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Electoral Commission statement on allegations regarding Conservative Party spending return for 2015 General Election

The Electoral Commission has today (18 February) announced that it has opened an investigation into allegations regarding the Conservative Party spending return at the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election (UKPGE).  The allegations were first made by Channel 4 News on 20 January 2016.

The Commission's announcement follows Kent Police's decision not to pursue an investigation into allegations regarding the Conservative Party candidate spending return in the South Thanet constituency at the General Election.

Candidate spending returns and the role of the police

The rules around candidate spending and any potential criminal offence are matters for the police to investigate under the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983. The Commission met with Kent Police on 17 February who have informed us

that at this time, they are not actively pursuing an investigation into allegations regarding candidate spending in the South Thanet constituency.

The Commission reminded Kent Police that the ability to investigate these allegations will end one year on from the May 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election and that unless the police apply to the Courts for an extension which they are entitled to do under the RPA they will have missed the opportunity to investigate any allegations.

Anyone found guilty of an offence under the RPA 1983 relating to candidate spending or the making of a false declaration in relation to candidate spending, could face imprisonment of up to one year, and or an unlimited fine.

The Commission has no powers to investigate or sanction candidate spending offences under the RPA. In 2013 the Commission asked the Government to give us these powers but there has been no change in the law since then.

The Commission does, however, does have powers in relation to national campaign spending.

Electoral Commission investigation

The investigation opened by the Commission today focuses on whether the Conservative Party met their reporting obligations under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, specifically:

  • whether the spending reported by the party in its 2015 UKPGE campaign spending return, in relation to the Royal Harbour Hotel Ramsgate, was not national campaign spending and therefore should not have been included in the party's return;
  • whether spending on the Premier Inn Margate was national campaign spending and therefore should have been included in the party's 2015 UKPGE campaign spending return.

Next steps

The priority of the Electoral Commission is to conduct a fair and thorough investigation and the time taken to complete an investigation varies on a case-by-case basis. Once the investigation is complete, the Commission will be able to decide whether any breaches have occurred and if so what further action, if any, may be appropriate. The Commission's sanctioning powers are limited to a civil penalty of up to £20,000.

Ends

For further information contact:
Karim Aziz in the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704 or kaziz@electoralcommission.org.uk Out of office hours 07789 920 414

Notes to editors

  1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK's democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulation of referendum held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  2. Section 82(4)(b) of PPERA states that the treasurer of a registered party commits an offence, if without reasonable excuse, he delivers a return which does not comply with the requirements of section 80(3) or 80(4). Section 80(3)(a) requires that a return must specify the poll for the relevant election that took place during the relevant campaign period and must contain a statement of all payments made in respect of campaign expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the party during the relevant campaign period in the relevant parts of the United Kingdom.
  3. For more information on the Electoral Commission's enforcement policy, click here. It contains information on the sanctions the Commission is able to issue.
  4. The Commission's disclosure policy states that in cases which are already the subject of public and / or media interest, the Commission may issue a media statement about the commencement of the investigation. The policy also states how the Commission makes information about completed investigations known.
  5. For more information about the powers the Commission requested it be given by the UK Government in 2013, see our press release here.
  6. The Channel 4 news piece that first raised allegations regarding the Conservative Party's spending return can be seen here.

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