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Elections Act 2001


3.This Act, as a consequence of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, defers local government elections which would otherwise be held in the period 3 May 2001 - 6 June 2001 to 7 June 2001.

4.Under section 37 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 the normal date for election of councillors in Great Britain is the first Thursday in May, which in 2001 is Thursday 3 May. Similarly, the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962, as amended by Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, provides that the normal date of election in Northern Ireland is the third Wednesday in May which in 2001 is Wednesday 16 May.

5.34 English county councils and 11 unitary authorities were due for election on 3 May and 26 Northern Irish district councils were due for election on 16 May.

6.This Act provides that in both cases the elections are postponed to Thursday 7 June. The sitting councillors will remain in office until that date.

7.It also provides that in England and Wales no by-elections to fill casual vacancies will be held during the period of the deferral. Any by-elections that would otherwise have fallen to be held during that period will take place on 7 June.

8.The Act provides that valid nominations will remain valid until the new election day so candidates will not have to go to the trouble of filling out fresh nomination papers. However, candidates and parties have until 15 May to withdraw their nomination papers and have until 10 May to submit fresh ones.

9.The campaign period will inevitably be longer than would normally be the case and some candidates may have incurred wasted expenditure producing material giving the original election day. In recognition of this, the Act increases the amount that each candidate may spend at postponed elections by 50%.

10.The cost of administering local elections falls on the local authorities concerned. In respect of the elections that were due to have taken place in May, local authorities had already incurred expenditure and were obliged to go on incurring expenditure until this Act received Royal Assent. The Act accordingly gives the Secretary of State a power to set up a scheme to compensate local authorities and candidates for additional expenditure incurred as result of this Act.

11.The Act covers all local elections in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

12.It does not cover Scottish local elections because responsibility for them is devolved to the Scottish parliament. No ordinary elections are due in Scotland on 3 May but there may be some by-elections.

13.The Act also does not cover elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The legal requirement is to fill any constituency vacancies within three months. No seats were vacant when this Act received Royal Assent so it is unlikely that there would need to be any by-elections within the period of the postponement.

14.The Act does not cover elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly or the European Parliament. The electoral systems in operation for elections to these two institutions make by-elections most unlikely.

15.The Act takes the opportunity to bring Northern Ireland electoral provisions into line with those of the rest of the UK by providing that if a general election and local elections fall on the same day, the polls should be combined.

16.Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act 1985 requires that where two or more elections are to be held at the same time, they are to be taken together. However, this provision was not extended to Northern Ireland. Since 1999 there have been successful combined elections using two different voting methods in Scotland and Wales; there is no practical reason to prevent combined elections being held in Northern Ireland using first-past-the-post and PR(STV). To avoid the possible need for two separate polls on the same day, this Act makes the rules in Northern Ireland reflect those in the rest of the UK with respect to the combination of elections.

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Text created by the government department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes were introduced in 1999 and accompany all Public Acts except Appropriation, Consolidated Fund, Finance and Consolidation Acts.


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