UK Elections: Overseas Funding

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

What recent discussions his Department has had with the Electoral Commission on the effect of overseas funding of political (a) parties and (b) campaigns on the conduct of elections in the UK.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office regularly engages with the Electoral Commission on a range of issues, including strengthening the integrity of the electoral framework. We have committed to launch an electoral integrity consultation, which will seek to strengthen the provisions that protect UK politics from foreign influence. We are currently holding discussions with regulators and stakeholders, and we will be publishing the consultation in the coming months.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for his answer, but may I press him further? The commissioners recommended that the rules on campaign funding are improved in the UK further to support confidence from the electorate. Will the Minister set out a timetable of when he will finish these consultations and implement the commission’s recommendations so that the electorate has faith in where the funding comes from for our elections in this country?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I appreciate the constructive tone with which the hon. Gentleman has put his question. We look to publish the consultation itself over the coming months. We will be engaging with a range of stakeholders, including political parties, because we need to make sure that the system we come up with is not only robust, but fair, while also allowing those who just want to stand up for their own community and engage in our democratic process to do so without having to consult lawyers to take part.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend will be aware that Facebook has recently withdrawn four different networks that were thought to have interfered with elections in the United States and Israel, and perhaps—we do not know—the United Kingdom. Does he think that is a good move or an irrelevant move by Facebook?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

We certainly welcome any moves being taken by the social media giants to try to remove those who are looking to distort information or inappropriately influence elections. As part of the consultation we are taking forward, we will try to achieve some consensus about how we can have a modern and up-to-date set of rules that ensures people cannot go online to sidestep rules that are very strong in the physical world.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Can the Minister confirm how many convictions there were for polling station fraud last year—exactly how many?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I must say that perhaps it would have been better to ask that supplementary on the next question, but I will just say that in building confidence in our electoral system, it is vital that we tackle a range of issues. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see what happens when people’s democratic rights are stolen via electoral fraud, he should talk to his hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick.