Amendments 76 and 90 would exempt from the transparency requirements provided by the lower tier of expenditure registered charities, charities exempt from registering with the Charities Commission, and community interest companies spending more than £10,000 across the UK but less than the existing notification thresholds. Amendment 77 would allow those groups to forgo the usual notification process for the lower tier and instead provide only their charity or company number.
The Government are clear that any group spending significant amounts in UK elections should be subject to scrutiny. That is essential to ensure transparency for voters and to maintain the level playing field for all participants in elections. It is therefore right that all types of third party campaigner should be subject to the same sets of rules where they are trying to influence the electorate. The amendments would undermine those principles, and the Government cannot accept them.
Additionally, third party campaigner regulations do, and should, focus on the purpose of campaigning activities conducted by all organisations, not just specific types of organisation. Charities and CICs can always choose to spend less than £10,000 in the period before an election if they do not want to register with the Electoral Commission.
I am not giving way again on that point. Third party campaigning groups will not have any special intelligence. People will need to take that into account when they are campaigning politically. People seeking to influence the electorate should all be subject to the same laws.
The debate is not about whether charities are nice groups or nice individuals, which is 50% of the argument made by SNP Members. To be perfectly honest, it sounds like Opposition Members want charities to make their political arguments for them, because they think they are more acceptable.
I am no longer giving way on that point.
That is not how we want to regulate our politics or our electorate. Charities should make points on their own—not in the way that SNP Members are saying, as if there are other political reasons that would be helpful to them, rather than the Government. They accuse us of playing politics, but it sounds to me as though they are the ones doing that.
The hon. Lady knows that I cannot answer any questions about when elections are forthcoming. That does not change the premise of our argument. I do not know; she does not know; charities do not know; no third party campaigners know. The law is equal for everybody. I am afraid we simply do not accept the argument that there should be special rules and exemptions for particular groups.
Charities can supply the relevant information, and the amendment would increase the administrative burden for the Electoral Commission—a point it has made several times—and not allow it to obtain all the necessary information covered in the notification requirements. Under the amendment, charities and community interest companies would not have to provide the name of a responsible person. That information cannot be obtained through Companies House or the Charity Commission because it is specific to electoral law.
It is important to identify a person who will be responsible for ensuring compliance with electoral law. Naming a responsible person also acts to protect third parties from being liable for expenditure that has not been authorised by that person. Allowing charities and community interest companies to be exempt from that requirement would risk their duty of compliance and protection falling away, which would not be right. In the light of the reasons I have given, and the minimal burden on charities that the measures will generate, we oppose the amendment.
Third party campaigners are subject to limits on their controlled expenditure in the periods leading up to parliamentary elections in the UK, including devolved elections. The time during which those spending limits apply are known as regulated periods and are 12 months long for UK parliamentary elections and four months long for the relevant parliamentary elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Regulated periods can be longer where they overlap. It is right that any campaign that could influence the electorate at an election should be regulated and subject to a spending limit. While significant amounts of spending might take place following the announcement of a poll, elections are often known, rumoured or expected to take place long before the poll date is announced and a Parliament is dissolved, which is the point that we are debating.
That is not what we are legislating on; that is a statement of fact. Just as with every intervention the hon. Gentleman has made, it is a point we all acknowledge that while elections are at expected times, they can happen at different times: earlier or there may be snap elections, though rare. That does not change the fundamental point under discussion.
Opposition Members seem to be annoyed that there is a regulated spending period at all. I am afraid that that is not going to change. Campaigning and political activity, which can occur up to 12 months or more in advance of an election, may have a significant influence on its outcome. Having a short regulated period, as proposed by the amendment, would mean that spending, which does influence the electorate, is likely to fall away from being regulated and reported. That fatally undermines the principle of transparency and spending limits.
The amendment would ensure that private companies could not take any part in any aspect of producing or administrating voter cards and anonymous elector’s documents. We cannot agree to the amendment. It is an entirely unnecessary restriction, clearly raised for ideological reasons, with no consideration for the practicalities. I remind Opposition Members that the private sector already plays numerous roles in elections—it prints documents, ballot papers and poll cards; it manufactures equipment such as ballot boxes and polling booths; and it delivers poll cards and postal votes. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling made the point well; we on the Conservative Benches can spot socialism coming from a mile away, and this is nationalisation through the back door.
No, I am not giving way any more. I would say that he does not think that. An ideological point is being made, and we will not have it.
The hon. Member for Putney made a point about GP surgeries having our data. GPs are private contractors. This conflation of what is private and what is not, and this lack of understanding of how services are delivered, is poor. The Carillion argument in particular is a specious one. Many organisations both private and public fail occasionally. We have debated these issues on the Floor of the House many times, and there is no point in my repeating them, but public sector organisations also fail. We do not then decide that we are going to rip up everything and that they will no longer provide any services; we try to fix what has gone wrong. I do not accept those arguments at all.
Government and local authorities will, as ever, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland said, seek to ensure best value for money for the taxpayer. That is the right thing to do, rather than the ideological ping-pong that we are seeing here. I say to the hon. Member for Putney: nice try, but we are not accepting the amendment. If any aspect of the production or administration of either of these documents could best be served in the private sector, then that must be an option that is available. We are not being prescriptive about how we are going to do this.
The amendment would provide that a person who is unable to produce one of the required forms of photographic identification is able to cast a provisional ballot pending checks on their identity. We cannot agree to the amendment. It would mean that the counting of votes and announcement of the final result at an election might have to be delayed while the eligibility of such persons to vote at the election is checked and resolved by elections staff.
No, I do not think so. I do not think that the point the hon. Gentleman is making applies to this amendment. Of course, we want every single vote to be counted, but as the amendment is drafted, how long would we have to wait, and what would the procedure be under it?
Exactly—that is the point I was coming to. As the amendment is drafted, it could be a way in a marginal election of unduly delaying the announcement of a result. We want to ensure that people do not have their votes taken away and used by others who should not be using them. The examples we saw in Tower Hamlets and so on are part of the reason for the Bill.
I can actually answer the question, because I asked it myself; I thought it was an interesting point. The reason is that the requirements when applying for those types of card are different. Getting a 60+ Oyster card is a significantly more stringent process. People need a passport, driving licence or combination of different proofs of age and address to apply for the 60+ Oyster card. People do not have to have that for the 18+ Oyster card, for example. We have gone through and looked at what the basis for stringent checks would be. The point I am making is that we considered the level of security checks required to get each type of identification and the likelihood that someone holding further forms of identification would already hold one of the permitted types of identification. That is why this is the case.
I am sorry, but I do not know the details of the Scottish entitlement card. Perhaps if I can see the reasons and the application process for that, I might be able to give an example. I have given the basis for how the decisions were made. I cannot comment on various forms of identification used in various places, I am afraid.
The list of identity documents that will be permitted for the purpose of voting at polling stations that is included in the Bill is already broad. That said, it is recognised that available forms of identification will change over time, and that is why the Bill includes provisions to allow the list of acceptable identification to be updated through secondary legislation. For example, there are plans for online provisional driving licences, which will be considered for inclusion if appropriate. We completely understand the need to make sure that as many people as possible are able to get the ID that they need, and we feel that this provision and the free voter card are enough to make sure that voters will have the identification required, so we will not support the amendment.