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Electoral Commission extends scope of investigation into Conservative Party campaign spending returns concerning hotel bills at three Parliamentary by-elections in 2014

Published: 1 Mar 2016

 The Electoral Commission has today (1 March) announced that it has extended the scope of its investigation into Conservative Party campaign spending returns following the launch of an investigation on 18 February 2016.

Spending at Parliamentary by-elections that took place in 2014

In February 2016 Channel 4 News alleged that the Conservative Party's candidate spending returns at three Parliamentary by-elections that took place in 2014 were incomplete. These by-elections were in the Newark, Clacton and Rochester and Strood constituencies. The allegations related to hotel bills.

The Commission has no powers to investigate or sanction candidate spending offences. These come under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and are matters for the police to investigate. The Commission has recently reiterated its call for the power to regulate candidate spending.

Extended scope of Electoral Commission investigation

Where a Parliamentary by-election takes place during a 'regulated period', any campaign spending during that by-election by a political party must be reported to the Electoral Commission in the spending return they are required to submit following the election for which the 'regulated period' applied at.
The Newark Parliamentary by-election (5 June 2014) took place following the regulated period for the 2014 European Parliament Election, but during the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election. The Clacton Parliamentary by-election (9 October 2014) and the Rochester and Strood Parliamentary by-election (20 November 2014) both took place during the regulated period for the General Election.

The extended scope of the Commission's investigation will consider:

  • whether hotel bills at these three Parliamentary by-elections were campaign spending incurred by the Conservative Party; and
  • whether the party's campaign spending returns for both the European Parliamentary Election and the General Election were submitted in accordance with their reporting obligations set out in the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

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. 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. For more information on the Electoral Commission's enforcement policy, click here
  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. The regulated period for the 2014 European Parliament election ran from 23 January 2014 to 22 May 2014. If the party spent money on campaigning during this period before the 5 June 2014 by-election in Newark, then this may have needed to have been reported to the Electoral Commission in the party's 2014 European Parliamentary Election spending return. The regulated period for the 2015 General Election ran from 23 May 2014 to 7 May 2015. 
  6. The Channel 4 news piece that first raised allegations regarding spending at the three Parliamentary by-elections can be seen here.

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