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Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2019

Volume 795: debated on Thursday 14 February 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, in moving this order I shall also speak to the draft Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019.

The order and regulations make changes to the rules governing the conduct of elections of combined authority mayors and local mayors in England. The instruments also make important changes to the electoral framework in relation to candidates standing at these polls. They remove the existing requirement that each candidate’s home address must be published during the election process and be included on the ballot paper at elections of combined authority mayors and local mayors. These changes are designed to enhance the security of candidates standing at these polls and of their families, and to deliver commitments made by the Government in response to recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

I should explain that these are two of four instruments that we have brought forward on this issue. In December 2018, we made two statutory instruments that implement the recommendation made by the CSPL in relation to candidates at local government and parish council elections. Electoral law provides that these statutory instruments are made under the negative resolution procedure, and they are therefore not required to be debated in Parliament before being made. This reflects the requirement that the rules for local government and parish council elections are to follow those for UK parliamentary elections. These orders are laid under the affirmative procedure.

Since 2010, candidates at UK parliamentary elections have been able to choose for their home address not to be made public at these polls. The changes we are making in the four instruments that relate to local and parish council elections and to combined authority and local mayoral elections will bring the procedure at these polls into line with that at UK parliamentary elections.

By way of background, in December 2017, the CSPL published its report, Intimidation in Public Life: A Review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It made a package of recommendations on ways to enhance the security of those wanting to take part in public life and to reduce the risk of intimidation. This included the recommendation that:

“The Government should bring forward legislation to remove the requirement for candidates standing as local councillors to have their home addresses published on the ballot paper”.

In responding to the CSPL report, the Government accepted this recommendation in relation to local councillors. Indeed, they went further in their response and stated that the practice of removing the requirement for home addresses to be published on the ballot paper should be applied equally to all those standing for election to public office, and should apply to those standing at any level of local authority elections, including for mayoral positions. We are therefore going beyond the CSPL’s report in taking action on this important issue.

As I indicated, in December last year, we made two statutory instruments that implement the recommendation made by the CSPL in relation to candidates at local government and parish council elections. The two instruments we are considering today will apply the changes to the elections of combined authority mayors and local mayors.

The CSPL heard from a number of individuals that the requirement for candidates standing for election as local councillors to publish their home address on the ballot paper has been a significant factor in enabling intimidatory behaviour, and would put people off standing as a council candidate due to that risk of intimidation. A number of former local election candidates stated that the disclosure of their home address enabled intimidatory behaviour to escalate when they subsequently stood as a parliamentary candidate. These personal accounts reinforce the need to take action to address this issue.

I turn briefly to the detail of the proposed changes. Currently, candidates standing at combined authority and local mayoral elections are required to give their home address, which will appear on certain election documents and the ballot paper. The only exception to these existing requirements is for persons standing at combined authority mayoral elections where the mayor will have police and crime commissioner functions. These candidates may already require that their home address is not made public. Under the proposed changes, candidates at any combined authority mayoral election and at all local mayoral elections will not be required to provide their home address on the nomination form or consent to nomination form. In future, candidates at these polls will be required to complete a home address form and to include their home address on it. Candidates will be able to choose that their home address is not made public and so not included on the ballot paper or other electoral documents.

We recognise that we need to strike a balance between transparency of the electoral process and the safety of candidates running for public office. We think it is important for electors to know whether a candidate lives locally and whether they have a link to the area in which they are standing for election. For this reason, under the proposed changes, if a candidate chooses not to make their home address public, they must state the name of the local authority area within which they live; this will appear on the ballot paper, the statement of persons nominated and the notice of poll for the election, instead of the candidate’s home address. Again, we are mindful of the need to ensure that there is openness in the electoral process. We are therefore providing that the home address forms will be available for inspection by certain authorised people, including other candidates standing at the poll.

We have consulted on the two mayoral instruments with the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. We have also kept the Parliamentary Parties Panel—which is made up of representatives of the main political parties—informed of the position of the two instruments. There is broad support among stakeholders for the proposed changes.

On a final point, I highlight that it is important that the instruments are in place as soon as possible so that they can apply at the local government elections in England on 2 May. These instruments will therefore come into force on the day after they are made. The instruments presented before the House today make sensible and fair changes to the electoral framework. I commend them to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these orders. I am supportive of them. They bring the regulations into line with the election of police and crime commissioners and of Members of Parliament. They also respond to the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It will of course be a voluntary matter and, where an individual candidate makes a decision not to show their home address on the ballot paper, it is right that the local authority area they live in is shown on the ballot paper to assist voters.

It is a finely balanced issue but a decision to allow candidates for the mayoral election not to publish their home address seems justified by the evidence, as long as a candidate whose home address is not shown has their local authority area published on the ballot paper, the statement of persons nominated and the notice of poll. I emphasise to the Minister that my comments relate to mayoral elections, which cover large geographical areas. We will need to look more closely at the precise regulations for local councillors, who have a much more local focus, but that is for another occasion.

My Lords, it is unfortunate that we are having to move progressively to electoral arrangements in the United Kingdom where candidates’ more personal details, such as their address, are not made available publicly. It seems that we are pursuing the need for security at a cost to transparency, and that has wider implications in all sorts of other areas.

I want to flag up two associated issues. I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats did not come in on one of them: the supplementary vote, which I will now move on to. Why can we not extend the supplementary vote to parish councils? It has been successfully deployed in mayoral elections; any analysis of results under the supplementary vote over recent years shows how successful it has been. Perhaps Ministers might still consider it for the future.

Then there is the question of candidate declarations. We are removing the need for candidates to indicate where they live—albeit not altogether, in that they may publish the area where they live rather than their individual address—but there is an argument for financial declarations by candidates prior to election. It has always struck me that there is far more opportunity for abuse in local government than in Parliament. We often hear of cases at a local level where people have sailed close to the line but within the rules. It may be that pre-election financial declarations are a way of dealing with this problem. I have flagged it up before and got nowhere, but I shall no doubt persist well into the future.

My Lords, I am very happy to support the instruments we are discussing today. It is right to bring all these matters into line. The security of candidates is an important consideration, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. It is right to do this but, equally, it is regrettable that we have to balance the safety and security of candidates against the issues of openness and transparency. That is a terrible shame, but we live in times when candidates can be abused and treated improperly, so we need to give them the option of not publishing their address on the ballot paper. However, it is regrettable in many ways.

I fully support the instruments in front of us today. Of course, there is one other group of people to consider. The order says that, if you want, your address can be removed from the ballot paper. But when people get elected to the council, they often find that their name, address and telephone number get stuck on the council website. In present times, I am not convinced that we should do that. If people want to get hold of their local councillor, they should contact them at the town hall. Sometimes councils make decisions that people do not like, and making people’s personal details available may mean that we are exposing them to risks in a way we should not. Obviously that is not for today; it is a discussion for another time, but I think we should look at that as well. I am very happy to support the instruments before us.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and for their support for the Motions we are bringing forward.

As I said, the background is a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We have already extended this facility to a large number of people who are standing for election, and the relatively modest Motions before us simply extend that facility on a voluntary basis to those standing for combined authority and local mayoral elections. As a number of noble Lords said, we do not want people to be discouraged from putting themselves forward for public office due to fear of intimidation; there has been some evidence of publicly elected people being subjected to intimidation. That is why we are doing it. However, I understand the point made in this debate that it is a matter of regret that we need to do so.

On the specific questions, as far as I am aware, we have no plans to revisit the voting procedures at local or parish council elections. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, suggested that before you stand for public office there should be some pre-election financial declaration. The Committee on Standards in Public Life might look at that in the first instance; it seems to fall within its remit, rather than being something for the Government to initiate.

On the final point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, it is for individual local authorities to decide what information they put on their websites about individual councillors. I hope that they would consult local councillors before putting their home address and telephone number on a website, and that they would not do that automatically. However, I imagine this is a matter best decided by local authorities, and I am sure they will have taken on board the point the noble Lord made. With those brief points, I commend these instruments to the House.

Motion agreed.