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|Political Parties, Elections And Referendums Bill|
These notes refer to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill
Political Parties, Elections And Referendums Bill
1. These Explanatory Notes relate to the provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 20 December 1999. They have been prepared by the Home Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.
2. These notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment none is given.
Part I : The Electoral Commission
3. Part I of the Bill would establish an Electoral Commission and sets out the general functions proposed for it, other than those functions relating to the registration of political parties, the scrutiny of political parties' and third parties' income and expenditure and the administration of referendums which are covered in Parts II to VII. The general functions of the Commission include: reporting on particular elections and referendums; the review of electoral law; the provision of guidance in relation to party political broadcasts; and promoting understanding of electoral and political matters. Part I also provides for the transfer to the Electoral Commission of the functions of the four Parliamentary Boundary Commissions and of the Local Government Commission for England and the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales.
Part II : Registration of Political Parties
4. Part II of the Bill is concerned with the registration of political parties. It would re-enact the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 but with significant modifications. The modifications are for the purpose of establishing a scheme of registration which brings political parties within the controls on accounting and funding set out in Parts III and IV and the controls on campaign expenditure set out in Part V of the Bill.
Part III : Accounting requirements for registered parties
5. Part III would require registered parties to maintain accounts of their income and expenditure and to submit an annual statement of accounts to the Electoral Commission.
Part IV : Control of donations
6. Part IV imposes restrictions on the sources of donations so as to prohibit foreign and anonymous donations to political parties and make registered parties subject to reporting requirements in respect of donations above a certain value.
Part V : Control of campaign expenditure
7. Part V would apply restrictions on campaign expenditure incurred by political parties in respect of elections to Westminster Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections and elections to the devolved legislatures. These limits are distinct from the separate restrictions under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and other enactments relating to elections, which would continue to apply to candidates' election expenses.
Part VI : Control of third party national election expenditure
8. Part VI sets out controls on national election expenditure by individuals and organisations other than political parties. The controls seek to limit national expenditure by third parties in support of or in opposition to political parties, in the same way as the controls in section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 seek to control local expenditure by third parties in support of or in opposition to individual candidates.
Part VII : Referendums
9. Part VII of the Bill would introduce generic provisions to ensure the fair conduct of referendums. It provides for the designation of campaign bodies which will be entitled to particular forms of assistance, including a grant from public funds of up to £600,000, the free mailing of referendum addresses and free air time for referendum campaign broadcasts. Part VII also provides for restrictions on the publication and distribution of promotional material by central and local government in the 28 days prior to the holding of a referendum and restrictions on referendum campaign expenditure by political parties and by other campaigning individuals and organisations.
Part VIII : Election campaigns and proceedings
10. Part VIII of the Bill makes a number of amendments to the Representation of the People Act 1983. It imposes controls on donations to candidates, increases the limit on expenses which may be incurred by a candidate at a parliamentary by-election, clarifies the meaning of "election expenses", amends the law in relation to election petitions and clarifies the law in respect of the consequences of the commission of corrupt and illegal practices.
Part IX : Political donations and expenditure by companies
11. Part IX introduces a requirement that shareholder consent must be obtained before a company makes a donation to a political party or incurs political expenditure. It also requires the disclosure of political expenditure in directors' annual reports to shareholders.
Part X : Miscellaneous and general
12. Part X includes provision for the enforcement of the Bill by the Electoral Commission and the civil and criminal courts.
13. The Prime Minister announced, on 12 November 1997, extended terms of reference for the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Neill of Bladen QC (the 'Neill Committee'), to enable the Committee to study the funding of political parties. These additional terms of reference were:
To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements.
14. In a submission from the Home Office dated 6 March 1998, the Government sought the Neill Committee's advice on the following specific topics:
a) How should 'foreign' funding be defined? Should personal donations be restricted to persons on the electoral register eligible to vote in the United Kingdom? How should foreign donations in relation to companies and voluntary associations be defined? How can circumvention of the ban on foreign funding be prevented?
b) What should be the mechanics for disclosure of donations? Should there be a separate threshold for the acceptance or rejection of anonymous donations? What should be the timing of disclosure?
c) What are the implications of the Bowman judgment? (This was a judgment in February 1998 by the European Court of Human Rights about how far third-party individuals and organisations should be free to spend money on promoting a particular cause during election campaigns.)
d) What new rules on limits on election expenditure should be introduced to accommodate the new electoral systems?
e) How should the future financial arrangements for the political parties be linked with the Government's proposed legislation on the registration of political parties (now the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998)?
15. The Neill Committee addressed these points, and others, in their Fifth Report on the Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom published in October 1998 (Cm 4057). Altogether the report contained one hundred recommendations dealing with the reporting of donations, the banning of foreign donations, shareholder approval for donations by companies, financing political parties in Parliament, limits on election campaign expenditure, the conduct of referendums, media and advertising, and the Honours system.
16. The Government's response to the Neill Committee's report was set out in a White Paper (Cm 4413) published on 27 July 1999. The White Paper included a draft Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill which set out legislative proposals for giving effect to the Neill Committee's recommendations.
Overview of the Neill Committee report and the Government's response
The role of political parties
17. Electoral procedures are described in considerable detail in legislation. The principal legislation is the Representation of the People Act 1983 together with Regulations made under that Act. The 1983 Act is a consolidation of legislation dating back to the nineteenth century. Its general thrust, and a good deal of the detail, date from 1883. The legislation contains extensive provisions concerning candidates' election expenses. These provisions limit the maximum levels of expenditure by or on behalf of candidates at parliamentary elections and require detailed returns to be delivered to the returning officer. They also control, very tightly, expenditure by "third parties" (that is, people or organisations other than candidates) who wish to issue material which bears on a particular person's candidature. But there is currently no legislation or other legal requirement relating to the funding of political parties generally. Nor is there any limit on the expenditure which political parties may incur in connection with elections otherwise than on behalf of candidates in constituencies. The 1983 Act simply does not recognise the role of political parties in elections.
18. The situation now is very different from what it was in 1883. The political parties, operating at national level, play a much larger role. British people now vote largely for parties rather than candidates. It is the national party as well as the local organisation which assumes the responsibility for getting its candidates elected. Above all, spending by or on behalf of candidates now forms only a proportion of what a party spends on contesting an election. Restrictions on candidates' expenses at a constituency level no longer serve as an effective control of what the political parties as a whole spend on fighting elections.
19. The Neill Committee's report addresses this point by recommending limits on what political parties can spend in connection with elections, additional to the amounts spent by or on behalf of candidates themselves. To enforce this control, they propose a detailed set of requirements, along similar lines to those already in operation at constituency level, on the political parties.
Donations to political parties
20. The Committee's report endorses and develops the Government's proposals for a ban on foreign donations to political parties and for open declaration of donations at the level of £5,000 or above. The scheme of control which the Committee proposes is again a detailed one, with significant implications for the political parties as well as for the regulatory apparatus. The Government agrees that a regulatory scheme of some rigour is needed to enable the restrictions to be enforced. The Government's proposals follow the Neill Committee report in using the concept of a "permissible donor". The principal target is to require political parties to reject donations which are anonymous or which do not appear to be either from a person registered to vote in the United Kingdom or from a company incorporated in the European Union and carrying on business in the United Kingdom or from an unincorporated association having its main office and its principal sphere of operation in the United Kingdom.
21. The Neill Committee recommended, in general, against attracting any form of liability to donors or would-be donors themselves, except to the extent that they conspire with recipients to evade the recommended restrictions on receipts. There is, however, one significant exception to this general rule. The Committee recommended that, before a company makes a donation, it should be required to obtain the approval of its shareholders. The Government announced its general acceptance of this recommendation, but sought comment on how it should be implemented, in a separate consultation document published by the Department of Trade and Industry in March 1999 (DTI reference URN 99/757).
22. Some organisations which are not political parties in the sense of sponsoring candidates nevertheless incur expenditure directly on advertising etc., in connection with elections. The Neill report made recommendations for regulating the expenditure of such organisations and donations to them on a similar basis as for political parties. Organisations of this kind are referred to in the Neill report and in the Bill as "third parties".
An Electoral Commission
23. To supervise the restrictions on spending by and donations to the political parties (and third parties), the Neill Committee proposed the establishment of an independent Electoral Commission. The provisions of the Bill would give the Electoral Commission a somewhat broader remit than the one proposed by the Neill Committee, to include a responsibility for promoting participation in the democratic process and to assume, after an interval, the functions of the Parliamentary and Local Government Boundary Commissions. The Electoral Commission is also, as recommended by the Neill Committee, to assume the role of registrar of political parties. It is to have the function of receiving accounts, reports of disclosable donations and returns as to election expenses from political parties (and third parties), and a duty to monitor compliance (but not to mount criminal prosecutions). But it is also to have the wider role of reporting on the conduct of elections and referendums and of advising the Government on any necessary changes to the law. It would take over a number of functions from the Home Office and act as a general reference point for advice for the parties, the broadcasting organisations and others on the conduct of elections and referendums.
24. The Neill Committee's report extends beyond the funding of political parties and spending in election campaign and makes a number of recommendations concerning referendums. These recommendations are directed principally at ensuring that the two sides in a referendum campaign each have a fair opportunity to put their views to the public and that referendum campaigns are not skewed by the intervention of the government of the day. Hitherto there have been no standing statutory arrangements for the conduct of referendums.
THE BILL : OVERVIEW
Part I : The Electoral Commission
25. Part I of the Bill contains eighteen clauses. Clauses 1 to 3 and Schedules 1 and 2 establish the Electoral Commission and an oversight body, the Speaker's Committee. Clauses 4 to 11 set out the Commission's general functions. These include the functions of reporting on elections and referendums, reviewing electoral law, allocating to parties policy development grants and promoting participation and understanding of our democratic systems of government. Clauses 12 to 17 provide for the transfer to the Commission of the functions of the Parliamentary and Local Government Boundary Commissions.
Part II : Registration of political parties
26. Part II of the Bill contains seventeen clauses. These clauses substantially re-enact, with modifications, the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. Schedule 3 contains further details in respect of the registration of parties and alterations to the register.
Part III : Accounting requirements for registered parties
27. Part III contains nine clauses. These set out requirements on political parties in respect of their accounting records and the preparation of an annual statement of accounts. Schedule 4 modifies the accounting requirements contained in Part III to fit the circumstances of parties with separate 'accounting units'.
Part IV : Control of donations
28. Part IV, which contains twenty clauses, is divided into four Chapters. Chapter I (clauses 45 to 47) defines donations for the purposes of this Part. Chapter II (clauses 48 to 54) gives effect to the prohibition on foreign donations. Chapter III (clauses 55 to 63 and Schedule 5) sets out the requirements as to the reporting of donations to the Electoral Commission. Chapter IV (clause 64 and Schedule 6) controls donations to individual members of a political party, groups composed of party members and holder of elective office.
Part V : Control of campaign expenditure
29. This Part contains thirteen clauses which, together with Schedules 7 and 8, place limits on the campaign expenditure which may be incurred by registered political parties. Four of these clauses introduce a regime for the authorisation and payment of campaign expenditure and the settlement of claims. A further five clauses provide for the submission to the Electoral Commission of returns by parties as to their campaign expenditure, the auditing of such returns and their public inspection.
Part VI : Controls relating to third party national election campaigns
30. Part VI, which contains seventeen clauses and Schedules 9 and 10, limits expenditure by third parties designed to promote or oppose the election of a political party or its candidates. The provisions are in many respects similar to those in Part V dealing with expenditure by political parties.
Part VII : Referendums
31. The three Chapters in Part VII, which contain twenty-six clauses and Schedules 11 to 14, set out the framework for the conduct of referendums. Chapter I (clauses 95 to 103) provides for the registration of campaign organisations and for financial and other assistance to be given to designated umbrella organisations. Chapter II (clauses 104 to 117) imposes financial controls on campaign organisations and Chapter III (clauses 118 to 120) places controls on referendum publications by government and others.
Part VIII : Election campaigns and proceedings
32. Part VIII contains seven clauses, and Schedules 15 to 17, which make miscellaneous amendments to the Representation of the People Act 1983.
Part IX : Political donations and expenditure by companies
33. Part IX, which contains two clauses and Schedule 18, amends the Companies Act 1985 so as to require companies to obtain prior shareholder consent for donations to registered parties and other political expenditure.
Part X : Miscellaneous and general
34. Part X contains eighteen clauses and Schedules 19 to 21. Four clauses make provision for enforcement of the Bill by the Electoral Commission and the civil and criminal courts. Five clauses make provisions relating to offences and one clause contains a power to vary the various monetary limits set out in the Bill.
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
Part 1: The Electoral Commission
Clauses 1 to 3 and Schedules 1 and 2 : The Electoral Commission
35. Clauses 1 to 3, together with Schedules 1 and 2, make provision for the establishment and the constitution of the Electoral Commission and the Speaker's Committee. 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 will be appointed by Her Majesty on the presentation of an Address from the House of Commons. The procedure for their appointment will also require consultation with the leaders of each registered political party with two or more sitting Members of the House of Commons. It is envisaged that five Commissioners will be appointed initially, with the Commission's membership rising to nine when the functions of the Parliamentary and Local Government Boundary Commissions are transferred to the Commission under clauses 14, 16 and 17 of the Bill. The Commissioners will enjoy substantial security of tenure. Under subsection (3) of clause 3 appointments will be for up to ten years with, under subsection (4), 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 2(5) of Schedule 1, has or have been made out.
37. Clause 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) in relation to the National Audit Office. The membership of the Speaker's Committee will include two Government ministers, the Home Secretary and the Minister for Local Government. The other members will be the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and six Members of the House of Commons appointed by the Speaker.
38. The Bill'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 13 and 14 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.
39. 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 15 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.
40. 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.
41. 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 19 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.
Commission's general functions
42. Clauses 4 to 11 provide the Electoral Commission with a broad range of functions primarily in relation to the oversight of electoral matters in the United Kingdom.
Clause 4 : Reports on elections and referendums
43. Clause 4 requires the Commission to prepare and publish reports on the administration of elections to the United Kingdom, European and Scottish Parliaments and to the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and of referendums to which Part VII of the Bill applies (that is, a referendum held on a reserved matter throughout the United Kingdom or one or more of its constituent parts, or in one or more of the nine English regions). Subsection (3) additionally provides for the Commission, if requested to do so by the National Assembly for Wales, to report on referendums held under section 36 of the Government of Wales Act 1998. (Section 36 of the 1998 Act empowers the National Assembly for Wales to hold a poll for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the public about whether or how any of the Assembly's functions should be exercised.)
Clause 5 : Reviews of electoral and political matters
44. While legislation on electoral matters will remain the responsibility of the government, clause 5 provides for the Commission to keep under review and report on matters relating to elections and referendums, the redistribution of parliamentary and local government boundaries, the regulation and funding of political parties, political advertising and the law relating to all such matters. While the Commission will be expected to exercise its own initiative in reviewing electoral law, there may also be particular issues which the government of the day considers should be examined as a matter of priority. Subsection (2) therefore provides the Secretary of State with a power to require the Electoral Commission to review and report upon any such matter within a prescribed timescale.
Clause 6 : Commission to be consulted on changes to electoral law
45. Clause 6 identifies a number of instrument-making powers under existing electoral law which would henceforth be exercised by the Secretary of State only after consulting the Electoral Commission. These powers are generally concerned with the administration of elections - for example, powers to designate returning officers for elections and to specify arrangements for the conduct of local government elections and elections to the devolved legislatures. The extant instruments made under the statutory provisions listed in subsection (2) are:
a) The European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/1214);
b) The European Parliamentary Elections (Returning Officers) Order 1999 (SI 1999/948);
c) The Returning Officers (Parliamentary Constituencies) (England) Order 1995 (SI 1995/2061, as amended), the Returning Officers (Parliamentary Constituencies) (Wales) Order 1996 (SI 1996/897) and the Returning Officers (Parliamentary Constituencies) (Scotland) (No.2) Order 1996;
d) The Local Elections (Principal Areas) Rules 1986 (SI 1986/2214, as amended); the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) Rules 1986 (SI 1986/2215, as amended); and Parish and Community Meetings (Polls) Rules 1987 (SI 1987/1, as amended);
e) The Representation of the People Regulations 1986 (SI 1986/1081, as amended), the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 1986 (SI 1986/1111, as amended) and the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1986 (SI 1986/1091, as amended);
f) The National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 1999 (SI 1999/450). No order has yet been made under section 36(4) or (5) of the Government of Wales Act 1998;
g) The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 1999 (SI 1999/787);
h) No order has yet been made under section 34 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Clause 7 : Powers exercisable only on Commission's recommendation
46. Clause 7 specifies a number of functions of the Secretary of State which would be exercisable only upon the recommendation of the Commission. Subsection (1) provides that one such function is that of giving directions to registration officers under section 52(1) of the Representation of the People Act; hitherto this power has not been exercised. Subsection (3) identifies a number of instrument-making powers to set limitations on expenses by candidates and parties at elections. The Secretary of State is empowered, by subsection (2), to vary the monetary limits to take account of inflation, but any more substantial variation can only be made on a recommendation of the Commission.
47. The extant instruments made under the statutory provisions listed in subsection (3) are:
a) Section 76(2A) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 was inserted by the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It is expected that an order will be made under this section in time for the May 2000 elections to the Greater London Authority;
b) Articles 41 and 42 of the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 1999 (SI 1999/787) and Articles 46 to 48 of the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 1999 (SI 1999/450) set limits on expenses by candidates and registered parties at elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly respectively;
c) Regulation 15 of the European Parliamentary Elections Regulation 1999 (SI 1999/1214) sets limits on election expenses by registered parties at elections to the European Parliament. Section 76 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 as applied, with modifications, by Schedule 1 to the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 1999 sets limits on election expenses by individual candidates.
Clause 8 : Giving of advice and assistance
48. Clause 8 empowers the Commission to provide advice and assistance to local authorities, the devolved administrations and international bodies. Under this provision the Commission could, for example, provide assistance to the National Assembly for Wales with the conduct of a poll under section 36 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, to the Scottish Executive with a review of aspects of the law in respect of local elections in Scotland and to the United Nations or the Commonwealth with the organisation or monitoring of elections in another member state.
49. Subsection (3) also enables the Commission to provide advice and assistance to registration and returning officers, registered political parties, recognised third parties (within the meaning of clause 81), permitted participants in a referendum campaign (within the meaning of clause 98), and others. The Commission is expected to take over from the Home Office the functions of promoting best practice in the way in which registration and returning officers discharge their functions under the Representation of the People Acts and other enactments relating to elections.
Clause 9 : Regard to be had to Commission's views on party political broadcasts
50. Clause 9 provides that the Commission's broad oversight of the way elections are conducted should extend to providing guidance on party political broadcasts. At present, sections 36 and 107 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 provide for the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority to draw up conditions requiring a licence holder both to include party political broadcasts in its services and to observe any rules in relation to party political broadcasts which the Commission or Authority may determine. The Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority may determine the political parties on whose behalf party political broadcasts may be made and the length and frequency of such broadcasts. The British Broadcasting Corporation and Sianel Pedwar Cymru are not subject to any similar statutory requirement, but nonetheless provide air time for party political broadcasts as part of their role as public service broadcasters.
51. The Neill Committee suggested that, while it should not be for the government to direct that broadcasters provide party political broadcasts, there could be a role for the Electoral Commission in putting forward non-binding views in relation to, for example, the scheduling of broadcasts. Clause 9 would require the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority, in determining the rules provided for under sections 36 and 107 of the Broadcasting Act 1990, to have regard to the views of the Electoral Commission. Subsection (3) would place the British Broadcasting Corporation and Sianel Pedwar Cymru, in including any party political broadcast in their broadcast services, under a similar duty. It is not the purpose of these provisions to give the Commission a prescriptive role in relation to editorial and broadcasting decisions, which are properly a matter for the broadcasters themselves, nor is it intended that broadcasters should be required to seek the views of the Commission before deciding whether to transmit each and every party political broadcast.
Clause 10 : Policy development grants
52. Clause 10 provides for the Commission to develop and, once it is approved by the Secretary of State, administer a scheme for the payment of policy development grants to registered political parties. It will be for the Commission to propose, and the Secretary of State to approve, the formula or criteria by which such grants are allocated to eligible political parties. Subsection (1) restricts the making of such grants to parties which are represented by at least two sitting Members of the House of Commons (in the current Parliament there are eight such parties: Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Ulster Unionists, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Democratic Unionist Party). The purpose of such grants will be restricted to the development of policies which are to form part of individual parties' political platforms; it is not intended that they be used for the development of parties' internal policies or in respect of their organisation and administration. Subsection (8) limits the total amount of disbursements under such a scheme to £2 million in any financial year.
Clause 11 : Education about electoral and democratic systems
53. Clause 11 of the Bill provides for the Commission to have a role to play in encouraging voters' participation in the democratic process by enabling it both to carry out programmes of education or information and to provide financial assistance to other bodies carrying out such programmes. The scope of this clause is intended to ensure that such voter education is not restricted to addressing the mechanics of exercising the vote but is also able to address, through attention to the role of government and other elected bodies both at local, national and European level, the purpose and importance of exercising the vote.
Commission's electoral boundary functions
Clause 12 : Boundary Committees
54. Clause 12 requires the Electoral Commission to establish four Boundary Committees, one for each part of the United Kingdom. These Boundary Committees will take on the functions of the Parliamentary and Local Government Boundary Commissions transferred to them under the provisions of clauses 14, 16 and 17. Each Boundary Committee will be chaired by an Electoral Commissioner and include at least two other members who must be either Electoral Commissioners or Deputy Electoral Commissioners (appointed under the provisions of clause 13). The minimum membership of three for each Boundary Committee reflects the size of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions (paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 provides for the appointment of four Commissioners, but the Chairman in each case, the Speaker of the House of Commons, does not take part in the Commissions' deliberations). It is expected that where the functions of a Local Government Boundary Commission are transferred to a Boundary Committee, the membership of that committee would be increased (the Local Government Commission for England currently has a membership of seven). Subsection (5) provides for the appointment of assessors to the Boundary Commissions who will provide expert advice on population changes and on mapping. The subsection mirrors the equivalent provision in respect of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission contained in paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (Schedule 21 to the Bill provides for the repeal of this provision).
Clause 14 : Boundary Commissions : transfer of functions
55. Clause 14 provides for the transfer of the functions of the four existing Parliamentary Boundary Commissions to the Electoral Commission. Although originally established by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949, the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions are currently established under section 2(1) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. Section 3 of that Act requires each of the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to "keep under review the representation in the House of Commons of the part of the United Kingdom with which they are concerned".
56. In addition to their functions under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act, the Boundary Commissions are also responsible under the devolution legislation for the review of regional boundaries for elections to the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales. The relevant statutory provisions in each case are:
a) Schedule 1 to the Scotland Act 1998; and
b) Schedule 1 to the Government of Wales Act 1998.
Clause 16 : Local Government Commission for England
57. Subsection (1) empowers the Secretary of State (in this case the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions) to transfer the functions of the Local Government Commission for England to the Electoral Commission.
58. The Local Government Commission for England was established by section 12 of the Local Government Act 1992 to carry out the functions given to it by Part II of that Act. The principal functions of the Commission under the 1992 Act are to review local government areas in England and make recommendations to the Secretary of State on whether or not changes to local authority structure, boundaries and electoral arrangements would be desirable. The Commission also has functions in connection with the review of parishes under sections 13 and 19 of the Local Government and Rating Act 1997. Finally, the Commission has functions in relation to the electoral arrangements for the Greater London Authority under Schedule 1 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999.
Clause 17 : Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales
59. Subsection (1) empowers the National Assembly for Wales to transfer to the Electoral Commission the functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales ("the Welsh Commission"). The Welsh Commission was established by section 53 of the Local Government Act 1972 to carry out the functions given to it by Part IV of that Act, as amended by the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. The principal functions of the Welsh Commission are to review local government areas and electoral arrangements in Wales, with a view to considering whether or not to make proposals to the National Assembly for Wales for effecting changes which appear to the Commission to be desirable in the interests of effective and convenient local government.
|© Parliamentary copyright 1999||Prepared: 21 December 1999|