§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19th December 2001 be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these draft regulations make detailed provision for holding elections for a directly elected mayor under Part II of the Local Government Act 2000. They set out the necessary requirements to ensure that mayoral elections are well conducted and put in place the technical provisions required to ensure that they run smoothly. They follow very closely existing provisions for the conduct of a local election set out in other legislation and take account of recent developments in the electoral process.
There are a few exceptions to this general approach where the Government feel that the particular nature of the post for which the election is being held justify the use of provisions more in line with those established for the election of the Mayor for London. In particular, these departures from usual local elections practice lie in the requirement for a candidate's deposit on nomination, the issue of an election address booklet by the returning officer and the right of a nominated candidate to have an election address included in that booklet without having to contribute to the costs of delivery of that booklet, and the use of the supplementary vote system that the Act already establishes in principle.
A mayoral election is required to be held where the electorate of a local authority has voted in a binding referendum to move to a new council constitution involving a directly elected mayor. Some local authorities are already in this position and, subject to parliamentary approval of the draft, will hold elections using these regulations in May of this year. Other local authorities may be moving towards a mayoral election following referendums that are due to be held in the coming weeks and months.
These regulations will, subject to parliamentary approval, form an integral part of the Government's modernisation agenda for local government and will allow councils to continue to progress their implementation of new constitutions giving effect to the wishes of local people expressed through a referendum. In line with the requirements of the Local Government Act 2000, we have consulted the Electoral Commission fully on the draft. Additionally, I would like to place on record that I am satisfied that these regulations comply with the Human Rights Act 1998. I commend the regulations to the House.
1244 Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19th December 2001 be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
§ Baroness Hanham
My Lords, these regulations are largely uncontroversial and the procedures, as the Minister has explained, are by and large those well-rehearsed procedures for any election.
We welcome the proposal that there should be a free election booklet with the election addresses of all candidates included. We particularly welcome that since it was first tried out in the Greater London elections, but only after a hard-fought battle had been waged which the Government finally accepted when amendments were put forward by Members on these Benches. Clearly, it was a successful addition to the new procedures which now arise as a result of the small number of elections which will need to take place for mayoral candidates.
We consider that the deposit of £500 seems now to be about right, although I am aware that there has been concern that independent candidates, not supported by party structures, might find that a bit steep. However, as all candidates will be entitled to limited election expenses, as well as the free post election leaflet delivery, it should not provide an impossible hurdle, but will perhaps be a sufficient deterrent to prevent all but the most determined rogue candidates in the larger mayoral constituencies.
The only question we wish to raise regarding these regulations, therefore, relates to the rationale not to vary either the deposit or the number of electors required to support a candidate's nomination. Whether the election for mayor is to take place in a small borough, large metropolis, district or county—where the populations and consequent responsibilities are vastly different—the deposit and the number of voters required to support the nomination remains the same at 30 voters. Does not the Minister believe that it would be a better safeguard to recognise those differences and have a variable deposit and number of supporters depending on the categority of authority? In saying this, I am taking into account the only mayoral election which has yet been held for the Mayor for London. In that case I believe that a deposit of £10,000 per candidate was required together with 330 signatures of voters in the constituency—that is to say, 10 per borough of the 33 boroughs which make up Greater London. While the size of the deposit may have been excessively cautious, it seems that the size of the population and its distribution was taken as being a significant factor. I appreciate that London is different because it is split into a number of boroughs, but some of the bigger metropolitan areas, if they subsequently decided to go from there, would have a population probably about half that of London, but still very substantial. I shall be grateful for the Minister's comments on that aspect.
§ Lord Shutt of Greetland
My Lords, I am far less enthusiastic about these proposals and the new role of managerial mayor. But the die is cast as far as that is 1245 concerned. I am less enthusiastic about the particular form of voting. It seems to me that one could well have circumstances where there are three main party candidates and a very well known independent who all receive substantially the same number of votes and yet the play-off will be between the top two. I am not keen about that either.
As regards the nomination papers, Members on these Benches over many years have taken the view that a reasonably good number of nominations such as 100 or 1,000 or something of that order, would be far better because it would show a real commitment. Therefore I am not too keen about the amount of money that has to be put up as a deposit. I believe that many more names would carry more conviction.
I am slightly concerned also about the booklet election address. It seems to me that two sheets of A5 paper and a mugshot which has to be approved by the returning officer, will be a pretty sterile document, rather like a "Wanted" poster. It would be far better if the regulations were such that several sheets of paper which suited the candidate were sent out rather than stapled together in a booklet and the person in the booklet has some bearing on the poll. A far better way would have been to give provision for a more exciting document rather than a rather formal A5 booklet. The die is cast on this. The great thing is that not many people have taken advantage, as they may see it, of standing for the elected mayor.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome from the noble Baroness and for the slightly more grudging welcome from the noble Lord. As regards the question asked by the noble Baroness about varying the number of signatures and the amount of deposit required by reference to the nature of the local authority area in which the ballot is taking place, the £500 is for the individual. It is to deter the frivolous candidate. The figure of £500 is directed to the individual. It should not vary in terms of the size of the borough.
1246 We consulted about the number of signatures. The original proposal was for 10. As a result of the mixed consultation responses the figure was increased to 30. Nobody suggested a varying level of signatures. It seems to me that it would be much too fiddly to have a different number of signatures when one is talking of about 30. That seems to be a sensible way to deal with the matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, wanted no deposit and many signatures. Some balance has to be reached in that regard. I believe that a sensible ballot was conducted. He raised questions about the form of voting. Again, there has been a sensible compromise which ensures that support spread more widely across the parties or the electorate as a whole would be achieved as regards the winner of the mayoral election.
The noble Lord asked about the booklet. It seems to be a sensible provision, when one is dealing with a cross-borough election, to give all the candidates an opportunity to put their point of view in a freepost drop. Some balance has to be struck and it seems to be a sensible one.
§ Baroness Hanham
My Lords, may I ask about the London elections? I do not know whether the order will to extend to the next London elections. If so, it will be seriously out of kilter if it is still demanding a £10,000 deposit and 330 signatures. Is that now operated under different regulations or will this regulation cover all cases? I appreciate that there has been consultation on the numbers game. I knew that the Minister was going to say that. However, as I got in first, it seems to me that the Minister might have thought that it was a better idea. I do not want him to think that I think that mayoral elections are a good idea, because I do not.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, the order does not apply to the mayoral election in London. It applies only to mayoral elections under the Local Government Act 2000. The mayoral elections for London are dealt with under a separate Act.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock.