The House of Lords voted, by division, to remove Clause 15 from the Elections Bill. This clause creates provision for a Strategy and Policy Statement to be introduced and ratified by Parliament to which the Electoral Commission must have regard.
Sir, now Lord, Eric Pickles’ independent review into electoral fraud raised several concerns and made recommendations on the role of the Electoral Commission and the current system of its oversight. The Pickles report also drew attention to the corruption that took place in the Tower Hamlets elections in 2014. It is for these reasons that the Government is placing a greater emphasis on the need to tackle and prevent electoral fraud.
Additionally, the Pickles report criticised that the Electoral Commission gave Tower Hamlets a gold-star rating for electoral integrity in its inspection reports before the 2014 elections. It also noted that after the 2015 election court case, the Electoral Commission’s corporate plan and annual report both made no substantive reference to this major case or learning the lessons from it.
The Electoral Commission has been criticised in 2022 for failing to provide any clear guidance on so-called ‘family voting’ – the unacceptable practice of men directing women how to vote inside polling stations in Tower Hamlets. The Minister for Levelling Up Communities wrote to the Electoral Commission on this matter in March 2022.
It is commonplace for the Government to set a broad policy framework, as approved by Parliament, by which independent regulators should work. This is already the case for Ofcom and Ofgem and this is something the Government has brought in with relation to the Electoral Commission.
While the Electoral Commission is already accountable to Parliament through the Speaker’s Committee, the Committee’s existing remit is restricted to overseeing the Commission’s finances, its five-year corporate plan, and the appointment of Electoral Commissioners.
In the words of Lord True: “Under the existing accountability framework, in practice, parliamentarians are limited in their ability to scrutinise and hold the commission effectively accountable.”
This is precisely why the passing of the Elections Act was necessary.
Sally-Ann Hart MP