Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
40. So we shall have a code of practice by 2003.
(Mr Creedon) That is the aim; we hope so.
41. Are you as part of this process going to
look at the very different levels of registration, particularly
the low levels of registration in the city areas, which because
of the way parliamentary boundaries are done, for example, leads
to under-representation of those areas in Parliament because fewer
people registered means effectively the constituencies have more
people in, although the same number of electors. Is that an issue
you are going to address?
(Mr Younger) Yes; certainly that is part of the review.
I am sure the review is liable to say this is what good practice
should be. It may also recommend that something needs to change
in the legislation, to require certain things which are not there
at the moment. On the issue you raise of that consistency, the
default position is that it is all a matter of good practice,
but it would still be open to that review to conclude that there
are areas where it requires an amendment to law to ensure that
it is done properly.
42. After 18 months of existence you are still
very much at the toddler stage. How are you going to cope if you
get confronted with a snap Euro referendum?
(Mr Younger) Funnily enough I was asked that very
question in the Speaker's Committee in February with our budget.
At that stage I said, "With great difficulty, but we would
have to". To some degree the answer is still the same, but
we are a bit further down the track than we were. One of the things
the Speaker's Committee agreed to in our budget for this year
was that we were able to put in place a referendum team to plan
for any possible referendum, whether it be the Euro or a referendum
on an elected regional assembly, which we may be confronted with.
Those are the two possibles on the horizon. We have that team
in place now. It is involved in a programme of process mapping
of everything which needs to be done if we are going to run a
referendum effectively. Several issues are being raised and we
need to think our way through to our approach and there are several
areas where we need to talk urgently to Government. There are
various issues surrounding the way we administer a referendum
and it is really important to us to know well in advance. Given
the nature and the politics of the Euro referendum issue in particular,
we could find that when legislation setting up a referendum comes
in, it is coming through to a very tight timetable. There are
certain things we are hoping we can get clear with Government
first, as to what is going to be in the legislation. Just one
example, a small one, is that under the legislation I as Chair
of the Electoral Commission am Chief Counting Officer but there
is no provision which allows me to appoint Counting Officers in
the different regions of the UK. That is something it is sensible
for me to do because the idea of a Chief Counting Officer in London
with 350 different returning officers reporting in from all over
the country seems to me undesirable. What we should like to do
is establish that that will be in the legislation when the legislation
is there, so that we can plan on that basis.
43. What about the financial resources? Have
you already done your sums and have you communicated those to
someone in Government?
(Mr Younger) No; those sums are being done at the
moment by that team and are a part of what we shall be discussing
with Government. The funding of the Commission's activity and
indeed other activity surrounding any referendum would be included
in the Bill establishing the referendum. It is not something which
is part of the ongoing budget of the Electoral Commission. All
that is there in the Commission budget at the moment is the resource
for a referendum team to do the planning. Everything else would
be part of what is there in the Bill. We are talking, if it all
came through the Electoral Commission, of very large figures because
they would not be a great deal less than a General Election which
is somewhere between £50 and £100 million if you add
everything up. It is not something we would exactly be able to
do off a general budget because there are all the mechanisms for
paying the administrators, returning officers, counting officers,
Consignia, everything else.
44. There has been speculation that this Euro
referendum could be held on the same day as the Welsh Assembly
and Scottish Parliament elections. Would you tell the Committee
what particular constitutional matters could give you a headache
(Mr Younger) There are two issues. I am wary about
giving too strong a view as it is something the commissioners
happen to be going to be discussing at a meeting tomorrow, because
we have been asked the question a number of times. There do seem
to me to be two sets of issues involved. If you are thinking specifically
of a Euro referendum, one is the issue which has been raised very
strongly by the administrators, above all in Scotland, where there
are local elections next May as well as Scottish Parliament elections
and a feeling that a Euro referendum on the same day would be
a straw which would be extremely liable to break the camel's back.
That is one set of issues, but there is another set of issues,
which we need to look at in terms of the danger of an election
on a party basis cross-cutting with a major issue of principle
which is not on a party basis. The guiding light for us has to
be what is in the best interests of the voter. Is there a real
danger of voters being confused and under-informed one way or
another, if you do pull different ballots on different bases together.
That is the discussion we shall be having tomorrow and I hope
we shall be able to come out of that with some statement of view,
a statement of view, I hasten to add, which does not have any
statutory power or influence, it is simply a statement of view
from an independent body looking at these things.
45. You mentioned the administration. What number
crunching have you done in terms of cost? The public might be
interested to know if there is a significant reduction in cost
by holding elections on the same day.
(Mr Younger) I have to say that I have not done number
crunching of what the saving would be.
46. Will you be going to do that?
(Mr Younger) It is certainly something we can look
at. At the moment the main emphasis is on what the referendum
costs would be. Actually it is fair to say, thinking about it,
that a lot of the costs would be the same even if you did combine
them, because of the amount of time you would need your counting
staff there. The only area where we would save is on presiding
officers and poll clerks. On the other hand you might need to
increase the staffing in individual polling stations to cope with
different ballots and different ballot boxes. It is only pure
top-of-the-head, but if you did have them on the same day, I am
not sure the saving would necessarily be huge. It is something
we should certainly take a look at.
47. What about the Parliamentary Parties' Panel?
Has it met?
(Mr Younger) Yes. Just to remind the Committee in
case they are not familiar with the Panel, it was a requirement
under the legislation that we establish a panel. We convened it
for the first time pretty early onFebruary 2001. It has
met quarterly since then.
48. How is it we do not know?
(Mr Younger) The legislation required it to be a Parties'
Panel made up of the Treasurer or his or her nominee. The Parties'
Panel therefore has been very much Party Headquarters Panel. It
has been one talking about very practical issues. It was extraordinarily
useful in the runup to the election, talking as a group about
the impact of the legislation, and it has been very valuable and
remains very valuable. One of the things I have been conscious
of is that because that has turned out very much a party engine
room panel, in the first instance there has been a bit of a lack
in terms of consultation with Members of Parliament. Initially
when one looked at the Parliamentary Parties' Panel, I guess probably
I, along with others, thought that it would be two or three senior
MPs from each party. But it is not. That is not the way the Treasurers
have done it.
49. How trusting of you, Mr Younger. You have
not been involved with politics for very long.
(Mr Younger) What we are planning now is to find other
avenues for consultation with Members of Parliament specifically.
50. Where would those talks be recorded in brief
and factual terms?
(Mr Younger) The Parliamentary Parties' Panel?
51. Yes. Who would know what you had been talking
(Mr Younger) They are minuted. Those minutes are usually
formally approved at the subsequent meeting. Interestingly, it
is not an Electoral Commission meeting. The Parties' Panel meeting
is chaired by one of the parties on each occasion. It is their
agenda not ours.
52. Do you place these minutes somewhere where
the public can look at them?
(Mr Younger) They are certainly open to scrutiny.
(Mr Creedon) We do not publish them at this stage.
(Mr Younger) We could of course put them up on the
net; I do not see any reason why we should not.
53. Would you think seriously about this? I
think people might be interested.
(Mr Creedon) Indeed; yes. It is the Parties' Panel
and you need to speak to the parties about putting them in the
54. Yes, I understand what it is. I also understand
that people would be interested in what is going on. Did anybody
ask you about the division of responsibility between the old DTLR
and the Lord Chancellor's Department?
(Mr Younger) No.
55. Did you have a view?
(Mr Younger) I suppose my view is that having welcomed,
just over a year ago, the pulling together of all issues related
to elections under a single Department, meaning we had a single
set of officials and Ministers to deal with, I am disappointed
that it is now split out again into two different areas. One reason
is that it means on a lot of these reviews we are doing, there
are going to be many issues on which we need to have representatives
from both Departments involved, whether it is the funding of the
administration of elections, whether it is issues relating to
local election pilots, because, as I understand it, responsibility
for the pilots is resting now with the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister, but any legislative requirements arising out of those
pilots rest with the Lord Chancellor's Department. I have worries
there. I also have a concern, but I am not saying this is a concern
I necessarily have any reason to think is going to be borne out
at this stage, that having had a good deal of clarity and commitment
in DTLR behind the proposition that arising out of all these reviews
we would pull together any propositions for potential legislative
change by the spring of next year and that they would be looking
to bring in legislation in the autumn 2003, I am nervous as to
whether that momentum will be maintained under the new system.
56. Did you make your views known?
(Mr Younger) I have not hidden them. I have not made
57. That is a nice phrase, which might almost
qualify you to be a Clerk of the House. I did say: did you make
them known? I take it the answer is yes.
(Mr Younger) Yes, it is fair to say that those have
58. At the moment you are here before this Select
Committee because at the moment we have responsibility for the
areas. In the future, the new Select Committee which will deal
with urban affairs will have a little bit of responsibility for
what you do, but then there is not actually a Select Committee
which has firm responsibility for the Lord Chancellor's Department.
I understand that the Home Affairs one is really saying that there
should be a separate Select Committee. Do you think that it is
important that you are accountable to a Select Committee of the
(Mr Younger) It is very important that we are exposed
to questioning from Select Committees of the House. The way that
the Electoral Commission has been set up with a responsibility
and accountability to the Speaker's Committee of the House of
Commons does seem to me to be right and very important in terms
of making sure that we are not an organisation which has an accountability
through a Department of State and therefore we are independent
of the Government of the day. At the same time, there is potentially
a gap in the opportunity for Parliament, which needs to be there
to hold us to account for what we are doing, which is why at the
Speaker's Committee I suggested to the Chair that we did come
to speak to this Committee.
Chairman: Nay, you volunteered. I pointed out
how unique this made you in the annals of this particular Select
59. Would it be sensible then perhaps for the
Speaker's Committee to meet in public? I understand why originally
the old Speaker's Commission, I think it was, looked at these
issues in private so that deals could be struck between political
parties, but given that you are independent of the political parties,
would it not now be sensible for the Speaker's Committee to meet
in public so there is a public opportunity to see how you are
being questioned and made accountable?
(Mr Younger) I have to say that is a question for
the Speaker's Committee, not for me. I am not a member of it;
I appear in front of it.