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Local Authorities: Voting Services

Volume 634: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2018

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that local authorities have sufficient resources to deliver an effective service for voters at elections. (903186)

Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, Mr Speaker, I hope that you will allow me briefly to thank and pay tribute to my predecessors in these roles, in particular my right hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Damian Green) and for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin). They have done great service for their constituents, this House and their country during their time in office and I want to put my thanks to them on the record. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for the work that they did in the Cabinet Office before moving on to other responsibilities.

The Electoral Commission’s report shows that, overall, the 2017 general election was successfully delivered by a committed community of electoral administrators. We work with the commission, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Association of Electoral Administrators to ensure that returning officers are effectively supported to run polls.

I thank the Minister for that response and welcome him to his new role. As well as the snap general election last year, my local authority of Rochdale Borough Council presided over the Greater Manchester Combined Authority mayoral elections, for which it received no central funding, which is surprising considering that one of the Mayor’s functions is to replace the police and crime commissioner’s role, which did receive central funding. What action will the Government take to help local authorities such as mine to deliver well-run elections for these new roles?

The responsibility of the Cabinet Office lies in reimbursing local authority returning officers for the costs incurred in the administration of national elections. The responsibility lies with local authorities for the costs arising out of local elections. Local authority resources will be more than £200 billion over the current spending review period, including real-terms increases for both 2018-19 and 2019-20.

May I be the first Member also from the 1992 intake to offer my right hon. Friend congratulations on his latest appointment? Is he aware of the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States, which has said that the boundary changes in North Carolina are unconstitutional and gerrymandering? Will he join me in praising the work of the boundary commissions—despite their appalling recommendations for Lichfield—for at least being transparent, quasi-judicial and non-partisan?

It has always been an accepted strength of our constitutional arrangements that we have a parliamentary boundary commission for each part of the United Kingdom that is wholly independent of party politics and party influence. I hope, therefore, that all parties in this House will rally behind the recommendations of the parliamentary boundary commissions.

On behalf of Opposition Front Benchers, I welcome the Minister to his new role.

The chair of the Electoral Commission has warned that our electoral system is facing a “perfect storm” due to funding pressures, and 43% of local authority election teams have experienced real-terms cuts since 2010. Will the Minister outline why the Government’s democratic engagement plan fails to address these concerns, and will he ensure that a full and comprehensive review of the delivery and funding of electoral services is implemented as a matter of urgency?

I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming me to my new responsibilities. I repeat to her what I said in my initial response: the Electoral Commission concluded that, although there were problems in a number of specified constituencies, overall the 2017 general election was successfully delivered. The Government are committed to strengthening our electoral processes. As part of that, we are planning to run pilot schemes in a number of local authorities later this year to test requirements for voters to present ID before voting. We will look seriously at recommendations to us from the Electoral Commission on these matters.