Electoral Commission — 8 Jan 2001

I beg to move,

That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will appoint as Electoral Commissioners:

(1) Pamela Joan Gordon for the period of four years;

(2) Sir Neil William David McIntosh KBE for the period of four years;

(3) Johnathon Glyn Mathias for the period of five years;

(4) Sukhminder Karamjit Singh CBE for the period of five years;

(5) James Samuel Younger for the period of six years; and

(6) Graham John Zellick for the period of five years;

and that Her Majesty will appoint James Samuel Younger to be the chairman of the Electoral Commission for the period of six years.

We intend to table a motion for an Address to be presented to Her Majesty, as required by section 3(1) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, soon.--[ Official Report , 13 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 181W.]

I am writing to apologise for the premature release yesterday morning of a Home Office Press Notice announcing the names of the Electoral Commissioners-designate in advance of the tabling of the motion for the Address as required by section 3 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

As you will have seen, the motion was tabled yesterday afternoon and appears on today's Order Paper. I hope it will be possible to find time to debate the motion soon after the Christmas Recess and for the appointments process to be completed by the middle of January at the latest.

The timing of the Address for the appointment of the Electoral Commissions--

was dependent, first and foremost, on securing Royal Assent for the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. As you know this was not secured until the very end of the last Session and it was only then that it was possible to initiate steps to table the motion for the Address, although I agree that your Office could have been given a little more forewarning. While it was highly desirable for the appointments to have been made this side of Christmas it is not absolutely essential for this to happen and I am grateful to you for provisionally scheduling a slot for the Address to be debated when the Commons returns in January.

Why will the House have to wait until mid-January before the electoral commissioners are appointed, as the Home Office press release states? Surely we could debate that in the coming week and have them in place for the new year. Will the Leader of the House consider that because it is important and needs to be addressed? Will that decision not further complicate the implementation of the Bill's main provisions on donations and expenditure?

I hope that the Leader of the House will share my concern about the way in which the business has been handled and the disrespect it shows to Members of the House for announcements to be made without providing a written answer or an opportunity for us to discuss it.

As for the Home Office press release, I am afraid that I am not familiar with precisely what was said or why . . . However, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill has been extensively discussed. I understand that the House is interested in who the commissioners may be, but I am not aware of a suggestion that we should debate those appointments. Indeed, successive Governments have not thought that there should be accountability, other than through Ministers, for appointments that are made through the proper public appointment process.

whether she will reconsider her response to my request for a debate next week on the appointment of the electoral commissioners? Section 3 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums 2000 requires an address to the Crown from the Commons for the appointment of commissioners. Does it not therefore seem highly appropriate that the Commons should address the subject?

it will not be easy for the House to find time for such a debate--nor, indeed, do I immediately perceive the necessity for one.

successive Governments have not thought that there should be accountability, other than through Ministers, for appointments that are made through the proper public appointment process.--[ Official Report , 14 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 804-21.]

We have received no serious criticisms of the present work carried out by the majority of local authorities and electoral officers, and we congratulate them on their record.

In a sense, we were saying that there is not a huge problem in this country, and that we should not get things out of proportion. We noted that there was dissatisfaction in some respects, and suggested that an Electoral Commission might be the way to deal with that. That is the context in which we are considering the nominations.

A person may not be appointed as an Electoral Commissioner if the person--

(a) is a member of a registered party;

(b) is an officer or employee of a registered party or of any accounting unit of such a party;

(c) holds a relevant elective office . . . or

(d) has at any time within the last ten years--

(i) been such an officer or employee as is mentioned in paragraph (b), or

(ii) held such an office as is mentioned in paragraph (c), or

(iii) been named as a donor . . .

The new Electoral Commission will scrutinise electoral issues such as party funding and referendums and ensure the delivery of the Neill principles of integrity and openness.

The Electoral Commission will play a crucial role in cleaning up British Politics--

and provide independent oversight of the new funding framework for UK political parties.

The Commission shall consider the wording of the referendum question, and shall publish a statement of any views of the Commission as to the intelligibility of that question . . . as soon as reasonably practicable after the Bill is introduced, and in such manner as they may determine.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (House to sit in private):--

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 19.

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All Votes Cast - sorted by name

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party are marked in red. Also shows which MPs were ministers at the time of this vote. You can also see every eligible MP including those who did not vote in this division.

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Michael ConnartyFalkirk EastLab (minister)no
Jim CunninghamCoventry SouthLab (minister)no
Andrew GeorgeSt IvesLDem (front bench)no
Mike HallWeaver ValeLab (minister)no
John HealeyWentworthLabno
Mark HendrickPrestonLabno
John HeppellNottingham EastLabno
Gerald HowarthAldershotCon (front bench)tellaye
Mr Kevin HughesDoncaster NorthLab (minister)tellno
Simon HughesNorth Southwark and BermondseyLDem (front bench)no
Brian JenkinsTamworthLabno
Jane KennedyLiverpool, WavertreeLab (minister)no
Peter KilfoyleLiverpool, WaltonLabno
Tom LevittHigh PeakLabtellno
Martin LintonBatterseaLabno
Alun MichaelCardiff South and PenarthLabno
Andrew MillerEllesmere Port and NestonLabno
Mike O'BrienNorth WarwickshireLab (minister)no
Ian PearsonDudley SouthLabno
Mr Malcolm SavidgeAberdeen NorthLabno
Mr Jonathan SayeedMid BedfordshireContellaye
Paddy TippingSherwoodLab (minister)no
Mr Jimmy WrayGlasgow BailliestonLabno

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