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Political Parties: Finance

Volume 488: debated on Friday 27 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Chichester of 12 January 2009, Official Report, column 519W, on political parties: finance, which public authority will decide whether an hon. Member's expenditure was triggered as a result of breaching the rules on the communications allowance. (258580)

Potential breaches of the rules on the use of parliamentary allowances, including the communications allowance, are investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which reports to the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

However, it is not for the Commissioner to rule on whether that expenditure should then be regarded as a candidate election expense under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (“the 1983 Act”). Rather, as with any other potential item of election expenditure, responsibility lies with the candidate and agent to consider whether expenditure meets the definition of election expenditure used by the 1983 Act and, if so, to ensure that the expenditure in question is recorded on the candidate spending return as required under section 81 of the 1983 Act. This states that such a return must include a statement of all election expenses incurred by or on behalf of a candidate. Section 82 of the 1983 Act requires that this return be accompanied by declarations by the candidate and election agent which verify the return. It is a corrupt practice knowingly to make a false declaration under section 82. It is an illegal practice to fail to comply with the requirements of section 81 or section 82.

Breaches of the 1983 Act are pursued through the courts.

Illegal practices in the 1983 Act are triable summarily. Corrupt practices in the 1983 Act are triable summarily or on indictment. It would therefore ultimately be a matter for the relevant court to decide whether a particular item of expenditure was knowingly excluded from a candidate's expenditure return where it should clearly have been recorded. In reaching its decision, the court could well take into account any judgment from the Commissioner of Standards in relation to expenditure which breached the rules on the use of parliamentary allowances, should the court consider this relevant.