Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
52: Clause 27, leave out Clause 27 and insert the following new Clause—
“Joint campaigning by registered parties and third parties
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations require registered parties to identify targeted expenditure incurred by a recognised third party that is subject to authorisation under section 94G of PPERA by the relevant registered party, and which exceeds the limits in section 94D(4) of PPERA. (2) Regulations under subsection (1) must include, for relevant returns submitted pursuant to section 80 of PPERA, provision for the introduction of a specific reporting category for targeted expenditure incurred by a recognised third party that is subject to authorisation under section 94G of PPERA by the relevant registered party, and which exceeds the limits in section 94D(4) of PPERA.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would replace provisions on joint campaigning with the recommendation made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in their 2021 report Regulating Election Finance (see recommendation 21).
It’s that man again, as they say.
Despite the urgings of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on this clause I shall take a little time, because it is a fundamental issue of principle, whether intended or not. I have tried to stress to the Minister that sometimes, though consequences may be unintended, they are serious in their effect. I want to go through why I believe it is unclear what the purpose of Clause 27 is. There does not appear to be a problem to solve. Spending by non-party campaigners in support of a political party is already highly regulated under the targeted spending rules and counts against the party’s spending limits. I do not believe this clause has been really thought through and it risks substantial unintended consequences that could include silencing independent trade unions and interfering with the right of the Labour Party to set its own rules and order its own business.
Of course, we have had previous debates about tying up small, largely voluntary organisations with close associations with particular parties in red tape and scaring off civil society organisations working with politicians and parties. I urge the Government to think again on this clause and to replace it with recommendation 21 from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to shine a light on non-party spending authorised by political parties. They should be looking to lift the red tape burden on civil society organisations, not add to them, so that we can get the balance right when it comes to election campaigning.
What is this clause for? We have targeted spending rules already; parties already have to account. The clause brings big changes and risks substantial unintended consequences. My noble friend Lord Kennedy and I have had meetings with the Minister. My noble friend and I worked together in the Labour Party, I as general secretary and he as finance director, and we had a statutory responsibility for reporting and accounting properly for all our expenditure, including third-party expenditure. We are both very keen to know what misbehaviour this clause is attempting to stop. Some may have concerns that non-party campaigners give political parties two bites of the cherry, but this is not really the case with the targeted spending rules brought in in the lobbying Act.
Third-party expenditure in support of a party already has to count towards the party’s election expenses. The third party cannot spend more than £31,980 in England, £3,540 in Scotland and £2,400 in Wales in support of a political party without clear written authorisation, which must be lodged with the Electoral Commission. This expenditure must then be declared by the third party in its return and, crucially, must also be included in the return of the relevant political party and count towards its expenditure. A trade union campaign for the Labour Party therefore already counts against Labour’s limits. Parties cannot artificially inflate their limits by seeking support from a third party. So there is not really any evidence of the need for this clause. What is it intended to stop? Has anyone provided examples of this behaviour?
Certainly, my noble friend Lord Kennedy and I have sought this information. Tell us what it is, because we may actually share the concern and want to seek ways of putting an end to it. As I say, we think the better way is to have greater transparency. Of course, there is a theoretical possibility that a political party could work with a third-party organisation and ask it to co-ordinate campaigns against its political opponents. This would not be covered by the targeted spending rules, but there is no evidence that this is taking place and, were it to take place, it is highly unlikely that the party would enter into a formal joint campaigning relationship with such an organisation. I suspect it would be very much an arm’s-length relationship, possibly deniable, and therefore not caught by this clause. I think it is worth bearing that in mind.
This clause disadvantages transparency, basically. It disadvantages long-standing, open relationships, particularly the ones Labour Party has, and will do nothing to stop fly-by-night wheezes—people who are operating on the edges of a campaign, who we know are there but are very difficult to pin down. It will not address those issues and will have unintended consequences, particularly for those organisations with long-standing, formal, transparent links to a political party. I am talking, as I have referenced in a number of debates, about the Labour Party, which was established at the beginning of the last century as a federal party. It had no individual members; it was made up of members of trade unions. It was not until 1921 that individual membership was brought in, but it did not exclude those individual members of affiliated unions. It was a federal party and remains so to this day. The party has a formal link, which could be caught by this clause.
If we knew what this clause was attempting to stop, we might not be so suspicious about its intentions. However, as it stands—to come back to the test that the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, mentioned—in the hands of a very hostile Government it could be used in a way that would completely undermine the structure and organisation of a major political party: the Labour Party.
What should replace this clause? There should be transparency, instead of unnecessary, unfair regulation that has not been thought through. As I say, the targeted spending rules are already there, expanding their limits by working with third-party organisations, but they could be much more transparent. Parties currently have to declare the spend of third parties incurring expenditure in support of them, but while it must be included in their return and account against their limits, there is no requirement for it to be labelled as targeted spend. This makes identifying where parties have entered into such arrangements with non-party campaigners difficult.
In its 2021 report Regulating Election Finance, the Committee on Standards in Public Life made a clear recommendation to increase transparency in the reporting of targeted spend. Recommendation 21 states:
“Parties should be required to identify what is spent by third parties as targeted spending on their behalf. The government should introduce a specific reporting category for targeted expenditure that non-party campaigners have spent in relation to an authorisation given by a political party.”
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made the same recommendation in his review of the lobbying Act in 2016, in which he said in recommendation 16:
“There should be no change to the targeted spending provisions. However, political parties should have to distinguish what was spent by third parties as targeted spending on their behalf.”
I completely concur. Let us have more transparency, as the Minister has repeatedly said throughout this Bill, that puts the bureaucratic burden on the parties and not on civil society organisations.
I do not think we want to tie up non-party organisations with any more red tape than is already there. This amendment to delete Clause 27 and implement recommendation 21 from the Committee on Standards in Public Life puts an additional reporting burden on political parties, not on other organisations. Parties would have to ensure that their return accurately accounts for authorised targeted spend and by whom it was incurred. This is about getting the balance right on regulation.
It is important to be mindful of the role of non-party campaigning in the broader ecosystem of our democracy and pre-election spend. As the committee made clear when it first concluded that spending limits for non-party campaigners would be necessary, there is nothing wrong with individuals and organisations sending out explicitly political messaging in advance of and during an election campaign. Picking up on another theme that has run through our debates on this Bill, the Committee on Standards in Public Life said on page 95 of its report:
“On the contrary, a free society demands that they should be able to do so … The right to campaign is also protected by law through the right to freedom of expression. This should act as a check on ensuring that regulation strikes the right balance.”
One of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson—I hope that I will continue to reflect some of the positive things he has said and recommended throughout this Bill—is that we should make sure that the third-party rules are fit for purpose, not make them more complex and chilling and put off the very thing the Committee on Standards in Public Life said we should promote: the role of civil society and democracies in other countries, as I have repeatedly said in this Chamber. This country spends a substantial amount of money trying to ensure that civil society can exist in other countries, to promote that principle, yet in our domestic legislation we seem to be putting up more and more barriers. This chilling effect around third-party campaigning and this self-censoring element are the most frightening parts of this legislation. That fear of breaking the rules will have the consequences we have described.
The rules are complicated and hard to understand. The definitions are vague and require detailed guidance from the Electoral Commission. The vast majority of organisations we are talking about do not have politics as their primary purpose, as I said in our discussion on the previous clause. They have volunteers. Many are run by volunteers, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, spoke about at Second Reading. He also said:
“First, the regulatory period before elections take place, which is set at 12 months, is arguably too long. The rules governing joint campaigning are arguably too complex.”—[Official Report, 23/2/22; col. 281.]
Again, I agree with him. We should be able to facilitate participation in our democracy, not put up more barriers that present a huge regulatory burden to our civil society organisations. We should look to reduce red tape.
I stress specifically what Clause 27 could mean for affiliated unions. It could be an attack on their freedom of expression. Trade unions are independent organisations in their own right. Being affiliated to the Labour Party does not change that. They are entitled—and they do so—to campaign in their own name and on their own priorities, in the same way as any other civil society organisation. If unions affiliated to the party are deemed liable for Labour Party campaign expenditure because of the party’s governance structure, they risk losing their right to campaign in their own right. This clause risks denying those unions with formal organisational links to the Labour Party that freedom of expression. Unions are entitled to take a public view on politics in their own right as independent organisations. Their affiliation to the Labour Party cannot be allowed to silence their voice.
That silence is caused by the fact that trade unions are extremely regulated in their ability to campaign politically, independent of the Labour Party. Their political funds are extremely regulated. They are required to report every year on how that money is spent, and those records are published every year. If this clause unintentionally means that they can be caught up by this “joint campaigning”, they risk losing all of those funds being allocated as spend to the Labour Party.
One issue is that there is no legal definition of what constitutes joint campaigning. There is a risk that the interpretation of “joint campaigning” by the Electoral Commission could be broadened in the future, particularly if its independence is in question—another element of the Bill that we have spent some time on. Nothing in law prevents affiliated unions, many of which have representatives elected to the Labour Party’s national executive and who are involved in the process of agreeing the manifesto, potentially being held accountable for substantial amounts of the campaign expenditure of the Labour Party—that is what we are talking about in this clause. Given that unions are entitled to spend £390,000 in their regulated period and the party can spend £20 million, it is theoretically possible that unions could breach their own spending limits due to their form of affiliation to the Labour Party. Clause 27 puts at risk the right of the Labour Party to set its own rules and order its own business. There are extremely serious potential consequences that I do not believe the Government have given any consideration to. They have not thought through the consequences of this clause.
So what are we talking about? One of the things that this can impact on is affiliated unions’ ability to campaign against the far right. One of the many campaigns that unions have conducted has precisely been in the workplace, attacking racist and fascist parties and ensuring that working people are not sucked into that particular ideology. If unions’ expenditure is soaked up or used up by the Labour Party expenditure, they will not be able to campaign on their own terms in campaigns that are politically important to their members. Unions have a proud history of anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigning, including at election time.
An important theme in the Bill is the disproportionate effect or impact on Labour and organisations that advocate for a vote for it. No other political party has close constitutional ties with separate independent organisations in the way that the Labour Party is formally linked to the trade union movement. This risks silencing organisations that advocate a vote for Labour. It is disproportionate and it has a partisan impact that changes our democratic principles. More importantly, it is a further break in the consensus that we have had for many years on fundamental changes being subject to consultation across all political parties. It has not been thought through, and it is extremely dangerous.
Although we may be the only political party with those formal links with trade unions, other organisations may also be disproportionately hit by this clause. It would have unintended consequences for all political parties. The majority of the groups are volunteer-run and could suddenly find themselves tied up in red tape, having to account for expenditure by their political party if they are deemed to be in joint campaigning arrangements. I give the examples of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Women2Win—an important organisation that funds constituency parties and candidates—the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and LGBT+ Conservatives, which I know campaigns for particular candidates. Other examples are the Tory Reform Group and even the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, Christians on the Left and the Fabian Society—I could go on.
The faith groups will be particularly affected, particularly the Quakers, because of the nature of their organisation, which is quite devolved. It presents difficult challenges for them in campaigning, as well as for some other groups—but the Quakers in particular were brought to my attention.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that. Over the last few weeks, I trawled through all of the types of organisations that could be formally linked with a political party, where they might have some sort of agreement to jointly campaign.
I have tried to grapple with and generally understand what this clause is really attempting to stop. It has been described as closing a loophole, but I do not see that. The biggest loophole in election spending is around the negative campaigning that occurs. This is often associated not with any political party or particular candidates but more with causes that want to disrupt the political process. Again, this comes back to the Russia report. Who is going to do the sort of elicit negative campaigning that we have seen? It is more likely to be organisations under the regulatory framework that will not be captured by this clause. It will be the legitimate civil society and trade union organisations that will be captured by it. It has got nothing to do with transparency or trying to ensure that there is proper reporting; it will have a very negative effect.
I said to the Minister that I would give him examples of how some affiliated unions are quite fearful. I mentioned the Musicians’ Union, a long-established affiliate of the Labour Party. It has a political fund, 32,000 members and a member on the national executive council—so there is a formal organisational link and a formal management link, if you like. Because the definition of “joint campaigning” is not set out in law, there is a real risk that the MU could be deemed to be in joint campaigning arrangements. It will play a part in agreeing our manifesto, through that Clause 5 process that I mentioned. So I can see a scenario where the Musicians’ Union, which spends negligible amounts in campaign expenditure in general elections—it puts out social media and website content about voting Labour but does have anywhere near enough expenditure to even require it to register with the Electoral Commission, as the notional cost of staff time has been all too low—will be captured here, undermining a long-established principle.
I have spoken for a long time, but it is really important that I set out a very clear description of the Labour Party’s structure and relationship with affiliated unions, and how that could be damaged by this clause. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to explain what it is designed to stop. Tell us, and perhaps we can co-operate in coming up with something better.
My Lords, I support Amendment 52 in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins. He eloquently explained the pernicious threat posed by this legislation to our democracy. As a former leader of Unite the Union, I do not need anyone to tell me how dangerous this Bill, and Clause 27 in particular, will be to trade unions and their ability to campaign on the issues that matter to their members.
My noble friend Lord Collins said that it has not been thought through. Far from it: it has been well and truly thought through. This is yet another ideological assault on the trade union movement by this Government. It is nothing less than an attempt to gag the trade union voice once and for all, coming so soon after we debated the tax on trade unions to fund their own regulator, and a police and crime Bill which, as my noble friend Lord Hendy warned on Report, could see the end of the right to picket during lawful industrial action. It is clear that the Government’s agenda is nothing more than trying to stop us getting involved in talking with our members. It is certainly not “levelling up”, or “building back better”.
It is a shame, because there is no doubt that, as my noble friend said, trade unions are a working-class group of people who look after their members and those who struggle to look after themselves. They balance the bad bosses and a system that is sometimes rigged against them. We should always remember that union members earn higher wages than non-members. They have more paid holiday, better sick pay and safer workplaces. This is crucial, particularly at a time such as this when there is rampant inflation.
It is quite simple. Trade unions demand the right to campaign on any issue that matters to trade unionists, regardless, as has been said, of the Labour Party’s own priorities. For example, if I want to ask for more doctors for the NHS or to campaign against the far right in this country or on other serious industrial issues such as the shameful practice of fire and rehire, as a trade unionist, I must surely have the right to do so through the democratic structures of my union. Just because a trade union is affiliated to the Labour Party, it does not mean that we always share the same political priorities: far from it. Why should money be spent by Labour on an election campaign count against the limit allowed by, for example, my union, Unite? With the greatest respect, it makes absolutely no sense, unless the objective is to silence the trade unions.
Another clear danger with Clause 27 is the chilling effect it will have on unions because they will be afraid to break the rules. The rules themselves are unclear and could change at the whim of Ministers. It will also actively discourage unions and other groups from campaigning together as a coalition—a totally legitimate activity that should be welcomed in any democratic society.
Clause 27 could even lead to Labour-affiliated unions being held accountable for the entire election campaign expenditure of the Labour Party. This would be a completely crazy state of affairs. Because “joint campaigning” is not properly defined in the Bill, affiliated unions could discover that they had exceeded their own expenditure limits many times over. They could even be breaking the law before they had had a chance to begin to campaign on their own priorities. Surely this is absurd. It is almost surreal. This situation must not be allowed to happen.
Let us not kid ourselves: this is an unprecedented and unconstitutional attack on the Labour Party and on the affiliated trade unions that founded it. It completely undermines the most basic principles of democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Again, as has been said, this Bill breaches the long-standing convention on cross-party support for any fundamental changes to the democratic process. Unfortunately, the Government are riding roughshod over this convention. They are attempting a power grab of epic proportions. For the sake of our democracy and for the freedoms we all take for granted, this draconian legislation—and this clause in particular—must be defeated before it ever reaches the statute book. Amendment 52 is a critical step in this fightback. I urge all those who wish to defend our democracy and freedoms to support it.
My Lords, when dealing with election law, it is always worth looking at unintended consequences. I could speak at length about trade unions, the Labour Party and funding arrangements. During the 1997 election, I was described by the Sunday Times as the “bag man”.
That has been covered. I shall restrict myself to two unintended consequences which the Government would not have expected and which I think will emerge. The first is the so-called dining clubs. Some years ago, I did quite a lot of work on stopping them meeting in here. The dining clubs are primarily a Conservative Party-supporting concept and institution. Occasionally, there are some in other parties. This is a long-standing way in which the Conservative Party has raised money— in my view, perfectly legitimately. The unintended consequence that I read in the legislation as framed is that, at the moment, electoral law requires only the net income to be considered. If £30,000 is spent on a dinner and £10,000 or £20,000 is raised, there is a specific legal requirement as to how this is accounted for. It is well and adequately covered in the law. However, this clause seems to say that the entire expenditure will have to be accounted for. This is not a problem for national parties, but it is a problem for individual candidates.
Until the last five years it was possible to know when a general election would be. I am in a minority in thinking that it is not a good idea to move away from fixed-term Parliaments. If an election is called at the whim of the Prime Minister of the day, the candidate will not know where this expenditure will fit with candidate expenses. I predict the unintended consequence of the possibility of a legal case which could lead to a duly elected Member of Parliament no longer being a Member of Parliament. I urge caution on this.
A second unintended consequence could be much more widespread. It concerns the use of Labour, Liberal and Conservative clubs for political campaigning—otherwise known as elections. I understand the law and, as I have worked in this area for a long time, I am pretty sure that I am right. At the moment, the law is fairly loose in that a Conservative Party campaign can be based in a Conservative club. Many are. This seems reasonable. There is probably a slight advantage in that there are more Conservative clubs these days than Labour or Liberal clubs. This does not seem to impact on our democracy in any undue way. However, this clause would make it necessary to account for this as joint campaigning and therefore election expenditure. It would become a nightmare of defining what is expenditure, when it is clearly joint campaigning for the officers of an independent Conservative, Labour or Liberal club, to agree to have a campaign base inside their club. As everyone knows, this is common across all three parties. One could easily cite scores of examples—sometimes there is more than one in the same election in one constituency.
That does not seem very clever. Again, people will have a field day with picking holes in it. When one looks at what I think are the appropriate, minimal amounts of spending in any one constituency, this is pretty major for our democracy. It is obviously not the Government’s intent. As ever, with electoral law, unintended consequences are the problem. There is a big problem with this clause.
My Lords, I will keep my remarks on this group to a minimum, because I have a similar amendment coming up on which I will say more. But I did not want to let this debate pass without saying how problematic this clause is. It is a serious issue that must be addressed. I think the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has set it out very comprehensively and clearly.
Put simply, the clause is unnecessary. Nobody has defined a problem that needs solving by this clause. Secondly, it is unquestionably partisan in its impact; it is absolutely clear that it will affect one party more than the others. That should be a guiding test for this House; we do not do that. We do not introduce legislation that is purportedly even-handed but is anything but. That should not be what we are about in this House. We need to recognise that. I worry a bit that the debate becomes one between the political parties when I think that this side of the House should be as concerned about the constitutional impacts of this legislation as anyone else.
The third issue has just been brilliantly set out by the noble Lord, Lord Mann: there will be a whole series of unintended consequences from the proposal in this clause. But, for me, the worst and most unintended consequence is the chilling effect. It is what will not happen because this is in legislation. People will err on the side of caution; they will not want to get caught up in major legal battles, so they will not campaign on issues that they feel strongly they should campaign on. Effectively, that is a silencing of their voice. All of us, whatever side of the House we are on, should be very concerned about that.
My Lords, for the reasons explained by my noble friends Lord Collins and Lord Woodley, Clause 27 poses an unjustified, unnecessary but serious threat to trade unions. I say so for three legal reasons: the threat is to three particular rights. The first is the trade union right to autonomy—that is, the right of a union to determine its own constitution and how it will spend its own money. That is a right protected by Article 11 of the European convention, as vouchsafed in the case ASLEF v United Kingdom in 2002. Secondly, it interferes with the right of a trade union to campaign. That, too, is an aspect of freedom of association and the right to be a trade union member protected by Article 11 of the convention. Thirdly, it interferes with the right of trade unions to express themselves—freedom of expression—protected by Article 10. As I said earlier today, to justify such incursions on to those convention rights requires a demonstration that the restrictions are necessary in a democratic society.
As my noble friend Lord Woodley pointed out, this and other provisions in the Bill form part of a long line of legislative restrictions on the capacity of trade unions to improve and maintain the condition of the lives of working people, to coin the web’s phrase. I will not go back to the restrictions on political expenditure first imposed on unions in the Trade Union Act 1913 and preserved today, but I will refer to the legislation of the 1980s, which Tony Blair, as he then was, described in an article in the Times—which I am afraid is for ever embedded in my memory—on 31 March 1997. He described the legislative situation then to be inherited by the incoming Labour Government as
“the most restrictive on trade unions in the Western world”.
Of course, Tony Blair’s Governments chose not to repeal that legislation, and unsurprisingly, the Governments formed from the Benches opposite have not repealed it either. Indeed, they have extended it. In place of the promised employment Bill, which it was said would extend the rights of workers, we have had further restrictions on trade unions. I refer to the Trade Union Act 2016 and, as my noble friend Lord Woodley has mentioned, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which further restricts the right to picket in many specified industrial sectors. Last week we had the statutory instrument on the trade union levy in respect of the certification officer, which imposes a tax on trade unions and gives further powers to the CO—and now we have the Elections Bill.
When all these things are seen together, it is clear that Clause 27 is part of a pattern. I accept that, as my noble friend Lord Collins said—and as the Minister said this morning—these clauses have implications for other democratic bodies too. But Clause 27 is unjustified. To cite the test of the convention, it is not necessary in a democratic society.
My Lords, when I first came into this place, I found it surprising that noble Lords from the other side of the House would often stand up and argue that it was inappropriate to introduce clauses in Bills unless the purpose was clear, and they clearly met a required need. So I now find it strange that, as my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury said, this seems to be an example of precisely that. I appreciate that the Minister was not in the House at that time, but I am sure he was a close observer, and that he will recall those speeches and those comments.
I also find it strange that, when we have a highly respected Committee on Standards in Public Life and it has put forward a series of recommendations in precisely this field, the Government have chosen to ignore them. I hope that when the Minister responds he will explain precisely why those recommendations have been ignored. What is the rationale? Why have the Government said, “We substitute our judgment”, which might, just might, be partisan, “for the judgment of the Committee on Standards in Public Life”—which is clearly non-partisan?
I rather wonder whether the Government misunderstand the nature of the relationship between the trade union movement and the Labour Party. I hope that they will no longer do so after the speeches by my noble friends Lord Collins, Lord Woodley and Lord Hendy. But I have sat in too many meetings with the leadership of my party, who, in the privacy of those four walls, were almost tearing their hair out at some of the campaigning and other activities of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party. As I am sure my noble friend Lord Woodley would agree, it is a fallacy to say that trade unions and the Labour Party are always marching in lockstep on every issue. Frankly, that is not the case.
The general principles and general philosophy may be the same, but the details are clearly not always to each other’s tastes. The idea that all this activity can be conflated without producing some very unfortunate consequences seems to me extraordinary. I hope that when the Minister responds he will, first, give us a clear explanation of the purpose of the measure and why it has been brought forward at this time. Secondly, I hope that he will tell us why the Government have chosen to ignore the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Finally, he might just give us his understanding of the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party.
My Lords, I think that it might be my turn now. First, I apologise for not being in the House for the session before lunch. I was attending the Committee on Standards in Public Life, of which I am a member. That committee, as I have reminded the House before, has on it a representative of the Labour Party, Margaret Beckett, a representative of the Conservative Party, Jeremy Wright, and a representative of the Liberal Democrats. It is under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, who is of course a Cross-Bench Member of this House, and it has a majority of independent members.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, just reminded the House, the committee produced a report, Regulating Election Finance, which is quite thick and I would like to say quite substantial. It makes the case eloquently and clearly, based on evidence, about the things that need to be improved in our electoral regime, the things that need to be protected and the things that need to be prevented. It does not contain a recommendation that coincides with Clause 27.
I have asked the Minister before whether he would be prepared to give us some kind of ministerial or departmental list in which the 47 recommendations that appear in the report cross-reference with the Elections Bill. His answer last time was that the Government gave their reply to this report last October. I took advantage of the committee meeting this morning just to make sure that I was not mistaken and took another careful look at what the Minister said about the report, specifically what his response said about recommendation 21. The answer that he gave in his letter was that, broadly speaking, the Government were thinking about it.
A slightly more detailed annexe brings together five or six of the recommendations in the report, including recommendation 21. I will not reproduce exactly the reasons given for not proceeding with any of them because I assume that that will be part of the Minister’s wind-up speech in a few minutes’ time. Broadly speaking, it says, “It is all complex, it could easily make it much more difficult for people, it is not proportionate and really we were taking into account a lot of other views and consideration and it needs detail”, et cetera. Noble Lords will obviously be able to hear it in a more refined form when the Minister winds up.
What the response does not do at all is to answer why recommendation 21 should not form part of this Bill. Paragraph 8.29 of the report says:
“The Electoral Commission explained in their 2015 General Election spending report that it is difficult to identify in the spending returns how much targeted spending has been incurred and if it has been correctly attributed to the relevant limits.”
So the Electoral Commission identified a specific problem of third-party spending targeted but not properly attributed to the relevant limits. The same paragraph goes on to say:
“The Hodgson report later made a similar recommendation. We agree that this change should be made to increase the transparency around campaigning that is carried out on behalf of political parties.”
Recommendation 21 is very similar to the explanatory note attached to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Collins:
“Parties should be required to identify what is spent by third parties as targeted spending on their behalf. The government should introduce a specific reporting category for targeted expenditure that non-party campaigners have spent in relation to an authorisation given by a political party.”
That recommendation seemed to the committee at the time to be soundly based on the intelligence and evidence available, first, from the Electoral Commission in its 2015 general election report and, secondly, from what we referred to, rather offhandedly. as the Hodgson report—the noble Lord is in his place—which made a similar recommendation, as well as from other evidence that we took both verbally and in writing and which is published and available on the committee’s website. In paragraph 8.30, we went on to say:
“We also agree with Lord Hodgson’s proposal that non-party campaigners should have to disclose more information about themselves.”
Amendments to that effect have come before this House as part of this process.
Even if the Minister does not change his winding-up speech, what I hope he will hear is that the people who have looked at this with an objective and serious eye—I put the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the Electoral Commission in that category and I am brave enough to put the Committee on Standards in Public Life in that category—have seen that there is a weakness that needs to be fixed. The issue is not whether there are no weaknesses; it is what on earth Clause 27 is supposed to fix, because it does not fix that issue. What it does, as we have heard eloquently expressed by a number of noble Lords who take the Labour Whip, is have a potentially severe and adverse effect on them and on the trade union movement.
I put in parentheses that I think that it is extremely unlikely that the Liberal Democrat Christian fellowship, which I happen to be a member of, would be in a position to put any money into anything. However, I recognise the point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that maybe those of us who have Liberal clubs in our constituencies should be looking at this. In the constituency in which I live and which I represented for 18 years at the other end of the building, I think that we have three Conservative clubs and, sadly, only one Liberal club, so it could be that my Conservative colleagues are at even more risk than we might be as a result of the unintended consequences of this clause.
The clause fails to address the issue that was identified, but it does address some other issue that nobody can quite put their finger on—at least, it does not seem to be a reputable thing that it puts its finger on. Perhaps there is some solution or purpose that all of us other than the Minister have completely overlooked, but we shall find that out in a moment or two. Not only does the clause fail to answer a question but it has unintended consequences that are quite likely to finish up backfiring, much to the detriment of the Conservative supporters of the clause as it stands.
I make the point as strongly as I can that when we legislate in this House, that legislation is supposed to improve things and not make them worse. It is supposed to improve things in the eyes of those of us who make the legislation and in terms of the people who are the subjects or the victims, as the case may be, of our legislative efforts. One thing that we ought to improve by way of this Bill is the overall fairness of our electoral process. We ought to continue to make it something to which ordinary folk have access. In so far as we inhibit third parties contributing to our democratic process, whether they are recognised components of civic society such as trade unions, informal components such as Liberal clubs and Conservative clubs or special interest groups, all those people ought to be able to play an active part.
The problem that has emerged, which this clause does not tackle, is how targeted spending by one or other or more of those bodies should be accounted for in local and national campaigning. In national campaigning it is an irrelevant consideration, but in local campaigning it is highly relevant and surely it must be the case that ordinary folk ought to be able to contribute to those campaigns and that the candidates and agents of those campaigns ought to have a duty to say how much help they received. Some of the regulations we have at the moment succeed in doing that, but there was a specific gap, which was appreciated and notified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in recommendation 21. I very much hope, not with a tremendous amount of expectation, that the Minister may be able to adapt his pro-forma wind-up speech to take some account of the concerns that have been raised in the debate so far.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I venture to say that I am unable to alter every word of what I might be advised to say, but I repeat what I said this morning when we had the first group on Clause 25. I hope that those who were present this morning will understand what I said in earnest when I responded to that. I listen to what is said in your Lordships’ House. Sometimes it is not the wisest thing to give a full response on the hoof but to give a commitment to further consideration and discussion with noble Lords in all parts of the House, which I undertake to do.
I will respond in general terms on this clause and will follow up in writing specific points that have been made in the debate. I am advised that it is unlikely that clubs will be affected, but this is why I think it is not wise to give a response on the hoof. I think we need a collective understanding of where it might go and, ultimately, it is for the Electoral Commission to give guidance and advice on these matters.
I enjoyed that part of the debate where the Government’s position was likened to that of Mr Tony Blair. I am not sure whether that was meant as a compliment or otherwise, but I hope that we can move forward in a spirit of understanding. One of those understanding points is that spending limits are an integral part of the political finance framework— I think we all agree on that—and that they ensure a level of fairness between parties and campaigners. The issue that some noble Lords have put is that they do not believe that the clause before the Committee meets those criteria, and I will reflect on what has been said.
Clause 27, which the amendment is designed to take out, is designed to prevent unfair circumvention of spending limits. It is fundamentally unfair that the current rules allow for a party potentially to use another group’s spending limit or resources in order to increase its own spending power. Under the existing legislation, campaigners could game the system by establishing distinct groups that together, working with a political party, have an enhanced spending capacity via multiple limits. Indeed, the noble Lord opposite acknowledged that in his speech. It is right that, where groups work together on a campaign, the spending should be accounted for by anyone involved in that campaign, otherwise spending limits are meaningless, and I think that, again, that is broadly common ground.
The effect of the Bill—noble Lords have questioned this—is to extend the principle of joint campaigning, which applies where third-party campaigners are working together, to cover scenarios where political parties and third-party campaigners are actively working together on a campaign. This is not altering the definition of joint campaigning as it is commonly understood; the measures only apply to qualifying election expenditure, not wider, non-electoral campaigning that groups may undertake. I will come specifically to the point on affiliated trade unions later. Political parties and third-party campaigners will be aware if they are working together on a campaign that involves spending money on regulated election expenditure.
The proposition that the Government are putting forward will simply mean that, where a political party and third-party campaigner are incurring spending together, actively campaigning together, the relative spending for that joint campaign should be accounted for by all groups involved in the spending. This will help to ensure that all campaigners are playing by the rules and make it easier for the public to know who is involved in such campaigns.
The measures are intended to strengthen the principle of spending limits already in law that protect the level playing field by ensuring that political parties cannot use campaign groups to enable them to expand their spending limit potential—what could be seen as a political party outsourcing its regulated spending to a third party. As we discussed in relation to Clause 22 —and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has done some research on the matter—during the 2019 general election, the group Advance Together registered as a political party and a third-party campaign group and proceeded to run negative attack campaigns in five constituencies. What can be done in five places can be done in others.
Just on that point—before the Lib Dems jump up in shock and horror—in that case the one organisation registered both as a political party and as a third party. Those are not the circumstances of separate organisations coming together. That particular problem could have been identified by the Electoral Commission and could be subject to provisions to stop a single entity trying to expand its spending limits by becoming more than one type of organisation. This is not what we are talking about in Clause 27.
My Lords, I was coming on to say that. While Clause 22 will ban the same organisation from appearing on both registers at the same time, the effect, as noble Lords have said, of existing joint campaigning rules and this proposed extension is to reinforce that by stopping other ways that spending limits could be avoided and so it maintains the level playing field.
Of course, that will not affect groups spending on campaigns, even on the same issues or with the same objective, separately outside a joint plan, in their capacity as an individual recognised third party or political party. Any regulated spending undertaken by an individual group not as part of a joint campaign will only need to be reported by the group incurring the spend. No political party or third-party campaigner should be allowed to use the facade of multiple groups working together to expand its spending limits on campaigns where the various groups are for all intents and purposes operating as a single group.
The noble Lord has proposed an alternative approach, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, rightly said, refers to the CPSL recommendations. By the way, the CPSL recommendations came out after the Elections Bill was introduced. When I refer to some of the things we were doing in the spirit of CPSL, it is in that context. But I did make very clear that we took that committee seriously. The noble Lord’s amendments would require the Secretary of State to introduce regulations for the purpose of requiring political parties to distinguish targeted spending from other expenditure in their spending returns.
I appreciate that the noble Lord’s intention, and that of CPSL, is to increase transparency on this important topic. However, this replacement does not match the extent of transparency that Clause 27 creates. There, we get into a point of difference. Targeted spending is more limited in its definition than joint campaigning. It focuses only on the promotion of a single political party and its candidates exclusively, not campaigning in relation to policies or issues that may relate to the electoral prospects of a number of political parties. Furthermore, targeted spending also does not cover negative campaigning intended to, for example, reduce support for other candidates or parties. I know that Members of the other place are particularly concerned by this issue, and it is right that such activity, which is highly prevalent in modern campaigning, is transparent.
Targeted spending therefore does not include all scenarios where third parties and political parties might actively work together. That is not to dismiss the importance of the amendments that the noble Lord has put forward. But focusing only on targeted spending and failing to tighten the rules on joint campaigning, as the noble Lord suggests, would not, in our submission, deliver full transparency for the public and might allow campaigners for parties to—
May I ask a question? The Minister refers to concern down the other end. I also wish to express concern about some of the negative campaigning that can occur in general elections, and I am keen to hear from the Government how they intend to deal with that. The fact is that this clause requires there to be a common joint effort, formally recognised, between a party and another organisation. The fact is that most negative campaigning that takes place does not fall into that category, so this clause can have an impact only on those organisations that have a formal relationship—in other words, the Labour Party.
I accept the point made by the noble Lord about the wider ambit of negative campaigning, and I hope that is where we will find—whenever we finally get there—a measure of agreement across the House, in the context of, for example, digital campaigning. I agree with the noble Lord and the Committee on Standards in Public Life that third-party campaigning should be transparent, and campaigners should participate on equal terms and be accountable. These principles are already represented in current law.
I have heard what so many noble Lords, and people who have a proud record of commitment to the trade union movement, have said in this debate, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was kind enough to say at the outset, my officials have met with the TUC and the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, and we remain open to continuing those discussions. I have met with the noble Lord and his colleagues, and I am ready to do so again. We have listened closely, and I have listened again today to their concerns that Clause 27 will unduly limit the close relationship between the Labour Party and some trade unions. Much of the expressed concern has centred around the definition of “joint campaigning” and whether it would capture, for example, trade unions agreeing policy or manifesto commitments as part of the Labour Party’s governance structure. Clause 27 does not alter the definition of joint campaigning as it is commonly understood, and the Electoral Commission already provides guidance on what is and is not likely to constitute joint campaigning under the current rules, and we would expect them to update their guidance were new rules to come forward in the Elections Bill to reflect the extended circumstances. We will come onto statutory guidance later.
The Elections Bill also does not change the definition of “controlled expenditure”, meaning that only spending which may be reasonably regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success in the lead-up to an election is regulated, whether that is undertaken by a political party or a third-party campaigner. In practice, such activity as formulating policy for inclusion in a manifesto is unlikely to meet the Electoral Commission’s “purpose” or “public” tests, which will remain used to determine whether spending is regulated. It also would not include campaigning or advocacy on issues such as poverty or climate change that are not linked to the electoral success of parties or candidates.
Finally, I want to be clear that under the current rules or under the rules proposed in the Elections Bill, a party being affiliated or having a formal relationship with another campaigner does not in itself automatically constitute joint campaigning. Being an affiliated trade union does not mean that all activity of any other member of the affiliation would immediately count as joint campaigning, unless that activity met the Commission’s existing tests for joint campaigning. Affiliated groups running related or complementary election campaigns would not necessarily constitute joint campaigning, as the campaigns may be being run independently of each other. Only if the campaigns were being conducted in pursuance of a common campaign plan would both groups need to account for the spending.
I hope my response has gone some way towards at least assuring noble Lords that the Government are listening and have listened to the debate on this subject. I hear the concerns that have been expressed, but this clause is not intended to target trade unions. I have heard the submissions made about unintended consequences, but, as I fulfil my duty to sit here, listen to and respond with great respect to your Lordships—
Before the noble Lord sits down, would he reflect on the fact that the last two hours have been about something to do with legislation affecting the Labour Party in particular? It would be intriguing to find a similar amount of time in a Bill looking at the Conservative Party in very similar terms.
My Lords, I will not follow that. The House is master of its own procedures, but it is up to those who wish to intervene to do so when they wish to give advice to other Members.
What I would say with respect to the noble Lord, and indeed to all those who have spoken—whether they were here at the start or were not—is that I understand that noble Lords on the other side are here because they have a specific concern. The concern or perception that I have heard expressed is that they believe they may be unduly affected. Having heard what has been said, I will endeavour to provide further reassurances and to explore the matter further. If noble Lords opposite and in other parts of the House are ready to do so, I am determined to continue the discussion on these topics beyond today—and indeed imminently, as we move over the next few days.
Could I just clarify what the Minister has said? First, I am not sure that he has yet satisfied the House—he certainly has not satisfied me—on whether the issue being addressed by this is a hypothetical future situation or whether the Government have examples of where this problem has arisen.
Secondly, he talks about further discussion and consultation. I know that that is the sort of process that the Minister would wish to follow, but I was slightly surprised to receive an email from an organisation that is not by any means political but is taking an interest in the implications of the Bill, to tell me that its information—I am not part of the usual channels—is that Report on this Bill is going to start two weeks today. If that is the case, when are all these discussions going to take place?
My Lords, the noble Lord is a very experienced Member of the House and he knows that a Minister at the Dispatch Box is not in the usual channels. The duty of the Minister at the Dispatch Box is to be here and respond to the House, as I have explained, whenever and at whatever hour. I gave an undertaking at the start of Committee that I would sit here for every minute of every hour of every day of this Bill’s Committee, Report and Third Reading—whatever the procedures are in respect of the House—and I will do so. I do not think that I want to proceed on that issue.
I have sought to explain the rationale behind this clause, and I have heard the concerns expressed. As far as discussions are concerned, I am sure that the noble Lord can liaise with his own Front Bench and representatives, but—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, would accept—my door is open, has been open and will be open on this matter.
So that is the position. I repeat that the clause is not intended to target trade unions. However, I understand the perceptions and practical concerns that have been expressed. In light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the clause should stand part, at least at this point. I undertake to read very carefully what has been reported in Hansard to reflect on the debate, and I hope to have further engagement on this matter. In that light, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
One of the problems that we have had, and I raised this at Second Reading, is the failure to properly consult. The Trades Union Congress and TULO, the organisation of Labour-affiliated trade unions, were not consulted in the first round, unlike other charities and third-sector organisations. It was only after being pushed by me, in a meeting that the Minister organised, that meetings took place, rather late in the day.
The clause has serious consequences. The Minister talks about the definition of joint campaigning being well-established, but where is it in law? Where can we actually ensure that it will not change and then be captured? That is the problem that the clause has, and I suspect he has been unable to reassure anyone in this Chamber about what it may end up doing. We will have to return to it strongly, and I expect that before Report the Minister will not just meet me but will have proper consultations with the TUC and TULO because it is important that these organisations are properly consulted on something that will have such a huge impact.
My Lords, I gave that undertaking in my speech. I accept the reproof but I say to the noble Lord that we have started those contacts—I was not personally involved because I had other engagements at the time but I am responsible for the Bill in this House, though not for its progress up to this point—and, as far as I am concerned, we will continue to do so.
But timing is of the essence, and we are being pushed. There is a reason why this House’s scrutiny of the Bill is so important. How long did the other place take to scrutinise this clause? No time at all; in the two hours allocated to the Bill, this clause was not included. We can see from Hansard that they had no debate on these clauses, but it is a fundamental issue that affects our democracy. I know the Minister is concerned about the time we may take over these issues, but I assure him that I will stay up all night and all day until we get proper consideration of these issues. It is not right that this measure is pushed through without proper consultation and consideration. In the meantime, I will not push my Motion to a vote.
Does the noble Lord beg leave to withdraw the amendment?
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendment 52A not moved.
Amendments 53 and 54 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 27 agreed.
54A: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—
“Guidance by the Commission relating to third party controls
(1) PPERA is amended as follows.(2) Omit Part 2 of Schedule 8A (controlled expenditure: qualifying expenses).(3) After section 100 (public inspection of returns under section 96) insert—“100A Guidance by the Commission about third parties(1) The Commission must prepare, and may from time to time revise, a code of practice giving guidance as to the application of Part VI of this Act to third parties, including in particular, but not limited to—(a) the kinds of expenses which do, or do not, fall within Part 1 of Schedule 8A, including what categories of person constitute the “public” for the purposes of paragraph 1(1), (2) and (5) of that Schedule,(b) application of section 85(b) to third parties,(c) the relationship between notional controlled expenditure under section 86 and regulation of donations to third parties under section 95 and Schedule 11, and(d) what types of activities and communications between third parties constitute incurring expenditure in pursuance of a plan or other arrangement where the expenditure can reasonably be regarded as intended to achieve a common purpose under section 94.(2) The Commission must consult the following on a draft of any guidance or revised guidance prepared in accordance with subsection (1)—(a) the Speaker’s Committee,(b) the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee of the House of Commons, (c) the Scottish Ministers, so far as the draft relates to the Commission’s devolved Scottish functions,(d) the Welsh ministers, so far as the draft relates to the Commission’s devolved Welsh functions, and(e) a cross-section of persons and organisations representative of third parties within the meaning of section 85(8) of this Act, including civil society groups.(3) As soon as the Commission has prepared a draft code under this section, it must submit it to the Secretary of State for approval.(4) The Secretary of State may approve a draft code either without modification or with such modifications as the Secretary of State may determine.(5) When the Secretary of State has approved a draft code, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of the draft either—(a) in its original form, or(b) in a form which incorporates any modifications determined under subsection (4).(6) If the draft incorporates any such modifications, the Secretary of State must at the same time lay a statement of the reasons for making them.(7) If, within the 40-day period, either House resolves not to approve the draft, the Secretary of State may take no further steps in relation to the draft code.(8) If no such resolution is made within the 40-day period—(a) the Secretary of State must issue the code in the form of the draft laid before Parliament, and(b) the code must come into force on such date as the Secretary of State may by order appoint, and the Commission must arrange for it to be published in such manner as they consider appropriate.(9) Subsection (7) does not prevent a new draft code from being laid before Parliament.(10) In this paragraph “40-day period”, in relation to a draft code, means—(a) if the draft is laid before one House on a day later than the other, the period of 40 days beginning with the later of the two days, and(b) in any other case, the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the draft is laid, no account being taken of any period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.(11) In this paragraph references to a draft code include a draft revised code.(12) The Commission must have regard to guidance issued under this section in exercising its functions.(13) It is a defence for a person or third party charged with an offence under this Act to show that any guidance for the time being issued under this section was complied with in relation to Part VI of this Act.””Member’s explanatory statement
This would expand the power for the Commission to produce a code of conduct on what types of expense will be treated as regulated expenditure by third party campaigners at Schedule 8A PPERA, so that it is (i) a duty rather than a discretionary power and (ii) widened to oblige the Commission to provide guidance on other complex areas of election law for third parties, such as the rules around joint spending, and what constitutes a member.
My Lords, I did not intervene in the last serious and lengthy debate. I understood how seriously many Members of your Lordships’ House took the issue. I had some peripheral dealings with clubs from the three major parties during my review and I have to say that the political affiliation was probably rather less important than the quality of the club, its community sense, the price of a beer and the nature of the bingo—all of which are very important—but the weight of political influence being placed on the clubs was not borne out by any evidence I received. That is not to undermine the point being made, but I would not place on the clubs the weight that I heard some noble Lords putting on them in the last hour and a quarter.
I turn to Amendment 54A and I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who I am delighted to see in his place. This is the most important of the series of amendments that I have tabled on the third-party campaigning system. It takes us to the heart of the various concerns about the impact of the present regime on third-party campaigning, in particular—the phrase we have become familiar with, having heard it many times in sittings of the Committee—“the chilling effect” of the 2014 Act.
The problem for third-party campaigners is the lack of certainty in key aspects of the current regulatory regime. There are two particularly important areas. The first—I come back to it—is the intent test. The key phrase—I say it once more—is
“reasonably regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success at any relevant election”,
which is essentially the linchpin of the whole third-party campaigning regime. It is interpreted by the Electoral Commission, which decides whether a course of action infringes that phrase and makes the decision on its own authority entirely. Although I absolutely recognise that the electoral commissioners work hard and successfully to reassure civil society about its fears, and I applaud that, the kernel of doubt and concern remains there to gnaw away at the confidence of third- party campaigners.
When we debated Clauses 14 and 15—I do not want to repeat the remarks I made in those debates—my noble friend the Minister faced very heavy criticism of the extent to which the Bill, as currently drafted, would undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission. As I listened to the debate, the argument seemed to be that the Electoral Commission should be made more independent, given more freedom of action. As I explained in an earlier sitting, I am concerned about such a development. Just as noble Lords did not believe my noble friend would have malevolent intentions, it was argued that he would not be in post for ever, and who could tell who might succeed him and what his successors might do with the powers that the Bill gave them? Similarly, I am not criticising the current Electoral Commission; I make that very clear. I recognise, as I said, that it worked hard with third-party campaigners to reassure them of the practical implications of the intent test. However, the commissioners too will not be in post for ever, and who knows who might follow them?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was among those who led the charge and was most critical of the Government in that debate. He and I have made common cause about the inadequacy of the present procedures for scrutinising secondary legislation and I do not resile from that at all. However, the criticism of the Government, if followed through, would create an organisation that would be making tertiary legislation. It would be promoting, making and enforcing regulation in key areas of our electoral system without any vestige of democratic control at all. I argue that this is undesirable.
There is, however, a way to restore this and to restore a decent element of parliamentary—and by parliamentary I mean, parliamentary, not executive—control over the Electoral Commission. This would be achieved by means of codes—codes of practice which have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Crucially, as a result, compliance with the code would give a statutory defence, so ending the uncertainty that has caused so much concern about the present regime.
The amendment therefore introduces a new clause that would require the Electoral Commission to prepare statutory codes of practice—powers, by the way, it does not have in the current legislation. The areas to be covered are listed in proposed new Section 100A(1)(a) to (d). Two areas are of particular importance: first, the intent test—the Electoral Commission will be required to produce a code explaining how it proposes to operate that test—and, secondly but no less importantly, we need clarity on what constitutes a member of an organisation. This is important because, once you are a member of an organisation, communicating with you ceases to be a qualifying expenditure for the purposes of the Act. So a third-party campaigner can build membership quickly and have an increasingly wide reach without any commensurately increasing expenditure being imposed on them.
In today’s hyperconnected modern world, it is astonishingly easy and cheap to email hundreds of thousands of people about an issue and put on the bottom of the email, “Please tick this box if you want to be a member”. I regard this as potentially a very dangerous opening, offering, in particular, the prospect of third parties holding views at the outer fringes of our society being able to build up so-called members, who can then be communicated with free of charge. This would offer such groups a campaigning reach far beyond their real level of support. The Electoral Commission currently has a series of categories—including “committed supporter” and “the public at large”—and I am afraid I am far from convinced that these stand- alone terms will be able to meet the pressures of an age of ubiquitous social media. We need a code for what constitutes “the public”—namely, the opposite of a member—and this is provided for in proposed Section 100A(1)(b).
The rest of Amendment 54A is concerned with process, laying out a list of the groups that have to be consulted by the Electoral Commission: the devolved Administrations, on matters concerning them, and a representative sample of civil society groups. The Electoral Commission must then provide a draft and present it to the Secretary of State, who may approve the code or modify it. If he chooses to modify it, he has to explain why he has done so, so that the difference between what the Minister and the Electoral Commission think is clear. A series of procedures for obtaining the consent of both Houses is then laid out in the latter part of the clause. Crucially and importantly, proposed Section 100A(13) reads:
“It is a defence for a person or third party charged with an offence under this Act to show that any guidance for the time being issued under this section was complied with in relation to Part VI of this Act.”
Amendment 54A could provide, first, a high degree of certainty and, therefore, reassurance on certain key issues of the regulatory regime and, therefore, to third-party campaigners. Secondly, by using secondary legislation, it offers the opportunity to keep regulations up to date, reflecting changes in society, social media, public attitudes and campaigning methods, thus reducing the dangers of evasion. Thirdly, it introduces a proper degree of democratic or parliamentary control of the Electoral Commission, thereby perhaps offering the Government part of a way out of the troubles in which they have found themselves in Clauses 13 and 14.
It is a common phrase that the law is too important to be left to the lawyers. I submit to the Committee that electoral law, which goes to the heart of our democracy, is too important to be left to an untrammelled Electoral Commission. I beg to move.
My Lords, I put my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in full knowledge of his long-standing commitment to plurality and his excellent report on the previous restrictions placed on third-party campaigning, including by charities, where he rightly pointed out that the chilling effect that has been referred to is as much a danger as the detail of what people are expected to do—in other words, the reflection of what people think they cannot do rather than the actual restriction laid down in the law. Codes of practice will be extremely helpful in the future when we have sorted out the Bill and, I hope, eliminated the attack on the Electoral Commission inherent in Ministers taking power over its policy and strategy direction.
Codes of practice are for clarity and enabling people to do what they do best, which is to take part in civil society in a pluralistic democracy, whether they are engaged in the formal political processes that we have debated under Clause 52 or whether they are involved in the political processes that make up a democratic process within a democratic society. That is civil society action. People will be clear as to what is and is not acceptable. They will adhere to those processes and be able to play their full part.
I was going to say that we have long Committee sittings followed by shorter programmed and amendable sessions on Report, but I heard what the Minister said about listening. Let me make it clear in my short contribution that Committee sessions of this House are valuable only if they impact on whether the Government are prepared to change their mind, and listen to and reflect on the expertise, knowledge and experience of Members of this House. Otherwise, we are spending hours and hours, with some people here into the early hours of the morning, not being listened to by anyone. I therefore appeal to the Minister to fulfil what he committed to in the debate on the previous group and be prepared as a senior Minister, a Minister of State, to take back to colleagues the deep disquiet over a number of areas in the Bill. Otherwise, I hope that this part of the legislature, this House, will stall the Bill. Parts of it are a fundamental attack on our democratic processes.
However, this set of amendments moved and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is a clarification and strengthening of the power while bringing about greater accountability in relation to the operation, as opposed to the destruction, of the Electoral Commission. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.
My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of my Amendment 54 B. There is a lot to commend in the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Blunkett. It is a serious attempt to establish a new accountability framework for the Electoral Commission. I am conscious that we had some debate in the previous group on the issue that I want to touch on. With the benefit of hindsight, it might have been part of that discussion, but I should like to make other points.
My amendment proposes inserting a new clause in the Bill that would require political parties to report on the amount of controlled spending incurred by third parties as targeted spending on their behalf. This is a relatively simple and straightforward amendment in an extremely complex area. It would increase transparency for voters and other campaigners by making it easier to identify in spending returns how much targeted spend has been incurred.
I tabled this amendment for two main reasons. The first reason is to highlight the importance of the report Regulating Election Finance, produced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. There have been a number of comments and contributions on that report, and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, is in his place. He is too modest to say it, but for me this was an exemplar of how to bring forward a balanced, informed and measured approach to the complex and fast-moving world of election finance.
The report was published on 1 July last year, two days after the First Reading of the Elections Bill in the other place. The Government’s response, in September, was to say that they would look at the CSPL’s recommendations as part of any future reforms. I have to say that this was a huge missed opportunity, and we are consequently now having to table amendments that reflect the report’s conclusions and recommendations. I note in passing that, although the Government did not think there was an opportunity to incorporate that report into the Bill, they did find the opportunity, in Committee, to incorporate the changes to the voting system for mayors and police and crime commissioners, so I think it would have been possible to take on board what was in the report.
A crucial part of the report are the key principles the committee identified that should underpin our electoral process in a representative democracy and its financing. Those principles are extraordinarily strong, and worth repeating: fairness, open to all, transparency, confidence and trust, simplicity and clarity, accountability, and, finally, an independent regulator. If we test this Bill against those principles, I think we will find it in many ways wanting.
The second reason for tabling the amendment is that, as has already been said, it represents a better and fairer approach to third-party funding than that proposed in Clause 27. It would bring transparency, and it is based on recommendation 21 of the committee’s report, which, as others have said, builds on the Electoral Commission’s own 2015 report and the report by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. It is a simple and, I believe, practical measure to increase transparency, and I hope the Minister will support it. However, the better, and the right, thing to have done was for the Government, if they needed, to pause this Bill and take proper account of the full recommendations of the committee’s report.
My Lords, we on these Benches hope that the Government will be willing not only to listen but to accept both of these amendments, either in their current form or in some reshaped form. They would be constructive and non-partisan additions to the Bill.
I recall that the review undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, came about as a result of what some people felt were the botched efforts of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, which was rushed through Parliament. Of course, if this Bill becomes law in anything like its current form, I should warn the noble Lord that he—and perhaps not only he but other Members of the House too—will be called on several more times to do post-legislative scrutiny on various aspects of it.
We differ from the noble Lord in one or two respects. We would have fought for Parliament against the executive prerogative of the monarchy in the Civil War; that is where my party comes from. We are therefore in favour of the Electoral Commission being responsible to the Speaker’s Committee much more than to the Secretary of State. We will want to consider and discuss between now and Report whether the Speaker’s Committee too needs to be further reinforced, and perhaps slightly reshaped. Apart from that, we strongly support where both amendments come from, and we hope that the Government will be willing to incorporate them in further discussions on the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made a distinguished contribution, based on his great experience—although I fear that in identifying Conservative clubs he was thinking of Walsall North Conservative Club, which defines itself online as a pub that has gone out of business, rather than the neighbouring Aldridge Conservative & Unionist Club, which defines itself online both as a social club, which it is, and also as “community and government”. That rather makes my point about some clubs—not only Conservative clubs but also Labour and Liberal clubs.
I want to make one brief comment on Amendment 54B and what the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, and will requote one of the principles he identified, which is clarity. In 1995 I was tasked with ensuring that the Labour Party and the trade unions stayed within the law, as it was emerging under the Nolan committee, to which I presented evidence with my noble and learned friend Lord Morris on behalf of all trade unions. Before the law changed, my experience was that clarity was critical. I was able to go to senior politicians—my noble friend Lord Blunkett was an exception because he was always exemplary on all financial matters, but not everyone was because politicians are often more enthused about their political campaigns than by exactly how they are funded—and one of my roles was to ensure that everything was within the spirit of the law and within the law we already had on trade union funds. Clarity was critical.
It would probably be a best seller if I cited some of the spectacular examples, but there were some ferocious rows. I explained to people that they were not having that money because the way they were trying to get it was not technically legal, despite the fact that the way they wished to spend it was clearly for social good. Politicians have a weakness when it comes to money, especially when it is to do with elections. Clarity is critical.
When the law changed, and treasurers were about to be elected in my local party, when I was a Member of the other place, I always used to say, “You’ll go to prison if you get this wrong.” That quickly weeded out those who wanted the position of treasurer for some kind of political enhancement and left a tiny number who were prepared to ensure that the finances were in order. They were awkward to me, because I kept saying “That’s perfectly legitimate”, and they would delay income or expenditure because they wanted to be absolutely certain.
That is the beauty of what the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, is suggesting: a designated treasurer with a duty that they will apply with draconian consequences for breaching the law. I strongly commend this approach and this principle as one of the levers to ensure that transparency is delivered. I think this is rather a good proposal.
I will get advice from my noble friend on that afterwards.
I am concerned about third parties campaigning in a free democratic society and unintended consequences. My background is as a human rights campaigner, on civil liberties and civil rights in particular. In my experience the nature of those campaigns is that you are always having to side with the opposition of the day—not just the Labour Party but any opposition of the day. Just google me and you will find lots of reasons for my noble friends to be cross with me. I am not expressing hurt feelings on behalf of the Labour Party on this occasion. I am concerned about the ability of human rights organisations and civil society to function in the future, regardless of who is in power.
While I commend the sentiment behind these amendments, I worry about whether the fundamental problem that they attempt to respond to is the one touched on by my noble friend Lord Collins in the last group, which goes back to PPERA itself: the concern about what joint campaigning is and how one is touched by these third-party controls. I totally understand successive Governments’ concerns about third parties who are proxies for political parties in a way that we have seen in other jurisdictions, where one sees even TV commercials funded by so-called civil society organisations that are proxies for political parties. That drives a coach and horses through any kind of regulation, and I understand that, but, at the same time, as someone who was the director of the National Council for Civil Liberties in 2014 when the legislation came in, I can testify about the chronic anxiety that it caused among civil rights organisations that were really not party political in any sense that would be understood in this place or the other place.
I support the instinct behind the amendments. The Minister has been so kind as to say that he wants to drill down a little more before Report. In whatever time is available in his discussions, I ask him to bear in mind that there are ongoing anxieties about that fundamental problem. It is wonderful to have guidance, but, as we always do with legislation when there are ambiguities and concerns, we say, “Well, we’ll have this regulator who will help. We’ll have this guidance that will help after the fact”—whereas, if we are really talking about rights, freedoms and the constitution, ideally we would have sufficient clarity in the primary legislation itself.
We have heard from trade unions, with their particular link with the Labour Party, but we could be talking about all sorts of charities, NGOs or grass-roots campaigns, from the Countryside Alliance to Liberty, which I worked for. I listened carefully to the Minister on the previous group. This is not about climate catastrophe or poverty—except “It isn’t until it is”. It is not an issue until it seems to be the biggest issue of the day and people think that it is then capable of toppling a Government or making an opposition party. I am looking for that level of comfort and—the word has been used a number of times—clarity, not in just for future guidance but in current law.
My Lords, I welcome this. I recall the days when the noble Lord, Lord Mann, was telling general secretaries what they could and could not do. There were occasions in meetings where he was the bad cop and I was the good cop—I do not think that things have changed much, really.
The noble Lord talked about clarity and my noble friend Lord Blunkett talked about certainty. That is the nub of this, and I support the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. It is not that I do not trust the Electoral Commission or what it may or may not do; it is because the current system relies on guidance that could change overnight and is not certain. My trade union colleagues behind me know that statutory codes of practice are often used as a way of creating certainty, to ensure that there is a clear defence, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, put it. So the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Blunkett are therefore absolutely right.
There is a problem at the moment with the regulation, and because there is doubt and uncertainty, the result is “Don’t do it” and inaction. Therefore, this sort of proposal, where we create a statutory framework that could be properly scrutinised—again, I support that— would create clarity and certainty, and therefore encourage civil society to participate in our democratic process. So I support the noble Lord.
My Lords, it has been an interesting short debate. I would be working against the Government’s interests if I was tempted into a philosophical discussion about tertiary law and clarity and certainty. I am quite happy to have that discussion outside the Chamber. However, there are important points raised here. Also, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, as he acknowledged, rather logically fell into our previous debate. I have undertaken to reflect on the debate on Clause 27, and I will add the remarks from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, into that. There are existing rules on targeted spending for third-party campaigners—placing a cap on the spending—directed at one political party unless the party authorises further spending, in which case it must already report on that.
With due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, I will focus on the very interesting interventions—not that his was not, but on the even more interesting interventions—of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in the back corner there, whom I thank for his barbed kind words. I hope that the barbs will not be needed as our reflections go forward.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson, as I think is acknowledged on all sides of this House, has considerable expertise in this area. Someone used the phrase that he “speaks for pluralities”. His Amendment 54A would remove a permissive power on the Electoral Commission to prepare a code of practice on the expenditure controls for third-party campaigners and replace that with a requirement on the commission to produce a code of conduct. It then further specifies the contents of such a code.
Even in this short debate I heard noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Mann and Lord Blunkett, using the words “clarity” and “certainty”. While the Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to ensure compliance by political parties and third-party campaigners and does provide extensive guidance to support this, we are certainly not opposed in principle to encouraging the Electoral Commission to improve the current guidance that is on offer. The Government does and will continue to encourage the commission to work with groups that have specific concerns and to aid their understanding of the rules. That is important. Whether we need something further in legislation to ensure that we get the right outcome on guidance—a point that my noble friend is pushing at in his amendment —will need further consideration.
I look forward to engaging with him on this point ahead of the next stage of the Bill, because in debating terms and potentially in practical terms he has raised issues of importance, and the Government will consider carefully what he has said. In that light, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in favour of my amendment: to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his support, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who was kind enough to veer off his own track to give approval to this.
This is a new car which I am taking round the track for the first time to see how it corners and whether it will crash. We have not crashed, but I will say that there are some improvements that can be made to the car. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to procedure and whether guidance should come via the Speaker’s Committee to the Secretary of State. What sieves it goes through and in which order are still to be decided, and I quite understand that this could be improved or changed. They key thing is that there must be parliamentary approval from both Houses as the final step. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, and I will sample the delights of the working men’s clubs of Walsall and Aldridge at some date in the future.
The problem with putting codes of practice into primary legislation is that they cannot be changed. We are already suffering because PPERA and the 2014 Act have been left behind by events. Therefore, being stuck with a phraseology that has become increasingly out of date has to be balanced against the ability to move on a bit with changes over time through statutory instruments, which have parliamentary approval. Admittedly, this is not very satisfactory but they are discussed. Guidance is not the right word. There has to be a statutory code to give the protection referred to in the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for his support and to the Minister for his further consideration. One can ask for no more. I have brought the car back to the starting point without crashing, which is pretty good.
The use of the term “permissive power” is the problem because it trammels freedom of action. Once how it will work has been written down, one cannot suddenly say, “Oh, we don’t quite like that bit after all”. This is the heart of the problem with third-party campaigning. The Electoral Commission wants freedom to dance around and third-party campaigners want some certainty as to what is happening. The best way to achieve this is via parliamentary approval of codes produced by the Electoral Commission. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 54A withdrawn.
Amendment 54B not moved.
Clause 1: Voter identification
55: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“(2) Schedule 1 must not come into force until the Secretary of State has made a statement to Parliament on the estimated cost of the provisions.”
My Lords, we now move back to the beginning of the Bill, to Clause 1 on voter identification and the Government’s proposals to introduce photographic voter ID at polling stations.
I have tabled a number of amendments in this group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, for their support for Amendment 55. Amendments 55, 61, 62 and 92 all concern cost, finance and what it will mean if we are looking to deliver the requirement for voter identification of electors at polling stations. Some amendments are to do with making Statements to Parliament on the estimated cost in order that Parliament has proper oversight. There are also amendments around local authority finances because they will have a serious role to play in ensuring that this is delivered appropriately and on time. Amendment 62 concerns the public purse.
First, whenever legislation is brought in that has serious cost implications for local authorities, it is really important that those costs are properly understood and considered. We know that local authorities are under huge pressure at the moment. Such new legislation impacts not just on finances but on resources as well. This is not just about money; it is about people and expertise.
The first three amendments in this group relate to Schedule 1. Amendment 92, to which I shall come later, concerns Schedule 3 but is still about costs. When PACAC held its witness evidence sessions on the Elections Bill, it explored the practical and cost implications of implementing the voter ID proposals.
I just wanted to draw attention to the evidence given by Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators. He described the cost as:
“Effectively unquantifiable in many respects.”
I find that quite concerning when you are looking at the impact on local authorities. He said that the Bill is
“light on the practicalities because that will come in secondary legislation down the line”.
I am sure the Minister is aware that some of our concerns about the Bill are about the amount that is to come later in secondary legislation. What this means is that noble Lords and Members of the other place are being asked to pass this legislation with a large amount of detail about the cost implications pretty much unknown.
The impact assessment on the Bill, carried out by the Cabinet Office—and discussed at Second Reading, if I recall correctly—estimated the total cost of introducing photo ID at £120 million over 10 years. That includes £15 million to produce the free voter ID cards for those who have no other photographic ID. That £120 million was a best estimate within the ranges that were looked at. The top end was £180 million. We all know how costs tend to go up rather than down with anything brought in by government.
According to the Electoral Reform Society, these costs include £55 million on larger, more detailed polling cards, which will have to be posted in envelopes for the first time, and another £15 million on producing plastic voter cards for the estimated 2.1 million people who may not have suitable ID. Does the Minister believe that this is really a good use of public money? It is worth noting that this is at a time when our NHS, for example, is under immense stress; £120 million could buy 10,316 hip operations or 3,986 new ventilators. I ask again: is this really a good use of public money at this time?
In the evidence to the Committee stage in the other place, Virginia McVea, Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, was interviewed. She gave evidence about when voter ID was introduced in Northern Ireland. She said that in the early stages “the costs were considerable”. She drew attention to the fact that there was a time cost as well as a financial cost and a resource cost, particularly during election times. In fact, she startled the Committee by saying that she needed 70 extra staff during the election period.
The Local Government Association has said that individually each new provision is technically achievable. However, the Association of Electoral Administrators has highlighted that the cumulative impact of these changes to an already fragile system will create capacity and resilience issues. Due to the increasing complexity of registration and election processes over the last 20 years, electoral services teams already work incredibly hard in the run-up to local elections, with significant amounts of overtime and weekend working. Those of us who have been Members of Parliament also know the extraordinary amount of work that goes on in the run-up to general elections.
There were extraordinary elections in May 2021. Then, many councils used what they call the one-council approach, meaning that they drew capacity from across the council to run local elections, with election staff acting as experts on the process. However, there are concerns that this would not be sustainable in the long term. It also fails to account for the added complexity created by the new provisions, which will also require specialist knowledge to navigate, certainly in the early days.
These changes, which add complexity and further duties for returning officers and the election teams, will also put additional strain on the finite election resources in councils. As a result, additional funding and other mitigations may be required to build capacity, maintain the capability of staff in the registration and election system and ensure—this is really important—the resilience of our electoral processes.
The Bill must guarantee that local electoral authorities are properly resourced and given what they feel they need to carry out any new duties and responsibilities. During the evidence session in the other place, it transpired that local authorities had not already been asked for their estimates of what this would cost. How can the Government know what it will cost to fund local authorities adequately if they are not working closely with them on these matters? It is essential that any additional burdens associated with the introduction of new registration and electoral processes are centrally funded on an ongoing basis, so local authorities know exactly where they stand and what finances they will receive. Will this be the case and how will it work?
Are the Government planning any voter education and outreach programmes to inform the public about the changes, and to give people who do not have suitable ID the opportunity and time to apply for the new card? If this is the case, what will be the estimated cost? Have the Government looked into this? If they are not planning to do this, why not?
Another cost to local authorities will be the training of staff to ensure that the new voter ID laws are administered fairly, accurately and efficiently. Local authorities may want to supplement existing training with ID-specific materials and guidelines, and this may require increasing the overall electoral official training time. When photo ID was trialled in 10 areas holding local elections in 2019, over 2,000 people were turned away from the polls. The Government have refused to give any estimate of how many eligible voters could be turned away in a general election due to a lack of photo ID. My concerns are that if we do not have proper training, do not give proper information and enough time and do not build in the costs of that into introducing this legislation, we could have more people being turned away than should happen. No one should be turned away, but it is more likely to happen if those things are not in place.
It is hugely concerning that the Government are proposing very expensive changes to our electoral law that could disfranchise a great number of people. As Unlock Democracy says, this money could be spent on making it easier for people to vote, not harder. In Committee, the Minister, Kemi Badenoch MP, said, when looking to justify the proposals,
“Just because someone is not regularly burgled does not mean that they stop locking their front door.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/9/21; col. 127.]
In response to this, Liberty eloquently said in its briefing:
“The unintended implication of this analogy of course is that the person in question’s modest security measures seem to be working, leaving them with no reason to change what they are doing. Like our elections, their house is safe and there is no need to spend £180 million on a new lock.”
My Amendment 92 asks the Secretary of State to publish an assessment of the impact of Schedule 3 on local authority finances within six months of the passing of the Act. Schedule 3 regards the proposed changes to the period in which a person can apply for a postal vote. As it will again be local authorities implementing and administering this change, we believe the Government should have a clear understanding of the cost implications on our hard-pressed local authorities.
In this regard, the Local Government Association has said that registration costs relating to all-year-round registrations, postal and proxy votes are entirely the responsibility of registering authorities. Therefore, they cannot be recouped from the relevant authority, as with election costs. This is apparently the case for all election types, including unplanned snap general elections. Has there been any assessment of the likely costs of this? How will the Government fund local authorities to ensure compliance with the new rules?
My Lords, I am not going to take anything but a tiny bit of your Lordships’ time. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has given us a very comprehensive and clear introduction to this group. I have been worried for a long time about local authority funding and the squeeze on it for the past 10 years or so and I have just one question for the Minister: has he consulted with a selected group of local authorities about whether they regard this as a good use of their resources and their money? If not, will he set in motion a consultation with local authorities about whether they really feel they can take on this added cost and use of their resources?
My Lords, the noble Baroness made some interesting points about the issues that will face local government in implementing these proposals. She referred to the cost estimates, which are of course included in the impact statement, and seemed to say that these were extraordinarily large numbers. There are 45 million electors. At £180 million, the top end of the range, that is only about £3 per elector: we have to get this into perspective. We are talking about proposals that will improve the integrity of our electoral system. This is a very modest cost; can we just get it into perspective?
My Lords, waiting five hours to speak, you can get a bit anxious. I am not quite sure how you do this on a regular basis. I would have preferred not to be here today; I would have preferred to be in Cambridge, at Homerton College with my students. We have a big event on, and I would have liked to be there with them, but I told them I need to be here discussing the Bill, because of its immense importance, not least to them and their generation. We are making laws that, if we are not careful, lock people out rather than encouraging people in.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord True—I reached out to him to have a conversation and he said, “By all means”. We had a good conversation, and it was a respectful one. I am not sure I persuaded him on some of the fundamental points that I am going to put now, but he said, “Lord Woolley, you need to persuade the House as well”, not least those on the Government side. He said to make sure I have my facts and to make sure I have evidence. We talked about a number of things, two of which I would say the noble Lord, Lord True, violently agreed with. One was the need for comprehensive citizenship in our schools. He said, “What’s not to like about that? We need to empower, to inform, to educate the next generation to understand what happens in this Chamber. Because, if they do not have that, they do not engage in politics.” It is the truth.
I was struck, as the Minister may have been, that a year or so ago hundreds of thousands of young people, black, brown and white, protested with Black Lives Matter up and down the country, demanding justice and race equality. However, many of those hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets do not vote because they do not see the correlation between their protest and what happens in these Chambers. Having citizenship education, giving them that knowledge, would help their protests to translate into voting. We agreed on that.
We also agreed on the need for the Government and local authorities to ensure that people are encouraged to register to vote. We know that in my community, the black community, particularly among young Africans, 50% are not even registered. So these were the two issues that the Minister and I violently agreed on, yet—think about this for a second—in the Elections Bill there is nothing about citizenship, nothing about how we get people to the polling booths and nothing about ensuring that local authorities and communities engage in voter registration. You could not make it up. What we are presented with is not how we get people to the voting booth, enhance our democracy or inspire a generation to play their part, which this Bill should be campaigning for; instead we are spending hours upon hours ensuring that people do not fall off the register. Many of us today are not trying to ensure that people can get on but trying to save people from falling off. That is the truth. This is putting the cart before the horse.
The Minister said to me, “Make sure you get your facts”—and rightly so, because we are moved by evidence. I am here to tell the House that the last time I spoke here I inadvertently misled the House. When talking about voter fraud, I said in front of your Lordships that five individuals had been convicted of that offence. I was wrong: there was one, and one caution, out of 47 million people. So when we are looking at facts and justifications, are we telling these young people and our society that we are spending £180 million and are on the verge of losing—how many people might we lose through this legislation?—10, 20, 40, 100, 1,000 or potentially even millions of people because we are saying that there is a problem with voter fraud? How can I go to schools and colleges and tell young people to engage in politics when they see how we are doing politics, and when they see that we are spending millions of pounds but the effect is to take people off the register?
Evidence was asked for. The noble Baroness mentioned the local elections in 2019 and the pilot schemes. In its evaluation, the Electoral Commission noted that between 3% and 7% of those who engaged with those elections were turned away because they did not have the right voter ID, including non-photographic ID. We have to extrapolate what that might mean in a general election, because that is the evidence we are presented with. The Electoral Commission and others suggest that between 50,000 and 400,000 people could show up at a general election, be turned away and not come back—that is against one conviction of fraud. Is it me? Am I missing something here about how bonkers that sounds?
I want to go back to the college; I want to go back to young people. I want to say that, as the noble Lord, Lord True, has eloquently pointed out a number of times, we must be in the business of listening—listening to arguments and to the evidence. We must show that we will not leave people out and that we will make sure that we bring them in. I have asked before why we are not talking about automatic voter registration that would bring millions of people in rather than taking people off and keeping them out by default. The noble Lord, Lord True, will say to me, to us, “Well, it’s complicated.” It is complicated, but it is worth it. It is worth it because it is our democracy, and the more people we get in, educate and inspire, the more we will strengthen our democracy.
We have an opportunity to reset—to use this legislation and say, “You know what? We’ve looked at the evidence, and we’ve got a lot wrong.” I heard the debate on Tuesday, when the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and others said that if we do not put things right, the blind and those with eyesight impediments may not be able to engage. I am talking about young people and people from African, Asian and Caribbean communities. The report on the 2019 review says that Asian communities in Derby were disproportionately affected by voter ID. We can do better than that. This is our opportunity to tell those communities that we are listening and caring. We must get them to the voting booth by being positive—not by being negative as this Bill shows.
My Lords, I did not want to be here either today, because of my fractured foot. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and I go back a long way, fighting on the same side on many things. However, I am worried that we are pulling everybody together and thinking that wanting to clean up the system is disenfranchising people.
I have worked so hard locally engaging with people, and the thing I hear back all the time is, “What’s the point of my vote when it’s not going to count?”, because they are not engaged—not, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, because they do not want to be, but because in cities like mine, they are not encouraged to be engaged. I have talked about those who cannot speak and understand English over and again in this Chamber, and I am talking about the many women I engage with every single week in my city. I really try hard to get them engaged in what is going on in their city because their rights are constantly being set aside.
I want our voting system to reflect these women’s desires too, just as the noble Lord and I have fought battles against everything else that is discriminatory. I want to remove this inability for them to believe that they matter. They do not matter because, most of the time, the decisions they want to make are made by people who tend to speak on their behalf because they are the only people who are engaging.
It is not just about the £180 million for me—it really is not. I am passionate that we have a system where every single vote counts, whether it is from the poor, white working class in my city or the women I am engaged with. I spoke with many of them about this Bill—before I did this to my foot—and said that I would listen carefully to what was being said. Often as not, I ask for clarification from the Government Front Bench because I want to know that what I am taking back to them will actually empower them and not take power away. A lot of the time, what they said to me was that they want to be the people who matter in this process. At this moment in time, they do not feel that they matter. For me, anything that tidies that up is a great thing.
I of course want young people to be engaged, but more important than the young people coming forward are the people who are there today—the women from my communities and the noble Lord’s communities, and the poor, working class—who do not feel engaged. If that means we have to have something that helps that process, I am all for it. Do not think for one minute I will not challenge my Front Bench if I do not agree with it, but I really want a system that enables us all to feel that we are part of a process where one vote matters. At the moment, there are plenty in my city who do not believe that.
My Lords, what a wonderful, emotional, eloquent contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. I have to say I totally agree. Here we are this afternoon debating the minutiae of the costs of voter ID, when the big issue we are failing to debate and come to terms with is the huge number of people in our country who should be able to vote but are not able to because they are not on the register. It is disproportionately and discriminatively against those from black communities, Asian communities and working-class communities. That is why the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, was so powerful.
I am tired of this divisiveness that keeps coming up. We have been in this country for a very long time. The divisiveness that has been caused has been caused because we have refused to allow people to be fully engaged. I am going to stand here and say that over and over again. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, can shake her head, but I have heard it over and over again that minority communities do not want to engage. They do, but unfortunately the systems do not always help them.
I have found this absolutely fascinating—I genuinely have. This is not a rhetorical point. I understand that both the noble Baronesses opposite who have spoken have said they want integrity in the system. The noble Baroness has just said she feels passionate about a lack of engagement and obstacles to people’s engagement—an issue on which I suspect she finds common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and everyone in the Committee. My question to the noble Baroness, because I really want to understand her position, is whether she feels that, at present, a significant bar to the engagement she seeks is coming from widespread voter fraud in the communities she is discussing. Is that the problem she feels is the stumbling block and is that why she is a supporter of the Government’s policy?
My Lords, there was no intention on my part at all to create any division within our communities. I have spent a lifetime in mixed communities, trying to engage people from every background in the political process. That is the point that I was trying to make and I am sorry if the noble Baroness opposite perhaps misunderstood.
Here we are today, talking about the costs of voter ID, which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has eloquently said will create an even greater barrier to people being able to vote. At this point, I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that I am an elected member of Kirklees Council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I speak in support of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—of course I do. In many ways, she is absolutely right. Any changes in the way in which elections are administered will be an additional cost to already hard-pressed council finances. Returning officers have expressed their concern. They know that there is more to it than just creating the new eligible voter ID for those without it.
Additional costs are mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum, helpfully. What it does not do is list them. I am going to draw the Committee’s attention to what some of the additional costs will be. As we have heard, there is the additional cost of creating a photographic voter ID card for those who do not have one, the cost of providing screens for voters who do not wish to remove their face covering in front of others, and the cost of additional equipment to make it easier for those with disabilities to vote in person. The latter is one part of the Bill that is positive. There is also the cost of additional polling clerks to check ID in busy polling stations—perhaps financial incentives will be required to encourage polling clerks to fulfil that role because they will now have to check the ID of every voter before they get their ballot paper. There is the cost of effectively communicating the change, and the hidden cost of more trained staff. And so it goes on.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has said, the estimate is £180 million—a mere £3 per person. I say to her that, in my council area, that is £1 million a year—and £1 million does not half fill a lot of potholes. If I asked my electors back in Kirklees whether they would rather the council produced voter ID cards for people or filled potholes, I am fairly confident that I know what the answer would be.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government will meet all the additional costs of the changes that they want to make? Can he confirm, given that individual councils will have different additional expenditure based on their demographics, that any government grant will be divided to meet the cost of changes rather than on a formulaic basis? Do the Government believe that extra expenditure is value for money? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised that issue and I have just given an example. Have the Government consulted with electors on whether they believe that these additional costs are value for money and can be considered a priority in these straitened times?
Schedule 3 relates to the changes proposed to postal voting. There is a very high cost to the requirement to reapply after three years. In my local authority, around 50,000 electors currently vote by post; the postage costs alone are very high. In England there are about 8 million postal voters, so the postage costs for writing out to existing postal voters for them to reapply and fill in the postal voter application would be about £4 million. Is that money well spent in the current circumstances?
My only disagreement with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is that they seek an assessment of the impact on council finances within six months. Councils need and deserve the level of expenditure that they will be required to fund—and know that it will be fulfilled—before this Bill is enacted. Of course, my wish is that these elements of the Bill are never enacted. With those words, I support her amendments.
My Lords, would it not have been nice if, when the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, finished, we could have all said, “Game, set, match and tournament. Let us do the Government a favour, save them £190 million in these straitened times, scrap Part 1 of the Bill and all go for a cup of tea and save ourselves a few hours’ unnecessary work”? There is nothing else to say after that, but I will still say one or two things.
It was so compelling and convincing. I just wonder how the noble Lord, Lord True, whom I have known for a very good while, will react. He knows a lot about elections; he has fought a lot himself. He must know that, when this new system comes into operation—assuming that it does—it will involve a high level of expenditure, not least for explaining to the public what they will now have to do in an election which they did not have to do previously. It will be an expensive operation and will take national newspaper adverts. If it is in the name of public information, so be it.
I wonder what the noble Lord’s view is of the integrity of our elections. Two years ago, his party won an election with a majority of 80. I did not like that result one little bit but, sadly, I thought that the election was conducted in my constituency perfectly fairly. It was free and fair. The result was unchallengeable; we did not do a Donald Trump in the constituency. I have been on the wrong end of several election results in my varied career in politics, but I have never doubted the integrity of the election. However, presumably the noble Lord’s position is this: we should have quite significant doubts about this 80-seat majority that his party enjoys at present. There must have been voter fraud all over the place, and we have to spend a lot of money to get this right.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that there has been the sum total of one prosecution. This whole Part 1 is much ado about nothing—sadly, it is about something, because it will reduce turnout, as we know. However, the problem it is trying to solve does not exist. We will have to go over and over the same argument. I can make so many detailed points about it.
One that struck me is that polling stations can be quite awkward at times if people forget to take their poll cards and think, “I can’t vote now, but I am going to vote; I’ve lived here 60 years”, and all the rest of it. I do not fancy being a poor old poll clerk under the new regime, telling large numbers of people, as I guess they will have to, “Sorry, you cannot vote. You haven’t got your ID”. “But I’ve lived here for 50 years; I don’t need ID. The wife and I come down and vote, have a drink on the way back and it’s a nice little evening out.” “Yes, but you need your voter ID”.
In the best circumstances, there may be an amiable exchange of views because, in local polling stations, people tend to know each other. However, I can see it turning nasty. I do not fancy being the poll clerk who says, “Sorry, you can’t vote.” This is just one specific example. You certainly need to train the poll clerk and warn them of the difficulties which will arise.
I really would like a straightforward answer from the Minister to my question which was so brilliantly dealt with in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. Does the Minister think that his Government, with their 80-seat majority, was a result of a free and fair election, or not? If the answer is, “Yes, it was a free and fair election, and I am pleased with my 80-seat majority”, why on earth is he going through all this nonsense to solve a problem which does not exist?
My Lords, in a previous debate on this Bill, I heard my noble friend say that he would not have wanted to be an election agent. I have now heard him say that he would not want to be a poll clerk. So perhaps I should begin by saying that I have been both in my lifetime. Being an election agent was quite a big responsibility, and the law has changed and become more complicated since then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, very clearly laid out some of the questions that have been raised. Like my noble friend Lord Grocott, I will wait to hear what the Minister thinks.
I would like now to send a message, if I may, to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. We have never met. First, I thank him for coming from Cambridge today. Secondly, when the noble Lord goes back to Cambridge, can he please tell his students that it was well worth his while coming here to make his speech? I am a new Member and, shortly before Christmas, I went to visit a secondary school in west London to talk to some politics students about politics. I had a very interesting time, and they raised many interesting questions—not least about this place. Of course, I asked them whether they were interested in politics. Some of them looked fairly vague. I said, “I think you are interested in politics. You just don’t realise it.” I asked them a few more questions, including whether they were on the register, because it is essential.
As an election agent, I remember a general election in which I was quite pleased that I had persuaded someone to come with me to the polling station—which was very close by—in order to exercise their vote. From just a single individual, I saw the devasting effect on someone who gets to the polling station and realises that they were not on the register and could not vote. What we are talking about, and what the noble Lord was talking about, was this situation being replicated thousands of times. It is a terrible thing. I am not saying that I made much progress with the students at that west London school, many of whom, unlike me —I am white—
Sorry? There was a huge collection of different communities. But it is really essential that we engage with these people.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said that she wanted every single vote to count, I could not have agreed more. What we are talking about is ensuring that every single vote is available to be counted, and I hope that I might persuade her to change her mind on this. However, we will wait and see what the Minister says. I look forward to going back to that school, or indeed to any other which might invite me.
My Lords, the amendments from the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, in this group, ask many sensible questions. Perhaps, no question is no more appropriate than that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and we all look forward to the Minister’s answer to that in particular.
The questions in this group are about the cost to taxpayers which may follow from the Bill introducing compulsory photo ID at polling stations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, we need to know much more about the extra costs to be imposed upon local authorities. The Minister himself was a council leader not very long ago. He will know how local authority finances have been dramatically squeezed in recent years—real-terms cuts are perhaps 40%. Meanwhile, they have also retained the burden of statutory responsibilities, including many connected with social care.
The Government’s impact assessment suggests that making the changes proposed in relation to compulsory photo ID may cost as much as £230 million over 10 years, with a best estimate of £150 million. But the truth is that we do not really know. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quoted the Association of Electoral Administrators saying that many of these costs were unquantifiable. But the costs of the scheme proposed by the Government are still significantly higher than those of a simpler form of voter identification, as was suggested in the last Conservative manifesto and in the report conducted on behalf of the Conservative Government by the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who sits on their Benches. So the Government are proposing to go much further than in their own manifesto—a point that should be noted—and in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Pickles. But both proposals for compulsory voter ID, with or without photos, seem to me to have a lot of costs that are not necessarily included in the impact assessment, and neither scheme has been shown to be at all necessary in any way.
The Government claim that there is public support for the proposals on compulsory photo ID, but I doubt there would be much support if people knew that the cost over 10 years could be £230 million, or if they understood that voting at polling stations is as safe as it is at present. Perhaps the public would prefer their money to be spent on hundreds more police officers or more teachers, doctors and nurses. The Government spend a great deal of public money on market research, much of it perhaps for their own party benefit. In that research, they should perhaps test this proposition in one of their surveys: should there be compulsory photo ID at polling stations, or police officers, doctors and nurses? I would like to know the answer.
In my view, the Government are simply not getting their priorities right if they are genuinely concerned about electoral integrity. An estimated 9 million people are not on electoral registers, or are incorrectly registered on them, and are therefore unable to vote. If the Government were really planning to spend money on improving the integrity of our electoral system, they would not have withdrawn funding for the voluntary organisation Bite The Ballot. During a debate on this Bill, the Government praised its efforts. Bite The Ballot organised events such as national voter registration week, and it succeeded in getting many more young people registered to vote, at very little cost. But that little cost—a few thousand pounds—was too much for the Government. Perhaps it registered the wrong people—principally young people.
But the Government can spend, or want to spend, hundreds of millions of pounds on unnecessary compulsory photo ID. If it is a question of money, they could save a lot on electoral registration by making the process as automatic as possible, cutting down the cost of paper forms and personal canvassers. They could deal with it on databases. But they do not seem to want to save money if that might allow more of our citizens, especially young people, to be able to vote.
Voter identification has been piloted in only a handful of local authorities—and only in local elections. But local elections often have only half the turnout of general elections, so I fear that the number of staff required at polling stations may have to be doubled if they are to check each voter’s ID, especially if it is photo ID. The staff may need a lot more training and support. Perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, there will be many more arguments in polling stations and more staff needed to resolve them. As he said, there will also have to be a lot of very costly public information about the changes to what the noble Lord, Lord True, often refers to as our “tried and tested” system.
He seems to like our tried and tested system when he opposes any changes that may not favour his party, but he seems quite ready to change the tried and tested system at polling stations, even at great cost, when no such radical change is at all necessary. Perhaps placing a few more police officers on duty at some polling stations might be a cheaper and much more cost-effective way of reassuring people that the voting process is safe, if that needs to be done. Certainly, we do not need compulsory photo ID.
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with a sense of bewilderment and admiration, but I am still not clear what the imposition of compulsory voter ID is going to solve. As the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Woolley, made very clear, there has been one conviction.
While everyone has been getting passionate, I have been a bit of geek over the past couple of weeks and have read the impact assessment, so I want to go through why these amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, are so important. If the Government decide to go down this path, even though they have not been able to determine that there is a need for it, the costings they are using must be absolutely watertight, otherwise people will find it hard, or sometimes impossible, to get this compulsory photographic ID.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that we should not worry because it is £3 per person. She has clearly not read the impact assessment. That is not for every voter. Under the Government’s own impact assessment, it is for those who do not have the ID that is required who will need voter ID. According to the Government’s impact assessment that is 0.1% to 0.4% of voters. That works about at £150 per card, at the Government’s best estimate, to determine a problem that no one can quite work out what it is about.
The Government also say in the impact assessment that the degree of certainty on the final scope of all the costs—the £180, the £230 and the £1 million that have been determined—is so unknown that the costs are preliminary and further work will be needed. Too true that further work will be needed. If you get down to the details, the costs just do not stack up. On basic things, the Government are saying that the poll card that we all get will have to go from A5 to A4, yet they say that the postal cost is 80p. A4 is a large letter—so the costs have not been worked out. If these costs were presented by any person doing a basic business studies degree, perhaps at Cambridge with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, they would get F or F-minus.
The Government have assumed this from one study in Woking. I have no problem with Woking—I am sure it is a very nice place—but it is not demographically made up of the rest of the country, and you cannot work out that what happened in Woking is going to happen in every community across this country. The Government have taken the average cost in Woking, taken it across every constituency in the country and averaged it out.
So let us look at some of the costs and resources. The Government have worked out that every constituency will need 1.64 machines to print these things. What nonsense is 0.64 of a machine? They have worked out the cost of 1.64 machines for each local authority. A number of people have said, quite rightly, that extra polling station clerks will be needed. The Government’s impact assessment says that: one for every two polling stations. I worry about the poor polling clerks in my city of Sheffield and in my ward who are going to have run three miles between polling stations. This is absolute nonsense.
PACAC has been really clear on this. A survey has been done by the Government. It is referred to in the impact assessment, but it does not give the results. The Government say that only 4% of people will need these, but, when asked, 31% of the public said that they would need them, want them or ask for them. PACAC is right to say that, for every 1% extra of the population who asks for one, it is a £10.2 million cost. As PACAC says, 31% takes it up from £150 million to £450 million.
I know that the Minister will say that it will all be guaranteed under the new burdens process. Under that process, there is meant to be a new burdens assessment with the impact assessment. I ask the Minister where that is, because I have not been able to find it. It does not seem to appear. I speak as a former leader of a council and declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. If this kind of nonsense accounting is going to be the basis of the new burdens, I can tell you that you will have polling clerks running between polling stations and 0.64 of a machine. It does not stack up.
That is why these amendments are vital. We need proper accounting, proper costs and proper assessments, and then, and only then, will these cards be introduced—if they are to be introduced—speedily and in a timely way, with councils having the resources to deliver the very things which the Government say are required.
My Lords, there is a great temptation to stray into clause stand part issues, which we shall debate later, and it is unavoidable in the context of these amendments and of our first discussion of this issue. I was struck, as I think all of us were, by the speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. Both spoke in favour of greater participation and greater involvement. I say “hear, hear” to that.
What we are discussing is an additional requirement to vote. At Second Reading, a number of noble Lords—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hannan—reflected on voting in jurisdictions which have identity cards and said that this was no big deal: you go along with your identity card, you vote, and it is all quite normal. Of course that is so, because that is not an additional requirement to vote; it exists in the society in general for other purposes. What we have here is an additional requirement—an additional impediment to the participation which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, seek.
That additional impediment will inevitably reduce participation—by how much we can debate. There have been a number of studies, including the evidence which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, cited and the study by the Rowntree trust, as to the degree to which participation may be reduced. We can disagree as to which study is the more accurate and the more satisfactory, but it is impossible to argue that this will not reduce participation. That is the true cost of these measures—not the financial cost so much, but the true cost.
In what I call his precautionary mode, the noble Lord, Lord True, at Second Reading—
To answer the noble Lord’s question, I was citing the review of voter ID from the local elections in 2019. It is difficult to judge what happened in Northern Ireland, but it is easier to judge what happened with these pilot projects in England. That is what the Government set out to look at—to see what happened when people showed up. The Government now want photo ID but, in the pilot projects, it was both photo and non-photographic ID, and that caused significant problems. Imagine if it was just one type—photographic ID, for example—that could double the problem. Bear in mind that people have to be more driven to vote in local elections, where the rates are a lot lower than in general elections—they have to be motivated to go to the polling booth. Then they are told they do not have the right type of ID, whether it is photographic or non-photographic, and so they have to go home and get the right one, and they do not return—they could not be bothered. The danger is, as has been argued, that potentially hundreds of thousands of people will have that encounter and not return.
As I was saying to the noble Lord, an accurate study to achieve a careful assessment of the impact of any measure would have to take into account all the circumstances of the time. Over time, there will be a change in circumstances, and therefore the gross figures may appear as if there has been no impediment. However, if you disaggregate the components of the motivations to vote, it is difficult to believe that the introduction of a new requirement or impediment has a zero effect.
Does the noble Lord believe that this will be a permanent or a temporary effect? As my noble friend Lord Hayward said, voter ID has existed in Northern Ireland for a very long time, introduced by the Labour Government. There has been no evidence of a reduction in voter turnout and, importantly, there is a higher degree of satisfaction with the integrity of elections in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. I think we ought to ground ourselves in facts—not pilots or the studies by the Rowntree Foundation, but facts.
I think the noble Baroness would agree that the electoral issues in Northern Ireland are rather different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
As I have just said, studying a phenomenon over time requires a careful disaggregation of the effects. Looking at the gross numbers does not tell you anything. Specific studies which carefully disaggregate the impact of particular measures are necessary. I find it difficult to see how one can sustain the argument that introducing a particular impediment to vote will have a zero effect.
As I was about to say, at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord True, in what I call precautionary mode, referred to locking your door to prevent burglaries even though your house has not been burgled. However, it is striking that if you go to the Isle of Sark, where there are no burglaries, no one locks the door. It is the presence of burglars that encourages people to lock their door. If the incidence of fraud is one, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, told us, and the cost now is £180 million, or whatever the number is, to prevent one occurrence, is that value for money?
We should be actively seeking measures to do what the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, encouraged, which is to increase participation and involvement, to increase registration and, perhaps, to think about why we have elections on Thursdays, which are typically working days for so many people. There are a whole series of things that we could be worrying about on the question of increasing participation, but the Government have made the choice to spend a significant amount of money on this particular issue. I would like to hear from the Minister why it is better to spend that sum of money on this issue rather than, for example, on a campaign to increase registration and participation. That seems to be the real cost question that should be faced.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for that long, thought-provoking and interesting debate. I am sorry my noble friend Lord True is not answering on this issue, but this was much more of a stand part debate than one on any specific amendments.
I sincerely thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and my noble friend Lady Verma for what they have said today, and indeed for coming; the noble Lord has come from Cambridge today, and I know my noble friend has a really painful foot. I thank them both for coming because, as noble Lords have said, their passion on this issue really shone out.
I think the issue is connected. It is about making sure that as many people as possible take up their democratic right to vote, and we always have more work to do on that. I totally agree with the noble Lord about citizenship in schools—I was a huge supporter of that for the many years that I was leader of a large council—but we also have to listen to my noble friend Lady Verma and the communities that she comes from about the issues in play at the moment that prevent some of her community using their democratic vote. We are going to try, through citizenship in schools and other measures that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is taking, to make sure that people can do that. I thank them both for coming and for their input.
Most of what we have talked about today is about communications. Having worked for many years with electoral officers in local authorities, I know that they are very good locally. I thank them for everything they do in targeting their communities; they know those communities and are very good at making sure that they get the message out.
However, when this Bill goes through, the communication of the new way that the electoral system will work as a result of it will be down to the Electoral Commission, which has agreed to deliver comprehensive and targeted communications about the new system. I hope it will work with those local electoral officers—we will make sure that it does—to make sure that it is a joined-up approach so that everyone understands how it will work.
The top line on this issue is that in our manifesto the Government committed to protecting the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at polling stations. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that we won a majority of 80 seats. Yes, we did, and we won it on that manifesto commitment. That was part of what we offered the electorate at that time.
I will not intervene again, but I asked the noble Lord, Lord True, whether he could rely on the integrity of the electoral system and the mechanisms that returned an 80-seat majority. Can the noble Baroness answer that specific question? Is she happy that it was a free and fair election? If she is, why is she bothered about voter ID?
My Lords, I am sure that any good electoral system can always be improved and that is exactly what we are doing.
Many countries are doing this; we are not the only one. Italy, France, Spain and Norway—all our European friends, which I am sure the Liberal Democrats will be very pleased about—already have voter identification. Canada, which is not in the EU, also does. But as many noble Lords have mentioned—
I do not agree with that. I do not think that is necessary. It is in the government manifesto and electoral fraud is not a victimless crime. I know the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, was very clear that there had been only one case of fraud but the impact of electoral fraud on voters can be very significant. It takes away their right to vote as they want to—whether through intimidation, bribery, impersonating somebody or casting their vote for them—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness in her flow but the implication is that a vote is taken away. It is not. There is a process in the polling stations by which if you claim that somebody has already taken your vote—usually because the wrong name has been crossed off by one of the polling clerks—a replacement ballot paper, known as a tendered ballot paper, is given to you. There is no theft and no loss of vote. You get an extra vote. We know from the Electoral Commission’s analysis that there were only 1,300 cases out of the 37 million votes cast in the 2019 general election. Most were simple clerical errors. It virtually never happens and if it does, there is a replacement.
You need to do both. We are trying to make sure that people in the communities that my noble friend Lady Verma has stood up and very bravely spoken about have the opportunity, as well as others, to take up their democratic right to vote. She rightly pointed out that many people may feel more empowered to participate if they feel more secure in the system—that has come out in research done by the Electoral Commission. In 2021, 66% said they would have more confidence in the system if there was voter ID at polling stations.
I am very reluctant to speak, because I have sat through most of this and I did not take part in Second Reading, but if an ID card is presented at the polling station, is that taken as proof that you have voted or are voting? There is a photographic ID card.
This might be helpful, because we were wondering what was in the manifesto. In fact, the Joint Committee on Human Rights quotes from it:
“We will protect the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at polling stations, stopping postal vote harvesting and measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections.”
There is nothing about photo ID.
The Minister might have inadvertently misled the Committee from the Dispatch Box in the figures she has just quoted from the Electoral Commission’s survey of 2019. The Government’s own impact assessment, on page 42, paragraph 83, refers to that, saying that satisfaction in the pilot areas was 69% of the poll in 2019, whereas it was 83% in those areas where there was no photo ID pilot.
I am quoting from the 2021 Electoral Commission winter tracker, which was clear that the majority of the public, two out of three voters, 66%, say a requirement to show identification at a polling station would make them more confident in the security of our elections. That was 2021.
The pilot was done in 2019. These are people who actually had the photo ID. When there was photo ID against a control group of no photo ID, the people who were more satisfied with the ballot, post the election, were the people who did not have photo ID. The Government’s own impact assessment says that, and that was signed off by the noble Lord, Lord True, on 20 January this year. Is the Government’s impact assessment correct?
The noble Lord is conveniently ignoring the experience from Northern Ireland, which is better than the pilots, as one would expect, because they have had it for a very long time. To keep quoting from these pilots as a way of trying to discredit the rollout is a pretty ineffective approach when there is clearly a lot of experience from Northern Ireland which shows a high degree of satisfaction.
I will answer the Minister directly. The Northern Ireland experience shows that between 2% and 3% of people, after the introduction, did not vote. If we extrapolate that over here, that is 1.2 million people who would probably be less likely to vote. It has taken 10 years to get back to the equivalent before photo ID was introduced. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but that is the evidence, because I have read it. I have read it and I have seen what the effect in Northern Ireland actually is: it has taken 10 years. The noble Baroness shakes her head, so I ask her to show me the evidence that shows that what I am saying is not correct. What is more, for one conviction, is it worth, for 10 years, 1.2 million people being discouraged from voting in England?
I want to move on, rather than discussing different pieces of information. I will move on to costs. My noble friend Lady Noakes is absolutely right about costs. I will come on to costs to local authorities, but the overall cost has been put at £25 per year per person. That is the estimated cost of the production of the voter card and of raising awareness of voter identification across all polls happening within 10 years. We are not expecting this to be a fixed cost; we are expecting it to reduce over time as voters become more familiar with these arrangements.
I specifically asked about education programmes, the rollout of information and how people were going to know about the changes. What is the cost that the Minister has just given us going to deliver? It does not seem very much to engage electors in a pretty enormous change.
As I said, the Electoral Commission has agreed to do much of this. I will come to local authorities now. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Pinnock and Lady Meacher, quite rightly talked about the costs of this to local authorities. The impact assessment presented a range of costs that could be incurred by the introduction of these measures in order to ensure that local authorities and valuation joint boards are provided with the funding to implement the changes successfully. We will continue to refine our estimates of the future new burdens required to reflect the design of the secondary legislation. Government analysts are engaging with local authorities and valuation joint boards as this model is developed. Work is being done by all those involved.
Any allocation would be subject to detailed consideration of the varied pictures across local authorities and the valuation boards and would seek to allocate funding according to need. As was the case with the introduction of individual electoral registration, new-burdens funding will be provided to cover the additional costs resulting from the changes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about the different needs of different authorities. We accept that. The administrative burden will be driven by a variety of factors across local authorities, including their existing capabilities. The allocation of new-burdens funding, including for any additional staffing required, is being modelled and discussed with local authorities and other key stakeholders, working with the programme team in the department. The allocation of the new-burdens funding will take into account the different requirements and characteristics of all local authorities. We are working with local authorities and with the Local Government Association, and we are looking at all the different characteristics of those individual authorities. As a local authority person, I understand this.
I want just to check on the question which has already been raised about the extra security costs. While preparing for this Bill, I went to talk to the Bradford electoral registration team. One of the strongest messages that came from them was that a significant number of poll clerks in Bradford were young women. We all know that intimidation is the most frequent election problem in parts of Bradford. When faced with rather aggressive men of one sort or another whose identity is being challenged, young women are going to feel very unsafe. This will require extra staffing and police. Has this been factored in?
I cannot tell the noble Lord whether that has been factored in. I will ask the team and come back to him. The fact that local authorities are working with the team means that those sorts of issues will come up and be dealt with.
We have also already established a business change network covering England, Scotland and Wales, specifically to support local authorities with the implementation of the policy changes arising from the Elections Bill. The network allows the regular flow of information both ways between local authorities and officials in DLUHC, acting as a local presence with knowledge of the Elections Bill and supporting and engaging with administrators during the implementation. That is where these sorts of issues need to come up and I expect them to be dealt with in that way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, brought up training for returning officers. This will all come out of the same network. We continue to work with local authorities to understand their needs and the needs of voters in relation to training on the new electoral system. I think that deals with all the points, so I will now get on to the actual amendments.
These amendments and those in the groups just after place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish a wide range of reports, impact assessments and reviews, as well as to hold consultations on the impacts and estimated impacts of various measures in this Bill. Amendment 55 would prevent Schedule 1 coming into force until the Secretary of State has made a statement before Parliament on the estimated cost of the provisions, in addition to the potential impacts on voter turnout across different demographics.
This amendment is entirely unnecessary. A detailed estimate of costs for all the provisions in the Bill was published alongside it, as was an equality impact assessment. To suggest that the impacts of the measures in the Bill have not been considered in great detail would be a disservice to the many officials in the team who have spent considerable time modelling the various impacts and who are already working very closely with the sector to prepare for its implementation in a thorough and very considered way.
On the financial costs, we have worked extensively with the electoral sector to assess the impacts of the measures and have rightfully modelled a range of costs to account for a number of scenarios. We continue to work to refine these as the detail of implementation planning is settled. Our priority remains ensuring that local authorities have the necessary resources to continue to deliver our elections robustly and securely, and we have secured the necessary funding to deliver that goal.
As is usual for programmes of this kind, any additional funding required will be delivered to local authorities via the new burdens mechanism. Rollout of any funding will be timed to ensure that local authorities can meet the costs incurred. This is not the first time that the Government have delivered a change programme in this area. The Government have worked closely with the sector to deliver a number of national programmes, including canvass reform and the introduction of individual electoral registration, to great effect. This programme, while complex, is no different and we will continue to take the same open and collaborative approach to implementation.
When it comes to publications, the evaluation of and reporting on funding for programmes of this kind are already subject to publication requirements, particularly as this qualifies as a government major programme. Furthermore, we are developing robust evaluation plans and intend to produce a process and impact evaluation of the programme across all policy measures. Therefore, in light of the already published assessments for the Bill and the assurances that existing plans will provide ample transparency, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, this debate has ranged rather wide of the area covered by my amendments, to say the least. Having said that, it has been very interesting. As other noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, made a very important and powerful speech. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that I am sure that we would all agree that every vote should count—of course it should—and I totally understand what she is saying. The challenge for us, as parliamentarians, is how we change that—that is a debate for another day, but she raised an incredibly important issue that we have to look at very carefully. Perhaps we should look at areas where we could do something to increase empowerment and engagement—perhaps that is missing from this Bill. I would be really interested to engage more with the noble Baroness to think about how we can support her, from this side, in what she is trying to achieve and to better understand her concerns.
I will not go into the manifesto commitment debate—my noble friend Lady Lister resolved that quite adequately. But she also raised an important concern, as did—
In the Queen’s Speech in October 2019, the Government announced that they would introduce legislation on voter identification. It was very clearly set out in the guidance and briefing that was given around the Queen’s Speech that that would specifically include photo identification and the free identity cards for local authorities. It was an announced and established policy of voter identification, and the manifesto referred to this.
That is correct. I appreciate what the Minister said about the Queen’s Speech, but, again, my noble friend is absolutely correct. Members of the Government keep telling us that this was a manifesto commitment, but it is important to clarify the distinction between a manifesto commitment and what the Government decided to go forward with in the Queen’s Speech. We can debate that, I am sure—
Certain pilot schemes, which we have discussed, involve photo ID. I should leave it to my colleague to complete the group, and we can move on to the debate on clause stand part. The reality is as I have expressed it—that was the announced policy and what the Government hope to carry forward.
Fair enough—we will move on. I will go back to my amendments and discuss cost, which is where we started this debate some time ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said the cost was actually not very much. I have the greatest respect for the noble Baroness’s knowledge around business finance, but most of my concerns are around the costs to local government. It would appear that she has not been a local authority councillor; I have not been one for seven years, but when I was one, looking at how to balance a budget following the government cuts that were in place seven years ago, it was incredibly difficult to find what we needed to cut in order to balance the books—at what we had to deliver statutorily and what we wanted to deliver.
Seven years have passed, and there have been more and more cuts, so it is even more difficult for local authorities to manage their budgets now. That was the point that I wanted to get across with some of my amendments and with what I was saying. This will be difficult for local authorities, and we need clarity around costs and the kind of investment and support that the Government will give local authorities in good time, ahead of these changes, in order to deliver them effectively, efficiently and with staff who are properly trained and understand what is expected of them and of the electorate.
My noble friend Lord Eatwell made the important point that the additional requirement, if it reduces participation, is another cost that must not be forgotten. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about the importance of factoring in the security implications. This is not just about the police; it is about the numbers of people there. Particularly in rural polling stations, people can be sitting on their own for a long time. We need to be careful about what we ask of the people who man those polling stations. It is a hugely important job.
The Minister talked about costs and went into a lot of detail. I asked a number of questions, which I know she did her best to answer, but a lot of it is still quite vague—it is about work being done and modelling. I need to go away and have a proper read of Hansard to see exactly what she says is happening at the moment. My concern is when all this will be ready. When will this modelling be completed? When will we have some idea of the costs and how they will be managed? On a number of occasions during today’s debate, we have talked about the implications of a potential snap election. Let us say that an election is called in September. Where does that leave us? Let us say that the Bill has gone through and this is what will be required, but the Government are still busy modelling.
Let me respond to that. I was not talking about modelling; I was talking about groupings and communications between DLUHC officers and local authority election officers in individual councils to make sure that we know exactly what the issues are for them and what the costs will be for them. Things such as whether they are rural or inner city and need more security are being discussed at the moment with individual local authorities.
Modelling was mentioned, but I appreciate that clarification from the noble Baroness. Again, the question is when this will be ready. When will the rollout be ready? We know that politics is pretty volatile at the moment. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act is going, so my biggest concern is what happens if things are not ready. Is there a back-up plan? I worry that, if the electorate are not ready and local authorities are not ready, we could end up in a bit of a pickle. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
56: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“(2) Schedule 1 must not come into force until the Secretary of State has made a statement to Parliament on the estimated impact of the provisions on voter turnout.(3) The statement must include an analysis of the impact on voter turnout in different age brackets.”
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group. I thank noble Lords who have been supportive: the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. In the previous debate, where we strayed into other areas, we heard a lot of concern about voter turnout. My amendments in this group aim to draw attention to the potential impact on voter turnout in all the different areas where concerns have been raised.
I will just run through them. We are looking at age brackets. We have heard concerns that younger people could be badly impacted by this. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, raised huge concerns about the impact on older people.
I also have an amendment about the impact on voter turnout of different disabilities. Our last day in Committee started with a debate on what could happen to blind or partially sighted people if the proposals were brought in without addressing the concerns of the RNIB and other people who have sight problems. Other disabilities have also been looked at; access, for example. There is also an amendment on the impact on voter turnout among different ethnicities. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who is no longer in her place, talked about this and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has done tremendous work looking at this area.
There is an amendment on nations and regions. One of the concerns is the differentials that will come with England and the devolved areas, and how this will be managed regionally. We know from different kinds of evidence that certain regions are more likely to struggle with voter turnout than others. Also, there is the issue of voter turnout in different income brackets. At Second Reading, noble Lords referred to the important research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which was carried out because the Government had not looked at this. They had looked at other areas but not at income level. If any noble Lord has not read the report, it is very important in getting an understanding.
I draw attention to one or two things the foundation said. It said that low-income potential voters are much more likely not to have photo ID—1% compared with 6%. It talked about how this could mean 1 million low-income voters in Great Britain not having possession of approved photo ID. On top of that, 700,000 low-income adults who would have photo ID felt that they were not actually recognisable and were concerned that their ID would not be accepted. We will have another debate at some point about people being turned away.
I do not want to take up too much time, as we are supposed to finish at 7 pm, but to cover a lot of those different areas, I want to look at the London Voices project. It carried out a survey that asked organisations to describe the impact that they thought photo voter ID would have. The key concerns expressed were that the requirement for photo voter ID
“would reduce democratic participation thus widening the democratic deficit, and impose unfair barriers on already marginalised communities, such as disabled Londoners and Black, Asian and ethnic minority Londoners.”
The report quoted some people in their own words. We have talked an awful lot in this House, but we need to listen to what people on the street say when they are asked about this.
The first one that I want to read out is from Southwark Travellers’ Action Group, which supports Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Londoners. We have not heard enough in their voice. They are very marginalised and we do not take enough account of the difficulties that they often have in civic life. The group said:
“‘The women who we work with, not all of them, but some of them don’t have either passports or driving licences. So that would be an extra barrier for them. Also just the expense of getting those things … Sometimes we have people who want to get a new passport but can’t afford it at the moment, so that’s a real problem.”
Haringey Welcome, which supports migrant and refugee Londoners, said:
“Loads of people don’t have a passport, have never travelled outside of the country… it’s clearly the poor and the disadvantaged, who are least likely to be able to prove their identity”.
Central YMCA looks after young Londoners and points out:
“We do have an informal economy in London. Anybody who doesn’t want to accept that is just not facing reality. So, the people in that economy will be very reluctant. And quite a lot of people in that economy tend to be from BAME communities, or from poorer communities. And therefore, you’re actually saying to quite a large part of the demographic that they are going to be excluded from the democratic process.”
Jacky Peacock, from Advice for Renters—aimed at private renters—says:
“Fewer people will vote—some won’t have photo ID, some (particularly refugees) have lived in authoritarian countries and are fearful while for others it’s just one more small deterrent”.
Voice4Change England looks after black Londoners, and says:
“In vibrant civil society, it is incumbent on the government to endeavour to increase political participation by expanding voters’ rights. The US case rightly highlights that the introduction of voter ID legislation reduced voter participation, and it is suggested that this was disproportionately high among racial and ethnic minority groups … The government should … address the fact that millions of people are left off the electoral register, to review anachronistic campaign laws”.
Finally, Rachel Coates speaks for Advocacy for All, which represents disabled Londoners:
“I think less people with disabilities will vote as this makes it more complicated”.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this group, and I will speak specifically to Amendments 58 and 59, to which I have added my name. But first I will make some points about the group in general. In the Commons the Minister said:
“The Government are committed to increasing participation in our democracy and to empowering all those eligible to vote to do so in a secure, efficient and effective way”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/1/22; col. 83.]
Yet a wide range of civil society groups, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee have all voiced concerns about how the voter ID requirements will have the opposite effect for marginalised groups. We heard powerfully from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, about that earlier.
When these concerns were raised in the Commons Committee, the Minister tried to turn the tables with the extraordinary response that to suggest that those groups more likely not to hold the requisite photo ID would not be able to access photo cards
“is to unfairly diminish the agency”,
“assuming from the get-go that people are disadvantaged on the basis of their background is stigmatising and denies them their agency”.—[Official Report, Commons, Elections Bill Committee, 22/9/21; col. 127.]
As the author of a book on poverty, one of the central themes of which is the importance of recognising the agency of those living in poverty, I would point out that agency has to be understood in the context of the myriad structural constraints and barriers they face. The same applies to all the marginalised groups that concern us here. The Bill will increase those barriers further.
I now turn to the impact of Clause 1 on people in poverty, which I am pleased to say has already been touched on by my noble friend. As she said, the official evidence made available and statements made do not address this directly at all, as income status is not one of the parameters researched, even though the indicators of the likely adverse impact on the unemployed and on people in social housing should have set a red light flashing, prompting further research into those on low incomes. That it did not do so speaks volumes. Instead, as my noble friend also said, we are indebted to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for carrying out the research. I will not repeat the details that my noble friend mentioned, but of the total of all those on low incomes who did not have photo ID, thought that what they had was unrecognisable, or were not sure, only about half said that they would be likely to apply for a voter card, and two-fifths said they were unlikely to, or were unsure whether they would.
That is not to deny the agency of this group, but it might reflect a reluctance to engage with the state in this way, because of a lack of trust, as a number of commentators have observed. Or it may be a function of the sheer hard work involved in getting by in poverty. Getting by in poverty is itself an example of time-consuming agency, the more time-consuming when also juggling multiple jobs, long hours and/or insecure work.
Moreover, psychological research has illuminated the
“cognitive constraints of life in poverty”
that can reduce “bandwidth” and mean immediate demands on time can override longer-term planning. People on low incomes are already less likely to vote than better-off people, for a variety of reasons. According to JRF, the gap in turnout increased significantly between 1987 and 2015. Although the trend was bucked in 2017, there was still a clear social gradient in turnout in the 2019 election. Surely we should be doing all we can to increase turnout among this group, not raising new obstacles to it.
With regard to ethnicity, while recognising that there is a real issue here for racially minoritised groups generally, I want to focus, like my noble friend did, on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, who are particularly disadvantaged in a number of dimensions. There is no sign yet of the long-promised strategy from the Government on doing something about the disadvantages faced by this group. As far as I could see, the report published today, Inclusive Britain, does not mention this group. I may be wrong—but the noble Lord is nodding his head, so I do not think that it does. It is one of the most disadvantaged ethnic groups in this country.
The equality impact assessment notes that the Cabinet Office survey of eligible voters
“did not reach a sufficiently large sample size of those who identify as White Gypsy or Irish Traveller to make reliable statistical estimates.”
The document acknowledged:
“Available research elsewhere suggests this group are less likely to hold some types of photo ID”
“according to the 2011 Census, least likely to have a UK or non-UK passport, with 66% holding a passport compared to an average of 86% across all ethnicities.”
The Traveller Movement carried its own small-scale research that suggested that the proposed ID law would create further barriers to voting for this group, who would struggle disproportionately with the new requirements. It points out that nomadic Travellers and those who live on sites already struggle with access to basic infrastructure, including postal services and internet access, which prevents them from registering to vote, or acquiring other forms of documentation or ID. The movement warns that mistrust of state institutions could act as a barrier to applying for ID or a voter card. Indeed, today’s Inclusive Britain report acknowledges more generally that
“there is clearly still a trust deficit which some groups have towards the UK and many of its institutions.”
I suggest that the groups that we are talking about in these amendments are particularly likely to hold such a trust deficit.
The JCHR voiced its concern that
“the Government do not appear to fully understand the potential discriminatory impact of requiring voter ID on individuals who identify as White Gypsy or Irish Traveller”,
and called for the information to be obtained and provided to Parliament to allow for effective scrutiny. I am not aware that any such information has been provided to Parliament. Instead, in their response to the JCHR’s report, the Government said that there had been official-level and ministerial engagement with civil society organisations representing these groups so as to better understand the impact of voter ID on voting patterns, and that lines of communication with these groups remain open. That is good—but not what the JCHR asked for.
More generally, engagement with civil society groups has been a recurrent theme in government pronouncements on voter ID. This is of course welcome, but can the Minister tell us what engagement there has been with organisations speaking on behalf of people in poverty, or in which people in poverty are themselves involved, so that they can bring the expertise born of experience to these policy discussions?
My Lords, I rise in support of Amendments 56 to 60 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I have added my name. As I said at Second Reading, one of my biggest concerns about the whole Bill—though it is not the only one—is that the ID requirements could, when an election is closely fought, lead to an entirely different outcome of the election from that which would have been achieved without this ID process. In some cases it could result in a change in the MP elected in particular constituencies where, again, the result is close. Although there are obviously problems about individuals and groups, my biggest concern is that this could tip over or interferes with and distort the result of an election. That is a very serious matter.
The requirement in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 that the electoral identity document
“must … contain a photograph of the person”
risks excluding various groups. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, went through those groups in some detail, and I certainly do not want to repeat her remarks. A differential turnout in these groups and constituencies will therefore determine to what extend the ID system affects the outcome of elections. I have no doubt that the ID system will affect election results and outcomes, and therefore, in my view, the ID provision should not be included in this Bill at all. However, I do understand that the Government had the election ID proposal in their manifesto. Nevertheless, I think I am completely convinced, certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who did not get to speak on it, that the manifesto did not refer to photographic evidence. I hope the Minister will, therefore, while hanging on to his ID scheme no doubt, agree that these amendments are very important to keep the impact on elections to a minimum. We need the information required by these amendments. It will be difficult to estimate the impact on various groups, and I would be grateful if the Minister in his response would explain how that data will be obtained—assuming of course that he accepts the vital importance of impact assessments, and I am sure he does—before the ID system is introduced.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, referred to various countries that have electoral ID documents, but it would be very helpful if the Minister would make clear which countries have electoral ID systems that do not have general national ID documentation. I think it was indicated that it would not make any difference; of course, it would make an enormous difference if everybody was automatically required to carry their ID in their pocket or bag. Of course, they would roll up at the polling station with their ID—so I have to say I do not accept that it does not matter. It does; and it would be very helpful if the Minister could give some kind of evidence about efficacy and about the impact on elections in those countries that have electoral ID but not national ID.
A very different concern relates to the delegated powers in relation to the registration officer’s power to issue the relevant electoral identity document. For noble Lords not involved in the earlier debate, perhaps I should again declare my interest as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee. The registration officer is under a duty to determine the application “in accordance with regulations”. That is a very wide power, which leaves it open to Ministers to determine the conditions that must be met before an applicant is entitled to receive an electoral identity document. We are not going to know that; that will be a ministerial decision under delegated powers. It also allows for the possibility of the registration officer being given discretion in deciding whether or not to issue an electoral identity document to a person. Again, on what grounds? What is actually going to go on here?
The Delegated Powers Committee is wanting an explanation from the Minister about why these provisions are not on the face of the Bill, and it is quite difficult to think why they are not. If the Minister cannot give an adequate explanation, the committee’s view is that the delegation in this case is inappropriate. I bring that to the Committee because I think it is relevant, and it is important for people involved in these discussions. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to respond to this, but, if he is not, maybe he can respond in writing, not just to the Delegated Powers Committee but to Members of this Committee. I hope the Minister will be able to respond, though, to this concern.
My Lords, to vote is a fundamental right. It is not a new-age right invented the other day; it is a fundamental civil and political right. It is also, for many of us, an ethical duty. If the Government took that view, they would not judge the balance of risk in the way that they currently are. That is where this group relates to the debate foreshadowed in the previous group on financial cost. In that debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that it is worth it to have integrity in the system, but the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, asked whether just one conviction really justified the risk. Now we are closer to the crux of the debate.
Different groups of people have fought for the right to vote over many centuries, all over the world. It is one of the first-order civil rights in a democracy, and an ethical duty. If the Government agreed with me, they would judge the balance of risk rather differently from the way they are currently doing with this one conviction as evidence of a problem. Although it is always hard to prove a negative, any evidence produced for it—whether in pilots or from well-established civil society research organisations—is batted away and the Minister in the other place says, “Let’s lock the house before the burglary happens”.
If I am right that it is a first-order civil right, like the right to liberty, you have to judge the balance of risk and put the presumption in a slightly different place. With the right of presumption of innocence and the right to liberty, we put the presumption in a particular direction. We say that it is more important—many Conservatives not in their places would agree with me—that one innocent person does not lose their right to liberty than that even a few more who are guilty go free. If that is how we judge the presumption of innocence in relation to liberty, and if we take participation in free and fair elections as a first-order right of that kind, why do the Government judge the balance of risk in the way they do? Why are they not doing everything possible not just to ensure that those with the right to vote can do so but to encourage the behavioural change we want so that people get the habit of voting and discharge what I think is an ethical duty?
Some other countries say that voting should be compulsory—that it is not just an ethical duty but a legal one. That is a step too far for my libertarian instincts; speaking of which, I fought for many years with many who are not in their places on the Benches opposite, and the current Prime Minister, against the principle of compulsory identification cards for people in this country. Conservatives were some of the most eloquent participants in that debate and the Conservative Party fought elections on manifestos against it, on the basis that this is the kind of free country in which free-born English men and women should not have to carry compulsory ID.
It did not make me many friends among those who are now my noble friends, but that was the argument and principle that united the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in 2010—repealing compulsory identity legislation was their flagship policy—and I welcomed it. It seems a little odd now to say that there will not be universal compulsory identity cards for everyone but we will take your vote off you if you cannot afford ID such as a passport or a driving licence. Ministers are shaking their heads on the basis that they will make it possible for all sorts of other kinds of free and cheap ID to be available. We have to take that on trust.
That does not deal with the principled concern—why we require it at all, given that we blew all those trumpets about free-born Englishmen not requiring compulsory ID in the first place—or solve my practical concern about discouraging people who are already discouraged from getting into the habit of voting. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, made that point so eloquently in the previous debate.
With all the comings and goings and the vivid nature of the debate, I never heard from either of the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes or Lady Verma, in what way they think fraud is of a significant enough degree in this country at the moment to justify their points about people being shut out of the process by it.
Evidence has to go both ways. If people on this side have to make their case about discouragement from voting, they cite Joseph Rowntree, et cetera, but where is the Government’s evidence that the system is currently so corrupted by widescale fraud that this kind of measure needs to be introduced, notwithstanding our concerns that people will be disenfranchised in a fundamental way?
My Lords, I support the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Seven hours ago, when my back was not aching, there was a good discussion in the Chamber about not rushing through legislation. Do noble Lords remember that? We must not rush it through because, if we do, we are in danger of getting it profoundly wrong.
I was pleased that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community has been mentioned. I have worked with them for more than 25 years and know they are one of the most marginalised and politically disenfranchised communities in the country. They have told me that voter ID would severely impact their ability to engage in the democratic process. We know of other groups too. In 2019, in reviewing the pilot scheme, the Electoral Commission said:
“In Derby there is a strong correlation between the proportion of each ward’s population from an Asian background and the number of people not issued with a ballot paper.”
There is copious evidence to suggest that, if we go ahead with this, black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities will be disproportionately affected. I suggest that we do not make the mistake that we made with Windrush, when we made legislation with the best intentions—one would hope—and the unintended consequences wreaked havoc with the Windrush generation. What we did not do then was have a comprehensive race equality impact assessment.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which looked at the Bill, said in December that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that we need this. We should press the pause button. Let us make sure that we get this right. Our children and voters who find it difficult to get to the booth could be even more severely affected. If we pause, have a comprehensive impact assessment and get this right, I am sure that we can get this in a much better state.
Given the lateness of the hour, I hesitate to come in now, but I feel passionately about the importance of tackling the uneven and potentially discriminatory nature of what we are doing here without the proper assessment to which the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, referred.
I shall make two points. The London Voices project is worth reading in detail. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on that. It involves more than 100 organisations with more than 5,000 staff. They have produced a comprehensive picture of the risks involved in this project. Has the Minister met the London Voices project? If she has not, will she do so as a matter of urgency?
My second point is about the Mayor of London’s concerns. He has written and set out very clearly the risks, as he sees them, in London: over half a million Londoners without a passport; over 2.5 million Londoners without a driver’s licence; and something like one in five of those with a disability not having a freedom pass. I could go on. A whole range of people in protected groups do not have the evidence that is required. We may then say that there is a free pass available on application—but look at the JRF analysis, which shows that a large number of those very people are the ones most likely not to apply for the free pass. So, the net effect is that they will be excluded. Can that be what we are looking for here? Have we done enough to be sure that that does not happen? I do not think so.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord’s back, after seven hours, recovers. I was one of some Members who were in this Chamber at 2 o’clock this morning debating and voting on another important Bill.
In view of the lateness of the hour, I want to put only one point to the Minister. The Government understand that their proposals in this area are controversial. They are controversial because they are making a very considerable proposed change to the way in which we conduct elections. Yet at the same time, on all sides of the House, we are agreed that we want to see the maximum possible voter registration and turnout. Looking at this group of amendments, which I rise to support, does it seem unreasonable that the Government should be required to provide a statement on the estimated impact of these provisions on voter turnout? That seems to me a very reasonable request.
My Lords, listening to this debate, it is quite obvious that some groups of people are less likely to have access to the voter ID that will be required. We should know much more about the potential consequences of such a major change to our tried and tested system at polling stations before introducing it for a general election. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, let us press the pause button on this. A single survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office is not sufficient to show that compulsory voter ID will not have many of the same problems that we see with electoral registration, which effectively excludes many people from their right to vote.
We should look in some detail at the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on this issue. It drew attention last September as to how:
“The Government must do more to demonstrate the need for voter ID”.
The committee said that the Government must also
“mitigate the potential barriers to voting its proposals may create.”
The Government’s response spoke about making elections “accessible”, but they failed to justify any additional barriers to voting or to show that they were proportionate to what is shown to be an extremely low level of electoral fraud and one conviction. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said that
“it is estimated that over 2 million people will not have an acceptable form of ID and so will have to apply for a free voter card or lose the ability to vote at the polling station. These proposals are aiming to reduce fraud at polling stations, however the recorded instances of such fraud are rare.”
Having taken expert advice, the committee warned that:
“The impact of the proposals may fall disproportionately on some groups with protected characteristics under human rights law. Older people and disabled people are less likely to have photo ID and some groups such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities may be hesitant to apply for the Voter Card. The Committee calls on the Cabinet Office to produce clear research setting out whether mandatory ID at the polling station could create barriers to taking part in elections for some groups and how they plan to mitigate this risk effectively.”
It is worth noting that this is what the impact assessment says about this policy in terms of its effects on voting:
“The analysis does not assess the impact of the policy on voter turnout.”
The Government’s own impact assessment has not even looked at what the effect will be on voter turnout. Why was this not done?
It has been mentioned that some countries have voter ID. To answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, certain states in America do not have compulsory voter ID, and the effect on turnout is that those who are more economically affluent will vote while those who are least economically affluent will not, because they do not have access to voter ID. So there are international comparisons showing that this is a problem.
Because of the lateness of the hour, I will say just this: there will be roughly 2.1 million people for whom mandatory voter ID will be a barrier to exercising their vote. If that is the case, why are the Government pursuing this policy, and why have they not carried out an impact assessment to see its effect on voter turnout?
I thank all noble Lords for an interesting debate. I shall respond to a couple of things straightaway. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, raised some issues from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I have agreed with the Minister that if she does not mind, we will write to the noble Baroness and send a copy to anyone who has taken part in the debate.
Due to the lateness of the hour, and because we are going to have a stand part debate on this same issue at our next sitting, I will be much briefer than perhaps I would have been, because I am sure all these issues will get brought up again. The Government strongly stand by the importance of public participation and engagement, which has come out from many noble Lords today. It is important to us. I reassure the House that we share a joint aim on that front. We all want participation in a strong democratic election system.
Turnout fluctuates from election to election; I think we all know that. If we look at national elections versus local elections versus parish council elections, they all have fluctuating turnout, for many reasons, so it will likely not be possible to isolate the impact of the measures in the Bill on that. It would be quite difficult. I hear the concerns that have been raised but, as I said earlier, the impact of the measures in the Bill have been considered in great detail. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I will get her a list of the consultees that we worked with because that is important.
With regard to making sure that all groups, particularly minority groups, engage with the electoral system, register to vote and vote once they are registered, I go back again to the importance of the local electoral teams in all our local authorities. They are the people who have the experience of the communities that they serve and work within. I myself have a particular interest in the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities. If those local electoral teams understand a community locally—I have seen this working locally myself—then they are often the people who can speak to them, find out the barriers for those communities and work through them. I am sure that is same for many other communities across the country.
The amendments relating to postal voter turnout—which we have not really spoken about—would impose extensive reporting and analysis requirements. They would appear to apply to every election and by-election, including local-level elections for parish and town councils, as well as for district and county councils. If we were to accept the amendments, we believe that they would generate an unjustifiable burden.
The Bill already outlines that there must be three evaluations of the effect of the requirement to show identification on voting. These will consider the effect of the new policy on electors’ applications for a ballot paper. By law, the Electoral Commission publishes reports on electoral events. Its reports will no doubt contain thorough analysis of the impacts of any changes brought about by the Elections Bill. For these reasons, we cannot support the amendments, and I ask the noble Baroness not to press them.
I know that it is very late, so I shall be quick. The Minister skipped over this, and it is quite key. There has been no analysis of the impact of this policy on voter turnout. The Electoral Commission will do it retrospectively but I am talking about before it comes in. Why have the Government missed this key issue? They keep telling us from that Dispatch Box that the policy will not have an impact on voter turnout, yet they have done no detailed analysis in their impact assessment.
The issue of impacting the outcome of elections is seriously important. Will the Minister go away and think about whether the Government should do an impact assessment not only on overall turnout but on differential turnout among different groups—for example, the disabled, the poor and the elderly—to assess the likely impact on election outcomes. All these things are important, but it seems to me crucial that, in a democracy, Governments should not introduce policies that are going to skew election results. I ask the Minister to take that away and write to us all about what the intention would be.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I am grateful for the wide support for the amendments and for what we are trying to achieve with them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, just made an incredibly important point. All through the debates that we have had, there has been a lot of discussion about the importance of democracy, the importance of participation and the importance of widening democracy and encouraging people to vote. It concerns me that the Government are introducing a policy that could have an impact on people’s ability to vote without having done an assessment of what the impact on voter turnout is likely to be. Whether or not we want to look at the Irish case or at what has happened in the United States or in other places, we know that there is likely to be some form of impact. Would it not therefore be good practice and a good way to do legislation to make sure that all those impact assessments are done in advance? That just seems to be logical.
It is late. I shall not speak any more. All I say is that I am sure that these issues will be discussed more when we next sit in Committee, where the clause stand part debate is the first debate. These issues will also definitely come back on Report and will need further debate and discussion. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56 withdrawn.
Amendments 57 to 60 not moved.
House adjourned at 7.20 pm.