Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 143)



  Q140  Hywel Williams: Given what you know at present without doing any further research, would the national list address any of the concerns the Government seems to have over the regional list and the Clwyd West question, et cetera? Perhaps you are not in a position to answer that?

  Mr Mathias: I am not in a position to answer that question. I would be speculating and making it up on the hoof and I do not think that is advisable.

  Hywel Williams: Thank you.

  Q141  Chairman: Could I ask the last question and it is about postal voting. Is there any evidence in your research about a falling away in the returns, so to speak, where if you apply for postal votes, when the forms arrive they appear to be so complex—the voting system and also how to vote—that is there is a disproportionate number of people not returning their votes?

  Mr Mathias: In the Assembly elections.

  Ms Jenkins: No, actually the contrary is true because postal voting in Wales has been taken up at a higher level since its introduction as postal voting on demand. In 2001 we had a higher number of postal voters in Wales compared with England and Scotland and that has continued to rise. The rise has just about bottomed out at this year's election in that now in Wales there are only about 1% more postal voters compared with England and Scotland, but in 2003 it was still very much on the rise. We had about 11% of the electorate who asked for a postal vote compared with an average across Britain of about 7% and there was a high rate of return at the 2003 election. So although people did find the forms complicated to fill in, that is undoubtedly true, they did return them.

  Q142  Chairman: Is there a great deal of variation across Wales then?

  Mr Mathias: The levels of postal voting certainly vary across Wales and perhaps quite surprisingly in that some of the lowest areas of postal voting are some of the rural areas and some of the highest are in the conurbations. I do not think that is particularly relevant to the issue that we are discussing.

  Q143  David Davies: I may be going off track here but one of the huge concerns that I had over postal voting was that I could never get a clear answer from the returning officer as to whether it was acceptable to go around with forms to people and then to collect them back again. The returning officer's advice was that this was inadvisable and she at the time would recommend against it, but she was not able to give a clear set of rules. It came to my attention—and I do not want to talk about particular constituencies—that in a constituency one candidate for one party was doing that whilst another candidate from another party was being advised that it was not a good idea but because there was not a clear ruling on it that candidate could not be certain whether to follow the recommendation and be completely safe or to do what the other candidate was doing. There need to be clear rules that we can all follow, surely, on that?

  Mr Mathias: In advance of the last general election the Electoral Commission did draw up a code of conduct in conjunction with all the main political parties and they all signed up to it. That code of conduct, with which I am sure some Members are familiar, did specify that it was inadvisable for candidates or agents or party workers to handle postal ballots, and that was quite clear. I got the impression that, by and large, this code of conduct was abided by during the election.

  Mrs James: Certainly I was given that advice and I circulated that to every one of our party workers. Our advice was you do not touch a postal vote.

  David Davies: I was not talking about Bridgend when I was talking about that constituency, I can assure you. Sorry, you are not Bridgend.

  Mrs James: Swansea East.

  David Davies: Not that one either, nor Bridgend!

  Chairman: Can I thank you both for your evidence and for the clarity of your evidence. It was very helpful.

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