Sixth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Wednesday 30 October 2002
[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]
Draft Scottish Parliament
(Elections etc.) Order 2002
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2002.
It is a delight to be in Committee under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. I know that you will appreciate every detail of this technical order.
The order is made under powers in sections 12(1) and 113 of the Scotland Act 1998 and deals with the conduct of elections to the Scottish Parliament and the return of MSPs. It consolidates, with amendments, the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 1999 and three amending orders made in 2001. It makes further changes concerning access to, and the sale and supply of, the electoral register, as a result of the Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002. Finally, it specifies a shorter minimum period for the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament.
Those who have already read the order will appreciate that it is substantial. However, before I describe in detail some of its provisions, I want to set out the context. The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 1999 set out the provisions affecting the election and return of Members to the Scottish Parliament. Following the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, electoral administrators in Scotland expressed their appreciation of the fact that all the material on the conduct of the election was provided for in one item of legislation. Since 1999, however, the conduct order has been amended three times. The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) Order 2001 made changes to reflect those that were introduced by the Representation of the People Act 2000. The main changes of note concerned rolling registration, voting by post without the need to put forward a reason for doing so, voting by proxy and the introduction of a device to enable blind or partially sighted voters to vote without assistance.
The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2001 aligned the timetable set out in the rules in schedule 2 to the 1999 order, for a by-election to fill a vacancy in a constituency seat, with the timetable of a United Kingdom parliamentary election. It may be remembered that that provision was used to align the Strathkelvin and Bearsden and Banff and Buchan by-elections in 2001.
The Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2001 amended schedule 1 to the 1999 order. It dealt with the supply of copies
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of the revised versions of the register and notices between annual revisions of the register, and the period within which applications to be removed from the record of absent voters or to vote by proxy had to be received. In addition, further amendment of the 1999 order is now required to make provision for the free supply of the full register for electoral purposes to MSPs and some candidates at Scottish Parliament elections.
Against the background of those legislative changes and the need for further change, we took the view that it would be sensible to consolidate the 1999 order and the amending orders of 2001with the further changes required. It is the draft of that new order that we are to consider now.
In producing the consolidation order my officials worked with an advisory group of representatives from the Scottish Assessors Association, the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland. The Electoral Commission was also represented in the advisory group. I am grateful to all the members of the advisory group for their very helpful assistance. In addition, as required by section 7 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, we have formally consulted the Electoral Commission on the contents of the order.
As I said, it is a substantial order. It had to be so in order to contain all the provisions necessary for the conduct of elections and the return of Members to the Scottish Parliament. An extensive explanatory note has therefore been made available to the Committee that explains the contents of the order and highlights those provisions that have been changed since 1999. I hope that it has proved helpful.
Part I of the order contains general provisions about the commencement, citation and interpretation of the order. If approved, it will in general terms come into force 14 days after the day when it is made. Special provision is made for elections to the Scottish Parliament when the last date for the publication of the notice of an election precedes the date when the order comes into force. In such a case, the 1999 order, as amended, will continue to apply.
Part II makes provision regarding the franchise for the Scottish Parliament and the exercise of that franchise. The main changes since 1999 are the result of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 2000 and of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
The introduction of a system of rolling registration, and changes to the absent voting provisions, were applied in relation to elections to the Scottish Parliament by the amending legislation in 2001, and the order consolidates all those changes. In addition, all references to a ''blind voter'' have been changed to a ''voter with disabilities'', reflecting the change first introduced by the Representation of the People Act 2000.
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Article 24 applies the amendment made by section 8(1) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. That requires a registration officer to comply with directions given by the Secretary of State as to the discharge of his registration duties, but only when the directions have been given in accordance with, and on the recommendation of, the Electoral Commission.
Part III of the order is concerned with the election campaign. The main differences from the 1999 order are the result of changes made by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 about candidates, election expenses and the campaign expenditure of political parties.
The provisions about candidates' election expenses apply, in the main, to constituency candidates and individual regional candidates. However, the provisions on personal expenses of candidates apply also to candidates on a registered party's regional list.
The changes in relation to candidates' expenses are contained in article 40, which specifies the maximum amount of candidates' election expenses at a general election. Those have been uprated in line with inflation.
Articles 41 and 42 deal with the time for sending in and paying claims. The main change since 1999 is that claims are to be submitted not later than 21 days after the day on which the result of an election is declared. Previously, the requirement had been for them to be submitted ''within 21 days'' of that date. That change reflects the change made by schedule 18 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Articles 45 and 46 deal with the declarations of election expenses for candidates for return as constituency Members, for individual candidates for return as regional Members and also for candidates on a registered party's regional list. The declaration of expenses is no longer required to be signed in the presence of a justice of the peace, reflecting the deletion of that provision from the Representation of the People Act 1983 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Article 46 also reflects the changes made by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act transferring responsibility for the monitoring of expenses of political parties to the Electoral Commission.
Article 52 contains a requirement for a returning officer to forward copies of returns and declarations to the Electoral Commission.
Articles 53 and 54 deal with the publication and inspection of returns and declarations. They are similar to the provisions in 1999 except that references to the Secretary of State have been removed since the responsibility now lies with the Electoral Commission. In addition, there is now no requirement to pay a fee for the inspection of returns and declarations, reflecting changes made by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Articles 55, 56 and 57 are concerned with the meaning of election expenses. They reflect the changes made by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, clarify the definition of
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election expenses and provide for the treatment of property, goods or services not used exclusively for the purposes of the candidate's election and for notional expenditure in relation to election expenses.
Article 61 deals with the broadcasting of local items during the election period, reflecting the change introduced by section 144 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. That requires broadcasting authorities to adopt a code of practice with respect to the participation of candidates at Scottish parliamentary elections in items about the constituency or electoral areas that are included in the services broadcast during the election period.
Provisions in the 1999 order that dealt with the conveyance of voters to the polls, access to polling stations by sea and premises that are not to be used as committee rooms have not been repeated in this order. That reflects the repeal of the comparable provisions in the Representation of the People Act 1983 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The definition of ''candidate'' in article 79 has been amended in line with section 135 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.
Part IV of the order makes provision for legal proceedings in connection with elections to the Scottish Parliament. Those provisions are designed to ensure that comparable court procedures apply in connection with elections to the Scottish Parliament to those that apply to elections to the UK Parliament.
Part V of the order deals with a range of miscellaneous and supplementary matters which are, in general, similar in terms to the 1999 order. The main change is in article 85, which provides that the minimum period for the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament under section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998 is to be 21 days. Under the 1999 order, the minimum period was specified as 25 days.
The Secretary of State was asked by the First Minister to consider reducing the dissolution period in order to extend the working life of the Parliament before the election and to contain the formal campaigning period for election to the Scottish Parliament to about one month. The Secretary of State consulted our advisory group on the issue. Electoral administrators in Scotland were concerned mainly that any change would not impact adversely on the timetable for the election and thereby increase the burden on administrators during a busy period. The Secretary of State also consulted the leaders of political parties represented at Holyrood, as well as the presiding officer and the Electoral Commission. No objections were made to the reduction in the minimum period for dissolution, so the Secretary of State decided to provide in this order for a reduced period. In practice, that means that, for example, the dissolution period in 2003 will begin on 31 March, rather than on 25 March, with polling day remaining on 1 May.
I shall now turn to the schedules to the order. Schedule 1 introduces a fresh provision regarding the free supply of the register of local government electors for electoral purposes relating to the Scottish Parliament. That provides for the supply of the
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register to MSPs and their election agents, to constituency and individual regional candidates standing for election to the Scottish Parliament and to the election agents of registered political parties in respect of list MSP candidates. The provision is similar to that made in respect of MPs and councillors by the Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002.
In passing, it is worth noting that supply of the full register to MSPs for the purpose of complying with the controls on donations contained in schedule 7 to the PPERA or schedule 2A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 is provided for in the Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002. For those hon. Members who have now fallen asleep, there will be a test at the end of my speech.
Schedule 2 sets out afresh the Scottish parliamentary election rules. They are substantially the same as in schedule 2 to the 1999 order, but reflect the changes made by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Representation of the People Act 2000.