Dark Money

Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

What assessment he has made of the effect of dark money on (a) transparency and (b) influence in UK politics.

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

We have a robust legal framework for money in elections, to ensure that elections are free and fair. Donations to political parties of more than £500 must be from permissible donors, which include individuals on a UK electoral register, UK-registered companies and trade unions, and UK political parties. Responsibility for regulating that sits with the independent Electoral Commission.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

Even this week, hundreds of thousands of pounds of dark money is being spent on social media adverts by a pro-Brexit organisation warning MPs not to “steal Brexit”. There is no information in the public domain about who is funding these ads, which are being so heavily promoted at a critical time in the Brexit process and are clearly aimed at influencing it. There is no place for dark money in British politics. The Electoral Commission has been calling on the Government to take action for years; why have the Government failed to act?

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

A number of recommendations have been made in this and related policy areas—for example, by the Electoral Commission and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. As would be expected, we are considering them all together and will respond in due course.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

This matter really is first-order business for the Government. Our electoral system has always been something of which this country has been proud. I urge my hon. Friend to push ahead with the steps needed to control this activity, because it is clear that on these big issues it is very bad news if people believe that the electoral system has been corrupted.

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

My right hon. Friend makes a weighty and important point. He is absolutely right that we should not be complacent about the way our electoral system runs. We have already taken forward a series of measures to ensure that it is secure, and we will do more of that to ensure that our system is good for today and fit for tomorrow.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

The problem is that the Government spend an awful lot of time condemning the actions of the press or social media platforms, but right now there are social media posts describing Members of this House as traitors and asking for us to be targeted to make sure that we vote a particular way. It is no good our condemning that sort of language in this House if Ministers do not take real action now to make election laws fit for now, to ensure that Members of Parliament can do their jobs freely and not be intimidated to vote a particular way.

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

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed the written ministerial statement that I published only last week, which outlined the steps that the Government have already taken and will be taking to reduce intimidation in public life. It has to be a collective job, though, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life was right to ask various organisations, including the social media companies, on which I know the hon. Gentleman does some work with one of his all-party groups, to take action.