Electoral System: Overseas Interference

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool 12:00 am, 14th November 2018

What steps the Government are taking to protect the electoral system from overseas interference.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North

What steps the Government is taking to protect the electoral system from overseas interference.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

We have not seen evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes. However, we are not complacent, as the Prime Minister has said, and we will do what is necessary to protect ourselves and work with our allies to do likewise. The Cabinet Office co-ordinates cross-Government work to protect our democracy and to ensure the public’s confidence in our elections.

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool

Does the Secretary of State support the work of the Petitions Committee in looking into cyber-bullying?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

I shall speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and I am sure that he will be happy to take a look at that.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North

Deepfake videos have the potential to do tremendous harm, as they can easily be fabricated to show candidates making inflammatory statements or, God forbid, simply looking inept. Civic discourse will further degrade and public trust will plummet to new depths. This is the new wave of disinformation and election interference coming from overseas. What are the Government doing to prepare?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

I thank the right hon. Lady for her very serious question and engagement with this important issue. I share her concern about that as an example of disinformation. The Government are acting to counter disinformation in a number of ways, including following on from our manifesto commitment to ensure that a high-quality news environment can prevail. I look forward to working further with her on this important issue.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Given the activities of the Russians with cyber-attacks, and looking at Florida, what with hanging chads and all the rest of it, will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that we will not move to an online voting system?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

Yes, I can give that assurance, which derives from the Conservative party’s manifesto. I can also say that the system we do use of pen-and-paper voting is, by its nature, rather more secure.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

What action are the Government taking to seek a range of views on potential measures to secure our voting system from overseas interference?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

We are doing that in a number of ways. I would be very happy to have a longer conversation with my hon. Friend on this subject. Work goes on across the Government to look at these matters, including with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and in the Home Office. We, collectively, will ensure that we seek those views.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

In the past week, the police have begun an investigation into whether Arron Banks used foreign money to buy the Brexit referendum. We have also seen Shahmir Sanni victimised for blowing the whistle on electoral crime by Vote Leave. Is it not now time for the Government to admit that the legitimacy of their mandate for the referendum is fatally compromised?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

I think that the hon. Gentleman draws the wrong conclusion from his argument. The Government will be delivering the outcome of that referendum, on which, I have no doubt, we will hear more from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in just a minute. What I will say, crucially, about the investigation into Arron Banks is that the Government will not comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

A lot of the focus on foreign interference, particularly from the Russians, is on technological interference, but there is also a large amount of Russian money swilling around that is finding its way into political parties. What are the Government doing to restrict Russian financial influence on political parties at national and constituency level?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

We are fully behind the law as it stands, which is that it is not permissible for parties on campaigns to accept foreign donations. We uphold those laws. We will examine recommendations recently made by, for example, the Electoral Commission, about how more may be done.