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Standards watchdog criticises plans to give Government power to set strategic direction of Electoral Commission

The chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to express the watchdog’s “continued serious concern” about the provisions in the Elections Bill that would give the Government the power to set the strategic direction for the work of the Electoral Commission.

The letter from Lord Evans of Weardale to Michael Gove comes after the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) urged the Government to scrap its proposals for new powers over the Electoral Commission.

In the CSPL’s letter, Lord Evans highlighted the committee’s 2021 report, Regulating Election Finance, which, he said, set out a comprehensive package of practical proposals to modernise and reform the regulation of campaign expenditure and donations.

“While we recognised that there was some room for improvement in the way the Commission approaches its role, our recommendations were built on the foundation of a robustly independent Commission, insulated from political influence,” the CSPL chair said.

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“The fundamental principle that the regulator of elections in the UK should be fully independent of government came through clearly in the wide-ranging evidence we heard. The Commission is an important safeguard against political interference in the electoral system and thus occupies a unique position as a regulator - it is not a body that exists to deliver government policy, but the arbiter of electoral fairness. As such, it must be operationally independent and be seen to be so.”

Lord Evans added that the CSPL “remain deeply troubled by the long-term risk to our democratic system that is inherent in provisions which give the government of the day, whatever its political complexion, the opportunity to exert influence on the way the Commission operates”.

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