Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath is Labour's Shadow Home Office Minister and Deputy Leader in the House of Lords
I have a topical oral question in the Lords today to ask Ministers what response the Government will make to the Electoral Commission’s recent report on the Police and Crime Commissioner elections - due to take place this November.
Whatever view is taken on the wisdom of the politicisation of the police with the obvious implications for their operational independence, it’s in everybody’s interest to encourage a high electoral turnout and for the public to know what and who they’re voting for. Yet the Home Secretary has ruled out a free-post leaflet or candidate booklet for these elections and is talking about simply providing Internet access.
That approach flies in the face of expert advice from the Electoral Commission, who have made the point that Internet-only access to candidate materials will disadvantage and disenfranchise the poor, the old and those in rural areas. Indeed, the Commission reports that delivering via a website will exclude at least 7 million adults who do not have easy online access.
The Home Secretary’s only answer to this is that individual candidates will have expenses with which they will be able to make literature available. This will overwhelmingly favour the well-endowed Tory Party and lead to pitiful small turnouts.
As the Commission point out, candidates for these elections will need to communicate with a much larger number of voters across massive constituencies. There may well be independent candidates who do not have the support of a party machine to promote their campaign.
The Government has been quite unable to say why the election of Police Commissioners is any different from Parliamentary or mayoral elections. It would be worrying if the police elections were used as a precedent for stopping free distribution of literature at general elections. In any case, the credibility of Police Commissioners could be fatally undermined by only a small proportion of the electorate coming out to vote.
I will ask the Government to reconsider this urgently and I’ll also be making it clear that when secondary legislation is laid before Parliament to implement this policy, we on the Labour benches will take a vigorous approach to highlighting the failings and dangers.