Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Constitution Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 21st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Voter identification
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I shall wait for just a minute while those who do not wish to hear my exciting speech absent themselves.
Those who heard the remarkable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, on Thursday will know that the case for this clause to be included in the Bill is very weak. He said it all, in effect. First, this is an extremely small problem; secondly, it will disfranchise the poorer and more marginalised elements of the electorate; and, thirdly, the larger problems of our electoral system lie elsewhere. The PACAC report, which has been much quoted in Committee so far, states:
“There is very limited evidence of personation at UK elections.”
These proposals represent
“a disproportionate response to a problem that appears not to be widespread.”
Paragraph 96 states:
“Introducing a compulsory voter ID requirement risks upsetting the balance of our current electoral system”—
that is a real constitutional reform in the wrong direction—
“making it more difficult to vote and removing an element of the trust inherent in the current system.”
The more urgent problems facing our electoral system include some things we will discuss later today, such as intimidation, of which I have experience, but above all the missing 8 million to 9 million citizens who are not on our electoral register. The Bill leaves to one side the issue of the incompleteness of our electoral register. As it happened, last week, I turned up in my pile of Cabinet Office publications one from December 2017 entitled Every Voice Matters: Building a Democracy that Works for Everyone, introduced by Chris Skidmore, then the Minister responsible. As we were discussing in Questions, there have been several changes of responsible Ministers since then, which has no doubt contributed to the incoherence of the Bill. Skidmore argued very strongly in that document for citizen engagement, greater participation and a more complete register.
Here is a major weakness in the integrity of our elections. Previous Conservative Ministers thought it important, but the Bill instead chases after other imagined problems—ones that US Republicans also chase for reasons not concerned with election integrity. The Bills that Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed under the title of election integrity have been concerned with pushing people—marginal, poor, black and others—off the register. The Minister will be well aware of the wide suspicion of the degree of Republican infiltration of the Conservative Party and of Conservative imitation of right-wing Republican enthusiasms and campaigns, most recently illustrated in the remarkable and awful speech which the chairman of the Conservative Party gave to the Heritage Foundation only two weeks ago.
Perhaps the Minister would like to argue that the absence of evidence of a serious current problem should not deter us from turning to the precautionary principle—introducing this in case there turns out to be a larger problem in future than there was—but he has told us that he does not accept the precautionary principle. After all, it is a European principle disliked by all true Anglo-Saxons.
The cost of introducing voter ID across the entire electorate could instead be spent on citizen education and engagement, to encourage more young people to play an active role in our electoral system and its campaigns. We could experiment with moves towards automatic registration—that is, automatic entry on to the register, which we will discuss later in Committee.
Last week, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, remarked that voting was a right, not a privilege. Everyone should be on the register. It is not something that you might care to volunteer for if you wish, and it is easier if you are middle-class and educated. Years of Conservative resistance to ID cards have been swept away by the demand that there should be compulsory photo ID; I remind the Minister that the idea of photo ID was not on page 48 of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto. However, if the Minister were perhaps to persuade his colleagues to change the Government’s approach to ID as a whole, it would fit, as others have discussed, with the way in which other nations manage their elections. Having no formal ID card means that voting rights should not be limited by a requirement for particular ID.
I am reminded of the occasion when I was in the Minister’s place during the coalition Government. I found myself saying to a Cabinet Minister, “You may feel deeply committed to this clause but, unless you can find a better rationale for it, it will never get through the Lords”. I feel that the Minister has not yet provided us with an adequate rationale for this clause and, on that basis, I hope that it will not get through the House of Lords.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and agree with everything he said; that is hardly surprising, of course, because I have added my name to the list of those opposing the Question that Clause 1 and, effectively, Schedule 1 should stand part of the Bill.
The noble Lord put it so well: compulsory voter ID, and in particular photo ID—this needs to be teased out a little—is a solution looking for a problem. It is a bit like compulsory ID before it but, again, as the noble Lord pointed out, there would be a greater logic—it was a position that I opposed for many years, along with many others in this Committee, in your Lordships’ House and in political life, particularly to the centre-right of politics—in the current Government’s position if, when in opposition, they had not been so opposed to the notion of compulsory identification and compulsory photo identification for their citizens. Pretty much every argument that was put against compulsory ID, particularly the more libertarian arguments about this being a country of free-born people who should not need to identify themselves before the exercise of the most fundamental rights and freedoms, applies here. I am afraid that it leaves many people in this country very concerned about the true motivation behind this policy at this time.
This is the clause stand part debate so, necessarily, it reintroduces some of the points that were made in previous sessions of this Committee in relation to various amendments to do with public cost, private cost and various aspects of the argument against.
Once more, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has pointed out, this is a solution looking for a problem, compared with other solutions that are, some would argue, quite urgently required in relation to real problems, such as voter intimidation and the oppression of some women, in particular, including within their families. That point was at least intimated by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, when we last met. She is not in her place, but her noble friend Lady Noakes is in hers, and I think there was a consensus in the Committee that there are issues there about women, in particular, in certain families and perhaps in certain communities, and that there is work that could be done there.
It would involve some public expense to really empower some of those women, to be sure that they felt truly liberated and empowered to exercise their vote truly independently. But this is not an issue of proof of identification; it is a much more holistic problem of the way in which they live and, perhaps, their lack of support and a certain level of alienation from wider society. The problem could be addressed in many ways with some of the resources which, as we said last time, will instead be diverted towards this untested, new, radical requirement of compulsory photo ID, and all that comes with it.
We have a problem already. I think it was broadly agreed, by consensus, in Committee last time that there are nowhere near as many people registered as there could be, and should be, for them to have at least the potential to exercise the right to vote. We could be using public resources to have truly cross-party, non-party voter registration campaigns. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, cannot join us today—he is detained in Cambridge with his students—but he spoke last time about the importance of such campaigns for voter registration. Resources could have been targeted towards that, rather than this.
Some of us have argued, and will argue on later groups, that we should really be moving towards automatic voter registration, as happens with automatic registration for taxation. Why is it that in this country we are capable of automatically registering people for taxation purposes on their 18th birthday—quite rightly, in my view, because that is not only a right but a duty, and it is an ethical duty, at the very least, to think about voting—but we cannot do that for the purposes of representation and voting? That would no doubt cost some money, at least. But we are spending the money on this, the Government’s intention, and not on that.
There are general levels of disengagement and disenchantment, in some communities more than others. There are so many things we could be doing there to engage people in civil society, political parties and voting. Some of that could be done quite creatively, and some resources would no doubt be involved. But we are not choosing to do that; we are choosing to do this instead. I would argue, as I have done all my adult life, that there is still insufficient constitutional and political literacy in our mature democracy. Yes, that is more the case among some groups than others, and it would take some resources to engage in that kind of voter and citizenship education—not just among school-age children but among new migrants, including refugees who come to our country. There is so much more we could be doing with the resources, but we are choosing—or at least, the Government are currently proposing—to employ resources on this compulsory ID instead of on that.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that this is an expensive solution looking for a problem. Worse than that, it will do more harm to our democracy than any possible good. It is not unusual, when the precautionary principle is used to justify everything from detention without charge to compulsory ID, that we end up with a policy and a law liable to do more harm than good. Whether by accident or design, what some of us fear in this case is nothing short of voter suppression, or at least voter discouragement, on a level that is not what we need at this moment, nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, after some really difficult years in a very divided country. Whichever side people were on in the referendum campaign, with suspicions of interference in elections by foreign powers—including foreign powers now tempting people possibly into another great European war—and during the difficult times of the pandemic and the difficult times now, with yet another refugee crisis, this is not the moment even to whisper a policy, let alone to legislate for one, that will lead people to feel that we are going in for a period of voter suppression.
We do not want to go down the American road on this. There are wonderful things that come from the United States. Many of us who are constitutional lawyers have, when studying, looked in admiration to many aspects of American notions of citizenship, but we should avoid voter suppression or putting hoops in people’s way, particularly those from more vulnerable communities, whether they are more recently arrived Britons, minority groups, the disabled or poor people. Putting any hurdle in the way of registration and voting will smack of voter suppression, whatever the true intentions. Clause 1, married with Schedule 1, makes the photo aspect compulsory, and it is that which I have a principled objection to, and would have whichever party was in government and whichever party was proposing it.
I should say, for the record, that I have never stood for election to a parish council or a PTA committee, let alone to high elected office. I should say that with some embarrassment, given that I am in this revising Chamber, but being a member of a political party is a privilege. It is based on a shared understanding of more than just the broader values of a political project, whereas to be a citizen entitled to vote is a fundamental right, and that is the distinction. It is also a distinction with various commercial transactions, which we understand require a certain element of identification. I would be more persuaded by the point that the noble Lord is making by his probing if we had heard, in response to some hours of debate on previous occasions, evidence of a significant problem with identity fraud in our elections.
As with many things in life, there is a balance of risk to be judged here. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, who is unable to be here today, pointed out the one conviction for voter identity fraud. That is not enough evidence to introduce this level of hurdle, hoop or requirement when balanced against the research that has been ventilated in this Committee and that has been sent to all Peers about the likely outcomes of putting further obstacles, hurdles or disincentives to register in people’s way.
This comes at a time when we are going into a fuel crisis, and for some people a food crisis. People have all sorts of things to cope with on their minds. Even if free ID will be available and very easy to get, as we are invited to believe by the Ministers, even that one further administrative application will be one too many for many people. That is what the research suggests. It is about the balance of risk. I suggest that the right to vote and to be included in this political community is too fundamental and precious for that risk to be engaged in such a blasé fashion by any Government.
I will say one final thing about this. We are in the heat of party politics when we are talking about prospective elections and say that any party would be suspicious of the other party’s motives. I am on these Benches, but I opposed the Labour Party’s policy on compulsory ID cards for many years because I thought it was wrong. I ask Members of the Committee to accept that I would be against this kind of compulsory identification even if it was proposed by my own party. I hope I have a reasonable enough track record on these fundamental civil liberties.
The balance of risk has not been made out. There is too much to lose for too many people at too difficult and divided a time. With the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and others who have added their names, including the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who I think is also unable to be here, I say that Clause 1 should not stand part, given everything else we could be doing in the Bill.
My Lords, I agree that Clause 1 should be struck from the Bill, if the Bill itself is not withdrawn. The clause is a dangerous solution to a problem that, as has been said, does not even exist. Requiring photo ID to vote will not strengthen democracy; it will weaken it. There is no doubt in my mind about that. It will damage the democratic rights of millions, disproportionately disfranchising poorer and ethnic minority voters, who, as we know, tend to lean towards Labour in elections.
There is no evidence that voter personation, which is what the clause is supposed to tackle, is a problem in this country. On the contrary, in 2020 there were just 139 allegations of voter fraud, which led to one conviction and one caution for personation. In 2019, although there were local, European and general elections, there was again just one conviction for personation out of 60 million votes—no problem there, then.
If this was not so serious it would be laughable. I am somewhat sceptical. It is not a coincidence that this Tory scheme for voter ID to suppress working-class voters is a mirror image of what has been done to black, Latino and American workers by the Republicans, as has been said. You would almost think that the ruling class was organising across the Atlantic to change the rules of the game itself. Surely not.
It is important to highlight the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s warning that Clause 1
“risks upsetting the balance of our current electoral system, making it more difficult to vote and removing an element of the trust inherent in the current system.”
We should not forget that.
Then, of course, there is the financial cost of compulsory voter ID: £120 million over 10 years according to the Cabinet Office. No election in British history has ever been undermined by mass fraud, so why are the Government spending millions of pounds to fix a problem that does not exist?
I believe the answer may simply be that the Government are worried that many working-class voters are starting to realise they were hoodwinked at the last election. Workers and their families are watching this Government take decision after decision that make the very rich richer while the rest of society is squeezed dry by the escalating cost of living crisis that we are confronted with now.
The Government’s total capitulation to the big energy firms has led to eye-watering bills that are rising higher and higher. The national insurance hike next month is a tax on jobs that will hammer the working poor most of all. Real-terms cuts to social security are driving millions into despair and destitution. All this pain and misery is against a backdrop of rampant inflation and crony Covid contracts for the chums of the Prime Minister, who mostly, in my view, likes to party.
Workers are waking up to the Government’s ideological assault on trade unions, the last line of defence against the bad bosses and a system that has attacked them, including this very Bill, especially Clause 27 on gagging trade unions, which we debated last week. Let us look at the Government’s much-hyped Employment Bill. I repeat: let us look at the Government’s much-hyped Employment Bill—except we cannot. It is nowhere to be seen, despite the manifesto pledge to
“make the UK the best place in the world to work.”
It would be scandalous if this promised legislation was again absent from the forthcoming gracious Address. Perhaps, the Minister would like to share his thoughts with us all on this subject.
Faced with the reality that the Tory party is not on their side, many workers and their families who lent the Prime Minister their vote to get Brexit done now want their vote back. This Bill as a whole, and especially Clause 1, looks like a blatant attempt to limit the damage this will cause the Conservatives at the next election.
In this place, we are privileged to play a key role by helping to improve legislation and holding the Government to account. We would not be doing our job properly if we did not challenge bad Bills, and this is a very bad Bill indeed. The Minister will deny it, but Clause 1 is a key component of a backwards, Trumpian attempt to rig democracy in favour of the Tories. That is why I support the cross-party call by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and others to strike it out. I urge the whole House to do exactly the same.
My Lords, I support this proposal that the clause stand part but I have some caveats. A high-profile Guardian commentator alleged:
“The Tories are introducing voter ID purely because they know the people lacking relevant ID are most likely to vote Labour, and they want to prevent them from voting.”
One Labour MP described it as
“a cynical and ugly attempt to rig the system to disempower the poorest and most marginalised.”
I do not believe that at all. It seems to me those arguments—we have heard some here—are concrete evidence that cranky, conspiratorial thinking is alive and well across left and right. I am not convinced that this is a Trumpian plot, an attempt by the Republican Party to take over the Conservatives or anything else. The view that everything is a sinister international plot—and goodness knows I see a lot of that on social media—is itself in danger of fuelling a cynicism and nihilistic distrust in institutions and politics. We should not necessarily resort to it to oppose voter ID. I do not think we need to.
I am prepared to take at face value that the Conservative Government are trying to fulfil their manifesto pledge to tackle potential voter fraud. There certainly has been concern about it although, as it happens, that has largely been confined to postal votes, which are being dealt with separately. But even if I take it in good faith that they are trying to shore up trust in the electoral system, my big problem is that voter ID is a wrongheaded way of doing it; it is likely to backfire and stoke up mistrust.
Let me explain a few of those points. The voting system in Britain is the outcome of centuries of struggle and civic engagement, and often, indeed, class struggle. The degree of trust that allows us as a country to allow citizens to vote on the basis of just showing up and giving their name—it is as simple as that—is a real success story. That is something that the Government and all of us should be proud of and celebrate; and—guess what—there is no evidence that it has been subverted in any way. We should have the same pride that we do not live in a “produce your papers” society, based on constant official checks by authorities. It is important to maintain that distinction between citizens and the state.
That is why so many of us campaigned against ID cards in general when the Labour Party tried to bring them in, and more recently balked at vaccine passports pushed by the Government and backed by the Opposition. Even fully vaccinated enthusiasts for the jab such as myself worried that saying, “You have to show your papers”, was an egregious, divisive encouragement to look at one’s fellow citizens with suspicion. We are now talking about showing your papers when you go to vote. General ID cards are a barrier to being able to go freely about our business, while voter ID is a barrier to being able to vote freely. In that context, voter ID is not just a technical matter; no matter what method is used, it creates obstacles to voting.
I do not think that it will lead to mass disfranchisement and, to be honest, I find it slightly awkward when people say that poorer people and the marginalised will not be able to cope with filling in the forms or getting the ID; that is potentially rather patronising and is not our objection. Let us imagine what it will do to a bond of trust, however, if you go along to vote and witness numerous people being turned away from polling stations; we know that people will be turned away because we have seen pilot schemes in which that has happened. Surely that would put a question mark over those electors, as though they were somehow a bit dodgy, when in fact they have just got the wrong paperwork.
Then there are other kind of nightmare scenarios that I dread. There just needs to be a handful of officious, jobsworth local officials overzealously treating people as though they are would-be cheats with the paperwork, and chaos will ensue. Anyone who has had to go to a government department and deal with the paperwork will know that that is all completely feasible. What is more, the more the Government double down on this—I do not understand why they are doing so— the more they send the message that the voting system itself is a major problem. It gives the misleading impression that large-scale fraud is going on that needs to be tackled, which is just so negative. In fact, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, pointed out, there are positive ways of talking about engaging voters rather than this negative view that somehow we have to stop all those people who are trying to sneak in and cheat.
Democracy is based on trust. At its heart lies the belief that all people should be treated equally at the ballot box regardless of any social or educational inequality. Your status is irrelevant when you get to that polling booth. The most lowly person is equal to the highest person in the land—every vote is equal. That is based on the belief that everyone can be trusted to decide on the future direction of society and to vote in good faith. That is what democracy is all about.
When a very few bad apples—maybe only one, according to the evidence—become the focus for a Government to reorganise the election practice, or when there is a greater problem of distrusting democracy and democratic institutions, which I talked about at Second Reading, it is a bigger problem, but I do not think that this solves it. When that bigger problem of distrust in democratic institutions is narrowed down to take the form of a managerial, bureaucratic solution, I fear that democracy itself will be damaged. I fear that it will fuel only a climate in which future election results will be open to suspicion and in which the integrity of the system is undermined. However, I appeal to those people who agree in principle with this to avoid cheap sectarianism in making their case.
My Lords, I have been somewhat orthogonal to this whole debate for a long time. I feel that whether Clause 1 stands part or not is neither here nor there—but there is an important point here. If voting is my right, it is the Government’s duty to deliver the instruments that will make it easy for me to vote. I should not have to go out there and register; the Government ought to be at my door, knowing that I have attained the appropriate age of 18, or whatever it is nowadays, to register me and give me my identity card. I do not know what the fuss is about. Why do we put the burden on the voter all the time? We really ought to make it easy for the voter to vote.
As I have said before, at Second Reading, we should not even have to go to the voting booth to vote; people should be able to vote on their smartphones, as long as it is a valid, encrypted method.
I am not at all worried that the great unwashed and coloured people like me will not be able to handle literacy. That is not the point. The point is that the Government are not doing enough on their own to make good and allay the fears they have that lots of people are going to cheat.
It is very simple. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, in India they have 900 million-plus voters, and everyone has an identity card. I do not know what the fuss is about. It is not expensive and it is very convenient. After all, when people go out, they have their debit card, and they can give their phone to identify themselves, and so on.
My grandchildren laugh about our system of voting, because it is a very old-fashioned system. I do not think that is anything to be proud of: it is a voting system that puts all the burden on the voter and none on the Government. Whether or not Clause 1 stands part is another matter, but if the Government want identity cards to be introduced, they should introduce them and provide them, and they should make it easy for people to vote.
My Lords, I hope that I have displayed to the Committee an independence of spirit on certain parts of this Bill, including in my comments on this clause stand part debate previously, but I am absolutely 100% behind the Government in introducing photo ID. It is for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, touched on, and actually for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, accidentally touched on last week—and I am pleased that he is here. He raised the question twice in relation to the last general election, about the uncertainty of our democratic institutions.
If one looks at the surveys undertaken by the Electoral Commission, there is serious doubt about the validity of the ballots that take place, persistently. The trials that were undertaken, and then followed up by research thereafter, showed that there was a marked—
I am so sorry to interrupt mid-sentence; it was just due to my hesitation. In the moments which follow, will the noble Lord give some thought to, and reflect on, his comment that there has been some serious doubt about our recent polls? That is quite a serious thing for anyone to say in this House. It may just be a question of rephrasing that point. For the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, it is quite serious to now suggest, at this moment in 2022, that there is serious doubt over recent elections. We have had some pretty seismic elections and electoral results in recent years, and it is serious for a noble Lord of any party to suggest in this Chamber that there is serious doubt about the validity of those polls. That may not have been the noble Lord’s intention, but he might want to clarify this.
I did not say those polls, I said some polls. In fact, the noble Baroness actually referred to the disagreement in society in relation to the EU referendum and the closeness of that result. It was that, and others, to which I am referring. Clearly, the noble Baroness has not actually read the Electoral Commission report and the research undertaken associated with the trial ballots which took place in a number of locations in 2018 and 2019. Had she done so, she would have seen that there was serious concern among large parts of the electorate—not a majority—about the validity of the voting process. The noble Baroness is looking at me somewhat quizzically. I suggest that she actually reads the report.
In which case, I apologise for misinterpreting the noble Baroness’s expression below her mask.
If noble Lords look at the most recent poll undertaken by the Electoral Commission, it is striking that concern about recent ballots and votes diminished quite markedly, despite the fact that there had been no change in electoral law. It is my contention that one reason for this is that we are moving further away from the Brexit vote, which generated large concerns among large numbers of people about the validity of certain votes.
Has not the noble Lord just undermined his own argument, then? If things are moving in the right direction, with what problem is this legislation seeking to deal?
In addition, the noble Lord said that we have not read the report—I have read the report. There is a huge difference between an expression of concern and evidence of concern. If we sought to change the law of the land for everything about which people expressed concern when responding to opinion polls and surveys, this House would never stop sitting. The issue is evidence of concern. What evidence of concern—beyond that which has already been indicated to the Committee and which is extremely limited—can the noble Lord point to?
The noble Lord is misinterpreting the data within those datasets and what the Electoral Commission and an individual research team undertook to do. They were trying to establish the level of concern. Had the noble Lord allowed me to continue for a few more sentences, I would have identified why I am concerned about that. It is not about a particular election; it is about when elections or referendums become close and contentious.
I speak here as a remainer—I was not a Brexiteer. When a referendum, or some form of ballot, becomes both close and contentious, the way in which the ballots have been conducted comes out as a matter of concern. As a result, it is precisely for those reasons that I am concerned that we should have certainty and security in the process.
I do not regard it as a process of voter suppression. President Trump—or Donald Trump, whatever you like to call him—had a basis of foundation for his arguments against the result at the last presidential election because there were uncertainties about the way in which it was conducted. As far as I am concerned, I want to see certainty in this country.
In my Second Reading speech, I said that I recognised the sense in which we have a problem of people withholding loser’s consent. I made the point that that was one of the problems we had in America with Donald Trump withholding it. Loser’s consent is a fundamental part of democracy. For many years following the referendum result, there was a substantial number of people who wanted to withhold loser’s consent for a majoritarian vote. That is complicated and there is a political issue going on about why people no longer accept that.
My argument—and this is what I want to ask the noble Lord—is that it is not a technical matter. It has absolutely nothing to do with impersonation. Nobody accused anyone of impersonating anyone. All sorts of accusations have flown but not that one in the UK. Therefore, does this technical way of trying to tackle a problem imply that there is a big problem of impersonation when there is not and therefore fuel the very sentiments that we are trying to reassure people around? It just does not make any sense as a way of dealing with a problem that I agree exists.
I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. She and I clearly recognise that there is a problem and there are different problems and you can tackle them in different ways. I happen to believe that photo ID is a way of tackling the issue.
Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is not present. I was present on the Select Committee when he gave evidence. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, was also present but, unfortunately, he clearly is not able to be here today. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, dealt with issues way beyond the question of voter registration and voter ID when he gave evidence to the Select Committee. It was an incredibly powerful submission then and it was last week in his contribution here. He was essentially talking about alienation from society in a much broader sense, and I recognise that. I live in the ward which I think has the largest proportion of voters of west African origin of any ward in the country—Camberwell Green. In Camberwell Green, if you want to collect a package from the Post Office—and I did last week—you are required to produce one of six items of ID, four of which are photo ID, two of which are not and one of those I do not think anybody would use in this day and age. In terms of general—
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He spoke about the alienation of voters and earlier he spoke about the validity of the process. Does he agree that concern about that validity of the process surely reflects the fact that people look at the composition of the other place—or, indeed, this place—and feel like it does not represent them? They maybe even know that 44% of votes went to the Tories and they got 100% of the power in the other place. People’s deep feeling of alienation and lack of validity does not relate to voter ID; it is much more deep-seated.
I agree with the noble Baroness, but I am not sure that it is specifically or solely related to this particular Bill. There are much broader issues on paths down which I will not go at this stage. I see it on a daily basis. I see it from where I came this afternoon to be in this Chamber.
There have been references to the question of personation and the quantities of that. The police have not pursued personation in some cases. I refer here to Richard Mawrey QC’s judgment in the petitions in relation to Tower Hamlets. He refers to a former Labour councillor, Mr Kabir Ahmed, and I quote from paragraph 326 in his report:
“Applying the statutory test of residence set out above, I am quite satisfied that 326a Bethnal Green Road was not such a ‘residence’ as would entitle Mr Ahmed to be registered to vote from that address”.
That is part of the judgment of an elections court. The police did not pursue it. I am not arguing that there are large numbers of cases, but there are far more cases than are being cited. The police, for a number of different reasons, do not pursue them.
Equally, as I cited in passing at Second Reading, the Electoral Commission makes it difficult to access electoral rolls. If you are going to be able to produce proof of false registration—that is, personation—you have to refer to past electoral rolls. However, the Electoral Commission has quite specifically said that EROs
“should not provide access to any register other than the current register”,
so that makes it very difficult indeed for people to prove personation.
I intervened on the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and when I did so, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, responded from the Dispatch Box; I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, did not reply. I have a feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, knows more than he will admit. The noble Lord has referred on previous occasions to his former role as general secretary of the Labour Party.
I appreciate that correction from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
But the concentration has been on the problems associated with certain social groups. It was said earlier that it is not necessarily the case that certain groups can or cannot participate in one form or another. The Liberal Democrats will point out that this is a failing of our first-past-the-post system, but selection meetings held by political parties in many constituencies are, in effect, choosing the Member of Parliament. For the selection of the Labour Party candidate for Poplar and Limehouse at the last election, the note that Apsana Begum sent to party members said, “Bring photo ID”. That is a specific instruction. It goes on to say,
“Bring your membership card or another proof of address”—
in other words, at her selection, you had to produce two forms of ID: one photo ID and one proof of address.
You can go on the web for other examples. One of the most racially diverse constituencies in the country—the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, may be aware of this is that it is right next door to his borough—is Tottenham. Again, I quote from the web: for the Haringey shortlisting and selection meetings in 2018, people were told,
“You need to bring ID”.
They were told to bring proof of address—a utility bill or council tax bill—and named photo ID. The types of accepted photo ID were identified as a passport, driver’s licence, et cetera. I willingly give way to the noble Baroness.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way again. I understand where he is going: he is drawing analogies with a number of other situations in our country where photo ID is being required, either in law or in practice. Earlier, before everyone started intervening on him and he very graciously gave way, he gave the example of having to prove that you are the person associated with a package when you go to collect it at the Post Office. I could go further and say that if I am going to take money out of a hole in the wall, I will be required to demonstrate that it is me who is entitled to access that bank account, as otherwise someone else could steal my money. But he must surely understand the distinction between my right to specific property and millions of people’s right to go and vote. We could go back to a system where everyone just has some indelible ink put on their finger once they have voted. There is not the same degree of risk of theft and impersonation with universal suffrage as there is with people’s property—whether it is their cash property in the bank or whether it is with their pass.
On the Tower Hamlets example, I know that at one stage the Labour membership amounted to the biggest political membership in western Europe. I do not know the position at the moment, but the noble Lord would concede, would he not, that most people in the country are still not members of the Labour Party and, therefore, in a very contested and slightly toxic selection, people might get very anxious about whether people are actually members of the Labour Party. Therefore, it becomes much closer to the property example than to universal suffrage, does it not?
On the noble Baroness’s first intervention, I knew that people would raise objections. I was citing the Camberwell Post Office example as an indication of the fact that people now live with producing ID, including photo ID. She cannot get away from the fact that a series of selection meetings within the Labour Party, which will be choosing the councillors and the Members of Parliament, actually require not one but two forms of ID, one of which is photo ID. If it is so impossible to produce a photo ID to vote at a polling station, how come it is acceptable to require people to produce photo ID at a selection meeting of the Labour Party, which, in the case of Poplar and Limehouse, was almost certain to produce the new Member of Parliament for that constituency? Haringey Labour Party uses the phrase
“each of the wards at the selection which required photo ID will take place.”
I am quite willing to give the noble Baroness a copy of this, although she can go on the web, search “Haringey Labour Party” and she will find it.
What I am struggling to understand is this. There is a fundamental difference between belonging to an organisation—be it any political party—to which you opt to belong and for which you might be expected to provide ID, and being able to vote as a citizen of the country. Those are totally different things.
The right reverend Prelate identifies the difference, but I have drawn the parallel, and it is a parallel, between selecting an MP at a constituency meeting and selecting them at a polling station.
As far as the process is concerned, I conclude with a final question, which I put to the Labour Front Bench. I have quoted from documents regarding the requirement to produce photo ID to select an MP. I ask whichever of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, replies to the debate to address this question. I have cited cases where people have been required to produce two forms of ID. Can the Labour Party please say whether, on occasion, at selection meetings they have actually required three forms of ID, two of which were photo and one was the address?
Has the noble Lord finished? I am sure my noble friend will deal with his query, which has been dealt with thoroughly already. The Labour Party is a voluntary organisation which you can choose to be in or not, and if you choose to, you abide by the rules thereof—rules that are democratically determined within the party itself. It is totally different, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, from a clear right to vote, which should apply to everyone, irrespective of the degree to which they wish to become involved in daily politics, which is of course a matter of choice.
I wanted to speak now because I did not quite understand what it was that the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, did not understand about my previous intervention on this subject. I shall not discuss any individual details, because we have sundry debates on those coming up. The silence of the Government Front Bench on two or three issues in the whole of this discussion seems to have permeated the Back Benches as well. One of the crucial questions for me is whether the Tory party, which is investing an awful lot of time and effort in the Bill—and money; £180 million at least and rising—is doing so on the basis that somehow, we should be disturbed by the result of the last general election, which, I sadly remind everyone, it won with an 80-seat majority.
The Government are saying—by their actions, if not by their words—that the election is a bit dubious, a bit dodgy. Every contribution from that side is more or less implying just that. If it is not dodgy at a global level—the 80-seat majority—it must surely be dodgy in respect of a number of individual constituencies. So, I would like to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, who is an expert on these things, which of the 650 constituencies he thinks should probably be declared invalid on the basis of serious doubts and misgivings about the authenticity of the voters in those constituencies?
Having fought numerous elections and, on one occasion, having won by 360-odd votes in an electorate of 90,000, I can only say to the noble Lord and to all those who say that people do not accept our election results because the system is first past the post, that no one in the ballots in individual constituencies argues for a moment with the idea that the person who was first past the post was the winner and should be declared the winner, even if it was by a short head. But the point I am making now is that no one contested that result. My opponent, to his credit, although he called for a couple of recounts, did not doubt the validity of the result any more than I did when, prior to that, I lost by rather more, it must be said—by 1,500. Likewise, I did not contest the result.
I really do want to know the answer to this, because we are in a very odd situation. You would think we would be on different sides of the argument. You would expect the Opposition to be saying that they were really worried about the last election result and that it looked very dodgy that the Tories got an 80-seat majority, with the Government saying that it was the finest election they have ever been privileged to take part in. But in this Alice in Wonderland world, it is the Government who are raising serious questions about the validity of the election result. So, I repeat that point, which is hanging in the air, and if the Minister would share with the House his deep anxieties about the last general election, I would like to hear them.
I would also like to hear from the Minister precisely what the Government’s estimate is of the effect on voter participation of the proposals in Part 1 of the Bill, which introduce a substantial new requirement for people to exercise their right to vote. This is the biggest change in the electoral requirements in my lifetime. I suppose the voting age has changed and there have been other changes of that sort, but this is a substantial one that says to electors that what they have done in the past is not good enough and there are too many risks associated with it, so they must jump over these additional hurdles.
Our contention—I say ours, but I think it is a pretty broad contention—is that the one thing you can be sure of is that introducing a brand-new requirement such as this will have a completely neutral effect on election turnout, which, I remind the House, has been going down rather badly, certainly since I first started fighting elections. I looked up the figures for a few—1970 was the first one I fought. In February 1974, the turnout was 79% and for the last five or six elections, it has been down in the 60s. That is bad news for anyone who cares about democracy. I was proud of the fact that we used to beat lots of other countries substantially on turnout at major elections. That is no longer the case. It is not credible to say that this big change in voting requirements for voters will have no impact whatsoever on turnout. I will give the Minister three options: is he saying it will have no impact whatsoever; that it risks reducing turnout; or that it is going to increase turnout? That would be an interesting intellectual case to develop.
My noble friend might be interested to know that at the end of the last day in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, pointed out that no analysis of turnout has been done. Indeed, the noble Baroness the Minister said:
“I can confirm that we have not done that impact analysis. The important impact will be after.”—[Official Report, 17/3/22; col. 568.]
So I am afraid my noble friend will not get an answer to his question, because they have not done the research.
Well, I do not suppose that surprises me. I bet one bit of research they have done and been careful to check on—I cannot be as generous as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, on this—is whether this change will have a serious adverse effect on the number of Conservatives voting at the next election.
We know roughly the demography that is most likely to be affected—and, by the way, it is not being patronising to people on low incomes to say that we know as a matter of fact that, in general terms, the wealthier the area, the higher the turnout. That is not because people in lower-income areas do not understand what is involved. There can be all sorts of practical reasons. If you live in rented accommodation, you may not get your poll card as easily. I know you do not have to have a poll card to vote—you will need a lot more in future—but, if people do not have photo identification, clearly they are more likely to miss out on voting at subsequent elections. If, in proposing this change to the requirements on voters, the noble Lord, Lord True—a lifelong Conservative, as I am lifelong Labour—had found in his research that it was going to really cost his party something, I very much doubt he would be bringing it forward, let alone bringing it forward with such enthusiasm.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. What he and the Committee are addressing are the potentially very serious but unknown and unquantified ill effects of this reform. Normally when a measure which could have an enormously detrimental social impact of this kind is proposed in these circumstances, the proposal is to pilot it. My noble friend will remember, because we were both in government at the time, that, when this House wrecked the ID card Bill, it did so led by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, a former Cabinet Secretary, on the grounds that, if such a major piece of legislation was being proposed, even though it was in the Labour Party manifesto, it should be piloted. It was on that basis that we lost a large part of the legislation. Does my noble friend not think that it is highly appropriate and indeed necessary that a change of this magnitude should be piloted to see what the effects are before it becomes the universal law of the land?
I absolutely agree. I would add only one point to my noble friend’s observations. If we regard the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust as a reputable research body, it is saying that something like 1.7 million people are without voter ID—I do not have the notes here, but it is a very substantial figure—and they are overwhelmingly people on lower incomes. So there is a lot that we do know, but it would certainly be a lot better to have a pilot study before this kind of change was introduced.
Thank you very much. I certainly have not come across any evidence to suggest that ID cards are an answer to the problem of voter fraud. I would like to broaden the debate a little and think about the consequences. I grew up in east London, where it was not unusual for people of certain backgrounds to be stopped in the street by the police and asked to show ID, when you are not required to carry any ID. What would happen in this brave new world when the police stopped people and said, “By the way, you now have an official ID. Have you not got it? Can you not bring it from home and report to the police station?” What would be the consequences for the young people who are unwilling or unable to produce those officially sanctioned ID cards? Would that drive a wedge between the police and the community? Would that criminalise people? Would that fuel more dissatisfaction with our parliamentary system? Would that fuel social instability? I would like to hear from the Minister where this ID concern will stop. What would be the broader social consequences? It seems to me that we would be opening up American-type social problems. They would be imported here, because people simply do not have or cannot produce officially sanctioned ID cards.
It is minorities who will be targeted. It is well known and well documented that the police target minorities. They would have a new authority to wield to criminalise minorities. I would love to hear the Minister’s views on that.
My Lords, voter ID is not something dreamed up by the Government with the express intention of suppressing voter turnout, as various noble Lords have come perilously close to suggesting in both today’s debate and our debates last week. I am sure that, as parliamentarians, we all share a belief in the centrality of elections to our democracy and a desire to achieve the highest standards of integrity and participation. I believe that it would be a unworthy slur to suggest that my party believes anything else. The plain fact is that the Electoral Commission has recommended voter ID, as have international election observers. Most European countries require it; Northern Ireland has had it for nearly 40 years.
Can the noble Baroness explain where the Electoral Commission by itself said that voter ID was required? Or was it responding to options that were put before it in terms of what it saw as the best form of voter ID? Does the noble Baroness have the evidence to say that the Electoral Commission has said of its own volition that voter ID is required?
I am sorry that I do not have chapter and verse with me, but the Electoral Commission has called for voter ID since 2014. As I said, Northern Ireland has used it for nearly 40 years.
I find it quite extraordinary that polling station procedures in Great Britain are virtually the same today as they were when I started voting 50 years ago. It is quite remarkable.
That is an entirely irrelevant observation, if I may say so.
I have heard many noble Lords say that this is a solution to a problem that does not exist, but I believe that that is looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. I invite noble Lords to read my noble friend Lord Pickles’s report on election fraud, which was published after the disgraceful events at Tower Hamlets. He found that there were risks of electoral fraud in our current system. The fact that relatively few people have been convicted of election fraud is not the point. It is clear that there are real risks; we owe it to the electorate to minimise those risks.
I am astonished that noble Lords can oppose the simple concept of voter ID. As my noble friend Lord Hayward said, voter ID is required if you go to a Royal Mail depot, or indeed the Post Office, to collect a parcel. Let me give a more mundane example: last Friday, I collected a birthday cake from a supermarket and was required to show some ID. It is just part of the way we carry on our lives now. We require ID for all kinds of things. From my perspective, requiring voter ID is a reform that is long overdue.
It is also obvious that, if you go down the route of voter ID, the most secure way of proving identity is photo ID. That is why the Labour Party has required it at some of its conferences—unless the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, is going to countermand that, that is what I believe to be the case. If we go to a meeting at the MoD or the Bank of England, we have to show photo ID, because it is part of the way we live our lives now.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, because it is worth addressing this point. It came up earlier with her noble friend Lord Hayward, who said to me, “You collect your parcel”, et cetera, and I suddenly looked down and saw myself, of course, wearing a badge around my neck, as I and most noble Lords do. I notice that my noble and rebellious friend Lord Grocott is currently not wearing his, but that is presumably for the TV cameras, and he will put it on later. Are noble Lords suggesting that, by complying with sensible security practices within this Palace and wearing this thing around my neck as I walk around every day, I am conceding that I should be prepared to wear such a thing on the street and in my life for other purposes?
Surely that concession is not made, because we are not comparing like with like. If anything, when I leave the Estate, if I still have this badge around my neck, a police officer will say to me, “Please take that off”, because it is not appropriate. Something that is of security value in here becomes a security risk out there. We are, therefore, not necessarily comparing like with like. The most sensitive and valuable ID that I possess is probably the card that gives me access to taking cash out of the wall, and it has no photographic evidence on it whatever. These are different purposes, different levels of risk and different levels of ID or not. Is that not the case?
My Lords, the noble Baroness says we are not comparing like with like, and I completely agree. I drew no parallels with the wearing of identity badges in this building or, indeed, many other buildings; many corporate organisations require this for their own internal security purposes. That is completely different from engaging in certain acts, whether it be going into certain buildings as an outsider or carrying out daily tasks such as collecting parcels. I am suggesting that it is perfectly ordinary to propose using it when going to election polling stations to cast one’s vote.
Northern Ireland has used photo ID for more than 20 years with no problems. Indeed, Northern Ireland electors are happier with their elections than the rest of the UK. To the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, I say that there has been no harm done in using voter ID in photo form in Northern Ireland at all—no recorded harm whatever. The issue that we should focus on is how to facilitate voting by those who do not already possess the kinds of photo ID that are allowed for in the Bill. The Government’s latest estimate—there are higher estimates from earlier studies—is that this applies to 2% of the population. That is roughly a million electors, which is a lot of people, but the Government have already successfully piloted a scheme of voter cards.
There is no evidence from the pilots of an impact on different communities, although there has been a lot of speculation throughout today and our previous Committee days on which particular groups will be affected. I am sure that there will be local issues in local areas, which is why—
The Electoral Commission’s analysis of the 2019 pilots showed that people in the compulsory voter ID pilot, after the ballot, had a 69% satisfaction rate with the poll, compared to 77% of those outside the photo ID pilot. Why, if it did not cause a problem, does the noble Baroness think that satisfaction was less in the pilot area than in the non-pilot areas?
I cannot answer that question, but the purpose of pilots is to find out what practical problems there are with major policies, and it was good practice on the Government’s part to have various different pilots to find out the sorts of issues that might arise.
I do not think the only metric is how satisfied people were. The most important thing is how comfortable people are with the integrity of the voting system. Just being satisfied with the first rollout of something is not going to give you the final answer. It is right to let local authorities, who know about their local electorates, work out how to reach these hard-to-reach communities. It is right to enlist civil society groups to do the same, as well as political parties, which should know their local areas and know how best to do it.
We know there will be some teething problems, and some voters may not bring the right voter ID with them the first time they come. But according to both the Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators, this happened to a very small degree during the pilots. As I said earlier, pilots are there to find problems so that they can be overcome. I hope that noble Lords will stand back and look at these reforms—
I am just about to finish, if the noble Baroness does not mind. I hope that noble Lords will stand back and look at these reforms through 21st-century eyes and see them as sensible and proportionate, and as a reflection of how we live our lives on a daily basis.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of these clauses not standing part of the Bill. I do so primarily for the reasons we debated on Thursday, and I will not go over all those again in terms of the differential impact on marginalised groups. In particular, I spoke about people in poverty, and about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that this is not about those groups not understanding paperwork and so forth. As my noble friend said, there are all sorts of reasons why marginalised groups may find it harder to vote. If the noble Baroness reads that debate she will see that the very work that goes into getting by in poverty can itself act as a barrier to sorting out alternative ID cards.
We have talked a lot about trust. One of the Government’s arguments—it has been put today—is that the measure is essential to increase trust in the electoral system. However, the Electoral Commission public opinion tracker found that when asked what would increase voter satisfaction, twice as many people replied proportional representation—which we shall discuss on Wednesday—as said increased security against fraud. Worse—here I do agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley—there is a real danger that the Government themselves are eroding trust by suggesting that fraud is a problem that could be addressed by these provisions. The more it is said that there is a problem of fraud, the more the general electorate are likely to think that there is a problem of fraud. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warns that this could damage trust between the individual and the state. It was also pretty scathing about the quality of the evidence put forward to justify the move, saying that it was “simply not good enough”.
Various concerns have been raised about the evidence provided by the pilots that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, talked about—such as, in particular, that none was carried out in a large urban metropolis, and that we know nothing about the people who were turned away because they lacked the requisite identification and did not return. Nobody bothered to find out what happened to them.
As we heard on Thursday—there has been mention of this today too—one line of defence is that voter ID is used in most EU countries. When it was pointed out that some form of general ID is mandatory in most of those countries, the Minister said that this was neither here nor there. Actually, it is very much here and there. Whatever people think about it, if they have to carry ID around with them anyway, there is no great difficulty in taking it to the polling station. If people are not carrying it around with them anyway, that is a lot more difficult.
Both the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have raised questions about the Government’s claim that the measures are proportionate—a test they need to meet to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. On the one hand, as we have heard, there is very little evidence of fraud—even allowing for the fact that it is difficult to produce such evidence. On the other hand, there is pretty overwhelming evidence that the measures are likely to have a disproportionate impact on marginalised voters and potential voters. But of course we do not know—because, as I have said, the Government have not done the research. Far from being essential to the protection of our democracy, as the Minister in the Commons claimed, these provisions are a threat to inclusive democracy and citizenship.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. I agree with everything she said.
I offer Green support for Clause 1 not standing part. We would have attached a signature to the opposition to the clause had there been space. I am well aware that we have already had a very long debate, so I will make three key points that have not quite been made elsewhere, and echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in introducing the group, on the power of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, last week. Anyone who wants to see it will find it on my Twitter account, handily captioned and shared. I urge people to share it because it deserves a wide audience.
The first of my three points builds on the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, who suggested that people were saying there might be a sinister plot with the Republicans. There does not have to be a sinister plot for people to copy what they see happen in other parts of the world. Indeed, the inspiration for voter ID, which I believe is voter suppression, comes from the other side of the pond. I quote the American Civil Liberties Union, because if that is where the inspiration comes from it is instructive to see the context:
“Voting should be as easy and accessible as possible … But … more than 400 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 48 states … The result is a severely compromised democracy that doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Our democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard.”
That is a message from America, but it is one we should also listen to here.
Does the noble Baroness not understand that voting systems in the US are a state matter? The problem is not what she says it is; it is that every state has a different methodology. That is what leads to confusion and difficulties, particularly in some states which adopt particularly regressive and repressive measures. The point she is making about photo ID is nothing to do with that.
I disagree with the noble Lord, in the sense that I am talking about the rhetoric, and the context and reason for this, whether it is happening on a state-by-state basis or nationally. What is behind it is in my second quote, from Max Feldman at the Brennan Center for Justice, who says that
“claims of widespread fraud are nothing more than old wine in new bottles. President Trump and his allies have long claimed, without evidence, that different aspects of our elections are infected with voter fraud. Before mail voting, they pushed similar false narratives about noncitizen voting, voter impersonation, and double voting”.
To pick up the noble Lord’s point about people’s concerns about the voting system, these days we see a great deal of sharing and cross-fertilisation of concerns on social media. Rhetoric spread by powerful, well-funded forces will have an impact on people’s views, as we have seen in other contexts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggested that people were coming perilously close to suggesting that the purpose behind voter ID was voter suppression. I am not going to come “perilously close” to it; I believe that that is the case.
The second point I want to make concerns history. I do not believe that we are guaranteed to gradually progress positively into the future, but look at the trends. In 1832 and 1867, the Great Reform Acts spread the right to vote among men. In 1918 and 1928, women got the right to vote. In 1969, and implemented in 1970, the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18. That is all heading in the direction of greater engagement. In Oral Questions earlier we saw some fairly severe attacks on democracy and devolution in the UK, but Scotland and Wales have gone further down this road, with votes at 16. Democracy has been on a long-term trend of engaging more people. We have to ask why we are suddenly heading in the opposite direction with voter ID.
My final point is a practical one. Most of this discussion has focused on the estimated 2 million people who do not have any ID. I do not think we have talked enough about the people who do not have ID on them at the point where they go to vote. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pointed out, none of the pilots was in a large urban area.
I was in a large urban area—Sheffield—telling on a polling station in one of the years when the pilots were being conducted. I saw a large number of people who had seen the reports and thought that they had to have ID.
The noble Baroness is citing where the pilots took place. Earlier on, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, did not seem to be aware that pilots had taken place. Was it not the case that a number of local councils refused to participate in the pilots? It is not that those places were chosen by the Government; it is that those were the places which were allowed to participate by the local authorities.
If I may intervene, I knew where the pilots had taken place, but they were not nearly proportionate to the scale of the reforms being introduced. We do not know anything about their likely impact on voter turnout or the administrative issues that will be raised by the nationwide introduction of this reform. The very small, selective pilots were not even in representative areas. The issue of piloting is still very much there. If this is to be a nationwide reform—we are talking about parliamentary elections—this should be piloted in many constituencies before we move in this direction.
I thank both noble Lords, who have contributed greatly to my argument.
I come back to the question of people who own voter ID but do not happen to have it on them and to the experience of Sheffield on this particular occasion. One of the people I spoke to was a man who came speed-walking up to me, puffing slightly, and said: “Huh, do I have to have voter ID?” I said, “No, it is all right; you do not need it here.” He said, “Okay”, and dashed into the polling station.
What if I had had to say yes to that man? He was obviously having a very busy day, as many of us do—some people have to maintain two or three jobs to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head, and some people have caring responsibilities. Voting is on a Thursday, which is a working day for very many people. All these are reasons why voting can be difficult to access. Maybe a little window has opened up in your day—say you are a care worker who moves between different houses, and suddenly you have an opportunity to go past the polling station but you do not have your passport on you. Say you are a student, not living at home; perhaps you have left your passport with your parents for safekeeping because you do not travel overseas very often. You go to vote where your student residence is. Did you remember from when you heard two months ago that an election was coming? Maybe you did not even know that an election was coming, and two months ago you left your passport at home.
We have not looked enough at the facts. It is not just about people who do not own this ID. People do not have to. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made a very powerful point that the European case studies do not match up. If you live in a country where a police officer or other official can stop you at any time and ask where your ID is, you will always have your ID on you. That is not the case in the UK.
My concluding point covers this group of amendments and many others. A lot of this Bill and the direction of the Government suggests that we have a problem with voters in the UK. I do not think we have any problem with the voters; we have huge problems with our failed political system.
My Lords, at Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Rennard, who unfortunately cannot be here today, drew attention to the Government’s negligence in trying to assess the scale of the problem that they say they seek to address. He pointed out that anyone attending a polling station who finds that their vote may have been claimed by someone else is issued with a replacement, known as a tendered ballot paper. He has been pressing the Government for some years to collate and publish the information about how many of these ballot papers are issued, and tried again recently with a Written Question.
Unfortunately, the Government would not answer, even though they know the figures. Fortunately, the independent Electoral Commission publishes them. There are several reasons why such tendered ballot papers might be issued, apart from someone impersonating a voter. The most common reason is probably a clerical error in the polling station when the wrong name is crossed off by mistake. At the last general election, 32,014,110 ballot papers were issued across the UK in 38,812 polling stations. The total number of tendered ballot papers was just 1,341. That is 0.004% of the total number of ballot papers issued—just two tendered ballot papers for each of the 650 constituencies, or one for every 30 polling stations. Most are probably issued because of clerical error or for reasons other than personation.
Clause 1 is all about a supposed solution to a problem that simply does not exist, or that the Government have been unable to show exists. At Second Reading, the Minister clearly stated that this was not about the precautionary principle to prevent voting error. I asked the Minister to reiterate: is this not the precautionary principle? If not, where is the evidence that the problem is so big that the clause’s provision is proportionate to deal with the problem?
I have also looked back at the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord True, at Second Reading. He said:
“Voter ID is used across the world, including in most European countries and in Canada.”—[Official Report, 23/2/22; col. 2228.]
He did not say that those European countries had compulsory national ID cards, meaning that no additional ID is required other than that which citizens have to carry as part of being citizens of those countries. We do not have such national ID cards and the Government are opposed to them. In Canada, a photo ID card is issued to Canadians who do not have a driving licence, thereby serving as a national ID card, and in Canada you do not need that ID to vote if you do not have it to hand, provided someone with such ID is also present at the polling station and vouches for you.
The Government have pointed to Northern Ireland, which requires voter ID, although it has a significantly different political culture that made that necessary. Northern Ireland introduced mandatory ID in 1985 in response to what happened in the 1983 general election. Nearly 1,000 people arrived at polling stations there only to be told that a vote had already been cast in their name. Police made 149 arrests for personation, resulting in 104 prosecutions. In contrast, in Great Britain, in two national elections in 2019, there was only one conviction for personation and one caution, both of which related to the European Parliament election of that year.
It should also be noted that Northern Ireland did not move immediately to require photographic ID. Elections took place there for almost 20 years with a less stringent ID requirement. The first election there to require voter ID was the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election. Estimates have shown that about 25,000 voters did not vote because they did not have the required ID. That is more than 1,000 per constituency. Furthermore, almost 3,500 people, 2.3% of the electorate, were initially turned away for not presenting the required ID. It took more than 12 years—I repeat, 12 years—for turnouts to return to previous levels; other factors were, of course, involved relating to political controversy in Northern Ireland.
We have very limited information about the effects of introducing any form of voter ID from pilots in just 15 out of over 400 local council elections in England, but all the information suggests that many more legitimate voters were unable to cast votes than there were people who needed replacement ballot papers. Extrapolating from these 15 pilots to around 450 local authorities suggests that perhaps 30,000 legitimate voters could have been turned away from polling stations, to say nothing of the number of people who did not attempt to vote because of the requirements.
The proposals in Part 1 of the Bill are in response to one conviction and one caution in 2019, with hardly anyone finding that their vote could have been stolen and, in any event, all were compensated with a replacement ballot paper. After the voter ID pilots, the independent Electoral Commission said that more work was needed to make sure that an identification requirement did not stop people who are eligible and want to vote in future elections. That is why Clause 1 should not stand part of this Bill.
My Lords, the speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord was utterly compelling. Indeed, he gave the House a detail that I was not aware of about the impacts of compulsory voter ID in Northern Ireland; I do not think that the House was aware either. In the case of Northern Ireland—I remember the discussions that took place in government at the time—the evidence of voter personation was at a level completely out of proportion to what we are dealing with here in the case of elections in Great Britain. But if, as the noble Lord says, it took 10 years to get voter participation up—
That should be a matter of huge concern. In an extraordinarily un-Conservative statement earlier, the noble Baroness said that voting in the way that we used to vote 50 years ago is somehow bad and means that we are not keeping up with modern times. If we applied that principle to every other aspect of life that works well we would be seeking to change everything for the sake of it—something I imagined she thought this side of the House was seeking to do.
A combination of those two great Gladstonian reforms, the Ballot Act 1872 and the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act 1883, has maintained a level of integrity in the conduct of elections in this country that most of the rest of the world finds awe-inspiring. The idea that people look at the United Kingdom and say that, among all the democracies—let alone other regimes—there is great doubt about the integrity of our election outcomes and people are constantly concerned that ballots might be being stuffed and all that, is so far removed from reality that it is obviously a farcical proposition.
I am sorry to intervene again but is the noble Lord aware of the report of foreign observers who watched the elections in Tower Hamlets? He seems to display complete ignorance of what overseas observers said about what they saw going on in Tower Hamlets.
The big issue in Tower Hamlets, which the noble Lord referred to earlier, was electoral registration. What happened there was clearly improper registration. If the issue of registration had been dealt with, these further issues would not have arisen. This is not just an issue of principle, though many issues of principle have been raised. Rather like the Blair Government’s move to introduce ID cards, I suspect this will become a matter between the two Houses. The fact that photo ID was not in the Conservative Party manifesto will be significant; I do not think the Salisbury convention will cover the reform as proposed in this Bill. On matters of deep constitutional import such as this, how far we can press our concerns is always a fine judgment for this House. We have these debates and send amendments to the other place, and then they come back.
If this Bill gets through in this Session, the issue of compulsory photo ID might be one where we insist on our amendments, particularly in the context which the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, referred to, about how at constituency level and on a substantial scale there have been no pilots.
I have two other points, since I want to add to the debate rather than to repeat other points. This Bill is one of the most substantial that I have addressed in my entire time in Parliament, with 171 pages, 22 of which are Schedule 1, which governs the arrangements for the introduction of photo ID. Most of the legislation that this House passes is shorter than Schedule 1 of this Bill, which introduces some element of these requirements. There are 22 pages of very dense and complicated legal reforms, and I pity the electoral registration officers who will be implementing them—there will be a host of problems over the implementation. Yet despite it being 22 pages long, huge issues are not even properly addressed in Schedule 1. We are being asked to give Henry VIII powers to the Government to produce further changes in due course. Paragraph (2)(4)(a) of Schedule 1, on page 66, says that regulations may make provision about
“the timing of an application for an electoral identity document”
“about the issuing or collection of an electoral identity document.”
These are fundamental issues, and they are not even on the face of the Bill. They will all be subject to regulations in due course which this House, in practice, does not have the capacity to influence or to reject.
On a fundamental and crucial issue which I hope that the Minister can help me with, is there now effectively to be one point of electoral registration or two—the first when you apply to go on the electoral register and the second when you apply for your photo ID? I see that my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock has tabled amendments on this precise point, which is of huge importance and has not been addressed in the debate at all so far, of whether there should be provision for you to apply for the photo ID when you complete your electoral registration form. The Minister may have addressed this point in earlier debates, but I could not see it in Hansard. This fundamental issue may be worse than just ambiguous. I look forward to the Minister explaining this, but my reading of paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 is that you cannot apply for the two at the same time.
New Section 13BD in Schedule 1, which amends the Representation of the People Act 1983 by inserting these new provisions, says:
“An application for an electoral identity document may be made by (a) a person who is or has applied to be registered in a register of parliamentary electors”,
It does not say “is applying”. There is a fundamental difference between the two. Can the Minister help the Committee on this, since we are discussing the clause at large and it will pave the way for my noble friend Lady Hayman’s amendment in due course?
Is it the case from my reading of the schedule—I am a non-lawyer—that you cannot apply for both at the same time and therefore that it would not be legal for electoral registration officers to send one form enabling you to fill in your name and details on the register of electors and to make your application for a photographic identity document, but you must do them separately? I may be wrong, in which case I am very happy for the Minister to intervene, but if I am correct, it is a fundamental massive additional issue with this Bill. It effectively doubles the electoral registration requirements. Whereas until now it has been the accepted practice that you register once, you will now have to register twice. My noble friend Lady Lister said that in continental countries, ID cards are the norm, but, of course, there you have them by the time you register to be a voter, and do not have to go through any separate process, nor must you turn up with a separate identity card in due course.
Some of us have been round the circuit in these debates before. As a member of the Government, I sat through many of the impassioned debates this House held on the Blair Government’s proposal to introduce ID cards. There were strongly held views, and this House carried fundamental amendments to that reform I referred to earlier in respect of very substantial requirements for piloting. That ultimately led to ID cards not being introduced, because the piloting requirements had not been completed by the time the Government changed in 2010. However, I remember speech after speech from the Conservative Front Bench at the time saying that, even though we made it explicitly clear that these ID cards were not going to be used for the process of elections, introducing these ID cards to deal with illegal practices in respect of employment, immigration and asylum was the thin end of the wedge. Before we knew what would happen, they would be required for elections, and this would have the effect of voter suppression.
It is sheer hypocrisy for the Conservative Party now to say the very reform it opposed at the time—a coherent reform, which would have had a single identity document on the kind that applies on the continent—should not be introduced because it might have an impact on elections. Yet they are now introducing a reform requiring voter ID in a much worse form than would have applied if there was a universal ID card. There would not have been any requirement for this separate, second process of electoral registration to start with, and there would not have been the offputting effects that there will be of having to produce another form.
There have been a lot of totally groundless assertions by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and others that there is an actual threat to the integrity of elections. No evidence has been submitted that would get past first base as to why that should lead to a reform of this kind. I think, particularly listening to the figures we just heard, a much bigger concern about the integrity of elections will be when large numbers of voters are turned away from polling stations at the next election. They will turn up thinking they can vote in what they regard as the usual way and are turned away from the polling station either because they do not have this form of ID or because they have left it at home and were not aware of the precise one they had to bring at the time.
If the impact is at anything like the scale the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, is concerned about, the big concern these international observers of our elections are going to be raising is that an untested, unpiloted reform of a highly peculiar kind, requiring identity documents specifically relating to an election, has had a chilling effect on electoral turnout in what had previously been regarded as a model democracy. Not only is this a profoundly unconservative reform; it may be one of the most retrograde reforms to promoting participation in elections since we introduced the secret ballot 150 years ago.
My Lords, I intend to be brief, because I do not want to repeat all the excellent arguments that have been made. I think the important part of this debate is the issue of proportionality. Of course, as we have heard elsewhere in the Bill, it is incredibly disappointing that the key problems our electoral system faces—underrepresentation, low turnout, lack of registration—are not addressed, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Woolley. Also, I am going to keep to my record in referring to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, because this House’s Select Committee report on civic engagement showed that it is really important to address this issue in terms of education—better understanding our responsibilities and the role of the citizen.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Yes, the report of the committee that I chaired said that we needed a statutory ability to learn about citizenship throughout primary and secondary education—but nowhere did we talk about voter ID or the methodologies by which people would be identified for voting. So, with great respect, would the noble Lord please not pray me in aid for that particular?
I hear what the noble Lord says, but it will not stop me—because in the argument about proportionality the question is, “What is the most important problem that we seek to address?” At the end of the day, we are focusing on this issue of voter ID to address a concern over fraud. As we have heard from the debate, it is not the evidence of fraud that we should be concerned about but the concern about concern, which actually undermines the argument completely.
I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. What evidence do we have? Of course, we have heard about the pilot schemes in the local elections of 2019. What the noble Lord highlighted well was that the Electoral Commission noted that between 3% and 7% of those who engaged in the election were turned away because they did not have the right form of voter ID, including non-photographic ID. As the noble Lord said, those small pilot schemes were not reflective of a general election. If you extrapolate that to a general election, the Electoral Commission and others have suggested that between 50,000 and 400,000 people could show up at a general election and then be turned away. What is that going to do to confidence in our electoral system? Not much, I would suggest. It is pretty appalling that we are focusing on that issue, when there is a desperate need to focus, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, on civic engagement, how to encourage young people to participate and to register, and how to get that understanding of the need to vote.
I was sorely tempted to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. Of course, I am fully aware of the rights and responsibilities of membership organisations, having had the responsibility of ensuring that the rules of the Labour Party were properly upheld. But that is not the same as what the right reverend Prelate was talking about: the universal right to vote. I have to pay for my Labour Party membership, and I have responsibilities to abide by its rules. That includes a whole host of requirements that the noble Lord has not mentioned—but what has that got to do with the universal right to vote? Not much, I beg to argue.
It has to come back to this whole point about what problem it is that we are seeking to address. It is a very, very small issue that we seek to address here, and we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I support all noble Lords who seek for this clause not to stand part.
Well, my Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in what has been quite a lengthy debate—but why not? It is an important issue.
I will try to answer the various points which have been made. The proposition in Clause 1, which is before us, is part of a whole series of measures which this Government are putting in the Bill to strengthen the security and integrity of elections. These include matters we are coming on to in relation to postal votes, the handling of postal votes and so on. There is a consistent overall desire in the Government to ensure that votes are cast, and cast with integrity. I submit to the Committee that there is no distinction—no “one or the other”—between wanting more people to vote and trying to secure the integrity of the vote. This is a false antithesis that has run through the debate. All of us should want to do both things: to ensure that all votes are honest and honestly handled, and that as many people vote as possible. We are able to do both; it is not one or the other.
Last week, on the first technical amendment in what was a lengthy series of amendments relating to voter identification, we had a wide-ranging clause stand part-style debate on many aspects of Clause 1, and on the assessments done on costs for voter identification and its potential impacts. I acknowledge that, as has happened again today, the Benches opposite have made it abundantly clear that they do not support this policy—or Clause 1 or Schedule 1 of the Bill. The Government disagree. In our submission, this policy is necessary and proportionate. It also implements the Government’s manifesto commitment to voter identification to protect the security and integrity of our ballot, so that our elections will remain secure well into the future.
The idea floated by some, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that this was not a manifesto commitment because the word “photo” was not in the manifesto, is wide of the mark. As I said in our last session, the Government clearly declared their policy in the Queen’s Speech in October 2019, set out in detail in the briefing what that would mean, and referenced that in the manifesto. Manifestos briefly often reference established policy. Indeed, there was much debate at the time about the proposition that the Government had put on the table, including the photographic aspect.
I must tell the House that the Government regard this proposal as fully covered by the conventions of your Lordships’ House on manifesto commitments—as they would apply under the Government of any party. The process for voting in polling stations—
I am sorry, but can the Minister clarify why the Government chose not to put the word “photo” into the manifesto? No one is disputing that there was a manifesto commitment; what we are disputing is whether that commitment was for photo ID.
The Government had an established and declared policy on voter identification which was referenced in the manifesto. Not every aspect of every policy goes into a manifesto. We do not normally put 177 pages—or whatever it was that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned—into a manifesto. However, the specific details—not only the photo identification, but also the fact that we would offer, as part of this, a free card to anyone who is not covered by any of the aspects of the policy—were declared public policy. That, too, remains the Government’s policy.
My noble friend Lady Noakes said that the process for voting in polling stations in Great Britain has seen no significant changes in its security since the Ballot Act 1872. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned another Gladstonian reform. None the less, the system used in the Victorian era, in a confined franchise in smaller communities, is in our submission simply not fit for the 21st century. There are undeniable vulnerabilities in our system—covered not only in this Clause 1 measure but in others as we track through the Bill—which let people down because they can lead, and have led, to votes being stolen by unscrupulous individuals. The introduction of photographic voter identification as a solution to such vulnerabilities is supported by the independent Electoral Commission. As we have heard, it is also backed—
I am sorry to interrupt. I do not want to delay proceedings any more, but the noble Lord just referred to the Electoral Commission. It suggested in its briefing to noble Lords that the Government should also consider options on polling day for those people who have lost their ID and have not received their voter card to ensure that no one loses the opportunity to vote. This could include using a vouching system as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, referred to, which applies in Canada. Is the Electoral Commission’s recommendation going to be considered by the Government when they introduce voter ID?
My Lords, applications for the free card will be available up to 5 pm on the day before, as has been said. I note what the noble Lord has said, and I will take away what he and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, have said but our submission is that the time to apply for the card is satisfactory at the moment and anyone who is turned away initially on the day of vote can return. As a matter of fact, at the last election in which I took part, which certainly was not a general election, I was turned away. The returning officer said: “We are too busy at the moment. We have a technical problem, can you come back later?” I went back later in the day. People can return, and I did.
It was also pointed out, and this is correct, that the provision is backed by leading international election observers such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. It has repeatedly called for its introduction, saying its absence is a security risk. Many people would question why it is not already the case. In fact, as my noble friend said last week, the 2021 Electoral Commission winter tracker report was clear that the majority of the public—66%—say that a requirement to show identification at polling stations would make them more confident in the security of the voting system.
The choice of photographic identification as the model has been questioned by noble Lords. Put simply, it is the most secure and familiar way of confirming that someone is who they say they are. It is true that a number of different models of voter identification were trialled as part of the pilots undertaken by the Government in 2018 and 2019. However, when evaluating the security strengths and weaknesses of each pilot model, the Electoral Commission found that
“the photo ID only model has the greatest security strengths compared with the other models.”
On the basis of those evaluations, it was clear that the most secure and appropriate approach was photographic identification.
Many noble Lords in the debate raised questions about the practical implications of selecting this model. Obviously, as we go forward in co-operation into the face of implementation, the Government will carefully consider all the points that have been raised. The Government understand this and want to prepare the system as well as possible. This is why we considered the absolute maximum range of identifications that could be accepted for the policy. Using the Government’s Verify security scale, we opted for level 2 and then considered this against the widest possible range of documents which would meet that assessment. Should other forms of photographic identification meet that level of security in the future, the Government will be able to add them through the power inserted into Rule 37 by paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. This will ensure that the list remains up to date and is as accessible as possible going forward.
We commissioned a nationally representative survey of over 8,500 electors in Great Britain. This found that 98% of people have access to an accepted form of photographic identification, including 99% of people from ethnic minorities and young people aged 18 to 29. We need to reach all those others, which is why a free card is being offered and the Electoral Commission will be entering into a publicity process to ensure, with the Government, that that is known. Some 94% of the people surveyed felt that having to present a photo identification at the polling station would either make it easier to vote or make no difference.
Voter identification is a proven approach and although I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, in addition to the provision made for Northern Ireland by the last Labour Government, it is in place in most European countries and also in countries such as Canada which do not have compulsory national identity cards. Whether noble Lords like it or not, Northern Ireland is a comprehensive empirical example of the introduction of photographic identification in the UK. We know that it operates there with ease. It has brought real benefit to the democratic process, and Northern Ireland consistently reports high rates of confidence in the outcome of elections. The 2019 Electoral Commission post-election questionnaire reported that 83% of voters in Northern Ireland found it
“very easy to participate in the elections”
as opposed to 78% in Great Britain.
I trust that that sets out some of the underlying principles, but when developing this policy we of course completed all the required impact and equality impact assessments. A team of analysts produced detailed cost and benefit modelling, published in the impact assessment, as is typical for such a government programme. They incorporated high and low ranges to account for uncertainty and conducted sensitivity analysis to test the most sensitive and impactful assumptions, such as the percentage of the electorate requiring a voter card. If any noble Lord would like to explore details of the impact assessment with officials who have been involved in doing it—I know the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, is interested in that—I would be very happy to arrange for them to meet the Bill team to discuss it.
My Lords, I do not need to meet the Bill team. The impact assessment that the Minister signed off on 20 January this year says very clearly on page 30, paragraph 18, on this specific policy, on Clause 1 on mandatory photo ID:
“The analysis does not assess the impact of the policy on voter turnout.”
There has been no assessment in the impact assessment of the voter turnout and this clause.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord does not wish to meet members of the Bill team and I am very happy to repeat that offer.
So far as the noble Lord’s point is concerned, my noble friend answered that point explicitly—indeed, the noble Lord referred to it. An impact assessment is an economic assessment. It did not deal with turnout. As the noble Lord well knows—he has campaigned often enough, as I have—turnout is affected by a very large range of factors. I will give way once more to the noble Lord.
I think it is important for the Committee to understand this because the noble Lord has said something at the Dispatch Box which they will find is slightly different when they look at the impact assessment. The impact assessment looks at non-monetary and non-economic issues to do with policies all over this Bill. It specifically says about this policy that it has not looked at voter turnout. This is not just an economic assessment—it is an assessment of the monetary and non-monetary effects of the Bill, including voter turnout.
My Lords, it covers economic, equality and other assessments. If I misspoke, I apologise. I say for the third time what my noble friend said last week and I have said—the Government did not cover turnout. I have not sought to hide that fact because the factors that affect turnout are very wide and cannot be distinguished. Of course, analysis should not remain static, and I take that point. As we move towards implementation, I say to the Committee that we will continue to make sure that the evidence base remains up to date in terms of costings and will refine the modelling and assumptions. This is standard practice and will address the economic points.
I repeat that year-on-year turnout comparisons cannot be accurately estimated due to the volatility of the electoral cycle. As I have said, a huge variety of disparate factors play a part in whether someone chooses to vote in any particular election, from the appeal of candidates standing to personal circumstances on the day. An attempt to draw conclusions would be difficult.
In this vein, I note Amendment 142 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on post-legislative scrutiny, which has not been addressed in this group yet. I appreciate that she has not had the opportunity to speak to it, but I will reply to the amendment. The Bill already provides for an evaluation of the impacts of voter identification at the first two general elections to which it applies and the first stand-alone set of local council elections. I am pleased to say that we intend to go further and produce a process and impact evaluation of the programme and its implementation across all policy measures. I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness that our aims on this are aligned. However, I repeat what I said in an earlier group: I remain open to further conversations on this point in relation to post-legislative scrutiny. I give that undertaking to the Committee.
Finally, in the same spirit of increasing participation in our democracy and empowering those eligible to vote to do so in a secure and effective way, Clause 2 introduces an online absent vote application service and an online voter card application service. As it stands, there is no facility for electors to make an online application to get a postal vote or proxy vote. Electors must have a paper form which they complete and submit to the electoral registration officer. Here the Government are seeking to encourage participation, because in an increasingly digital world, providing an online service for applications must increase accessibility. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that his fears are unfounded. It will certainly be possible to apply for the voter card and the registration at the same time, just as one can in applying for a postal vote.
No—we do not believe that the amendment is necessary, but the noble Lord is anticipating the next group. I am replying to noble Lords and assuring the Committee that I am advised that the noble Lord’s fears are entirely unfounded and that voters will be able to apply for both at the same time.
That is very well and good but coming back to the impact assessment, on applying for absent votes, paragraph 117 says:
“The requirement for identity verification as a part of the online application process for absent votes could deter some voters from voting … This may impact the integrity of the elections as it may lead to lower turnout”.
Why would such a policy be implemented, with that in the impact assessment?
My Lords, I repeat that we believe that, in an increasingly digital world, where the introduction of digital services can be done securely, providing an online service for applications increases accessibility. That is our submission, and I think that would be regarded as logically correct by most people who turn on their internet in the morning.
These powers will enable the identity of applicants using the new services to be verified, as well as identity checking for other absent voter applications.
There is a fundamental issue. The Minister has said that it will be possible to apply for the two at the same time, but paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 1 says:
“Regulations may make provision … about the timing of an application for an electoral identity document”.
Is the Minister saying to the Committee that those regulations will provide that applications for the electoral identity document can be made at the same time and as part of the same form or digital process as electoral registration itself?
My Lords, I am not sure whether it is under that specific rubric. Obviously, a lot of this material will come forward in regulation, including precisely the last hour at which you can make an application, et cetera. I will say to the noble Lord only that his comments were heard and I have been advised that they are not founded. There is a later group during which we can come back to this point, if we must. I can write to the noble Lord, but I think it would be helpful if I was in a position to give that assurance to the Committee, in public, on the next group.
I want to make progress. I appreciate that not everybody has enthusiasm for these provisions, but I beg your Lordships to understand that they are part of a set of provisions—they do not stand alone. They stand alongside all the other measures in the Bill which are intended to secure the integrity of the ballot. On reflection, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will feel able to withdraw his opposition to Clause 1 standing part of the Bill.
My Lords, this has been a long and often confused debate. I have to say that I am as confused at the end of it as to what the rationale for Clause 1 is as I was at the beginning.
We have touched on a range of issues which we will return to on later occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward—for whose expertise I have the highest respect—talked about the uncertainties of our electoral system and the problem that, in many constituencies, local and national, the selection meeting is the important one because we all know who is going to be elected. That is actually a gross abuse of our electoral system, to which perhaps one might consider either the introduction of primaries or a change in the electoral system to give the electorate a wider choice. I mark that in passing.
I have much sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on the point about the failure to modernise the pencil on sacking style of polling stations and the very antique business of local registers and local registration, which is totally unsuitable to the digital age. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on that.
What we should have had here was what page 48 of the Conservative manifesto—which I think I know almost off by heart—refers to: that the time has come for a “broader” approach to our constitution. That is one of the aspects the noble Lord told us that they have now abandoned. We could have discussed some of these issues together.
The noble Lord, Lord True, said that all of us should want to do both things at once: security and engagement —and I assume, therefore, proper modernisation of our electoral system. The problem with the Bill is that it does not do both things at once. It does this but not the other things. That is why I find this such an unsatisfactory half set of measures. It is a Bill which does things that help the Conservatives but does not address some of the evident inadequacies of our electoral system and electoral campaigns, and does not modernise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, rightly says. Therefore, it seems to me that the Bill fails the test of appropriate legislation. This is a disproportionate attack on one small part of the inadequacies of our electoral system, which leaves untouched many of its other inadequacies. On that purpose, we shall therefore wish to return to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw my opposition to Clause 1 standing part.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendments 61 and 62 not moved.
63: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Statement on guidance given to registration officers
The Secretary of State must publish a statement on guidance given to registration officers in relation to the implementation of Schedule 1.”
My Lords, there is a large number of amendments in this group, all of which refer to Schedule 1. As my noble friend Lord Adonis said, Schedule 1 is pretty enormous—there is a huge amount of information in it. It is concerning that there is a lot of very detailed information but that quite a lot of it is perhaps not pinned down in a way that would be helpful when making such huge changes to our electoral law.
It may well be a large section of the Bill but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, when you look at the balance between securing the integrity of the ballot and encouraging participation, unfortunately there is simply not enough in the schedule to encourage participation and increase registration. I find that disappointing, because if the Government bring forward an elections Bill, encouraging more people to use their right to vote and take part in civil society in that way should be an absolutely integral part of what such a Bill tries to achieve.
As I say, all the amendments refer to Schedule 1. I will batch them into three groups, which seems sensible, given their focus. First, I will speak briefly to my Amendments 63 to 69, 79 and 81, which concern the electoral identity document. Amendment 66A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, are along similar lines. My noble friend Lord Adonis asked the Minister a number of questions about Part 2 so I will not go into detail on that, but it would be useful if the Minister could do as he said he would in the previous debate and give some more detailed answers to the relevant questions that were asked.
My Amendment 63 would require the Secretary of State to
“publish a statement on guidance given to registration officers in relation to the implementation of Schedule 1.”
In the previous debate in Committee, I talked about the importance of guidance and training when introducing voter ID. As was said in the previous debate this afternoon, an enormous amount of information will be provided to electoral registration officers, local authorities and the people who will man the polling stations. It is incredibly important that everybody knows exactly what they are supposed to do, what will be allowed and what will not, and how they can support people who may have come in with the incorrect documentation, so that they do not lose their votes, which is another issue we will talk about later. It is also incredibly important that we understand how guidance is being managed and implemented. Having a regular statement on where we are with it is important in making sure that our democracy is not undermined and that we have the best response possible to these proposals. Whether you agree with them or not, if they come in, they need to be implemented as well as possible.
I know the Minister said that he would explain why my Amendment 64 is not necessary, but we should do everything we can to increase participation. Providing an option so that someone can apply for an electoral identity document as part of the same process as registering to vote seems a straightforward, easy, sensible thing to do. I do not understand why the Government do not want to make this explicit in the Bill; it just seems terribly sensible to me.
The issue that I hope the Minister will address, and which goes to the heart of my noble friend’s Amendment 64, is that he said when he replied to me earlier that, under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, it will be possible for people to apply at the same time. However, if we want to minimise bureaucracy, surely, we want to make it a requirement that they be able to apply at the same time, which certainly is not part of that paragraph. My reading is that it could be covered by the regulations
“about the timing of an application for an electoral identity document”
in new Clause 13BD(4), as proposed by paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. But obviously, the way to ensure that it is possible, that we minimise bureaucracy and that we do not have an impact on turnout is for the Minister to accept my noble friend’s amendment or give an undertaking from the Dispatch Box when he comes to reply—so that he has time to commune with his officials—that the regulations will provide that electors can apply at one and the same time to register to vote and for the electoral identity document.
To save multiple interventions on my noble friend, I just want to say this: it is all very well to say “Perhaps this will all be dealt with in regulations” so long as the vires—the power—in the schedule is broad enough to allow for regulations enabling people to apply to be registered and have one of these government-provided ID documents. However, I have read paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 and what it proposes. New Clause 13BD(1)(a), which is headed “Electoral identity document: Great Britain”, says that an application for an electoral identity document may be made by a person who
“is or has applied to be registered”.
That begs the question of whether these things can be done simultaneously. If these regulations will allow for an application only when someone is already registered or has already applied to be registered, that appears to leave out the group to which my noble friend Lord Adonis refers: people who are applying to be registered but know that they do not have a relevant document and want to make one application, rather than two applications at different times.
I am sorry to labour that point but I think it might be helpful to the Minister to hear that concern so that he can deal with it in one go later on.
I thank both my noble friends for their contributions and support for this amendment. As I said, this measure seems simple and straightforward to me. On the basis that it is important for people who do not have the right document to be able to vote, it seems a simple and sensible proposition that, when they register to vote, a little box comes up that they can tick if they need an identity document. It would then all be dealt with and sorted. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the importance of having that spelt out in the Bill, or, if he is not going to accept my amendment, of making sure that this works in the legislation as drafted, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said.
I have two further amendments, Amendments 65 and 66, which are about the issuing of the documentation. The first amendment refers to
“the issuing of digital electoral identity documents.”
We are in a digital age, after all, so it seems sensible for people to have that option. I get my train tickets digitally, so it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with that. The other amendment is
“about the distribution of an electoral identity document by post.”
At the moment, that is not in the Bill; the regulations provide for the timings, issuing and collection but they do not go into any detail about whether a document could be issued digitally or sent through the post.
Amendment 66A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, is interesting. It would change
“the deadline for applying for a Voter ID card to 5 days before the day of a particular election. This is in line with the practice in Northern Ireland.”
We have had a lot of discussion in our debates on voter ID about the way things are done in Northern Ireland, so I am interested to hear more on this from the noble Lord and from the Minister.
Amendment 67 is very straightforward: it is just about ensuring that every electoral identity document should have the date of issue, which again seems pretty sensible so we all know where we are with it. Amendment 68 would delete new subsection (9) in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. The reason for this is that it says, fairly vaguely:
“Regulations may require an electoral identity document to include other information.”
Why is this necessary? What kind of “other information” are we looking at? It would just be interesting to have further detail and clarification on what that part of the schedule is intended to do.
My Amendments 79 and 81 are to do with the documentation that is going to be accepted at the polling stations. My first amendment would include a birth certificate and my second is around including a senior railcard, which I know has been rejected as basically not having tough enough conditions when it is issued to be acceptable, but surely that is the wrong way round. Would it not be better to make the actual application for the card sufficient to allow it to be used as voter ID? It just seems more sensible to do it that way around when you think that other travel cards are acceptable. Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, extends the list of specified documents quite substantially and we very much support that, because of course we want to make sure that as many people as possible can use their right to vote.
The next few amendments I wanted to look at, which I have batched together, are 70, 71, 72 and 73, and these are to do with an anonymous elector’s documents. Obviously it is really important that people who need to have anonymous identities—when it comes to voting or otherwise—really need to be able to be verified effectively at polling stations but without any risk of their anonymity being compromised. The way they have to apply should not put them off applying for that document in the first place, so that they inadvertently lose their right to vote. At the moment, if you want to register anonymously, you complete an application form and explain why and get that attested in order that you can continue to remain anonymous on the register.
My amendments look at removing the provision to require a photograph of the person and the provisions which allow regulations to require other information—again, why would we need these for an anonymous elector’s documentation?—and look at the different kinds of materials. My main concern here is to ensure that anonymous people are properly protected within the new system. I would be interested to hear reassurance from the Minister that this will be the case. I would also like to hear what kind of work has been done in drawing up the regulations with people who represent anonymous electors—and anonymous electors themselves —in making sure that these provisions are secure, protect people, are satisfactory and easy to continue to use.
The final couple of amendments are Amendments 83 and 84. These are to Schedule 1 again, and I tabled them particularly to address concerns around voters who could be refused a ballot paper. This has been discussed already, as has the pilot scheme, so I would just like to give a little context around the pilot schemes on this as well. As we know, the pilot schemes took place during the local elections in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, I think it was more than 1,000 voters across all the pilot areas who were turned away for not having the correct form of ID and around 350 voters, which is more than a third who were turned away, did not come back to vote. My understanding is that in Woking there was no ward where 100% of people turned up with the correct ID.
These were areas with no or very few historic allegations of fraudulent voting or personation so, compared with the number of voters who were turned away and did not return, it is disproportionately high. My noble friend Lord Collins and others have talked about the importance of proportionality, which concerns me. If we look at 2019, in just one area, North West Leicestershire, 266 people were turned away and 61 failed to return. Again, that is a large number of people who are losing their vote.
A small number of people who are unable to vote can easily change the outcome of an election. At the 2017 general election, 11 constituencies were won by 100 votes or fewer. That is what really concerns me when we are looking at the potential democratic outcomes, when there has been no impact assessment on what could happen to turnout. Turnout is not just the amount of people who do not vote or who are not registered, and how we should encourage people; it is also looking at the number of people who wanted to vote and, for one reason or another, did not have what was required and did not come back and therefore were disfranchised.
It is extremely important that voters are not turned away unless there is an exceptional reason. They also need to be supported to understand exactly why they have been turned away and what they need to do to be able to exercise their right to vote. Finally, I just refer to the noble Lord, Lord True, who said it had happened to him—but he was not turned away; he was asked nicely if he could come back later and, actually, that is a bit different.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of Amendments 64, 78, 79 and 81. On Second Reading, I expressed concerns that the new voter identification requirements in the Bill might disproportionately impact the youngest and the oldest voters. As others have already highlighted, we need to balance, on the one hand, that we ensure we have a secure electoral system that is not open to abuse of fraud with, on the other hand, removing possible barriers to voter participation. The fact that someone does not have a driver’s licence or a passport or cannot lay their hands on their passport on voting day should not mean that they are unable to participate in the electoral process, which is a very significant part of our democracy.
Amendment 64 gives someone the option, when registering as an elector, to apply for an electoral identity document as part of the same process. This ensures that, at the point of registering, people can get the ID needed to vote. Amendment 78 would enable a voter without satisfactory ID to have their identity confirmed by another voter at the polling station who does have acceptable ID. Amendment 79 expands on the list of documents that can be used as ID, again at least reducing the risk that someone is turned away from a polling station due to them not having satisfactory identification on them. Amendment 81 would include the senior railcard as a form of ID that can be used, as older people tend to have it on them at all times. These amendments help mitigate the risk of eligible voters being turned away for not having identification, but they do not eliminate it completely.
Lack of participation, especially by younger people, is by far a greater problem in this country than voter fraud. Can the Government please outline what safeguards they plan to put in place to ensure that eligible voters who lack identification documents are not disfranchised by what is proposed in the Bill?
My Lords, Amendment 80 in my name has the support of other Members of this House, including—he asked me to indicate this—the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, who sadly is not with us now. This amendment adds to the list of voter identification documents that are accepted for the purpose of being able to vote. It is carefully framed so as to be consistent with the statement in the Conservative Party manifesto, because I understand the importance for us in this House of working within the conventions of the respect we give to manifesto pledges. I will share with the Committee the exact words of that manifesto:
“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.”
My view on that list—and I think it is the view of almost everyone in this Committee—is that there is indeed an issue of postal vote harvesting, and we do indeed need measures to prevent foreign interference. I do not believe that the challenge of voter ID is a significant risk in the British electoral system and I do not think anyone has presented any evidence that it is; nevertheless, it is clearly within the framework set out in the Government’s manifesto and we should respect it.
So my amendment tries to do two things. First, it adds some more photo IDs to the current list of photo IDs—such items as the student identity card, the 18-plus student Oyster photocard and the national railcard. I am trying to add, as far as possible, to the list of photo IDs.
But the amendment goes further than this. It includes other documents that are not photo IDs. Here, I am very influenced by the second document, to which I pay almost as much attention as the Conservative manifesto; namely, the report by my noble friend Lord Pickles. In his important report Securing the Ballot, recommendation 8 says:
“The Government should consider the options for electors to have to produce personal identification before voting at polling stations. There is no need to be over elaborate”—
we hear the authentic voice of my noble friend there—
“measures should enhance public confidence and be proportional. A driving licence, passport or utility bills—
I emphasise “utility bills”—
would not seem unreasonable to establish identity. The Government may wish to pilot different methods. But the present system is unsatisfactory; perfection must not get in the way of a practical solution.”
So, at the stage at which my noble friend produced his report, which has been widely cited throughout the debate on the Bill, he clearly envisaged that it should not be just photo ID.
The Minister, in his response to the earlier debate, took us through the subsequent process, where there was piloting of a range of measures, and said that the pilot with photo ID had strengthened security the most. I accept that point. The question is, to what extent is security the key consideration? Given that voter personation is such a minor problem compared with other genuine issues around security, going for maximum security by requiring photo ID to tackle a problem that is not itself a major issue in our electoral system seems to me to be disproportionate compared with the disadvantages of photo ID. That is why I am trying, within the spirit of the report of my noble friend Lord Pickles and the Government’s own election manifesto, to provide as long a list of documents as possible, so that we will not face that challenge of people who are legitimately entitled to vote finding that, because they do not possess an ID, they are turned away from the polling station.
I am very aware of the experience in Northern Ireland. Of course, Northern Ireland has distinct problems and we cannot just read across from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland began with a longer list of documents and, in the light of experience of continuing problems with voter personation, in 2003, I think, went specifically to photo ID. It seems to me that that would be a reasonable approach here: namely, we start with a long list of documents and, if the Government ever had evidence of a significant problem of voter personation, because large numbers of people were turning up with utility bills that were bogus, and we therefore needed to crack down on this novel and hitherto unexpected abuse, it would be absolutely understandable and they would have the powers in this legislation to delete some items from this list. It seems sensible to start with a long list and then, if in the light of experience it proves that there is, for the first time in English electoral history, significant abuse in the form of voter personation, at that point we could move to a shorter list and delete some of the items.
The noble Lord is implicitly saying that he does not regard the Conservative Party manifesto as extending to photo ID. Indeed, there is a very good reason for not regarding it as extending to photo ID, because it does not say “photo ID”. It is all very well for the Minister to say that he intended it to mean that, but, as I know from having piloted controversial legislation through this House, when it comes to invoking the Salisbury convention on matters of first-rate constitutional importance such as this, what the manifesto says is absolutely crucial.
His proportionate principle is that we should start from a long list. Just from quickly scanning Amendment 80, it looks to me as if about half the items on his list do not require photographs; they give the identity of the person but not the photo. That would seem to me to be exactly the kind of position which this Committee should take—and insist on, if need be—to see that the Government’s manifesto commitment is introduced in a proportionate way and not in a way that is likely to have serious deleterious consequences.
Well, it will be up to the Committee to decide. I very much hope the Minister will be able to provide some welcome to my amendment, because it is certainly drafted in a way that is intended to be consistent with both the Conservative manifesto and the important report from my noble friend Lord Pickles.
I shall end by painting a picture of a scenario which several noble Lords opposite have hinted at. It is a scenario that concerns me; I think it is unlikely, but it is possible. It is that we go into the next election and in the course of election day we have, for the first time in British political history, a significant number of voters being turned away from polling stations on the grounds that they do not possess a photo ID. We would then have an election won—and I hope it will be an election won by my party—by a party with a small majority, including quite small majorities in a range of marginal seats. We will find ourselves in an extremely difficult political and constitutional crisis if people are saying, “This is an election where a Government has won by a very small majority after we have seen, for the first time on our TV screens, voters being turned away”. I think that would be catastrophic for trust in our electoral system, and everything that we agree in this Committee must be proportionate, given that there are, in the background, risks such as that. I therefore hope that, within the spirit of the Conservative manifesto, it will be possible for the Government to accept my amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I will ask a question specifically addressed to his amendment. By the way, I wholly commend the thrust of what he is trying to do with the amendment and his incredibly bipartisan remarks about our constitution. I looked through his list on the basis of what I readily have to hand myself. Did he ever consider the simple bank card, as opposed to bank statements, mortgage statements et cetera? I understand that he is trying to make the list as broad as possible. For myself, I find the debit card or whatever the most ubiquitous and quite a sensitive form of identity. I would favour it over, for example, a cheque book. I cannot remember the last time I wrote a cheque.
I make no comment about that, but people increasingly use debit and credit cards. They carry them around on their person. In fact, some people now use their phones for everything. People are paperless even in relation to their statements and so on. I wonder whether that was something the noble Lord considered, because I am so with him in the thrust of what he is trying to achieve.
I take that point; this is not the perfect list. Indeed, there is a rather different agenda behind it. I shared at Second Reading my concern about lower rates of participation in voting and the difficulty of voter registration, especially for younger voters. It is odd that a Government driving forward a digital reform agenda in so many other areas are not doing so in this one. I believe in modernisation; I think digitisation is coming. It is very odd that we are not taking the Bill as an opportunity to introduce it in the electoral register. I also do not believe in lots of red tape and disproportionate burdens from it. By adding to the list, I am trying to reduce the amount of red tape as a barrier to people legitimately voting in elections.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to support the amendments to which I added my name: Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts—he made a very strong case for the amendment, possibly modified to take account of what my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said—and Amendment 78 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman. Again, my motivation in supporting these amendments stems mainly from my concern that the photo ID requirements will disproportionately exclude marginalised groups, including people in poverty and members of the GRT communities, who are also less likely to apply for a voter ID card, to some extent for the same reasons they do not have photo ID in the first place. The additions suggested by the noble Lord are much more likely to be held by these groups. For me, that is the key test: are these forms of identification that members of marginalised groups are more likely to have?
The noble Lord quoted the Pickles report. I will repeat the quote, because he rather rushed over it and it is worth emphasising:
“perfection must not get in the way of a practical solution.”
My fear is that perfection is getting in the way of not just a practical solution but, as I have said, inclusive democracy and citizenship. I am yet to hear a convincing justification for why this should be accepted as a proportionate response to the supposed problem of personation. Again, the noble Lord spoke eloquently about that.
I am also unclear why the Government are so opposed to a vouching system, as proposed in Amendment 78—they made it very clear in the Commons that they are opposed to it—not least given the fact, as my noble friend Lord Collins pointed out, that the Electoral Commission has supported the idea. Once again, it smacks of a worrying lack of trust in the electorate.
Finally, once again, I welcome the commitment to continued consultation with civil society groups to maximise accessibility for those most likely to need to apply for a voter card and/or who will find it most difficult to apply. Once again, will that include groups working with people in poverty and GRT communities? Will it include those who bring the expertise of experience to the table? That expertise will be of particular value in this context: who will know better what will work, or not, about applying for a voter card than the people who will make those applications? I am grateful to the Minister for promising last week to send me a list of those being consulted, but I would welcome an answer to this specific question about whose expertise will be taken into account in rolling out these provisions, because it is quite important.
My Lords, I offer your Lordships an apology for not being able to contribute to Committee for all sorts of reasons, but I said at Second Reading that I would support amendments that introduced mitigating factors to reduce the risk of unintended exclusion, particularly for that group of people the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to: those on lower incomes. There is real risk that that could happen through this immediate introduction of photo ID.
That is why I was very glad to add my name to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which, as he said, seeks to widen the forms of photo ID available and extend the list to include other forms of ID that do not include photographic ID. I was going to make similar points to say that the amendment is consistent with the approach taken in the local council pilot scheme in 2018-19. As has been said, it is entirely consistent with the earlier report from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and the gradualist introduction, if I may put it that way, of photo ID in Northern Ireland.
It seems that the purpose of the amendment is to reduce the risk of people living on lower incomes—a significant proportion of whom we know do not possess the acceptable photo ID—being disfranchised, which is my particular concern. That would simply be a form of non-recognition, which would be a moral injury to them and an injustice that would damage the UK’s traditions of democratic participation. The amendment seems to follow the logic of the inclusion of 60+ Oyster cards and blue badges, allowing for greater accessibility to particular groups of the electorate by making provision for those on lower income and other potentially marginalised groups to retain the highest chance of inclusion in the democratic process.
My Lords, I support Amendments 63 to 69 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I have added my name. I was surprised that we had a very long debate on Clauses 1 and 2 standing part but there was very little mention of any concern about the impact of this change on the overall turnout in elections, and the potential skewing of election results. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, focus on elections that might be quite tightly fought with quite close results. You really might question those results, particularly in those constituencies where you might have a very tight result.
Before today, it struck me that this is really the big issue: there does not seem to be an issue about trust in our elections, certainly in relation to people who turn up at polling stations. I understand that there has been a problem with postal votes, but this reform does not touch that at all. I do not get it; I do not understand why there is this tremendous focus on photo ID for people who go to polling stations.
Of course, this will affect disproportionately people from BAME communities, people living in poverty, disabled people and so on. Without wishing to make a party-political point in any way, the reality is that all those groups disproportionately tend to vote Labour, if they vote at all. At this stage of the game, when we see our voter turnout dropping over time, the emphasis should surely be on doing anything we can to increase voter turnout, in particular among groups that are disinclined to bother to vote—the groups I have just mentioned.
I think it was the Minister who said that if somebody turns up without ID they can come back later. I was involved over the years in many elections, and my experience is that people have a way of doing it: they vote on the way to work and then forget about it, they vote on the way back from work or they vote after having taken the kids to school. The idea that people are going to come back to a polling station a second time seems to me to be something from cloud-cuckoo-land; people just do not do that, in my experience, and will not do that. This will have an impact on turnout and, in my view, in marginal constituencies and closely fought elections—there could be a really serious issue here. That is my main concern.
It is worth noting that Voice4Change England, for example, a BAME organisation, is so concerned about the impact of Clause 1 on BAME communities that it is urging us to challenge the clause as a whole. My view has been that, because some version of this is in the Conservative manifesto, we cannot expect to knock it out, but I am delighted to hear today—I was not familiar with this—that the Conservative manifesto does not actually refer to photo ID. So that at least enables consideration of the points from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about extending the types of ID you can bring along. It is excellent that we can at least go that far.
The Runnymede Trust points out that many people from black and minority-ethnic groups are not registered to vote or do not have photo ID—nothing surprising there. It points out that trust in the political process is at a low ebb at the moment. I do not think there is any lack of trust in people being honest about who they are, but there is obviously a general malaise or apathy about voting.
Three major civil rights groups in the US have pointed out that in the absence of evidence of widespread election fraud, such ID systems have a harmful impact. Again, where is the evidence of widespread election fraud? We went over that lots of times during the Clause 1 stand part debate, so I will not go on about it. The fact is that that is not the issue; the issue now is voter participation, particularly among certain groups.
I hope noble Lords will bear with me as I touch on one other aspect. I draw attention to Amendment 68, which proposes that on page 67, at lines 11 and 12 of paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, new subsection (9) should be deleted. Once again, I declare my interest as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee. I want to extend my concern more broadly to the delegated powers in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. The fact is that much of the electoral ID process is left to regulations. New subsection (9), for example, says:
“Regulations may require an electoral identity document to include other information.”
What other information? We have no idea. It could be devastating if you have to provide a whole raft of information. New subsection (3) is even more concerning. Here we are told that:
“A registration officer must, in accordance with regulations, determine an application made to the registration officer”
for an electoral ID. I hope that the Minister, if he cannot respond to the concern about what on earth that means, can ensure that the Government will take seriously the Delegated Powers Committee’s concerns about the extent of delegation across Schedule 1. Maybe he could ask his officials to try to include more information about the whole ID process in the Bill. Without that, we have very little idea about just how serious this may prove to be.
In the light of the concerns expressed by other noble Lords and our own very real fears about the consequences of the ID system unless heavily adjusted, I hope the Minister will think again and take advantage of the many proposed amendments in this group, which seem to take us as far as we can go towards some sort of level playing field.
My Lords, I agree with almost all of the previous contributions. I wish I had joined in on the previous group, but I was not here for all of it—although I certainly feel that I was. The debate covered a lot of the territory that we are going to talk about now.
For clarity, the Green Party opposes the whole premise on which the Government build their case for requiring voters to present ID. There is no real voter fraud. It is no good to keep bringing up Tower Hamlets, because that argument has been demolished already. This will disfranchise the most marginalised people in our population. It is voter suppression; there is absolutely no doubt about that.
Suppose we pretend for a moment that the Government are sincere in wanting to reduce election fraud. If that was so, they would accept a lot of the amendments in this group—for example, Amendment 64. Why on earth should that not be included? The Government could be absolutely clear by putting it in the Bill, so that we know exactly what they are thinking. Why not accept Amendment 78? If somebody has voter ID, they are accredited, so why should they not support somebody else who might have forgotten their ID?
I do not do anything where I have to show ID, although I know the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, says that she has to show it for a lot of things. The last time I was asked for ID was when I used my passport. I do not do anything that needs ID and there are a lot of people like me.
Personally, I think this is Trumpian and Putinesque. We have heard a lot about integrity and trust. I spoke to the Minister about the Government we have at the moment, our Prime Minister, No. 10 and the Cabinet Office, who quite honestly do not understand what integrity is about. They are happy to take money from dodgy Russian donors and happy to break the rules when it suits them. So please do not talk to us about integrity and trust on something like this, when it is clear that it is going to stop some people voting. That is a bad thing.
Of course, we did not hear an answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Why are the Government so exercised about this when they have an 80-plus majority? Surely it should be this side of the Chamber that is concerned about voter fraud. The Government are bringing forward some terrible legislation. We sit here and listen to the Ministers—I have a huge amount of respect for most of them—and I just do not understand how they can back this Government. They are a terrible Government, with terrible ideas, and this is another of them.
My Lords, I want to return to what the Minister said in the last group, because it is going to be of great importance as this House proceeds with the Bill. I totally and completely refute his proposition that the Bill in its current form is covered by the Salisbury convention. My contention, which I will elaborate at greater length in future if need be, is that something as significant and of such great constitutional import as a requirement on all voters to have a wholly new form of photo ID is not covered by the Salisbury convention. What is covered is the requirement that there should be some form of voter ID—that is why I would not support the removal of Clause 1 in its entirety—but not photo ID. That is a fundamental distinction. Indeed, the conflict between the Blair Government, of which I was a member, and this House, which led to the loss of a substantial part of the ID cards Bill, was precisely that this House contended with a significant majority that there was not sufficient manifesto cover for the proposition being put forward.
I say this very directly to the Minister now, because I think this is going to be a very significant issue in due course. It is going to be particularly important that my noble friends on the two Front Benches of the Labour and Lib Dem parties—I am speaking to them as much as to the Minister at this point—do not fall for the argument that, simply because this Bill has come from the House of Commons and has photo ID in it, and because it is asserted that it is covered by the Salisbury convention, it is covered by the Salisbury convention. It is a particular tradition of this House, which goes to the heart of the constitution, that the occasions on which we are prepared to assert our power against the Government where they do not have manifesto cover particularly relate to constitutional issues, where we have a special role as guardian of the constitution to see that one particular party cannot gerrymander it at will, claiming a general manifesto commitment for something that specifically has a very big impact.
The noble Lord, Lord Willetts and I—I hope he does not mind me saying that he and I are old friends—both approach public policy from a fairly centrist perspective, applying rationality and so on. Not only was his speech on Amendment 80 brilliant and very compelling but he went to the absolute heart of this issue in his analysis of the distinction between the Government claiming that their manifesto contained, and gave a mandate for, an identity document requirement, and it being a photo-identity document requirement. Those are two fundamentally different propositions. The proposition that they are fundamentally different is made by the content of Amendment 80 itself, because although the noble Lord did not deconstruct his amendment, I have had time to deconstruct it since he moved it.
In Amendment 80 the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, lists 21 forms of personal identification. By my calculation, only five of them are necessarily photo IDs: driving licence, student ID card, 18+ student Oyster photocard, National Rail card and, I assume, the Young Scot National Entitlement card, because young people’s documents require photos. Of the other 16, only another three may—and I think it depends on who the issuing authority is—require a photo: a trade union membership card, a library card, and a workplace ID card. That varies very much between local authorities and trade unions, and so on. All of the rest are non-photo ID documents: birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate, record of a decision on bail, bank or building society cheque book, and, and, and.
The noble Lord from the Conservative Benches made the argument that this is completely consistent with the Conservative Party manifesto. That point will be of huge importance as the House takes forward consideration of this Bill, passes amendments and then gets into what I assume will be—is very likely to be, if there is time in this Session; the sand is going through the hourglass quite rapidly—a significant standoff between this House and the other place. I have no doubt at all that not only is it within our powers but it will be our duty to resist the mandatory introduction of photo ID requirements. I suspect that Amendment 80 may well be the fundamental amendment that we take forward in some form in later stages of the Bill.
I will quickly deal with Amendments 78 and 64. We have dealt with Amendment 64, and I hope the Minister will be able to give us satisfaction on it. It is an absolutely crucial point. It is not enough for it to be possible to apply at the same time; it has to be a requirement that people can apply at the same time, or else it will become a matter of postcode lottery across the country as to whether you can apply for your identity document at the same time as you apply to register to vote.
One point that has been made which we have not debated enough is covered by Amendment 78. When I first came to the Bill, not being an expert in the evolution of the Government’s thinking, I thought that they were going to propose that people needed to turn up at the polling station with some form of ID. I thought that that alone was going to be off-putting. It never occurred to me until I read the Bill and heard what they were doing that not only were they going to have to turn up with some form of ID but it was not even sufficient for them to have an existing photo form of ID. Over and above that, even if you were going for a photo ID requirement—which, as I said, is not even covered by the Conservative manifesto—surely it would be proportionate for you to turn up with your passport or driving licence that is an existing form of photo ID. What is the great security risk of saying that people can turn up at a polling station with a passport or a driving licence? Why on earth can the Government not regard that as adequate?
What is, in fact, happening—it is very clear—is that the Government have erected an obstacle course to make it as hard as possible for people to get this identity document. The thing I am slightly mystified by, as someone who has some understanding of electoral politics, is that noble Lords have said that there is some kind of Conservative plot in this. My own view is that there might have been one in the construction of the commitment, but if you look at the demographics of the electorate today and how it is voting, this is going to misfire badly.
Many of the demographics that I think will be most affected by this were some of those who voted disproportionately Conservative last time. This is not like the United States—people have talked about Trump and all that—where particularly getting voters of colour off the register is seen to be a straightforward partisan act by Republicans against Democrats. What is going to happen as a result of these requirements is the dissuading and off-putting of people from taking part in elections who may actually be even-minded in their support between the two parties. This may be a catastrophic misjudgment, not just in terms of the impact on our elections but even in terms of the Conservative Party’s own interests. We may be doing the Conservative Party a huge favour, even in its own narrow electoral interest, by not allowing itself to engage in this act of self-mutilation.
My final point—which we will come back to time and again—is the point that I started to develop in my earlier speech but which the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, took head on in his speech. He said that the effect of this on confidence in elections could be catastrophic—that was his word. I agree with him that it would be so if, at the next election, there are huge numbers of people who are turned away from polling stations either because they did not have the right ID or because they did not turn up with it. The Minister said they could come back later. Lots of people vote in the last hour or even in the last minutes of elections. If they are turned away, they will not have time to go and get it, even if they had the inclination to do so. That will do more harm to the integrity of British elections and the reputation of our electoral and democratic system than anything that applies at the moment.
This is not a small issue. There are some issues that come before this House that are either of second-rate importance, which we have to deal with, or, if they are not of second-rate importance but are of first-rate importance, the Government have so clear a manifesto commitment to it that we have no choice but to give way. This is one of those issues that is in three categories at one and the same time. It is of major constitutional import, it could do very significant damage to the integrity of our democracy, and it is not covered by the Salisbury convention. That is why we are building up to a significant conflict between the two Houses on this issue, unless the Government are prepared to accept that there is a big difference between photo ID and some other form of ID. That goes to the heart of Amendment 80, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts.
The noble Lord made a thoroughly compelling speech, as did the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. As he is from my side, so to speak, I point out that I have a more fundamental objection than he does to a compulsory ID of whatever kind for our citizens. Because he has been supportive—to some extent, I am tempted to be of the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts—can I put to him the question that I tempted the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, with earlier? If we are looking at safeguarding on the face of the primary legislation some categories that we believe will be accessible to people, but also looking at broadening these categories so that no one is deliberately or accidentally disenfranchised, what about simple debit cards?
I am playing devil’s advocate against myself because I spoke against clause stand part, but I am playing the game and trying to be constructive. It seems to me that there would be two tests—would there not?—for broadening the types of identification that we would put on the face of the legislation so that people could relax as we go forward.
The first test would be that this is documentation—a card, or whatever—that is ubiquitously available, and people have it already. Therefore we would not be putting in too many hurdles or obstacles. People have it already; ideally, they carry it around rather a lot, and it is not buried away in the attic or some other place so safe that it would be annoying to go looking for it. The second test would be that it is a reasonably secure document or object. Otherwise, if it is too easy to forge with a photocopier, what is the point?
If I am right about those two tests of security and broad availability, it seems to me that the simple banking card comes first on both criteria. It is, by definition, a very secure thing. That does not mean that it cannot be forged or stolen, but it is so ubiquitous—and used by people daily—that if someone loses it or it is pinched, they will report that immediately. They will not fail to notice that their bank statement, which was sitting on the doormat for three weeks, was lifted by their flatmate—if we really think that is going to happen. The bank card is very secure and is treasured by people, it is in ubiquitous supply in the broad community, and it is taken everywhere, whether to vote or not. There are also all sorts of incentives to protect its security. I put that to my noble friend, as I did to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts—and of course I am putting it to the Minister as well. If we are really serious about saying that this is nothing to do with putting hoops and hurdles in people’s way, why would this not have been thought of at the very outset?
My Lords, I shall dial down the rhetoric a little here. First, I want to pick up what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said with great conviction —that it was beyond the wildest imagination that this could be a deliberate attempt at voter suppression. The Minister made the same point in responding to an earlier group. The Committee owes it to both of them to take that in good faith. So I shall move on and say that I also take in good faith what the Minister has said at least twice during our proceedings, which is that he rejects the concept of the precautionary principle. I shall make an assumption, based on a fair amount of evidence—although that is not collected from these debates in particular—that he is also against the gold-plating of legislation.
I shall speak particularly to Amendment 80, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. All the other amendments in the group have great merit and require careful consideration by the Minister, but Amendment 80 is what has attracted my attention for further comment. Incidentally, I was originally going to say that I did not believe it encompassed parliamentary passes—but I notice that item (q) in the list is “a workplace ID card”, so possibly we may qualify under that. It would be ironic, would it not, if a busy Member of Parliament seeking re-election, dashing to the polling station at 9.55 pm on realising that they had failed to vote, was turned away because their parliamentary pass was not sufficient identity to get into the building? I see that I am going to be intervened on by another noble Lord, who, like me, has a pass that does not qualify him to vote—but that is a separate issue.
The point is that the MP would be turned away, because that pass does not mean that someone can turn up and vote. The pass is an accepted document with which someone could apply for a photo electoral ID card. If the noble Lord tries to turn up at the polling station at 9.55 pm with his parliamentary pass he will get very short shrift, because the Government will not regard it as a secure document.
The noble Lord makes an interesting point. At the 2017 election, when I was present at the normal polling station that I attend, I had some difficulty in preventing the polling clerk issuing me with a ballot paper. He was not deterred by the fact that I was disqualified by virtue of my membership of this House. I assure your Lordships that I rejected his tendered ballot paper—“tendered” with a small “t”, obviously.
The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, made a powerful point on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and his report. He referenced the Pickles report recommendation 8, and further parts of the report have also been read into the record in this debate. Recommendation 8 said that there was no need to be over-elaborate, and utility bills would do. My two years of junior ministerial office were in the then Department for Communities and Local Government, whose Secretary of State was the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and I am pretty sure that, unless the noble Lord has changed his tack very considerably, he will remain fundamentally opposed to gold-plating. He was an enthusiastic pursuer of the red tape challenge, which was designed to reduce the amount of legislation and regulation, and I do not even have to consider whether he would regard the spending of £180 million on fulfilling his report as a sensible use of public money, or proportionate. I do not even have to imagine whether he regards the present arrangements as over-elaborate. I am sure that in due course the noble Lord will speak for himself. No doubt he is wisely keeping out of the way at the moment, but at some point, when his memoirs are published, we shall get to the truth.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, talked about which demographic would be hit the most. We can debate that, but there is clearly a proxy, which has been mentioned already. Some parts of the population do not have bank accounts. I would just say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that for them, adding a credit or debit card to the list would not help. People who do not have bank accounts, and therefore do not have bank cards, are people who are very likely to be unable to produce evidence of other things either. But they nearly all have utility bills, and that seems to be a route that the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, recommended to the Government when he drew up his report.
The Minister should remember his own first principle, which is “No precautionary principle: don’t do anything unless there’s evidence to show it is needed”. There is no evidence to show that this is needed. His next principle is “Don’t gold-plate”—and he should remember the red tape challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, has provided the Government with the solution they are looking for, which would allow them to say to whoever they have to give an account to, “We’ve fulfilled our manifesto pledge, and we have a scheme that doesn’t strip out electors and reduce their propensity to come along and vote”. I support all the amendments in the group, but Amendment 80 ought to be the foundation stone for the Government to do a diplomatic and nuanced U-turn.
My Lords, I shall speak first to my Amendment 66A and, in so doing, I draw the Committee’s attention to my entry in the register, particularly my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I see this as what I call a “two Ps” amendment: a probing amendment about the practicalities of what the Government are suggesting. I thank Solace, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, for the wide and helpful briefing that it sent about this. It is important that we consider this briefing, because many of those chief executives are the returning officers in constituencies up and down the country.
The briefing talks about the impracticality of suggesting that the voter ID card can be applied for and supplied if people apply by 5 pm on the day before the poll takes place, which, as it points out, is inconsistent with every other form of voter application—whether it be for a postal or a proxy vote—unless it is a medical emergency. We talked about the practicalities of Northern Ireland and it is also inconsistent with Northern Ireland, where this is not allowed to happen until 5 pm on the day before the poll.
It is impractical because it places extra burdens on those administering an election at their busiest time: the week before the election. Anybody who has seen what happens in an electoral office a week before an election will understand that the administrators are already under great pressure to ensure the security and integrity of the election. To suggest that people can turn up until 5 pm on the day before the poll to seek one of these voter ID cards is impractical. The Government’s impact assessment suggests that 50% of people will apply by post and 50% will apply in person. It states that the closer you get to an election, the more people will apply in person. So people could be trying to sort out postal votes and ensuring that the ballot boxes and everything else are in place with queues of people seeking this ID.
In this respect, the Government’s impact assessment is detailed. It suggests that the cards will take approximately five to 10 minutes to produce, assuming that everybody has the things that they need to produce one. It suggests that there be one machine per constituency, which I think works out at just over two on average per local authority.
It is inconceivable that this requirement is practical. So I ask the Minister: why was the stipulation of 5 pm on the day before the poll selected; why is it not consistent with Northern Ireland; and, specifically, what discussion took place with Solace and other returning officers, who would have pointed out that this was impractical? If the Government did consult those who administer elections, what advice came back on the practicalities of delivering this?
I will now speak to some of the other amendments, particularly weighing in with my support for those to which my noble friend Lord Rennard has put his name. I will talk specifically about Amendments 64, 68, 78 and 80.
On Amendment 64, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has mentioned on a number of occasions, it is absolutely vital that when people register to vote, they should be able at the same time, as an automatic right laid down in the Bill, to apply for the voter ID card. I see no practical reason why that should not happen. There is no practical reason why returning officers, Solace or anybody else who administers elections would say that is not consistent. So what would stop the Government allowing that to happen as an automatic right and including it in the Bill?
Amendment 68 is important because it comes back to the powers of the Secretary of State, which we have talked about a lot. The Secretary of State could, by decree, by the stroke of their pen, decide what documentation is or is not available. I shall come in a second to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which is really important. I see no reason for that provision.
Amendment 78 is also important. The noble Lord, Lord True, has on many occasions referenced Canada having voter ID. It is absolutely not true to say that to vote in Canada, you have to have voter ID. If you turn up without voter ID, there is a system called vouching. Somebody can vouch for you, if they have some ID, to say that you are the person who you say you are and they vouch for your identification.
I see no practical reason why that should not happen if this clause stands part of the Bill. It is sensible, it is not unknown across the world, it is practical and it happens. In Canada, it does not happen significantly, but it happens. As many people have said, if somebody turns up without their voter ID at 9.55 pm with their spouse, friend or loved one, I see no reason why that person could not vouch for them.
The Minister mentioned people turning up to a polling station and being asked to return, as he was. For some people, that is impractical. If you work 12-hour shifts and are going just before you start work, you cannot turn back. For people with childcare responsibilities, it may be impractical or impossible to do that. That is why, if you turn up without your ID but with somebody else who has some ID, vouching on the Canadian system should be allowed. I see no reason why it should not. It does not undermine the integrity of the ballot. Somebody who has the appropriate ID could vouch for somebody who has not whom they know. There is then a way of checking, if there is personation by the second person, who the person has vouched for—but there is no evidence in Canada that that actually happens.
I come to the most powerful and important intervention in the debate on this group, which was from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. He made it very clear as a member of the Conservative Party who sits on the Conservative Benches exactly what was in both the 2017 and the 2019 Conservative manifestos: that voter ID would be required. Neither manifesto used the word “photographic”. That is key in terms of the Salisbury convention and the Conservatives being able to carry out their manifesto commitment. In terms of providing extra ID, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, showed a practicality and pragmatism that I would expect his Front Bench to replicate. If not, the cat is out of the bag. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is trying to make it as easy as possible, if this provision comes in, for people to exercise their democratic right to vote.
If the Government, from the Front Bench, refuse to accept that mandatory photographic ID is not required to vote, then they will be saying that they will be making it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their vote. This is the litmus test. We must all listen to the answer to this particular set of amendments.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, not just for his amendment but for making it very clear that the Conservatives would be carrying out their manifesto commitment without introducing photo ID.
My Lords, I shall make a very short point about Amendment 80. The noble Lord should look carefully at whether many of these indicators are male-oriented. Women do not have their names on documents such as mortgage statements and utility bills. It would make more sense to have one particular card, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, suggested. It would be personal, in the name of the man or woman.
I want to add that I have my Freedom Pass in London. It is a very good thing. I could show it around.
My Lords, again I thank all those who have spoken in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, outside what he imagined to be the walls of Jericho, sounded a very loud trumpet call to lead his Front Bench into a battle over the Salisbury convention. I will not pursue this. It is for everybody in the House to decide to what extent the opinion of the other place and the Government’s manifesto should be respected or not. I made a statement about that at the beginning of our proceedings.
I was asked about the card and the words “is or has”. I shall come to this shortly because it is important. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that any voter who does not have one of the forms of identification listed in the Bill will be able to apply for a voter card. There is a wide range. I know that my noble friend Lord Willetts wants to extend it. The card is supplementary. All the other types of identification are listed. Expired identification will also be permitted. Not every elector will be required to have the voter card. People will be able to apply for it at the same time as they register to vote, so the process will be as easy and accessible as possible. If they are already registered and need a voter card, they will be able to apply online, on paper or in person. It is our ambition that they will be able to do so until 5 pm on the day before polling day. That was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I will come back to it. The Government would regard that as unnecessarily restrictive.
I am not a parliamentary draftsman, but I am advised that the wording,
“is or has applied to be”
is there because, on the wording of Amendment 64, it could be construed that someone who is applying should be able to get it. You obviously have to be on the register to get the voter card. Either you are on it, or you have applied to register. You send your letter or your online application in. With both applications, the process will be that the registration officer will check the correctness of the application to register. When someone is on the register, they will be able to have the voter card. It is sequential, but the application can be done at the same time. This is the purport of why these words are there.
The Minister has been extremely helpful on this point. An extremely important statement has been made from the Front Bench. To close the point completely, in the regulations that the Government are going to produce, will the Minister undertake that this will be made an explicit requirement of all electoral registration officers? Making available the facility to apply for both at the same time is not just something that they can do; it is something that they must do.
Certainly, I would hope and intend for that to be the case. I am not writing the regulations personally. I am not the Minister in DLUHC which administers this. I shall certainly pass on the views of the Committee. I reassure the Committee that this is absolutely in the spirit of making life simpler for registration officers. It is certainly the Government’s wish that people should be able to do this. It is not necessarily their intention that everyone should get a voter card—only those who need one. All the other types of identification currently listed in the Bill will be accepted.
Of course, we have undertaken extensive engagement with the electoral sector about this, including with Solace, with civil society organisations, and with those representing the kind of groups to which the right reverend Prelate referred. This is a rolling engagement in order to inform them of the proposals, to gather feedback on the plans and to identify ways to ensure our implementation plans are clear, comprehensive and inclusive for all electors. This engagement continues as officials refine implementation plans. They will be listening to what is said in your Lordships’ House, with a focus on exploring many of the aspects that noble Lords have raised, such as the needs of particular groups and the best ways of communicating.
New Section 13BD is worded specifically so that a person does not have to wait until a registration application has been determined before applying for the card. They can do both at the same time, but they have to be on the register first. In practice, this means that the applications can be put in at the same time.
I turn to the specific amendments. I have partly addressed Amendment 64. I understand precisely where the noble Baroness is coming from. I fully accept that she was quite right to raise that point. I hope that I have been able to give some reassurance.
We do not believe that Amendments 65 to 69 are necessary. They provide for powers that are already in the Bill and make suggestions that are already part of the policy, although not ones requiring legislative definition. I set out some of the policy intentions earlier. They were clearly stated in the voter identification policy statement, published on 6 January.
On Amendment 65, new Section 13BD(10)(a) enables the Government to make provision about the form of a document, including digital. I note that this probing amendment says that it should be in digital form.
On Amendment 66, new Section 13BD(4)(b) enables the Government to make regulations about how cards will be issued, including by post and so on and so forth. We will make sure that this is in the record. I fully accept that these things need to be covered.
Amendment 67 asks about date of issue. The card would have a date. New Section 13BD(9) is about the power to make regulations on what information will be on the document. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is not in her place. The additional kinds of information referred to in that section of the schedule is precisely to allow for something like the date or name of the issuing local authority. They will have different local authority names, so one cannot have a single card. These are the kinds of additional points. In reply to Amendment 68, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, it is certainly envisaged that the date of issue of the card will be on it.
I thank the noble Baroness again for putting forward Amendments 70 to 73. For noble Lords who are not sure which amendments I am talking about, these are probing amendments concerning the arrangements that will be in place for anonymous electors. I can certainly confirm that officials have carried out extensive engagement with various civil society groups that highlighted their interest in anonymous voting arrangements. This is important. In developing the clauses, an extensive consultation has also been carried out with the AEA on how we could make the provision work effectively for anonymous voters.
I assure the noble Baroness that we share a joint aim. There may be a relatively small number of people here but they are very vulnerable, important people. We share a joint aim that those who rely on anonymity—including some people who have been subjected to the most vile abuse and violence imaginable—will not be negatively impacted by the changes. The Government recognise that there are electors who need to register and vote anonymously for a variety of reasons; I have referred to the kinds of circumstances in which other vulnerable electors may not wish for their name or location to be available on the register.
Anonymous electors who wish to vote in person at a polling station will be able to apply for an anonymous elector document, which will enable effective verification of identity while also protecting the voter’s anonymity. We believe that the changes proposed by Amendments 70 and 71 might undermine the objectives of the voter identification policy. Removing the photograph from the anonymous elector document, for instance, would make anonymous electors, often some of the most vulnerable members of society, potentially an easier target for anyone seeking to commit fraud.
Amendments 72 and 73 propose regulation-making powers relating to the application process for anonymous elector documents and to the exact materials used in the manufacture of those documents. The powers that Amendment 72 provides for are already in the Bill. I have not been advised on which particular clause but I will let the noble Baroness know; I did say to my faithful team, who are absolutely wonderful, that it would be helpful to the House if I were able to give details of clauses when responding. For the reason I have given, the Government do not think that taking an inflexible approach to the production of documents, as set out in Amendment 73, is desirable. With those assurances, I ask that those amendments are not pressed.
Amendment 78 would introduce an attestation process for those without necessary identification. This was given very considerable thought by my colleagues during policy development. However, there is a risk that, if someone brings another elector to the poll, these provisions could be exploited by unscrupulous individuals and might allow a ballot paper to be issued to a person who claims to be somebody else, or who is ineligible to vote in an election. The issues are balanced but we have concluded that any form of attestation would be an unacceptable avenue for this kind of fraud, undermining the core aim of promoting electoral integrity; so, after reflection, it is not something that the Government can support.
As I said earlier, photographic voter identification is, in our submission—and as agreed by the Electoral Commission—the most secure way to prove that someone is who they say they are. On Amendment 66A from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, our aim is that electors without accepted photographic identification will, as he says, be able to apply for a voter card from their local authority until 5 pm the day before polling day. The noble Lord wishes to have a cut-off date four and a half days earlier. We do not, on the basis of our discussions, think that that is desirable or necessary. Given the great importance that the Committee rightly attaches to the ability to vote, we would like to be more liberal in our approach to making the voter card more readily available. Agreeing to restrict the amount of time for which it was available would not be a step forward; I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press that amendment.
Will the Minister clarify one issue? Why is the provision to allow an application up until 5 pm on the day before the election considered to be consistent with Northern Ireland? It is not consistent with Northern Ireland. when speaking to electoral officers, what factors suggested that having those extra four days would make it practical to deliver this in the way that the Government are suggesting?
My Lords, we believe on the basis of our discussions that it is, and should be, practical. Whether or not you agree with the policy, it should surely be desirable that the card be made available up to the latest possible moment.
Amendments 79 to 81 relate to the range of identity documents; my noble friend Lord Willetts came out with a very long list. As I said on the previous group, the list of acceptable documents in the Bill was drawn up against the widest possible range of documents that would meet strong standards of security. That is the conclusion that we have reached. The Electoral Commission said that photo-only identification had the greatest security value but, as I said on the previous group—and it is there on page 81, lines 24 and 25 of the Bill—other documents may be added. However, for the reasons of security that I gave on the previous group and give again, we do not believe that the list should be extended in the way that my noble friend suggests, and we therefore cannot support this amendment.
We also see little merit in Amendment 63—which I should have referred to—proposing an annual statement from the Secretary of State on numbers of documents issued. Only individual local authorities will have the complete set of cards issued, as they will not be issued centrally. When the Electoral Commission does the post-operative examination of what happened, I am sure that it will consider those figures.
On Amendments 83 and 84, I am pleased to say that, as set out in paragraph 22 of Schedule 1, we already intend that returning officers, through their polling station staff, will record and collate information on anyone who applies for the issue of a ballot paper and is refused. This will be set out in secondary legislation, and we are working on the details with the Electoral Commission and returning officers. Of course, the polling station will already have informed the person concerned that they have been refused a ballot paper and why, so we think that a letter is an unnecessary further step. As I said, secondary legislation will cover this point.
In the light of this, these amendments would ultimately either duplicate or extend processes which are provided for in the Bill—making them either unnecessary or unacceptable to the Government—while only increasing the administrative burden on the electoral sector; for example, an enormous list of documents might do that in itself. For this reason and the other reasons mentioned, I beg that these amendments are not pressed.
I gave a long response, as this is quite a large group. I hope that I have managed to address at least the main points that were made.
The Minister is making important new points in his closing remarks that are of significance to the Committee. He has drawn our attention to new paragraph (IQ), inserted by paragraph 18 of Schedule 1, on page 81, which says:
“Regulations may make provisions varying paragraph (1H), (1I) or (1J)”,
which give the list of acceptable documents,
“by … adding a reference to a document to any of those paragraphs”.
He has just said to the Committee that that could allow the Government to extend it to any other documents. My reading of that is that it could allow for the extension to a document which is not a photo ID document. Have I correctly construed that new paragraph?
My Lords, the Government’s policy position is clear. I will probably get wrapped over the knuckles as I may not have construed the Bill correctly because of feeling hungry at 7.29 pm. If I did not then, once we come back, I will correct the record. Certainly, the provision is there. As I said in my speech on the previous group, if the Government consider that there are other documents which can meet the security standards required—some photographic documents currently do not and are therefore excluded—then that is why we were taking that potential power in the Bill. Regarding the type of document, the Government’s policy remains as stated. We are for photographic identification.
My Lords, I am sorry to labour the point, but can the Minister write to us on this? It is one thing for him to say what the Government’s policy is but what the law says is another. The issue here is whether that power would require documents which are added to be photo ID documents or whether they could be any other item on the list by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, in his Amendment 80. I am offering the Minister a possible way out in due course for accepting the noble Lord’s amendment by the back door.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this lengthy debate, and the Minister for his detailed responses. I am sure that there are areas of these amendments that we will return to on Report but for now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Schedule 1: Voter identification
Amendments 64 to 73 not moved.
Amendments 74 to 77
74: Schedule 1, page 72, line 12, leave out from “to” to end of line 19 and insert “a relevant provision.
(1A) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b), “relevant provision” means— (a) where the person is or will be registered in a register of parliamentary electors in Northern Ireland, section 10(4A)(b), 10A(1A)(b) or 13A(2A)(b), and(b) where the person is or will be registered in a register of parliamentary electors in Great Britain and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a), section 8(7A) of the Representation of the People Act 1985.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the requirement relating to preparation of date of birth lists for polling stations in Northern Ireland, so far as that requirement relates to date of birth lists for proxy voters.
75: Schedule 1, page 74, leave out lines 23 and 24 and insert—
“the form must include details of the documents the voter needs to bring to the polling station, namely—(i) in the case of an elector (other than an elector with an anonymous entry) or a proxy, any of the forms of identification for the time being referred to in rule 37(1H);(ii) in the case of an elector with an anonymous entry, the elector’s official poll card and an anonymous elector’s document showing the same electoral number as the electoral number shown on the official poll card.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that, in inserted paragraph (3ZA) for rule 28 of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983, the reference to rule 37(1H) catches documents listed in rule 37(1I) and (1J) of that Schedule (as amended by the Bill). The amendment also makes separate provision about the details to be included in poll cards sent to electors with anonymous entries.
76: Schedule 1, page 74, leave out lines 39 and 40 and insert—
“(a) details of the documents the voter needs to produce when applying for a ballot paper, namely—(i) in the case of an elector (other than an elector with an anonymous entry) or a proxy, any of the forms of identification for the time being referred to in rule 37(1H);(ii) in the case of an elector with an anonymous entry, the elector’s official poll card and an anonymous elector’s document showing the same electoral number as the electoral number shown on the official poll card, and”.Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment amends inserted paragraph (4A) for rule 29 of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 by requiring the large notice displayed inside each polling station in England, Wales and Scotland to contain information about the relevant proof of identity requirements for electors with anonymous entries as well as for others voting in person.
77: Schedule 1, page 77, line 24, after “Britain” insert “and does not also fall within sub-paragraph (a)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 72, line 12.
Amendments 74 to 77 agreed.
Amendments 78 to 81 not moved.
82: Schedule 1, page 80, line 37, leave out “current”
Member’s explanatory statement
The definition of “electoral number” in the inserted paragraph (1L) of rule 37 of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 means that the word “current”, in the inserted paragraph (1K), is not needed. This amendment therefore leaves it out.
Amendment 82 agreed.
Amendments 83 and 84 not moved.
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.15 pm.