House of Commons - Explanatory Note
Political Parties, Elections And Referendums Bill - continued          House of Commons

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Clauses 73 to 77 : Returns

163. Clauses 73 to 77 are concerned with the preparation, auditing and submission of returns as to campaign expenditure. The registered treasurer of a party is required to prepare a return after each relevant campaign period and it is made a criminal offence for the treasurer to fail to submit a return or to submit a false return. The return must be accompanied by a declaration by the treasurer as to its accuracy. A party must submit its return to the Electoral Commission within three months of the end of the relevant campaign period to which the return relates, unless the party's expenditure exceeds £250,000, in which case the return must be independently examined by a qualified auditor and submitted within six months. All returns received by the Electoral Commission are to be open to public inspection.

Part VI : Controls relating to third party national election campaigns

Clauses 78 to 80 : Controlled expenditure by third parties

164.     The purpose of this Part is to apply restrictions upon election expenditure by third parties. Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 regulates the expenses which third parties may incur in promoting or procuring the election of a candidate in a particular constituency contest. This Part makes equivalent provision in relation to national third party expenditure which is intended to generally promote or procure the election of a registered party and its candidates. Clause 78(2) specifies the expenditure which is to be subject to the controls set out in this Part. "Controlled expenditure" is that incurred in connection with the production and publication of material which is addressed to the public at large, or any section of the public, and which is designed to promote or procure the election of a particular registered party or a particular category of candidates, whether they be those standing in the name of a particular registered party or a group of candidates who, irrespective of party, share particular views.

165.     Clause 78(3) specifies that "controlled expenditure" includes expenses in relation to material designed to achieve its purpose by reducing support for other candidates or another party. It does not matter whether the material names the candidates or party which it is intended to benefit or disparage. The test is whether the material can reasonably be regarded as intended to benefit a particular party's electoral prospects. The cost of a poster campaign advocating a particular policy without explicitly supporting or attacking a named political party might nevertheless fall to be regarded as "controlled expenditure" if the policy in question was closely identified with a particular political party or group of candidates.

166.     The controls set out in this Part apply to material affecting the electoral prospects of a political party or candidates in elections to the House of Commons, the European Parliament and the devolved legislatures. They do not apply to third party expenditure in respect of local government elections. They would apply, under clause 79(1), to expenditure in kind, that is to property, services or facilities provided for the use or benefit of the third party either free of charge or at a rate 10 per cent or more below their market value, where the market value of services provided free of charge, or the difference between rate charged and their true market value, is £100 or more. Where a third party incurs expenditure within the meaning of clause 79(1), it will be required, under clause 79(4), to make a declaration as to the value of the benefit for inclusion in a return as to election expenses under clause 89.

167.     Clause 80 details certain types of expenditure which may be incurred by or on behalf of a third party, but which is not to be treated as controlled expenditure for the purposes of Part VI.

Clauses 81 and 82 : Recognised third parties

168.     Where a third party intends to incur controlled expenditure in excess of £10,000 in England or £5,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland during a regulated period for an election, it must provide the Electoral Commission with a notification as required under clause 81. The notification must specify the name and address of the third party and, in the case of a company or unincorporated association, the person who will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the accounting and disclosure provisions of this Part. Such a notification may be made at any time. A notification under clause 81 will lapse unless renewed on an annual basis. Clause 82 requires the Commission to maintain a register of notifications.

Clauses 83 to 86 : General restrictions relating to controlled expenditure by recognised third parties

169.     In order to ensure proper observance of the limits on controlled expenditure by third parties, clauses 83 and 84 require that all such expenditure, and any payment in respect of such expenditure, must be authorised or made by the responsible person or a person authorised in writing by him. Similarly, clause 85 requires that any claim for payment in respect of campaign expenditure must be sent to the responsible person or other authorised person. These provisions (and clause 86, which provides for disputed claims) are similar to the provisions in Part II of the Representation of the People Act 1983 concerning election expenditure by candidates and their agents.

Clause 87 and Schedule 9 : Limits on controlled expenditure by third parties

170.     Clause 87(1) applies Schedule 9 which has the effect of setting out financial limits on controlled expenditure by third parties, and the periods to which those limits apply, in respect of elections to the House of Commons, the European Parliament and the devolved legislatures. Clause 87 also ensures that third parties which incur significant levels of controlled expenditure are brought within the regulatory remit of the Electoral Commission.

171.     The scheme set out in Schedule 9 is similar to that in respect of national campaign expenditure by political parties as set out in Schedule 8. The periods to which the financial limits set out in Part II of Schedule 9 apply are the same as those which apply to expenditure by registered parties under Schedule 8. Part III of Schedule 9 makes equivalent provision for any overlapping of the relevant regulated periods and, where appropriate, the aggregation of the financial limits which apply. Part I of Schedule 9 also makes equivalent provision for third party expenditure to be apportioned between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and Part IV makes equivalent provision for expenditure notionally incurred during the period when the limits apply.

172.     The financial limits on controlled expenditure on the part of third parties which have given a notification to the Commission under clause 81 (ie. a "recognised third party") represent 5% of the limit which would apply to a registered party if it contested all the seats in the election in question. The limits are set out in the table below:

Parliamentary general election

Election to the European Parliament

Election to the Scottish Parliament

Election to the Welsh Assembly

Election to the Northern Ireland Assembly



















Northern Ireland









£ 988,500


£ 195,759








Clause 88 and Schedule 10 : Control of donations to recognised third parties

173.     Clause 88 gives effect to Schedule 10 which provides for controls on donations to recognised third parties for the purpose of meeting controlled expenditure. Part I of Schedule 10 defines donations to recognised third parties in terms equivalent to those in clauses 45 to 47 in respect of donations to registered parties. Part II of Schedule 10 applies restrictions on the acceptance of donations equivalent to those in clauses 48 to 54. Part III of Schedule 10 requires that the return as to controlled expenditure, required under clause 89, must include a statement giving details of the source and amount of donations of £5,000 or more (including aggregate sums). The statement must also detail donations received, but rejected, from impermissible or unidentifiable donors. The requirements of this clause and Schedule do not apply to registered parties given that they will be subject to the ongoing controls on donations set out in Part IV.

Clauses 89 to 93: Returns

174.     Where a recognised third party incurs controlled expenditure during a regulated period, it will, at the end of that period, be required to submit a return specifying the election or elections taking place within the regulated period in question and containing a statement of all payments made in respect of controlled expenditure incurred during that period. This return must be accompanied by all related invoices and receipts and all declarations made, under clause 79(4), in respect of property, services and facilities provided free of charge or at a discount for the use or benefit of the third party. It must also be accompanied by a declaration signed by the person included in the notification made under clause 81, attesting to the accuracy of the return. It is made a criminal offence either to make a false declaration or to omit to provide such a declaration. Where the controlled expenditure exceeds £250,000, the return must be independently examined by a qualified auditor and submitted to the Electoral Commission within six months. Returns not subject to the audit requirement must be submitted within three months. All returns received by the Commission are to be open to public inspection.

Clause 94 : Publications promoting groups of candidates etc. to contain details of printer and publisher

175.     Clause 94 makes provision equivalent to section 110 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and requires that documents published by or on behalf of third parties incurring controlled expenditure must carry the name and address of both the publisher and printer of the document and of the person or body on whose behalf it has been published.

Part VII : Referendums

176.     The purpose of this Part is to make generic provision for the conduct of major referendums held in the United Kingdom. There does not presently exist any standing statutory authority, other than under Schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, enabling referendums to be held in the United Kingdom (nor is it the purpose of this legislation to make such provision). Consequently, dedicated primary legislation will normally continue to be required in order to provide for the holding of any particular major referendum.

Clause 95 : Referendums to which this Part applies

177.     Clause 95 provides that the controls on the conduct of referendums set out in Part VII apply to any referendum held throughout the United Kingdom, one or more of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or any English region. The provisions do not apply to referendums held under section 36 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 (subsection (3)) or on devolved matters in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There have been eight referendums to which the provisions of Part VII would have applied had they been in force at the time. The statutory authority for these referendums, the questions asked and the dates of the polls are set out in the table overleaf:


Statutory authority


Date of poll

Northern Ireland (Border Poll) Act 1972

(I) Do you want NI to remain part of the UK?;


(ii) Do you want NI to be joined with the

Republic of Ireland, outside of the



8 March 1973

Referendum Act


Do you think that the UK should stay in the European Community (The Common Market)?


5 June 1973

Scotland Act 1978 (Section 85 and Schedule 17)

Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act to be put into effect?


1 March 1979

Wales Act 1978 (Section 80 and Schedule 12)

Do you want the provisions of the Wales Act 1978 to be put into effect?


1 March 1979

Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Act 1997

(i) I agree that there should be a Scottish

Parliament; or

(ii) I do not agree that there should be a

Scottish Parliament


11 September 1997

(i) I agree that a Scottish Parliament should

have tax-varying powers; or

(ii) I do not agree that a Scottish Parliament

should have tax-varying powers.

Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Act 1997

(i) I agree that there should be a Welsh

Assembly; or

(ii) I do not agree that there should be a Welsh



18 September 1997

Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act 1998

Are you in favour of the Government's proposals for a Greater London Authority, made up of an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly?


7 May 1998

Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order 1998 (SI 1998/1126) (made under section 4(1) of the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act 1996).

Do you support the agreement reached at the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?


22 May 1998


178.     Subsection (2) defines a referendum as a referendum or poll held by or under an Act of Parliament on one or more specified questions. Subsection (4) provides that the Secretary of State may, by order, apply the arrangements for the conduct of referendums contained in this Part from the date of introduction of a Bill providing for a particular referendum.

Clause 96 : Referendum period

179.     Clause 96 defines the referendum period for any referendum to which Part VII applies. The period is relevant, in particular, to the restrictions on incurring expenses as provided for in clauses 106 and 107 and Schedule 13. The relevant period for any particular referendum will normally be expected to begin on the day the Bill providing for the referendum is introduced in Parliament, and it will end with the date of the poll. But the period may not in any event exceed six months. Under these provisions, the referendum period for the 1997 devolution referendum in Scotland would have commenced on 15 May 1997 (the date the Scotland and Wales (Referendum) Bill was introduced) and would have ended on 11 September 1997 (the date of the poll) - a total of 119 days.

Clause 97 : Date of poll

180.     This clause provides that, where the date of a referendum poll is determined under any provision made by or under the Act providing for the referendum to be held (ie. when a Minister fixes the date), there must be a period of at least 28 days from the date on which the Electoral Commission designates campaign organisations to the date of the poll. This minimum period is intended to ensure that a designated campaign is afforded sufficient opportunity to mount an effective campaign and to make full use of the benefits afforded to it under clause 103. This clause does not apply to a referendum where the date of the poll is specified on the face of the Act providing for the referendum to be held. Nonetheless, the expectation in such cases will similarly be that there will be at least 28 days for campaigning following the designation of campaign organisations. By virtue of this clause, together with the timetable for designation of umbrella campaign organisations under clause 102, the minimum referendum period for any particular referendum would normally be ten weeks.

Clause 98 : Permitted participants

181.     Subsection (1) defines a "permitted participant" in a particular referendum campaign. A permitted participant may be:

  • a registered party which has made a declaration to the Commission under clause 99; or

  • an individual, company or unincorporated association which has given a notification to the Commission under clause 99.

182.     Subsection (2) defines a "responsible person" in relation to a permitted participant. The responsible person will discharge similar responsibilities in respect of the financial affairs of a permitted participant as the registered treasurer does in respect to a political party.

Clause 99 : Declarations and notifications for purposes of section 98

183.     Clause 99 sets out the requirements in respect of declarations made by registered parties and of notifications made by individuals, companies and unincorporated associations. These include, in the case of companies and unincorporated associations, a requirement that the notification include the name of the person or officer responsible for ensuring compliance with the accounting and disclosure provisions of this Part (ie. the "responsible person").

Clause 100 : Register of declarations and notifications for the purposes of section 111

184.     Clause 100 requires the Electoral Commission to maintain, for each referendum, a register of political parties which have made a declaration under clause 99 and of other persons who have given a notification under that clause.

Clause 101 : Designation of organisations to whom assistance is available

185.     Section 3 of the Referendum Act 1975 identified two umbrella campaign organisations ('Britain in Europe' and the 'National Referendum Campaign') which had emerged since the then government announced its intention to hold a referendum on continued membership of the Common Market. Clause 101 enables the Electoral Commission to designate similar umbrella organisations in any referendum to which Part VII applies.

186.     Where there is only two possible outcomes in a particular referendum (as has been the case with seven of the eight national or regional referendums held to date), subsection (2) provides that the Commission may designate one umbrella organisation for each of these outcomes. The Commission may not designate an umbrella campaign organisation for one side but not the other.

187.     Where there are more than two possible outcomes (as was the case in the 1997 referendum on Scottish devolution), the Commission may designate an umbrella organisation for each of the possible outcomes specified by the Secretary of State (subsections (3) and (4)).

Clause 102 : Applications for designation under section 101

188. Clause 102 sets out the procedure and timetable for applications for designation and the basis on which the Commission is to determine such applications. The whole process, which commences at the start of the referendum period determined in accordance with clause 96, takes a maximum of six weeks (four weeks for applications to be submitted and two weeks for the Commission to come to a decision, although there is a power (in subsection (6)) to vary the timetable by order.

189.     The criterion for determining applications (namely, "whichever of the applicants appears to [the Electoral Commission] to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome") is similar to that employed in respect of the 1975 referendum where the Government undertook to identify two organisations "which adequately represent" each side of the question ( see paragraph 40 of the White Paper 'Referendum on United Kingdom Membership of the European Community', February 1975, Cmnd 5925). Under subsection (5) it is possible for the Commission to decide that none of the applicant organisations in relation to a particular outcome qualifies to be designated. Where that is the case, clause 101(2) would require that no organisation be designated in respect of any of the possible outcomes of the referendum.

Clause 103 and Schedule 11 : Assistance available to designated organisations

190.     Clause 103 and Schedule 11 confer certain benefits on designated umbrella organisations. Subsection (2) of clause 103 provides that the Commission may award each designated organisation a grant of up to £600,000. This figure is broadly the equivalent at today's prices of the £125,000 grant paid to the umbrella organisations in the 1975 referendum under the provisions of section 3 of the Referendum Act 1975. All umbrella organisations designated in connection with a particular referendum must receive the same level of grant. Such grants are intended to provide a designated campaign organisation with sufficient resources to mount an effective campaign. Subsection (3) enables the Commission to attach such conditions to a grant as they may determine. The conditions attached to the grants made to the umbrella groups in the 1975 referendum included a requirement that the grant be used only for purposes connected with the referendum; a requirement that the accounts were available for audit within two months of the date of the referendum; and that the accounts would be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (Accounts of Campaigning Organisations, October 1975, Cmnd 6251). Subsection (4) and Schedule 11 confer benefits on designated referendum campaign organisations similar to those conferred on candidates and political parties at elections, namely:

a) the sending of a referendum address free to every household or elector;

b) the use of public rooms free of charge for holding public meetings; and

c) referendum campaign broadcasts. Under the terms of paragraph 4 of Schedule 11 it is a matter for the broadcasting authorities to determine the length and frequency of referendum broadcasts, but in doing so they must have regard to any views expressed by the Electoral Commission.

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Prepared: 21 December 1999