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Electoral Commission

Volume 742: debated on Monday 4 December 2023

16. What recent discussions he has had with the Electoral Commission on administering free and fair elections. (900451)

Free, fair and resilient elections are pivotal to our society, and if we agree on nothing else in this House, I hope it is on that. The Government regularly meet the Electoral Commission, both at ministerial and official level, to discuss a broad range of electoral issues, and I am due to have my first meeting with it next Tuesday.

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I welcome him to his place. He will know that the cyber-attack in October 2021 was not detected until August 2022, and the commission admitted that it had failed a cyber security test in the same year. What work is the Minister doing with the Security Minister to ensure that the defending democracy taskforce has a remit with the Electoral Commission? I agree with the Minister, as should all Members of this House, that we should have free and fair elections without intervention from other states, so what work is he doing to ensure the general election next year is protected from any hostile states?

The hon. Gentleman—and, dare I say it, my friend—raises an important point. There is a good range of discussion taking place between my Department and the Home Office and a range of meetings focused on that. Conscious of the role that the commission can play, we must ensure that those who stand in our elections, participate in them and administer them feel safe and secure in their roles, and moreover that the results, whatever they are, stand up and are not open to challenge as a result of cyber-attack or anything else.

A report from the all-party parliamentary group on democracy and the constitution has found that the photo voter ID scheme creates a real risk of injustice and potential discrimination. The report highlighted the case of an immunocompromised woman who was denied her right and her voice at the local elections after being told that she needed to take off her mask. Does the Minister agree that denying someone a say in how their community is run because of a disability is completely unacceptable? Can he confirm that any indications of potential discrimination found in the photo voter ID system will be dealt with prior to the next set of elections?

The hon. Lady raises a serious point, and let me put it on record that I would be happy to meet her and the APPG to discuss their issues and concerns. We have made great strides—there is a specific workstream—in ensuring we maximise how those who have a disability can vote and do so in a free and unfettered way, and we will continue with that. I am very sorry to hear about the case the hon. Lady raises, but if she wishes to write to me on the issue, I will of course look into it in my discussions with the commission. It is absolutely pivotal that, in all we do with regard to our election rules, access to voting—freedom to vote—is absolutely at the heart of it, and as the Minister responsible for elections, I shall guarantee that.