To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, whether his Department has received representations from the Electoral Commission on the workability of section 10 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009.
1 July 2019
The Coalition Government took the decision not to implement the 2009 legislation, as it was not deemed to be workable, and the Conservative Government continues to hold this view.
During the passage of the 2009 Act, the Electoral Commission raised concerns about the legislation (further to Official Report, 15 October 2009, Col. 998W), and in 2013, the Electoral Commission also flagged issues about the tax status declaration requirements. The Labour Government conceded that the provisions could not be commenced at that time “due to their complex nature” (as outlined in the answer of Official Report, 10 March 2010, Col. 5MC).
An individual’s tax status is subject to confidentiality between them and HMRC. It may therefore be difficult or impossible for the political party and the Electoral Commission to accurately determine whether a donor meets the permissibility test set out section 10 in the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009.
The Government also has a principled objection to the measures:
- The UK has a robust legal framework in place that bans foreign donations. There is a long-standing principle – as originally recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1998 – that permissible donors are those on the UK electoral register, and this includes UK citizens who are registered overseas electors. Companies wishing to make donations must be UK-registered and carrying on business in the UK.
- If a British citizen is able to vote in an election for a political party, they should also be able to donate to that political party, subject to the requirements for transparency on donations. Supporting a political party is part of the democratic process, and is an expression of freedom of association.
- Since the adoption of universal suffrage, taxation has never been the basis of enfranchisement in the UK. Those who do not pay income tax, such as those earning less than the tax-free personal allowance, rightly remain entitled to vote. Similarly, full-time students are legally exempt from paying council tax, but still have the right to vote in local elections.
Notwithstanding, as I stated in my previous answer, the Government has announced it will consult on strengthening the current provisions which protect UK politics from foreign influence. The consultation may consider recommendations on tackling loopholes in relation to foreign spending in elections and donations from shell companies which are not properly operating in the UK.
More broadly, since 2010, the Government has taken action to sanction and deter those involved in offshore evasion, including creating a new criminal offence for serious offshore evasion, and introducing penalties for those who deliberately help others to evade tax offshore. The Government has introduced over 100 new measures to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance.