Skip to main content

Elections Act 2022: Implementation

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

The Government are committed to ensuring that our democracy is secure, fair, modern and transparent. It is vital for the health of our democracy that the United Kingdom has an independent regulator that commands trust across the political spectrum and is fully accountable to Parliament.

That is why the Elections Act 2022 (“the Act”) made provision for a strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission. Following a period of consultation, the Government are today laying the final draft statement before Parliament for approval. The statement will strengthen the Electoral Commission’s accountability to the UK Parliament while respecting its operational independence.

The statement sets out the strategic and policy priorities of the UK Government and the roles and responsibilities of the Electoral Commission in enabling the UK Government to meet those priorities, including tackling issues such as voter fraud, improving the accessibility of elections, and improving participation. It also contains guidance relating to particular matters in respect of which the Electoral Commission has functions. If approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Electoral Commission will have a duty to have regard to the statement when carrying out its functions.

Given the nature of the Electoral Commission’s work, it is right that the commission remains directly accountable to the UK Parliament via the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission (“the Speaker’s Committee”). The statement strengthens the Electoral Commission’s accountability to Parliament because the Act also gave the Speaker’s Committee new powers to examine the commission’s performance of its duty to have regard to the statement.

The statement has been subject to a statutory consultation and the enhanced parliamentary procedure. The statutory consultation took place between 22 August 2022 and 20 December 2022. In response, the Government made substantive amendments to the draft, including clarifying that the statement must be compatible with the foundational principle of the Electoral Commission’s operational independence. The Government’s response to the consultation and a revised draft statement were then laid before Parliament on 8 June 2023 for a 60-day period to invite representations from parliamentarians. This period ended on 14 September 2023.

The Government have considered carefully the representations received from parliamentarians. These representations reiterated views articulated during the statutory consultation, particularly concerning the impact the statement could have on the independence of the Electoral Commission.

After careful consideration, the Government have decided not to make any amendments to the draft statement of June 2023 and will proceed with laying the statement before Parliament unamended (save a few minor stylistic changes). This is because the Government had already made substantive revisions to the statement after the statutory consultation, to provide clarifications and reassurances relating to the operational independence of the Electoral Commission. Given that the representations largely reiterated views articulated during the consultation, the Government’s view is that the remaining objections are matters that cannot be satisfied by amending the statement without compromising significantly its original policy intent.

The Electoral Commission’s legal duty to have regard to the statement does not replace or undermine its other statutory duties, nor does it give the Government powers to direct its decision making. The statement is clear that the commission will remain operationally independent, with electoral commissioners and the commission’s executive leadership remaining responsible for determining the commission’s strategic priorities and how the commission discharges its functions.

Overall, it is the Government’s view that improving the Electoral Commission’s accountability to the UK Parliament will result in greater public confidence in its work.