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Police and Crime Commissioners

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

9. What recent estimate she has made of the cost to the public purse of the elections for police and crime commissioners in November 2012. (122208)

As the Government set out to the House during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and on a number of occasions since then, the elections will cost up to £75 million. That money will not come from funds that would otherwise have gone to police forces.

We already knew that the figure was £75 million; what the Minister did not say was how much extra, over and above that, the Government were going to spend on adverts to try desperately to get people out to vote in these unwanted elections in the middle of November. Why are the Government not holding the elections at a sensible time and spending the money on front-line police officers?

The elections may be unwanted by the right hon. Gentleman, although I suspect that they will be less unwanted by some of his Labour colleagues; at the last count, seven former Labour Ministers were standing in the PCC elections.

I am genuinely surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is so afraid of democracy. On the whole, during its history the Labour party has welcomed advances in democracy. It is a sad comment on the state of the modern Labour party that it should be frightened of democracy.

The PCC elections are a great opportunity to involve the public in policing priorities for the first time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Members on both sides should be getting behind the elections and raising awareness of them among their electors? If the Minister is near Birmingham on Saturday 27 October, I cordially invite him to join an action day that we are holding in the centre of Stourbridge, where he will be able to meet the candidate, Matt Bennett.

I am extremely grateful for that kind invitation. I will indeed be travelling around the country to take part in the campaign in various areas. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this is a chance for people to have a say in the policing of their local areas. The elections are the biggest advance in the democratic control of our police in a generation.

I welcome the Minister to his new post; I am sure that he will enjoy it.

One month away from what are flagship elections for the Government, let us reflect on where we are. More than 7 million people who do not have access to the internet will find it difficult to get information from the Government because of cost savings. Election organisation has been shambolic; parliamentary orders have been laid late, including orders on the Welsh language, driving down turnout and increasing costs. The Electoral Reform Society predicts the lowest turnout ever and the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), having stirred up apathy, has now jumped ship. What turnout does the Minister expect on 15 November and will he finally publish the cost to the taxpayer of this shambles?

I have answered the question about the cost to the taxpayer once, and the shadow Minister’s right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) made the point that we had answered it several times before.

On the first point about how difficult it is for those who do not have the internet to have access, I should say that one phone call will get them access. Anyone who phones the helpline can have all the information that is available on the internet—for the first time, information from every candidate—sent to them in hard copy. It is extremely easy for everyone to get hold of information about the election, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) will campaign alongside his hon. Friends, many of whom seem to take the elections a lot more seriously than he does.

If the turnout is as low as 15%, as some people predict, a winning candidate could well end up with less than 10% of the vote on the electoral roll. What mandate would such a commissioner have?

I am not going to predict the turnout, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the existing police authorities that the PCCs will replace have no democratic mandate at all, because not a single vote has ever been cast for a member of a police authority. The new arrangements are a significant step forward.