Electoral Commission: Independence

The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked – in the House of Commons on 10th September 2020.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

What assessment he has made of the independence of the Electoral Commission.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

What recent representations the committee has received on maintaining the independence of the Electoral Commission.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The Electoral Commission’s independence is established in statute. It is a public body independent of Government and accountable to Parliament through the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, which I represent here today. Its independence is a vital part of ensuring that it is able to deliver the vital functions allocated to it by Parliament. The Speaker’s Committee seeks to uphold that independence when it fulfils its statutory functions in reviewing the Commission’s estimates and plans and overseeing the appointment of electoral commissioners.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I thank the hon. Member for that response, but will he tell me whether he agrees with the eminent QC, Timothy Straker, that the Electoral Commission has made “gross errors”; that it

“always has its own interest to protect”; that in legal terms, it had committed

“a gross error which would not have been committed by a first year law student”; and that it should be stripped of its existing enforcement powers? Or does he just agree with me that it is time to scrap the Electoral Commission?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman has always made his views in the House very clear on this matter, for which I am always grateful. I have seen the reports of Mr Straker’s comments, which have been made to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and we await its report on the evidence from Mr Straker and others coming to it. The commission’s record of having had about 500 adjudications, only five of which have been challenged, and only one of which has been upheld in the courts, is a record that I think the commission can be proud of.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

Ironically, I have come in to the House today in the middle of a training programme that I am doing with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on electoral monitoring. Of course, it is a feature of any proper democratic system that there is an independent electoral commission, and it is a feature of corrupt countries that they seek to undermine the work of independent electoral commissions. The remarks by Mr Bone—I wonder whether the committee would agree—are typical of those who do not wish there to be an independent Electoral Commission, because the Electoral Commission found out that the activities of Vote Leave were illegal and fined it £61,000 as a result. That is the reason for these attacks.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the clarity of his position. The commission will continue to undertake its role independently, as decided in statute by this House. I would say respectfully to those hon. Members who seek to replace or abolish the commission that it might be helpful to bring forward proposals as to what they would replace it with so that we have some clarity about possible alternatives.