful pilot schemes. Such schemes have included both all-postal ballots and multi-channelled e-voting and, at this year's local elections, were conducted in 61 local authorities covering 6.4 million eligible voters.

Decisions on which regions should be chosen for next year's pilots, and which methods should be used in those regions, will be informed by advice from the Electoral Commission. The Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are today jointly writing to the Commission with guidance on this issue. The Commission—an independent body funded by Parliament—will consult with stakeholders and report back later in the year.

Alongside this legislation, the Government have also today launched a consultation on implementation of next year's pilot schemes. This consultation, to be conducted by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, will outline our plans for the pilots and seek comments from local authorities and other interested parties on our proposals.

Our proposals have been developed in the light of the Electoral Commission's strategic evaluation of the pilots held at the local elections earlier this year. Their report, "The Shape of Elections to Come", made a number of recommendations, which the Government have considered very carefully, and we have published today our formal response.

One of the main recommendations made by the Commission was that all-postal voting should be made the normal method of voting at local elections. We welcome that recommendation, but we recognise that it would involve a major change to our traditional electoral arrangements. Therefore, the Government intend to launch a public consultation on the detail of that recommendation later this year.

Forward to