Motion to Approve
My Lords, I shall also speak to the Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Coronavirus, Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) Order in the same speech.
Perhaps I may say at the outset how much I look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Hannan, who will address us shortly. The instruments brought forward today make sensible provision to support the effective administration of elections. The mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections order amends the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007, the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012 and the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017. The purpose of the order, following representations made by my noble friend Lord Hayward and others, is to reduce the number of signatures required on a nomination paper for a candidate in the police and crime commissioner, combined authority and single authority mayoral elections. It is intended to reduce the need for person-to-person contact ahead of the May elections, given the specific context of the current pandemic. Similar provisions relating to local councillor and London mayoral elections have been made in a separate order.
In making these changes, we have taken the approach that the candidates should obtain subscribers on the basis of two per local authority area, whether for a poll within a single local authority or for electoral areas that contain a number of local authorities. Single local authority mayoral candidates must obtain signatures from two electors instead of 30; candidates for police and crime commissioner elections must obtain signatures from a number of electors which is twice the number of local authority areas within that police area. This is instead of the current requirement of 100 electors. For example, under the changes, for the Devon and Cornwall police area, which has 12 local authority areas, a candidate will need to obtain 24 signatures. Combined authority mayoral or so-called metro mayoral candidates must obtain signatures from a total number of electors that is twice the number of local authority areas within the boundary of the area. For example, the Liverpool City Region has six authorities, so the total number of signatures needed is 12. These signatures must be obtained from two electors registered to vote in each local authority area within the mayoral area. Currently, 100 electors in total are required at a combined authority mayoral election.
In making these changes, the Government have responded, after consultation, to the concerns of the electoral sector, candidates and political parties that the need to collect a high number of signatures for nominations for a candidate in some types of poll would encourage an unhelpful and unnecessary amount of interaction, as well as complexity for candidates. While it is essential that candidates in a poll can demonstrate a clear amount of local support, we must balance the importance of democracy with the need to protect people in these unique circumstances.
As I have explained, we are not removing the signature requirements completely. It is important that there should remain a democratic check and balance for candidates to demonstrate a degree of local support from electors in their area. These provisions will remain in force until 28 February 2022 to support candidates in any by-elections that may occur in the coming months as we emerge from the pandemic. The elections in May 2022 will automatically revert to the standard rules.
I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for drawing this to the attention of the House. The committee considered that there are some points where the drafting of the instrument and its Explanatory Note could have been clearer in certain respects. We welcome the views of the committee and are particularly interested to note its thoughts on how best to assist readers in understanding which provisions in an instrument will apply to different parts of the UK. We consider that the instrument takes a proportionate approach to a temporary rule change which has been introduced to reduce the number of face-to-face contacts required in the pandemic. I am gratified to see that the committee has agreed with the response of the Cabinet Office to its request for a memorandum has provided additional clarity.
We consider that it is clear from the context of the order itself when and to which elections it applies. However, in order to further aid clarity and certainty, we have published a note on GOV.UK on the order and its effect, particularly on the numbers of signatures required, and to assist candidates, their supporters and those administering elections. This includes tables that set out the number of subscribers needed for candidates standing at combined authority and London mayoral elections in England, and elections of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. As I have explained, these are polls where the election is for an area covering a number of local authority areas and the tables set out the total number of subscribers that candidates will need in these areas, and whether a specific number is required from each constituent authority or not.
I now turn to the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order 2021, which I hope will be welcomed by your Lordships. It introduces a set of prescribed forms and forms of words translated into Welsh in respect of the range of other forms already in use, in English, at PCC elections. These are in addition to the Welsh versions of the ballot paper and nomination form for candidates that are already provided.
The form and forms of words prescribed by this instrument are for use in any police and crime commissioner election that takes place in Wales. The Welsh forms in the instrument cover various stages in the electoral process and include poll cards issued to electors, the postal voting statement completed by postal voters, the declaration to be made by the companion of a voter with disabilities, guidance for voters and forms completed by candidates and their agents.
Some forms are in Welsh only and others are bilingual, in Welsh and English. The forms that are prescribed in Welsh and English—for example, poll cards and postal voting statements—are to be used in the bilingual form in place of the English versions. Forms that are prescribed in Welsh only—for example, the candidate’s consent to nomination form and the candidate’s declaration as to election expenses—are to be made available in Welsh where the person completing the form, such as the candidate, prefers to communicate in Welsh rather than English. The order also provides a Welsh version of the forms of words setting out guidance for voters that appears in polling station voting compartments. The effect of the order is that the form of words appropriate to the number of candidates will be displayed.
We have consulted the Electoral Commission on the orders, and it is supportive of both. We have also had support for the changes to the nominations process from the Association of Electoral Administrators and in discussions with political party representatives via the Parliamentary Parties Panel. We also shared a draft of the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order 2021 with the Welsh Language Advisory Group, the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and officials in the Welsh Government. There is broad support among these stakeholders for the proposed changes set out in these two instruments.
The question is that this Motion be agreed to. I should have made it clear at the beginning that the time limit for this debate is one and a half hours. The first debate is on the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order 2021, and one other Motion later.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, for his clear explanation. I too look forward to the maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hannan—although we have disagreed fundamentally on Europe and will doubtless continue to do so.
The draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order 2021 is not controversial, and I support it. The Government have made it clear that consultees have included the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators, political parties, the Welsh Language Advisory Group, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and officials in the Welsh Government. But has the noble Lord or any of his ministerial colleagues talked directly to Welsh Government Ministers? I ask because that has often not happened on other issues. What did the Welsh Language Advisory Group say specifically? Were any modifications or large changes made as a result of its feedback?
I realise that the order sets out Welsh language versions of certain forms, and certain forms of words, to be used at police and crime commissioner elections in Wales, not least because only Welsh versions of the ballot paper and the nomination form for candidates at PCC elections in Wales have so far been covered in legislation, and other forms have not. The changes in this order follow pressure from electoral officials in Wales and Welsh language groups to bring consistency with other elections held in Wales over such matters as poll cards, postal voting and arrangements for voters with disabilities, and to ensure that all forms and guidance notes are bilingual, in Welsh and English, which is very welcome. The practice at previous police and crime commissioner elections was for the forms and arrangements to be left to local Welsh returning officers, using powers in Article 85 of the 2012 order, supported by guidance from the Electoral Commission.
Turnout in these PCC elections has been very poor indeed. In 2012, turnout averaged just 15.1% across all 40 police areas in England and Wales, measured as valid first preference votes as a proportion of the electorate. There was a welcome rise in 2016 to 26.6%, but that is still a miserably low figure. Presumably, the Government have lumped them together with key English and Welsh elections in May, for example to the Senedd—the Welsh Parliament—and for the London Mayor, in order to increase turnout.
Although relations between the Welsh and UK Governments on the running of elections are generally constructive, the fact that the PCC elections are happening on the same day as the Senedd election is problematic. The Welsh Government would have preferred to consider all-postal voting or to have early voting centres for the Senedd elections, but these were effectively ruled out because the Cabinet Office would not agree to them for the PCC elections. Can the Minister please say why? Was it because, like Donald Trump, who also opposed such measures for early postal voting to encourage turnout during the pandemic, they actually do not want to make it easy for people to vote? Is that the reason? I hope not, because it was clearly Trump’s reason.
Welsh Ministers are also pretty staggered that the UK Government have decided to permit not just leafleting but canvassing in England at a time when the advice is still to stay at home. Is it not extraordinary that we are saying to people, “You can’t see your loved ones but if someone pops up on your doorstep from the Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties, or Plaid Cymru, please have a chinwag with them”?
To be fair, the Cabinet Office Minister, Chloe Smith, has made it clear that this change to the guidance is for England only and does not apply to PCC elections in Wales in respect of canvassing and so forth, since campaigning rules are part of the devolved responsibility for public health. But, surely, it remains perverse that in England you cannot see your loved ones but you can see a political party representative on your doorstep. Perhaps the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, could enlighten us all about that in his reply. In the meantime, I am happy to support this order.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has put before me a mirage of Trump-like volunteers wheeling wheelbarrows of votes for police and crime commissioner elections; I wait for the day.
I very much welcome this instrument. It has to be emphasised that the use of Welsh in government forms strengthens confidence in the general use of the language. The Welsh Language Advisory Group is doing a very good job and the use of Welsh is widening. I am currently on an excellent course in improving my language skills with students not just from the locality but from Swansea to Devizes, Manchester and Edinburgh; that is one of the joys of Zooming.
These forms are written in formal Welsh, possibly with a touch of tafodiaith y gogledd about them—I sincerely hope that they can be understood all right further down there. Of course, Welsh is not spoken everywhere in Wales and the bilingual forms are valuable. In my part of Wales, the response to the intervention of the police is more likely to be in robust Anglo-Saxon. My father recalled patrolling Town Hill in Wrexham as a young policeman, with a new recruit from a chapel-going, Welsh-speaking area further to the west. A local, tumbling out of the Vaults at closing time, started abusing them, Anglo-Saxon-wise. The new policeman took off his uniform jacket and handed it to my father, saying, in Welsh: “Here, Hywel, hang on to this. I’ve got my rights.” A fight broke out, with a crowd gathering around urging the local on while my father stood holding his mate’s coat. Those were the days of proper policing, before they invented those new-fangled police commissioners. History does not record what the magistrates said.
I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, on this topic. We shall certainly be looking forward to the results of the next police commissioner elections in north Wales, wheelbarrows of votes of not, with a better-informed electorate.
My Lords, it is a privilege to rise for the first time in this place among you. It can be somewhat unsettling arriving in the Palace of Westminster at the height of the lockdown and its associated restrictions. There are times, wandering down the empty corridors and seeing the black and yellow tape barring various entrances, when it feels almost post-apocalyptic, almost “28 Days Later”. But if the physical environment is necessarily sterile, the same cannot be said of the people. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of noble Lords on all Benches, who have always taken time to help a new Member.
The same is true of the permanent staff. It is not uncommon on these occasions to thank Black Rod and her excellent team, and rightly so. They have conducted themselves through these difficult times with exemplary briskness, efficiency and good cheer. Similarly, the doorkeepers are often rightly thanked on these occasions. Already, I have had more than once had occasion to be grateful to them for their good humour and their good sense. Perhaps your Lordships might indulge me if I thank a third group, less-often thanked: the canteen staff. There have been occasions when I have found the sheer weight of the lockdown and the emptiness almost oppressive. A sure cure to that mood is to be steered towards the rock cakes by the smiling canteen staff.
Allow me also to thank two noble friends who introduced me and whom I am truly proud to call friends—my noble friends Lord Leigh of Hurley and Lord Borwick, two immensely charming men whose characters are superficially different but who both have that sincere charm that rests on largeness of character, generosity of spirit and an unfeigned interest in other people.
I come here after 21 years in the European Parliament. I am one of many such on all Benches; I lost count at about a dozen. It is fair to say that I was a little bit less popular in that chamber than some of my noble friends and some of the noble Lords opposite who served in Brussels and Strasbourg. I had a dear friend, a French MEP, a terrific federalist and a great believer in a united states of Europe, who used to tease me by quoting the Book of Genesis. He would say: “You’re like Ishmael, you’re a wild man, every man’s hand against you and your hand against every man’s.” I am not sure that this was entirely true. Certainly I was in a minority in the European Parliament, but now, as that verse continues, dwelling among my brethren, like Ishmael, I look back and see that I have many friends, including great believers in a united states of Europe, with whom I have spent the past year Zooming disconsolately as we compare conditions in our various countries.
Throughout my time in Brussels, I saw my animating principle as being the diffusion, the decentralisation and the democratisation of power, which brings me to the debate before your Lordships today. I was given some advice before speaking. Somebody said that for your maiden speech you should pick an uncontroversial topic. He looked at me significantly, “You particularly, Hannan, should pick something uncontroversial.” I toyed with the idea of the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill, which we are due to debate next week. However, I felt that, in the current mood, that was too much of a hot-button issue and I did not want tempers to run high, so I have confined myself to the debate on today’s statutory instrument, which, as my noble friend the Minister ably set out, is about varying the number of signatures needed for police and crime commissioner candidates and about the use of the ancient, exquisite and euphonic Welsh language, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, reminds us, is part of the glory of all of us in these islands.
Pericles, treated so often as a guru by the Prime Minister, said that great issues can arise from small questions. The issue of maintaining and strengthening local democratic control of police strikes me as a very great issue indeed. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, pointed out, that turnout for police and crime commissioner elections has been disappointing. I feel the loss perhaps more than some in this Chamber, having been a very early advocate of the idea. In 2005, I wrote a book calling for what I then wanted to call sheriffs. I thought it great to revive the shrievalty as an institution. Eventually, in a very watered-down form, that idea took shape as policy.
I always quarrelled with the name “police and crime commissioner”. First, it is very boring. Secondly, it is technically inaccurate, making it sound as if you are the person in charge of the crime as well as in charge of the police. Thirdly, the commissioner is the opposite of an elected person, being someone who is given a commission. I took this question up with the then Police Minister, now my noble friend Lord Herbert. He said: “The trouble is, we focus-group tested it, and nobody liked ‘sheriff’. It sounded too American, too John Wayne—posses and stars and so on.” If that is true, what a sad comment it is on the ahistoricism of our country. Where on earth do people think that their cousins got the idea, the name and the institution from, if not from here?
I hope that with time we can strengthen the office, giving it not only more control over the police, but, ideally, the right to set local sentencing guidelines, while not interfering in particular cases. The answer to low turnout is to give more power and more meaning to the act of casting a vote in that election. As a general principle, we should strengthen and not weaken local democracy and local accountability. Perhaps this country’s proudest boast, the greatest gift that we have given to the happiness of mankind, is the idea that laws should not be passed, nor taxes raised, except by people who are answerable and that the people who pass and enforce the laws are in some way accountable to the people who are expected to obey them. That principle applies at local as well as national level. How to strengthen the police and crime commissioners—how to strengthen the shrievalty—is beyond the matter of this debate and well above my pay grade, but I hope that noble Lords will see an advantage nationally to us in trying to move towards greater local democracy and towards more purpose, meaning and honour in the act of casting a vote locally.
In many ways, your Lordships are the nation’s institutional memory. This Chamber is a repository for the accumulated constitutional wisdom of centuries. That imposes a commensurate obligation on us to keep intact and to improve where possible the freedoms that we were privileged to inherit and to pass them on securely to our children.
My Lords, we have just had a taste of eloquent things to come. It gives me great pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Hannan and to be the first to congratulate him on his maiden speech.
He is well known to your Lordships as one of the intellectual architects of Euroscepticism. He won the respect of his opponents but, to the dismay of many, he does not fit their cherished caricature of Eurosceptics as insular, Europhobic ignoramuses. Far from being insular, he was not even born on this island. Like Paddington Bear, he hails from darkest Peru, though I suspect that the London terminus via which young Daniel was dispatched to his schooling was not Paddington but Waterloo. He is not just the Waterloo bear of British politics, but a member of that little-recognised species—the Europhile Eurosceptic. He speaks Spanish as well as French, is steeped in European culture, and is a notable Shakespearean scholar.
He has reminded me that I first met him in the early 1990s at the Oxford Union, during the annual no confidence debate. I followed his rapid rise to fame in this country and then in Europe, where, as an MEP, he quixotically devoted 21 years of his life to extricating this country from the EU and doing himself out of a job. His abiding passion is freedom—the freedoms we invented in this country. I advise all noble Members to read How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters. It is about the freedom to govern ourselves and make our own laws—now largely achieved—and the freedom of trade as an engine of prosperity. I am sure he will make notable contributions on these issues in your Lordships’ House.
I turn to the statutory instrument. The whole purpose of elected commissioners was to strengthen links between our citizen police force and the public. Requiring candidates for this office to demonstrate a measure of public support by obtaining a spread of nominations is one aspect of that. It is understandable that, during the pandemic, this requirement has been curtailed. Once the pandemic is over, it is important that it be reinstated.
It is fair to say that the institution of elected commissioners has been slow to gather active public participation, though it is growing, but it is salutary to remember how remote and unaccountable police authorities—and watch committees before them—were to the public prior to these commissioners. The police authority typically consisted of nine councillors. They had been elected, but not for the specific task of representing the public in supervising the police force. There were also eight lay independent members, chosen by the authority itself from a list vetted by the Home Office. In my experience, the result was a committee which was almost entirely captured by the police force that it was intended to supervise, so the force set its own priorities rather than having the public’s priorities indicated to it. I recall the contemptuous way in which police authorities—in an echo of the police themselves—rejected public calls for more bobbies on the beat. They were unaware of the evidence from other Anglo-Saxon countries—or, when they were made aware, they rejected it—that bobbies on the beat, particularly if they patrol as individuals rather than in pairs and therefore have to talk to members of the public rather than to their colleagues, can be extremely effective both in garnering information and in deterring crime. As a result of the contempt with which that idea was held in professional areas and upheld by police authorities, police on the beat became as rare as cats’ teeth.
This was always brought home to be when reading PG Wodehouse—which I do several times a year. In almost every novel, the hero will go out into the street and hail the nearest bobby. Now he would have to wait for months or weeks to do so in this country. I hope that the result of police commissioners will be to bring to police forces an awareness that the public value their services so much that they would like to see more of them.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, on his maiden speech. I am sorry not to have been in the Chamber to enjoy it. I particularly welcome his warm words towards the Welsh language.
My contribution will be short, not least because some of the points have already been covered by the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Thomas of Gresford. As Plaid Cymru currently has two of Wales’s four police commissioners, I have a great interest in these matters.
I have two questions. The first is about the formulation of the Welsh language version. Can the Minister confirm that the wording which appears in the order has been run past precisely the same team as advised the Welsh Parliament on linguistic matters? From his introductory comments, I assume that this is the case, but I should be grateful for confirmation. I ask with a view to ensuring consistency in the usage of language—in particular, the treatment of gender. As colleagues may know—and some noble Lords participating today certainly do know—the Welsh language has gender-related nouns. Mutation is affected by the gender. In these days when we try to avoid unnecessary gender implications in texts which may relate to both males and females, we need to be particularly careful about this in the Welsh language formulation. My nose twitched in a couple of places in the text, but I shall be happy if those more academically knowledgeable than me on linguistic matters have given their blessing to the wording before us today.
Secondly, the Minister will be aware that elections to the Welsh Parliament will probably take place on the same day as the election of the police commissioners. Those parliamentary elections—and their regulations—are devolved to the Welsh Government and Parliament. The provisions made by the order to help certain groups cast their vote for police commissioners by means other than attending the voting booth may be different to the provisions made by the Welsh Parliament for its electoral purposes. With the two elections taking place on the same day, this could—at the very least—be confusing. How much co-ordination has there been between Westminster and Cardiff Bay to ensure that the two approaches are at least consistent, mutually compatible and not contradictory? I should appreciate the Minister’s response to both these points.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the orders. Having said that, we must never forget the years it took us all to get the Government to bring in satisfactory parity for the Welsh language. As a very young MP, I was entrusted by the Welsh parliamentary group to draw up a document—a review—so that we could persuade HMG of the need for parity. This was adopted word for word by Sir David Hughes Parry in his famous report.
I also want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, on his excellent, wide-ranging maiden speech. He was obviously making it for the second time, having already made it in the European Parliament. Like many of us, I had to do this in both Houses. I am sure it will come as a big relief to him that it is over, and I am sure we all look forward to his future contributions.
I shall detain the House for only a few moments. I want to ask one question about the publicity for polling arrangements. Having successfully fought 11 elections in Wales, I hope the House will agree that I have a little knowledge of polling arrangements and polling booths. I will not embarrass myself, or the House, by reciting my majorities, save to say that I am grateful to my constituents for their support over the years.
My practice, invariably, was to go around all the polling booths. My wife and I would start in the morning, visit two stations before breakfast, then proceed up the valley, visiting each one in turn, and then go back down to the seaside for the evening. It was expected of me, and I enjoyed it. You went there to thank the polling officers and your own telling officers. If I had not gone, it would have been a huge mistake, and I am glad that, over 41 years, I took that step. I must say in passing that I hardly ever saw any of my opponents, who must have had better things to do, in their minds. However, that was my duty and that is how I carried it out. In 41 years, I never came across any trouble in a polling station. We should endeavour to ensure that there are no mistakes and no disturbances this time.
The point I want to make is that since there is a change in eligibility for Senedd elections—that is the Senedd’s province—allowing those aged 16 and over to vote but, on the other hand, there is no change in eligibility for the police and crime commissioners’ elections on the same day—it remains at the normal voting age—I am concerned that there is no disturbance. What steps are the Government taking to publicise the difference in advance of the elections to avoid confusion and embarrassment? I ask this against the background of never having experienced a disturbance in a polling station; I just want to avoid young men and women experiencing embarrassment when they turn up and are told that they are entitled to vote in one election but not the other.
It is confusing. I realise how it has come about: one decision is down to the Welsh Government and the other is down to the Westminster Parliament. I hope that the Government will publicise this issue sufficiently to ensure that there is complete clarification on young people’s rights well in advance so that they know they have only one vote. That will avoid any difficulty or embarrassment, particularly for polling officers.
My Lords, I follow other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Hannan on an excellent maiden speech. I wish him well for all his future speeches, which will, I am sure, be as eloquent as his first.
In relation to the two orders before us, I am reminded that the first time I ever cast a vote was in Wales and bilingually: it was in favour of ending the ban on Sunday opening. I still recall the wording on the ballot paper in both English and Welsh but, given the facility of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others in the language, I will not attempt to produce what I believe was the Welsh phraseology.
As my noble friend Lord True said, this change arises from my efforts—I thank my noble friend for his comments about them—and those of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. It is significant that a proposal that enhances democracy in these difficult circumstances came from this House, not the other place. In my mind, there is no question that it would not have been sensible to require people to pursue a series of nominations by knocking on doors all over the place to get the relevant signatures. I also pay tribute to the officials and Sheridan Westlake at No. 10 for trying to frame the change to the legislation so that we get the appropriate procedures.
I note, as my noble friend Lord True pointed out, that this order expires in February 2022. There are those who would wish to see it end at that point; I would favour the continuation of the process beyond that date because what was originally intended with the requirement of 10 signatures has now disappeared in the mists of time.
I want to spend a moment congratulating the Government. The guidance issued by them is extremely well phrased and well guided. The clarification on how many signatures are necessary, in which local authorities and under what circumstances is very clear indeed; I hope that other government documents follow the same process. My one slight observation in relation to government documents is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, identified, the Government have issued The Government’s Approach to Elections and Referendums during COVID-19. There is no reference in it to the collection of nomination signatories; I wish that there had been.
Overall, I welcome the change and this statutory instrument. It has come about as a result of efforts from this House. I hope that, as a result of this and other changes in practice taking place between now and 6 May, the maximum number of people will feel able to participate in the elections, whether by post or in person.
My Lords, the Explanatory Memorandum for the 2012 order was prepared by the Home Office. It states that that SI
“prescribes bilingual (English and Welsh) versions of ballot papers to be used in Wales at Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 15 November 2012.”
It also states that the 2011 Act
“provides for the establishment of a directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner for every police area in England and Wales outside London. This Order is being made in exercise of the powers contained in the 2011 Act and the Welsh Language Act 1993 … This instrument applies to England and Wales … The Home Secretary has made the following statement regarding Human Rights: In my view the provisions of the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order 2012 are compatible with the Convention rights … In June 2010, the Government announced its intention to replace police authorities with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales by 2012 … English forms have already been prescribed in the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012 … under the same power in the 2011 Act but, as is usual practice, bilingual forms are being established separately by this Order … This Order does not apply to businesses, charities or voluntary bodies … The legislation does not apply to small business.”
I fully support the order.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, on his maiden speech. We very much look forward to his future contributions to the work of this House. I want to pick out one thing from his speech. He said that we need to give more meaning to the importance of casting a vote; I agree entirely with him on that.
I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I have nothing to add to the points made by earlier speakers this afternoon on the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order. However, I do wish to address the order being debated alongside it—the Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Coronavirus, Nomination of Candidates) (Amendment) Order—which is clearly sensible given the coronavirus pandemic and given similar decisions already made for other elections in May.
I want to put this order in context. When we discussed the West Yorkshire Combined Authority order in January, I referred to two matters, both of which remain highly relevant. One was the importance of scrutiny and the need to review how the new mayoral combined authorities have worked—that is, an assessment of how each is performing and what we can learn from their achievements or failures. When mayoral combined authorities were first introduced, their bespoke nature was understandable because it meant that different areas could take on powers and responsibilities that suited their local circumstances. From the perspective of the Government, it meant that further approaches to spreading power in England could be tested. That approach has proved valuable, but we need to review how more power and responsibility might be devolved from Whitehall and Westminster, and not just to those existing combined authorities. That could take place in the context of the promise by the Government of a White Paper on English devolution, which was due last year.
The Minister may also recall that, at the last election, the Conservative Party manifesto contained a commitment to a constitution, democracy and rights commission. I understand the reasons why these have not happened yet, given the pandemic, but perhaps the Minister might tell us what the Government’s plans are now.
The elections for police and crime commissioners, to which this order also applies, are the third set of elections since the introduction of the role and, as the Minister knows, there has been a consultation on police and crime commissioner powers recently. No doubt a number of proposals will arise from that in due course, but assessing the role of police and crime commissioners should not be done in isolation.
There are several issues of principle to consider. Should elected mayors have responsibility for policing or is that model too centralised? How should elected mayors and police and crime commissioners be held to account? London has an elected Assembly, but other parts of England do not. Is the police and crime commissioner model sufficiently resilient, and do police and crime panels succeed in holding police and crime commissioners to account? Do funding streams, divided between local government, mayors and police and crime commissioners, work as smoothly as they should? To what extent should governance of fire and rescue lie with police and crime commissioners?
There are many similar questions. In the past decade, we have seen a patchwork of new structures created. We have learned a lot from the many common approaches and the piloting of different approaches, but the time has come to try to review what has been achieved and what more should be done. This takes me back to the government plans for devolution in England and a constitutional commission. There would now be a benefit from the Government moving ahead with their White Paper on English devolution and saying more about their proposed commission.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest on the register as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As other noble Lords have, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, on his excellent maiden speech. I wish him well in his time in this House. We will probably not agree on a number of issues, but I look forward to getting to know him and taking part in debates with him on important issues, as we both want to see our United Kingdom prosper in the years ahead. Even if you do not agree with other noble Lords, you can and should have respect for colleagues and the positions they are taking and advancing, and seek to understand those positions. In my nearly 11 years in this House, I have enjoyed the ability to work across the House and parties, and with Cross-Bench and non-aligned Members, to come up with sensible solutions to the problems that the United Kingdom faces, which we need to address.
I was delighted to learn that the noble Lord is a Shakespearean scholar. I have a love of Shakespeare. When I was elected at Southwark Council, my first vote as a councillor was to get Shakespeare’s Globe started and built in Bankside in Southwark, the borough in which I grew up and from which I take my title.
I am happy to give my full support to the two orders before us. First on the Welsh forms order, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made valid points about the use of the Welsh language and ensuring that it develops and deepens in the community. The order adds to that aim, so I support it. We must always support all languages spoken in our islands. It is right, as the Explanatory Memorandum tells us, that the official forms for the police and crime commissioners are also provided in Welsh.
My noble friend Lord Hain made some valid points about the huge number of elections taking place on the same day across the United Kingdom. Like him, I would have preferred to see more consideration given to the use of all postal votes in some elections, as the Welsh Government suggested, but this has not been able to move forward and we are instead having elections as we are now, but it is important that we ensure that as many people as possible participate. The order seeks to ensure consistency with other elections held in Wales, which has its own discrete elections.
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, highlighted that the turnout at PCC elections is still too low and I very much agree. The noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, made the point that the name may not be right. I too am not convinced that “police and crime commissioner” is correct. We had many debates on that in this House, but I am also not sure that “sheriff” is right either. Sheriffs have judicial office in Scotland and there are still ceremonial sheriffs appointed throughout England and Wales, the most famous being the sheriff of Nottingham, an official appointed by Nottingham City Council. The noble Lord, Lord True, knows all about that; it is an important civic office there.
The second order before us sensibly reduces the number of subscribing electors who are required to sign a candidate’s nomination paper. Having acted as an election agent for the last 40 years, I am in favour of having as few names on the forms as practically possible. As the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, was saying, the proposal for signatures from 10 people is ideal. I support the order and hope, as he does, that we get to a more sensible number of electors rather than these large numbers.
It is important to recognise that the nomination process for these elections is safe, because it could put people at risk of exposure to and transmission of Covid-19, which we need to manage. Clearly the nomination process is part of that, so I fully endorse those points.
I also endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, about how important it is for people to go out and cast their votes. Because we had no elections last year, we will have enormous numbers of elections of very important bodies and parliaments. We want to ensure that people get out there, cast their votes and give us their verdicts on our parties and how things have been run, and put people in charge of the different institutions for the years ahead. I support the call for people to go out and vote in the elections.
I also very much endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about combined and mayoral authorities, because there is some confusion there: some mayoral candidates have police powers and others do not. The Government should look at that and be clear. I remember a comment once from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who is not in his place. He made the point that, living in Cambridgeshire, there were elections on everything—the parish council, the city council, the county council, the police and crime commissioner, the combined authority, and there is a new mayoral appointment there now. It was just a plethora of elections. We need to ensure that people understand who is in a position of power and how they relate to them. The Government should look at that carefully, but it is a matter for another day. I am happy to support both these orders and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken for the general welcome given to both these orders. I very much agree with the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, about the way in which things are best done in this House and our ability to reach across the aisle. He has always exemplified that and I will always try to live up to that standard.
It would be hard, however, to live up to the standard of speaking of my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, who we all welcomed to this House. I congratulate him on his impressive and thoughtful maiden speech. He touched on things that are important to all of us—at least, some are important to all of us, and some to some of us. As was said by another speaker, his affirmation of the importance of casting a vote—of getting people to use democracy, particularly local democracy—speaks volumes to someone who has spent a lot of their time working in local government; I think I speak for the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on this as well. Without going into specifics, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who also spoke eloquently about the importance of local democracy and devolution. I listened with interest to his remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannan, spoke of a belief in freedom. As a child of the 1960s, I believe that almost every question comes back to freedom. I used to say that to my children when they were five years old and wanted to go out and play; they did not always see the point. It was good to hear him here today. Sometimes, in the pre-Brexit days, when some of us on these Benches were in a minority, we occasionally listened out for and watched his speeches in another place, which were an encouragement in difficult times. I wish him well in this House. He has instantly gained the respect of noble Lords on all sides.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed. I was asked a number of questions. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, ingeniously got Donald Trump into the question of police commissioner elections. I do not think that in any of this the Government were looking any further than the interests of democracy in this country and the Welsh language. The noble Lord asked whether Welsh Ministers were consulted and what the feedback from Welsh language advisers was. The answer is that the Welsh Language Advisory Group is content with the proposed changes. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, also raised this point. No major changes were made as a result of the consultation with stakeholders, who overall were content with the changes that we made.
I confirm that Cabinet Office officials sought the views of officials in the Welsh Government on the Welsh forms order. It is appropriate that there is consultation and effective activity on technical matters between the different Administrations in this country at official level. For that kind of contact to take place in no way denigrates the importance of intra-Administration contact.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, also claimed that the Welsh Government were staggered, as he put it, that the UK Government were obstructing voting approaches. The conduct of elections in Wales is devolved. So far as the UK position is concerned, the Government in this time of Covid seek to ensure that people will have the opportunity to vote in the way that they wish to: by postal vote, by appointing a proxy or at a polling station. The UK Government do not think that changes to these mechanisms are needed. It would not have been possible to move to an all-postal vote without changing the voting process to remove the use of personal identifiers for security, which would open up the risk of fraud, or otherwise require them for every elector, which would run the risk that people would not provide them and so not be able to use a postal vote.
There will be three ways to vote in the UK: in person at a polling station, by postal vote or by proxy and these will all be available in 2021. We recognise that the pandemic may change people’s needs and preferences as to how they cast their vote. Guidance is available to enable voters to make their choice. The UK Government have always been clear that it would not be appropriate to impose an all-postal vote for the elections, as this increases fraud risk and removes choice from voters who wish to cast their vote in person.
We are seeking to put in place a strong set of new measures to ensure that the polls are Covid-secure. As for why campaigning is allowed when people still cannot see loved ones, this is highly regrettable but these are the circumstances that Covid requires. I look forward with passion to the day when I can see my granddaughter again. But campaigning is an essential part of democracy. Voters deserve to be well informed before going to the polls and there must be a level playing field for candidates. Careful guidance has been issued.
On the collection of nominations, the view is that people should follow social distancing rules, so no specific guidance has been given on that. All persons involved in the electoral process must ensure that public health is protected. The Government have issued appropriate guidance to that purpose and will continue to do so.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as I said, the Welsh Language Advisory Group was content with the proposed changes and translations and no major changes were made as a result. We have worked closely with our partners, including the Welsh Government, to support the delivery of Covid-secure polls in May 2021. I repeat, it is for the Welsh Government to take decisions around polls within their competence. We will continue to work with them to ensure an aligned approach to the polls.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, raised a particular and important issue and I undertake to write to him with guidance on how the circumstances that he described would be addressed.
There has not been major dissent and I am grateful for your Lordships’ support for the instruments today. I think most agree that they make sensible changes to support the effective administration of elections, reducing the number of signatures that candidates will need to be nominated, which balances the need to demonstrate local support for those wishing to stand as a candidate. I hear what some noble Lords said about the number of signatures. As I set out in my opening remarks, the previous position will come back in May 2022. I always found it rather congenial going around to get nomination signatures, because they occasionally came with a cup of coffee or even a glass of wine. I am sure we will listen to your Lordships’ advice on this matter.
To conclude, I very much welcome what has been said about the Welsh language. This order carries on a long process of work that goes way back. I remember working as a young adviser with Viscount Whitelaw in the days when the battle over Welsh language broadcasting was live. The work is never completed, but we are ensuring here that there is effective Welsh language provision at elections in Wales and consistency with other elections held in Wales. In a world that treks towards a drab uniformity of approved culture and thought, we should always cherish the richness of ancient cultures and language, among which the great Welsh language is pre-eminent. In that spirit, I commend the instruments to the House.