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Electoral Commission Committee

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Political Donations from Overseas

5. Whether the Committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the transparency of political donations from overseas. (906091)

The Committee has not had a recent discussion with the commission on that issue. The commission publishes information about donations to ensure transparency, and it has powers to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. It has highlighted that the political finance system is vulnerable to unlawful influence from donations overseas and in the UK, and it has recommended that parties should be required to know not just who a donor is but where the money for the donation is coming from. It has also recommended that parties have policies in place to manage the risk of receiving money from unlawful sources. The commission has said that parties should not be permitted to accept donations from companies that exceed their profits made in the UK.

The executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, Susan Hawley, says that the Tory UK Government’s “abject failure” to take decisive action on overseas donations is concerning our allies. She also says that elections are at risk of interference from Russia and other hostile states after the Government opposed the move to require political parties to verify and disclose the source of political donations. What steps is the commission taking to prevent overseas donations from hostile states that undermine electoral law? Has the commission asked the security services to undertake a review of political finance?

Speaking as a representative of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, it would be a matter for the security services to make a full assessment of whether unlawful foreign money has been used to campaign in UK elections. However, political parties must report when they are given an unlawful donation and return it to the donor. In addition, the commission carries out checks on permissibility on a sample of donations and has the power to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. The commission has said that it takes all possible steps within the current regulatory framework to prevent unlawful foreign money from entering UK politics, and it publishes information about donations to ensure transparency. It has the powers to sanction, but it cannot take enforcement actions against organisations based outside the UK. The commission will continue to recommend changes to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.