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13. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Whether it is her policy to support darts being recognised as a sport. [208461]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): Decisions on whether particular activities and pastimes should be recognised as sports for official and funding purposes are made by unanimous agreement between the sports councils. I understand that the sports councils keep the matter under constant review, but I was pleased to see today that darts has signed up to UK Sport's anti-drugs code, which I welcome.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): What about drink?

Mr. Caborn: To the best of my knowledge, alcohol is not covered by UK Sport's anti-drugs code. I hope that, in the light of that development, the sports councils will give more serious consideration to bringing darts into the family of sport.

Bob Russell: If the Prime Minister said that he would like darts to become a recognised sport, would the Minister for Sport and Tourism throw a wobbly? Will he make a 180° turn, and throw his full weight behind the campaign to make darts a recognised sport, as millions of players and supporters already believe that it is a sport?

Mr. Caborn: How much further can I go than say that I welcome darts signing up to the UK anti-drugs code? I hope that the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, their sports councils and their English counterparts will consider bringing darts into the family of sport, whether the Prime Minister did, or did not say that he wanted that to happen.
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The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Electoral Registration

21. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): How much money the Electoral Commission is spending on encouraging British citizens who are living abroad and are entitled to vote in general elections to register to vote. [208469]

25. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): What discussions the Electoral Commission has had with businesses on encouraging their workers who are living abroad and eligible to vote in UK elections to register to vote. [208473]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : I understand that the Electoral Commission undertakes a range of activities aimed at encouraging eligible British citizens living abroad to register. It expects to spend approximately £38,500 during late 2004 and early 2005 on those activities, which include specific initiatives such as advertising and leaflet provision. As for contacting businesses with employees overseas, the Department of Trade and Industry has advised the commission that the most appropriate route is via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The commission continues to pursue that route, and has also approached the Confederation of British Industry.

Mr. Syms: I am a little disappointed that the commission only spends £38,500 on advertising abroad. There are 15 million British citizens abroad, including many hundreds of thousands who live on the various Costas. A greater effort ought to be made so that they can exercise their democratic rights. I understand that a leaflet is being produced, so will my hon. Friend ask the commission to place it in consulates and embassies as soon as possible? If the Prime Minister were to panic and go in May, the cut-off date for registration would be 1 March, so February is an important month for people who want to register and exercise their democratic rights.

Mr. Viggers: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Electoral Commission has indeed produced leaflets, and that they will be available from overseas posts. That is certainly in hand. He is right to emphasise the paucity of the overseas registration. When I last answered questions in the House, I reported that only 14,496 people overseas were registered from a total of about 15 million. However, the Office for National Statistics told me today that only 7,850 people overseas are registered, including 25 from the borough of Poole. There is indeed a very long way to go, and we all have a duty to encourage overseas registration.
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Sir Sydney Chapman: I am old enough to remember that the turnout at the 1950 election was 84 per cent., but at the last election it was under 60 per cent. Surely the Electoral Commission's principal objective should be to encourage as many people as possible who are entitled to vote to do so. What proportion of the 15 million people who live and work abroad are entitled to vote?

Mr. Viggers: The Electoral Commission does not have a figure for proportion of the 15 million overseas who are entitled to vote. The qualification, of course, is that they should have been on the register within the last 15 years, but the commission does not have an easy way of ascertaining how many people would qualify. I am sure that my hon. Friend is conscious of the fact that only 57 people from the borough of Barnet, in which his constituency is located, have registered overseas, again proving that there is a long way to go.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Would not it make much more sense to allow the 500,000 British citizens who live in Spain and pay taxes there to register to vote in Spanish elections? Similarly, we should allow Spaniards, Italians, French and German people—all members of the European Union—who live in this country and pay taxes here to vote in the UK. Should it not be a question of no representation without taxation?

Mr. Viggers: That is a different point, which I think that I should not pursue today.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not be concerned that I am much more worried about the many more people who are missing from the register in the United Kingdom rather than those who are abroad. Large numbers of people are missing from the register in my constituency, partly because of the inadequate annual canvass that is carried out by my local authority—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are on questions now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to catch my eye later.

22. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What plans the commission has to recommend that electors be permitted to register closer to the date of a general election. [208470]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : The commission recommended in 2003 that electors should be permitted to register much closer to the date of an election than is currently allowed by law. The Government announced last month that they intend to act on the commission's recommendations.

Mr. Allen: I welcome that reply. Like the experience of many Members, the turnout of my electorate at the last election was the lowest ever at under 50 per cent.
17 Jan 2005 : Column 549
Will the hon. Gentleman commend the campaign by the Electoral Commission to encourage people to vote following last year's campaign? Will he consider the possibility of extending that to ensure that more people register for the forthcoming election? Will he also ensure that every possible encouragement is given to individuals to register, if possible, as late as the same day as an election, as they do in many states in the United States? That means that people can register at one door of the town hall and vote in the election at the next door.

Mr. Viggers: The commission takes the view that it would not be practical or of great benefit to allow registration up to the date of the election, but it recommends that that date should be carried back to the date of nominations.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about publicity, I understand that the commission is about to embark shortly—in early February—on a multi-media campaign aimed at encouraging people to register to vote. There has been some speculation already this afternoon that if there were to be an election in May, something about which I have no special knowledge, the cut-off date would be 11 March. It is important that people should register without delay.

The commission's similar campaign during the last   election achieved excellent results with about one in three correspondents who had seen the advertising saying that they had voted on 10 June as a result of the campaign. The commission is encouraged by that.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Regarding a later date for registration for elections, does my hon. Friend share my real concern about the collapse in the number of service personnel registered to vote? Does he agree that there needs to be a determined campaign by the Ministry of Defence to encourage them to register so that the brave men and women who are serving overseas, often in dangerous circumstances, are able to register before we have an election, which is likely to be in May?

Mr. Viggers: My hon. Friend may have noticed a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on 10 January, in which the Government announced that there would be a Defence Council initiative, which would be taken shortly, to encourage service personnel to vote. My hon. Friend is on to an extremely good point. As I have said before in the House, I am perhaps more likely to be concerned about this issue than most as the number of service voters registered in the borough of Gosport has fallen from 4,370 in 2000 to 474 in 2004. I think we all should be concerned about that.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Have Ministers given the Electoral Commission any      indication when they will implement that recommendation? Have the Government pledged to do so before the next general election or have they just said that it will happen at some time?
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Mr. Viggers: The Government have said that the recommendation will be implemented as soon as possible but that it would require primary legislation. I think that it is most unlikely that it will be before the election, whatever the date of that.


The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

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