HC Deb 28 January 2003 vol 398 cc36-7WS
The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

We are looking at all sorts of ways to encourage more people to use their vote, including using modern technology such as mobile phones and the internet. I believe the electorate of the 21st Century expect a cycle of local elections that is clear and readily understood, so we have asked the Electoral Commission to look at options for simplifying the current arrangements.

This follows the commitment in the Local Government White Paper—"Strong Local Leadership, Quality Public Services"—to invite the Electoral Commission to propose options to simplify the current cycle of local elections. I have today asked the Electoral Commission to undertake a review under Section 6(2) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

The Electoral Commission will consult widely during the review and will identify options for change in a report to be submitted to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister by the end of January next year. The options may include proposals for changes in councillors' terms of office and local authorities' electoral arrangements. The Commission's report will include an assessment of the desirability and practicality of the options identified. It will also recommend how the proposed options might be implemented.

As part of the review the Electoral Commission will consider the relationship between local government elections and other elections such as elections to this House and to the European Parliament. The Commission will also look at cases where elections currently fall in close proximity of time to each other, and the combination (or otherwise) of local government elections with other elections. The views of the Electoral Commission have been sought separately on the proposal to combine the European and local government elections in 2004.

The Terms of Reference ask that the Electoral Commission have regard to the extent to which an option for change: would improve councils' democratic legitimacy and local accountability; would enable the electorate and public generally to easily understand when elections are to be held and their purpose; would be likely to improve participation of the local electorate in the electoral process, including participation of specific groups—such as young people and ethnic minorities—where participation in the process is particularly low; would be likely to facilitate the effective management of local authorities and particularly performance improvements in the case of local authorities categorised as "poor performers" in the Comprehensive Performance Assessments; and might be facilitated by possible new ways of polling, including increased postal voting, electronic counting and multi channel e-voting.

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