The Speaker’s Committee has no plans to make an assessment of the potential effect of the Elections Act on the impartiality of the Electoral Commission. The commission itself has raised concerns about the potential challenge to its impartiality from the introduction of a strategy and policy statement by which the Government can guide its work. Its view is that that is inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a democratic system. The commission is currently considering the consultation on the draft statement and will publish its response in due course.
The last Prime Minister and the Government attacked the impartiality of the Electoral Commission after the Downing Street flat refurbishment was found in breach of donation declaration rules and a fine was subsequently imposed. That was followed by leading Tory Members calling for the abolition of the Electoral Commission or, sinisterly, for its direction to be controlled via the Elections Act strategy and policy statement. Does the representative of the Speaker’s Committee agree that the new Prime Minister should commit to protecting the independence of the Electoral Commission and should remove the specific aspects of Government overreach in the Elections Act?
As I said in my previous answer, the Speaker’s Committee has made no assessment on this particular matter. Any changes to the Elections Act will be a matter for the House, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will pursue those avenues in other areas of its business.
The road down which the UK has been travelling is increasingly concerning. It involves removing our human rights, threatening the removal of the European Court of Human Rights, and then gutting the impartiality and powers of the Electoral Commission in the Elections Act 2022 by Government diktat and the rejection of all Opposition amendments. This follows on from suggestions that no new independent ethics adviser will be appointed under the new Prime Minister, which would further diminish independent investigation. Given those facts, does the representative of the Speaker’s Committee agree with all but one of the board members that the Elections Act seriously undermines the independence of the Electoral Commission?
Let me repeat the statement that the Electoral Commission itself has issued: it believes that the introduction of a strategy and policy statement would be inconsistent with the role of an independent Electoral Commission. We are currently engaged in consultation on the Government’s draft strategy and policy statement. The Commission will continue to act in an independent and impartial way in order to help maintain public confidence in elections throughout the UK.
The Electoral Commission manages elections and plays a vital role in maintaining fairness, trust and public confidence in our democratic processes, and its independence of any party or Government is therefore essential. Does the hon. Member agree that one way of helping to defend that independence would be to ensure that in future the Speaker’s Committee never has a Government majority, and would he be willing to raise that with the Speaker of the House of Commons?
The hon. Gentleman himself has raised it with you, Mr Speaker, and I believe that the composition of the Committee is a matter for you. Its composition changed recently because of the reallocation of responsibilities from one Government Department to another, and therefore the chairmanship of the relevant Select Committee—the previous Chair was ex officio—has changed: the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) has been replaced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). I believe that you, Mr Speaker, will be reviewing the position regularly.