My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Electoral Administration Act received Royal Assent on 11 July 2006. The Act aims to tackle four areas at the core of a healthy democracy by improving access, by improving confidence, by extending openness and transparency of party financing and by maintaining professional delivery of elections.
In line with the Government's commitment to bring as many of the important provisions in the Act into force as soon as possible, a commencement order has been made which includes the following key provisions:
new rules for transparency and permissibility of loans;
registration provisions to apply to the 2006 annual canvass process;
a package of offences in relation to postal voting applications and conduct of elections;
provisions in relation to the regulation of political parties; and
power for the Electoral Commission to set performance standards.
The provisions in the Act to bring a similar regime of transparency and permissibility to that set out for donations in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) to loans from political parties will come into force on 11 September 2006. The Government consider that it is important for the new regime to be brought into force at the earliest opportunity. Political parties will be required to report to the Electoral Commission all regulated transactions existing at that date and any entered into between that date and the end of that month, within 30 days from the end of September. Taken together, the existing donations regime and the new regulated transactions regime provide a robust and transparent mechanism to ensure that significant financial benefits to political parties are disclosed.
We have also brought into force a package of offences in the Electoral Administration Act that aim to improve the security and confidence of the electoral process. These will come into force on 11 September 2006 and relate to the application for postal and proxy votes as well as to offences around the conduct of elections. We believe that it is vital that we tackle potential problems of fraud in relation to elections. Along with other provisions in the Act that will be brought into force in time for the May 2007 elections, we believe that this represents a comprehensive set of legislative changes that will improve the confidence in the electoral system.
The Government are also committed to improving the accuracy of the register and to tackling potential registration fraud at the earliest opportunity. We have therefore commenced those provisions in the Act that relate to the annual canvass process so that they can be in place for the 2006 annual canvass. This includes the new duty on electoral registration officers (EROS) to carry out necessary steps to maintain the register and the new registration offence of supplying false information in connection with registration. Both these provisions will come into force on 11 September 2006.
In addition, the Electoral Administration Act contains miscellaneous provisions in Part 7 that are designed to simplify and streamline procedures for the regulation of political parties. Many of these will come into force on 11 September 2006.
The power for the Electoral Commission to set performance standards in relation to electoral activity will also come into force on 11 September. This will allow the Electoral Commission to carry out the important preparatory work in relation to the performance standards scheme.
We aim for the Electoral Administration Act to be implemented in full, where possible, for the May 2007 elections. We will therefore be making subsequent commencement orders to commence the remaining provisions in the Act.