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Elections Act: Implementation and Evaluation

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2023

My hon. Friend the Minister for Faith and Communities (Baroness Scott of Brybrook) has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Elections Act 2022 is a critical part of the Government’s work to ensure the integrity of our elections. I am today providing an update on the implementation of the Act, and the Government’s progress towards its evaluation.

Non-party campaigner code of practice

The Act took important steps to strengthen the political finance framework to support the existing principles of fairness, transparency and integrity. Section 29 of that Act created a duty for the Electoral Commission to prepare a code of practice on the operation of controls relating to third party national election campaigns to provide greater certainty for campaigners. It also provides a defence for third parties who are charged with offences under part 6 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, where they can demonstrate compliance with the code of practice.

Following the commencement of part 4 of the Elections Act 2022, the Electoral Commission ran a consultation on a draft code of practice. Responses received from a range of groups were overall positive. However, the Commission made some modifications in response.

The Government have considered the draft code provided by the Commission and is today laying the code, with some minor and technical modifications, before Parliament for approval.

In two areas the version of the code of practice presented to the Secretary of State required modification to avoid providing a statutory defence where no defence is intended by the underlying primary legislation. It is important the code accurately reflects the legislation. The Department worked with the Commission in developing these minor modifications.

The first set of modifications I have made is to insert the words: “the Commission considers that” under the sections on overheads and staff costs. These costs are not explicitly exempted from contributing to controlled expenditure under schedule 8A of the 2000 Act. These modifications will accurately reflect both the legislation and the position that the Electoral Commission takes as an independent regulator.

Secondly, it is important that the code of practice does not suggest a third party is only involved in a common plan if the campaigner intends to spend money themselves, where the legislation is clear that a third party is party to a joint campaign even if the intention is that controlled expenditure is incurred on their behalf.

I have therefore modified the code under the heading “What is joint campaigning” to add the phrases “whether that expenditure is to be incurred by, or on behalf of, each non-party campaigner” and “whether that expenditure is to be incurred by, or on behalf, of the non-party campaigner in question”.

If the guidance is approved by Parliament, it will come into force later this year. To facilitate parliamentarians’ access to the guidance, the document has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Progress towards evaluation of the Elections Act 2022

The introduction of voter identification for reserved polls at polling stations in Great Britain fulfilled the Government’s commitment to protecting the integrity of our elections through introduction of the policy, and brought the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, where this has been a longstanding requirement.

The local elections in England in May were our first experience of the new voter identification requirements in practice, and the Electoral Commission’s interim report on the May polls showed that 99.75% of voters in polling stations were able to cast their vote successfully under the new rules. The Government are pleased with the smooth roll-out of new practices and processes, and we are grateful for the work of local authorities and other partners in delivering the change in requirements. The Association of Electoral Administrators noted, in their own report of the May 2023 elections, that the polls were “well run” and “run smoothly as usual, without any major issues” and the Electoral Commission found that 90% of voters were satisfied with the process of voting in May’s elections—in line with the most recent comparable elections in 2019, when 91% of voters were satisfied.

We are also committed to ensuring we fully understand how the policy has operated in practice, what has gone well and where there are any areas for improvement in the future. To this end, we are, as set out in legislation, conducting an evaluation of the implementation of voter identification at the local elections in May as well as at the next two UK parliamentary elections.

To provide Parliament with an assurance of progress towards the publication of the first evaluation report in November 2023, I have today published two documents which will provide further detail of the work being carried out.

An external research agency—IFF Research—has been appointed to conduct the evaluation, and the Electoral Integrity Programme Evaluation Plan sets out IFF’s plan for an impact and process theory-based evaluation of the introduction of the new requirements.

As part of this evaluation, research into public attitudes towards and experiences of voting, and perceptions of the changes to the process of voting due to the introduction of the Elections Act, is being carried out by another external research agency, IPSOS UK, through a series of public opinion surveys. The first report of these surveys, published today, indicates that voter satisfaction with voting in elections remains high, with the majority of voters reporting they are confident that the recent local elections were run well and that in person voting is secure.

We will continue to learn from this research, from other sources of data, and from research conducted by the Electoral Commission, to ensure the full picture of the impact of the implementation of voter identification is understood. The Government remain committed to stamping out the potential for voter fraud and ensuring our democracy remains fair, up-to-date, and secure well into the future.

The associated documents will be deposited in the House Libraries.