|Political Parties And Elections Bill - continued||House of Commons|
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107. Clause 23 creates a number of procedural steps which must be followed before an order under Clause 22 can be made to create a scheme.
108. Subsection (1) provides that a scheme can only be created where a registration officer has submitted a proposal to the Secretary of State for consideration and the Secretary of State implements that proposal or does so with modifications agreed to by the registration officer.
109. Subsection (2) provides that before making an order, the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission, the person who authorised or required by the order to provide data to the registration officer and the Information Commissioner.
110. Subsection (3) requires that each order must include a specific evaluation date, by which the Electoral Commission must prepare a report on that scheme.
111. Subsections (4) and (5) provide the matters which must be included in the report, including a description of the scheme, and an assessment of the matters set out in subsection (5) and any other matters which are specified in the order. The report will establish the extent to which the scheme has enabled the registration officer to enhance the accuracy and completeness of his or her register, as well as whether there were any issues around administration, time, and costs. It will also enable a better understanding as to whether there were any objections to the scheme, for example from members of the public.
112. Subsection (6) provides that the registration officer must give the Electoral Commission such assistance as they may reasonably require while preparing the report and that on receipt of the report from the Electoral Commission, the registration officer must publish it as they think appropriate.
113. Clause 24 defines phrases which are used generally in the Bill.
114. Clause 25 gives effect to Schedules 5 and 6. Schedule 5 makes minor and consequential amendments and Schedule 6 contains the appropriate repeals.
115. Clause 26 is a transitional provision which is needed because certain provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 increasing the power of magistrates courts to impose imprisonment (in England and Wales) are not yet in force.
116. Schedule 1 of the Bill contains new Schedule 19B to the 2000 Act. This gives the Electoral Commission increased investigatory powers.
117. Paragraph 1 of the new Schedule restates powers that the Electoral Commission have in relation to registered parties and others and which are contained in the current section 146 of the 2000 Act. Sub-paragraph (1) lists the individuals and organisations to which the investigatory powers to require information set out in paragraph 1 can be applied. Broadly, these individuals and organisations are those considered to be the primary focus of the Commissions function of monitoring compliance as, together, they are the individuals and organisations on whom obligations under the 2000 Act are principally imposed.
118. Sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) allow the Commission, after issuing a disclosure notice, to require an individual, or an officer of an organisation, to produce or provide documents or an explanation in relation to income or expenditure where the information in question is reasonably required by the Commission to carry out their functions. Sub-paragraph (4) obliges the person to comply with a requirement set out in a disclosure notice within a reasonable time. It is a criminal offence not to do so without reasonable excuse, under paragraph 13 of the Schedule.
119. Paragraph 2 enables a person authorised by the Commission to enter premises at any reasonable time and inspect relevant documentation, to enable the Commission to carry out their functions. This power is restricted so that it can only be used in relation to registered parties, recognised third parties, permitted participants, members associations and organisations or individuals formerly within these categories.
120. The use of the power in paragraph 2 is subject to paragraph 3(6). Paragraph 3(6) provides that the Electoral Commission may not use its power under paragraph 2 to enter premises and inspect documents for the purposes of an investigation of a suspected offence contained in the 2000 Act or contravention of any restriction or requirement included in the same Act.
121. Paragraph 3 provides the Commission with a new power in cases where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence under the 2000 Act has been committed or that a contravention of any restriction or requirement of the Act has taken place. Where the Commission hold such a suspicion they may, under sub-paragraph (2), issue a notice to a person requiring that person to produce or provide any documents or explanation reasonably required for an investigation by them of the suspected offence or contravention. Sub-paragraph (3) obliges the person to comply with the notice within a reasonable time. It is a criminal offence not to do so without reasonable excuse, under paragraph 13 of the same Schedule. This power is wider than that set out in paragraph 1 because it is not restricted to documentation or information relating to income or expenditure nor is it restricted to a list of specified individuals or bodies.
122. Sub-paragraph (4) allows an investigator authorised by the Commission to require a person to come and answer in person any questions that the investigator reasonably considers relevant to the investigation. The powers created by paragraph 3 can be used in relation to a person who is also covered by paragraph 1, albeit for a different purpose (i.e. that of investigating purported wrongdoing), and may be used against any other person who holds, or is thought to hold, information reasonably required for an investigation by the Commission. It follows that use of the power may be used in respect of the individual or body suspected by the Commission of having committed an offence or contravention but is not limited to such an individual or body.
123. Paragraph 4 applies where the Commission has given a notice under paragraph 3 requiring documents to be produced. Sub-paragraph (2) allows a county court or (in Scotland) a sheriff to issue an order against a person following an application from the Commission if satisfied of four things. First, that there are reasonable grounds for believing that there has been an offence under, or other contravention of, the 2000 Act. Second, that documents referred to in the notice under paragraph 3 have not been produced in response to that notice. Third, that the documents are in the custody of the person against whom the order is issued. Finally, that the documents are reasonably required for the purposes of an investigation.
124. Sub-paragraph (3) provides that a disclosure order is an order requiring the person to whom it is given to deliver to the Commission documents referred to in the order within the timeframe set out in the order.
125. Sub-paragraph (4) provides that a document is in a person's control if they have possession of it, or a right to possession of it.
126. Sub-paragraph (5) stipulates that a person who fails to comply with a disclosure order may not be punished for both contempt of court, and an offence under paragraph 13 of the Schedule.
127. Paragraph 5 specifies that the Commission may retain documents delivered to them in compliance with an order under paragraph 4 for three months. However, if during that time any relevant criminal proceedings are begun, or notices are issued or penalties imposed under the new civil sanctions powers given by Schedule 19C, the documents may generally be retained until they are no longer required in relation to the proceedings or civil sanctions.
128. Paragraph 6 provides that the Commission, or a person authorised by the Commission, may make copies or records of relevant information or explanations obtained under the Schedule.
129. Paragraph 7 requires that any authorisation of a person by the Commission made under this Schedule must be in writing.
130. Paragraph 8 requires the person entering premises under the powers set out in paragraph 2 to provide evidence of their right to do so if the person on the premises asks for this.
131. Paragraph 10 deals with documents held in electronic form. Sub-paragraph (1)(a) gives the Commission a power to require such documents to be made available in a legible form. Sub-paragraph (1)(b) enables a person authorised to inspect documents to require any person on premises being searched to give reasonable assistance to allow the inspector to make legible copies of electronic documents, or records of information contained in them. Under this power such assistance may also be required by an inspector in order to enable him to inspect and check any computer or associated apparatus used in connection with the information.
132. Paragraph 11 exempts information subject to legal professional privilege (or confidentiality of communications in Scotland) from any requirement to produce information (in whatever form) under any power provided by this Schedule. The appropriate test is whether a claim to legal professional privilege or, in Scotland, confidentiality of communications could be maintained in legal proceedings in respect of the material in question.
133. Paragraph 12 deals with the admissibility of statements provided under compulsion. Sub-paragraph (1) provides that a statement made in response to a requirement under the Schedule may be used in any proceedings, provided that it complies with any other rules of evidence in those proceedings. But sub-paragraph (2) provides that the statement is not admissible against the maker of the statement in criminal proceedings or proceedings under the new Schedule 19C, unless evidence about the statement is relied on, or a question about it is asked, by the maker, or unless the proceedings are for an offence mentioned in sub-paragraphs (3) and (4). (These offences are similar to perjury.)
134. Paragraph 13 provides that it is an offence to fail to comply with any requirement imposed under the Schedule (for example, to refuse to supply the Commission with information requested under paragraph 1 or 3); to obstruct intentionally somebody performing functions under the Schedule; or knowingly or recklessly provide false information in response to a requirement imposed under the Schedule.
135. Paragraph 14 imposes a duty on the Electoral Commission to publish guidance on the matters set out in sub-paragraph (1), which concern the ways in which it will make use of the investigatory powers set out in Schedule 19B. Sub-paragraph (2) obliges the Commission to keep the guidance under review, and sub-paragraph (3) places a requirement on the Commission to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before publishing guidance or revised guidance. Sub-paragraph (4) requires the Commission to have regard to the guidance or revised guidance in exercising their functions.
136. Paragraph 15 requires the Electoral Commission to report on its use of the investigatory powers contained in new Schedule 19B to the 2000 Act (contained in Schedule 1 to the Bill), in its annual report which it lays before Parliament under paragraph 20 of Schedule 1.
137. Sub-paragraph (2) explains what information the Commission must include in the report on the use of its investigatory powers. Sub-paragraph (3) exempts the Commission from having to report any information that, in their opinion, it would be inappropriate to include because it would be unlawful or because it would prejudice an ongoing investigation or proceedings.
138. Schedule 2 to the Bill inserts new Schedule 19C into the 2000 Act. It sets out the range of new civil sanctions available to the Commission.
139. Paragraph 1 allows the Electoral Commission to impose fixed monetary penalties where they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a prescribed offence under the 2000 Act has been committed or that a contravention of a prescribed requirement or restriction contained in that Act has taken place. Prescribed means prescribed in an order by the Secretary of State. Under sub-paragraph (1) a fixed monetary penalty can be imposed on a person who has committed the breach. Sub-paragraphs (2) to (4) allow the Commission to impose a fixed monetary penalty on a political party, a recognised third party or a permitted participant respectively. In the case of a registered party the notice may be served on the party itself if the Commission is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a person holding office within the party has committed an offence or contravened a requirement. In the case of a recognised third party or a permitted participant the Commission may impose a penalty on the responsible person where it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has occurred or a requirement has been contravened.. Sub-paragraph (5) explains that the imposition of a fixed monetary penalty will require the individual or other person concerned to pay a prescribed amount of money to the Commission. Sub-paragraph (6) states that where an individual is issued with a fixed monetary penalty for an offence which is triable summarily (whether or not it can also be tried on indictment) and punishable on summary conviction by a fine, the penalty imposed must not be higher than the maximum fine available in summary proceedings.
140. Paragraph 2 sets out the representations and appeals processes. Sub-paragraph (1) requires the Commission to serve notice of any intention to impose a fixed monetary penalty on a person. This notice must offer the person the opportunity to discharge the penalty at that point by paying a prescribed amount, which cannot exceed the amount of the proposed penalty (sub-paragraph (2)). Alternatively, the person can opt to make written representations and objections to the Commission against the proposal to impose the penalty (sub-paragraph (3)). If the deadline for making representations and objections passes without the person having paid the prescribed amount under sub-paragraph (2), the Commission must decide whether to impose the penalty. If the Commission does decide to impose it, a further notice recording that must be served on the relevant person (sub-paragraph (4)). Sub-paragraph (5) provides that if the persons representations have raised any matter that leads the Commission to no longer suspect the person of having committed a prescribed offence or contravened a prescribed requirement or restriction of the 2000 Act, the Commission may not impose the penalty. That sub-paragraph also enables the Secretary of State to prescribe other circumstances in which a penalty may not be imposed. The person may appeal against the decision to impose the penalty on the grounds set out in sub-paragraph (6). Sub-paragraph (7) specifies that these appeals will be made to a county court, or in Scotland the sheriff.
141. Paragraph 3 explains what information the Commission must include when giving notice of an intention to impose a fixed monetary penalty on a person or when giving notice of a subsequent decision to impose the penalty. This must include information such as the grounds for imposition of the sanction, the right to make representations or appeals and the time periods in which these can be made.
142. Paragraph 4 limits the criminal proceedings that can be taken against a person for a prescribed offence or other breach of the 2000 Act that may be dealt with by way of fixed monetary penalty. Under sub-paragraph (1) if the Commission notifies the person of their intention to impose a fixed monetary penalty for the breach, no criminal proceedings for the breach can be brought during the period when liability can be discharged under paragraph 2(2). This sub-paragraph also precludes such proceedings being taken against a person who does discharge liability by making a payment under paragraph 2(2). Finally, paragraph 4(2) precludes a person on whom the Commission imposes a fixed monetary penalty under paragraph 2(4) from being convicted of an offence for the breach.
143. Paragraph 5 allows the Electoral Commission to impose a discretionary requirement on a person, political party, recognised third party or permitted participant where they are satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that a person has committed a prescribed offence or contravened a prescribed restriction or requirement of the 2000 Act (sub-paragraphs (1) to (4)). Sub-paragraph (5) defines a discretionary requirement as a sanction that can take the form of a monetary penalty or, alternatively, an instruction to take certain actions designed to either prevent the recurrence of the offence or contravention or restore the position to what it would have been had the offence or contravention not occurred. Sub-paragraph (6) limits the use of discretionary requirements by preventing the Commission from imposing a discretionary requirement on a person more than once for the same act or omission. Sub-paragraph (8) sets the financial limit of a variable monetary penalty for offences which are triable summarily, stating that, where such offences are punishable by a fine, the variable monetary penalty must not be greater than the maximum fine.
144. Paragraph 6, sub-paragraph (1) requires that, where the Commission intends to impose a discretionary requirement on a person for a prescribed offence or other breach of the 2000 Act, they must first notify the person of their intention. Sub-paragraph (2) allows the person to make written representations and objections to the Commission against the proposed penalty. If anything is raised which leads the Commission to no longer be satisfied that the prescribed offence or contravention took place, the Commission may not impose the penalty (sub-paragraph (4)). In all other cases, the Commission may proceed to serve on the person a notice formally imposing the discretionary requirement, which will specify what the requirement is (sub-paragraph (5)). The person may appeal to a county court (or Sheriff in Scotland) against the decision to impose the discretionary requirement, on a number of specified grounds (sub-paragraph (6)).
145. Paragraph 7 explains what information the Commission must include when giving the initial notice of an intention to impose a discretionary requirement on a person. This includes the grounds for imposing the requirement and the period for appeal (no less than 28 days from the day on which the notice is received). Sub-paragraph (3) sets out the information that must be provided by the Commission when they are imposing a discretionary requirement. This is: the grounds for the proposed discretionary requirement, details of any monetary penalty, rights of appeal and the consequences of non-compliance.
146. Paragraph 8 limits the use of other sanctions against a person who has had a discretionary requirement imposed upon them. It explains that if a discretionary requirement is imposed on a person for an offence or a contravention of a restriction or requirement under the 2000 Act, this protects them from being convicted in a criminal court for the same offence. However, this protection from future prosecution does not apply in cases where the discretionary requirement imposed was non-monetary, no variable monetary penalty was imposed, and the person failed to comply with the non-monetary discretionary requirement.
147. Paragraph 9 allows the Commission to impose a non-compliance penalty on a person who fails to comply with a non-monetary discretionary requirement; and also sets out the grounds and avenue of appeal against a non-compliance penalty (sub-paragraphs (3) and (4)).
148. Paragraph 10 provides that the Electoral Commission can impose a stop notice on a person in order to prevent them from continuing or repeating a particular activity which the Commission reasonably believes is (or is likely to be) a prescribed offence or a contravention of a prescribed requirement or restriction under the 2000 Act. A stop notice can also be imposed where the Commission believes that a persons behaviour is likely to lead to them committing an offence or acting in contravention of a prescribed requirement or restriction contained in the 2000 Act. In both cases the Commission must believe that the activity, or potential activity, is seriously damaging to public confidence in the effectiveness of the controls in the 2000 Act on income or expenditure by registered parties and others, or that it significantly risks doing so.
149. Paragraphs 11 to 14 set out the details and limitations of how the stop notice system operates. Paragraph 11 lists the information to be included in a stop notice which are the grounds for imposition, rights of appeal and consequences of non-compliance. Paragraph 12 requires the Commission to issue a completion certificate once they are satisfied that the person has taken the steps set out in the stop notice (at which point it will cease to have effect). The person upon whom a notice has been imposed may apply for a completion certificate at any time and the Commission must make a decision on the application within 14 days of receipt. Paragraph 13 explains how a person may appeal against the imposition of a stop notice, or against a decision not to issue a completion certificate, and provides that any appeal will be heard by a county court (or the sheriff in Scotland). It also sets out the grounds for appeal in both circumstances. Paragraph 14 provides that a person who does not comply with a stop notice is guilty of an offence.
150. Paragraph 15 outlines the powers of the Commission to accept an enforcement undertaking from a person whom the Commission have reasonable grounds for believing has committed a prescribed offence or contravened a prescribed restriction or requirement of the 2000 Act. An enforcement undertaking may be offered by the person suspected of the offence or contravention and outlines the action they will take (within a specified period). The action may be with a view to preventing the recurrence of the offence or contravention or returning the position to what it would have been had the offence or contravention not taken place or it may be action of a kind that has been prescribed in an order by the Secretary of State. Sub-paragraph (1)(d) requires that the undertaking will take effect only if the Commission accept it. Sub-paragraph (2) makes clear that a person who has complied with the accepted undertaking will generally be exempt from other sanctions, including criminal proceedings, in relation to the acts or omissions on which the undertaking is based as long as the undertaking is complied with.
151. Paragraph 16 gives the Secretary of State the power to make orders that are supplemental to, consequential on or incidental to this Schedule. Such provisions may include transitional provision. This includes the power to amend, repeal or revoke any enactment.
152. Paragraph 17 sets out the consultation process that the Secretary of State must carry out prior to making a supplementary order under paragraph 16. As part of this process the Electoral Commission must be consulted, along with other persons that the Secretary of State considers appropriate. Under sub-paragraph (2) further consultation is required where, following the outcome of the initial consultation, it is apparent that substantial changes to an order will be necessary. Any consultations which are conducted prior to the commencement of this Schedule may count for these purposes.
153. Paragraph 18 sets out the details of what can be included in a supplementary order regarding the Commissions power to impose financial sanctions, including fixed monetary penalties, variable monetary penalties and non-compliance penalties. In particular, provision made by virtue of this paragraph may include detail about early payment discounts, late payment penalties, late payment interest and enforcement.
154. Paragraph 19 sets out the details of what can be included in a supplementary order in relation to enforcement undertakings. The order may include a wide range of detail about procedural matters relating to undertakings, for example, how undertakings are entered into and in what circumstances undertakings are regarded as having been complied with.
155. Paragraph 20 states that a supplementary order may extend the time available to institute criminal proceedings against a person in certain instances. The first of these is where a non-monetary discretionary requirement (but no variable monetary penalty) has been imposed and the person has failed to comply with the non-monetary discretionary requirement. The second is where there has been a breach of all or part of an enforcement undertaking.
156. Paragraph 21 allows a supplementary order to set out the details of the appeals process in relation to the imposition of a requirement or the service of a notice under this Schedule. Such an order may include provision conferring relevant powers on courts (for example, to withdraw the requirement or notice against which there is an appeal).
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