Breaches of Electoral Rules: Fines

Oral Answers to Questions — Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy) 12:00 am, 18th October 2018

To ask the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, what recent discussions she has had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the potential merits of increasing electoral fines for breaches of electoral rules.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

The Electoral Commission has ongoing dialogue with the Minister for the Constitution and has raised the issue of the cap on its ability to levy proportionate fines. The commission would like its maximum fine to be increased to a level that provides a genuine deterrent to campaigners who may be tempted to break the UK’s political finance laws.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

I thank the hon. Lady for that answer and welcome that response. The Scottish National party is the only major party never to have been fined. As the hon. Lady pointed out, the Electoral Commission has complained that the fines issued to other parties did not match their crimes. Yesterday, my hon. Friend Pete Wishart asked the Prime Minister about the clear breaches of electoral law in the EU referendum. When does the Committee expect tougher legislation to be introduced to prevent the Vote Leave-type of misconduct from happening again?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that the commission has repeatedly warned that the ability to fine campaigners a maximum of only £20,000 per offence could increasingly become seen as the cost of doing business for well-resourced political parties and campaigners. The Minister for the Constitution wrote to the commission in response to its recent report on digital campaigning and said that the Government would carefully consider the recommendation. The commission continues to urge the Government to introduce legislation to strengthen its sanctioning powers for future elections and referendums.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement)

Last year, figures from the Electoral Commission showed that there were very few cases, or indeed allegations, of electoral fraud. Does that not demonstrate that the perception of electoral fraud is far, far greater than the actuality of electoral fraud?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

My hon. Friend makes an important point. No one wants to see barriers put in place to participating in elections and referendums. The commission has been involved in looking at the pilots that were undertaken around voter ID in recent elections and it will continue to make recommendations to Government to make sure that all people are able to take part in elections.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

My constituents have asked me who the Electoral Commission is accountable to, because it seems to have completely ignored my constituents in the recent consultation on boundary changes.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

Through the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, the Electoral Commission reports to this House. I am sure that the commission will be happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss any concerns that he or his constituents may have on any issues of electoral law, but issues around boundaries are not within the remit of the Electoral Commission.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The instances of alleged frauds around Vote Leave are very high profile, but what more can be done to target local government elections, where often it feels on the ground that the spending limits are being breached and nobody is challenging this to ensure the integrity of local elections?

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. There will be occasions where such matters are a matter for the relevant police force. I am sure that the commission would encourage anyone with evidence of misconduct or breaches of electoral law to make that report to the relevant authority. I am also sure that the commission would be happy to discuss any concern that she might have directly with her.