Duties and functions

Letter from Lord True to Lord Evans regarding the Elections Bill

Letter sent to:

Lord Evans of Weardale KCB DL

Chair, Standards in Public Life Committee

1 route of the horse guards

London

SW1A 2HQ

The letter was sent by email on April 25, 2022.

Dear Lord Evans,

Thank you for your letter of April 21, 2022, concerning the measures provided for in the draft electoral law, concerning the Electoral Commission. As Minister of the Bill in the House of Lords where this Bill is now being considered, I answer on behalf of the Secretary of State, to whom this correspondence is also copied.

By introducing the Elections Bill, the government seeks to implement the key commitments of the manifesto to ensure our democracy is safe, fair, modern and transparent. In 2016, (then Sir, now Lord) Eric Pickles produced the comprehensive ‘Securing the Ballot’ report for the Government on voter fraud. This followed the 2015 Electoral Tribunal ruling on electoral corruption in Tower Hamlets. Combined with previous decisions by the electoral tribunals, this revealed the vulnerability of the British electoral system. These weaknesses have not been fully corrected to date and one of the conclusions of the report is that the current system of control of the Electoral Commission is not effective.

The public rightly expects effective and independent regulation of the electoral system and it is essential that we have an independent regulator that inspires confidence across the political spectrum. In light of this, we need to reflect on the current structures charged with the important responsibility of holding the Commission to account and, where change is needed, be prepared to do so. The provisions of the Bill providing for a policy strategy and declaration are necessary and represent a proportionate approach to reforming the accountability of the Electoral Commission to the UK Parliament. The declaration will provide the Commission with a clear articulation of the political principles and priorities, endorsed by Parliament, to be taken into account in the conduct of its work.

I do not agree with the concerns expressed in your letter regarding the risk to the independence of the Electoral Commission. Due to the provisions of the Bill, the Board will have to consider the Strategy and Policy Statement. To be clear, the new duty to consider the Declaration will not replace the Commission’s other statutory duties or give the government new powers to direct the decision-making process of the Election Commission. The Commission will remain operationally independent and led by Commissioners.

The approval of both Houses of Parliament will be required before any new or revised statements (excluding typographical or clerical errors) may be designated. The British Parliament will therefore be able to reject entirely any draft declaration with which it does not agree. In addition, the Commission will remain accountable to the UK Parliament through the Committee of the Chairman of the Electoral Commission. The statement will provide the UK Parliament with an opportunity for greater visibility and scrutiny of the Commission’s work. This will be done by expanding the functions of the committee to give it the power to review the Commission’s compliance with the obligation to consider the declaration.

Thank you for writing and I hope this letter will reassure your concerns and those of your committee. I will publish this letter on gov.uk.

Cordially,

Lord True CBE