Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Electoral Commission (PR 31)

The role of the Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) established the Electoral Commission and gave us statutory responsibilities in relation to elections and referendums.

Our role in elections is twofold: we are the independent regulator of party and election finance, and we set standards for electoral administrators, provide advice and assistance and report on their performance. [1]

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

This briefing sets out the Commission’s view on key issues arising from the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which provides for the elections of Police and Crime Commissioners.


Effective coordination of new elections

1. A key factor in the delivery of well-run polls will be clear and timely legislation. We continue to highlight our recommendation following problems with the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 that the rules relating to any elections must be clear from at least six months in advance. This is so that campaigners, Returning Officers and the Commission are not left with uncertainty about their respective roles and responsibilities and can undertake the necessary planning and preparation.

2. The proposed 3 May 2012 elections will see an entirely new legal framework being implemented, including new administrative boundaries, to support the election of Police and Crime Commissioners for the first time. The elections would also be held at the same time as local government elections across England and Wales. It will therefore be particularly important that the rules relating to these elections should be clear from the beginning of November 2011 at the latest.

3. The Commission has identified instances and examples of problems with elections in recent years caused by poor planning and coordination, and has highlighted the need for an effective framework to support planning and provide overall coordination, consistency of practice and monitoring of the delivery of future elections. [2] Currently, referendums are the only polls where legislation provides for co-ordination and delivery at a national level.

4. Given the time needed for Parliament to consider the Bill and the necessary subsequent secondary legislation, a framework for coordination of all those involved in running these new elections must swiftly be established. Effective coordination will be essential in ensuring that they are delivered to a consistently high standard across England and Wales and in a way that meets the needs of voters. Without such coordination, there is a risk that the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners will be delivered inconsistently or incorrectly, meaning that voters and candidates may not receive the level of service they are entitled to expect.

5. We have recommended that the Home Office should establish a cross-department steering group (which should include representatives from the Cabinet Office, the UK Government department with lead responsibility for elections policy) to coordinate planning and delivery of the proposed 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Alternatively, we would welcome early engagement by the Home Office with the Elections and Referendums Steering Group which we have established to coordinate and monitor the planning and delivery of the spring 2011 elections and referendums.

The Electoral Commission’s functions

Provision of advice and assistance

6. Provisions in Schedule 10 of the Bill would extend many of the Electoral Commission’s existing functions and duties – including statutory consultation on changes to electoral law, setting and monitoring performance standards for Returning Officers, accrediting individuals and organisations to attend and observe electoral processes and reporting on the administration of elections – to the proposed Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

7. As currently drafted, however, the Bill would not extend the Commission’s existing powers to provide advice and assistance (including guidance) to Returning Officers, political parties, candidates and agents to the proposed Police and Crime Commissioner elections. This is a function that the Commission currently carries out under section 10 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 in relation to other elections across Great Britain (with the exception of local government elections in Scotland), and our guidance ensures clarity and consistency of electoral administration across different areas.

8. The Government has confirmed that it intends that the Commission should have a role in providing guidance for Returning Officers for the proposed elections, and has indicated that it would provide for this role through secondary legislation. While we welcome the Government’s intention, it would be clearer and more consistent with previous practice if the Bill followed the approach of amending PPERA to include Police and Crime Commissioner elections in the list of elections relevant for the Commission’s functions under section 10.

Public awareness

9. We note that Clause 53 of the Bill provides that the Commission must take such steps as it considers appropriate to raise public awareness about each election of a Police and Crime Commissioner. We are pleased that this provision, which is consistent with our public awareness role for other elections, has been included in the Bill. There is likely to be a cost to carrying out this function, and we will discuss this with the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission in the usual way.

Campaign finance

10. We understand that the Government intends campaigning at the new elections for police commissioners to be regulated by the Commission, in the same way that we regulate party and election finance at other elections under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Representation of the People Act 1983. Clause 58 of the Bill contains powers to make provision by order about party registration and the funding and spending of candidates and political parties at the new elections. It does not appear to allow for the regulation of spending by campaigners who are not standing for an election but wish to influence its outcome (non-party campaigners or ‘third parties’), and the Government and Parliament will want to consider amending the Bill in due course to provide for this.

As with the electoral administration provisions of the Bill, it is important that the Government’s detailed plans for the regulation of election finance are finalised in good time to allow well-run elections to take place. For regulatory purposes, we will need clarity on the rules well before the start of the regulated period(s) for campaign spending at the elections, so that we can produce full and accurate guidance for campaigners and help them to comply with the rules. The Bill requires consultation with the Electoral Commission before the necessary orders can be made. It will be important for the Government to develop full policy proposals for the regulation of the elections as soon as possible, so that the secondary legislation can be finalised quickly enough to meet the needs of campaigners and voters (see paras 1 and 2 above).

January 2011

[1] The Electoral Administration Act 2006 gave the Commission powers to set and monitor performance standards for the administration of elections .

[2] The Electoral Commission, Electoral Administration in the United Kingdom (August 2008).