Political Parties: Compliance

Oral Answers to Questions — Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 2018.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Conservative, Derbyshire Dales 12:00 am, 8th March 2018

To ask the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, what estimate the Electoral Commission has made of its annual spending on compliance measures for political parties.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to monitor the political finance rules and take all reasonable steps to secure compliance with them. The amount of money spent on compliance measures fluctuates and tends to intensify around electoral events. The full range of this activity includes creating comprehensive guidance for parties, campaigners and candidates; engaging with parties directly; monitoring campaign activity; checking and publishing financial returns from parties; and the enforcement of the rules. In the 2017-18 financial year, the commission’s budget for its political finance and regulation directorate is £2.66 million.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that answer. Will she make the point to the Electoral Commission on our behalf that it is all very well to put these substantial extra compliance costs on to the political parties, but the commission is fully funded by the taxpayer, while political parties have to raise their own finances?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

I am sure that officials from the Electoral Commission will have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. The commission provides year-round advice and regularly engages with political parties, as he doubtless knows from his many meetings with the commission in his previous role as Chairman of his party. I am sure that it would welcome the opportunity to discuss any such suggestions with him again.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Following the disgraceful decision by the Government yesterday to keep secret the source of the £425,000 donation to the leave campaign via the Democratic Unionist party, meaning that the public have no idea where that money came from, what more can my hon. Friend and the Electoral Commission do to ensure that we have full transparency in our electoral and democratic system?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

The commission welcomes the existing order, which will for the first time provide information about donations and loans received by parties in Northern Ireland. However, the commission also wants to see transparency in donations going back to 2014, as Parliament envisaged, and it would support the Government in laying a further order to provide for full transparency going back to 2014.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Charities and academics are warning the Government that the trials for compulsory voter ID this May could risk disenfranchising large numbers of vulnerable people. How will the Electoral Commission monitor these pilots, which are a disproportionate response to the scale of electoral fraud?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

My hon. Friend makes an important point on the pilots that the UK Government are carrying out in the forthcoming elections. No one wants to see voters turned away from polling stations, but the extent to which voters in pilot areas are unable to vote on 3 May, and why that is the case, will be key elements of the commission’s statutory evaluation of the pilot schemes. I am sure that the commission will want to hear directly from anyone who finds themselves affected as a result.