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Mr. Leslie: I can tell the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that the draft statutory instruments that we have already published, and on which we consulted the Electoral Commission, specify that although the elections will be all-postal, there will still be opportunities for people to leave their postal votes at designated drop-off points in a local authority area. I suspect that proposed new subsection (4) in Lords amendment No. 1 refers to that means of supplementing the postal system.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister turn his attention to the concern that many of us feel about the integrity and security of the electoral register and, what is more, to whether that integrity and validity would be subject to abuse in a postal vote? According to a conversation that I had with the chairman of the Electoral Commission, he is concerned that a system is not in place to prevent fraud and the abuse of the electoral roll and the postal voting process.

Mr. Leslie: I am glad that Conservative Members have had conversations with the chairman of the Electoral Commission, which is heartening. The hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points, the first of

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which concerns the electoral register. That is an important issue, regardless of whether we are talking about an all-postal or a conventional election. His second point, however, relates more directly to postal voting: concerns have been expressed about whether all-postal voting is more prone to fraudulence or malpractice.

I want to consider the Electoral Commission's views. It has stated that the two additional regions of Yorkshire and the Humber and the north-west are "potentially suitable", but that it does not feel able

on their suitability. It would therefore be useful to examine what held the commission back from making those positive recommendations, and what has now been done to address those issues. Starting with Yorkshire and the Humber, the commission noted positively that the region has "solid piloting experience", that it has

and that it has a

However, the commission raised queries about the fact that

on demand, and said that

That is how the Electoral Commission explained why it held back from making a positive recommendation on Yorkshire. Its points are valid, and we have been working hard to address them. Much is being done at a national level, but it may be worth while to illustrate what is being done locally in Yorkshire. I recently wrote to its regional returning officer, as well as the regional returning officers in the other pilot regions asking them to update me on their preparations. On the subject of fraud, Paul Rogerson, chief executive of Leeds city council and regional returning officer for Yorkshire and the Humber said that

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): Given that the Minister is quoting extensively from a letter that the House has not seen, will he undertake, particularly in light of the fact that he has already been caught out this afternoon indulging in selective quotation, to ensure

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that the full text of all correspondence on which he seeks to rely is placed in the Library, together with the full minutes of any meetings that he or other Ministers have had with any returning officers or the Electoral Commission?

Mr. Leslie: I shall certainly make available to the hon. Gentleman the letters from which I am quoting, as they are useful to my case. Indeed, I wish I had time to circulate them to hon. Members during our debate.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Will the Minister place them in the Library?

Mr. Leslie: If I place them in the Library, perhaps hon. Members will be able to go and read them before we vote. I am not sure how efficient my officials will be, but we shall see what we can do. The important point, however, is that the regional returning officer in Yorkshire addressed concerns about fraud. In relation to the commission's point about whether returning officers were willing to participate in postal votes, he said:

When discussing its recommendations, the Electoral Commission clearly does not rule out Yorkshire and the Humber as a pilot region and, indeed, has since said in discussions that the region and others marked as "potentially suitable" could deliver an effective pilot. In short, it is quite clear that any doubts about Yorkshire's suitability, whether over fraud or returning officer enthusiasm, have now been overcome.

As for the north-west, the commission noted positively that

It also noted that the north-west returning officer

It also noted that the region is diverse, has a strong daily and weekly press and ranks highly for the distinctiveness of its radio services. The commission had several worries however, and said:

It was concerned that

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Given that large number of elections, it was therefore concerned that

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD) rose—

Mr. Leslie: I should like to address each of the commission's concerns in turn, but before doing so I shall give way to the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh).

Dr. Pugh: As the Minister has partly suggested, 80 per cent. of the north-west has atypical elections using two different electoral systems, so their council elections are not characteristic. Is it not perverse to choose the north-west, as the complications are surely greater there than anywhere else?

Mr. Leslie: As I shall seek to explain, if we shy away from complexity and conduct pilots in simple areas with single elections, we avoid the purpose of piloting, which is to learn lessons and build on experience. Complexity can therefore be useful to piloting.

6.15 pm

As for the fraud issue raised by the Electoral Commission, it will be useful to quote Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester city council and regional returning officer:

As for whether or not there was widespread support from local returning officers, Sir Howard Bernstein wrote:

I apologise for the length of the quotations, but I think that they are important, as they record the views of independent returning officers, who are responsible for administering all-postal voting in those regions. I have every confidence and faith in their ability to deliver and do the job that they have done in the past. As for the point about complexity, if all-postal voting is ever to move on from a pilot stage, we must be prepared to test in areas that are complex as well as those that are simple.

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