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Electoral Commission committee

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 26 April 2012

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Police and Crime Commissioners

3. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of arrangements for the elections for police and crime commissioners in November 2012. (105434)

On 15 March, the Electoral Commission submitted its response to the Home Office consultation on the draft statutory instruments for police and crime commissioner elections. A copy of the response has been placed in the Library of the House of Commons. The commission’s main concern is the Government’s proposal to create a website to host information from candidates. It believes that this is not the most effective way of ensuring that all voters, especially those who do not have regular internet access, know about the candidates standing in their areas. The commission also made a number of other recommendations to ensure that the elections are well run.

Harlow residents are hugely excited about these elections, not least because Essex Conservatives are encouraging any resident to apply to be our candidate if they are up to the job. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Electoral Commission will help candidates with leaflets and in other ways, rather than be a bureaucratic hindrance?

As we have learned to know in this House, where Harlow leads, others will follow. 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.

Is there anything that the Electoral Commission can do to provide that information if it is not possible to get the Government to change their mind about the leaflets and a free post to every household?

It is certainly not the job of the Electoral Commission to fund a free mail-out on behalf of candidates, but what it will do as part of its £3.6 million awareness campaign is to ensure that a booklet goes to every household in the 41 areas where these referendums are taking place to inform people about the elections, and it will include a reference to the Government website.

House of Lords Reform (Referendum)

4. Whether the Electoral Commission has had any discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister on a referendum on the Government's proposed reform of the House of Lords. (105435)

The Electoral Commission has had no such discussions. If there should be a referendum on House of Lords reform, the commission’s priorities are that any referendum should be well run in every part of the UK, and that the questions put to the voters should be intelligible and unbiased.

Given the effective and efficient way in which the Electoral Commission oversaw the referendum on the alternative vote system last year, does he agree that the commission is indeed well equipped to handle a referendum on the House of Lords or, indeed, any other matter of momentous constitutional change?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is, of course, a matter for this Parliament whether or not there will be a referendum on House of Lords reform. When it comes to it, the Electoral Commission will do all it can to ensure that the success of the alternative vote referendum last year is replicated. I am not necessarily talking about the outcome of the referendum—although I am really—but about it being well run and about the question put to voters being clear and unbiased.

In possible discussions between the Electoral Commission and the Deputy Prime Minister, will the point come up that any election to the House of Lords will rebalance the powers between this House and that House—a constitutional matter that I submit should become automatically liable to a referendum for popular approval?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I am afraid that it is not a matter for the Electoral Commission.

Voter Registration

5. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the effectiveness of its recent campaign to increase voter registration. (105436)

The Electoral Commission’s recent campaign was targeted at audiences, including home movers, individuals from black and minority ethnic communities, students and service voters. The full evaluation of this year’s campaign will be made available in the summer, but initial indications are that during this campaign, there were more than 500,000 visits to the commission’s “About My Vote” website and more than 100,000 registration forms were ordered or downloaded.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I think the adverts were excellent. What role, however, does the Electoral Commission have in ensuring that electoral registration officers play their part in making sure that people who cannot easily be reached are able to register?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although we have all seen the Electoral Commission’s TV adverts encouraging people to register to vote, it is the day-to-day task of electoral registration officers in each locality to maximise voter registration. Performance can be patchy, and the Electoral Commission is working with the poorest performing EROs to try to support them in doing a better job.