|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, it is a slightly less contentious issue than the amendment we have just debated. As someone who always draws the short straw at general elections and seems to be responsible for taking numbers outside polling stations between the hours of 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., I have waited in vain for many people to come through the doors when it is cold and dark. I have taken a particular interest in the issue. My experience has been reflected by many other people, not just in London but
As the noble Baroness said, it will cost extra money. I have seen one estimate which puts it at around £0.5 million. I suspect that it would also disrupt the preparations which returning officers have to make for the election and to meet the challenge of running two elections on one day.
We should not consider the matter in isolation. We have in place a government review of electoral procedures which may well consider the issue of hours of voting, alongside a number of other issues. Surely it would be better to consider the whole issue of procedures and hours of voting in relation to voting generally rather than specifically in the case of just one election. We could spend £0.5 million more effectively in terms of public information about the nature of the referendum and the issues to be decided.
At heart, the issue that will most get people to the ballot box is the degree to which people in London feel it is important. That does not rest on whether there is an extra hour in the morning or evening, it rests on the importance of having a mayor and elected assembly in the city. That is what will get people to the ballot box, not this amendment.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, opened his remarks by referring to the inconvenience for tellers of having to stay at polling stations until 10 p.m. I venture to suggest that the convenience of tellers is not the issue. It is the convenience of voters that is the point. In a world, particularly London, where supermarkets are open all night, or certainly till late in the evening, it is strange that our democracy should lag behind in terms of convenience for citizens.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made the point, if I did not misunderstand him, that if people think it important enough, they will make sure that they get to vote. I should have thought the more interested they are, the more they wish to vote and the more they wish to express opinions, the more frustrated they might be if they turn up, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee suggested, on their way to work and find polling stations do not open until 8 a.m.
The noble Lord may be right, there may be implications for future elections if voting hours are looked at. But this time we want the maximum turnout, as the Minister rightly stressed at numerous points, we want the maximum support and consent of Londoners and it is important that Londoners are able to vote in the greatest possible numbers. They may find it strange that they were not given the best opportunity to do so.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I read carefully the Minister's speech on Second Reading. I wonder whether she will be able to tell us, when she comes to the Dispatch Box, how many people or what percentage of people voted between the hours of 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. in the general election. She kindly said she would look into that. During that speech she
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, that is my cue. As has been said, I do not think there is any debate within the House about the ends with which we are concerned. We all wish to maximise participation in the referendum and in elections generally. We are talking about the means and the priority for resources as well as the most appropriate way forward.
We are committed to a major publicity campaign advertising the referendum and the ways in which people can vote. It will make clear the possibilities for proxy and postal voting. At an earlier stage of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, asked about the circumstances in which people will be eligible for a proxy or postal vote. I explained that those eligibilities had recently been made more extensive and easier and that we would be publicising the ability to claim a postal or proxy vote.
We shall incorporate that information in the leaflet that will go to every London household. It might amuse the noble Lord to know that my 18 year-old son received a birthday card this week from the local borough. On the back it said,
I return to the undertaking that I gave at Committee stage that I would look carefully at the question of disruption, the difficulties and the voting patterns. Extending polling hours would disrupt local authority preparations and add significantly to the costs of the referendum, with no guarantee of higher turnout as a result. Furthermore, the amendment would not allow us to make best use of the resources we have available to maximise the opportunity for Londoners to vote.
Before I address the amendment in more detail, perhaps I can respond to the points raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on a similar amendment concerning the arrangements for a debate on the draft secondary legislation arising under this Bill. I am sure that noble Lords will understand that the use of secondary legislation to make detailed provision in respect of electoral matters is well precedented. The secondary legislation to which the noble Lord referred in Committee will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The House will therefore have an opportunity to debate and approve the secondary legislation concerning arrangements for the referendum.
I realise that that does not provide scope for amending the Order in Council, which was the main anxiety raised. However, I emphasise again that we have placed the draft secondary legislation in the Library for consultation and are happy to receive comments on that draft.
As the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, reminded the House, I said that I would look to see whether there was any available evidence of voting patterns and flows to see exactly when people cast their votes in elections. I have to report back that the data in London is limited. However, the figures we found indicated that in the last general election turnout in the three London parliamentary constituencies for which figures were available--the three Ealing constituencies--between the hours of seven and eight in the morning and nine and 10 in the evening numbers were below the average for the rest of the day. Taken together, something over 6 per cent. of those voting throughout the day did so between seven and eight in the morning and something over 5 per cent. between nine and 10 at night.
Noble Lords who have canvassed in elections will know--my noble friend Lord Hunt mentioned this--that the figures for the last hour of polling tend to reflect the efforts of canvassers to get people out to vote in the last hour, whatever hour that may be. That can happen whether the last hour is between eight and nine or nine and 10. It does not strike me therefore that that makes an overwhelming case for special arrangements to be put in place to extend polling hours in this instance, particularly when we consider the administrative costs of such a measure, its potential impact on other aspects of the referendum and local elections and the ready availability of absent votes for those who cannot vote at any other time. I must stress again that not all of those voting between seven and eight and nine and 10 do so because they cannot vote at any other time
We are seeking to hold an efficient combined poll. In drawing up our proposals we have greatly appreciated the hard work and co-operation of London local authorities and returning officers in preparing for the poll. Their views deserve our attention. Mr. David Wechsler, the chief executive of Croydon, in his capacity as chair of the Working Party of London Chief Executives on Electoral Matters--a group which represents all London returning officers--wrote to my honourable friend the Minister for London expressing his concern about discussion in Committee in relation to extending polling hours. In his letter he sets out a number of objections. In particular, he highlights the delay and higher costs that would arise. Subject to his agreement, I shall be happy to put a copy of that letter in the Library of the House.
Those are the considered views of the working group representing all returning officers in London. They are concerned, as are we, about extending polling hours. Amendment No. 2 would disrupt meticulous preparations and add significantly to costs for what we believe would be a limited return in terms of increased turnout. The chair of the Association of London Government, Mr. Toby Harris, also wrote to the
Local authorities calculated that increasing polling hours would lead to additional costs--hiring staff for additional hours and extending the rent of polling stations and count venues comes to about 8p per elector--of some £400,000 or £500,000. That represents an increase of almost 50 per cent. on the total budget that we have available for referendum administration. That money will have to come from somewhere. Local authorities and returning officers would rightly resist such a burden falling upon them. The only alternative would be to use the limited resources set aside for other aspects of the referendum, particularly the publicity. I do not believe that that would be desirable.
It is crucial--we debated this at great length at an earlier stage--that people are informed about the referendum, about the detail of the proposals and that they can come to informed conclusions on the issues on which they will be voting. I would be reluctant to cut back on that exercise of informing the population. As I said earlier, we intend our campaign to focus on reaching those who may need an absent vote; those who may not be able to get to a polling station whatever hour it is open; and those who may not be able to get there before seven in the morning because they would need to be there at six in the morning.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said that we have a 24-hour society. No extension will cover everybody's convenience in terms of personal attendance. That is why it is important to make the option of absent voting well known, so that there is a high turnout in that regard.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page