Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Hain attacks elections watchdog

Peter Hain
Mr Hain was found guilty of "serious failings" by a standards watchdog

Former cabinet minister Peter Hain, who was forced to resign amid a donations scandal, has branded the Electoral Commission "incompetent".

The organisation had to be "much more accountable" and needed "different leadership", he told MPs.

Mr Hain resigned after the commission triggered a police inquiry into the late declaration of donations to his Labour deputy leadership campaign.

No charges were brought, but a separate inquiry found "serious" failings.

'Unworldly'

In a debate on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, aimed at reforming the Electoral Commission, Mr Hain attacked the body's work and the trend to involve the police in political investigations.

The Labour MP for Neath said: "I do think the Electoral Commission does need to be much more accountable and needs different leadership from what it has had in the first stage of its work.

"I must say, and I won't go into detail, I found it to be incompetent, dysfunctional and unworldly, politically."

We are in danger of following almost the American course of politics in which we just pollute politics with all this extraneous interference
Peter Hain MP

Mr Hain, who served as Welsh secretary and work and pensions secretary until he left the government in January last year, said: "I just could not believe some of the things that I experienced."

He added: "There are countless examples I could quote... about my own unhappy experience which just prove to me that the commission has very little idea about the political world that it was regulating.

"And this is not in any way to excuse or to attempt to somehow sidestep the obligation to report within time, the necessity for the law to be obeyed by regulated donees.

"It is simply to say that we need, under the new leadership of the commission, a more effective commission, a more competent commission and a commission that is going to carry out the duties that this new legislation will enshrine."

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring charges against Mr Hain, despite a 10-month inquiry into the late declaration of 103,157 of donations.

'Not welcome'

During Monday's debate he told the Commons: "It does not seem to me to be a good thing for the police and the whole panoply of the criminal law and prosecutors to invade politics for often, not in my case actually, but it's often for party political reasons.

"They don't want to do this. It's pretty clear, from my own direct experience, that the police do not welcome this particular practice that has grown up.

"We are in danger of following almost the American course of politics in which we just pollute politics with all this extraneous interference."

He added: "Where a mistake has been made on what are complex rules then I do not think that it is sensible for the police or criminal law to come in.

"It is a matter of regulation ... either by this House or by the Electoral Commission."

In a separate report Parliament's Standards and Privileges Committee found Mr Hain was guilty of "serious and substantial" failings and ordered him to apologise to the Commons last month.

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