The proposed reforms would remove some of the existing legislative constraints that prevent the main public sector ombudsmenthe parliamentary ombudsman, the health service ombudsman, and the local government ombudsmanfrom working collaboratively to provide a more efficient and streamlined service to the citizen.
The consultation period ends on Friday 18 November. Copies of the consultation document are available in the Libraries of both Houses and available electronically at www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/propriety and ethics/parliamentaryombudsman/ombudsmenreform.asp
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written statement in the other place today:
"The Government will shortly introduce legislation to improve the administration of elections. This will be accompanied by the publication of the Government's response to the DCA policy discussion paper and the Electoral Commission's securing the vote report.
We need to strike a balance between security and access. The changes that the Government will propose to Parliament aim to enhance both. Our key objectives are to ensure that all who are entitled to vote are on the register and improve safeguards against fraud.
establishing two new electoral fraud offences, for falsely applying for a postal or proxy vote and for supplying false information or failing to supply information to the electoral registration officer at any time;
providing for pilots of personal identifiers (e.g. signatures and dates of birth) at registration to test the security benefits that this could bring and measure the effect on the completeness of the register;
establishing a framework for the co-ordinated on-line record of electors (CORE) to improve the accuracy and integrity of electoral registers and support national access and future data sharing between registers;
support the administration of postal votes by enabling automated production of postal vote documents, including by removing the counterfoil on ballot papers and replacing the stamping perforation with a pre-printed security mark.
We will also seek to address the concerns raised by the hon. Member Sir Patrick Cormack of South Staffordshire in relation to the death of an election candidate during the campaign period by reducing the time delay for setting a new date of poll. We also intend to respond to the issue of candidates standing in more than one constituency at the same election, which Sir Patrick raised in his speech on 6 July.
We also plan to introduce a package of secondary legislation echoing the principles I have set out above. These measures are based on existing primary legislation, and our aim is that they should be in place in time for the next local elections in May 2006, to improve public confidence in our electoral system.
A full announcement on the secondary legislation package will be made in due course. Specifically it will deal with questions around how and when voters can apply for a postal vote or a replacement, the process by which postal votes are returned to administrators and how postal votes are collected on polling day. It will also address the issue of standard polling hours for local elections. More detail on the individual proposals are included in the response to the DCA policy discussion paper and Securing the vote report, also published today.
These measures will be consolidated with regulations concerning access to and supply of the electoral register. Both sets of regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It is intended that they will be laid before Parliament in the near future so the debate can run alongside the Government's proposed legislation.
The legislation will be accompanied by the publication of the DCA paper Electoral Administrationlegislative proposals resulting from consideration of the policy discussion paper published on 25 May 2005, including a response to the Electoral Commission's securing the vote report. This paper is also available on the DCA website: www.dca.gov.uklegistelectadmin.htm."
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