Last year Dover held a referendum to ask whether residents wanted the Port to be sold off. I realised that the rules surrounding local referendums were archaic, with no postal votes allowed and polls only open for reduced hours. Voting should be made accessible to all. I therefore asked the Minister what the Government's plans are for changing the law on local referendums (parish polls to give them their proper name). The replies are below.
Bob Neill (DCLG Minister)
I have regular conversations with local authorities on a wide range of issues, including electoral matters. Parish polls are the most local means of giving communities an opportunity to have their say by voting on a range of issues, from bus shelters and community centres to the installation of CCTV cameras. However, we recognise the current electoral rules are outdated and can be a barrier to local people's participation in those polls. When an appropriate legislative opportunity arises, we will therefore reform the rules.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)
I thank the Minister for that very positive answer. Such polls are not just used for bus shelters. We had a parish—or town—poll in Dover on the future of the port of Dover and 98% voted in favour of the people's port community ownership model, which was the right way forward. The rules are that polls are open between 4 and 9 and there are no postal votes, no proxy votes and no poll cards. That discriminates against the elderly, the disabled and those who work. Does the Minister agree that we need change quite urgently?
I hope that I have shown that I am on the same side as my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to him for his work on the poll in Dover. He observes that some parish and town councils serve large populations. As the rules are set out in the schedule to primary legislation, we need a legislative means of reforming them, but we are looking for that.
It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Member of Parliament for Dover & Deal. I hope to be re-elected to serve our community for another term.
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