Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)|
17 MARCH 2004
Q340 Mr Clelland: You are suggesting
in that comment that there is massive fraud if that is the case,
surely? If we are getting a huge increase in turn-out and you
are putting it down to the fact that we do not know who has returned
the ballot paper, it is fraud, is it not?
Lord Greaves: We do not know.
The problem is that the research that has taken place into the
all-postal pilots has consisted of asking people if they find
it more convenient, touchy-feely questions, do you feel good about
the system, and so on. Nobody has done any hard research, as far
as we can tell, into who is sending back these extra ballot papers
and whether they were sent back legitimately or not. It is easy
enough research to do because we know who the people are who voted
at the previous election, we know who the people are who voted
in the pilots. There may then be 10% or 15% of the electorate,
or whatever it is who voted in the second and not the first and
it is time that somebody did some research by going to those people
and individually tracking down who they are. That is interesting
in itself because a lot of anecdotal evidence, and to my knowledge
it is anecdotal still, is that a lot of the extra people who vote
are people in larger families who otherwise would not vote. So
where perhaps two people in a household vote in a normal election
and go to the polling station, what is happening in the pilot
is the whole of that household, perhaps three, four or five people
are voting. Are they legitimate votes or is it the two keen voters
voting for everybody else? The fact is we do not know at the moment
because nobody has done that research. It is that hard research
on facts which are publicly available without in any way compromising
the secrecy of the ballot which needs to be done.
Q341 Christine Russell: Lord Greaves,
can I just continue this. Are you saying that the evaluation that
was carried out by the Electoral Commission on the all-postal
pilots is just not worth the paper it is written on? Is that what
you are telling us?
Lord Greaves: No, no, it is worth
what it is. If you ask MORI to do opinion polls and ask people
do they prefer this system or do they prefer the old system or
do they feel good with this system or do they feel secure, those
answers are valid within the terms of the questions which are
being asked. What I am saying is we are not getting down to the
real nitty-gritty of what is happening in these pilots. Another
example which is perhaps stretching this question a little bit
is what is the electoral effect of the pilots? Does it change
the results? Again, so far as we can tell, nobody knows because
nobody has been doing the research.
Q342 Christine Russell: Perhaps that
is a good argument for having lots of regions included. Do you
not think the more regions that are included the better you can
do the academic research?
Lord Greaves: No, you do not want
that. You actually want the research to take place. I am not an
expert on the academic field of ortology (?) but I consulted my
good friend Michael Stead who you may know is a distinguished
ortologist as well as being a distinguished member of our Party
for many years, and he tells me that to his knowledge there is
no serious research going on anywhere about the electoral effects
of the pilots or about these other issues which we are talking
about which really university politics departments ought to be
getting involved in and finding interesting, I would have thought.
Q343 Christine Russell: Do you think
that the elections would be more secure if there was individual
registration? I am asking all three of you. Perhaps, Gavin, if
you would like to start.
Mr Barwell: I think that we would
favour a move to individual registration. Certainly we would have
concerns about the extension of all-postal voting without addressing
some of the issues to do with security and confidentiality that
we have concerns about at the moment so, yes, I think there would
be greater security if you had individual registration. Could
I just pick up on the previous question about what lies behind
the different turn-outs in the different elections. I think it
is certainly the case that turn-out is higher in a general election
because voters believe that the result of that election has a
greater impact on their lives than the elections for the European
Parliament or local council elections. I think that points to
something fairly profound underlying all this, which is if we
are interested in increasing turn-out in local elections, say,
the primary way to deal with that should be to ensure that the
decisions the local councils make have more impact on people's
lives and the councils are given more freedom from central government
control. Having said that
Q344 Chairman: I am very keen this morning
to keep us on the postal issue.
Mr Barwell: I think that is an
important point to make. Having said that, the evidence of the
pilots is quite clear that all-postal ballots do in a set context
increase turn-out. I think it was something like 15 percentage
points on average during the last pilot, and therefore if it is
making it more convenient, certainly the issues Lord Greaves mentioned
need investigating, and easier for people to vote that has got
to be a good thing.
Q345 Christine Russell: Do you accept
the Electoral Commission's view that there was no evidence of
Mr Barwell: There is a need for
proper research into this.
Q346 Christine Russell: So you want research
and you want the individual registration. What about the Liberals,
do you want individual registration?
Lord Greaves: Yes we do and we
are very keen if there is to be a major extension of postal voting
that individual registration is something that has to come in
first. We agree with the Electoral Commission on this. May I say
this: it does not solve all the problems. There are two main problems
with all-postal voting. One is whether the person who returns
the ballot paper and fills it in is the elector. Individual registration
will help enormously, assuming that councils are provided with
the necessary technical equipment to be able to check signatures
as they come in, and I assume that there are electronic means
of doing that nowadays, although I do not know that. The second
problem is the question of whether the vote takes place in secret,
free from intimidation, bribery or whatever, and individual registration
does not tackle that second problem on its own.
Mr Watt: Again the Labour Party
is in favour of individual registration. We have some concerns
about how quickly it is brought in. If it is brought in too rapidly
we will lose people off the register in the early stages which
will be of concern. There are other issues as well in terms of
the security of the ballot, things like impersonation away from
the polling station. Whether there are two or four postal pilots
this June, clearly a lot of useful evidence will come from that
in terms of what other issues we need to address. On the whole
we do not think that postal voting is any more or less secure
or prone to fraud than traditional forms of voting which themselves
have an element of postal voting in them.
Q347 Christine Russell: Do you support
the proposal to do away with the declaration of identity?
Mr Watt: Yes, we do.
Q348 Christine Russell: What about the
Lord Greaves: No, we do not.
Q349 Christine Russell: You want to retain
Lord Greaves: There are two reasons
for keeping it and I have got some personal experience of this.
The first reason for keeping it is that it is a disincentive to
people who might be wanting to cast a fraudulent vote by picking
up a vote belonging to somebody out of the waste paper basket,
or whatever it is. If you have got to have somebody signing a
form it does not stop the fraud if people are determined but you
have got to involve somebody else in it and that is a clear disincentive.
Q350 Chairman: Why do you have to involve
somebody else in it? All you have to do is change the biro you
use, is it not?
Lord Greaves: Okay, but then you
have to sign their name and put their address on this. This comes
on to the second reason, that if you have suspicions that there
has been funny business going on the declarations of identity
are checkable, they are inspectable.
Q351 Chairman: In practice they are not
checked, are they?
Lord Greaves: I spent two weeks
the summer before last sat in the town hall checking declarations
of identity for four wards where we believed there had been massive
postal vote fraud taking place. I have no doubt that was taking
place at that time. The reason that we were able to really identify
and prove to ourselves (although the Police seemed unable to investigate
this properly) was that we were able to check these declarations
of identity and we were able then to follow them back to the voters
to find out exactly what had happened. We discovered that the
voters had indeed signed the form and had it witnessed but they
had never seen the ballot papers, and in other cases we were able
to identify situations where certain individuals had witnessed
over 100 postal votes each and many of those the electors, when
we went back to them, said they had never seen. You can go back
and do the forensic work on these things and find out exactly
what happened and it is a very, very useful thing to happen, obviously
not in every case but when you think there is serious fraud taking
place it is a very useful thing.
Q352 Chris Mole: In terms of the approach
to campaigning what issues do you think there are about the timetable
for all-postal elections?
Mr Watt: I do not think there
is a problem for political parties at all. If there is a local
area that is having a postal vote electionand there have
been countless numbers of them over the last couple of yearsthen
local parties very quickly adapt to the fact. Effectively it is
just a new timetable. The polling day instead of taking place
on one day takes place over several days. It is just about a different
mind-set for local parties. We run training sessions at our conferences
for local activists around the country and they are very positive
about campaigning in postal vote elections. It is just a different
timetable of campaigning and that is all.
Mr Barwell: If I may make one
point. In terms of what is proposed for June there is an issue
about a need for a quick decision on this because what is required
Q353 Chairman: We understand that. Let's
just stick to the campaigning. You do not disagree with what the
Labour Party just said?
Mr Barwell: The point I was trying
to make was that political parties require plenty of notice that
there is going to be an all-postal ballot election. If you have
plenty of notice beforehand I do not disagree at all with what
has just been said. Political parties require notice to prepare
for the different timetable.
Lord Greaves: I agree with that.
In local elections there is no problem but if you have something
like a European election or if you have a general election where
part of the area has all-postal voting and part has not, then
synchronising things like party political broadcasts and the whole
media coverage of the election campaign, assuming there is going
to be any for the European elections, means two things. It means
that a lot of people are going to be voting before they have been
subjected to this propaganda and there is something not quite
right about that.
Q354 Chris Mole: Are the other two parties
worried about that issue with PPBs?
Mr Watt: It is difficult to say
at the moment. It is an issue because at the moment I think we
are expecting to have four broadcasts in England during the campaign.
That is the expectation. What we are not aware of at the moment
is the dates. Working on the assumption we get roughly one a week
then those voters in England who are voting by post will be subjected
to only half the number of broadcasts. On the other hand, for
June, as I said before, the majority of voters will still be voting
by traditional methods. So minor concerns but no more.
Lord Greaves: Can I add one brief
thing to that. There is concern that the party that has the broadcast
the day after the postal votes have arrived will be put to some
Q355 Chairman: How many people listen
to party political broadcasts?
Mr Watt: Someone is going to have
the last broadcast before polling day as well.
Q356 Chris Mole: Can I ask you about
the notion of candidates despatching campaign literature with
ballot papers for postal voters. Is that something you support.
Lord Greaves: As far as the GLA
were concerned I think it is something that was pioneered by our
Director of Campaigning, who managed to persuade the Government
and the House of Lords that this was a good idea. In principle
we are in favour of this, if the election is of sufficient scale
to make it sensible. It would not be a sensible thing to happen
in every ward and every local election. The practicalities would
mean it was quite extraordinary and there is the expense of having
all the extra things done. Where it is larger-scale elections
like the GLA or parliamentary elections or the European elections,
we are in favour of that, yes.
Q357 Chris Mole: Do you support that?
Mr Barwell: No opposition.
Mr Watt: Our preference would
be that the material is actually despatched separately from the
ballot papers because I think there is a danger the ballot paper
will get lost with the election material. One of the things we
need to learn from the postal pilots this June is really the ability
of the deliveries to be able to make sure that the free post is
delivered in advance of the ballot papers. That is one of the
lessons we will have to learn and review it after that.
Q358 Chairman: What about the Madrid
effect? If you put in your ballot paper and post it back as soon
as you get it, it could be a fortnight before the final results.
It is suggested that in Spain if there had been widespread postal
voting an awful lot of people would have voted before that last
weekend. Is that something that should be taken into account or
Lord Greaves: If postal voting
is comprehensive it does not make very much difference. Something
might happen during the period when people can send their postal
votes back but something could happen on polling day, could it
not? It could happen at twelve o'clock on polling day and affect
the votes of people who vote after that. I think in principle
that is not a problem. People are saying what has happened in
Spain? Has the result been changed by the bombing that took place?
One thing that we will find out in the all-postal pilots by having
partial pilots is if that dreadful thing happened in this country
Chairman: If it is alright we will move
on to Adrian Sanders.
Q359 Mr Sanders: We seem to have established
that postal ballots increase turn-out but do they favour any one
particular political party above any other?
Mr Barwell: We have done some
internal analysis on that and in aggregate there does not seem
to be any advantage to any political party. Looking at it theoretically
at least, I would probably disagree with the evidence you heard
previously from myself and my two colleagues here and say that
it would probably favour smaller parties. It seems to me that
when you have a lower turn-out that favours the party with the
best organisation because you are more dependent on party organisation
to get people out to vote. If you increase the turn-out out, at
least in the theoretical sense, I would expect that to favour
parties that have less robust organisations in the area concerned.