Digital Campaigning

The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked – in the House of Commons on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

What representations the Committee has received from the Electoral Commission on the regulation of digital campaigning.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip

Digital technology offers significant opportunities to engage voters, but the commission’s report on the 2019 general election highlighted significant public concerns about the transparency of digital election campaigns. At its meeting on 24 March 2020, the Committee approved the commission’s interim corporate plan, which includes plans to address voter concerns about digital campaigning. This includes voter awareness work, with a particular focus on digital campaigning, and the commission will also support the UK Government as they develop and implement new requirements for imprints on digital campaign material.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his full answer. Other than an all-out military attack, there are few things that pose a greater threat to our way of life than concerted foreign interference in our election processes. The commission has repeatedly warned of the need for greater regulation of online campaigning, and the Intelligence and Security Committee found that Russia is actively seeking to use social media and other online methods to exert a malign influence on elections in the United Kingdom. What commitments have the commission or the Speaker’s Committee had from the Government that they will take effective action to address these threats before our national and local elections are scheduled for next year?

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip

The commission works to protect the integrity of elections and the public’s confidence in it. There are limits to the activities that it can lead. The legal powers and remit stop at the UK borders. It looks to others to lead important activities outside political finance regulations, such as ensuring that elections are free from foreign interference. It supports the UK Government and security services in that area of work. It has made recommendations to the UK Government that would improve the transparency of digital campaigning, ensuring that voters know who is trying to influence them online, and provide the commission with better powers. This would reduce the risk of interference from overseas organisations or individuals.