New Clause 6 Challenging election results

Part of Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:30, 22 Tachwedd 2005

The proposed new clause attempts to prevent a police investigation into a particular election from hindering the submission of an electoral petition that challenges the result of that election. We strongly believe that, as part of the security measures to ensure confidence in elections, there must be effective police action whenever there is a suspicion of fraud. Recently, the courts have, rightly, handed down prison sentences for those engaged in election fraud. Even if it concerns just one small election in one ward, election fraud has the potential to undermine everyone’s confidence in the democratic system. We take that matter seriously.

The election petition procedure is extremely ancient and cumbersome. All hon. Members would agree that it could be improved. Recently, Judge Richard Mawrey QC, having handled the election petition in Birmingham, said that the procedures need to be reviewed. We agree with that, and the Electoral Commission is examining those antiquated procedures. However, the proposed new clause is not necessary. The rules governing the presentation of an election petition to the courts are set out in part 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which contains no provisions that prevent any party from presenting a petition due to an ongoing police investigation into an election. Indeed, it is often crucial for the election petition proceedings to be determined first.

The decision or report of the election court is often required before a prosecutor can decide whether it is appropriate to seek to prosecute a criminal offence. Both matters should proceed expeditiously; neither should wait for the other. We believe that the proposed new clause is unnecessary.