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Ballot Secrecy Bill [Lords]

Volume 730: debated on Friday 24 March 2023

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, I want to thank Lord Haywood for his tremendous work on the Bill and for sponsoring it in the other place. My notes say that it is largely because of him that the Bill is brought before us today for Third Reading. However, the truth is that it is almost entirely because of him that it is under consideration by us today.

I am grateful to the noble Lords of all parties in the other place who have worked together on the Bill. I am also grateful to the Ministers and the officials in the Department who have assisted its swift progress through both Houses.

The Bill is important to the integrity and democracy of our elections. It has cross-party support and it has been a great privilege for me to sponsor it in the House of Commons. I have spoken before about the importance and relevance of the Bill. It seeks to tackle the issue of family voting, when two or more people attempt to vote together in a polling booth, potentially leading to someone being intimidated or their decision being influenced. It is vital that voters cast their votes in secret. Once inside the polling station, no one should feel intimidated or be influenced by someone else on which way to vote, or whether to vote at all.

The Bill will clear up the powers that presiding officers have at polling stations and how they can better deal with the issue of family voting. Currently, those powers are unclear, which is partly why this issue has become so prominent. That is not a criticism of polling station staff members, but there is a grey area of what they can and cannot do if they witness offences such as family voting at polling stations.

This legislation will clear up the powers and responsibilities of presiding officers and polling station staff to prevent family voting from occurring. For those who do not think that this is a prominent issue, I will read out some statistics from a report by Democracy Volunteers on the May 2022 elections, which outlines how widespread family voting is. Some 1,723 polling stations were observed across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each observation lasted between 30 and 60 minutes, and family voting was witnessed at a staggering 25% of polling stations.

The problem is not exclusive to any one area and affects all of the United Kingdom, as is evident when we break the figures down further—21% in England, 42% in Northern Ireland, 19% in Scotland and 34% in Wales. The numbers in Northern Ireland are higher due to the elections for the Northern Irish Assembly requiring voters to elect several representatives rather than just one under the single transferable vote system. That can lead to people becoming confused and needing assistance. It is not a reflection of family voting being more prominent in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, family voting affects women the most.

The report states that more than 70% of those affected by family voting in the May 2022 elections were women. We must get a grip on this ugly practice. Women should not feel intimidated or have their vote influenced by anyone at a polling station. The report’s findings are truly concerning. It was even reported that staff at polling stations were reluctant to intervene when they saw it occurring—I reiterate that this is not a criticism of the great work that those staff do. Guidance on what they can and cannot do should be—and will now be —clearer.

Democracy Volunteers produced a report of Peterborough during the 2019 by-election, where family voting was witnessed at an astonishing rate of 48%. That impacts confidence in election results—no matter how unfairly, perhaps. It cannot be good for democracy. When I speak to different communities and constituents across Peterborough, I hear widespread support for the Bill. It will rectify the issue and tackle family voting at polling stations. It sets out the amendments to the Representation of the People Act 1983. As a result, a person would commit an offence if they were with or near another person at a polling booth with the intent to influence that person in a particular way of voting or to refrain from voting. The word “intent” is important. It means that people who need help or assistance when voting due to disabilities can still receive it. It also means that parents accompanied by children standing alongside them are not committing a crime.

The people who practise family voting with an intent to intimidate and influence a person’s vote have no respect for the secret ballot. It is wholly inappropriate and is a rising threat to our democratic right to a secret ballot in the UK. We must uphold our values and traditions. Secret voting was introduced just over 150 years ago, in 1872, to tackle many bad practices in elections at that time. The Bill is a continuation of the idea that voting should be done secretly. It will give presiding officers the correct powers to tackle the problem then and there at the polling station. There is only room for one person and one mind at the ballot booth. This Bill will ensure that that is always the case, which makes it a crucial piece in updating and protecting our democracy.

I rise to support the Bill in the name of both my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) and, as he rightly says, Lord Hayward in the other place, who has done a brilliant job over many years on electoral reform and ensuring that our ballots are cast fairly and properly.

It is a fundamental part of democracy that people can go to a polling booth if they are on the electoral register. They give their name, they show their polling card and they are issued with a ballot paper. No one should then influence them over which way they cast their vote. In my long experience serving in the London Boroughs of Brent and Harrow, we have witnessed that at first hand all too frequently: not just the influence of one man over one woman, but often a man over a whole family—and it can be a large family who go in, with the women and young men being told which way to vote.

In certain places, particularly London, we have elections on many different systems: we often have local elections the same day as a general election, and we have the London mayoral and assembly elections, where three ballot papers are issued at one time. There is potential for confusion and a need for clarification. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has outlined that it would not be an offence for someone to ask for help and assistance.

In my experience, presiding officers and clerks are always available to offer that help and assistance, particularly to those who have disabilities. They often go out of their way to come to the doors of a polling station if necessary, to assist someone who is disabled to register their vote properly. The problem arises when some people seek to influence others and make sure that they vote in a particular way, especially when it is against their will and they do not really want to do it.

The most important thing is that we safeguard the ballot in a free and fair way through this Bill, which I am sure will receive cross-party support. I know it was supported when I had the pleasure of serving on the Bill Committee—albeit very briefly—and hon. Members want to ensure that it makes progress. In my borough, we pride ourselves on being very diverse. We have someone from every country on the planet, every religion, every race, every background, every language—you name it, we have it. People need to feel free when they go to vote, and to feel that their vote is going to count in the way that they wish it to.

However, I am afraid we have had many experiences of families coming together into polling stations and almost being forced to vote in a particular way. That cannot be right and it needs to change. Many may agree with the candidates they are voting for, but the most important thing is that family voting needs to be outlawed.

In supporting this Bill, I say to my hon. Friend that it clears up one issue of concern. The Government have taken action on preventing personation, and the requirement for identity cards and suchlike to be used at polling stations to prove that someone is the person entitled to cast the vote is an important reform. I look forward to that having a massive impact on stopping people from personating other individuals on the register.

My one concern is that we have seen rapid growth in the use of postal voting. I support this Bill completely, but, where large households register for and are sent postal votes, there is still the risk of those people being coerced into voting in a particular way, or—even worse—not even voting themselves, but just filling in the identity element, with the head of the household filling in the rest of the ballot papers before they are sent back. That is something we must think about if we wish to safeguard our democracy.

I will end there, because I know other colleagues wish to speak and we want other Bills to go through. Despite that note of caution, I warmly welcome this Bill, which will improve the secrecy and sanctity of our ballots.

I thank my hon. Friend and very sound colleague the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for promoting the Bill and Lord Hayward for his sterling work in the other place and his work on electoral reform issues over many, many years.

It is absolutely fundamental for democracy that elections are free and fair. Fraudulent voter intimidation or any other form of undue influence on our democracy is simply unacceptable. It is more important than ever that we foster trust in our political system and that the electoral process is above suspicion. Secret voting has been in place since the Ballot Act 1872. Our society rightly believes that it is up to individuals to decide how they will vote; it is not a decision for their family, for local leaders or for any other group to make.

Unfortunately, over recent years we have seen several high-profile cases of unscrupulous behaviour corrupting election results. This has damaged public confidence in the system. Although Tower Hamlets provides the clearest example in recent memory, the problem is by no means limited to any one part of the country. It has been going on for many years.

Having been a local resident in Calderdale at the time, I recall the shocking findings in Halifax during the 2010 general election, when Calderdale Council admitted that 763 postal votes from the Halifax constituency failed to match voter registration records. That prompted the local Conservative party to submit a lengthy dossier to West Yorkshire police, which highlighted a number of mis-practices that were then investigated. They included—but were by no means limited to—voter impersonation, bullying, multiple postal votes dispatched to empty properties, bogus voters and false registration. Much like in Tower Hamlets, I am afraid the police were far too slow to investigate the issues. Frankly, they were reluctant to get involved with what was incorrectly seen as a party political matter.

Lord Pickles rightly identified the practice of family voting as a specific concern in his 2016 review into electoral fraud, in which he recommended the strengthening of guidance and training. As recently as last year, as my hon. Friend pointed out, Democracy Volunteers, an impartial group that observes and reports on UK elections, suggested that family voting continues to be an issue and was witnessed in more than a quarter of the polling stations it visited.

I am particularly concerned that family voting and voter intimidation disproportionately affect women in Asian communities. A 2015 Manchester University paper for the Electoral Commission found evidence among interviewees in Pakistani and Bangladeshi-origin communities that hierarchical family structures often mean that women are expected to follow the lead of the head of the household. This creates additional family voting vulnerability, especially among ethnic minority households. That was also the conclusion of the Democracy Volunteers report on the Tower Hamlets election, which found:

“Those subjected to family voting…were invariably women…from the Asian community and those causing family voting were generally men”.

That absolutely runs contrary to British values. I am concerned that this is just one example of an issue to which cultural sensitivities and misplaced political correctness have frankly caused a blind eye to be turned for far too long.

By introducing a specific new offence, the Bill will clearly demonstrate our commitment to secret voting and will reaffirm an individual’s right to freely choose who they vote for. It will give our brilliant presiding officers more confidence to challenge any suspicious behaviour and, if necessary, involve the police. I believe this is where the Bill will have the most impact, by making it clear that individuals who accompany a voter to a polling booth, or who position themselves nearby with the intention of influencing a voter, will be breaking the law. By making this clear, and by giving presiding officers confidence, we will have the best chance of preventing family voting and ending undue influence at our polling stations. If these practices are not challenged at the polling station, they will simply continue. In passing this Bill, I hope the Electoral Commission will update its guidance to make clear to all concerned the importance of ending these practices once and for all.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) on introducing this important Bill, because a private vote is at the heart of our democracy. Every citizen over the age of 18 is eligible to have their say, from electing a local councillor to national referendums. Without this basic principle, voters are exposed to the risk of bribery, blackmail and other forms of peer pressure and unfair influencing.

The current situation allows someone to enter the voting booth with another person. In some cases, this can lead to a voter being unduly influenced and coerced in how they vote. This practice may be used by a husband to instruct their wife on which way to vote, which is clearly unacceptable and flies in the face of what the suffragettes fought for more than 100 years ago. Women, and men, from every background have the right to vote for the candidate who best reflects their interest and, I dare say, this sometimes might not align with their husband’s interest.

I welcome the exception for children who enter a polling booth, as teaching our youngsters about the democratic process in such a hands-on way is vital to ensuring that they engage with democracy as they grow up. Similarly, there will always be those who require physical assistance with the voting process but, in making sure that we maintain the strength of our democracy and represent all our constituents and their needs, I warmly welcome this Bill and the support it will provide in ensuring the right to a free and private vote.

I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for introducing this Bill, as it is vital that we protect the secret ballot as part of our democracy.

As is often the case with private Members’ Bills, I have come to understand an area of our law and history that I previously did not understand so well. We take the secret ballot for granted, but we have not always had it. Previously, people had to declare for whom they had voted, and they were subjected to all kinds of harassment, intimidation and bullying by, for example, their landowner or employer to vote a particular way. The first attempt to introduce a secret ballot was made in 1853 by Thomas Thompson, the Radical MP. The issue gained more traction in the 1860s, with the secret ballot being established in the 1870s. It has been a fundamental part of our electoral process ever since.

Members have spoken about the importance of the secret ballot in preventing people from being intimidated or pressed to vote in a particular way but, of course, it is also important because it reduces the chance of a voter being bribed. Our vote cannot be bought if we cannot show how we voted. There are two facets to the secret vote.

We have covered some of the other changes made to our voting system since the introduction of the secret ballot. There are other things on which we need to work, but I welcome this Bill because the secret ballot is such a fundamental part of our democracy. My hon. Friend spoke about the fantastic work done by Democracy Volunteers. As MPs, we see how, in all sorts of ways, our communities and civic life are improved by volunteers, and voting is no different. I have learned today that voting is another area in which volunteers play an important role.

My hon. Friend mentioned that more than 200 people across the nation volunteered to take part in the research, which gives us a powerful insight and shows that this is not a small or one-off issue but is widespread. Twenty-five per cent. of the observations found this practice was taking place, which demonstrates how important it is that we do everything we can to ensure privacy in the polling booth. It cannot be easy for the people who work at the polling station, and we are very sensitive to the fact that people in the polling booth should feel comfortable and respected. It would feel uncomfortable to be approached, or to be interacted with in any way, in the polling booth, and this Bill will give staff the confidence and legal clarity they need to tackle these issues. This is not about blaming them, as it is not their fault, but they will need a lot of support to be able to intervene in what is a very sensitive area.

I welcome the exceptions in this Bill. We all have constituents who would physically struggle to make that journey to the polling booth. Yes, we can encourage them to take up the offer of a postal vote, but we also know that some people absolutely want to make that journey, no matter how difficult that might be physically for them. This is important, so I welcome the exception that has been made. If even a single person is having their vote influenced in this way, we should do everything that we can to stop it. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for introducing the Bill and to my friend, Lord Hayward, who is in the Gallery, for taking it through in the Lords. I am glad that we have made progress today, and I look forward to the Bill being passed.

I rise in support of the Bill, which, as a by-election winner, holds a special place in my heart. That is not only because my noble friend, Lord Hayward, was the chair of my selection meeting, where his passion and knowledge of electoral matters was clear to all of us, but, as we have heard already, because it was during a by-election more than 150 years ago, in 1872, that a secret ballot was first used. This followed the Ballot Act 1872, which made provisions for every elector to be entitled to mark the ballot paper without being seen by anyone else.

The principle of the secret ballot is the bedrock of our system and an essential democratic principle. It is therefore unacceptable that there are some cases that undermine that principle, namely through family voting, where, as we have heard already, a voter is accompanied by another person into or near a polling booth with the intention of influencing their vote. I welcome the fact that the Bill introduces an important and specific new offence for individuals who accompany a voter to a polling booth, or position themselves nearby with the intention of influencing a voter.

I also welcome the fact that the Bill does not apply to, first, a companion of a disabled voter who has made the required written declaration to allow them to assist a disabled voter, and, secondly, to a child of a voter accompanying them to the polling station. I am sure that I am not the only Member in this Chamber today who, as a child, went with their parents when they voted—I can remember it well. In my case, I went with my mum, who is hugely passionate about women exercising their hard-earned right to vote, and who instilled this passion in me, which is one of the main reasons why I support the Bill. Thankfully, for me, my mother also votes for me in person, but I do not unduly influence her. [Interruption.] Or so she tells me, yes.

As Democracy Volunteers discovered, more than 70% of those being affected by family voting were women. Further to that, I welcome the fact that the Bill also provides our brilliant polling station officers and presiding officers across the country with the clarity and support that is needed effectively to act on these issues when they occur.

The Government are committed to protecting our democracy against those who seek to harm it, which was demonstrated by the Elections Act 2022. I welcome the fact that the provisions in the Bill complement that important work. Voter fraud remains a serious issue, particularly in parts of London and, as we have heard, particularly around postal voting, which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has already highlighted. We need to come back to that matter and do all we can to stop voter fraud.

As a fellow London MP, my hon. Friend will know that we have multi-member constituencies, particularly for local elections. That can lead to confusion in voters’ minds. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to ensure that the guidance tells people how many votes they have and how they should cast them?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Some of the clarification and changes, particularly around the mayoral elections in London, will help with that clarity for voters and the voting public.

I wish to thank my hon. Friend for steering the Bill through the House and ensuring that our democracy receives the protection that it deserves. I also applaud him for that fantastic new suit that he has worn today to deliver that. I pay tribute to Lord Hayward again for his tenacity in pursuing this issue, which is a reflection of his passion and expertise in our democracy and other electoral matters, and I am pleased to support the Bill.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for ably taking up this Bill on behalf of Lord Haywood, whom I also commend for all his work, including on this Bill.

The integrity of our elections is essential to our democracy. We must ensure that people have faith in the electoral process, and this Bill is another step towards strengthening our existing voting laws, by safeguarding the secrecy of voting in our elections. This Bill will tackle concerns about so-called “family voting”. We have a secret ballot for a reason. The fact that current rules allow someone to be accompanied into a polling booth, out of sight of the poll clerk, and potentially influenced into voting a particular way, drives a coach and horses through the whole idea of ballot secrecy. This Bill strikes me as an entirely common-sense reform.

There should be no need for voters to go into the polling booth with someone else, unless they have gone through the formal process of requesting the assistance of a companion due to a disability or inability to read or write. I am pleased that this Bill does nothing to disenfranchise voters who may need assistance, ensuring that disabled voters and voters unable to read will continue to be entitled to assistance necessary to exercise their vote. Indeed, section 9 of the Elections Act 2022 includes provision for

“such equipment as it is reasonable to provide for the purposes of enabling, or making it easier for…persons to vote independently”.

That extends the very narrow and prescriptive provisions that preceded it.

I am pleased that both the Government and the Opposition have been supporting this Bill, which will deliver measures to eliminate voter fraud and voter control. Ahead of the local elections, which we are swiftly approaching, we all have a duty, as parliamentarians, to encourage democratic participation. Having served on the Bill Committee for the 2022 Act, I welcome the measures the Government have taken to guarantee the security of the ballot. I also pay tribute to the excellent campaign being run by the Electoral Commission to make voters aware of the new requirement for photo ID in order to vote, which takes effect in May’s local elections. Finally, I am delighted to support my hon. Friend’s Bill and I look forward to it passing its Third Reading.

I add my congratulations to Lord Haywood on initiating this important Bill in the other place and on securing its progress so far. If it is successful—I think we can have complete confidence in that success—it will be the first private Member’s Bill in several years to start in the other place and make it on to the statute book. That will be no mean achievement and I know that we will get a decisive step closer to that goal today. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) on his leadership of this legislation in its proceedings in the Commons and on the case he has ably made for his Bill today and in previous sittings.

Significant contributions were also made by other Conservative Members. I want to cover the point made by the hon. Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) and for Darlington (Peter Gibson) about disability in a moment, because it is such an important point—let me associate myself with the comments they made about its importance.

First, however, I wish to deal with something that the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said in an intervention. He always has interesting points to make on our democracy and how it runs, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not, as he knows. The one he made about guidance is so important—guidance is always important. We are all saying today that voting is an individual act, a “private act”, as the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) characterised it. If that is the case, we have to make it easy to do, so that, in general, a person would not need to solicit support because the guidance is so clear and things are obvious.

I am less of a fan of the more complicated and novel systems of election, but sometimes there may be multiple candidates and that does get tricky. When the single transferable vote is used, people wonder whether to vote in the first column or the second column—that can get tricky. It is up to the regulators and, obviously, the leadership in this place, to make sure that that guidance is so clear. That touches on the point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) about the staff working in the polling stations, as we need things to be easy for them too. We cannot now have a significant range of burdens, or even tensions or anxieties, for them in respect of having to become enablers and supporters of votes; they do not want to be going anywhere near those booths either. The guidance has to be really clear, both for the individuals and for the staff we ask to administer those elections.

I wish to make a point or two of my own, but I am pleased that there is such consensus on this issue. As the hon. Member for Peterborough said, this is fundamentally a point about clarity. No matter how well established the spirit of the Ballot Act may be, 151 years later there is a lack of clarity, and the Bill adds that clarity. Our democratic processes must be free from intimidation and—a point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan)—free from inducement as well. That was the spirit of the Act which put into law the secret ballot that we enjoy to this day. In one fell swoop, it put an end to the egregious practices of landowners and employers influencing their workers’ or tenants’ votes.

However, a clear and identifiable problem remains with the Act: it does not give presiding officers the right tools to fully tackle the problem of people being compelled to vote in one particular way, or indeed not at all, by others. Those practices are always unacceptable, but they do happen, and this is the moment for us to act to end them. Intimidation of this kind goes against all our democratic principles, but there is an ambiguity, which the Electoral Commission has highlighted, so the case for change is clear.

In the other place, the Government provided important reassurances about the continuation of any assistance that disabled voters may need in order to vote. That is right and proper, and I am glad that it will not be affected by the Bill. As we heard from my hon. Friend for Darlington (Peter Gibson), there was a “build-out” for this in the Elections Act 2022. Nevertheless, I think that, as far as humanly possible, we should collectively seek to render this moot by providing appropriate assistive technologies enabling disabled people to vote independently, which would remove the need for another person to be there.

In Committee I mentioned the My Vote My Voice campaign, which aims to improve participation in voting by adults with learning disabilities and/or autism, as well as campaign groups representing deaf people, blind people, people living with Usher syndrome, and deaf-blind people more generally. They want the right technologies and support to ensure that as many people as possible—indeed, virtually everyone—can vote, and vote independently. That should be our aspiration. As I have said, the Elections Act has moved us in the right direction, but I suspect that we will need to monitor the success of its provisions and those of the Bill, and I dare say we may need to go further still in the fullness of time.

Notwithstanding those points, the Opposition welcome the Bill and are glad to support it today. It is vital for us to have clear law in this area, with no ambiguity about what is and what is not acceptable practice at polling stations, and the Bill constitutes an important step towards ensuring that happens.

It is a great pleasure to be at the Dispatch Box today to set out the Government’s full support for the Bill, which makes important changes to tackle so-called family voting. We have had an excellent debate, and it is a pleasure to see so much cross-party support for legislation of this kind. All of us are here because of the integrity of our democratic process. It is lovely to have consensus on issues such as this, as we sometimes do, particularly on Fridays.

The Bill seeks to enhance the integrity of voting at elections and to safeguard our democracy against those who would harm it, and I therefore welcome the progress that it has made in both Houses. Today gives us an excellent chance to see it speed its way towards the statute book. The new offence will be a hugely important addition to the various other measures, arising from the Elections Act 2022, that the Government are implementing to protect our electoral system against those who would undermine it.

As other Members have mentioned, the Government tabled a number of amendments to the Bill during its Committee stage in the other place in order to address issues with its specific drafting. Those amendments were designed to prevent the offence from criminalising innocent behaviour, particularly when two people are at a polling booth, so that only the one intending to influence the other is caught. The original drafting would have inadvertently caused the victim of the coercion to have also committed an offence. The amendments were also designed to secure exceptions for companions of disabled electors so that they could continue to be able to provide assistance if necessary. They were agreed to in the other place, and no further amendments have been tabled in either House.

It gives me great pleasure to thank all the parliamentarians who have engaged with the Bill, both in this place and the other place. I thank my noble Friend Lord Hayward, who I can see in the Gallery. He has been instrumental in driving forward the legislation by sharing his knowledge and experience on electoral matters and sponsoring the Bill in the other place. I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for his expertise and for setting out so well—both today and in his Westminster Hall debate—the need for this important piece of legislation.

It has been a huge pleasure to hear speeches from many Members today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Blackpool South (Scott Benton), for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French). It falls to me to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who responded for the Government in the earlier debate, and other Members who have given this legislation the benefit of their scrutiny, including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), as well as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who aided the legislation along the way—it is strange not to see him in his place; we are all poorer without him.

The Minister may or may not be aware that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is celebrating his birthday tomorrow. Will she join me and everyone else in this House in congratulating him?

My hon. Friend has done me a huge service, allowing me to say a very hearty “Happy birthday” to the hon. Member for Strangford, who I also understand has tabled an early-day motion to thank Dolly Parton. I suppose it is probably quite unconventional to support an EDM from the Dispatch Box, but if you will make an exception in the spirit of the occasion, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday and hope that he is serenaded by Dolly Parton—I cannot think of anything better.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) for her contribution in Committee, and the hon. Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for their interest in and engagement with the Bill.

I also thank my officials at the Department for Levelling Up, my private secretary James Selby, and the policy team—namely, Peter Richardson and Guy Daws—for their tireless work in supporting the Bill. I know how much effort they have put into ensuring that it proceeds smoothly. I am very grateful to His Majesty’s official Opposition, particularly the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), for all the work that they have done to support the Bill.

The Government take the integrity of our electoral system extremely seriously. We warmly welcome the changes being made, which will make such an important contribution to strengthening the integrity of voting. The Bill will ensure that there is clarity in the law so that presiding officers have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour where it occurs and to stamp down on any opportunity for coercion to take place at our elections. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

With the leave of the House, I rise again—all too briefly—to thank once again my noble Friend Lord Hayward for all his efforts to get us to this stage. His passion for and dedication to this issue have been evident for some time, and it has been a real honour to stand with him and bring this piece of legislation to where it is.

I also thank Councillors Sandy Tanner and Peter Golds, who advised me on the Bill. They are passionate about this issue and have been a vital source of advice. I thank the Minister for all her efforts, and the Ministers at DLUHC for all their support and guidance. I thank the shadow Front-Bench team and the Opposition for their support. This is a cross-party issue, and it is absolutely crucial that we make that completely clear.

I also thank the hon. Members who served on the Bill Committee. It was quite an experience trying to go around and drum up support for it, and I thank everyone who did that and who has contributed to this debate. I thank the Clerks and officials, and the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), for their guidance.

This is quite an historic occasion. It is my understanding that it is very rare to see a private Member’s Bill instigated in the other place become law—it has been some years since that last happened. Again, the fact that we are at the point where the Bill is likely to become law is testament to the leadership and passion shown by my noble Friend Lord Hayward. It has been a pleasure to be part of this—we are seeing an element of history. I hope that we can now protect our democracy.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.