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Electoral Law

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 9 May 2019

8. What recent representations she has received from the Electoral Commission on the effectiveness of electoral law. (910771)

The commission believes that there is an urgent need for simplified and modernised electoral law. It has submitted evidence to the recently announced inquiry on electoral law by the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs. The commission is concerned that a piecemeal approach to electoral law reform will increase complexity and inconsistency. As part of these reforms, it wants legislation to improve the transparency of digital campaigns, to bring greater alignment between party and candidate regulatory frameworks, and to strengthen the impact of its sanctions.

Does the hon. Lady share my concern that electoral law was broken in the EU referendum, the close result of which must now be questioned? Given that the Tories in Scotland were fined £400 by the Electoral Commission over a £100,000 dark money donation in the weeks before the 2016 Holyrood election, does she not agree that penalties for breaking electoral law must be urgently reviewed to ensure that they are fit for purpose and genuinely deter those minded to cheat?

The commission continues to urge each of the UK’s Governments to introduce legislation to strengthen its sanctioning powers. Its view is that the penalties need to be more proportionate to the income and expenditure of parties and campaigners.

Electoral law is far too important to play party politics with, in my view. I have the pleasure of serving on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I also served on the independent commission on referendums and their rules, run by the Constitution Unit. In its report, which was very comprehensive, we made a number of recommendations for changes to the law. May I ask the hon. Lady whether she has read that report, what she thinks of those recommendations and whether she, like me, would encourage the House to look at them urgently and pass them into law?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, who raises an important point. Many of those recommendations are in alignment with the views of the Electoral Commission in urging change. She will know that the Government have indicated that they intend to bring forward changes to digital imprints for online campaigning, which will be an important step forward. I am sure that the commission would be grateful for any action she took to urge Ministers to bring forward that legislation as quickly as possible.