Electoral Commission: Investigatory Powers

Oral Answers to Questions — Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons on 17th January 2019.

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

What recent discussions the Electoral Commission has had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the Electoral Commission’s investigatory powers.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

What recent discussions the Electoral Commission has had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the Electoral Commission’s investigatory powers.

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

The Electoral Commission has ongoing dialogue with the Minister for the Constitution, and it has raised the need for a significant increase to its current maximum fine of £20,000. That will ensure that sanctions are proportionate and provide a genuine deterrent.

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

We have heard about dark money being involved in elections and the Brexit vote, including the controversial £435,000 donation channelled via the Scottish Tory candidate, Richard Cook, and the Constitutional Research Council, to the Democratic Unionist party. The source of that donation is still unclear. My colleague, my hon. Friend Brendan O'Hara, has written to the Electoral Commission to ask for due diligence on that case to be published. Can the hon. Lady advise when that will happen?

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

In its recent report on digital campaigning, the Electoral Commission recommended greater transparency around the source of such donations, and proposals have been set out. I am sure that officials from the commission will be happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

With respect to the hon. Lady, the Labour party was fined a record amount for failing to declare donations during the 2017 general election. The current shambolic state of affairs in this place means that even if an election is not probable, it is at least possible. I heard the hon. Lady’s answer about increasing fines, but may we have a debate about increasing such fines much higher than £20,000? In that way, political parties would be generally dissuaded from taking such action as it would exceed the cost of doing business.

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

The Electoral Commission has repeatedly warned that the ability to fine campaigners a maximum of only £20,000 could increasingly be seen as the cost of doing business, and it continues to urge the Government to introduce legislation to strengthen its sanctioning powers for future electoral events.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

Transparency in printed literature is partly ensured by the necessity of having an imprint. In my recent report for the Centre for Policy Studies, I argue that digital literature should also have an imprint. Does the Electoral Commission agree?

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

The Electoral Commission has called for imprints to follow for digital material as they would for printed material. I am sure that officials from the commission will be happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman, and we welcome any steps that he can take to urge the Government to take further action in that area.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Our electoral integrity is so important: when people vote we must ensure that they are exactly who they say they are. Since 2003 Northern Ireland has had photographic identification. What does the Electoral Commission feel about strengthening the situation as regards voter integrity?

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

The commission completed independent evaluation of the May 2018 voter ID pilot trials, and it published details on that analysis and the background data in July 2018. It found that the trials worked well, but it highlighted the need for more evidence in that area. As 3.5 million electors may not have the type of identification required, the commission continues to recommend that electors should be able to apply for a voter card free of charge, as is the case in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

What preparatory work is the Electoral Commission doing for the growing possibility of another EU referendum? What action is it undertaking to ensure that another referendum will not be so vulnerable to the law breaking and subversion that was suffered in 2016?

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

The commission has the expertise, experience and a proven track record of delivering well-run elections and referendums at short notice. It maintains contingency plans to ensure it has made all appropriate preparations to deliver a referendum, should there be one.