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Police and Crime Commissioners

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report issued by the Electoral Commission on 15 March on the election of police and crime commissioners.

My Lords, the Government recently completed a consultation with the Electoral Commission and others, which included consideration of how the public can receive information about police and crime commissioner candidates. We are looking at options, and in reaching a decision an important consideration will be ensuring that members of the public can gain access to information by a range of means.

My Lords, the elections are in November. Will the noble Baroness say why so far the Home Secretary has turned down requests for the funding of election materials for distribution by candidates, which is directly contrary to the practice both for MPs and for elected mayors? Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Government’s intention is to see a low turnout in the elections?

My Lords, election addresses are an important and routine part of the election process. The Home Office proposes a cost-effective way of distributing election addresses for PCC candidates. As the noble Lord will know, election addresses are not the only form of communication that takes place during a campaign. The Electoral Commission is responsible for raising awareness of the election. The Government will make sure that the policy of the creation of PCCs is widely known—as it is already. The candidates must take responsibility for communicating their messages through their campaigns.

My Lords, I declare my registered interests, which are police-related. Does the Minister share my concern that it seems increasingly likely that the only candidates who will succeed in November will be party-political nominees or personalities who are already household names, and that the flaws exposed by the Electoral Commission will deter talented, independent candidates from standing—or will ensure that, if they do stand, they will be frozen out by the process?

No, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s proposition. The system of election is open. Some high-profile candidates have come forward, including at least one Member of your Lordships’ House. There are also independent candidates who are expressing an interest in putting themselves forward for this important role. It is encouraging how many people are embracing what will be a new and very radical way of increasing public accountability and encouraging a relationship between people and the police.

Does my noble friend take some encouragement from the fact that people from both Houses of Parliament have expressed an interest in standing and that several independent candidates are now emerging? That is to be welcomed. Does she see that as a vindication, because although there was a lot of opposition to police and crime commissioners when the Bill went through, a great many people, including in this House, now believe that it is a job worth doing?

I agree. Indeed, I am delighted that, after such fierce opposition to elected police and crime commissioners, senior Labour politicians are now embracing this opportunity to increase public accountability. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, put it as clearly as I can when he said in some of his recent media interviews:

“The public should have much more of a say in determining the force’s priorities and responsibilities”,


“That’s never been done before. That’s quite a radical reform”.

My Lords, this is a scandalous decision to deny 7 million people, according to the Electoral Commission, the right to vote simply because they do not have access to the website. In my area, Humberside, where I may well have an interest in the future that I perhaps should declare, that will mean 170,000 people, mostly elderly, will be denied their democratic right to information about the candidates. Will the Minister tell me why there appears to be two departmental positions? In the same elections, department for employment says that it will finance the mayor and exercise all democratic right to information, but then the Home Office comes along and says, “No, we will not fundamentally say that”. What is the Government’s position when there are two different departments in the same election denying democratic rights?

The Government are not denying anybody a democratic right. We are putting forward a proposal that will allow clear and effective communication by candidates via a website, together with a national helpline that will be well advertised and made available to people so that they can ring up and request the information on paper as well as being able to access it electronically. We think this is a cost-effective way. I am sure somebody as experienced as the noble Lord will know that election addresses, while important, are not what will secure success for any candidate. It is for the candidates themselves to ensure that they communicate very effectively to the electorate.