Draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Functions of Returning Officers) Regulations 2012
Draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Annette Brooke 

Byles, Dan (North Warwickshire) (Con) 

Dowd, Jim (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab) 

Duddridge, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Gilbert, Stephen (St Austell and Newquay) (LD) 

Hanson, Mr David (Delyn) (Lab) 

Herbert, Nick (Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice)  

Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD) 

Latham, Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con) 

Lazarowicz, Mark (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op) 

Macleod, Mary (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con) 

McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab) 

Nuttall, Mr David (Bury North) (Con) 

Phillips, Stephen (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) 

Shannon, Jim (Strangford) (DUP) 

Skinner, Mr Dennis (Bolsover) (Lab) 

Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con) 

Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab) 

Wood, Mike (Batley and Spen) (Lab) 

Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Second Delegated Legislation Committee 

Tuesday 26 June 2012  

[Annette Brooke in the Chair] 

Draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Functions of Returning Officers) Regulations 2012

4.30 pm 

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Functions of Returning Officers) Regulations 2012. 

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to take the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012. 

Nick Herbert:  On 15 November, we will see the biggest change to policing in a generation, when the public go to the polls to elect their first police and crime commissioners for England and Wales. The police and crime commissioner will hold the chief constable to account for the force’s delivery of the policing service within their force area. By ensuring that our police forces are efficient, accountable and focused on the needs of their local communities, police and crime commissioners will drive the fight against crime, ensuring that crime is reduced and protecting the general public. 

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 sets out the basic rules for the elections, including the date, the voting system, who can vote and who can stand, but today we are considering the more detailed provisions. It has always been the Government’s intention to replicate the tried and tested law for elections wherever possible, and that is reflected in the provisions of these statutory instruments. For example, PCC elections will use the local electoral register under the same rules; the timetable for nominations and so on for PCC elections replicates that of local government elections; and the ability to vote by post or by a proxy replicates that for other elections. Offences such as bribery and making false statements entirely replicate the existing body of law on election offences. 

One of the departures from existing practice is to allow for co-ordination of the poll over the larger electoral areas that the PCC elections will encompass. For example, while each local authority will have a local returning officer responsible for polls and counts within its area, each police area will have a police area returning officer, PARO, with overall responsibility for that poll. The PARO will be able to make certain directions on matters such as the verification of votes or recounts, to ensure consistency of practice across the poll. Those provisions are based on the arrangements for European parliamentary elections and the regional returning officers for those elections. PCCs will be elected by the

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supplementary vote system and the order makes specific provision for counting the supplementary vote, as the House would expect. 

As happens now, where a “scheduled” election—in this instance, not including parliamentary or local by-elections or referendums—takes place on the same day as a PCC election, it will automatically be “combined” with the PCC election and administered as if they were one election. PAROs will have the discretion to combine the PCC elections with by-elections and local referendums held on the same day, and if agreement is reached with other returning officers concerned. 

Some of the requirements for PCC candidates are different from other elections. They will need to obtain 100 nominations and to tender a deposit of £5,000, whereas candidates for Mayor of London—the closest comparable role—must obtain 330 nominations and tender a £10,000 deposit. That will ensure that only serious candidates stand for these elections. I am confident that that will be no barrier to a candidate with a serious chance of success. 

Many of the existing provisions on campaign regulation will apply to PCC elections. For example, PCC elections will be part of the framework under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The regulation of donations will also be identical to other elections. What will be different are the limits themselves. After consultation with the political parties and the Electoral Commission, the Government have decided not to impose a national limit for political parties. That will ensure that all candidate expenditure is recorded against the candidate rather than the party, and will help to focus the elections on candidates rather than parties. Candidates will be able to spend the equivalent of £2,362 plus 17.7p per elector—that is based on the existing rules for mayoral candidates. That will translate, for example, to spending of £357,435 in the West Midlands, which is the highest, and £72,622 in Dyfed-Powys, which is the lowest. On the advice of the Electoral Commission, for which the Government are very grateful, those limits will be set out numerically for each area, rather than each candidate being required to calculate the amount themselves. 

We have worked closely with the Electoral Commission and other partners to design ballot papers and forms that are more user-friendly, with a special focus on those who may find it more difficult to read, or to read English. We have tested the new ballots and forms extensively and we are confident that they will improve voters’ ability to vote as they intend to. 

For reasons of cost and logistics, the Government will offer every PCC candidate a place on a new website for an election address. There will be a free phone line for the public to order a free hard copy, rather than a paid-for mailing as happens in some other elections. The content of addresses will be managed by independent returning officers: it will not be for the Government to play a part. Postage for election mailings from each PCC candidate to each elector could have cost as much as £35 million in total, and even posting a consolidated booklet to every elector, as happens in mayoral elections, would cost approximately £12 million, as well as present some logistical difficulties. Both the web address and the phone number will appear in all Home Office and Electoral Commission literature and advertising on PCCs or PCC elections, and it will be on the poll cards delivered to every elector, so we are confident that people will know how to get this information. 

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There is a number of advantages beyond cost to the new approach. The fact that hard copies will be provided on request means that they can be tailored to the needs of the individual. We can, for example, provide copies in formats such as Braille. Some people may find it more convenient if the information is delivered to their work address or to an address at which they are staying temporarily, and under our plans they will be able to direct the information to any address they choose. 

The order and the regulations before us today are the culmination of months of close work and consultation with expert partners including the Electoral Commission, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Association of Electoral Administrators, and I thank them very much for all their hard work. We have considered all their representations in detail and believe these statutory instruments create a sensible and sustainable legal framework for the elections in November. They are the final piece of the foundation of an entirely new model of policing that will connect the police directly to the public they serve. I commend them to the Committee. 

4.38 pm 

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab):  I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs Brooke, and I welcome the chance to debate these orders. As the Minister said, the orders make provision on a range of key matters, including the arrangements for elections, spending limits, how candidates communicate with the electorate and the conduct of elections, and formal consultation has been undertaken. Much of the content is standard, including polling districts, registers of electors, postal and proxy voting and offences, and I have no quibble about those. They are sensible measures in any election and should take place downstream in due course. 

I welcome the chance to debate the proposals today, however, because these instruments set the rules for the conduct of elections for police and crime commissioners and the Opposition have some concerns about them. It is no secret from the Minister or anyone else that the Labour party opposed the model of police and crime commissioners. We believe it to be a flawed model and that the resources to be spent on elections in November should be used to support front-line policing in our communities, where they are much needed, but the Government have pushed ahead with the reforms, obtained Royal Assent for the legislation, and the elections will be a reality. 

I know that the date of 15 November is in the legislation, but I still have some concerns about it and the rushed way the proposals have been introduced. The preparations are not as I would wish them to be, the planning has been poor, and some items remain outstanding. I simply cannot understand why the Minister has rushed, both in primary legislation and in this secondary legislation, so that these elections take place on 15 November. That will undoubtedly be a dark day, with stand-alone elections—with the exception now of a mayoral election in Bristol. We could have had the elections next May alongside other elections, thus achieving a significant increase in turnout and agreement about the legitimacy of the winners of these posts. Those concerns are matters of principle. As the Minister knows, like the Conservatives did for the Welsh Assembly some years ago, we are selecting candidates to fight the elections, because once the body is established, we must not let

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the Government have a free run in the elections to it. However, some significant issues remain, particularly to do with the organisation of the elections. 

The first issue is maximum voter turnout. Thursday 15 November will undoubtedly be a cold, damp day. The electoral system being used is new, and the proposals for communicating information to the electorate are flawed. I draw the Committee’s attention to paragraph 52 of the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012, which, as the Minister said, proposes that a central website be created to host candidate information, replacing any publicly funded mailing or locally distributed booklet. Only some weeks ago, a locally distributed booklet was produced for the London mayoral elections, and in general elections freepost is used by all candidates so that electors can make informed decisions about whose name they wish to put their cross next to. 

In its original submission to the Minister as part of the consultation, the Electoral Commission said: 

“The Government’s proposal is a significant departure from what is provided for UK Parliamentary, European Parliament and Mayoral elections, and raises some concerns that Parliament may want to be aware of before the secondary legislation is laid. Delivering information primarily via a website will exclude the still significant number of adults in England and Wales who do not have easy access to the internet: as many as 7 million adults in England (excluding London) and Wales are estimated not to have used the internet at all in the last 12 months. Candidates for PCC elections will also need to communicate with a much larger number of voters across their ‘constituencies’ than usual; and there may be significant numbers of independent candidates who do not have the support of a party behind them to promote their campaign.” 

Nothing has been changed since that submission was made, including in the regulations before us. These are experimental elections involving a new electoral system and taking place on a date when we do not traditionally have elections, yet the Minister is choosing to have no method of communication other than a website for those who wish to engage in the elections and learn more about their candidates. 

Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab):  Is my right hon. Friend aware of any Government prediction of the average turnout in these elections? Does he have a view about the percentage below which turnout would need to fall for the legitimacy of the person ostensibly elected to be undermined? 

Mr Hanson:  I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point; he anticipates the question I was about to raise. What realistic assessment has the Minister made of the turnout and what figure would he be happy with? I say to my hon. Friend that I accept that if there were a 15% turnout, meaning that somebody could win with the votes of 8% of the electorate, they would still be legitimately elected: they would still be the post holder, no matter what the turnout was. However, I would have expected the Government, given that this is a flagship scheme—albeit one that we oppose—to want turnout to be significantly higher than that and to engage the public in this process. 

Earlier this month, during the first day of the Committee stage of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), said: 

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“The Government are currently trialling…a website featuring statements from all the candidates for the police and crime commissioner elections, which will then be promoted by the Electoral Commission and in the material that goes to voters. We may consider a similar procedure for a general election, with an eye on overseas voters.”—[Official Report, 18 June 2012; Vol. 546, c. 653.] 

A Minister has said that, potentially, this scheme is a trial for a future general election. 

Everybody I have spoken to, from the Electoral Commission the Association of Police Authorities, fears an exceptionally low turnout. As my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen said, that may affect the legitimacy of the post holders. What level of turnout will be necessary to ensure changes to the legislation ahead of another set of elections, potentially in 2016—whoever is in power then? What lessons will be learned? 

The Minister threw a few figures around—£12 million, £30 million, £35 million—for the cost of the freepost. The explanatory note says that the cost of the general election freepost was £30 million. The right hon. Gentleman will know that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are not included in these elections, so I would like a proper estimate from him of the cost of the freepost for the 41 police authorities that are participating. He knows that the figure of £35 million he has bandied around includes Scotland, Northern Ireland and London. 

Who am I to argue with the Office for National Statistics? It is independent of me, the Government and the House of Commons. It has said that, as of January this year, 8,121,000 people have never used the internet. The Minister expects those 8,121,000 people to get their voting card; look at the website address on it; tootle down to the library; perhaps take a course in internet usage; get on to the internet to look at the papers that the Minister will provide through the central website; phone a helpline, although we do not know yet who will run it, how it will be funded or how many calls are expected; and then receive through the post a piece of paper on which they can make their judgment. That is not realistic. 

Of those 8 million plus people, 5.5 million are over the age of 65. Already, we have inbuilt discrimination in this order against the elderly, who have not traditionally used the internet. Has the Minister done an equality assessment on the order? It will come as no surprise to learn that of those 5.5 million people who do not use the internet, the majority are women. Already, we are skewing the information available in these elections to younger males. If we look at gross weekly income we find, unsurprisingly, that the richest in the community, no matter what age they are, use the internet the most. The poorest are the ones who do not have access to the internet. Some 367,000 people earning less than £200 a week have no access to the internet. They have never used the internet—not last year, not the year before, but never. 

If we look at regional disparities, we find that the further north we go—to the north-east and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, to the north-west, to Wales, to the midlands and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, to Yorkshire and Humberside—internet usage is lower than in the south-east and south-west of England. 

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If the Minister wants to have an honest debate in the elections, which we have been honest about opposing although will fight them on 15 November, let us have a fair playing field. We have regional disparities, an age disparity, a gender disparity and an income disparity in internet usage. That is not fair. If he is not convinced by me, perhaps he can be convinced by the cross-party Association of Police Authorities. It is chaired by Mark Burns-Williamson, the Labour chair of West Yorkshire police authority, but the deputy chair is Diana Holl-Allen MBE, who is a Conservative. In a submission to the Committee, they wrote: 

“We share the publically-aired concerns of senior Chief Constables about the potential impact of a low turnout for PCC elections in November…. We therefore write on a cross-party basis to respectfully ask the Committee to consider strengthening the proposals for voter information and awareness-raising for PCC elections so that they are at least equal to those for Mayoral elections and therefore might help to raise voter turnout on November 15th.” 

You will know, Mrs Brooke, that we are not able today to amend the order. It is a take-it-or-leave-it instrument. I would welcome it if a letter was sent to the Minister—not from me, because I have my scepticism about police and crime commissioners, but from the cross-party APA, which will be the cross-party police and crime commissioner association in due course—and from all members of the Committee, Labour and Conservative, saying, “Look again at this particular issue.” I hope he will. 

If the Minister will not listen to me, or if he will not listen to them, perhaps he will listen to the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), who, answering on behalf of the Electoral Commission a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), said: 

“My hon. Friend endorses the main point made to the Government by the Electoral Commission—that a website alone will not be enough for individual candidates, many of whom were not well known previously, to get the message across. I very much hope that the Government will listen to the Electoral Commission’s proposal that leaflets to every household are also important.”—[Official Report, 26 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 1096.] 

I recognise that there is a cost to that. The Minister can find ways around it, but he should not skate over the fact that he has today put up a website that discriminates against those who are old, northern and poor—and women, mostly. He should also tell the Committee the basis on which he made that decision. If it was on the basis of finance, let him say so today. 

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con):  Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? 

Mr Hanson:  I happily give way to my office neighbour. 

Stephen Phillips:  It is an enormous pleasure to have an office next to the right hon. Gentleman; I am sure I do not deserve it. The premise of the argument that he is advancing, in attacking the Government’s plans, is that one needs to access the website to get a hard copy of the election address. If he cares to consider paragraph 13 of schedule 8 of the relevant draft statutory instrument, he can see that that is not the case. So the premise falls away, and therefore the argument falls away. I wonder whether he would like to comment on that. 

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Mr Hanson:  Sorry, the premise does not fall away. The premise is that, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the website is accessible but the leaflet must be ordered by phone by a constituent. People who are wealthy, who are predominantly in the south, who are under the age of 65 might well log on in their bedroom or elsewhere in their house or at their workplace and, ultimately, get that leaflet. There is still a digital divide, however, and I should have thought that he would know that. Liberal Democrat Members in particular, who are often concerned about rural issues, will know that there is a digital divide affecting the rural community as well. I simply make the point that there is a fundamental flaw in the Minister’s approach. 

On the same day as the election, there will be a mayoral election in Bristol. There could have been many more mayoral elections that same day, had the electors not kicked that one into touch good and proper from the Government’s perspective. In the mayoral election in Bristol, there will be a freepost; there will be a leaflet; there will be a communication sent by the returning officer to every house,, but there will not be those things for the police and crime commissioner election in the same area on the same day. There may even be one or two by-elections, because Labour has picked my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) as candidates, and at some point—perhaps not on the same day—there may be by-elections for those seats. There will be a freepost in those elections, but not for the PCC election. The Minister should explain why. 

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab):  On the question of the muddle, have we not been here before fairly recently, in the Scottish elections, when there were two separate systems operating at the same time? That resulted in questions in the House, and having to make changes and all the rest of it. Loads of people—many more than normal—did not cast their vote or cast it wrongly. Surely the Government should have understood what happened in Scotland and tried to avoid it happening again? As for this internet thing, it extends to Members of Parliament as well. I still send stamped, addressed envelopes to people who send e-mails because I want to keep the postmen in work. 

Mr Hanson:  I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. He is a keen internet user—I am joking, Mrs Brooke. I know that he is internet unfriendly in many ways, but he is still a fine Member of Parliament for all that. The fact is that the Minister needs to give further consideration to a range of issues relating to the use of freepost. 

The Electoral Commission has also noted that several key pieces of secondary legislation relating to the elections on 15 November are still to be laid. It has said that until the necessary statutory instruments are in place, there may be a risk to the new elections. The Minister is asking us to approve this flawed set of rules, but not all of the required statutory instruments for the elections have been laid. The Electoral Commission has expressed its concerns. The Minister needs to tell the Committee when he intends to lay the remaining pieces of legislation required for an election that is only some five months away. As all of us know, time does go rather quickly. 

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I also note the deposit requirement of £5,000 and the election spending rules. This is going to be a rich person’s game if a candidate has to find £5,000 and, in the west midlands, potentially spend more than £360,000 to get elected. Paragraph 60 of the order, entitled “Illegal canvassing by police officers”, states: 

“No member of a police force for any police area may by word, message, writing or in any other manner, endeavour to persuade any person to give, or dissuade any person from giving, his or her vote, whether as an elector or as proxy at a PCC election. ” 

For the sake of clarity and the record, can the Minister say whether that applies to everyone who works for a police authority, or to warranted police officers? I ask because the order states that no “member of a police force” can get involved. 

Many police staff are worried about privatisation, the appointment of police commissioners and staffing issues. They are members of Unison who work as secretarial support or on telephones in police forces and who might just want to knock on a door and canvass for one or other of the candidates to raise those matters. In my part of north Wales, which is very close to the border with England, I have many constituents who work on Merseyside and in Cheshire, Lancashire, Shropshire and Manchester. They may work at the Cheshire police headquarters 20 miles from where I live, but live in a different police force area and constituency. I want the Minister to be clear that the legislation is referring to police officers rather than police force staff members; otherwise a trade union may not wish, or be able, by law, to give resources to any political party that it might wish to support and people who work for those forces may not be able to canvass. 

It is a matter of concern that we still do not have the full picture on the order, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that. Fundamentally, we oppose police and crime commissioners, and this is the final piece of legislation to put those posts in place, except for the outstanding legislation for which we still have no date. The order is flawed, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments. 

4.58 pm 

Nick Herbert:  The right hon. Member for Delyn said that this proposed model of policing reform was flawed, and that the Labour party opposed it. What he forgot to remind the Committee of was the fact that in another Committee room, just along the corridor, during the consideration of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, the Labour party proposed and voted for directly elected chairs of police authorities. That model of policing reform would have involved the direct election of an individual and the continued existence of police authorities. It would therefore have cost more than the proposed model of policing governance that we finally landed upon, and it would indeed have been a flawed model. 

The right hon. Gentleman simultaneously attacks the proposals and forgets that on a number of occasions his party has proposed the democratic reform of policing. Labour rowed back from those commitments in government, but proposed them as recently as consideration of the Bill. He also attacked the “rushed” date set for the elections. The date is actually set in the primary legislation so it is not a subject for consideration under the order. In fact, the date was delayed by six months; far from being rushed, it was delayed until November. 

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The right hon. Gentleman asked why elections should not be further delayed, until next year. There is an obvious reason. On election this November, police and crime commissioners will be able to set the policing plan and budget for 2013-14. Clearly, they would not be able to do that if they were elected in May, which would then delay the effect of the reform for a further year, until 2014-15. That would be a delay in what we regard as a fundamental and important reform. 

Mr Hanson:  For those who did not sit on the Bill Committee, will the Minister remind the Committee that the term of office is now set for three and a half years? It was set for that term because the right hon. Gentleman rushed through a cobbled deal with his coalition partners to put the electoral standards in place, yet we have not had time to consider the provisions properly. Returning officers have not had time to plan properly and we still do not have the orders. It is still possible for him to reconsider, and we would give him every support to look at changing the November date if he wished to do so. 

Nick Herbert:  With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that is not a sensible suggestion. Changing the date would require primary legislation. The date was agreed when the Bill was passed. We have had that debate, and the election will be held on 15 November; it has already been delayed for six months. Shame on him for suggesting that any deal between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats is cobbled. 

The right hon. Gentleman described November as a dark day. It may not be as light as it is at the moment, when we have just passed the longest day, but the United States of America holds presidential elections in November and the Americans seem to manage perfectly well. 

The right hon. Gentleman talked about turnout and his concern about the use of a website rather than election addresses or leaflets being supplied to every household. I explained why we did not think it was right to go for that option. We had to estimate the cost of election addresses at £35 million because we do not know how many candidates there will be; we expect independent candidates to stand. We know that the cost would be substantial. Even the cost of a leaflet for every household, on the London mayoral model, would be substantial, at £12 million. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot on one hand complain about the cost of the reform and the elections, as he regularly does, seeking to make rather spurious conversions into the number of police officers—which figures are, by the way, totally inaccurate—and on the other hand call for higher public spending, as he does now, in the provision of election information. He has to decide on his position. If he is now calling for more spending on election information, he must from this moment drop his opposition to the cost of the election. He must see that his position is completely inconsistent. 

Mr Hanson:  Will the Minister answer this question with a yes? Under his proposals, is there a digital divide—older, poorer, richer, northern, southern? Yes or no? 

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Nick Herbert:  I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has fully understood the proposal. The website is available to everybody with internet access, which is the majority of the country. Clearly, there are people who do not have internet access, and they will be able to receive a leaflet on demand. All they need do is apply for it by telephone. The number will be provided in the literature sent by the Electoral Commission on the voting card, and will no doubt be promoted elsewhere, including in the Government’s information campaign. 

Mr Hanson  rose—  

Nick Herbert:  Before the right hon. Gentleman interrupts me again, it is important that I correct the misrepresentation that is being made generally about the proposal. Nobody will be denied access to information simply because they are not online. That is simply not a correct representation of the proposal. Anyone who wants the information in written form can ask for it. To say that they are being denied information is simply not the case. I will give way again if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene—he does not. 

Just as the right hon. Gentleman cannot go on complaining about the cost of the elections at the same time as calling for more money to be spent, he cannot also simultaneously attack the Government for failing to increase turnout in these elections and constantly complain about the elections and attack them. If he is serious about wanting a high turnout and people to go out and vote—I understand that the Labour party will field candidates—he must stop saying that the elections are wrong or that they should not happen. Does he not recognise that that too is an inconsistent position? He cannot credibly say that he is concerned about a higher turnout if he is telling the public—as the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Home Secretary did last week when they launched their campaign—that the elections are wholly wrong and the money should not have been spent. That is an inconsistent position. If the right hon. Gentleman would get behind the reform, and if the candidates were fielded wholeheartedly, we might take his concerns about legitimacy more seriously. 

Of course I want to see the highest possible turnout for the elections. The Government will work hard to provide information about the elections in the run-up to them. Any turnout would confer greater legitimacy on police and crime commissioner candidates than an unelected, appointed police authority had. We will certainly dig out the Hansard report of the right hon. Gentleman’s concession that any turnout will confer legitimacy on the candidates. No threshold has been set by Parliament, but of course we want the highest possible turnout. 

The Government propose to have an information campaign later this year in the run-up to the elections. The Electoral Commission will provide information to every household about the voting system, and no doubt candidates will provide information by conventional means and via new media, which is a great deal more relevant for many people now than the old-fashioned mailings. While we are all wedded to such old-fashioned bits of paper, in fact—according to Royal Mail, of all people—nearly a third of direct mail is discarded and only 39% is read. There are other means by which we can communicate with the electorate in this day and age. That is the new solution that the Government seek to adopt on a cost-effective basis. 

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The right hon. Gentleman said that the elections would be a rich person’s game, given the deposit required. As I explained, that deposit is half the level required for mayoral elections, and I did not notice the Labour party suggesting that they were a rich man’s game. It is the same deposit as for the European elections, so it is perfectly reasonable in the circumstances, given the size of police force areas. That is not a legitimate criticism either. 

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the restriction on police officers in canvassing and whether it applied to police staff. The answer is no; as the heading of the paragraph says, it applies only to police officers. 

Some legislation is outstanding on fees and charges, including Welsh forms and the appointment of returning officers, and those regulations will be laid shortly. Overall, however, we are on track to deliver these elections on 15 November and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his party, which is now fielding candidates, will start to get behind the elections. If they are serious about turnout and motivating people to go out and vote, perhaps they will start saying why the elections matter and being more positive about them. 

5.10 pm 

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. I apologise for not rising to speak sooner; the debate has been a little shorter than I was anticipating. 

I want to ask the Minister about regulation 7, which deals with encouraging participation in PCC elections. It states that a returning officer 

“must take whatever steps the officer thinks appropriate to encourage participation in the PCC election”. 

These elections are going to be very different from previous ones, and the debate has already explored some of those differences. Many Liberal Democrats are a little more ambivalent than we would normally be about the role of party political candidates in the elections. In many parts of the country there will be Liberal Democrat candidates, but elsewhere the party is clear that it will be up to Liberal Democrats, including parliamentarians, to support independent candidates if no Liberal Democrat candidate is standing. That might be quite a widespread trend; we may see more significant independent candidacies than is normal in a parliamentary election, for example. 

Liberal Democrat agents whom I have known have without exception been polite, accommodating, affable individuals, and mostly volunteers. Labour and Tory agents have slightly more formidable reputations as political bruisers. However, all of them share knowledge of electoral law and expertise in the running of elections, which sets them apart from the kind of people who might be supporting independent candidates. If there are to be significant independent candidacies, it is

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particularly important that returning officers and Electoral Commission guidance be clear and accommodating enough to those who do not have experience of such elections, in order to enable them to participate fully and fairly alongside the political parties. Perhaps the Minister could explain in a little more depth how he expects regulation 7 to operate, and what kind of guidance we might expect from the Electoral Commission in order to make the elections free and fair for independent candidates, as well as candidates from political parties. 

Nick Herbert:  I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but the question on the guidance that the Electoral Commission wants to offer should be addressed to the commission itself. In my view, such guidance should be aimed at both party candidates and independent candidates. We have always made it clear that we want to ensure that independent candidates can stand in the elections. That has been the Government’s consistent position, and I agree with my hon. Friend that independent candidates will stand; indeed, some notable independent candidates are already standing in some seats. I cannot give any further answer to my hon. Friend at this moment, but I am happy to have a discussion with the Electoral Commission to see what further information might be provided, and to act as an intermediary between him and the commission. 

Question put and agreed to.  

Resolved,  

That the Committee has considered the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Functions of Returning Officers) Regulations 2012. 

Draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012

Motion made, and Question put,  

That the Committee has considered the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012.—(Nick Herbert.) 

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7. 

Division No. 1 ]  

AYES

Byles, Dan   

Duddridge, James   

Gilbert, Stephen   

Herbert, rh Nick   

Horwood, Martin   

Latham, Pauline   

Macleod, Mary   

Nuttall, Mr David   

Phillips, Stephen   

Walker, Mr Robin   

NOES

Dowd, Jim   

Hanson, rh Mr David   

Lazarowicz, Mark   

McDonagh, Siobhain   

Skinner, Mr Dennis   

Wilson, Phil   

Wood, Mike   

Question accordingly agreed to.  

5.15 pm 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 28th June 2012