1.The Electoral Commission was established by Parliament as a body independent of Government. Both the Chair of the Electoral Commission and Electoral Commissioners themselves are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, following an Address from the House of Commons. The Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission is required under section 3 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), as amended by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, to oversee the procedure for selecting candidates for appointment to the Electoral Commission. Candidates’ names are put before the House of Commons with the agreement of the Speaker.
2.Section 5 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, which inserted a new section 3A into PPERA, provides for four of the Electoral Commissioners to be persons put forward by the registered leader of a qualifying party for consideration for appointment. These Commissioners are described in the statute as “nominated Commissioners”.
3.It has been the usual practice of the Speaker’s Committee to recommend the appointment of Electoral Commissioners for a standard four-year term and, if re-nominated by the party leader and found appropriate by the Committee, to recommend re-appointment for a further four-year term, giving an ordinary maximum term of eight years.
4.The term of office of the following three nominated Commissioners came to an end on 30 September 2018:
5.The Speaker’s Committee is very grateful to the outgoing Commissioners for their dedicated work for the Electoral Commission.
6.This report provides information about the procedure followed by the Speaker’s Committee during the selection of candidates to replace John Horam, Bridget Prentice and David Howarth. The full procedure for appointing nominated Commissioner’s is appended to this report.
7.Since 2009 the Speaker’s Committee has been responsible for the establishment and oversight of a procedure for the selection of prospective Electoral Commissioners and the Commission chairman. The consent of the Speaker and consultation with the registered leaders of each political party to which two or more members of the House of Commons belong are also required before a motion for an Address may be presented to the House.
8.In November 2017 the Speaker wrote to the leaders of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and of the ‘smaller parties’ - that is, those registered parties with two or more Members of the House of Commons - asking for their nominations to replace the outgoing nominated Commissioners.
9.The Speaker’s Committee, and the panel appointed to interview the nominated candidates, were disappointed at the length of time it took for the political parties to respond to the Speaker’s letter. It took nearly five months to receive all nominations. As a result, the schedule of interviews could only be arranged for an already busy period in the parliamentary timetable. It also meant that the remaining statutory stages in the appointment process could not be completed by the time the outgoing Commissioners’ terms ended in September 2018.
10.In response to Mr Speaker’s letter, the Leader of the Conservative Party put forward three candidates, although one candidate later withdrew from the process. The Leader of the Labour Party put forward three candidates. The smaller parties put forward six candidates between them.
11.Once the nominations had been received, Mr Speaker appointed a panel to consider the nominees, interview each nominee, and make recommendations to the Speaker’s Committee on who should be appointed. The interview panel was comprised of the following:
12.The panel interviewed the Labour nominated candidates on 24 May, the smaller party nominated candidates on 14 June, and the Conservative nominated candidates on 25 June.
13.The role specification, qualities and experiences that the panel considered the candidates against can be found in appendix B.
14.The panel’s unanimous recommendation was that Lord Gilbert of Panteg should go forward as the Conservative nominated Commissioner. Lord Gilbert of Panteg is a member of the House of Lords and chairs the Communications Select Committee. He has over 30 years’ experience of political service and has held a number of senior roles in the Conservative Party, including Director of Campaigning, Deputy Chairman, and Political Secretary to the Prime Minister. The panel felt Lord Gilbert would bring a fresh perspective and challenge to the Board, born out of his passion and commitments to public service.
15.The panel’s unanimous recommendation was that Joan Walley should go forward as the Labour nominated Commissioner. Joan Walley is a former MP for Stoke North on Trent, and a former chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee. The panel found that she had a good blend of political and electoral experience. Since leaving Parliament Ms Walley has also taken on several non-executive roles which has given her relevant Board experience.
16.The panel’s unanimous recommendation was that Alastair Ross should go forward as the nominated Commissioner for the smaller parties. Mr Ross was a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly until 2017 and held ministerial office in the Executive Office. He chaired the Justice Committee and the Standards and Privileges Committee. He has also been a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Commission. The panel agreed that Mr Ross was an impressive candidate who met all the essential criteria for the position. The panel also felt that he would bring the perspective of being an elected representative in a different jurisdiction, as well as knowledge of political campaigning and membership of a smaller party.
17.Having considered the panel’s report and recommendations, the Speaker’s Committee agreed to recommend that Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Alastair Ross and Joan Walley be appointed Electoral Commissioners.
18.Section 3(2)(b) of PPERA, as amended, requires that the proposal to appoint a member of the Electoral Commission be the subject of consultation with the leaders of each registered party to which two or more members of the House of Commons then belong. The Speaker accordingly wrote to the leaders of the qualifying parties on 24 July 2018. No objections were received in response.
19.The Speaker’s Committee is confident that Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Alastair Ross and Joan Walley, for each of whom a curriculum vitae is appended to this Report, have the experience and personal qualities to be effective members of the Electoral Commission. The Committee therefore invites the House to agree that Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Alastair Ross and Joan Walley be appointed for a term ending on 31 October 2022.
1 A qualifying party is a party with two or more Members of the House of Commons at the time of the person’s appointment.
2 Mr Howarth was initially the Liberal Democrat nominated Commissioner but, following changes to party representation at Westminster after the 2015 General Election, became the de facto Commissioner nominated by the smaller parties.
3 Section 3 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as amended by section 4(2) of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009.
4 Jessica Morden MP was unable to attend the interviews on this date. The panel was comprised of Dame Denise Platt, Sir John Holmes and Andrea Jenkyns MP.
5 Andrea Jenkyns MP was unable to attend interviews on this date. The panel was comprised of Dame Denise Platt, Sir John Holmes and Jessica Morden MP.
Published: 24 October 2018