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Performance and Verification Frameworks

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which local authorities have implemented the Verification Framework; how much the expert Help

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Team has cost; how many local authorities have applied for money from the Help Fund; which have been given grants and of how much; and what evaluation has taken place of the local authorities involved in piloting the Performance Framework. [29489]

Malcolm Wicks: I am pleased to announce that 32 of the 104 bids submitted to the Help Fund have been successful. As many of these are joint bids from groups of local authorities, the allocations, totalling £1.638 million, will help around 250 local authorities overall. The Help Fund was set up to address core problems in housing benefit delivery at a local level and is a practical demonstration of the Government's commitment to working with local authorities to improve the standard of housing benefit administration. The funded projects will make significant improvements in areas such as training, customer service and IT capabilities. I am placing a full list of the successful bids in the Library today.

As at 1 February 2002, 242 local authorities are compliant with the Verification Framework. A list has been placed in the Library.

The Help Team is a partnership initiative to support local authorities which are working to improve the administration of housing benefit. Help Team visits to local authorities began in March 2001. The total forecast costs for the project until March 2002 are £970,000.

14 local authorities participated in the pilot work for the Performance Framework. The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate had inspected 11 of them before the pilot and one has now had a best value inspection. The pilots provided useful information and views on the realism of the standards, and input from these authorities has helped us improve their specification.


Mr. Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he intends to reply to the letter to him dated 27 December 2001 from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, with regard to Janet Hamnett. [33529]

Mr. Darling: I replied to my right hon. Friend today.



Electoral Modernisation

Mr. Miller: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will publish the names of those authorities that have been approved to run electoral modernisation pilot schemes in the May 2002 local elections; and if he will make a statement. [34272]

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Mr. Raynsford: I have today agreed that 30 local authorities will pilot new methods of voting at local and mayoral elections this May.

These electoral modernisation pilots build on the 2000 local election pilots and will test new and easier arrangements, such as early voting, all postal ballots and mobile ballot kiosks.

The earlier successes of postal voting ensure it will play a key role in the pilot programme. In the 2000 local elections, most postal pilots recorded a 50 per cent. or greater rise in the number of votes cast compared with previous local elections in 1999. The 2001 general election saw a record number of postal votes cast—some 1.4 million, compared with 738,614 postal votes at the 1997 general election. Postal voting has shown that it can make a difference. The pilot programme aims, therefore, to build upon these successes and explore all-postal ballots and other techniques to make the voting process simpler, accessible and more efficient for the electorate.

In addition over half of the pilots will explore innovative ways in which people can vote electronically using mobile phone text message services, touch telephone, local digital television and on-line voting methods using home computers, local libraries and council-run information kiosks. The councils involved will be working with IT suppliers.

This marks an important first step towards e-voting across the country. The pilots will be crucial in building public confidence and testing technical robustness to ensure that the integrity of the poll is maintained. We are particularly keen to engage younger voters and feel these new innovations will help. Our aim is to learn from these pilots so we can confidently modernise our voting arrangements—making the most of new technology so that voting is more accessible for everyone, but at the same time secure and efficient. We propose an ever more extensive programme of pilots at future local elections to open up the possibility of an e-enabled general election some time after 2006.

My announcement reflects the Government's commitment to modernising our democratic processes. My Department has worked with the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association and the Office of the e-Envoy in considering all of the 41 bids received. The successful authorities, together with a brief description of the activity to be undertaken in the pilot, are listed in the table. Of the remaining authorities, three withdrew their bids, eight applications were judged to fall outside our published criteria or the scope of the enabling legislation.

The Electoral Commission will be providing support and advice to pilot authorities. We will be providing financial support for the costs of IT investment—up to £3.5 million. Officials will now be discussing allocation details with the pilot authorities and the IT suppliers.

List of applications

Name of CouncilType of ballotArea covered
Borough of Basingstoke and DeaneAll postalThree wards
Bolton Metropolitan Borough CouncilE-voting (kiosk) and e-countingAll wards
Borough of BroxbourneE-countingFour wards
London Borough of CamdenEarly weekend voting (27–28 April) in addition to 2 MayAll wards
Chester City CouncilE-voting (touch screen machine) and e-countingThree wards
Chorley Borough CouncilAll postal and e-countingAll wards
Crawley Borough CouncilAll postalThree wards
Borough of Crewe and NantwichE-voting (option of voting on line via Council's web site prior to 2 May) in addition to traditional methodsTwo wards
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough CouncilE-counting of elected Mayoral votesAll wards
Epping Forest District CouncilE-countingAll wards
Gateshead CouncilAll postalAll wards
London Borough of GreenwichAll postalTwo wards
London Borough of HackneyAll postal and e-counting for local elections and mayoral referendumAll wards
London Borough of HaveringAll postalAll wards
Hyndburn Borough CouncilLeaflet address from all parties to each voterAll wards
The City of LiverpoolE-voting and e-counting (telephone, internet, digital TV or text messaging) early voting—from 27–4. Real time on-line register at any polling station in voters wardTwo/three wards
London Borough of NewhamE-voting and e-counting. Early voting, mobile voting and use of languages in votingAll wards
North Tyneside CouncilAll postal in local and mayoral elections, and e-countingAll wards
North West Leicestershire District CouncilAll postalOne parish
Preston Borough CouncilAll postalTwo wards
Rugby Borough CouncilE-counting (use of optical scanners)All wards
South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough CouncilAll postal with electronic counting optionAll wards
St Albans City and District CouncilE-voting (kiosk and internet) and e-countingTwo wards
Sheffield City CouncilE-voting (kiosk, internet and SMS mobile phone text) and e-counting in addition to traditional methods3 wards
Stevenage Borough CouncilAll postalAll wards
Stratford-on-Avon District CouncilE-voting (kiosk) and e- countingAll wards
Swindon Borough CouncilEarly voting (25–30 April) by internet or touch tone telephone (with in-built security measures) in addition to traditional methodsAll wards
Trafford Metropolitan BoroughAll postalAll wards
London Borough of WandsworthExtended hours from 7.00am to 10.00pmAll wards
City of WestminsterE-counting and extended hours (0700–2200 hrs)All wards

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Electoral Fraud

Ian Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what his estimate is of the proportion of ballot papers which were the product of forgery and were not counted in the (a) 2001 and (b) 1997 general elections. [32167]

Dr. Whitehead: We are not aware that any forged papers were identified at either of these elections.

Ian Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the official mark as a safeguard against electoral fraud; and what plans he has to introduce further safeguards. [32161]

Dr. Whitehead: At least five of the applications for electoral pilots to take place at next May's local elections include proposals for alternatives to the official mark, including watermarked or bar-coded ballot papers. Should they be approved and go ahead, the pilots will be evaluated by the Electoral Commission. We, together with the commission, will consider any conclusions carefully.

Mr. Hepburn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what research he has undertaken into security and the prevention of ballot rigging in the evaluation of the feasibility of internet voting. [32090]

Dr. Whitehead: We have jointly commissioned research by a team led by De Montfort university, into the potential barriers (among which are security issues) to electronic voting, including internet. Our partners include the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Association. We expect to publish the findings from this research by June 2002.

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We will be approving a number of pilot schemes of innovative electoral practices in the May 2002 local elections, which may include internet voting. The Electoral Commission will evaluate each pilot scheme to assess whether it met our criteria of making voting straightforward, efficient, accessible and secure. The reports will be published within three months of election date.

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