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Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017

Volume 778: debated on Thursday 26 January 2017

Combined Authorities (Mayors) (Filling of Vacancies) Order 2017

Motions to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, we move from the international to the local. The draft orders we are considering this afternoon, if approved and made, will provide the rules for the conduct of elections for directly elected mayors of combined authorities and the rules by which mayoral vacancies are to be declared, and the procedure for filling them through by-elections. They are essential to enable the first elections of combined authority mayors to take place in May 2017.

The two orders we are considering, if approved and made, will mark a further milestone in implementing agreed devolution deals to date. They are essential for ensuring that elections for the office of mayor can be conducted and any mid-term vacancies filled on a consistent and fair basis.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Government committed in their manifesto to implement devolution deals where there was local support and where such deals would result in benefit to local communities. These deals have been forthcoming. Devolution involves conferring significant powers and budgets on local areas that have agreed to have directly elected mayors, providing that essential single point of accountability for such major new powers.

I remind noble Lords that Parliament has approved, and we have made orders, establishing city region mayors in Greater Manchester, Liverpool city region, Sheffield city region, the West Midlands and the Tees Valley. Furthermore, orders creating such mayors in the west of England and for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been laid before Parliament to be considered. If approved, they will be in place in time for them to elect their first combined authority mayors in May. In all these cases, the councils have agreed and consented to having a directly elected mayor.

The orders provide first and foremost for the conduct of the elections for those mayors that will first take place in May this year. The rules will apply in those and subsequent elections. The second and smaller order provides for how vacancies in the mayoral office are to be handled should a vacancy arise following election. Both these orders have been debated in and consented to by the other place, with the vast majority in favour. This support reflects the vital nature of these orders to ensure that mayoral elections for combined authorities can go ahead in May.

Finally, for setting the wider context, orders that will confer devolved powers on these mayors once elected will come forward. The first such order was approved by Parliament before Christmas, devolving powers to the Greater Manchester mayor. Orders devolving powers to the west of England, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the Tees Valley are before Parliament. We will bring orders in the coming weeks for the Liverpool city region and the West Midlands. We will also lay further orders for the Tees Valley and Greater Manchester.

On the specifics of the orders, I emphasise that they should be seen in the context of the full body of electoral law governing local elections throughout England. These orders do not seek to make piecemeal changes to this wider body of law. The rules set out in the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order closely reflect the rules that apply to local authority elections, elections of local authority mayors and elections for police and crime commissioners.

The Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order makes detailed provision about the conduct of the elections for directly elected mayors of combined authorities. Although the order may seem bulky—running to some 151 pages—it is necessary to fully specify all the rules of these elections of combined authority mayors. This full specification of the rules is the approach we use for all other elections.

As I have said, these rules largely replicate the generality of election rules and apply them to the particular situation of combined authority mayors. Therefore, I simply highlight the four areas where special provision for combined authority mayors has been made, because the circumstances of these mayors is such that the standard rules could not appropriately be applied.

First, particular provision has been made for candidate deposits. These are the deposits that candidates must lodge and which are returned to the candidate if their share of the vote is more than 5%. The rules in the draft order provide that the deposit for a mayoral candidate is £5,000. This is the same amount as the deposit for candidates for police and crime commissioners. It is significantly greater than the £500 required for a local authority mayor. The difference reflects, and is commensurate with, both the larger size of the areas over which a combined authority mayor or police and crime commissioner will have jurisdiction and their level of responsibility.

Secondly, there is particular provision for nomination arrangements. This is the number of signatures that candidates are required to collect to be validly nominated for election. With this order, the requirement for candidates for election as combined authority mayors is to secure a minimum of 100 subscriptions—that is, signatures of electors. Moreover, at least 10 of these subscriptions must come from the area of each constituent council; in two-tier areas, from each district council within the area of the combined authority. In cases with more than 10 constituent authorities, candidates will still require at least 10 subscriptions from each area, and so in such a case will require more than 100 total subscriptions. This is a significant increase from the rule for local authority mayors, which requires candidates to secure 28 subscriptions. As with deposits, this increased requirement is commensurate with the increased constituency size and responsibilities of combined authority mayors. The requirement to obtain a number of subscriptions from each constituent area ensures that candidates secure support from the full range of areas, however diverse, within any combined authority. It would prevent for example, candidates being nominated who secure support, say, from one particular part of a combined authority area—perhaps the rural hinterland—but have no support in the urban core.

Thirdly, particular provision is made for candidate spending limits. This is the limit that restricts the amount candidates are able to spend on election expenses during the election campaign. For local authority mayors, candidates are limited to £2,362, plus 5.9p per registered elector in the local authority area. For a combined authority mayor, this limit is £2,362 per constituent council, plus 5.9p per registered elector within the combined authority area. This provision—with the majority of the funding being measured per capita— ensures that appropriate candidate spending limits are set across the range of mayoral combined authorities, which vary significantly in size. Total candidate spending limits under this provision also, when appropriately scaled for numbers of electors, align closely with the spending limit for candidates campaigning for election as Mayor of London.

Noble Lords will notice that all these candidate limits—for local authority mayors, combined authority mayors and Mayor of London—are lower than those for police and crime commissioner elections. This is because candidates for police and crime commissioner will need to spend more in order to communicate directly with the electorate, since in these elections there is no requirement on the returning officer to prepare an election address booklet covering all candidates to be delivered to all electors at no cost to the candidates.

Fourthly, this order allows for the creation of a combined authority returning officer—or CARO—to be appointed by the combined authority. This is similar to the provision creating a police area returning officer—or PARO—for police and crime commissioner elections, and ensures that there is an appropriate individual appointed to oversee the election as a whole.

It should be understood that in both of these roles, the respective returning officers are personally responsible for publishing the notice of elections, administering the nomination process, ensuring that candidates comply with the requirements regarding the content of their election addresses, collating and calculating the number of votes given for each candidate, calculating the result and declaring the result. It is therefore highly important that this role is carried out by a competent individual.

Turning to the Combined Authorities (Mayors) (Filling of Vacancies) Order 2017, this smaller order is necessary to establish the rules by which vacancies are declared in the office of combined authority mayor, and the procedure for filling these vacancies through by-elections. They follow exactly the procedures adopted for other types of local authority. Noble Lords will understand that these provisions are required to be in place in advance of the election of combined authority mayors in May 2017 to ensure that any subsequent vacancies can be appropriately and consistently dealt with.

In conclusion, the draft orders we are considering today are vital to ensure that the democratic elections to these important offices can first take place in May 2017, and that associated arrangements are in place in good time should any mid-term vacancies occur. It is these detailed rules set out in the orders before us today that provide the strong legal framework for these elections. It is such a framework that ensures that all can have confidence that the elections have been fairly conducted and that the outcome of the poll genuinely reflects the democratic wish of local electors. I commend both draft orders to the House.

My Lords, I welcome the discussion of these orders. I remind the House of my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association. I seek clarification on two points in one of the orders, because, broadly speaking, most of what is proposed is not contentious for us.

I have a question about the combination of polls, and my query lies with paragraphs 8.7 and 8.10 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The memorandum says, rightly, that when you combine polls, that produces cost savings. Given that this is a new election, can the mayoral elections be held on the same day as a general election? In other words, might we end up with three elections on one day? I note the following words in paragraph 8.10:

“Government is confident that electoral administrators will be able to effectively administer combined authority mayoral elections and other polls that they may be combined with”.

That says that the Government are confident, but what evidence were they given by electoral administrators? Running three elections at once is clearly more complicated than running two.

My second question relates to the election booklet that the Minister referred to. Is it the intention to distribute that election booklet alongside poll cards? Clearly, if it is a single process, that will reduce costs at a time when local authorities are having great difficulty in balancing their budgets. Having to pay for two separate distributions will be more expensive and unwieldy than if both are delivered together.

My Lords, I refer the House to my declaration of interests—specifically, that I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

As we have been told, the orders before us today, if approved, will provide the framework and rules for the conduct of elections for directly elected mayors of combined authorities, specifically for the elections taking place in May this year. The second order, as we have heard, deals with the process of addressing vacancies in the office of mayor and sets out how those will be dealt with. I am happy to support both orders before the House this afternoon.

I note that the first order contains matters such as the spending limits and the formula to calculate those limits, the number of voters needed to sign a nomination paper to make it a valid nomination, and other administrative matters which are quite normal for elections.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has raised a couple of points and I shall be interested to hear the reply from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. However, he may be pleased to learn that in fact I have no questions for him in respect of either order and am content to approve both.

It is very good that the noble Lord has no questions for me; it gives me more time in which to answer the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I welcome the general approval of the orders that have been laid before us.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is right to say that you can have more than one election on one day. Indeed, when I fought three general elections, they were held on the same days as the county council elections in Hampshire. In England, it is common for more than one poll to be held on the same day. As the noble Lord said, this helps to enhance voter turnout and produces cost savings.

However, there could be an issue in 2020, given the number of polls scheduled to take place. We will have a UK parliamentary general election, police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales, Greater London Authority elections, local government elections in England, local authority mayoral elections in England and elections for mayors of combined authorities. I think that the number of polls scheduled to take place in 2020 raises issues for electoral administrators and administrative processes. We will consult the Electoral Commission, local authorities and administrators to make sure that there are no difficulties when we reach that date, and of course we have some time in which to plan.

The suggestion of combining the poll cards with the election addresses in one delivery seems to me to be common sense, if it can be done; I do not know whether the dates coincide. We have just had some in-flight refuelling—I have been handed a note to say that the precise timing of the distribution of booklets will be for the returning officer, the CARO. However, I take the point, and will pass it on, that there may be some economy if the poll cards and election addresses could be combined in the same delivery.

Motions agreed.