The Constitution Unit


Alan Renwick gives evidence on the government’s Elections Bill

17 September 2021

Alan Renwick gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee on the government’s Elections Bill on 16 September.

Dr Alan Renwick speaking with the Public Bill Committeee

Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit Dr Alan Renwick appeared before a Public Bill Committee on 16 September to provide evidence on the government’s proposed Elections Bill which is currently going through the House of Commons.

The focus of the committee session was on the governance of the Electoral Commission, in particular the proposed ‘strategy and policy statement’ as outlined in Part 3 of the bill, and the composition of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission.

Alan Renwick identified independence as the central principle for a well-functioning Electoral Commission and argued that the proposed ‘strategy and policy’ statement is wholly contrary to this principle. The bill would allow the Secretary of State to set out such a statement detailing the remit of the Electoral Commission, which would come into force through a simple affirmative resolution. Dr Renwick argued that this would not provide for sufficient scrutiny. The remit of the Electoral Commission should be what is set down in primary legislation, which is subject to cross-party scrutiny and scrutiny from outside parliament. Considering that the matters dealt with by the Electoral Commissions affect MPs’ personal interests, this is essential to uphold its independence.

Dr Renwick explained that, unless the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments pass legislative consent motions, the ‘strategy and policy’ statement will violate the Sewel Convention, as many electoral matters are devolved. The Commission is partly funded by the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament and receives instruction from them. Dr Renwick proposed a review of the governance of the Electoral Commission in light of the devolution of electoral matters: the last review was conducted in 2007, before that devolution occurred.

Dr Renwick highlighted that the current composition of the Speaker’s Committee is contradictory to the principle of independence. For the first time ever, the majority of its members are from a single party, and in this case, the ruling party. Dr Renwick suggested that legislative action is needed to ensure that this does not happen again.

 Key Links

  • Watch the evidence session
  • Read Alan Renwick’s submission to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry on the Elections Bill, which was referenced during the evidence session with the Public Bill Committee
  • Read Alan Renwick and Charlotte Kincaid's blogpost setting out the case for an independent Electoral Commission.