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Elections potentially undermined by poor process, says Lords Committee

29 February 2024

The cross-party House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has in its 15th Report, drawn attention to the way the Home Office has handled two Orders that plan to transfer the responsibilities of the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) of the West Midlands and South Yorkshire to the respective Mayors for each area.

The Orders are the draft West Midlands Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024 and the draft South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024. Both Orders will need to be debated in each House before they can be made law.

The Committee expressed concern that both Orders have been laid before Parliament close to the intended date of the next election (2 May 2024), less than the minimum six months in advance that is regarded as good practice. Changing the process at so late a stage makes it difficult for those conducting the election and prospective candidates to prepare themselves properly.

The Committee particularly criticised the Home Office’s processes in laying the West Midlands Order, where a public consultation, required by law was not conducted before initial decisions were made. As a result, the West Midlands PCC has applied for a Judicial Review of the Order, adding further uncertainty to whether the election can take place as planned.

The Committee also noted weaknesses in the information provided with both Orders; for example, they did not report the results of the public consultations, in which a majority of respondents who expressed a view opposed the transfer of responsibilities. Neither did the information with the West Midlands Order explain that key affected parties also disagreed with the proposals.

Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said:

“Having stood for election myself, the prospect of candidates, officers, and voters not having sufficient notice of an election is alarming. Normally, candidates have months to prepare and explain to voters how they plan to tackle the job. This late change limits candidates' abilities to engage on the key issues and risks confusing voters about what they are voting for. It's simply not fair to voters.

“The West Midlands Order is particularly concerning, because the Government did not initially follow due process, further compressing the timetable. The Home Office’s statement to us that the consultation requirement only “came to light” later in the process is extraordinary. The requirement is not contained in an obscure corner of the statute book but in an Act that had received Royal Assent less than six weeks beforehand.

“The way the Home Office has approached this change has been entirely unsatisfactory and we have written to the Department to seek an explanation for the flaws in the process of developing this legislation, including overlooking the need for a consultation.”