Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-274)|
16 MARCH 2004
Q260 Sir Paul Beresford: If I had voted
and posted it, it is unlikely that I will go down and see that
my ballot paper has actually arrived.
Mr Lloyd: I think you are right
as far as an individual is concerned. I think the processes that
we have set up, and it links back to the security point in terms
of being able to monitor those items literally from post box through
to the mail centre back to the regional returning officer, it
means that that security is there.
Q261 Mr Clelland: Would it help if the
returning officer was to publish a list of those people periodically
during an election who had voted?
Mr Lloyd: Obviously that is not
a decision for Royal Mail to take.
Q262 Mr Clelland: Would it help in the
verification so that people could see if their vote had not arrived?
Mr Lloyd: Yes.
Q263 Christine Russell: What measures
are you planning to put in place to ensure that there will not
be any wildcat strikes or industrial action which would prevent
ballot papers reaching the electors?
Mr Lloyd: Again we have obviously
got the national agreement with the Communication Workers' Union
now which has been signed following the disruption we had in the
last quarter of last year. Again we have actually got a statement
from the Communication Workers' Union supporting the extension
of postal voting. We also, as a matter of course, locally as part
of the operating fund I mentioned to you have robust contingency
funds, again helped by the purple flashes, easily identifiable,
so again working with the regional returning officers in particular,
we have actually set individual plans, so if there is wildcat
action, it can continue to operate, and that is part of the overall
Q264 Chris Mole: Mr Lloyd, I think you
began to touch on this, but could you tell us something about
the sort of systems which are used to trace delivery and return
of postal ballot papers and can you tell us how those routes are
Mr Lloyd: As far as the ballot
papers are concerned that actually come back which are posted
in a post box or collected from elsewhere, again they go via the
local office through to the regional returning officer. We have
also introduced, as part of the action from the May elections,
the final sweep for the four postal regions which is basically
a final sweep of the mail centres between 7.30 and 9 o'clock to
ensure that all the ballot papers that are actually posted are
actually taken from the box and leave the mail centre so that
we can be sure there are no outstanding votes in that mail centre.
Q265 Chris Mole: What about the outgoing
mail, when the poll comes out from the local authority?
Mr Lloyd: Again in terms of despatching
them, we have agreed the timetable so that we make sure that the
postal packs, for example, will always go out after the electoral
addresses. That is one of the first things that we actually
did. Again the recommendation that we put and the timeframe that
we put is that the items go out and are delivered to us on a specific
day and we will start delivering them the next day and guarantee
to deliver them within three days following receipt from the local
Q266 Chris Mole: Is there anything the
companies operating end-to-end services can do to kind of test
the return of samples to be sure that the processes are sound?
Mr Hearn: Ordinarily we would
add seeds into mailings that we do.
Q267 Chris Mole: Seeds?
Mr Hearn: Our own addresses, but
because of the exacting nature of the legislation we have got,
we cannot legally do that. It would not be good for me to receive
an extra couple of ballot papers from such and such an election
because the postal docket would reflect that two extra ballot
papers went out rather than the exact number, so it is very difficult
to monitor in that way. However, I would just say that in our
own private elections that we would conduct, we would add in our
own extra addresses. I do not know whether local authorities perhaps
use friendly staff to say, "Have you received your ballot
paper yet? You live in the area, so have you got it?" I know
certainly when we have conducted postal pilots, we will get, "My
granny received it in wherever, so I know they have arrived",
and that is the sort of monitoring you can do certainly on the
Q268 Chris Mole: Do you think there should
be a change to primary legislation to allow seeding in order to
create confidence in the process?
Mr Hearn: It is a monitor of how
Royal Mail are performing, but whether it is beneficialthere
are ways of adding seeds presumably where you would not have to
put a ballot paper in, you put a letter in, add them into the
mailing. It is the problem where, come the verification, what
does the postal docket say as to exactly how many were sent out
if there is a challenge, those sorts of processes. If you are
having to explain that one or two extra items went out, does that
add doubt into a process?
Q269 Chris Mole: Presumably it is a confidence
check. Can I ask what steps you have taken to insure against the
risk of a re-run of an election and have you found any underwriters
who are prepared to insure the risk?
Mr Sanders: No, is the short answer.
I have spent days trying to analyse and decide exactly what the
risks are, where they start and where they finish, and I think
we suppliers are between a rock and a hard place. The rock is
the data we are supplied with and the hard place is my friend
at the other end of the table. If we wanted to insure the risk
for our own performance, we have to establish a clear start to
our liability and we have to establish a clear end to our liability
and we cannot do that under the present proposed regulations.
The only suggestion that our underwriter has made is that there
should be a global insurance for the whole of the election, covering
everyone from the local returning officer to the regional returning
officer and that the prime purpose is to insure a re-run, not
to apportion blame.
Mr Hearn: I would echo what Jon
has said, that insurance is a great difficulty and, therefore,
we are looking very, very closely at the contractual terms which
are going to be connected with these particular contracts. As
a company, you cannot open yourself up to a liability of an all-region
Mr Brown: I agree with everything
that has been said.
Q270 Chris Mole: Returning officers have
a statutory responsibility for the conduct of an election. What
assurances can a third party give to a returning officer to support
that responsibility? Lost for words?
Mr Sanders: It is down to the
agreed procedure and the development of a procedure which has
an audit trail, an agreed start to the audit trail and an agreed
finish. All of my pilots in the past have had observers from the
various authorities at the mailing centre for the entire time
of the enveloping and the mailing. They sample the contents of
envelopes and they sample the contents of mail bags and you develop
a relationship with the returning officer to the point where you
agree that the mail has been done to his satisfaction. Beyond
that, all you can do is give an undertaking that if there is something
wrong, you will put it right, and if it is put right, not to blame
people after the event. That is all you can do, it is a best-endeavours
Q271 Mr Clelland: When you have produced
the electoral material, presumably it is true that you have to
accept responsibility for storing it and securing it until it
is time for it to be delivered. Can you tell us a bit about the
systems for security and are you happy with that responsibility?
Mr Brown: From a De La Rue point
of view, we make banknotes for this as well, so yes, and frankly,
from a security point of view, I would prefer not to go into our
specific systems for that.
Q272 Mr Clelland: Yes, I appreciate that,
but the system in terms of your having this responsibility is
something you are happy to live with?
Mr Brown: Yes.
Mr Hearn: Yes, absolutely. Regrettably,
we do not make bank notes, but security probably in our premises
is as high as it would be in all local authority premises that
are storing the ballot papers for traditional elections, if not
more so. We certainly have CCTV, locked cages, sign-in entry,
identification, all the sort of processes you would expect in
a professional organisation.
Q273 Mr Clelland: The submission from
Document Technology referred to, "2003: two councils returned
a large number of unsigned declarations of identity, but retained
the ballot papers pending return of the signed declaration".
If that is an unacceptable practice, which I assume Document Technology
believes it is, what should be done to try and overcome that problem?
Mr Sanders: I think the reason
for my comment is more that if you are going to send back a declaration
for signature, you really should be sending back the ballot papers
as well because the declaration says, "I received these ballot
papers". If you are going to hang on to the ballot papers,
as is the proposal this year, then you cannot actually truthfully
say, "I received these ballot papers", unless there
is a letter generated which says, "We have received these
ballot papers. Please confirm you have actually received them
and you have voted on them". The actual administrative cost
of doing an extra letter is far greater than sending the whole
pack back and saying, "Please complete the declaration and
send the ballot papers back to us".
Q274 Mr Clelland: Is there anything in
the design of the material which might facilitate it and overcome
Mr Sanders: The potential material
we have designed would actually facilitate that very easily, yes.
Chairman: Well, thank you very much indeed.