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Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

Sections 1 to 4 and Schedules 1 and 2 : Establishment of Electoral Commission and bodies with related functions

35.Sections 1 to 4, together with Schedules 1 and 2, make provision for the establishment and constitution of the Electoral Commission, the Speaker’s Committee and the Parliamentary Parties Panel. The Electoral Commission will be a body corporate independent of any government department and will report directly to Parliament. The National Audit Office (established under section 3 of the National Audit Act 1983) is an example of a body which has a similar relationship to government and Parliament. The arrangements for the appointment of Commissioners are modelled upon those for the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General under section 1 of the 1983 Act.

36.Electoral Commissioners are to be appointed by Her Majesty on the presentation of an Address from the House of Commons. The procedure for their appointment also requires consultation with the leaders of each registered political party with two or more sitting Members of the House of Commons. The number of Commissioners is to be from five to nine. It is envisaged that the Commission’s membership will rise to nine when the functions of the Parliamentary and Local Government Boundary Commissions are transferred to the Commission under sections 16 and 18 to 20 of the Act. The Commissioners will enjoy substantial security of tenure. Under subsection (3) of section 3 appointments will be for up to ten years with, under subsection (5), the possibility of re-appointment. An Electoral Commissioner may only be removed from office on an Address of the House of Commons to that effect and such an Address may only be moved if the Speaker’s Committee has presented a report stating that the Committee is satisfied that one or more of the grounds for removal, specified in paragraph 3(5) of Schedule 1, has or have been made out.

37.To ensure the independence of the Electoral Commission from political parties subsection (4) of section 3 provides that no person may be appointed as an Electoral Commissioner if he is a member of a registered party or, in the last ten years, has been an officer or employee of a party, or held a relevant elective office, or been named as a donor in a register of donations maintained by the Commission. A Commissioner will cease to hold office is he is nominated as a candidate at a relevant election; takes up any office or employment with a registered party, recognised third party or permitted participant; is named as a donor to one of the aforementioned organisations; or becomes a member of a registered party (paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 1).

38.Section 2 establishes the Speaker’s Committee which will have general oversight of the exercise of the Commission’s functions and, in particular, responsibility for approving its budget and five-year corporate plan.  Its role will be similar to that of the Public Accounts Commission (established by section 2 of the National Audit Act 1983) in relation to the National Audit Office.  The Committee will be chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons.  There will be eight other members, namely, the Home Secretary, a Minister for Local Government, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and five Members of the House of Commons appointed by the Speaker.

39.The Act’s provisions in relation to the funding and financial accountability of the Electoral Commission are intended to balance the need to ensure the Commission’s financial independence from the government of the day with appropriate safeguards for ensuring proper financial control. Under paragraphs 14 and 15 of Schedule 1 the Commission will be required to produce both an annual estimate of its income and expenditure and, each year, a five-year plan covering its aims, objectives and resource requirements over that period. Both will be subject to the approval of the Speaker’s Committee which, in examining the estimate and five-year plan, will have regard to whether they are consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge by the Commission of its functions. The Committee may make modifications to the estimate or plan insofar as they are appropriate in achieving those objectives.

40.In examining the Commission’s annual estimate and five-year plan, the Speaker’s Committee will be required both to consult and to have regard to the advice of the Treasury and also to have regard to reports on examinations which the Comptroller and Auditor General will be required to undertake annually (under paragraph 16 of Schedule 1). It is intended that it should be possible for the Comptroller and Auditor General in any particular year to examine only selected aspects of the Commission’s work, for example its voter education functions.

41.Both the estimate and the five-year plan will be laid before Parliament.  The Electoral Commission will also be required to prepare annual accounts in accordance with Treasury directions.  These accounts will be examined and certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General before being laid before Parliament.

42.Parliament’s scrutiny of the work of the Commission will also be facilitated by the requirement that the Commission must lay before Parliament an annual report on the performance of its functions (paragraph 20 of Schedule 1). The Speaker’s Committee, too, will be under an obligation to report at least annually to the House of Commons on the exercise of its functions (paragraph 1 of Schedule 2). Such reports will include the Committee’s reasons for making any modifications to the annual estimates or five-year plan submitted by the Commission.

43.Section 4 establishes the Parliamentary Parties Panel. The panel will be composed of a representative from each of those political parties with two or more sitting MPs (in the current Parliament there are eight such parties: Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Ulster Unionist, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Democratic Unionist Party). Subsection (2) specifies that the function of the panel shall be to submit representations or information to the Electoral Commission about such matters affecting political parties as the panel think fit. The Commission is required to consider any representations or information they receive from the Panel but is not obliged to act on them (subsection (3)).

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