Voter fraud is a crime that we cannot allow room for, and we must stamp out any potential for it to take place in elections. Strengthening the integrity of our system will give the public confidence that our elections remain secure well into the future, and everybody who is eligible to vote will be able to continue doing so.
At the last general election, 14 million people who registered to vote did not do so, and the Electoral Commission estimates that 9 million eligible citizens were not registered to vote. Do the Government believe that higher turnouts of eligible voters in elections is a good sign for democracy? If so, why are Ministers putting their energy into making voting harder by introducing voter ID?
Yes, I do agree that turnout is incredibly important—and what is more, this policy will not affect it. The evidence of that is in the record from Northern Ireland, which Labour Members appear to be forgetting. The measures will tackle electoral abuse effectively without disadvantaging honest voters. The Government have no intention of taking away people’s democratic right to vote. Mr Speaker,
“If we believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because of this measure, we would not be introducing it at this time.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 April 2003; Vol. 646, c. 1248.]
Those are not my words but those of a Labour Minister in 2003, introducing photo ID in Northern Ireland.
If the Minister, in spite of all the data, is determined that our elections would be made more secure by voter ID, does she not accept that the Government should provide ID free to all citizens of voting age, or is she quite content to price some people out of democracy?
The hon. Lady is a long-standing Member of this House and I am looking forward to debating with her enormously, but she simply has not read the papers. What she proposes is exactly what we are doing. I would like to make it absolutely clear here at the Dispatch Box that there will be a free local voter card. It will be free, it will be local, and it make sure that anybody who does not have photographic identification can still vote. I welcome that.
The Minister has previously advised me and the House that polling staff will be given appropriate training on checking photo IDs of individuals who wear headscarves or face coverings. Although the Government have apparently guaranteed the use of privacy screens at polling stations to facilitate private ID checks, many voters will not feel comfortable at the prospect of having to show their face or hair to a polling clerk of the opposite sex, and indeed may not vote. Will the Minister confirm whether her plans include provisions to ensure that there are both male and female staff all day at every one of the 35,500 polling stations across the country, to ensure that voters are not placed in an inappropriate position? How much would she expect that to cost?
The hon. Lady picks up on a very important point. We intend to do this properly. We are making sure that there is the right provision of training in polling stations, as she has already acknowledged, and with that, the right provision of communication to help voters be aware of this very reasonable and proportionate new requirement. All that is detailed in the documents that we put before the House this week. I look forward to debates on this subject, because we are being very honest and straightforward in our approach. We have put the documents there, we have done the research, we have done the pilots, we have done the modelling, we have done the evaluation and we have done the equality impact assessment. All that together will show how this policy is the right thing to do, and the elections integrity Bill protects our democracy, keeping it secure, modern, fair and transparent, as we would all expect it to be.