MPs debate police commissioner elections "shambles"

There may be more glamorous venues than the Third Delegated Legislation Committee but there are worse ways to spend a Monday afternoon.

Today, MPs on the committee met to debate the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Welsh Forms) Order 2012.

Without that order being passed by parliament (by Wednesday), ballot papers in those elections would be available only in English. (You can read more here)

Hence the rush to get the order through parliament - the Lords will debate it later tonight. The delay in passing the legislation will cost taxpayers an estimated £350,000 as returning officers have printed English only ballot papers as a contingency.

Labour home affairs spokesman David Hanson said ministers had promised to lay the order before parliament in May. "This was a shambles from start to finish," said the Delyn MP.

He wanted to know who was responsible. His list of potential suspects included Home Office ministers and officials and their counterparts in the Cabinet Office and Wales Office.

He didn't really get an answer from the (Welsh-born) Home Office Minister, Damian Green, who insisted it was not unprecedented for these orders to be passed shortly before elections.

He told Mr Hanson 2.3 million ballot papers were involved and that they would be dealt with securely. Presumably someone in the Home Office has a very large shredder.

Plaid Cymru's Hywel Williams warned that the initial lack of bilingual ballot papers could further reduce an expected low turnout. He said the elections held only "miniscule interest" among Plaid Cymru members.

Newport West MP Paul Flynn joined in the criticism of what he said was an insult to Wales, choosing to make his point in Welsh - only to be interrupted in Welsh by the committee chair Anne Main, who grew up in Cardiff before getting elected in St Albans.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith said afterwards: "This is a complete fiasco wasting £350,000 and forcing somebody to stand over a shredder as they get rid of 2.3 million papers.

"But this is not a comedy, this is a serious issue and the Wales Office in particularly must have questions to answer".

The order now goes to the House of Lords, three of whose members turned up to watch the delegated legislation committee.

UPDATE: The order has cleared another potential hurdle in the Lords (more on that debate here tomorrow) and will now be formally approved by both Houses of Parliament tomorrow, 24 hours before the deadline for issuing postal ballot papers.