Representation of the People (Variation of Election Expenses and Exclusions) Regulations 2024 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 7:10 pm on 19 March 2024.

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook:

Moved by Baroness Scott of Bybrook

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 29 January be approved.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, if approved and made, these draft regulations will uprate the maximum campaign spending limits at the Greater London Authority and local authority mayoral elections in England to reflect changes to the value of money. This instrument also provides an exclusion for reasonable security expenses from the various election campaign spending limits. Finally, the draft regulations make some technical amendments to remove drafting that is now redundant from the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012.

Elections rely upon the ability of political parties, candidates and other campaigners to communicate their views so that voters can make an informed decision at the ballot box. If approved by Parliament, this statutory instrument completes the package of reforms the Government announced in July 2023 to uprate reserved and excepted party and candidate spending limits and donations thresholds. This is a necessary action, as many of these statutory limits, which were set in absolute terms, have not been uprated in recent times. If we do not uprate them in line with inflation, it means that they continue to be lower in real terms, which has real impacts on campaigning.

Furthermore, no one should feel afraid to participate in our democracy. As noble Lords will be aware, in the past eight years we have witnessed the horrific murders of two parliamentarians, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess. The safety of parliamentarians and candidates is important, and in recent years the Government have introduced numerous measures to tackle intimidation in public life. It is of the utmost importance that candidates feel safe to campaign. Therefore, the Government are explicitly exempting reasonable security expenses from contributing to spending limits for political parties, candidates and other campaigners at reserved and excepted UK elections. I am pleased to confirm that this fulfils a recommendation made by the Jo Cox Civility Commission in its recent report No Place in Politics: Tackling Abuse and Intimidation.

I turn to the specifics. The draft regulations will uprate the spending limits for candidates at Greater London Authority elections and local authority mayoral elections. The various spending limits for Greater London Authority elections have remained unchanged since they were set in 2000. Due to this significant gap, the regulations will uprate the spending limits by 81.05%. This means that the limit for a candidate at an election of the Mayor of London will increase from £420,000 to £760,410, the limit for a candidate at an election of a constituency member of the London Assembly will increase from £35,000 to £63,360, and for an individual or party list candidate at the London-wide assembly election the limit will change from £330,000 to £597,460.

The draft regulations will uprate the spending limits for local authority mayoral elections in England by 29.09%. The uprating is done from 2017, to align with the new spending limits for combined authority and combined county authority mayoral elections recently approved by Parliament in the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024. This is to ensure parity between mayoralties and means that the limits for local authority mayoral elections in England will change from £2,362 and 5.9p per elector to £3,040 and 8p per elector.

The draft regulations will provide clarity for parties, candidates and campaigners by explicitly exempting reasonable security expenses from contributing to the spending limits for candidates, political parties and third-party campaigners at UK reserved and excepted elections, other than local government elections in Northern Ireland. The Government will introduce an equivalent exemption for local elections in Northern Ireland in due course. The regulations will not apply to security expenses at devolved elections in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Government have separately legislated to make similar provision, and the Welsh Government have recently consulted on doing so.

Many parties and candidates already take the view that security expenses are, in general, not election expenses. This exemption will put that view beyond any doubt and ensure that campaign spending limits are not a barrier to the provision of security during election campaigns. I thank the Electoral Commission for drawing the Government’s attention to this point of law and for its support in getting the drafting of this important exemption right.

The draft regulations also make minor technical and consequential changes to remove the police areas of Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire from the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012. These functions have already been transferred to the relevant mayors by separate legislation. Therefore, these regulations do not make a substantive policy change; they simply remove the redundant drafting from the 2012 order to ensure that the law accurately reflects this position.

I must also speak to the regret amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. On the matter of the timing of the instrument, the Government acknowledge the proximity of the making of this legislation to forthcoming elections. As the honourable Minister, Simon Hoare MP, mentioned in the debate on the instrument in the other place, given the significant benefits that clarifying the position on security expenses provides for candidates, parties and campaigners in the current climate, the Government took the view that delaying these provisions would delay the provision of a significant benefit.

The Government strongly disagree with the noble Lord’s claims that there is insufficient evidence for the uprating of spending limits. Before uprating election spending limits, the Government consulted the members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel on two occasions. The parties were first consulted in 2020, ahead of uprating spending limits for candidates at local elections in England. In September 2022, the Government wrote to the members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel again regarding uprating election spending limits and exempting reasonable security expenses from those limits. The responses received indicated support for increasing various spending limits and endorsed exempting security expenses. As is statutorily required, the Electoral Commission was formally consulted on this statutory instrument.

The Government have completed the uprating using the consumer prices index—CPI—as a measure of inflation, in line with other recent uprating exercises. The CPI reflects changes to the total cost of a variety of products and services, including those used by parties and candidates during election campaigns, such as transport and postage.

The noble Lord also expresses regret in respect of the effect of increasing reporting thresholds on reducing the transparency of funding for elections. Donations-reporting thresholds are not being uprated in this instrument. These have already been adjusted in line with inflation in a separate instrument. The Government have a legal duty in any Parliament lasting more than two years to uprate donations-reporting thresholds, or outline to Parliament their reasons for not doing so. The existence of this requirement indicates that Parliament intended for such an uprating to take place should the Government consider it necessary.

In conclusion, the uprating of campaign spending limits at the Greater London Authority and the local authority mayoral elections in England to reflect inflation is necessary. The significant gap since the limits were last set, and the current level of inflation, mean that this uprating exercise is required to avoid the spending limits putting greater constraints on campaigners than originally intended.

Violence and intimidation cannot be tolerated and have absolutely no place in our public life. The security expenses exemption will bring clarity and reassurance to parties, candidates and third-party campaigners as to their ability to incur security expenses without it impacting their overall spending limits. I beg to move that the regulations be approved.