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Electoral Commission Committee

Volume 719: debated on Thursday 8 September 2022

The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Elections Act 2022: Regulation and Electoral Process

5. What recent assessment the Committee has made of the potential effect of the Elections Act 2022 on the (a) regulation of political party donations and finances, (b) regulation of campaign expenditure and (c) overall integrity of the electoral process. (901371)

The Speaker’s Committee has not made an assessment of the potential effect of the Elections Act on the matters the hon. Member refers to in her question. The Commission’s view is that the Elections Act makes limited changes to the regulation of political party donations and finances and campaign spending. The requirement for new political parties to set out assets or debts when registering will give voters some greater transparency. Changes relating to third-party campaigners will bring limited additional transparency while increasing the complexity of the law. The digital imprint requirement will increase the transparency of campaign spending. The changes to the administration and conduct of elections will enhance the integrity of the electoral process. The Commission’s view is that the voter ID requirement addresses a vulnerability of polling station voting in Great Britain to fraud, but it has emphasised that voting must remain accessible for those who do not already have appropriate ID.

According to openDemocracy, between 2010 and 2019 the Tory party received £3.5 million from Russian-linked donors, yet instead of countering undue influence from oligarchs or shady think-tanks, the Elections Act weakens rules on donations from overseas, making it easier to pay for influence. The new report by the Institute for Constitutional and Democratic Research has set out a simple remedy: cap all political donations to a level appropriate to the poorest. Will the representative of the Speaker’s Committee confirm whether a donation cap has been considered?

The cap has not been considered in the Speaker’s Committee or discussed by the Speaker’s Committee and the Electoral Commission. The Commission says that it is committed to ensuring that political funding is transparent and to preventing unlawful foreign money from entering UK politics. It continues to recommend changes to the law to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK. This includes recommendations for new duties on parties for enhanced due diligence and risk assessment of donations and changes to the law to ensure that companies have made enough money in the UK to fund any donations.

Elections Policy: Departmental Transfer

8. Whether the Committee has made an assessment of the implications for its work of the transfer of elections policy from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities. (901374)

The Speaker’s Committee has not made any such assessment. However, the change in ministerial responsibility has had an impact on the Committee in a number of ways. As I mentioned in a previous answer, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) has been replaced as an ex officio member of the Committee by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). The Commission reports that it will continue to work closely with the team of civil servants, which has moved Departments. It has also had several meetings with responsible Ministers at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in particular to discuss the implementation of the Elections Act.

The governance of elections is of course a very important matter, and it was rather bizarrely removed from the portfolio of the Cabinet Office by the previous Prime Minister and entrusted to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Can the representative of the Speaker’s Committee provide any clarity on whether that will continue, and what consideration has he given to the merits of transferring the responsibility back to the Cabinet Office?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question, but the Committee will simply respond to however the Government organise themselves. It is a matter for the Government and the Prime Minister to allocate different responsibilities among different parties, and the Speaker’s Committee will respond accordingly.