On 21 April 2020 we submitted two codes of practice to the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution to approve and lay before Parliament. They are about election spending: one on spending by candidates and one on spending by parties.
Between September and December 2018 we carried out a consultation on the codes.
We wanted views from a wide range of stakeholders, and we recognised how important it was that people who will use the codes support them.
This paper sets out the feedback we received and how we responded to it. We’ve used the feedback to make sure the codes are right and clear.
In some cases we were not able to make the amendments suggested because the law would need to be changed to allow us to do this. Or because proposed changes were inconsistent with what is in the law.
A code of practice is a legal guidance document. The Representation of the People Act 1983 and the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 allow us to draft codes giving guidance on candidate and party spending. The Government now needs to ask Parliament to approve the codes.
The legislation uses general categories such as ‘advertising’ and ‘unsolicited material to electors’ to identify costs that should be included in each category. The codes set out detailed guidance on what is and is not included in these different categories of spending.
The codes relate to elections that the UK Parliament is responsible for, i.e. UK Parliamentary, Northern Ireland Assembly and English local government elections. In some circumstances they will apply to other elections as well.
They will improve transparency, fairness and consistency in reporting for candidates, agents and parties. They will make it clearer to voters and observers what was spent on different activities during campaigns.
We’re grateful to the many stakeholders who provided feedback on the codes. Overall, people were supportive of our aim for the codes to make it clearer what should be reported as party and candidate spending.
Key themes in the feedback focused on:
- Language and structure of the codes
- Transparency for spending on digital campaigning
- Splitting spending between party and candidate
- Treatment of overheads
- Treatment of costs of items used at several elections
- Treatment of material featuring a prominent party member
- Treatment of legal costs
- Interaction of the codes with other guidance we issue
Why we wrote the codes
The codes are written to help parties, candidates and agents meet their legal obligations and improve transparency for voters.
Election legislation allows us to prepare legal guidance on what is and is not included in categories of spending listed in the legislation. When in force parties and candidates will need to take the codes into account when they campaign and report spending after an election.
If enacted the codes will give clarity to candidates, agents and parties about what items count towards spending and whether spending should be reported in a candidate return or a party return. They also set out how to report spending on digital campaigning.
Electoral law is in need of reform to make it clear and easy to understand. In the absence of reform, the codes allow us to provide clarity and consistency in reporting election spending. We therefore urge Parliament to approve the codes.
What elections the codes apply to
The codes will apply to elections to: the UK Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and local Councils in England. In some circumstances the codes will apply to other elections.
We’re working on separate codes for elections that the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales are responsible for – i.e. Scottish Parliamentary, Scottish local government, National Assembly for Wales and Welsh local government elections.
The consultation for the Welsh Codes has closed, and the consultation for the Scottish Codes began on 15 April 2020. We are working with the Scottish and Welsh Governments on ensuring these codes are ready for the next set of scheduled elections in 2021.