Draft Local Elections (Ordinary Day of Elections in 2009) Order 2008

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John Healey: I am grateful for the contributions and remarks that have been made. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and his recognition that the order deals largely with the concerns raised. I know that he will scrutinise future orders relating to the set-up of the new unitaries in April, and I look forward to that.
To the hon. Member for Hazel Grove I say that we do not introduce the order lightly, nor do we take lightly the decision to propose combining elections. I am grateful to him for recognising that we have strengthened and thoroughly followed the consultation procedure in arriving at this point. It makes our proposals stronger.
I counted eight separate questions from the hon. Gentleman, which I will try to deal with. If I miss any, I am sure that hon. Members will tell me. Rattling through them, I shall begin with the question about article 2 not mentioning but covering mayors. The short answer is yes, because the provisions for mayoral elections relate to the Local Government Act 2000 and what it terms the ordinary day of elections. Moving the ordinary day of elections of councillors would do the same for mayors due to be elected or re-elected on the same day.
No elections have been scheduled for 2009 in Stoke. As a result of the mayoral referendum last week, it will be for the existing council to form the executive and leadership of the council by the normal established process of elections. That will happen four days after 4 June, because the mayoral term of office runs until four days after the election date.
On postal votes, each local authority will deal with those in its own area. This time, there will be no all-postal elections, so postal votes will form only a proportion of the votes cast. We can expect that in all areas most votes will be cast in the traditional manner at polling stations on election day.
Political parties, returning officers and electoral administration officers already had November in mind as the cut-off date for casual vacancies. In proposing to move the elections back, we had to decide whether to move the cut-off point back as well or maintain the existing deadline. The latter seemed sensible because people were already familiar with it. That approach was taken when we combined the elections in 2004. That is why we made that decision.
We will consider whether to propose reorganisation or restructuring in Devon, Suffolk and Norfolk and the consequences that that could bring for election timetables only after we have received the proposals of the boundary committee, which are due before the end of December. Any consideration of the matters raised by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove would be premature at this point. If appropriate, we will consider them at the right time.
Andrew Stunell: I appreciate what the Minister is saying. He says that such consideration is premature, but he will be as aware as I am of the need for political parties and others to get their acts in line. It is difficult for them to do so when they will not know until January, or whenever, whether there will be an election in June, and if so, on what terms.
John Healey: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I, too, am conscious of the position of political parties, returning officers and electoral administrators. I think he would concede that the principal and prior question is whether there should be reorganisation. We will consider the matter, but only after the boundary committee has made its proposals.
Finally, I recognise the deep concern of the hon. Member for North Cornwall and his hon. Friends over the position of Cornwall. I hope he feels that I acknowledged that in my opening remarks. He is right that the boundaries for the members serving Cornwall through the new unitary authority have to make sense for the people of Cornwall and for the new authority itself. With the work of the boundary committee and the Electoral Commission, I hope we can ensure that that is done with the minimum possible period of interim arrangements. Those are uncomfortable and temporary, but necessary.
I hope that the Committee will give the order its backing.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Local Elections (Ordinary Day of Elections in 2009) Order 2008.
Committee rose at eight minutes past Eleven o’clock.
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Prepared 29 October 2008