Regulation of political advertising (EDM 287)

I said several times during this campaign, the level of debate on both sides could have been much better and not surprisingly there are recriminations now about who said what about what to whom. However I also made clear, whatever the result, how imperative it was that each side accepted the democratic choice of the people and made the most of it and moved on.

In general, political campaign material in the UK is not formally regulated, and it is a matter for the press and public to decide on the basis of such material whether they consider it reasonable and accurate.

While the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK's independent regulator for advertising across all media, political adverts are not within its remit. The ASA suggests that anyone with concerns about a political advert could contact the party responsible, and exercise their democratic right to tell them what they think. The free press also has an important role in holding politicians and campaigners to account.

Of course, the wider law does generally apply to political campaign material, including the law of defamation and public order offences. Electoral law also makes it a criminal offence to publish false statements about a candidate: the courts do enforce this legislation, as illustrated during the April 2015 election court ruling which disqualified the mayor of Tower Hamlets for a litany of illegal practices.

Electoral law also requires for parties and other campaigners to include an 'imprint' on their campaign material, identifying its source, to ensure transparency and accountability.

While I understand concerns, and note the sentiment set out in EDM 278, I cannot agree with its conclusions. I think it is crucial that, during election campaigns, those involved must feel free to make their case robustly and passionately. Differences of opinion and interpretation will inevitably arise when politicians campaign and communicate their point of view.

I feel that creating a new quango to regulate political campaigning would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech within the law; indeed, freedom of speech is an important British liberty. The proposed regime would be likely to fuel malicious and partisan complaints (and counter-complaints), which would undermine, rather than strengthen, confidence in the democratic process.