Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-368)|
17 MARCH 2004
Q360 Mr Sanders: Is the important thing
to you to increase the turn-out or should it be the integrity
of the ballot?
Mr Barwell: The Conservative Party
would believe that it is in the interests of democracy in this
country that we encourage as many electors as possible to vote.
It is only reasonable to have a system that makes it easy and
convenient for people to cast their vote.
Mr Watt: In reality what you are
aiming to have is high turn out with a higher level of integrity
in terms of the vote. Again the Electoral Commission would accept
to some extent there are compromises to be made at the margins.
Q361 Mr Sanders: So we sacrifice the
integrity to increase the turn-out?
Mr Watt: The Electoral Commission
themselves would say at the margins there is a theoretical risk
that ballot integrity would be threatened. Again, it is really
at the margins. That is the decision or the compromise we will
maybe have to make to increase turn-out.
Lord Greaves: I do not think it
is at the margins. I think that the level of what I would call
benign fraud, not political parties or candidates rigging the
election but people voting for other members of their family because
they think it is a good thing to do, which is clearly against
the law and wrong, is probably a lot higher than people imagine.
I come back to what I said before, we do not know and we need
the research on that. As far as the results are concerned, it
is our view as far as our party is concerned that all-postal voting
has little or no effect on our electoral performance and, as I
said before, we do not appear to have any academic research into
it overall. There is a general view around, certainly in the North
West that all-postal voting will help the Labour Party in inner
cities because there are supposed to be voters there who cannot
be bothered to go and vote and who will vote if they get the ballot
paper. My personal view is that that is over-stated and if it
helps anybody it might not help the Labour Party. There is a second
view that having all-postal voting and an increase in turn-out
will help defeat the BNP and the BNP will then do worse. These
are views which are overtly expressed by some people campaigning
for postal voting. We have no evidence apart from some interesting
evidence here, which is not all postal voting but it is comparing
turn-outs in the only place where the BNP won a significant number
of seats in one place and that was Burnley last May. Last May
in Burnley out of 15 wards the BNP stood in 13. They won in seven
of them and did not win in six. In the seven wards where the BNP
won, the average turn-out was 44.02% and in the wards they did
not win it was 39.09. In other words, the wards in which the BNP
won had a higher turn-out on average than others. It was only
5% and you can look at the wards and say there were reasons for
that anyhow so I am not arguing that high turn-out helps the BNP.
I am saying in the only place where we have really got comparisons
over wards they won and wards they did not win in one place the
evidence is at best is inconclusive.
Q362 Mr Sanders: The Metropolitan Police
told us that they have to deal with a lot of allegations to do
with electoral fraud. They have said a lot of that is to do with
casting doubt as to opponents' campaigning practices and they
have put that down to a tactic adopted by most, if not all, of
the mainstream registered parties over the years. Have you come
across such allegations and how can such practices be discouraged?
Lord Greaves: Are you asking me?
Q363 Chairman: We are asking all three
of you. We are getting pretty tight for time now so if you could
just have short answers if you think it is relevant.
Mr Watt: I have never come across
any spurious allegations. I have certainly heard what was said
yesterday and I have heard people say there have been spurious
allegations. I do not think there is widespread fraud and I think
these spurious allegations are about casting doubt on the integrity
of people involved in the elections.
Lord Greaves: My experiences in
Lancashire and in the North West where there have been lots of
allegations have mainly been to do with campaigns involving large
Asian communities and the police found it very difficult to investigate
for three reasons. The first is that Lancashire Police do not
seem so understand elections.
Q364 Chairman: We had a lot of evidence
on that yesterday about those problems.
Lord Greaves: Can I just say the
second problem is the language and cultural problem getting through
to people and the third is thatand this is importantthey
are only prepared to go forward with complaints if the individual
elector whose vote has been stolen allegedly makes an individual
complaint and they will not do it on the allegation of third parties
such as political parties, and I think that is a serious difficulty.
Mr Barwell: I think there are
two issues. One is what is the proven level of fraud that has
taken place. The second is perception because it is important
that there is public confidence in the electoral system and perception
is an important part of that.
Q365 Chairman: Do you want roll-out for
the General Election?
Lord Greaves: No.
Mr Barwell: Not yet.
Q366 Chris Mole: Should a "marked
copy" of the electoral register be made available? If so,
when? We are really after this issue of access to a daily marked
Mr Watt: We are very happy with
the legislation as it is currently drafted in the Pilots Bill
with the polling progress information. We think it strikes a sensible
balance in terms of frequency which is not more than once a day
and a minimum of twice a week. I think that is very sensible and
it also useful for the political parties in terms of issues of
fraud, and that sort of thing. It will be political parties who
will notice if there is widespread fraud. It will also be political
parties who will notice by using that information if there are
delivery problems. If the Royal Mail or another deliverer has
a particular problem in delivering postal votes in a particular
area it will be political parties doing their normal activity
who will notice that first. We think it is a very welcome move.
Mr Barwell: We would support it
both on the grounds of fraud and on the grounds of driving up
turnout. If you take the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission,
if you look at it from a voter point of view those people who
have cast their ballot papers the effect will be that they will
not be bothered by political parties so I would have thought they
are very unlikely to complain about that.
Lord Greaves: We agree with that.
It is very important there is a marked register after the election,
at the moment on postal votes there is not and you have to go
and count them.
Q367 Chris Mole: Do you want a right
for election candidates to be able to appoint a representative
to observe the process of counting postal votes?
Mr Watt: Yes.
Lord Greaves: Not political parties,
Q368 Chris Mole: Mr Watt, you touched
on the Royal Mail, are you confident that they are going to be
able to find a sufficient and audited service? Do you think the
electorate will trust the postal system with its votes?
Mr Watt: The Royal Mail is confident
they can deliver the freepost notifications and ballot papers
all in the correct order and they have contingency plans. One
of the critical things we need to discover with the pilots is
whether or not postal voting on that scale is practical, we will
know a lot more after 10 June.
Lord Greaves: We have grave concerns,
we will just have to see how it works.
Mr Barwell: We are broadly confident,
we have some concerns. We suggested in our written evidence there
should be one or two delivery points within a local authority
area so that if people do have concerns about the post office
service in their area they have an alternative.
Chairman: On that note can I thank you
very much for your evidence. We will have the next set of witnesses,