October 5 2004Hi Mary -
I've now received a reply from the Electoral Commission, dated 28 September. It spends a lot of time telling me how the whole thing works (which I knew already) but doesn't go into the evidence on which they based their decision. It's written by Doug Stewart, who is apparently the person who received the applications.
Don't know whether it's worth writing to the lady at the Commons, re the strange quoting of NESNO on the Select Committee agenda several days before their decision was made. I expect I'd be told this was a simple error by people who didn't know there were two competing groups, but I suppose I ought to go through the motions anyway (this is all I feel I'm doing nowadays when I write to my MP - either he can't or won't do anything to help).
The letter from the Commission is attached.
GillPS The letter from the commission was posted on the same day that I sent my follow-up off to them, so I was wrong to think that they were ignoring me - even if they don't actually give any answers. I should have told you this at once - really sorry, I won't be so remiss again.
Judith Wallace of Neil Herron's group says that somebody - I think the Campaign for an English Parliament, or something similar - is taking the Commission to court.
Received from the Electoral Commission
28 September, 2004
Dear Gillian Swanson,
Thank you for your letter of 19 September 2004 regarding the designation of a permitted participant to represent each outcome at the regional and local government referendum to be held on 4 November 2004. The Chairman has asked me to respond on his behalf. Let me first clarify the designation process before I address your questions.
Part VII of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) regulates the activities of individuals and organisations that campaign during referendums including those held under the Regional assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003. Under PPERA, the Commission may designate one permitted participant per outcome as the lead campaign organisation in a referendum.
Section 109 of PPERA requires the Commission to decide whether an applicant adequately represents those campaigning for an outcome to the regional referendum. PPERA states that an application must:
‘show that the applicant adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome at the referendum in relation to which the applicant seeks to be designated’. (PPERA s. 109(2)(a))
If only one organisation applies for designation on one side (and the Commission is able to designate on the other side), the Commission must designate that organisation unless:
‘they are not satisfied that the applicant adequately represents those campaigning for that outcome ...’ (PPERA s. 109 (4)(a)).
If more than one organisation applies on one side, and the Commission is not prevented from making any designation (as above), the Commission must appoint whichever applicant:
‘appears to them to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome, unless they are not satisfied that any of the applicants adequately represents those campaigning for that outcome.’ (PPERA s. 109 (5)(a))
The Commission has produced explanatory guidelines which are available from the Commission’s website. However, I have summarised the approach outlined in the guidelines below.
The Commission takes “those campaigning” for an outcome to include not only permitted participants, but also other organisations, and significant groups within such organisations. The Commission will take into account the extent to which these organisations themselves represent others.
As a general guide, the Commission takes “represent” to mean:
that a range of those campaigning for an outcome support the application (being either closely associated with the application organisationally, or not so associated, but nevertheless expressing support);
that the applicant’s intended campaign messages embrace a range of reasons for supporting the outcome; and
that the applicant has in place organisational structure and planning to allow it and those it represents effectively to deliver its campaign messages to the voters.
The Commission must decide whether it appears that an application adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome the applicant supports. For this purpose, the Commission will need to assess the extent to which it appears that an applicant represents those campaigning for that outcome. As part of the assessment, the Commission will take into account the range of those campaigning who support the application and the range of reasons for seeking the outcome that is embraced by the applicant’s intended campaign messages.
“To the greatest extent”
If it appears to the commission that more than one applicant adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome it seeks, the Commission will designate (assuming it is also able to designate an organisation on the other side) the organisation that appears to the Commission to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome. For this purpose too, the Commission will further consider the range of an applicant’s supporters, and the range of reasons for supporting the outcome that is embraced by the applicant’s campaign messages.
Regarding your comments on the role of Commission officials in the designation process. Your appear to allege that the Electoral Commissioners overruled the advice of officials in taking the decision to designate the lead campaign organisation for the ‘no’ side.
It had in fact been agreed before the referendum period that Commissioners would take that decision independently of staff and no advice was therefore provided. All information submitted by the potential designated organisations was given directly to Commissioners.
In the view of Commissioners, North East Says No Ltd represented to the greatest extent those campaigning for a ‘no’ outcome. This decision was made on 13 September on the basis of the process described in the designation explanatory notes. The Government had no involvement in this process.
Finally, the Commission has no role of responsibilities in relation to inviting individuals or organisations to give evidence to select committees. I suggest that you contact Miss Kate Emms, the Clerk of the Committee who will be able to address your concerns. Her address is: House of Commons, Milbank, London, SW1P 3JA (Tel. 0297 2193 927).