The PSA has submitted to the Electoral Commissions of the UK a statement expressing its concerns over a recent ruling that could significantly reduce the availability of parliamentary placement opportunities for politics students. We have also offered to help find a solution to this issue to avoid the potentially damaging impact of this ruling

The Political Studies Association wishes to express its deep concern over the recent ruling by the Electoral Commissions in England and Wales that, under the terms of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, student placements with elected members of any of the UK legislatures will now be regarded as ‘controlled donations’. This decision applies where there are (a) costs provided such as accommodation which allows the student to carry out the work and (b) that the activities carried out benefit the member in connection with any of his/her political activities. This would include assisting a member in running their office. This ruling will lead to assembly/parliamentary members no longer being willing to participate in such schemes in the future as the PSA is already aware of instances where elected representatives have ended plans to host students in their offices as a direct result of this ruling.

There are serious implications in such a ruling. A large number of students currently participate in such placements as part of their broader educational experience. They are not ‘internships’ as that term might normally be understood. There is a clear distinction between campaigning and party-oriented activity on the one hand and more general support for a member’s office on the other. The students are not expected to take part in any partisan activity such as campaigning on behalf of the member. We would argue that, in contrast, assisting with running a member’s office with a focus on activities such as constituency casework is a reasonable expectation of such a role. Given that these placements are widespread they could also not be held to disproportionately favour any single political party. 

These schemes are invaluable in developing the skills and knowledge of politics students and in strengthening links between university politics departments and the elected members of the UK’s legislatures. It would seem short-sighted and counter-intuitive to potentially undermine this by the inflexible imposition of such a ruling.  

Of course, if these are only to be regarded as controlled donations where there is additional funding provided this is likely to have another unintended consequence. Assuming such funding will primarily cover travel and/or accommodation costs, it means that only students based in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and potentially Belfast are likely to be able to participate in such schemes.  

For these reasons we ask the electoral commissions of the UK to reconsider this ruling and to determine that it does not apply to students undertaking placements as part of a university degree; and further that running a member’s office, as opposed to activities that are party political or involve campaigning for a member’s re-election, should not be regarded as ‘political activities’ under the terms of the Act. 

We are posting this statement on the PSA’s website and will be alerting our members to this issue in our newsletter. In calling for a revised interpretation of this ruling by the Electoral Commissions in England and Wales, the PSA would also be happy to convene a meeting at its office in London to bring the affected parties together to seek a resolution of the issue.

 

You can download a pdf of the statement here.