Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-97)|
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
80. On the funding front, my understanding is
that there are restrictions on what any particular political party
or group can spend, but do you have any powers to limit overall
spending on behalf of one campaign or the other?
(Mr Younger) The powers we have are in relation to
the limits set down in the legislation. Any organisation or individual
who wants to campaign in a referendum and who wants to spend money
in a referendum has to register with us.
81. Does that include the European Commission?
(Mr Younger) I am sure it would. I look to my right.
82. Mr Creedon is sensibly keeping a straight
face. Does that include the European Commission who in the first
referendum not only spent vast amounts of money in campaigning
but said they had the right to do so?
(Mr Creedon) My recollection is that there are definitions
about who can actually be a permitted participant. I need to check
the legislation about whether or not those definitions would encompass
the European Commission or not.
Chairman: The Committee would welcome a very
precise note on this.
83. I suppose it applies not simply to a referendum
but actually applies to limits put on General Election spending
as well, where you have the ability of third parties to spend
money in a campaign. Let us take a hypothetical example, colleagues
forgive me, the trade unions and the Labour Party, not necessarily
friendly relations always but we have X numbers of trade unions,
each of which has the power to spend X amount of money. The Labour
Party has the power to spend one amount of money. In theory rather
than donating money to the Labour Party to spend, each union can
spend it directly itself, thus massively multiplying the buying
power and theoretically that way you could get round both General
Election spending limits and referenda spending limits.
(Mr Younger) Yes, in the sense that there are limits
for third parties in General Elections and other elections, there
is for any organisation which registers as a permitted participant
in any referendum a limit of £500,000, but there is no limit
to the number of such participants.
84. So you could set up as many front organisations
as you wanted to spend your money rather than having your own
(Mr Younger) Thinking of it in terms of the campaigning
organisation, the only factor which might prevent that would be
if they wished to be designated as the lead organisation. To be
designated as the lead organisation we would have to be satisfied
that it was broadly representative.
85. Do you think that is a satisfactory state
(Mr Younger) It is not something frankly I have considered
yet. The legislation does give more structure to any referendum,
whether Euro or any other, than there has been in the past, but
it seems to me that what it guarantees is that there is a realistic
campaign on each side of an argument because there is the provision
to allow that. What it does not guarantee is that there is an
equality of spending in any shape or form because it could very
much go another way. You have not only this limitless number of
organisations which could register themselves and spend half a
million, you also have a graded list in terms of the parties which
can spend £5 million maximum if you have more than 30 per
cent of the vote downwards. Where there is an equality is on the
designated organisations each of which has a limit of £5
million plus those other privileges which parties have at a General
86. It is an important point of principle. Leave
aside the Labour Party and the trade unions and flip round to
the other side. Were there to be any wealthy citizens in our society
who felt strongly about the Euro issue and had large cheque books
they would not in their own right be able to spend all of their
money because of the constraints on individual spending, but under
the current legislation, by the sound of it, there is nothing
to stop them setting up Teenage Mutant Turtles Against the Euro
or whatever and giving it £500,000 to spend.
(Mr Younger) No, there is not under the legislation.
(Mr Creedon) That is analogous to the General Election
where we now allow third parties at General Elections who can
spend up to a predetermined limit but there is no limit on the
number of third parties. In effect the picture is a replication
of the General Election.
Chairman: Can you expand your note to make it
clear? I agree that this is a very important point because I do
not particularly want the European Movement campaigning for a
pro vote and the European Commission campaigning for a pro vote
and everybody else campaigning for a pro vote. These are the points
we should like to know.
Chris Grayling: It seems a fundamental flaw
in the system.
87. On the wording, why do you not get in first
and publish what you think would be reasonable wording rather
than wait for the Government to put a proposal to yourselves?
You must basically know what the issue is so can you not come
up with some wording?
(Mr Younger) I do not think we could. What we are
required to do is comment on the wording put forward; that is
what we are required to do by legislation. To be honest, that
is the best thing for us to do.
88. You talked about auditing at an election.
Why do you not start with by-elections?
(Mr Younger) Do you mean the sort of dipstick audit
I was talking about?
(Mr Younger) One would require legislation anyway;
this is one of the things we would need to look at because we
would need legislation in order to be able to do it. By-elections
would be one possibility. I have not thought through exactly how
we would do it, but I feel there is a value in looking in that
90. Postal vote fraud. Why was the Today programme
not prosecuted? They publicly announced that they broke the rules
in the General Election. Would it not have been better to bring
a prosecution for that?
(Mr Younger) As I understand it, the Today programme
got a significant number of ballot papers.
91. They were filled in for people who had died.
You cannot fill in a postal vote application without getting the
signature of somebody, so they must have forged the signatures
to get those.
(Mr Younger) Yes, I suppose they would have done if
that is what they did. That was not something for us to deal with
as a prosecution or as a suggestion for prosecution.
92. Are you satisfied that the Post OfficeConsignia,
whatever they are calledreally managed to deliver the postal
votes efficiently during the General Election?
(Mr Younger) There were several problems with Consignia.
We have taken those issues up with Consignia and one of the elements
of the postal voting review is the efficiency and effectiveness
of that delivery. One of the big difficulties there with Consignia
is that it may well be over much of the country it works well
but there are certainly pockets where it does not.
93. Surely you need to have some sort of guarantee.
It is a bit unfair for people to take the trouble to go for a
postal vote and then actually be disenfranchised.
(Mr Younger) Absolutely; that is right. There is an
added point which is important which is that if you look at the
standards of delivery Consignia put a guarantee generally on first
class deliveries of 97 per cent or something the next day. In
the context of an election you need a guarantee which is 100 per
cent, not 97 per cent. I would have to say that it is something
they are very conscious of and take the issue very seriously;
so do we.
94. If you want to make elections a bit more
exciting why do you have such a dull website?
(Mr Younger) Not everybody thinks it is dull. The
website is something which is currently under redevelopment in
order to make it much more genuinely interactive. I would ask
you to remember, if you would, that the website was set up in
a scramble to allow us to get up there the donations reports and
the things we statutorily had to have up there. It was not put
together in the first instance.
95. So it is going to improve.
(Mr Younger) It will be wonderful next time we come
to talk to you.
96. What are the election broadcasts worth to
the British parties in cash terms?
(Mr Younger) I do not know what they are worth in
cash terms. I do not have a figure. They are clearly pretty valuable
bits of broadcast time. If you added that notional figure at election
time to the figure of what is already public funding you would
get quite a substantial amount of public funding. On party election
broadcasting, that is one of the reviews which is in the latter
stages now. A consultation paper has gone out which has had a
very great deal of consensus around the continuing need for the
parties at election time to have a form of direct linkage into
the electorate. There has been no appetite to get rid of them.
Equally no appetite to go into paid political advertising on the
electronic media. The issue really is about how you develop the
system for allocation. It is one which rested with the political
parties effectively for many years. It has been a matter which
has rested entirely with the broadcasters more recently. The issue
is whether you get some more clear and transparent system of how
party political broadcast allocations are arrived at.
97. Should it be with the broadcasters or should
it be a responsibility you take over? What about leaders of the
parties having to appear in discussions with each other?
(Mr Younger) As far as we are concerned party leaders
appearing in discussions with each other is a separate issue which
is one we hope to look at some time but it is not one of our higher
priorities. The consultation paper we put out does actually say
that our proposition is that there needs to be a more formal system
and a more transparent system for the allocation of party broadcasts
and it is not entirely satisfactory as it is, being entirely with
Chairman: This may be my last opportunity to
say to you that I think the work of your Commission is not only
very important but very interesting to the House of Commons. The
issues which you are dealing with are so central to the development
of our democracy that we are desperately keen that you should
succeed. This does not always translate into total approval of
everything you do. I would say to you on behalf of the Committee
how impressed we are with the speed at which you succeeded in
taking up so many different subjects. I hope that we shall continue
not only to expand the relationship between the Commission and
the House of Commons but do so in a way which means that all of
the members can see their really considerable worries expanded
in dialogue with you and with the other Commissioners. We are
very grateful to you for coming this morning. It has been extremely
interesting and I am very grateful to you both. The
Committee stands adjourned.