Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations
David T.C. Davies [Conservative,Momnouth]:: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the number of days likely to be taken to (a) deliver general election ballot papers to and (b) return to the relevant returning officer ballot papers completed by members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan to the relevant polling station. 
Bill Rammell: No specific estimate has been made for the number of days likely to be taken to deliver and return general election ballot papers from members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan to the relevant polling station.
However, we take very seriously the need to ensure service personnel are able to vote. MOD is working closely with the Electoral Commission and the Ministry of Justice to help service personnel understand their options for registering to vote and to support their participation in the forthcoming elections. We advise service personnel serving abroad to vote by proxy.
And on the same day from a debate in the House of Lords:
Lord Roberts of Llandudno [Lib Dem]: It is bad for us at home in this country, but are there not also great difficulties in trying to get postal votes returned from those in Afghanistan in 11 days? It cannot be done. One local authority informed me that it did not have one return from Iraq at the time of the last general election. By limiting the period to 11 days, we are disfranchising those young men and women who are putting their lives on the line for us. If we expect them to do that, the least we can do is make sure that they have the opportunity to vote in a general election.
I say 19 days, but the Electoral Commission says 25 days and has urged the Government to increase the period to that. There is time to do it. You can sometimes get a Bill through the House of Commons and the House of Lords in a matter of a day or two. Why are the Government not responding to this need and, at the same time, undermining the democratic ideal?
For the Government, Lord Davies of Oldham replied that:
... I want to reassure him on his cardinal concern about postal votes and the general election, particularly with regard to our forces serving in Afghanistan. I am with him entirely on that. The Government are eager to reassure the House that we will make proper arrangements in time for the participation of our forces personnel in the next general election. The problem with the prescription put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is that we would need changes to primary legislation to change the dates of postal voting. He will recognise the impossibility of us being able to offer that at this stage.
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