UK Politics

Conservative Party releases election expenses after court action

Conservative battle bus Image copyright Getty Images

The Conservative Party has produced documents about its spending during the general election after the Electoral Commission took court action.

The watchdog applied to the High Court to force the party to disclose the documents, as part of an investigation into an alleged spending rules breach.

Within hours, the commission said it had received the documents from the party and was reviewing them.

The allegations relate to accommodation costs of activists on its "battle bus".

The Conservative Party acknowledges that due to an "administrative error" some accommodation costs for the activists may not have been properly registered.

'Millions below threshold'

It says the bus tour was part of the national campaign organised by Conservative campaign headquarters and the costs would not have breached national spending limits, as it says it was "some millions below the national spending threshold".

But others argue that spending ought to have been declared under the local campaigns, in constituencies where the battle bus and its activists visited .

On Thursday, Lincolnshire Police joined a list of police forces investigating whether election spending for candidates was not properly recorded.

The police probe will ascertain whether the expenses for the people using the bus should have been filed by the MPs' agents in their local expenses.

The case has also led to calls for the new police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall to stand aside while she is investigated over her part in the campaign.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has said it will review allegations that Alison Hernandez failed to declare expenses as an election agent in Torbay in the 2015 election. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Image caption Ms Hernandez said she supported the investigation being passed to the IPCC

In a statement, the Electoral Commission said: "Using its powers under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, and in line with its enforcement policy, the Electoral Commission may issue a statutory notice requiring any person, including a registered party, to provide us with specific documents and/or information as part of an investigation.

"This places the recipient under a legal obligation to provide the required material.

"However, if the recipient does not comply with this statutory notice, the commission may apply to the High Court for a disclosure order which if granted would be the court compelling the respondent to release the required documents and information to the commission."

The commission said the Conservatives had failed to act properly on two statutory notices requiring it to produce information - providing "limited disclosure of material in response to the first notice (issued on 18 February 2016) and no material in response to the second notice (issued on 23 March 2016)" - despite being granted extensions to the original deadlines to comply.

Prior to receiving the information, the commission's Bob Posner said: "We are today asking the court to require the party to fully disclose the documents and information we regard as necessary to effectively progress our investigation into the party's campaign spending returns."

A Conservative Party spokeswoman said the party had advised the Electoral Commission on 29 April "that we would comply with their notices" by 13:00 on 12 May.

"There was no need for them to make this application to the High Court," the spokeswoman added.

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