Elections Bill: Independence of Process

Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons on 9th December 2021.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

What recent assessment the Committee has made of the potential effect of proposals in the Elections Bill on independence of process for oversight of electoral spending, party finance and donations.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What recent assessment the Committee has made of the potential effect of proposals in the Elections Bill on independence of process for oversight of electoral spending, party finance and donations.

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

The commission’s view is that, as currently drafted, the proposals for a strategy and policy statement are not consistent with its role as an independent regulator. The provisions would enable actual or perceived involvement by the current Government or future UK Governments in the commission’s operational functions and decision making, including its oversight and enforcement of the political finance regime. The scope of the proposed power is significantly broader than similar mechanisms in place for other regulators. If these provisions are not removed, this would allow Ministers from one party to shape how electoral law is applied to them and their political competitors.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

It is clear that this power grab will mean risks to democracy. Even under existing rules, we have had party overspending seen as business as usual; that money funding the Tories in Scotland; Tory treasurers who donated £3 million made Lords; dodgy Russian donors; and cash for curtains. That shows the risk. Surely we need more power for the Electoral Commission, rather than a power grab by Tory Ministers.

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

The commission has made a series of recommendations to improve voter confidence in the regulation of election finance. The proposed new powers for the commission include the power to require information outside of an investigation and to allow data sharing with other regulators. These recommendations were recently echoed by the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The commission will take any opportunities to discuss these proposals further when it meets the Government from time to time.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Electoral Commission identified that although unincorporated associations are considered permissible donors, those who give money to them are not required to be permissible donors, which means that they could receive money entirely legitimately from overseas sources and donate that money to political parties with nothing but the most perfunctory of checks. No transparency is required from unincorporated associations when they provide donations to candidates, rather than to parties. Government responses to the Committee on Standards in Public Life suggest that they feel that sufficient safeguards are in place to address the committee’s concerns. Does the Electoral Commission still consider these key vulnerabilities?

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

The commission has highlighted weaknesses in the transparency requirements for political donations by unincorporated associations. As the hon. Member says, they are not required to ensure that those who donate to them are permissible donors, which means that they could legitimately make donations using funding from otherwise impermissible sources, including, as she says, from overseas. There are also no transparency requirements in law for unincorporated associations that donate to candidates rather than to political parties or campaigns.