Strengthening Transparency and Fairness in Elections

Cabinet Office written statement – made on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The Government's 2019 manifesto pledged to take steps to protect the integrity of our democracy, tackle electoral fraud, and prevent foreign interference in elections.

Further to the written statements of 12 May 2021 (HCWS10) and 27 May 2021 (HCWS62), I am announcing today further measures to be included in the forthcoming Elections Bill to support public confidence in the integrity of our electoral system, by strengthening and updating political finance and campaigning regulation. This will ensure that our electoral law continues to be fair and transparent.

Political parties

While political parties are already required to give details of their assets and liabilities in their annual accounts, a new requirement will be brought in for new political parties to declare if they have assets and liabilities of over £500 when registering with the Electoral Commission and, if so, to provide details of these. This will allow earlier public scrutiny of their finances and ensure public confidence in the transparency of all political parties’ financial positions.

We will also protect the integrity of spending limits further by prohibiting third-party campaigners (also known as ‘non-party campaigners’) from additionally registering as a political party. This closes a loophole that was highlighted in the 2019 general election, as a route to access multiple spending limits and unfairly increase spending potential.

Third-party campaigning

All third-party campaigning will be restricted to UK-based (or otherwise eligible, including overseas electors) campaigners, further ensuring that only groups with a legitimate interest in UK elections are able to spend money to campaign at UK elections.

In addition, to bring about greater transparency in electoral campaigning, we will introduce a new tier of registration for third-party campaigners. This will require any campaigners spending more than £10,000 during a regulated period to register with the Electoral Commission, ensuring clarity about who is campaigning.

The Government will extend reporting requirements for joint campaigns to cover political parties and third-party campaigners who are working together. This will ensure existing spending limits cannot be unfairly expanded by sharing costs and will rightly increase the transparency of such arrangements.

Candidates

To ensure transparency and fairness around political finance, the Elections Bill will clarify the rules on notional expenditure so that candidates and agents are only liable to report benefits in kind that they have used themselves or have directed or encouraged others to use on their behalf.

Following a Supreme Court ruling in 2018, the current rules in this area have led to widespread uncertainty and risk a democratic chilling effect by discouraging parties from campaigning in marginal constituencies. This clarification will also be extended to other campaigners who are subject to notional expenditure controls. This will defend the British tradition of party leader ‘soapbox’ visits. Expenditure which promotes an individual candidature would continue to count towards a candidate’s own spending limit.

Campaigning material

The Elections Bill will legislate to extend the ‘imprint’ regime to digital campaigning material. The imprint regime ensures there is accountability over who is promoting campaigning material (and on whose behalf), provides a recourse to challenge, and can help discourage the publication of anonymous intimidatory material.

The Government today is publishing a response to the consultation on how digital imprints should be implemented. This is a complex area, given the need to avoid unreasonably restricting the free speech of individuals, or impose disproportionate measures which would discourage political campaigning. These balanced measures on digital imprints will update our campaigning laws for the modern age and protect the integrity of our democratic processes. A copy of the response has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government has engaged with the Electoral Commission, social media companies and political parties through the Parliamentary Parties Panel in developing all these provisions, and carefully considered policy recommendations made by respondents to the consultation, think tanks and by Parliamentary Select Committees.

Overall, these measures strike the right balance between further strengthening our regulatory framework and ensuring democratic engagement in this country can continue to be vibrant and inclusive.