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Local Government

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

We want to see a modern, efficient and secure electoral system, so that voting for all electors is as convenient and as straightforward as possible. In 2009 many electors are due to vote on two separate occasions within a space of four weeks, firstly in local council elections on 7 May, and secondly for the European Parliament on 4 June.

Accordingly, I am today publishing a consultation document inviting views on whether or not we should, subject to parliamentary approval, move the date of the English local elections from Thursday 7 May 2009 to Thursday 4 June 2009, the same day as the European parliamentary election. This consultation meets the statutory requirement set out in section 60 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which makes provision for the Secretary of State by Order to make such a change in the local election date.

In launching this consultation we have had regard to the experience in 2004 when local and European parliamentary elections were held on the same date. The turnout at those European elections was significantly higher than in previous years, up from 24 per cent. in 1999 to 38.5 per cent. We have also had regard to the Electoral Commission’s conclusions in 2004 that the combination of the elections was an important factor in the improved turnout. It commented that before the next European parliamentary elections in 2009 further consideration would need to be given to the potential impact of the combination of elections.

In particular we are seeking views on:

whether the local elections in 2009 should be moved from 7 May to 4 June, so that they are held on the same day as the European parliamentary elections;

whether, if we move the elections to principal authorities, we should also move the date of parish council elections where they are scheduled to take place on 7 May 2009;

what practical issues may arise as a result of combining local (and where applicable, parish) elections with the European parliamentary elections; and

what action could be taken to address these practical issues - whether by local authorities, Government or the Electoral Commission.

I have placed copies of the consultation document in the Library of the House and it is also available on the departmental website. The consultation period ends on 11 August 2008. Under the 2007 Act, any Order to move the local elections in 2009 must be approved by parliament and made by 7 November 2008.