As set out in a previous statement to this House (HCWS100), the Government has proposed a series of measures in the Elections Bill that seek to maintain public confidence in the effective and independent regulation of the electoral system by empowering the UK Parliament to hold the Electoral Commission more effectively accountable. As the independent regulatory body charged with upholding the integrity of free and fair elections, it is right for the public to expect that the Electoral Commission should be more fully and duly accountable to the UK Parliament for the way they discharge their functions.
The Electoral Commission are the independent body which oversee elections and regulate political finance in the UK. The Commission are made up of Electoral Commissioners, including a Chair, who are appointed by Her Majesty via an Address in Parliament. The Electoral Commissioners govern the work of the Electoral Commission.
The Commission are already accountable, but to a limited extent, to Parliament via the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. The Speaker’s Committee is a cross-party, statutory committee chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker’s Committee is responsible for:
It is important to note that the measures in the Elections Bill do not amend the Speaker’s Committee’s current duties nor do they alter the other existing accountability arrangements of the Electoral Commission: the Commission will remain accountable to the Llywydd’s Committee and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body in relation to financial matters and their Business Plan where it relates to devolved functions. Our proposals will also maintain the statutory role of the Comptroller and Auditor General in his examination of the Commission. The Government’s measures will build on these current arrangements to enhance the Commission’s accountability to Parliament. This is primarily being done in two ways.
Strategy and Policy Statement
We will make provisions within the Elections Bill for the introduction of a Strategy and Policy Statement. The Statement, if approved by the UK Parliament, will set out guidance and principles to which the Commission will have a legal duty to have regard in exercising their reserved and devolved functions. However, that legal duty does not replace or undermine their other statutory duties. It is commonplace for the Government to set a policy framework, as approved by Parliament, which independent regulators should consider.
An illustrative example of a Statement and Policy Statement for the Electoral Commission will be published during the passage of the Elections Bill to aid parliamentarians. We will also be engaging with the Parliamentary Parties Panel and other interested parties on how a draft Statement might be framed.
The role of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission
We will expand the functions of the Speaker’s Committee to give it the power to examine the Commission’s compliance with the duty to have regard to the Strategy and Policy Statement. The Government intends:
It is right that the Commission remain fully operationally independent and that they continue to be governed by their Electoral Commissioners. Therefore, with this new power the Speaker’s Committee will not be able to proactively direct the Commission’s decision-making. Our measures will not affect either the governance structure nor statutory provisions for the Electoral Commission’s Board and Commissioners.
With these two measures the Government will empower the UK Parliament to hold the Electoral Commission effectively accountable - crucial in maintaining public confidence in our electoral system - whilst also respecting the Commission’s investigative, enforcement and operational independence.
I have placed the infographic attached to this statement in the libraries of both Houses.
Electoral Commission Accountability Framework (pdf, 111.9KB)