Electoral Commission

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 5:04 pm on 26th March 2014.

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[Relevant document: First Report from the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, Appointment of nominatedCommissioners, HC 1172.]

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 5:08 pm, 26th March 2014

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will appoint as Electoral Commissioners:

(1) Ms Bridget Prentice for the period ending on 30 September 2018; and

(2) Mr Alasdair Morgan for the period ending on 30 September 2016.

The Electoral Commission was established by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 as a body independent of Government. The chair of the Electoral Commission and the other electoral commissioners are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, following an address from the House of Commons.

The procedure for appointing electoral commissioners is put in place and overseen by the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. Candidates’ names are put before the House with the agreement of the Speaker. The Speaker’s Committee follows best practice guidance from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in relation to commissioner appointments.

Section 5 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, which inserted new section 3A into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, states that four of the electoral commissioners should be persons put forward by the registered leader of a qualifying party for consideration for appointment. Those commissioners are described in the statute as “nominated Commissioners”. A qualifying party is one with two or more Members on the Floor of the House of Commons.

The motion before the House asks Her Majesty to appoint Ms Bridget Prentice as the electoral commissioner nominated by the leader of the Labour party to succeed Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Mr Alasdair Morgan as the electoral commissioner nominated by the leader of the Scottish National party to succeed the right hon. Sir George Reid. Lord Kennedy and Sir George Reid have served the Speaker’s Committee and the House diligently. I know that Mr Speaker and the other members of the Speaker’s Committee would want me to place on the record their gratitude for the dedication of those commissioners to the work of the Electoral Commission.

Ms Prentice’s term will end on 30 September 2018 and Mr Morgan’s term will run until 30 September 2016, as has been the practice for such appointments. Given that both posts are vacant, the terms of both candidates will commence following Her Majesty’s decision to appoint them.

The candidates who are named in the motion have extensive political and electoral experience, as is highlighted in the report that was published by the Speaker’s Committee, which has been tagged as a document relevant to this debate. Ms Prentice served as the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East from 1992 to 2010, and as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice from 2005 to 2010. As a Minister, she was responsible for 14 areas of policy, including electoral administration. Mr Morgan was a Member of the House of Commons and the Scottish

Parliament. He has demonstrated a deep knowledge of electoral processes and regulations. He also has a record of building consensus through chairing and convening a number of parliamentary Committees, including the Justice and Home Affairs Committee in the Scottish Parliament.

The statute requires that the motion be tabled with the agreement of the Speaker. I confirm that Mr Speaker has signified his consent. I trust that the House will approve the motion, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 5:11 pm, 26th March 2014

I will make a few brief comments and broadly echo the contribution of the Deputy Leader of the House.

It is clear that the procedure laid down by the House for the appointment of the commissioners has been followed thoroughly and rigorously, and that the nominations have gone through all due processes. The parties that were involved in making the decisions are clearly confident about the two nominees, and those who have been consulted are content with them.

The Deputy Leader of the House made a few remarks about the capacities of the two nominees. Mr Morgan clearly has a great deal of experience in the matters that concern the Electoral Commission, as has Bridget Prentice. Bridget Prentice was known to many Members of the House. She was a Member of the House for 18 years and I think most Members would agree that she gave distinguished service. She was a Whip and a Minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs and then the Ministry of Justice. As the Deputy Leader of the House said, she was responsible for the reform of electoral administration. She was a very well regarded Member of the House. The Opposition are happy to endorse her nomination and that of Mr Morgan.

Question put and agreed to.