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Electoral System: Overseas Interference

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2018

5. What steps the Government are taking to protect the electoral system from overseas interference. (907576)

9. What steps the Government is taking to protect the electoral system from overseas interference. (907580)

We have not seen evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes. However, we are not complacent, as the Prime Minister has said, and we will do what is necessary to protect ourselves and work with our allies to do likewise. The Cabinet Office co-ordinates cross-Government work to protect our democracy and to ensure the public’s confidence in our elections.

Does the Secretary of State support the work of the Petitions Committee in looking into cyber-bullying?

I shall speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and I am sure that he will be happy to take a look at that.

Deepfake videos have the potential to do tremendous harm, as they can easily be fabricated to show candidates making inflammatory statements or, God forbid, simply looking inept. Civic discourse will further degrade and public trust will plummet to new depths. This is the new wave of disinformation and election interference coming from overseas. What are the Government doing to prepare?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her very serious question and engagement with this important issue. I share her concern about that as an example of disinformation. The Government are acting to counter disinformation in a number of ways, including following on from our manifesto commitment to ensure that a high-quality news environment can prevail. I look forward to working further with her on this important issue.

Given the activities of the Russians with cyber-attacks, and looking at Florida, what with hanging chads and all the rest of it, will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that we will not move to an online voting system?

Yes, I can give that assurance, which derives from the Conservative party’s manifesto. I can also say that the system we do use of pen-and-paper voting is, by its nature, rather more secure.

What action are the Government taking to seek a range of views on potential measures to secure our voting system from overseas interference?

We are doing that in a number of ways. I would be very happy to have a longer conversation with my hon. Friend on this subject. Work goes on across the Government to look at these matters, including with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and in the Home Office. We, collectively, will ensure that we seek those views.

In the past week, the police have begun an investigation into whether Arron Banks used foreign money to buy the Brexit referendum. We have also seen Shahmir Sanni victimised for blowing the whistle on electoral crime by Vote Leave. Is it not now time for the Government to admit that the legitimacy of their mandate for the referendum is fatally compromised?

I think that the hon. Gentleman draws the wrong conclusion from his argument. The Government will be delivering the outcome of that referendum, on which, I have no doubt, we will hear more from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in just a minute. What I will say, crucially, about the investigation into Arron Banks is that the Government will not comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.

A lot of the focus on foreign interference, particularly from the Russians, is on technological interference, but there is also a large amount of Russian money swilling around that is finding its way into political parties. What are the Government doing to restrict Russian financial influence on political parties at national and constituency level?

We are fully behind the law as it stands, which is that it is not permissible for parties on campaigns to accept foreign donations. We uphold those laws. We will examine recommendations recently made by, for example, the Electoral Commission, about how more may be done.