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Safety of Local Elections: Covid-19

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 25 March 2021

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that the 2021 local elections can take place safely during the covid-19 outbreak. (913900)

On 5 February this year, the Government published a delivery plan outlining how the polls will be delivered in a covid-secure way. That is backed by a £32 million funding uplift for returning officers and local authorities to address costs related to covid and by changes to the law made by Parliament to help voters and candidates participate safely in elections.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is clearly important that democracy is allowed to flourish and that electors get the chance to vote for their local representatives. Could she provide an update on what actions she is taking to ensure that the count is secure and that postal votes are treated appropriately, particularly during the pandemic?

I can, and indeed, an update will be provided to the House today by written ministerial statement, which will give Members full details. The Electoral Commission has produced guidance for the count, and we have worked with it to ensure that that is properly up to date and assists in understanding some of the tensions in the arrangements that will be needed by returning officers to run successful counts. Of course, the need for free and fair elections often comes to the fore of people’s minds at the count, where scrutiny is just as essential as public safety in this case.

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we continue to put out guidance on other elements of the overall election process, including postal votes. I take this opportunity to emphasise that postal votes and other items of paperwork do not need to be quarantined, contrary to some recent media reporting. That has also been made clear by the Electoral Commission and others.

The trouble is that our democracy is not open to everyone. Millions of voters are still missing from the electoral register, but instead of prioritising that, the Government have chosen to prioritise their discriminatory policy requiring voters to show photo ID—plans that will cost millions of pounds and put up barriers making it more difficult to participate in democracy, and all that while curbing free expression and the right to protest. I should not be surprised at the Minister’s half-hearted approach to being innovative in making this May’s elections accessible. What would she say to a vulnerable person who has voted in person for their entire life but now feels it is unsafe to do so due to this Government’s lack of action?

I would encourage any such person to apply for a postal vote, which I will be using at this local election. Many people will prefer to do it that way, and that is absolutely fine, as it has always been. May I call out the hon. Lady for her needless posturing? I would like to say that I am surprised by it, but it is not even new—she does it every single time—and in this case, she has not taken the opportunity to explain to the House why the Labour party does not even practise what it preaches. It still asks for voter ID at its own meetings, and that is because it is a reasonable and sensible policy.