To ask the honourable Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, with reference to the Electoral Commission's consultation paper on Standardising Statements of Accounts for Parties and Accounting Units, what the evidential basis is for the need for standardisation; what advice the Commission has obtained on the matter from (a) accountants and (b) auditors in public practice and from their professional bodies; and what research has been undertaken or commissioned by the Commission on the matter.
The Electoral Commission informs me that evidence of the need for greater transparency in the accounts of registered parties and their accounting units has been set out in a number of reports, including the first report of Session 2006-07 of the then Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons (HC 163-1). Paragraph 39 of that report recommended that:
"Despite the introduction of a duty to produce accounts under PPERA, a lack of common accounting practices makes it difficult to compile a comprehensive account of the income profiles of the political parties. The Government should ensure that the Electoral Commission produce more digestible, thorough and transparent figures of both the private and public sources of party income."
The Commission launched its public consultation on the standardisation of statements of accounts in July 2008 and invited the major accountancy bodies to respond to the consultation. The Commission informs me that in April 2008 it engaged an experienced public sector auditor to assist with developing the consultation and an audit strategy, and that a contract for professional accountancy advice and support on producing a guidance manual and delivering a training package for party and accounting unit treasurers is likely to be finalised shortly. The Commission has not undertaken or commissioned other research on this subject.