Draft Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Foster: I agree with the Minister's view about material that might be racist and so on, but I remind him that paragraph 3(2) of schedule 4 states:

    ''In particular, an election address must not contain . . . any material referring to any other candidate.''

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That is different from the rules pertaining to general elections.

Dr. Whitehead: That provision refers clearly to personalised material about a candidate as opposed to the usual juxtaposition of good and bad ideas in the opinion of a particular candidate that may be in that person's address. If a candidate describes a certain view as a bad idea, and that happens to be associated with another candidate, that would be regarded as the normal run of things during an election.

What will be precluded by the provision, and what the Post Office has instructions to preclude, are personal attacks on individuals. If people wished to take such matters to the ultimate degree and suggest that it would be unwise for the electorate to follow the depiction of policies by one candidate if those policies were associated with another candidate, I do not think that that would hold up in court.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to those regulations concerning whether the candidates or the agents write the address. That does not differ from the printed and published indent on current leaflets. Regardless of who has written a leaflet, the agent must take responsibility for the indent, by showing the name of the person responsible for its issue. If a candidate were his or her own agent, the problem would not arise, but we are talking about who is to take responsibility for that particular leaflet. No one is likely to be upset if the candidate has written the leaflet, provided that it shows the name of the person responsible for its issue.

Mr. Foster: That is not what it says.

Dr. Whitehead: With respect, perhaps the hon. Gentleman sat up late at night worrying about some of those issues, and had imaginary terrors about the campaign. There are machines that can work out the origins of particular phrases in a leaflet, allowing its author to be identified. I do not imagine that anyone would go to such lengths to see whether a leaflet conformed to the regulations. The question is, who is responsible for the issue of that leaflet? That is not fundamentally different from how matters are conducted in general elections.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West asked whether the mayoral ballot would be separate, or conducted and counted simultaneously with council ballots. Page 30 of the regulations shows a sample ballot. Clearly, it would have to be separate because, with the supplementary vote, there are two choices of candidate. That is different from the ballot paper that is issued for the council in general elections.

Whether the count will be simultaneous with that of the council election would be a matter for the returning officer and it would be arranged locally. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be a good idea if the council and mayoral elections were conducted and counted simultaneously, so that how the results squared up with each other could be determined.

We have substantially analysed the regulations. I am grateful to members of the Committee for taking the time and trouble to look at them carefully, thus ensuring that important issues have been raised. It is in

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the interests of all parties to ensure that the local democratic process is fair and efficient. We have examined the regulations carefully and I hope that we can approve the draft as securing the shared aims of all parities for the conduct of mayoral elections.

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Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002.

Committee rose at sixteen minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Widdecombe Miss Ann (Chairman)
Brazier, Mr.
Clwyd, Ann
Cranston, Ross
Dowd, Jim
Foster, Mr. Don
Gibb, Mr.
Gilroy, Linda
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moss, Mr.
Prosser, Mr.
Turner, Dr.
Whitehead, Dr.
Woolas, Mr.

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Prepared 24 January 2002