Campaign response: Elections Bill
Constituents have recently written to me regarding the Elections Bill.
Democracy is a key feature of the system of governance in this country, and to continue to protect it, we need to update our laws to ensure they are fit for purpose and in line with the modern world.
The Elections Bill will bring about much needed reforms and deliver on a number of Conservative manifesto commitments made to voters to protect our democracy, and ensure that it remains secure, modern, transparent and fair.
A range of new measures will keep our electoral system up-to-date, including tighter new laws to stamp out the potential for electoral fraud, make our politics more transparent and further protect our elections from foreign interference.
Stealing someone’s vote is stealing their voice - so to stamp out any potential for voter fraud, the Elections Bill will include sensible safeguards for postal and proxy voting, which will see party campaigners banned from handling postal votes, put a stop to postal vote harvesting and make it an offence for a person to attempt to find out or reveal who an absent voter has chosen to vote for.
The Bill will strengthen the security of the voting process by introducing a requirement for voters to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper to vote in a polling station. This will bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, where photo identification has been used successfully since 2003. And, for any eligible voter who does not have one of a broad range of accepted identification documents, a free, locally issued Voter Card will be available from their local authority.
Collectively, these measures serve to reassure electors that their vote, regardless of the method they choose to use, is secure.
To help maintain public confidence in the democratic debate, the Bill also includes a package of measures to support voters to make informed choices at the ballot box, free from interference or abuse.
A new electoral sanction will be introduced to protect campaigners and those standing for or holding elected office from inexcusable intimidatory or abusive behaviour - both in person or online. To further protect voters, the Bill will make it clearer in law what constitutes ‘undue influence’ of a voter, to better enable prosecutions.
A new digital imprints regime, which will be one of the most comprehensive in the world today, will require political campaigners to explicitly declare who they are when promoting campaign content online and on whose behalf, so that voters are clear who is trying to influence them.
Measures will increase transparency in political campaigning and safeguard our democracy from foreign interference by changing the law so that only UK based - or otherwise eligible sources with a genuine and legitimate interest in our elections - can spend money campaigning in our elections.
The creation of a new lower tier of registration for third-party campaigners spending over £10,000, will also give the public greater visibility over who is seeking to influence elections.
To improve the parliamentary accountability of the Electoral Commission, the Bill makes provision for the introduction of a ‘Strategy and Policy Statement’, to be approved by the UK Parliament (with an affirmative vote). This Strategy and Policy Statement will provide the Electoral Commission with guidance they must have regard to in the discharge of their functions.
The Bill also amends the function of the Speaker’s Committee beyond its current limited remit to give it the power to examine the Commission’s compliance with their duty to have regard to the Strategy and Policy Statement. Finally, to avoid imposing an undue burden on taxpayers’ funds and duplicating the work of the Crown Prosecution Service and Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland, the Bill legislates to expressly prevent the Commission from bringing criminal prosecutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
To increase participation in our democracy, the Bill will deliver the longstanding commitment to remove the arbitrary 15 year limit on overseas electors voting in UK Parliamentary general elections. It will also update the local elections franchise in England and Northern Ireland following EU exit.
Finally, the legislation will better support voters with disabilities to exercise their democratic right, by removing restrictions on who can act as a companion to a disabled voter at the polling station and requiring local returning officers to provide support for a wider range of needs.
The Elections Bill builds upon the strong progress made on our long-term objectives, as set out in the government’s wider Defending Democracy programme, and I will be pleased to support it when it receives its Second Reading on 7 September. The changes it will deliver will work alongside measures in the Online Safety Bill and Counter-State Threats Bills, which were announced in the most recent Queen’s Speech, to protect our globally respected democratic institutions from evolving threats and ensure the systems that underpin it are fit for purpose in society today
Campaign reply: Ban Conversion Therapy – please campaign for a legislative ban - March 2021
Thank you to constituents for writing to me about their support for the banning of gay conversion therapy – an issue which is clearly of great significance to them and LGBT+ people.
I have taken note of the points they have made with great eloquence and will be bearing them in mind if ever I am given the opportunity to make a contribution on these issues.
Transgenderism and rights for transgender people are issues of particular sensitivity and it is right that the Government ran an extensive public consultation on Gender Recognition Act in 2018 – I hope constituents and others who feel strongly about this issue were able to make their views known in that consultation.
I note that in response to an online petition which received over 200,000 signatures the Government Equalities Office issued the following response in relation to a proposed conversion therapy ban by law:
“The Government is committed to ensuring all citizens feel safe and protected from harm. We will work to deepen our understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy.
It is a fundamental principle of this Government that everyone should be free to live their lives as they wish. People must feel safe at home, out on the street and online.
Conversion therapy is a very complex issue. There are a wide range of practices which may fall within its scope and we want to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the situation in the UK to inform an effective approach. Before any decision is made on proposals for ending conversion therapy we must understand the problem, the range of options available and the impact they would have.
It is important to stress that certain abhorrent and violent practices which may be classed as conversion therapy such as ‘corrective’ rape, or other forms of physical abuse, are already covered by existing criminal offences.
Where such practices are already unlawful, we will ensure the law is clear, well understood and enforced. Where dangerous conversion therapy practices are not already unlawful, we will examine the best ways to prevent them being conducted, without sending such practices underground.
As we have said previously, we are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking spiritual support from their faith leader or others in the exploration of their sexual orientation.
The UK Government is committed to ensuring all citizens feel safe and are protected from harm. This is why we will work to deepen our understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy.
I welcome the Government’s sensible and balanced approach to ending appalling and abusive practices related to LGBT conversion therapy – ‘Conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapies range from pseudo-psychological treatments to surgical interventions, and is known to include practices such as electroshock therapy and the administering of nausea-inducing drugs
At the same time I believe that it is vital that the fundamental freedom of Christians and other faith groups to express and exercise their beliefs is not stifled by this. I am also keen to see that people who may wish to seek help, support and advice in regards to their sexuality are able to do so freely and without hindrance from all groups that adhere to health and safety guidelines, including churches and other Christian organisations
It is important that the Government endeavour to continue to improve our understanding on these practices and monitor the evidence as it emerges before putting forward any legislation – all decision-making I believe must be driven by evidence as much as it is possible. I will be following these developments closely and will do my best to speak up in Parliament to ensure that the views of all constituents are heard by ministers.
Campaign reply: Can you sign an important letter on the double vulnerability of faith and gender? - March 2021
I am grateful to constituents you for their recent correspondence concerning the double vulnerability of faith and gender facing Christian women and girls around the world.
I have read the link and information provided in the email and I can say that I certainly share their concerns. The story of the Lucina – the trauma that she and her family have had to go through and the persecution they have faced at the hands of the authorities – is particularly poignant and I will be keen to mention this and many other cases of faith-based persecution in the worldwide church that I am aware of to government ministers directly at the next possible opportunity. Constituents can also have my assurance that I will continue to work closely with the special envoy and my colleague Fiona Bruce on this issue.
The plight of persecuted Christians around the world is an issue that I am deeply committed to addressing as the MP for St Austell and Newquay and over the years I have consistently raised this matter with officials and ministers at the highest level, including contributing to the Bishop of Truro’s Review on Persecuted Christians in 2018 and 2019.
Open Doors is an organisation that my team and I have frequent contact with in our collective endeavour to raise awareness of persecuted Christians and I will continue to support their important work in Parliament. I was pleased to attend their World Watch List launch event again this year, I have also had the privilege in recent years to host the Open Doors parliamentary reception, welcoming church leaders from around the world to the Palace of Westminster, before the launch of the annual report.
Thank you again to constituents for writing to me about this important issue.
Campaign Reply: Legal recognition of humanist marriages - 9 July 2020
Thank you to all those constituents who have written to me with regard to legal recognition of Humanist marriages, and to those who have contacted me regarding wider opportunity for independent celebrants to be included in this process.
I have contacted the Secretary of State for Justice to seek their view on this ongoing review. They may be limited in what information they can provide at this point, however I have passed on all the comments and thoughts shared with me by my constituents for their consideration and trust they will keep in mind the issues that have been raised.
I would also recommend anyone who feels strongly about this issue to contribute to the consultation, once this is open for submission. I believe the public consultation is due to be launched by the law commission in September this year.
I will provide a further update on this matter in due course.
Thanks once again for raising this with me.