Work of the Committee in 2019–20 Contents

Work of the Committee in 2019–20

1.The Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission (SCEC) is a statutory body established under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). Its work relates to the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE).

2.Under paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 2 to the PPERA, the Speaker’s Committee is required to report to the House of Commons not less than once a year on the exercise of its functions. The last annual report covered the period from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. This report covers the period from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

Membership

3.The Committee has nine members, five of whom are members of the House of Commons who are not Ministers and are appointed by the Speaker. One member—a Member of the House of Commons who is a Minister with responsibilities in relation to local government—is appointed by the Prime Minister. The ex officio members are the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, who chairs the Committee.

4.The ex-officio members of the Committee over this period were:

Speaker

Minister for the Cabinet Office

Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

5.The appointed members of the Committee over this period were:

Member appointed by the Prime Minister as a minister with responsibility for local government

Members appointed by Mr Speaker

a)prior to the dissolution of Parliament on 6 November 2020

b)appointed on 21 January 2020

Meetings

6.The Committee met three times during the period covered by this report. The minutes of the Committee’s meetings are reproduced in Appendix A. Officials from the Electoral Commission attended part of the second meeting.

Parliamentary Accountability

7.The Committee provides a mechanism for Members of Parliament to ask questions in the House of Commons about the work of the Electoral Commission and the LGBCE. Bridget Phillipson MP acted as the Committee spokesperson during the period covered by this report. She replied to four substantive and eight supplementary questions on the floor of the House and to forty-four questions in writing.

Appointment of Electoral Commissioners

8.The Electoral Commission was established by Parliament as a body independent of the Government. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as amended by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, provides for the Electoral Commission to have nine or ten Commissioners.1 Up to six are ‘ordinary’ Commissioners who may not be members or employees of a political party.2 These Commissioners are recruited by competition, under a procedure put in place and overseen by the Speaker’s Committee. Four Commissioners are persons put forward by the registered leader of a qualifying political party3 for consideration for appointment; they are described in the statute as ‘nominated’ Commissioners. While there are restrictions on their political activity, they are permitted to be members of parties, and to have been active in their party within the previous five years.4

9.Pursuant to Section 3 of the PPERA, the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission is responsible for determining and overseeing the procedures for selecting candidates to be put forward for appointment or re-appointment as Electoral Commissioners. The candidates for these posts are approved by the House of Commons and appointed by the Queen. During the process of making appointments, the Committee has regard to the Governance Code for Public Appointments.

10.Over the period covered by this report, the Committee oversaw the process for the re-appointment of one Electoral Commissioner. The Committee’s First Report of 2019, HC 2513, set out the procedures and process followed for the re-appointment of Rob Vincent CBE. The House approved a motion for a humble Address praying that Her Majesty would reappointment Mr Vincent with effect from 1 January 2020 for the period ending 31 December 2023.

Appointment of the Chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England

11.Under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, which created the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), the Speaker’s Committee is responsible for overseeing the process for appointing the Chair of the Commission. All other appointments to the Commission are the responsibility of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Committee did not appoint a Chair of the LGBCE during this period.

Financial Scrutiny

12.The Committee’s role is to examine the estimates of resources needed for both the Electoral Commission and the LGBCE. It must also consider one statutory five-year plan and one value for money study in relation to each body during the life of a Parliament. The Speaker’s Committee has the power to require further such studies and reports to be produced as and when it sees fit.

13.The Speaker’s Committee must decide whether it is satisfied that the estimates and plans are consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge of each body’s functions. If it determines that they are not, it must modify them as necessary. In carrying out its work, the Committee consults with the Treasury and has regard to reports received from the National Audit Office concerning each body’s use of resources.

14.In the period covered by this report the Committee considered and approved a Supplementary Estimate for the Electoral Commission for the 2019–20 financial year. It also considered and approved Main Estimates for the 2020–21 financial year for both the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), along with five-year plans for both organisations.

15.The Electoral Commission’s Supplementary Estimate had three elements to it:

The Committee agreed to elements (1) and (3). It asked that element (2) be removed from the Estimate as by the time of the Committee meeting it had become apparent that elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly would not be taking place.

16.In relation to the Electoral Commission’s Main Estimate for 2020–21, the Committee agreed a voted Resource Departmental Expenditure Limit of £21,552,000, a voted Capital Departmental Expenditure Limit of £1,301,000, and a voted resource Annual Managed Expenditure of £400,000, as consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge of its functions in that year.

17.The Committee also agreed the Electoral Commission’s five-year plan as being consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge of its functions. The Committee noted the Electoral Commission’s intention that it serve is an interim plan as, subject to the Committee’s views, the Commission planned to bring an updated plan to the Committee at a later stage.

18.In relation to the LGBCE’s Main Estimate, the Committee agreed a voted Resource Departmental Expenditure Limit for 2019–20 of £2,320,000, and a voted Capital Departmental Expenditure Limit of £50,000, as consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge of its functions in that year. The Committee also agreed the LGBCE’s five-year plan as being consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge of its functions.

19.The Committee considered value-for-money studies in relation to both bodies submitted to it by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It took account of these studies in examining the bodies’ Estimates and plans.


1 PPERA s1(3) as amended by s6 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009

2 PPERA S3(4)

3 PPERA s3A(2)

4 PPERA s3(4) and s£(4A)




Published: 13 October 2020