Referendum spending rules 'unfair to No vote'(Filed: 25/11/2004)
Spending rules governing the referendum on the European constitution will give the Government an unfair advantage, Sam Younger, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, said yesterday.
He told an academic seminar that ministers should be banned from promoting the European Union constitution using taxpayers' money for at least 10 weeks before polling day.
Mr Younger said the rules should be changed because it would be wrong for the Government to be allowed to spend unlimited sums highlighting the advantages of the constitution at a time when the organisations campaigning against it could not.
His comments came only a day after Vote No, the anti-constitution campaign, said it would challenge the spending rules in the courts because it believes they are biased in favour of the Government.
Ministers are expected to publish the Bill paving the way for the referendum within the next few weeks. The referendum itself is not likely to take place until spring 2006.
Under rules laid down in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, there are limits on the amount campaigning organisations can spend in the 10-week "referendum period" before polling day.
The main group on each side can spend up to a total of £5 million.
Other organisations that register as "permitted participants" can spend up to £500,000 each.
But the Government can spend as much as it wants on pro-constitution leaflets and advertising until the last 28 days of the campaign, at which point it has to stop in the interests of neutrality. Mr Younger told a Constitution Unit seminar in London yesterday that his commission had already complained to the Government about this rule, which was enforced during the referendum on the North East assembly.
"It seemed to us that it was wrong for the Government to be spending public money from the point at which other organisations were restricted," he said.
and the necessary response...
The Letters Editor
Dear Sir / Madam
'Silence of the Electoral Commission Lambs'
"Spending rules governing the referendum on the European constitution will give the Government an unfair advantage," Sam Younger, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, said yesterday Daily Telegraph 25th November).
Perhaps it was not Vote No's threat of court action that has elicited a gentle bleat from the mainly silent and always disregarded by Government, Electoral Commission lambs, but the fact that the Commission's incompetence and inadequacy was exposed during the North East referendum.
Mr. Younger, you failed to get involved when the Government spent public money producing misleading and factually incorrect literature...hence the Electoral Commission being attached to our actual proceedings at the High Court as 'an interested party.' We were forced to withdraw after being threatened with massive costs. It should have been you bringing the action, not us.
Mr. Younger, you failed to get involved when Ministers blatantly flouted the 28 day 'purdah period' in advance of the referendum, directing our concerns to the Cabinet Office. We have since been provided with material from the Treasury Counsel, which I will forward to you, proving Ministers breached the Political Parties and Referendums Act. Your organisation misinterpreted the act.
When I heard the statement, "I do not trust the Electoral Commission," my ears pricked up thinking that finally this expensive organisation, a mere fig leaf for scrutiny and supposed political integrity was about to be exposed...but then I realised it was a broadcast from the Ukraine.
The integrity of our democracy and its processes are a precious thing and an Electoral Commission which is toothless,spineless and silent in the face of blatant abuses by Government is as useless as a referee without a pea in his whistle.
Mr. Younger, please stand down to expose your organisation's inadequacy so that we, the people, can demand something better.
North East No Campaign
12 Frederick Street
Tel. 0191 565 7143
Mob. 07776 202045
Thursday, November 25, 2004
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