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Mr. Wills: The timing of Royal Assent of the Political Parties and Elections Bill, which the Justice Secretary introduced to this House on 17 July, and the commencement of its provisions will depend on its progress through Parliament. However, as I said in response to the question of 26 November 2008, Official Report, column 1684-85W) and during the Committee Stage of the Political Parties and Elections Bill on 18 November 2008, Official Report, column 281, even if the Bill receives Royal Assent before the European Parliamentary elections on 4 June 2009, we do not plan to commence the provisions in clause 16 of the Bill before that date.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) of 15 September 2008, Official Report, column 2028W, on the Political Parties and Elections Bill 2007-08, in what ways the proposed new trigger rules, prior to the publication of guidance, will remedy the difficulties with the old trigger rules referred to (a) in the case of Fiona Jones and R v. Desmond Whicher  EWCA Crim 1094 and (b) the Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Wills: Clause 11 of the Political Parties and Elections Bill would reintroduce the long-standing principle which existed prior to the passage of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 that all spending used by candidates for the purposes of their election campaign should count towards the candidate spending limit (often referred to as triggering).
The legislation defining candidate spending has been updated since the previous system of triggering was in place and clause 11 does not propose a return to the precise wording that existed prior to 2000. Section 76 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 ("the 1983 Act") described candidate expenses as those "on account of or in respect of the conduct or management of the election". This wording was removed from section 76 of the 1983 Act by section 132 of the 2000 Act. Section 27 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 ("the 2006 Act") inserted new section 90ZA into the 1983 Act, which clarifies that "election expenses" in relation to a candidate at an election means any expenses incurred at any time in respect of any matter specified in Part 1 of Schedule 4A of the 1983 Act (also inserted by section 27 of the 2006 Act) which is used for the purposes of the candidate's election after the date when he becomes a candidate at the election. A person is defined as a candidate' according to section 118A of the 1983 Act.
Clause 11 of the Bill would not restore the previous wording of the 1983 Act. Rather it amends section 90ZA such that the definition of election expenses is capable of including those expenses incurred and used by a person before that person formally becomes a candidate' by virtue of section 118 A.
The Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Neill Report), published in 1998, identified problems with the legislation on candidate expenditure as it stood at the time. The key problems which the Neill Report identified were around which items of expenditure should count towards election expenses and which should not; and when a constituency campaign is to be deemed to have begun. These problems were identified again in the judgement of the England and Wales Court of
Appeal (Criminal Division) in the case of Fiona Jones Desmond Whicher, R v. , which quoted from the Neill Report. The then Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, noted that there was no simple and decisive test to determine whether an expense was or was not to be regarded as en election expense within the meaning of the Act at the time.
In the case of which items should count towards election expenses, Neill specifically criticised Schedule 3 of the 1983 Act. That Schedule provided a form of return for candidates to complete their declaration as to election expenses. As Neill noted, however, the form largely reproduced the equivalent Schedule in the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883 and was therefore considerably out of date. Neill recommended that the Schedule should be revised such that it contained a full and up to date list of items of expenditure (recommendation 46). The 2000 Act accordingly repealed Schedule 3 of the 1983 Act. The 2006 Act inserted new Schedule 4A into the 1983 Act. This Schedule lists in detail the matters which are, and are not, to be regarded as election expenses, providing far greater clarity for candidates than under the previous system of triggering that existed before 2000.
In the case of determining when a constituency campaign is deemed to have begun, Neill noted the considerable doubt on this point for candidates and political parties, as the 1983 Act made no attempt to define the period of the election or the election campaign. However, Neill concluded "despite the difficulties, it is possible for parties, nationally as well as locally, to distinguish in most situations between election and non-election spending".
Neill therefore recommended that the precedent established by the 1983 Act should continue to be followed, and that expenditure limits should continue to be set in terms of the purpose for which expenditure is incurred rather than in terms of any specified time period (recommendation 51). It is this principle, specifically endorsed by the Neill Report, which clause 11 of the Bill seeks to restore with regard to the candidate spending limit.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor said during the first evidence session of the Public Bill Committee, the trigger arrangements are not "perfect, but they did act as a dampener". The Government believe that the changes made to the legislation since the passage of the 2000 Act are significant steps in addressing the points made in the Neill Report and the Fiona Jones judgement relating to determining the purpose of expenditure.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) of 15 September 2008, Official Report, column 2028W, on the Political Parties and Elections Bill 2007-08, if he will issue guidance on whether the proof of two elements (a) that the expenditure should be closely related to the machinery of an election and (b) that the expenses should be primarily or principally incurred for the promotion of the interests of the candidate will again apply in defining local candidate expenditure under the reintroduced trigger rules. 
The Ministry of Justice has no plans to issue guidance on these points. Clause 12 of the Bill provides that the Electoral Commission may issue guidance,
supplementing the definition in section 90ZA(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, as to the case or circumstances in which expenses are, or are not, to be regarded as incurred for the purposes of a candidate's election.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) of 15 September 2008, Official Report, column 2028W, on political parties: finance, what assumptions were made in preparing the impact assessments for the Bill of the consequences of the Electoral Commission guidance on trigger rules being issued after the rules have been commenced at Royal Assent. 
Mr. Wills: Clause 12 of the Political Parties and Elections Bill amends an existing power granted to the Electoral Commission to issue a code of practice giving guidance on the list of regulated matters for candidate spending (set out in part 1 of schedule 4A of the Representation of the People Act 1983, as inserted by the Electoral Administration Act 2006). Clause 12 of the Bill provides that the Commission may also include in any code of practice guidance, supplementing the definition in section 90ZA(3) of the 1983 Act, on when expenditure will be regarded as for election purposes.
Clause 11 of the Bill would alter the regulation of candidate expenditure such that all expenditure used for the purposes of an individuals election will be regulated by the candidate spending limit, regardless of when that expenditure is incurred.
In preparing the impact assessment for clause 11, no assumption was made about the length of time between the commencement of clause 11 of the Bill and the production of a code, of practice or other guidance by the Electoral Commission.
As stated in the answer provided on 15 September, a code of practice is not a prerequisite to clause 11 of the Bill coming into force. Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor clearly stated during the first public evidence session of the Bills Committee stages on 4 November, it is our intention that guidance from the Commission should be in place before the commencement of clause 11.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether he plans to raise the de minimis level for recording donations to political parties from £200 to reflect inflation since the limit was first introduced. 
Mr. Wills: As I said during Committee stage debates on the Bill, the Government are keen to secure broad consensus to the package of reforms in the Political Parties and Elections Bill. With that in mind, the Government will consider whether it is appropriate to raise the £200 threshold for recording donations contained in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). We are open to representations on this point.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer of 6 November 2008, Official Report, column 752W, on political parties: finance, if he will make it his policy for statutory guidance which is approved by the Secretary of State and which originates from government-sponsored legislation to be compliant with the Government's Code of Practice on Guidance on Regulation, with specific reference to the time for consultation on and compliance with regulation. 
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) of 17 September 2008, Official Report, columns 2291-2W, on political parties: finance, whether hon. Members who are deemed to have breached the rules of the Communications Allowance by the House, by virtue of promoting themselves in a partisan manner, will be deemed to have triggered their local candidates' election expenses under the proposed new trigger rules. 
Mr. Wills: As I wrote in a letter sent to Members of Public Bill Committee on the Political Parties and Elections Bill on 19 November 2008, a copy of which I have placed in the Library of the House, depending on the circumstances of the case, and depending on the nature of the expenditure that led to a complaint, if an MP was found guilty of abusing the Communications Allowance then the follow-on effect might well be that the expenditure would have triggered that MP's candidate expenditure limit. That would be the case where the Communications Allowance is used to fund expenditure on a matter listed in schedule 4A for the purposes of promoting his or her election as a candidate at a general election. However, being found guilty of breaching the rules regarding use of the allowance would not automatically lead to a triggering of an MP's election expenses.
This figure is taken from the Public Protection Unit Database (PPUD) within the National Offender Management Service. As with any large scale recording system, it is subject to possible errors arising from either data entry or processing.
Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many prisoners have escaped from police, Prison Service or contracted agents' custody whilst in transit or otherwise whilst under escort outside the secure custodial estate in each of the last 10 years. 
Mr. Hanson: Levels of escapes are currently at their lowest levels since central recording of this data began in 1995. Data in the following table show the number of prisoners who have escaped from escort between April 1998 and March 2008 broken down by (a) Prison Service escorts (b) contractor escorts. Data on numbers of escapes from police escorts is not collated centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost by contacting every police force in the country.
|Number of Prisoners who have escaped from escort|
|HMPS Escorts||Contractor Escorts( 1)||Total|
|(1). Data on escapes from contractor escorts includes escorts from police station to court as these are carried out by National Offender Management Service contractors. These figures do not include other police-related escort escapes such as escapes whilst been transported from point of arrest to police station or transport between police stations.|
1. All figures shown are for KPI Escapes recorded as part of the NOMS performance management system.
2. These figures have been drawn from administrative data systems. Although care is taken when processing and analysing the returns, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system.
Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the average population of (a) the open prison estate and (b) the entire prison estate in England and Wales was in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Hanson: Figures relating to the total numbers of prisoners detained in both (a) all open prison establishments in England and Wales, and (b) the entire prison estate in England and Wales as at 30 June 2004 to 2008 can be found in the following table:
|Open and total prison population as at 30 June 2004 to 2008 (England and Wales)|
|Total open( 1) prisons||Total prison population|
|(1) Excludes those prison establishments which are not wholly open|
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