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Investigatory Powers

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

5. What recent assessment has been made of the adequacy of the Electoral Commission's investigatory powers. (321510)

The hon. Gentleman will know that Parliament recently agreed to strengthen the commission’s existing powers through the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009. However, these new powers will not come into effect until secondary legislation is agreed by Parliament. The commission informs me that it welcomes the cross-party support that is to occur early in the new Parliament.

What does that say about today’s Conservative party, which told the Electoral Commission that it would not—[Interruption.]

Order. I cannot have other Members acting as arbiters on the appropriateness or otherwise of what Members are saying. Let us hear Mr. Prentice.

As I was saying, what does it say about today’s Conservative party that officials and staff of the Conservative party refused to co-operate with the Electoral Commission during its investigation into Bearwood Corporate Services? That is all documented in the press releases and supporting reports from the Electoral Commission. Will the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) advise me whether he thinks the powers of the Electoral Commission should be enhanced to compel the attendance of witnesses when matters concerning possible breaches of electoral law are being discussed?

Parliament has already acted on that, as I said in my answer. The hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of the House, will know that the Speaker’s Committee does not go into individual cases, but if he would like to look at what the Electoral Commission’s website says about the particular case he has raised, he will see that after a thorough investigation, the donations in question were deemed permissible. I am sure he will be good enough to welcome that.

Can my hon. Friend say whether the investigatory powers of the Electoral Commission include an ability to prevent political parties in the House from seeking to influence how particular Members vote, particularly on matters relating to their area or their constituency? It seems that the power of the Whips and the political parties is such that it deters people from voting, because they say, “It doesn’t matter which party we vote for; we can’t get somebody who will represent us.”

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I am glad to say that it has absolutely nothing to do with the Electoral Commission.

Given that the Electoral Commission is currently undertaking a review of ward boundaries in Stoke-on-Trent, will the hon. Gentleman assure me that it has sufficient resources to ensure that there is full public participation in deciding on the boundaries of the new local wards?

That is of course a matter for the local government boundary committee, which is about to become a stand-alone agency, but I can reassure the hon. Lady that the matter will be conducted in its usual thorough way, including hearing the views of local people.