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Defending Democracy Programme

Volume 663: debated on Monday 22 July 2019

The UK has worked tirelessly to build our democratic system and values. In recent years, events across the world have demonstrated that sustaining and defending a flourishing democracy is increasingly important.

Therefore, the Cabinet Office is co-ordinating work and expertise across Government under a new defending democracy programme, which has been set up to:

protect and secure UK democratic processes, systems and institutions from interference, including from cyber, personnel and physical threats;

strengthen the integrity of UK elections;

encourage respect for open, fair and safe democratic participation; and

promote fact-based and open discourse, including online.

The Government have already started to roll out measures as part of this. On 5 May 2019 we announced a range of measures to crack down on intimidation, malign influence, interference and disinformation.

Following the Committee on Standards in Public Life report, the Government have published the Online Harms White Paper, committed to a new electoral offence, and will legislate to clarifying “undue influence” which includes acts or threats of violence to manipulate someone’s vote. The Government recognise that rising levels of intimidation in public life can stop talented people, particularly women and those from minority backgrounds, standing for public office. That is why we are taking action to confront it.

As part of the programme, we have also announced a plan for a consultation on electoral integrity, which will seek to address concerns around strengthening provisions which prevent UK democracy from foreign interference. This is something we would certainly invite parliamentarians and others to engage with as it goes forward and will publish in due course.

Though this is a Government programme, we want to work with people from a broad range of perspectives to inform our work. That is why we are inviting the views of parliamentarians, political parties, third party organisations, academics, regulators and others on the programme and its outcomes. At the same time, we will continue to consider all the recommendations already made to the Government.

By taking a broad and inclusive approach, this programme can build a consensus on the way forward to continue to defend our democracy in the future.