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Tenth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Thursday 3 July 2003
[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]
Draft Greater London Authority
Elections (Election Addresses)
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Greater London Authority Elections (Election Addresses) Order 2003.
Before I proceed to my detailed explanation of the order, let me signal my sense of pleasure and privilege in this, the first statutory instrument Committee on which I have served under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess, in my new incarnation. Your chairmanship is, of course, a byword for impeccable fairness and, when necessary, stentorian firmness.
The aim of the provisions of the order is to provide London voters with information to help them to make an informed choice when they go to the polls at the next GLA elections. The order will achieve that aim in a way that is fair to candidates, and useful and cost effective to London voters and taxpayers. It will entitle mayoral candidates in future ordinary GLA elections to have an election address delivered free to every elector in Greater London. As at the first London mayoral election, such election addresses will be included in a booklet, which will be produced and delivered by the Greater London returning officer.
Hon. Members will remember—I certainly do, as the once and, if I may say so, future Minister for London—that the issue of a free mailshot caused some controversy in the run-up to the first GLA elections. At the time, the Government listened to the arguments of their lordships, and amended the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to provide for the publication and free delivery of a booklet of mayoral candidates' election addresses for the May 2000 elections. At the same time, Parliament provided the Secretary of State with an order-making power to make arrangements for the publication and delivery of candidates' election addresses for future GLA elections. Having sought views on the issue at the beginning of the year in a consultation paper entitled ''Changes to the Rules for London Mayoral and Assembly Elections'', we now seek to exercise that power.
Hon. Members will have read the order and I hope that they have had the opportunity to read the explanatory note. If so, they will have seen that the new arrangements are similar to those for the first election. However, it may be helpful if I explain the order's intended effects and the reasoning behind them. The order covers five main topics, and I shall deal with each in turn. They cover the question of who should have an election address in the booklet, the content and form of election addresses, the booklet
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itself, the distribution arrangements, and the costs involved.
Under article 3, each London mayoral candidate is entitled to have an election address that meets the requirements of the order included in the booklet that is to be prepared by the Greater London returning officer. The primary legislation requires the booklet to be delivered at the GLA's expense. The 2000 elections booklet included only the election addresses of mayoral candidates. However, every ordinary GLA election involves mayoral and London Assembly elections, so we gave careful consideration to whether future booklets should also include the election addresses of Assembly candidates. There are, however, many such candidates. We estimate that there will be at least 200 in 2004—there were 222 in 2000. Although the London list candidates are the same across the whole of Greater London, the constituency candidates are different for each of the 14 Assembly constituencies. Including election addresses from all 200-plus Assembly election candidates would make the booklet much too large to be useful to voters. The only real alternative would be to produce 14 different booklets, one for each constituency. That would make the printing and distribution operation much more complicated and expensive for the Greater London returning officer to organise, and taxpayers would have to bear their share of the cost.
There is clearly an argument that including Assembly members' election addresses in the booklet would give voters information that would help them to make their decision at the polls. However, other election publicity will help to do that, without swamping voters with a mass of information. The Electoral Commission's plans for publicity in 2004 are not yet finalised, but I understand that it plans to publish an information leaflet about those elections for London voters. Having considered the matter, we have decided on a compromise option along the lines proposed by the Electoral Commission. Future booklets will not include election addresses from Assembly candidates, but they will go further than the 2000 booklet by including a list of the names and parties of all those standing for election as London or constituency members of the London Assembly. We hope that those lists will help to make voters aware of the London Assembly elections without making the booklet disproportionately lengthy or complicated to produce.
Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the draft order are about the content and form of the election addresses. The arrangements relating to the contents of the election address are largely the same as in 2000. An address may contain only information relating to the election. It may not include advertising, nor should it refer to other mayoral or Assembly candidates. That prohibition, which mirrors the arrangements for local mayoral booklets, is intended to ensure that the candidates use the election address solely to promote themselves as mayoral candidates.
There is one new provision, in that an election address must not contain anything appearing to the Greater London returning officer:
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''to be indecent, obscene or offensive; or . . . such that its publication or distribution would be likely to amount to the commission of an offence.''
The 2000 booklet had to be submitted to the Post Office for approval under the Post Office regulations, which prohibit the distribution of indecent, obscene and offensive material. Of course, the criminal law also prohibits certain types of communication. Since the 2000 election there have been changes in the Postal Services Act 2000. The new order allows for delivery other than by the Post Office—I shall come to that later—so there is no longer a requirement for the Post Office to give approval. However, the new provision makes the GLRO responsible for maintaining the safeguard against such material.
The rules on the form of election addresses are the same as they were in 2000. An address must be printed on not more than two sides of A5 paper or, if there are more than 15 mayoral candidates, one side of A5 paper. The addresses will have to meet printing requirements such as margin size and typographical layout, but otherwise the candidates will be free to determine the form of their own addresses.
Articles 7 and 8 of the draft order are about the content and form of the booklet. As in 2000, the GLRO has to exclude from the booklet any addresses that do not comply with the rules on content or form and any that come from candidates who have not contributed towards the printing costs. I shall deal with costs later.
In 2000, the mayoral addresses appeared in alphabetical order in the booklet. However, we propose that the order should be determined by lot. That change reflects a recommendation from the Electoral Commission, which has expressed a concern that candidates with surnames that come at the beginning of the alphabet, and hence the beginning of the booklet if it were alphabetically ordered, could benefit unduly because voters might not read the whole of the booklet. In your case, Mr. Amess, that might not be a major concern, but most of the rest of us have been there before.
There is also a new requirement to list in the booklet the party name or other candidate description of all the London Assembly candidates, both constituency and Londonwide. The booklet must also include a list of all the mayoral candidates, including any who do not have an election address in the booklet.
Article 9 of the draft order explains the arrangements for the distribution of the booklets. As in 2000, a booklet is to be addressed and delivered to every elector in Greater London. We considered carefully whether the booklet should be delivered to every elector or to every household in Greater London. Although delivery to every elector will be more expensive and more complicated to organise, we have decided on that approach because we are concerned about equality of access. One delivery per household carries with it the high probability that many potential voters would never see the booklet. That is clearly a risk in large and shared households such as blocks of flats, student housing and nursing homes, and there are many such properties in London.
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In addition, the one per elector approach was taken for the 2000 London mayoral booklet, it is the arrangement at local mayoral elections and it was the approach favoured in most of our consultation responses.
The 2000 booklet allowed for delivery to electors only by the Post Office. To reflect the opening up of the postal market, the new order allows for delivery by any method that is legal under the Postal Services Act 2000. That includes delivery by the Post Office, by any other holder of a delivery licence, or by any method that is exempt from licensing.
Finally, article 10 covers costs. The delivery of election addresses must be at the expense of the GLA. As for printing costs, the arrangements in the draft order are the same as in 2000. Each mayoral candidate who wishes to have an election address included in the booklet must contribute £10,000 towards the printing costs. It is unlikely, but if the total amount collected from candidates proves greater than the total printing costs, the Greater London returning officer will divide the excess equally among the candidates and pay it back.
I hope that I have explained the draft order clearly. As the Minister inviting Parliament to approve the statutory instrument, I confirm my view that its provisions are compatible with the convention rights under the European convention on human rights. Hon. Members will have noted that there are only a few new provisions in the draft order. Its purpose is to repeat and, where necessary, to update the arrangements that were made for the 2000 GLA elections. In tandem with the plans of the Electoral Commission and those of the Greater London returning officer for raising awareness of the 2004 GLA elections, we believe that the production of the booklet will help to provide London's voters with the information that they will need. I commend the order to the Committee.