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The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): We published the report of the independent gambling review bodythe Budd reportin July last year. We are now considering all the comments that we have received on it; there have been about 2,200, the vast majority of which have come from the voluntary clubs about jackpot and gaming machines. We are now considering those responses, and we will make an announcement in the near future.
Mr. Gibb: Is the Minister aware that the gaming review's recommendation that local authorities should ensure that gambling is the primary purpose of premises licensed for gambling, would effectively wipe out amusement parks in small seaside towns such as Littlehampton and Bognor? Will he overrule that recommendation?
Mr. Caborn: We have not given any decisions on any of the recommendations, but the hon. Gentleman knows that I have met a number of representatives from the seaside resorts and have listened to them carefully. We have also received their written submissions. We shall give those due consideration, and will announce our conclusions when we make the full announcement on the Budd report.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells): I would be happy to consider invitations to visit Bristol in the near future. My hon. Friend knows that I recently attended the "Brief Encounters" film festival in that fine cityand that I was subsequently serenaded into another great cultural event by those invaluable chroniclers of contemporary west of England life, the Wurzels.
Dr. Naysmith: I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply; I am not sure whether the Wurzels see things exactly as he does, but it has all calmed down now. My hon. Friend knows that he will receive a warm welcome in Bristol when he comes. Having seen a list of the cultural events that will take place in Bristol this year, does he agree that it provides a good platform for our bid to become European city of culture in 2008?
Dr. Howells: The list of 18 festivals in Bristol is mighty, and I look forward to seeing the "Animated Encounters" short film festival, which promises to be good. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can of course make no statement that would jeopardise the bid of any city to be the European city of culture. As Cardiff is within sight of Bristol, we would be entering dangerous territory there. That said, Bristol has many high-quality festivals. It can certainly make a serious bid, and I am sure that it will.
Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission is an independent body and the remit of the Speaker's Committee is to approve its estimates and five-year plan, not to take decisions that fall within the commission's statutory responsibilities. I understand from the chairman, however, that the commission is co-funding research to evaluate the feasibility of introducing electronic voting, including internet voting. The commission will also evaluate electronic voting pilot schemes for use at local elections in May. Any such schemes will be laid before Parliament.
Mr. Chapman: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that online voting is commensurate with modern lifestyles and that its use might enfranchise those, especially the young, who have felt disengaged from the process? How does he intend the pilots to be evaluated and measured so that appropriate lessons may be learned?
Mr. Beith: As I have said, that falls to the Electoral Commission, not the Speaker's Committee. In order properly to evaluate the schemes, the commission intends not to co-pilot them. It will be involved in evaluation, and
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): At present, it is difficult to vote. One must go to a polling station or receive a vote through the postal system. Even for the latter, verification by an independent person is required to show that the right person has voted. What verification will there be in electronic systems?
Mr. Beith: That is precisely the type of issue that the commission is considering in order to establish whether electronic voting can make it easier to vote while still giving those who take part in the electoral process the assurance that the process is safe and sound. When the pilots are laid before Parliament, hon. Members will be able to judge them for themselves.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): It is even more difficult to vote by internet or any other method if a person is not on the electoral register. If the commission is to consider voting through the internet, will it consider whether it might be possible to get more people on to the register through the internet?
Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): The commission stated in its statutory report on the 2001 general election that it intended to assess the impact of extending the availability of postal voting, including any implications for electoral fraud. I understand from the chairman of the commission that that review is expected to report by the autumn. A statistical paper providing data, constituency by constituency, on postal voting at the general election was published last week. A copy has been placed in the Library.
Mr. Syms: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that encouraging response. We were all happy that it was easier to obtain postal votes at the general election, but there was some concern, because the date was so late, that many people did not receive their ballots in time to return them. There was also concern about fraud in the system. When the right hon. Gentleman reviews the budget for the commission, will he give that area more consideration?
Mr. Beith: I am sure that the commission will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's encouragement, particularly as regards its budget. The Speaker's Committee will certainly take that into account. I know from experience that the issue of late ballots is a difficult
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, although the decision to extend postal voting last year was a very welcome simplification of the system, it was announced very late and many of the applications were submitted very late for the councils to deal with and the returning officers to send out the forms? Will the fact that people can apply for postal votes now be made much clearer on the registration forms? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we are watching very carefully to ensure that the abuses that have taken place in the past with very much increased postal voting are not repeated in the future?
Mr. Beith: I well remember the problem of last-minute arrangements and the commission is consulting acting returning officers on many of the things that happened at the last general election, including the extent and nature of any fraud that took place, so those issues are well under consideration.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new, additional responsibilities. Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), first, will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues consider telling people all the options available, with all the dates, on the paperwork that is put through their doors when an election is called, so that they can leave it as late as they wish to use their votes? Secondly, will he consider having a pilot scheme which involves going back to the peoplepossibly in urban and rural constituencies won by each partywho did not vote at the last general election to ask them why they did not vote and what would have made them more likely to do so?
Mr. Beith: Establishing why people, particularly young people, did not vote at previous elections and what their attitude to voting is certainly an issue that the commission takes seriously. Going back to those who were recorded as not having voted would raise some rather difficult questions, as my hon. Friend would understand. His suggestion about what information can be made available when the information is first sent out and the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) are useful, and I shall certainly pass them on to the commission.