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Electoral Fraud

Volume 778: debated on Thursday 26 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the level of electoral fraud at elections held in Great Britain.

My Lords, the Government believe that electoral fraud is unacceptable at any level. In its latest analysis of fraud, the Electoral Commission noted that the number of cases was significantly higher than in previous years. In his review of electoral fraud, Sir Eric Pickles identified the areas that are at risk of fraudulent activity. The Government’s response sets out a programme of work for tackling electoral fraud and building a clear, secure democracy that works for everyone.

The evidence suggests that there may be much more of a problem with postal voting than with people being impersonated at polling stations. Is it therefore not time to look again at people’s applications for postal votes, such as the reasons provided for needing to vote by post rather than going to a polling station, and at the declaration of identity accompanying the postal votes to confirm that the ballot paper has been filled in in proper conditions of privacy?

Sir Eric Pickles made some recommendations on postal votes, although he did not make the recommendations to which the noble Lord referred. Postal voting is an enormous help to those who want to increase participation in democracy and it would be wrong to exclude it. Sir Eric said that postal votes should be renewed every three years. In other words, they should not automatically run on for ever and after three years people in receipt of a postal vote should have to reapply. The Government are consulting on those recommendations.

My Lords, there is a need to review the process in respect of electoral fraud and deal with some of the unintended anomalies in the procedures at present. Will the Minister and some of his officials meet me to discuss these matters?

I am sure the Minister for the Constitution, who has responsibility for electoral matters, will be more than happy to meet the noble Lord to discuss this issue. Our profession is not held in high regard at the moment, and it assists us on all sides of the House if we can restore confidence in the electoral process and increase the integrity of the voting system.

My Lords, very often in the past it used to be that whoever was running a nursing home made all the postal votes for everyone. I raised this with members of the opposition party at the time of the last general election. I cited a particular constituency where the candidate who was way ahead was suddenly completely swamped by a vast postal vote, with 30 voters apparently living in places that could not hold 30 people.

Sir Eric makes recommendations about postal votes, one of which is that political activists should no longer harvest postal votes. That practice is discouraged by the Electoral Commission in its code of conduct, but this is only a voluntary rather than a statutory prohibition. We will carefully consider how to deliver the ban on specified persons handling postal ballot papers, including enforcement and the creation of a new offence. As I said, we want to do all we can to increase public confidence in the voting system.

My Lords, did not the Pickles report find that election fraud had been particularly evident in our Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, where cases have been ignored because of,

“over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion”?

What can the Government do to stop that in future?

The Electoral Commission has identified 18 areas where there is a higher risk of electoral fraud, and Sir Eric has recommended that there should be a pilot in 2018 whereby ID must be produced to reduce incidents of impersonation. The Government are currently consulting on which local authority areas should take part in those pilots in 2018, and of course some of those local authorities at risk will be invited to participate.

My Lords, I note the answer that my noble friend just gave in relation to the 18 areas. When going out and considering the pilot areas that might be involved, could he strongly encourage those local authorities to participate? There may be reticence in some cases, but the Government and the Electoral Commission have identified them as problem areas and they really ought to participate in those test projects in 2018.

My noble friend has great expertise in this area and I listen carefully to what he says. It would be in the interest of those local authorities that have been identified as being at risk by the Electoral Commission to take part in the pilots that I have just referred to, to remove any doubts about the election results in those areas.

My Lords, we all want to see electoral fraud tackled and, as the Minister has indicated, it would help to re-establish the credibility of British politics. The Minister answered a Question yesterday on voter registration, and I want to ask him whether this is not the major priority with regard to our electoral system. After all, he listed five groups that gave great cause for concern on voter registration, namely,

“black and ethnic minority groups, social tenants, tenants in the private rented sector, young people and students”.—[Official Report, 25/1/17; col. 660.]

Will the Minister give the assurance, which he did not give yesterday, that this is the main priority?

With respect, I did give those assurances yesterday. I remind the noble Lord that there is a record number of people on the electoral register at the moment, notwithstanding the removal of all the ghost entries when we moved over to IER. I also outlined yesterday a number of initiatives that we are undertaking to drive up registration among exactly those groups the noble Lord has just referred to. We have a specific pack aimed, for example, at social tenants. We are undertaking initiatives with students, and we have a whole range of packs for young people, including one called Rock Enrol!. We are anxious to do all we can to increase the numbers of those who register and then increase the turnout at elections.

My Lords, if people are going to have to provide documentation at polling stations, including documents with photo ID, do the Government realise that quite a few people do not possess any photo-ID documents? The electoral registration authorities will therefore have to provide a document on request for such people. Can the Government guarantee that that will be provided free of charge?

The noble Lord is right. Most people will have some form of identification—a bank card, a bus pass, a railcard or an NUS card—but we recognise that some people may have none. That is why, in our response to Sir Eric Pickles, referring to the pilot, we said:

“We intend to invite local authorities to apply to pilot a number of schemes that involve both photographic and non-photographic identification”.