The Electoral Commission has recommended that an accessible proof of identity scheme should be developed and implemented for polling stations across Great Britain. However, the commission has also recognised the potential implications for electors who do not have access to the prescribed identification documents and costed options for introducing identification requirements.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that concern, because some groups will be less likely than the general population to hold certain forms of photo ID. The commission estimates that approximately 3.5 million electors in Great Britain are without suitable ID and would therefore need to obtain an alternative form of identification. It is for that reason that the commission has recommended that electors in that position should be able to apply for identification free of charge, as they can in Northern Ireland.
In welcoming again the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) to her new responsibilities, I hope that I can, on behalf of the whole House, very warmly thank the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), who undertook these important responsibilities for several years, and who in fact served on the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission from October 2006 onwards. He has discharged his obligations extremely competently and efficiently in the interests of the House, and we know that the hon. Lady will certainly follow in his footsteps by doing so as well.
The Electoral Commission will consider all evidence, and I will relay the hon. Gentleman’s comments to it. It is clear that recent public opinion shows that 82% believe that voting at polling stations is safe. That will be kept under review. It will be for the Government to make recommendations to the Electoral Commission about how that can be improved.
My hon. Friend correctly identified the 3.5 million people who do not have the photographic ID required. Does she agree that the Government are completely short-sighted by ruling out a voluntary voter card scheme that would assist those very people?
The Electoral Commission has been clear that an identification scheme along the lines of that in Northern Ireland would be the best option. I will relay my hon. Friend’s concerns to it, and I am happy to arrange for him to meet the Electoral Commission to make those points more clearly.