There had been reports of abuses of the postal voting system throughout the country during the 2 May elections - including in his constituency of Pendle - Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves told peers.
There, he said, 984 postal votes in four marginal wards were sent out, not to the electors to whom they were addressed but to a number of addresses which turned out to be those of close relatives of Labour candidates or of party activists. 'The votes were then delivered - if they were delivered at all- to the electors at a time and in a manner of their choosing', added Lord Greaves.
He added that it was made easier at the last general election to obtain a postal vote. The number of people who used postal votes increased from 2.1% to 3.9%. The Electoral Commission looked at the conduct of the election and concluded there was no reason to suppose there had been increased fraud in postal voting.
In the commons, DTLR secretary Stephen Byers said the government would consider the commission's evaluations of the 2 May elections and make any changes needed ahead of next year's local elections. 'In due course, we will need to consider the benefits and disadvantages of moving to all-postal ballots for a national election - for example, elections to the European parliament to be held in June 2004', he added.
Mr Byers pointed out that only 13 English local authorities opted for all-postal ballots in the local elections. The Electoral Commission was carefully considering those elections in relation to turnout, malpractice and fraud.
'It is very important that those matters are fully investigated by the independent Electoral Commission. We would probably be moving too quickly if we were to adopt all-postal ballots for the Scottish and Welsh elections next year. Once again, we should use May 2003 and the local elections for further pilots', added Mr Byers.
Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, asked the secretary of state if he was concerned that the introduction of postal ballots on a mass scale would mean an element of privacy being lost and those with postal votes would not have the same safeguards that people had traditionally enjoyed in casting their votes in person.
Mr Byers agreed, saying:'We must take this matter slowly and we must get it right; we will not be rushed into taking early decisions. We must use the pilots and learn from them, and we must then make decisions that are in the interests of the democratic process'.
He added that in the desire tomake voting more convenient and easier, particular groups were not disadvantaged. Pensioners, for example, might find postal voting more difficult and prefer to vote as they had done for generations.
Hansard 21 May 2002: Column 637-639; 141-144