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Greater London Authority Elections (Election Addresses) (Amendment) Order 2008

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2008

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9 January be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this draft order makes minor but necessary changes to the Greater London Authority Elections (Election Addresses) Order 2003. Noble Lords will recall that the issue of the free mailshot was a topic of some controversy in the run-up to the first GLA elections in May 2000. At the time, the Government listened to the arguments of noble Lords and amended the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to provide, at the first GLA elections, for the publication and free delivery of a booklet containing all the election addresses prepared and submitted by the mayoral candidates.

Parliament also provided the Secretary of State with the power to make secondary legislation to make arrangements for the publication and delivery of candidates’ election addresses at future GLA elections. The Greater London Authority Elections (Election Addresses) Order 2003 was enacted in exercise of that power. The 2003 order made provision for the free delivery to electors of an election booklet containing election addresses of candidates at ordinary elections for the Mayor of London. The order also made miscellaneous provisions concerning the addresses and the election booklet, including provisions for deciding the order of the election addresses in the booklet and the candidates’ contribution towards the cost of printing and free delivery, using a universal service provider. Those provisions were based on the arrangements put in place for the first GLA elections held in May 2000. Those arrangements will remain in place.

The draft order makes minor but necessary amendments to the 2003 order in consequence of the enactment of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 and in the light of feedback from the Greater London returning officer on the operation of the 2003 order at the last elections held in 2004. The draft order will come into force the day after it is made, and when it comes into force it will give all interested parties including political parties, candidates, election agents and electorate administrators certainty about the arrangements that will apply for contents and distribution of election booklets in 2008.

The 2006 Act made provision entitling persons to apply to be registered anonymously if the inclusion of their name on the electoral register might compromise their safety. Articles 3 and 4 of the draft order will amend the 2003 order to ensure that those persons who anonymously registered will be entitled to receive an election booklet to enable them to make an informed choice when they go to the polling station or complete their postal ballot paper. The 2006 Act also made amendments to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 which enabled two or more parties to register joint descriptions for use by candidates of those parties. The Greater London Authority Elections Rules 2007 made provision permitting candidates in those elections to use joint descriptions in their nomination papers and for those descriptions to be included on the ballot papers.

The purpose of Articles 5 and 6 is to permit candidates to include a joint description in their election address. The purpose of Articles 7 and 8 is to provide certainty for the candidates at GLA elections by providing that candidates’ election addresses must be submitted by the close of nominations. The purpose of Article 9 is to make it clear that the GLRO may on request supply the election booklet containing candidates’ addresses in any electronic format. The GLRO may then decide which formats he will offer to electors closer to the time that the election booklet is produced. Importantly, that will not affect the right of all electors in the London area to be sent a hard copy of the booklet.

Noble Lords will wish to note that the London mayor, the London Assembly and the Electoral Commission have been consulted on the contents of this draft order. The Secretary of State has also consulted the London branch of the Association of Electoral Administrators. This draft order makes minor but necessary changes to the arrangements put in place by the Greater London Authority Elections (Election Addresses) Order 2003 in time for the GLA elections in May of this year. I commend the draft order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9 January be approved. 6th report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Bach.)

My Lords, I offer my apologies to the Minister and to the House—packed, as it is—for arriving late for this order. After all the time that I have been a Member of this House, I should have known that it is possible for the House to break for dinner business before 7.30 pm. It was only a fortuitous telephone call from our Whips’ office that encouraged me to come here at very great speed.

I thank the Minister for introducing the order. Like him, and from my perusal of the order, I can see nothing of any controversy in it. On such occasions I sometimes worry that, when the original parent Bill went through the House, it was one of the opposition parties that demanded that the delegated legislation should be made a matter for affirmative rather than negative resolution. In this case, if it was my party, I apologise; but I do not know whether that was the case.

I do not have any questions that need to be put to the Minister. I am only amused by Article 5, which talks about candidates of two or more parties putting together a joint manifesto. I can assure the noble Lord that I do not think that our candidate in the coming mayoral election, or any of our individual candidates for the Greater London Authority elections, will want to do a joint booklet with members of other parties.

My Lords, following the Government’s record this afternoon of losing votes on the previous measure, how delighted they must be that we seem to be unanimous in our support for this order. We on these Benches—well, me on this Bench—are happy that we are modernising, making these booklets available on the internet in an electronic form. It might help with the turnout when the mayoral election takes place. We welcome the order unreservedly. We hope that it fulfils a need and does what the Government hope it will do.

My Lords, I am very grateful to both noble Lords, not least for being fairly concise. I cannot resist reacting to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when he talks about his party not using joint descriptions in its nomination paper. I am glad that he informed me of that. After this afternoon’s events in the House, there was momentarily a suspicion that he and the noble Lord who sits on the Liberal Democrat Benches might want to do just that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at 7.29 pm.