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Returning Officer Indemnities

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

For the purposes of police and crime commissioner and UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions, returning officers and petition officers are statutorily independent officers and are separate from both central and local government. As a result, they are personally liable for the conduct of the elections. It is therefore necessary for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to indemnify police area returning officers and local returning officers in England and Wales against uninsured claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in PCC elections. It is also necessary to indemnify returning officers or acting returning officers in England, Scotland and Wales against uninsured claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties during UK parliamentary elections and petition officers in respect of recall petitions.

Local authority officers acting in the role of returning officer and similar statutorily independent offices when running polls have traditionally had arrangements which insure them against any risks they face in taking forward their statutory duties at local elections and which may also cover UK parliamentary elections. The cover obtained usually forms part of the local authority’s own insurance arrangements. While this insurance may also cover some risks to which the returning officers and petition officers may be exposed at PCC and UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions, they could be liable for claims of a type not covered by those insurance policies. They could also be liable for claims that exceed the insurance limits in their existing cover. Hence the Government have provided an indemnity to ensure they have effective cover and which can be called on where insurance is not available or inadequate.

The existing indemnities for PCC and UK parliamentary elections run out on 1 May 2024. The existing indemnity for recall petitions runs out on 6 May 2024. Considering this, DLUHC proposes to continue to provide police area returning officers and local returning officers with a specific indemnity for the forthcoming PCC elections on 2 May 2024. Separate indemnities will also continue to be provided for returning officers and acting returning officers at UK parliamentary elections and petition officers in relation to recall petitions. The indemnities for PCC, UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions will indemnify against claims that arise out of the conduct of the relevant officer’s duties where existing insurance cover does not apply. The renewed indemnities will cover costs arising in relation to PCC elections where the date of the poll is on or before 2 May 2028, and for UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions where the date of the poll is on or before 2 May 2029.

Where a relevant returning officer already holds insurance which covers liabilities incurred at a PCC, UK parliamentary election, and recall petition they will be required to claim under that insurance—or to seek to claim under it—before making a claim against the relevant indemnity. Insurance for specific elections has historically provided extremely poor value for money, with claims made under such cover being smaller than the cost of the insurance premium. An indemnity therefore provides better value for money and this approach has been taken for elections since 2009. The indemnities will be limited to the extent set out in the departmental minute. The indemnities are subject to exceptions identified in the minute but are unlimited in terms of the maximum amount covered per claim. If the liability is called, provision for any payment is to be met from the consolidated fund.

On this basis, I have today laid a minute setting out DLUHC’s intention to extend the current arrangements which indemnify the relevant returning officers and petition officers against claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in relation to PCC elections, UK parliamentary elections, and recall petitions.

Regarding the process of renewing indemnities, since 2009, the Minister concerned has presented a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances, and has refrained from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency. HM Treasury has approved the renewal of these indemnities. However, following further discussion with HM Treasury, it has been agreed that, in line with the contingent liability approval framework, the renewal of indemnities now qualifies as part of Government’s “normal course of business”. This means that any future renewal of indemnities will not require HM Treasury’s consent or future notification of Parliament.

[HCWS275]