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Referendum Rules

Volume 644: debated on Thursday 12 July 2018

5. To ask the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, what proposals the Electoral Commission has for changing the rules on referendums. (906401)

After the June 2016 referendum, the Electoral Commission recommended improvements to modernise electoral law. Recommendations covered the consolidation of referendum legislation, the regulated period, rules for campaigning and sanctions. The Commission also recently recommended changes to improve the transparency of digital campaigning at future referendums and elections. Further details can be found on its website.

I thank the hon. Lady for that answer. She is obviously aware that questions surrounding changes to the rules on elections and referendums are at the heart of some of the political reform debates that are currently occurring here and around the world. Is she aware that this week, the University College London Constitution Unit, under the leadership of Professor Meg Russell and Dr Alan Renwick, has published the results of the Independent Commission on Referendums, which has been sitting for the last nine months? Will the hon. Lady look at the recommendations in the report and see whether she can add those to the list of reforms that this House must consider before another referendum is held?

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this issue. The Electoral Commission welcomes the report that she refers to and shares the view that the Government must take steps to modernise electoral law, especially on transparency and digital campaigning. It chimes with the Electoral Commission’s report on digital campaigning concerning areas such as misinformation, the misuse of personal data and overseas influence. I am sure that she will continue to impress on Ministers the need for action.

If the ultimate findings of the Electoral Commission investigation into law-breaking by the leave campaign are as serious as the version that was leaked disgracefully by the leave campaign, will my hon. Friend make it absolutely clear to the Electoral Commission that this House and the public will expect full criminal investigations by the police and the National Crime Agency into this alleged wrongdoing, so that the public can have confidence in the integrity of our referendum and electoral system?

The Commission has repeatedly called for an increase to the maximum penalty that it can impose on political parties and other campaigners for a breach of the rules. On the investigation that my right hon. Friend refers to, the Vote Leave organisation took an unusual step in sharing its views on the Electoral Commission’s initial findings. The Commission will give due consideration to any further representations made and will, at the earliest opportunity, publish a thorough and detailed closing report to provide a full and balanced account both to the public and to Parliament.