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Police and Crime Commissioners

Volume 740: debated on Monday 5 November 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what guidance is being given to electors for the election of police and crime commissioners who have not received election communications from the candidates in their constituencies.

My Lords, information about every candidate is published online and can be delivered in written form to anyone who wants it. Details of our website and how to request paper copies are on every voter’s poll card. Furthermore, every household has received information about the elections from the Electoral Commission. Knowing my noble friend’s particular interest, the website and the booklets are bilingual in Wales, as are the ballot papers.

I appreciate part of the Minister’s Answer. However, would he not agree with me that universal suffrage is the cornerstone of democracy, where every candidate has equal access to every elector? In this election we have no free post for candidates so only the wealthy can hope to pay their own postage to reach the electors. Millions of people are not online. Does the Minister not agree that this election is totally undemocratic and the result could be open to legal question?

My noble friend’s supplementary question was in two parts. I endorse all that he had to say about democracy. However, on the second point, I would have to say to him that there is no such thing as a free mail shot. It would have cost more than £30 million to have provided free post for all candidates. As I said in my original Answer to him, individual candidates have equal access to the Home Office website. That address is available on every poll card. Anybody who does not have access to the internet can get hard copies delivered to them if they wish. It may interest noble Lords to know that the website has received more than 1 million hits since it went up and more than 100,000 hard copies have been posted.

My Lords, those figures are derisory compared with the size of the electorate. Is it too late to do something about this?

Noble Lords will know that we are capable in this House of a certain amount of last-minute legislation but I think that it is too late for this election. My noble friend and I have homes in the same county. He will know that local television and newspapers are covering this election strongly. Here in the metropolis there are no elections and it may seem to those who are based here that there is not much going on. But I assure noble Lords that this election is a very live issue in the provinces.

My Lords, is not one group of electors particularly disadvantaged in this election? I refer to those who are Welsh speaking. What progress are the Government making in answer to the excellent points raised by my noble friend Lord Touhig?

The website is bilingual in Wales. All the forms for the election are bilingual and the ballot papers are bilingual. I hope that that shows our proper respect for the Welsh language.

My Lords, is there a level below which the number of people voting would make the result invalid?

My Lords, this is a very brave experiment in democracy. When the Bill was going through this House, Ministers told us that we should not criticise the cost of these changes in governance because you could not put a price on democracy. Surely, the Minister has done just that. He said that the extra £30 million for ensuring that every elector knows who the candidates are and what they stand for simply cannot be afforded. Can he tell us how much the other changes to governance with regard to police forces have cost and why he thinks that the extra £30 million is not a proper investment in effective democracy?

I thank the noble Lord. Of course, £30 million is a significant sum. This election has given us an opportunity to show that it is possible to communicate with electors in different ways. I have given noble Lords the figures: 1 million hits on the website is not an insignificant number and 100,000 requests for printed forms is not a modest number. I believe that the Government have done the right thing in this way. I hope that all noble Lords will see this as an opportunity to bring democracy into police governance in a way that has not existed before and that they will support their favoured candidates for these elections.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I received a bilingual address from the Conservative candidate but not from the Labour candidate and I have cast my vote accordingly?

My Lords, for a moment when the noble Lord referred to late legislation, I thought that the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill was being withdrawn to have new legislation on this but unfortunately he has not agreed with us on that point. Perhaps I may ask two questions. First, is he satisfied that the level of public awareness of and interest in these elections is adequate at this stage? Secondly, he will have seen the reports of shockingly low police morale. Does he think that this flagship policy on police from the Government has improved police morale, made it worse or made no difference?

My answer to the second part of that question is that I am certain that it will have done. It has focused public attention on the police as an institution in a way that has not existed before. It has made it quite clear that the services of those who work in the police service are valued. Indeed, people will be voting for the police and crime commissioner who will be responsible for the governance of police in local areas. I am sorry but I have forgotten the first part of the noble Baroness’s question. Perhaps she would not mind repeating it.

I asked whether the Minister was satisfied with the level of public awareness of and interest in these elections.

I think that I have given that answer already. The poll conducted showed that 85% of the people who were eligible to vote in these elections were aware that they were taking place. I am satisfied. It is up to those of us engaged in democracy to get involved with making sure that these elections return good candidates to do the task that is set before them. It is an important job and it will make a lot of difference to policing in this country.