Examination of Witness (Questions 420
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
420. If you give councils greater control over
their own finances we might improve the turnout at local elections?
(Mr Raynsford) I am not sure that is necessarily a
corollary, it depends entirely on how the councillors act in pursuance
of those freedoms and flexibilities. We are intending to give
them those freedoms and flexibilities.
421. What special consideration is being made
for planning and emergency budgets for 2002 and 2003?
(Mr Raynsford) We will be announcing the Fire Authority
budget this afternoon in the statement. We have taken account,
obviously, of representations relating to the requirements of
the fire service and special arrangements have been put in place
by my colleagues in the Home Office in relation to policing requirements
422. Who should the public turn to in the case
of civil emergencies?
(Mr Raynsford) The Home Secretary is responsible for
chairing the Civil Contingency Committee which overseas this matter.
423. Do you Chair the London Civil Contingency?
(Mr Raynsford) I chair the sub committee which deals
with London resilience and it reports to the main CCC, which the
Home Secretary chairs.
424. Do we have a similar committee for other
cities in the regions?
(Mr Raynsford) Not for other cities in the regions
specifically, but there is a United Kingdom Resilience Committee
which covers the country as a whole, which Christopher Leslie
425. Can I move you on to elections now, various
different mechanisms have been tested to try to improve voter
turnout, like voting in the supermarkets and increasing the eligibility
for postal votes. Can I ask you what you consider have been the
most effective and whether there is any evidence that, in fact,
more people have voted as a result of these new initiatives?
(Mr Raynsford) The evidence is pretty conclusive that
where there is more extensive use of postal voting this has had
a positive impact. The indications of pilots are that while the
public welcomed alternative options, such as location of polling
stations and the ability to vote on days other than the polling
date itself, the impact on overall turnout was probably marginal,
whereas with postal votes, certainly where all postal ballots
have been conducted, there has been a significant increase in
the level of turnout.
426. Staying with postal votes, can I ask you
what is being done to ensure that postal voting is not going to
be subjected to fraud? In particular I am obviously thinking about
the case of the Radio 4 Today journalist who went to Torbay and
managed, fairly easily, to acquire, I think, the vote of seven
electors who, in fact, were recently deceased. Why was that journalist
(Mr Raynsford) That I have to say I do not know. Prosecution
is not a matter of my responsibility. What I can say is there
are obvious questions about potential for fraud in all types of
elections and it is important that we maximise the safeguards
against that. Many people find the requirement to return their
postal vote in a sealed envelope inside another sealed envelope
where there is a reference to their own name as an over-complex
system and it does deter some people from postal voting. That
is a necessary safeguard against the kind of abuse that you have
described. There is always a tension between achieving a system
which is easy for people to operate and achieving a secure one.
That will be very much part of a pilot that we are hoping to run
next May, in which we have invited bids from local government
for schemes involving electronic voting and telephone voting,
as well as postal voting and other schemes which have also been
tried in the past.
427. Could we not look at other simple measures
to get round the postal vote fraud, a fairly simple method would
be asking the local registrar of births and deaths to inform the
local authority's electoral registrations officer of deaths in
(Mr Raynsford) This would ultimately be a matter for
the local electoral registration officer working on guidance issued
by the Electoral Commission. Certainly I would expect the Electoral
Commission to give a lot of attention to the safeguards that will
be built into the various new types of voting which will be trialed
this May, and subsequently, if we carry forward, trials on electronic
voting and other innovative types of voting. It is essential to
get the right balance between ease of voting and safeguards. The
Electoral Commission has come into existence in order to oversee
this. We have established a good relationship with them but they
do have an independent existence and you would expect them to
look at these issues and make recommendations.
428. Do they have a big enough budget?
(Mr Raynsford) I discussed this with Sam Younger,
who indicated that he was happy to work within the budget he had
got and he was able to meet his responsibilities. Obviously this
is a developing situation where we will need to come back and
look at this again. We have no reason to believe he has not got
an adequate budget to fulfill the responsibilities of the Electoral
429. Where is the line drawn between your department,
the Electoral Commission and the local authorities for the responsibility
of increasing voter turnout?
(Mr Raynsford) There is an element of responsibility
on all sides.
430. Shall we start again? Where does the line
lie between those three groups for the responsibility of increasing
(Mr Raynsford) The local authority is responsible
for the handling of local elections and parliamentary elections
and other elections in their area and their electoral registration
officers will seek to do their best to encourage participation
and promote high turnout. The Electoral Commission has been established
to review arrangements and to offer advice. It has produced, in
my view, a very useful report on the General Election of this
year which did suggest various innovations which might help to
increase turnout. That is their role and I think they are performing
that role very well and I am sure they will want to go on doing
so. Our Department has now taken over responsibility for electoral
law from the Home Office. We want to talk to the Electoral Commission
about its proposals, some of those we will want to give effect
to, we will therefore need to bring them to this House, we well
discuss them with local government and we will discuss them with
the political parties before coming forward with recommendations.
431. Can we have some quick answers to some
of these, when are you going to set out your strategy for e-democracy?
(Mr Raynsford) We hope to publish the national strategy
in the early part of next year. It has been a very successful
programme to date, there has been very extensive local government
response, where they are implementing electronic government plans,
we are very pleased with the progress.
432. Are citizenship classes really going to
make any difference? What is there place in the national curriculum
for such a system of education?
(Mr Raynsford) I have to say this is an issue on which
there is on going discussion and I would not want to give a definitive
answer at this stage. I think it is important.
433. I do not think any of us would accuse you
of giving definitive answers, Minister.
(Mr Raynsford) I try not to on things that I cannot.
I think it is important to try and encourage people
434. Are you going to make voting compulsory?
(Mr Raynsford) We have no plans to do that.
435. How many referenda have been held in the
last 12 months?
(Mr Raynsford) On elected mayors, it is right to say
about 15 have been held so far.
436. Who approves the wording?
(Mr Raynsford) The wording is set out in the framework
which is provided by the government to local authorities.
437. What does that mean?
(Mr Raynsford) Legislation which governs this indicates
the format for the referendum.
438. Who approves the wording, Minister? I am
a bit daft, I need it spelt out. Not within the framework, not
all of the guidelines, who looks at the question on the paper
and approves the wording?
(Mr Raynsford) I will give you a written answer on
439. A written answer!
(Mr Raynsford) At the moment I am not absolutely certain
on that one.