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Local Elections: Covid-19

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 11 February 2021

What safety measures his Department plans to take to help ensure the 2021 local elections can take place during the covid-19 outbreak. (912189)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) together.

In 2019, I think we all took for granted the ability to run election campaigns that could properly engage with the electorate. Campaigning for this year’s elections on 6 May will look very different, but now more than ever, there is a need to engage with our constituents. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that all those who stand for elections should be able to convey their messages to voters, and will he please elaborate on how he believes campaigning should go ahead in a covid-secure way?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: democracy should not be cancelled because of covid-19. The polls that are scheduled for May will go ahead, and it is important that he and others communicate with his constituents. Of course, social media provides one means of doing so. At the moment, door-to-door campaigning and leafleting are not allowed because of covid restrictions, but we will be reviewing how we can make sure that he and others can keep faith with the constituents who elected him so memorably just over a year ago.

The public will be expecting covid-safe and fair elections in May. Presently, households are receiving flyers for pizzas and takeaways delivered by individuals, but volunteers are not supposed to be delivering leaflets for political parties, although some are clearly ignoring that. In local elections, the public need representatives who will speak up for them and not for property developers such as the six leading Tory donors that have given £4.5 million, an increase of 400%, since July 2019. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster agree that if only paid-for leafleting were allowed, that would be a disastrous disservice to our democracy?

The hon. Gentleman makes a series of important points. It is quite right that some political activists have been leafleting on the ground in a way that current rules do not allow for, and we deprecate that across the House. His broader point is right as well, of course; we must make sure that our democratic processes are free from any taint of interference. He is also right that the role of property developers needs to be scrutinised when we are looking at how we clean up our politics, and I know that he will be as eager as I am to make sure that Unite the union does so as well.

The advice that came from the Government this week on local elections was welcome; however, the most innovative idea appeared to be to bring your own pencil to the polls, so I would like to ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster two specific questions.

The first is on the use of schools as polling stations. Many schools are having to use school halls for teaching, which would not normally have to happen. What support will the Government give local registration officers to find appropriate venues with appropriate ventilation?

The second question is on the issue of elections falling into different areas of the tiering system, which may well be in place by May. Might there be an unfair political advantage to one candidate if the restrictions were lesser in one area than another?

The hon. Lady raises two important questions. The first is with respect to schools. The Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), will be writing to local authorities and schools today, alongside Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to outline how schools can be used in a safe and appropriate way, but we are also making funding available to local authorities so that alternative venues other than schools can be used where appropriate.

The hon. Lady’s second point, relating to unfairness as a result of different restrictions perhaps occurring in different local government areas, is an important one, and one that we are taking into account as we plan for these local elections.