Many constituents have been in touch with concerns about proposed Electoral Commission reforms. Unfortunately, I fear there has been some misinformation circulating about these reforms, so I thought I'd take a moment to set the record straight.
To be absolutely clear, I believe that all politicians should be held to the very highest standards of integrity – and I am committed to ensuring that this remains the case. With regards to the prosecution powers of the Electoral Commission, these reforms merely clarify that the proper place for criminal investigations and prosecutions relating to electoral law is with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland) who are experts in this domain.
In recent years, the Electoral Commission has sought to develop the capability to bring criminal offences before the courts. This has never been agreed by the Government or Parliament. Having the Electoral Commission step into this space would risk wasting public money as well as present potential conflicts of interest. This is because the Electoral Commission is responsible for providing the advice and guidance on electoral law on which the prosecutions it seeks to bring may depend.
It is the role of the police and the prosecution services to enforce electoral regulations and the Government intends to clarify this status quo in legislation through the Elections Bill before Parliament. I can assure you that this is not about interfering with the investigative, operational or enforcement decisions of the Electoral Commission. The reforms would not affect the ability of the Electoral Commission to undertake enforcement action as it deems necessary, but it would ensure greater accountability to Parliament.
Sir (now Lord) Eric Pickles’ independent review into electoral fraud raised a number of concerns and made recommendations on the role of the Electoral Commission and the current system of oversight in 2016. These measures also seek to address those points in the context of wider work to protect our democracy and maintain public confidence in the electoral system.
My ministerial colleagues will, of course, consider proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee which are separately conducting inquiries into electoral regulation and the Electoral Commission.
I’m keen to emphasise that I will always remain absolutely committed to protecting our democracy and maintaining public confidence in our electoral system. Quite the contrary to threatening democracy, the measures in the Elections Bill will ensure that our democracy remains secure, modern, transparent and fair.
We should all expect the very highest level of standards and integrity from politicians and political parties, and I will certainly continue to expect and demand the same.