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Lords Chamber

Volume 820: debated on Wednesday 6 April 2022

House of Lords

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Palestine: Recognition

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to recognise Palestine as a state; and whether any such recognition is conditional on the holding of free, fair, and independently monitored elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

My Lords, the United Kingdom’s position on the Middle East peace process is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. We believe that a just and lasting solution that delivers peace is long overdue. The United Kingdom will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace. We also urge further work towards genuine and democratic national elections, and call on all Palestinian factions to work together to pursue a positive path towards democracy.

My Lords, I am slightly encouraged by that reply, but why is self-determination seen as essential for Israelis but denied to Palestinians? Will our Government seek to secure elections, which have been completely missing for 16 years, in the Occupied Territories? If such elections prove free and fair, will they be respected here and will any Government that may emerge be recognised?

My Lords, I am sure I speak for every country that we are partners and friends with when I say that our view of the global world is that we want free, open and transparent elections everywhere. We support the Palestinian people’s genuine desire to be able to express their opinion at the ballot box. It was extremely disappointing that last year’s elections did not take place for a variety of reasons, but we urge further work towards inclusive elections, which are crucial to the establishment of a whole and sovereign Palestinian state and equally crucial in providing the basis for a reliable and sustainable partner for peace.

My Lords, numerous illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas—some of them the size of small or medium towns—make the existence of a Palestinian state unviable. In any event, dividing people on the basis of religion creates suffering and lasting enmity. We see this between India and Pakistan, where more than half a million people died during the partition; we also see it closer to home, in Ireland. Does the Minister agree that it is much better to work towards equal civil and political rights for both Jews and Palestinians in the one land that is both Israel and Palestine, as was promised in the original Balfour Declaration?

My Lords, the United Kingdom’s position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law. We regularly call on Israel to halt the settlements, because they are an obstacle towards the two-state solution. On the sentiments the noble Lord expressed about inclusivity and respecting all communities, I have visited the Palestinian territories as well as Israel. Israel in itself and the current Government represent and seek to represent the whole of Israel in its diversity of communities, which are present and very much brought together in the city of Jerusalem.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has rightly long maintained that recognition of a state of Palestine should take place in the context of a final status agreement negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. However, a credible peace process with active dialogue between parties has been absent for years. Given the UK Government’s strong ties with Israel and the Palestinian leadership, can the Minister tell me what steps the UK Government are taking to bring all parties together to establish a lasting two-state solution?

My Lords, we continue to engage with Israel and the Palestinian leadership, who were invited to and represented at the COP at the end of last year. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Administration, so we do engage with both sides. I share my noble friend’s view that it is important that we bring both communities together. The United Kingdom stands as a partner and friend of all communities to ensure that we see lasting peace in the Holy Land.

My Lords, at the end of January, the Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, told the Knesset:

“The years-long weakening of the Palestinian Authority and the concealment of relations strengthened Hamas, harmed Israeli security, and failed in terms of results”.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA had talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the same time. The US State Department said that discussions focused on the importance of strengthening US relations with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, as well as improving the quality of life of the Palestinians “in a tangible way”. They also discussed the need for the Palestinian Authority to reform. Can the Minister tell us whether we are following the US’s example?

My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, yes, we are. We want reliable partners for peace in the Middle East. What is required now is fair, open and transparent elections within the Palestinian Authority, which are long overdue, as the noble Lord reminded us, to allow for that sustainable partner for peace that is so desperately needed.

The Minister will be aware of the report of the Human Rights Council’s rapporteur into the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, occupied since 1967. That report has this very worrying conclusion:

“With the eyes of the international community wide open, Israel had imposed upon Palestine an apartheid reality in a post-apartheid world.”

What is the Government’s response to the Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur and what practical steps are they taking to remove the barriers in order to make a two-state situation viable?

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government do not agree with the use of that terminology. Any judgment on whether serious crimes have occurred under international law is very much a matter for judicial decision. I can speak directly. I visited Israel in my capacity as Human Rights Minister. I assure the noble Lord that we had a very candid and constructive exchange on issues of human rights, including rights of representation. In doing so, I welcome the recent easing of restrictions in the holy month of Ramadan to allow people who wish to do so to go to holy sites and worship. That is a positive step forward.

My Lords, should we not remind ourselves that Israel is at least a democracy? It may be criticised for many things—I would like to see a two-state solution—but we sometimes lose sight of the fact that since the end of the war and the foundation of the State of Israel it has been a proper democracy.

My Lords, I share my noble friend’s view. As I have said right from the start, in answer to the original Question, it is the United Kingdom Government’s position—and, I am sure, the position of Her Majesty’s Opposition—that we want to see open, flourishing, pluralistic democracies everywhere across the world.

My Lords, the Montevideo convention of 1933 stipulated three requirements for a state: control of a defined territory, a permanent population, and a Government whom the bulk of the population habitually obey. Does the Minister agree that as long as the Palestinians do not fulfil the first and third criteria, sadly they do not qualify as a state?

My Lords, the basis of the criteria the noble Lord outlined is directly relevant. That is why, as I said in my original Answer, the United Kingdom will recognise a Palestinian state when it is conducive to ensuring lasting peace in the Middle East.

Desirable as I think most of us agree it is to achieve a two-state solution, is it not a matter of obvious fact that such a solution is not possible so long as the illegal settlements remain?

My Lords, I believe I have already addressed that question. As I said, we believe—it is a long-standing position—that settlements are an obstacle to peace.

My Lords, does the Minister consider that the Abraham Accords bring any message of hope and peace to the Palestinians, given that they ignore the settlements and do nothing for the well-being of the Palestinians?

My Lords, this is my personal view as well as the Government’s: I really welcome the Abraham Accords. By definition, Abraham was all about bringing people, communities and faiths together. At this time, the Abraham Accords should not be looked at as something between nations that are ever expanding. We welcome the recent meeting of Foreign Ministers. Any steps forward that bring peace and reconciliation between partners and the people of the wider region are welcome. At this time, in the holy month of Ramadan and with Easter and Passover imminent, the Abraham Accords are perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

Folic Acid Fortification

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to introduce draft legislation to replace the Bread and Flour Regulations, following their decision to implement folic acid fortification announced in September 2021.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his tireless advocacy of this important policy. Substantial progress has been made since September 2021, including working with the devolved Administrations to establish a cross-industry Bread and Flour Technical Working Group engaging stakeholders to move forward to the regulatory review. Proposed changes are being finalised and impacts assessed by a whole-UK working group for a consultation once the Northern Ireland Assembly elections have concluded.

I thank the Minister. This is taking a long time. I have only one question for him. Given that it is now more than 30 years since the medical research councils connected up the difficulties of neural tube defects and that more than 80 countries have operated the policy, will he commit to using the best possible science? People have spent decades on this, and scientists tell me this can prevent up to 80% of neural tube defects. It has advanced since the original science 30 years ago.

The noble Lord is absolutely right: our scientific knowledge increases as scientists challenge each other and come to other conclusions. We have to be aware that there is no off-the-shelf solution. For example, I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that in Australia they can divide the flour and fortify only flour used to make bread. That cannot be done in this country, which is why we are working with stakeholders including heritage millers, for example, to make sure that we have the right solution. It has all been delayed due to a number of elections.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has a high incidence of babies born with neural tube defects. What evidence have the Government collected as to the decrease in the incidence of neural tube defects in babies that would occur if an appropriate daily amount of folic acid was available in the nutrition of United Kingdom citizens?

I think the noble Lord will be aware that pregnant women are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid. That high level cannot be put into other foods because there are some unintended consequences. For example, it disguises some other traits and conditions in the older population. Therefore, one needs to get the right balance and proportion for the wider population.

My Lords, why did the Minister not say—or give some indication—as to when this working group will report, first to the Government and secondly to this House? It has had long enough since my noble friend succeeded in moving this policy change. When does the Minister expect the report, and when can we see some action?

I understand the complete frustration with the delays. When I asked the departmental officials about them, they said, “Funnily enough, usually we are people who support democracy, but democratic elections have got in the way.” Delays are due, for example, to the 2019 general election, the Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections and the Northern Ireland elections.

It is not fair to have a go at officials over this. Once the Northern Ireland Assembly election period is out of the way, they can get on with it.

My Lords, I too commend the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his tireless campaign. The continuing consequences of Ministers not introducing the new legislation are that around 430 children in the UK will be born with spina bifida each year until folic acid is added to bread flour. What will the Minister—not his officials—say to the families of these babies to explain why this was just not urgent enough to put into legislation, despite the Government’s decision to do so and despite elections? Officials are not always side-tracked by elections. What will the Minister say given that those children will need continuing health support for life?

I think the noble Baroness is being a little unfair. It is quite clear that some of the delay has been due to elections, particularly when it has been necessary to consult across the devolved Administrations. Let there be no doubt. The Government are not against this; we are in favour of it. We are having to cover a number of issues—for example, the level of folic acid fortification to ensure that we add an appropriate amount without the side-effects that have been found in older people. We need to standardise the minimum levels of the existing four fortifications—calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine—and to consider exemptions from fortification for products that have minimal amounts of flour. Provisions have to be made for flour used to manufacture ingredients. We have to consider potential exemptions, for example, for micro-businesses and heritage millers. This consultation will start in earnest once the Northern Ireland elections are out of the way.

My Lords, do the Government recognise that the early MRC trial and all subsequent trials have shown that folic acid must be taken before a woman becomes pregnant? Giving supplementation once someone is pregnant is too late because of the formation of the neural tube. Now, with modern haematological techniques, the problem of pernicious anaemia and the confusion with B12 deficiency does not apply nearly as much, because it is easy to measure the levels.

In the brief which I received yesterday the recommendation is for a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. I am told that this advice will remain. Certain women with a higher risk of an NTD-affected pregnancy are advised to take a higher, 5-milligram supplement. This is why we have to get the right level. Increasing folic acid in flour alone will not solve the issue.

My Lords, I commend the Government for reaching this position and for being the Government who have brought this matter to this stage. On a couple of occasions, the Minister mentioned the Northern Ireland elections. We know that there are some concerns about what might happen after those elections in terms of a Government being formed. This is a UK-wide matter. Can the Minister assure me that it will progress regardless of the state of devolution in Northern Ireland?

Call me old-fashioned, but I anticipated that there would be questions about further delays. When I asked the officials about this, I was advised that once the Northern Ireland elections were out of the way, they could get on with the consultation.

My Lords, I would like to come back to the level of fortification. There are rumours that the Government are going for a minimal level which will not be very effective. My understanding is that the most up-to-date research shows that folic acid is not at all harmful. Therefore, will he assure me that the technical working group that he is going to take forward at some point will look to implement a level that is going to be effective?

I understand the noble Lord’s question but the expert Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has advised on the level of fortification needed to prevent neural tube defects. It wants a level that is not considered to pose a risk to health. The advice it has at the moment is that supplementation of folic acid can mask underlying vitamin B12 deficiencies, particularly in older adults. If noble Lords with medical experience disagree, I will be very happy to facilitate a meeting with my officials.

My Lords, I think the House would be grateful for such a meeting. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Patel, could take part. It is extremely depressing to hear the Minister today go backwards in time to the arguments, which have all—one by one—been disproved, against this policy. It would be much more helpful to hear of a timetable going forward for implementing it. Does the Minister accept that it is a matter of embarrassment, shame and distress to many of us that, more than 30 years after UK research did this and with 80 other countries that should be able to help us in getting levels and procedures right, there are still families facing distress and the termination of wanted pregnancies because we have not made progress?

I understand the frustration that noble Lords have expressed. The same frustration is shared by officials in the department. When I asked officials, “What are the issues that you really need to get to the bottom of?”, one was the appropriate level of fortification. It is interesting that noble Lords seem to disagree with the department’s advice. Therefore, I will facilitate a conversation. Another issue is how that appears compared to other additions and fortifications put into flour. We want to get the right balance. The Government are committed to doing this and we will start as soon as the Northern Ireland elections are over.

My Lords, all the research on adding folic acid to flour, including that by the Government’s independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, shows that it is a completely safe measure with no unintended health consequences. In preparation for going down this route to protect newborn babies—which I really would urge the Minister to progress as soon as possible—what plans do the Government have to communicate the benefits of these measures and to reassure those who may have concerns, including parents, and parents-to-be?

This will all be part of the consultation, but once the policy has been decided on and fortification starts, clearly, we will be communicating to parents, families and others. If there is a risk—which noble Lords in their expertise seem to disagree with—we will have to identify that. The history of good intentions is littered with unintended consequences. We must be aware of those in our pursuit of increased folic acid in flour.

My Lords, over the past two years, the Government have made urgent decisions about Covid-19 to save lives and save sickness. Why can they not, in light of the strength of the evidence we already have, make a similarly urgent decision on this issue to save harm to 400 babies a year?

We all want to save harm to 400 babies a year; indeed, we want to save harm to more babies. The issue is that we have to do it in a proper way. When I speak to the officials, they are quite clear that we all want this to happen—there have been delays, which I have mentioned—but we have to get the right level of folic acid. Noble Lords in their wisdom are saying that all the evidence that the department has been presented with is worthless. If they believe that, they should talk to my officials. I will be happy to facilitate that.

Employment Bill

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to introduce the Employment Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019.

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence overseas of my noble friend Lord Woodley, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are committed to building a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work. We will do that by continuing to champion a flexible and dynamic labour market. As we build back better, we will continue to make it easier for people to both enter and remain in work.

My noble friend Lord Woodley’s Question could not be more topical. Our employment laws failed utterly to protect the jobs, incomes and careers of 800 P&O seafarers, sacked without consultation or warning and marched off their ships by security guards. The Government’s proposals in response are set out in the all-Peers letter dated 31 March from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere. Not included is legislation to strengthen, and in particular enforce, employment rights to prevent repetition of such sacking by ambush. I ask the Minister: why not? Is it connected with the reports that the proposal for an employment Bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech was overruled last week by the Prime Minister?

The BEIS Secretary of State has formally commissioned the Insolvency Service to urgently undertake a thorough inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the recent redundancies made by P&O Ferries that the noble Lord referred to. We will not hesitate to take further action if we find evidence of wrongdoing. He will know that the Secretary of State for Transport has also committed to applying the national minimum wage to seafarers.

My Lords, has my noble friend noticed the catastrophic reduction in the number of self-employed people in this country following the implementation of IR35? What has happened to out manifesto commitment that we would implement the recommendations of the Taylor report, which would have provided an opportunity for us to have an employment situation that would encourage the kind of high-tech investment and growth that the Government say they want?

I certainly know the problems that my noble friend is identifying with IR35 and will communicate them to HMRC and the Treasury.

My Lords, if you are disabled you are 30% less likely to have a job than if you are able bodied. In London alone, there are 400,000 unemployed disabled people. In some London boroughs, just one in four disabled people has a job. What will the Government be doing, if they have no Bill, to address this crisis among people with disabilities?

We have an excellent record for job creation in this country, and our unemployment rates are much lower than many others on the European mainland, but I totally accept the point the noble Lord is making. We must all redouble our efforts to make sure that those who are disabled get the same opportunities to work as the rest of us do.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that when the Bill eventually arrives, it will progress the so-called good work agenda, enabling workers with variable hours to request a more stable and predictable contract? I am sure the Minister is aware that the EU transparent and predictable working conditions directive will introduce similar rights on an EU-wide basis from August 2022. Will he confirm that the reason for delay in the Bill is not to avoid similarity with Europe on these issues?

Of course all EU employment directives were transposed into UK law, but they are a minimum standard in many circumstances. As the noble Lord will know, we go far beyond EU minimum standards and we should be proud of that.

My Lords, technology has intruded further into the world of work over the last five years. Many developments are helpful, but some are not. Almost 60% of workers now report some form of technological surveillance at work, often through so-called bossware, often introduced without consultation with unions and workers. How will the employment Bill eventually keep pace with this development, and will it introduce a statutory requirement on employers to consult and disclose the use of algorithmic and AI surveillance on employees, and protect workers from excessive surveillance by technology?

I am afraid that I cannot commit to any specific measures that might be in any future legislation that the right reverend Prelate will be aware of. I recognise the concerns he addressed; it is very important for employers to consult their workforce fully before introducing measures such as this.

My Lords, the 2019 Conservative manifesto stated that it would

“encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.”

On 9 February 2022, BEIS Minister Paul Scully reasserted the Government’s commitment

“to introducing new employment measures”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/2/22; col. 1059.]

covering a range of matters. It is now being reported in the Financial Times that the long-awaited employment Bill is not expected in the Queen’s Speech in May. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the excellent debate led by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, exposing the urgent need for flexibility to stem the rapidly increasing loss of older workers from the workplace, especially due to health reasons and caring responsibilities. If there is no employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, does this mean that the Government no longer believe that employees deserve this right to request flexible working?

I cannot commit to any particular measures, as I said in response to an earlier question. However, we have a very good employment law framework in this country, as evidenced by our unemployment rate, which is less than half that of France—which has a much more rigid employment framework. Therefore, flexible working is a good thing in this country because we have lower unemployment. The best right anyone can have is to have a job. It is right that we do not change the employment law framework until we are sure that any changes will address the needs of businesses and workers in the post-Covid economy.

My Lords, the response from the Government on P&O has been excellent. It has also shown the need for an employment Bill. At the end of this Session, the pledge in the last Queen’s Speech will disappear. However, we need it in the new Queen’s Speech because, at this moment, many workers are applauding what the Government have done with P&O and are looking to them to honour the promise of the employment Bill made two years—it is more urgent now, not less. I ask the Minister to go back to his department and lobby hard for it to be in the Queen’s Speech.

I have heard what my noble friend has said, and I know the close interest which he takes in these matters and his close relationship with the trade unions. I will certainly take his message back to the department but, as he will be aware, I cannot predict what may or may not be in the Queen’s Speech.

My Lords, the all-Peers letter to which my noble friend Lord Hendy has already made reference contains an excellent proposal to ask European ferry operators and unions to agree a common level of seafarer protection on European ferry routes. Will the Minister undertake to consider legislation to achieve such sector-wide collective bargaining at national level too—as was recently implemented in Spain and proposed in New Zealand?

Part of the problem with P&O is that the ferries were registered in another European country, so presumably it was applying European law in those circumstances. Clearly there is an issue with ferries, which by their very nature cross borders, and I know that the Secretary of State for Transport has announced nine measures, including minimum wage requirements for seafarers operating from British ports. He will want to take those issues forward as fast as he can.

My Lords, will the Minister not admit that this is not the only election promise which this Government have reneged on? They have reneged on the triple lock for pensioners, and now they have reneged on the national insurance rise. When can anyone ever believe what this Prime Minister says ever again?

I am sorry to hear that the noble Lord is disappointed with our progress on employment, but I am delighted to share with him the great news that unemployment was down again last month to 3.9%, one of the lowest rates in Europe. If we had adopted some of the proposals of the Opposition to have a rigid, inflexible labour market, unemployment would go up and many people would lose their jobs. Surely that would be a bad thing for workers’ rights.

My Lords, it is understandable that the Minister cannot give any commitment to what will be in the Bill when it comes. However, given that it was in the 2019 election manifesto and the Government were elected on the basis of delivering that promise, can the Minister give a commitment that they will in fact implement a Bill before this Government go out of office?

I can certainly give the noble Lord a commitment that we are going to attempt to take forward many of the measures that were outlined. There are a number of different vehicles that would enable us to do that, but we have to proceed carefully and cautiously. We do not want to damage the excellent, flexible labour market that we have in this country, which has delivered excellent results, including under the last Labour Government, who also decided not to change our flexible labour market.

Covid-19: Financial Support Schemes

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the possible losses arising from fraudulent use of (1) furlough support, (2) the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, and (3) other COVID-19-related financial support schemes.

The Government take fraud extremely seriously and have been consistently clear that fraud is never acceptable. The latest estimates are set out in the department’s 2020-21 annual report and accounts. Updated estimates will be published in the next few months in the 2021-22 annual report and accounts. The Government are investing in tackling fraud and error across these schemes. Most recently, the Chancellor announced an additional £48.8 million for a new package of measures to tackle fraud.

My Lords, under this Government, we now have the highest level of taxation and fraud. Annual fraud is between £29 billion and £52 billion. Last year, the government counter-fraud function classified £219 billion of the £387 billion of Covid-related financial support as “high or very high” fraud risk. Will the Minister tell the House how much is now classified as high or very high fraud risk and when an independent investigation into the Government’s failure to apply proper due diligence checks will commence?

My Lords, as I said to the noble Lord, updated estimates from the Government will come out in this year’s annual accounts. However, I have two points to make to the noble Lord. The first is on the scale of support that this Government put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, which safeguarded 12 million jobs and more than 1 million businesses, which might not otherwise be here. Secondly, I referred in my Answer to the extra money for a new package of measures to tackle fraud. That includes setting up a new public sector fraud authority. One of the roles that it will focus on is understanding and measuring the losses around the Covid-19 spending, so that we can learn lessons for the future.

Never mind—there is plenty of time.

Three quarters of a million new companies were registered—most of them dormant. Will the Minister tell the House how many of those dormant companies were given Covid financial support and how many took support and then were dissolved?

My Lords, in relation to the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, the estimate of fraud in that scheme has already come down, but there is more work to be done. On the question from the noble Baroness, we have given new powers to the Insolvency Service to look at these issues and to stop companies with bounce-back loans seeking to escape liability for their loans by winding down before settling their debts. Some 61,758 companies holding £2.1 billion of loans have been prevented from striking off to give lenders time to assess for fraud.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is absolutely essential to public confidence in the effective enforcement of our laws that those whose greed led them to shamelessly loot the public Exchequer during the course of a public health emergency should be brought to justice?

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. In addition to the £48.8 million that we announced in the Spring Statement, we have also put additional resources and money into the HMRC fraud service. The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce from HMRC, which is also targeting recouping money from those people, is expected to recover between £800 million and £1 billion by the end of 2022-23.

My Lords, while the public is very grateful for the support it got during Covid, I do not believe it will easily excuse the levels of fraud and abuse of public money. Can the Government now tell us what they are putting in place in preparation for the next crisis and the next need to put out emergency funding, to make sure that the systems have within them decent checks and safeguards? For example, the British Business Bank estimates that it could have saved nearly all of that fraud had it waited 24 to 48 hours before actually issuing the money, and used that time for essential checks.

My Lords, we have given the British Business Bank additional resources to tackle the issue in bounce-back loans. As I said in response to an earlier question, part of the role of the new public sector fraud authority is to conduct post-event assurance, which will specifically look at Covid 19 spending and learn lessons. A few of the authority’s other functions will be across government, such as the provision of data analytics capability, and for those government departments that do not already have it, greater expertise in assessing fraud risk up front, learning lessons and enforcement for particular Government spending.

My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, would the Minister not agree that the Covid-related government support has been entirely necessary, and I hope very much that the Government would not be dissuaded from rolling out such schemes if required in the future, and at the pace they did, because of concerns about fraud.

I agree with the noble Earl, and I recognise that, particularly with bounce-back loans and the CJRS, the speed at which the Government needed to act was one of the trade-offs with the checks that could be put in place. We will make sure that lessons are learned, to ensure that we got that balance correct, but one of the reasons we introduced the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and reduced the checks on it, was that original government support programmes that had greater levels of checks were not getting the money to people who needed it, and the scheme prevented the loss of businesses and livelihoods in our economy.

My Lords, at 3.31 pm on 24 January, I asked a similar question. I did not get a reply, but the House was treated to an insightful resignation speech by the noble Lord, Lord Agnew. Among other things, he said,

“The oversight by both BEIS and the British Business Bank of the panel lenders of the BBLS has been nothing less than woeful. They have been assisted by the Treasury, which appears to have no knowledge of, or little interest in, the consequences of fraud to our economy or society.”—[Official Report, 24/1/22; col. 20.]

Assuming the Minister agrees with the statement, what action has been taken to rectify this lamentable situation?

My Lords, I would like to pay tribute to my noble friend’s hard work in this area, but I disagree with him about the seriousness with which the Government take this issue. I was pleased to note that he welcomed the announcement in the Spring Statement of the funding to deliver the public sector fraud authority, about which I have already spoken to noble Lords.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a chairman of a bank. Can I ask my noble friend: if the banks did not do elementary due diligence, such as checking that a company was trading or checking a national insurance number, why on earth should the Government pay out on the guarantee? Should it not fall on the banks for not having done their job properly?

My noble friend is correct that, while there were reduced checks in place on bounce-back loans, there was still a requirement for lenders to make checks, and we are quite clear in the terms of the loan guarantees that, if it appears that those checks were not made, then those businesses do not have a claim against their guarantee.

Following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and his reference to the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, the explanation that the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, gave to the Treasury Committee as to why the Government’s performance was so parlous was that there was a 20% to 25% staff turnover at Her Majesty’s Treasury. Can the Minister explain why there was such a high turnover of staff and what the Government are doing to ameliorate a situation, which is clearly creating a problem?

I think one of the reasons that the Treasury, and other government departments, can have high turnovers is that they have talented staff who do excellent work, and that can be desired by those in the other sector. We work hard to ensure that the Civil Service is a great place to work, and that people have the job satisfaction to carry on.

My Lords, the Minister says that the Government take fraud seriously. I am tempted to say that if they did, this would not have happened—but let us test that. In the Spring Statement, the Chancellor announced £48.8 million for this new authority, but that money is against an estimated loss of £15 billion from fraud and error across Covid-19 state-backed business schemes. The £48.8 million over three years is

“to support the creation of a new Public Sector Fraud Authority and enhance counter-fraud work across the British Business Bank”—

which lost lots of money—

“and the National Intelligence Service”,

with the intention of recovering “millions of pounds”. Those are the Chancellor’s words. Does that not tell us a lot about the Government’s priority in relation to this when, in the same Statement, the Chancellor announced investing

“£510 million to increase DWP’s capacity and capability to prevent and detect fraud and error”?

My Lords, that investment in detecting fraud and error in universal credit is incredibly important. If we look at the statistics on universal credit during the pandemic, fraudulent claims went up significantly. Again, it was really important that universal credit was there for people during the pandemic—it worked very effectively in providing support to those who needed it most. But it is also quite right that, where you have high levels of fraud, action is taken on behalf of the taxpayer to recoup that money.

Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Bill

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Legislative Reform (Renewal of National Radio Multiplex Licences) Order 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Order laid before the House on 31 January be approved.

Relevant document: 21st Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 4 April.

Motion agreed.

Boiler Upgrade Scheme (England and Wales) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 24 February be approved. Relevant document: 32nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 4 April.

Motion agreed.

Judicial Pensions Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 17 March be approved. Relevant document: 35th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 4 April.

Motion agreed.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Third Reading

Clause 49: Payments in respect of pro bono representation

Amendment

Moved by

Clause 49, page 60, line 8, leave out “passed without” and insert “the Bill for which would not require”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adjusts terminology relating to devolution in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, there is one minor and technical amendment in my name to Clause 49, which inserts a new clause to allow pro bono cost orders in tribunals. Specifically, the amendment is to the wording of the devolution carve-out, which ensures the clause applies only to tribunal proceedings that are reserved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have made this amendment following discussions between the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and its equivalent in Northern Ireland, as the Northern Ireland equivalent felt the new words more accurately reflected the wording of its devolution settlement. However, the amendment has no impact on either the policy of the clause or how the clause will work in practice. I beg to move the amendment in my name.

I wonder why this was not picked up earlier. Does it reflect within Whitehall a lack of understanding of devolution and its impact yet again?

My Lords, no; it reflects the extremely high standards of parliamentary counsel. If we had not picked this up, nobody else would have done, but we felt it was the right thing to do.

Amendment agreed.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, I will speak very briefly on this issue. I want to say two things. The first is to express our gratitude to the Minister and the Bill team. The Minister has given all of us a great deal of time, both before Committee and on Report, and that has been used very successfully. I would also like to express my thanks to Opposition and Cross-Bench Peers, particularly those with legal and judicial experience, who have done a great deal of work in improving this Bill. The Bill team also has given us all a great deal of help.

The second point I want to make is that we have made a number of changes to this Bill after really serious consideration in Committee, on Report and following Second Reading. It would be nice to think that, when this Bill now goes back to the Commons, those changes will get some serious consideration, rather than simply being returned to this House after cursory consideration. They are important. We have deployed a great deal of expertise, knowledge and effort in making those changes, and they deserve a proper look from the other place. That said, I give my grateful thanks to everyone.

My Lords, I echo the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I also thank the Minister and his team for their support and the numerous meetings we have had as the Bill has progressed. I would also like to thank the outside organisations that I have found particularly helpful; I mention the Public Law Project, Justice, Inquest, Fair Trials, Transform Justice, Liberty and Amnesty International—I found their support extremely helpful. I would also like to personally thank Catherine Johnson, who has been of great assistance to me as this Bill has passed through this House.

I reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, about the importance of the amendments we have passed. We have had a different approach from that taken in some other Bills. We have had only a small handful of amendments that have passed for the House of Commons to consider. They have been Cross Bench-led by extremely senior judges and they deserve serious consideration by the other House.

My Lords, I am conscious that the House has a lot of business before it today, but I will take just a few moments to say a few words to mark the end of the passage of the Bill through this House. Over the last few months, we have had some spirited discussions on our Courts & Tribunals Service and the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their scrutiny of this Bill.

Of course, I was disappointed that the House voted, albeit narrowly, to remove the power for prospective-only quashing orders on Report. I will reflect further on the House’s decision on Report to remove the presumption in favour of using the new remedies from Clause 1. We had detailed debates over the merits or otherwise of the presumption. I can assure the House that I have heard and listened carefully to the arguments made to me both inside and outside the Chamber.

We must also resolve the position on Clause 2 and the Cart ouster clause. I said on Report that I think Cart was a legal misstep; noble and learned Lords who sat on that case acknowledged that too during our proceedings. Along with the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, on legal representation in coroners’ inquests, it will now be for the other place to consider these amendments. No doubt we will convene again to debate those measures in further detail.

Having touched on the points on which we disagreed, there were of course many areas where there was unanimity. I am grateful to noble Lords for supporting government amendments to enable coroners to provide registrars with additional information to help ensure deaths do not go unregistered and to extend the remit of the Online Procedure Rule Committee to pre-action conduct of prospective parties to litigation. During Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, stressed the need for co-ordination between that committee and the existing rule committees. I agree; there will need to be a joined-up approach to rule-making between those various committees. As a matter of statutory process, that will be facilitated by the requirement for the Online Procedure Rule Committee to consult before making rules.

Having just mentioned the noble and learned Lord, I take this opportunity to thank him for raising the important issue of pro bono costs orders in tribunals. I am very pleased that we were able to agree an amendment on this important issue, again on a unanimous basis.

I echo what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I thank all noble Lords who contributed. If I may respectfully say, the debates on this Bill really showcased the depth of experience across the House on these issues. I particularly thank again the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I am not sure whether it is in order for me to spot him if he is outside the confines of the formal part of the Chamber but none the less, I thank him. He chaired the Independent Review of Administrative Law. That work was indispensable to the process and has informed our measures in the Bill. I also pay particular tribute to and thank the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, Lord Etherton and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for their valuable insight on the judicial review clauses.

I also thank Members of the Opposition Benches for their extremely constructive engagement with me on this Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, whose experience in the magistrates’ courts certainly enriched our scrutiny of the criminal court measures, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for his various contributions and courteous engagement with me and my team throughout. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his insightful questions throughout the passage of the Bill and for allowing me and my team to come to speak to him and his colleagues on the Cross Benches during the Bill and prior to Report.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Beith, for their amendments to the Bill. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for meeting me to discuss his amendment on coroners’ inquests. We all ultimately want the same thing: a more efficient courts and tribunals system that continues to cater for everyone in our society, including those who are vulnerable or digitally excluded.

I am conscious that there will be many others who I have not named. I hope I have not left out anybody who should have been mentioned and apologise if I have, but perhaps I may take another few seconds to thank the Bill team by name. They really went above and beyond to help not only me but those on other Benches during the passage of the Bill. I thank Georgina Treacy, Paul Norris, Chris Bowring and Julie Clouder, as well as Paul Young from my private office. Their assistance has been invaluable. Without further delay to other proceedings, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Elections Bill

Report (1st Day)

Clause 1: Voter identification

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, leave out Clause 1

My Lords, I will not be making a long speech today, which I am sure many noble Lords will be pleased to hear. I begin by thanking Jessica Garland from the Electoral Reform Society, Maddy Moore from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Mr Alfiaz Vaiya, who heads up my office here at Westminster.

I said a lot in the previous debates, so I do not want to go over that, but I do want to highlight some of the key matters that we need to focus on. This Elections Bill came into this Chamber for a number of principal reasons. One highlighted by the Government is voter fraud, as well as voter integrity. When it comes to voter fraud, I am sorry to say that the Government have not made the case. Noble Lords will all know that there was just one conviction out of 47 million voters. You have more chance of being struck by lightning at, I think, one in 3,000 and more chance of winning the National Lottery, at one in 46 million. The case for fraud has not been made; that is just a matter of fact.

Let us move on to the other key point that the Government have made. It is a valid point, which needs to be addressed: as the noble Lord, Lord True, has rightly said, this was in the Government’s manifesto. We must acknowledge and, in part, honour that. My only contention is that in their manifesto the Government talked about voter ID, which is distinct from voter photographic ID. Noble Lords may think “What is the difference?”—I am here to tell your Lordships that. The noble Lord, Lord True, might say that a lot of people have voter photo ID but not everybody does. The calculation, even with the Government’s figures, is that we could lose over 2 million voters if we persist with photographic ID. That is 2 million, because of one case of voter fraud.

Noble Lords all know that I am a disciple of Dr Martin Luther King, fighting for social and racial justice. Can we sit here in this beautiful building and allow a Bill to go through Parliament which removes 2 million voters? Will we allow that to happen or will we tell the Government that, with the best will in the world, they have got this wrong and need to be big enough, strong enough and brave enough to say, “We need to make an amendment that does not lose us so many valuable voters”? If there is an amendment that removes photo ID I will, begrudgingly but democratically, accept it. If there is no movement, however, I will put my amendment to a Division.

My Lords, I have heard speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, on a number of occasions. Each time, I have found him completely convincing. The one line I will pick up on is his reference to the level of fraud identified by prosecutions as being “a matter of fact”. I just want to put another couple of matters of fact in front of the House.

Fact one is that, whatever you think are the rights and wrongs of voter ID, it is a new hurdle that people will have to surmount in order to vote. Whether it is a big hurdle or a small one is a matter of debate, but there is no doubt whatever that it is a hurdle. In our many experiences of elections, great effort is made in our electoral system at the local level to try to minimise the difficulties that people may experience to make it easier for them to vote.

A simple example is the siting of polling stations. I am sure that dozens of people in this House have spent ages saying, “It’s no use putting the polling station there because people won’t go to it—it’s too far away. You need one nearer”. Why do we say these things? Because we want to make it easier, with the fewest hurdles possible in the way of people exercising their right to vote.

I remind the House that there has been a serious decline in turnout in British general elections. When I first fighting them, the turnout was around 75%, generally speaking. It is now around 65%. We are going in the wrong direction. I submit that this clause will send us even faster down that slope.

All I propose to say for now is this: what has been missing throughout our debates is any estimate whatever —even a guesstimate would be an improvement—from the Minister as to precisely what the effect on voter turnout will be in the event of this Bill becoming law. He cannot have it all ways. It will either improve turnout or worsen the situation. Which way it will go cannot be a matter of fact because it is an estimate, but I would have expected at least some information from the Government Front Bench, in this crucial respect of voter turnout, on their estimate of the effect of this Bill on that figure. We have not had one so far. I am not optimistic that we will get one from the Minister when he winds up—but I live for ever in hope, as you do when you are in opposition. Even at this stage, so that we can judge it in the event, I hope that he will tell us his estimate of the effect of the Bill on turnout.

My Lords, I rise to speak to these amendments and throw the Greens’ considerable weight behind the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. It is slightly scary speaking after him and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, because they tend to carry the House, whereas I am not sure that I do.

Some people have described voter ID as a solution in search of a problem. Actually, I think that gives the Government far too much credit, because this is a cynical ploy. It is a clear attempt by the Government to make it harder for people to vote in elections. That is the only motive I can see when we have this sort of Bill in front of us. More cynically still, it will disproportionately stop BAME, working-class, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people voting. These people find it hard enough to vote already. Anything you put in their way will stop them voting completely; that is preventing democracy.

The Government are spreading fake news about there being massive election fraud in this country. I hope we can get these figures out there, because that is a nonsense. I do not understand why the Government persist in this fake news.

Of course, the real interference in our democracy comes from the top. We all know that the problem is billionaire donors and lobbyists bankrolling the Tory party. That is where a failure of democracy is happening. I hope that the next Government is a Labour Government —with Green support, obviously—and that they start unravelling some of the mess this Government have created for the country. I want a ministerial position—I just point that out. Treasury, please.

We do not even know how far Russian interference in our election goes. Why not try sorting that out before we sort out this non-existent problem of voter fraud? We have to stop the Government’s interference with democracy, today and on subsequent days.

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 2, 3 and 4. Throughout the debates on the Bill I have been of an opposite view from most of my friends about the fear of identity cards. I do not have any fear of identity cards at all, nor do I believe that BAME people are so backward and so bad that they would be frightened by an identity card. I just do not see the logic. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, India has ID cards; the 900 million voters there all use them and electronic voting machines. It is perfectly straightforward stuff and nobody is intimidated or discouraged from voting. If people are not voting, it might be that the quality of politics has declined and people do not see any point in voting—but that is a point that I will come to another time.

The main problem is that responsibility for getting an ID card should not be put on the voter. The Electoral Commission has to enable people to have an ID card. It has the resources. It is very simple. We live in a digitised world, so why are we still using pencil and paper?

For example, I recently moved from where I had lived for 17 years to somewhere in Lambeth. I immediately got a letter from the electoral registration office, saying, “This flat used to be vacant, now suddenly somebody’s occupying it. Will you please tell us who you are?” I sent back a form with my name and saying who else lived in the house. I posted it off and so I will be voting at my local polling station.

The electoral registration office has my particulars and my address. It would be very easy for it to send me an ID card. I do not see what the fuss is about. It has much more resources than I have as a voter, so it would be very easy for it to send me an ID card. It is a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned. My children’s and grandchildren’s generations laugh at this electoral system, in which people have to go to some booth, take a little pencil and put a cross.

I do not understand what the noble Lord is saying. The last Labour Government started the procedure for introducing photo identity cards for everyone; the Conservatives scuppered the whole scheme. We should have had ID cards for everyone. The Government could then have introduced this, but they cannot when it is only privileged people with passports and driving licences who have photo IDs. The noble Lord should understand that.

My Lords, I used to be on those Benches with the noble Lord, so I am not a stranger to that story. It was not only the Government who stopped it but the Liberal Democrats, whose great leader Nick Clegg cared so passionately for privacy that he has gone to work for Facebook. That was his price for agreeing to ID cards; the Labour Party could not pay it.

I do not care who was responsible—they were responsible, you were responsible—I now want to move on. The Bill is an opportunity for us to thoroughly rethink our electoral system, bring it into the 20th century if not the 21st and get on with it. We conduct our elections in the most antediluvian way possible.

The noble Lord made such an important point about the need to move on, this being Report after a very extensive consideration of the Bill in Committee. There are crucial amendments to get through and vote on. I throw that into the ether of your Lordships’ House.

I thank the noble Baroness but, as she knows, I have been here listening to all the debates. This is the first time I have introduced amendments, so I have to explain them. If I do not, nobody will understand what I am saying. Because I am putting an argument contrary to that generally put forward in the context of this clause, let me continue.

My amendments say that the Electoral Commission should provide everybody with an ID card that has to contain some very simple facts, which we all have. Amendment 4 says

“address … date of birth, and … NHS number”.

BAME, white or black and whatever religion, we all have an NHS number. When I call up for anything, the hospital asks for my date of birth and knows immediately who I am. NHS number and date of birth should be sufficient to identify anybody. If you have the address, you will be able to see which is the nearest polling booth.

I recently had my fourth jab. To make an appointment for it, I had a text message from the NHS. It took me five minutes to book myself a jab, with the location and time all in a simple text message. It is not difficult. People will be able to find out where and when they can vote as long as they have this ID card.

Since my time is being rationed, I urge people to vote for this because it will simplify the voting procedure and remove the problem that somehow this special class of untouchables who are called BAME people will be frightened by this. Nobody needs to be frightened by this; everybody would receive an ID card.

My Lords, this House can spend a great deal of time discussing the meaning of a single word. Words such as “may” or “must” have great significance in law, and today we are debating the difference between compulsory “photo identification” and just “voter identification”. We are debating the word “photo”.

It is important for many people because voter identification was in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, while “photo identification” was not, and manifesto commitments may be treated differently by Members of the House. In Committee the Government’s position appeared to be that the word “photo” was irrelevant or that whoever wrote their manifesto was careless and used sloppy wording, but the Government know the difference between “photo ID” and “voter ID”.

How do we know that for certain? Because the Government specifically legislated for different forms of ID requirement when they introduced pilot schemes in 15 local authority areas in 2018 and 2019. In the 2019 pilots, the Government legislated for different rules in 10 different authorities. In two areas people had to show a specified form of photo ID. In five areas they could choose to show either a specified form of photo ID or two pieces of specified non-photo ID. In three areas people could show either their poll card, which does not have a photo, or a specified form of photo ID. So the Government understand the difference between different forms of voter ID, including those which require a photo and those which do not. Their manifesto did not mention “photo”.

As the highly regarded expert from the Electoral Integrity Project, Professor Toby James, pointed out on Twitter the other day, the fact that the manifesto did not specify photo ID means that we should “allow non-photographic” ID as in many other countries, or allow those without the requisite ID at the time to be vouched for by someone accompanying them who does have it, as in Canada.

Many of the references made by Ministers to photo ID in other countries have been very misleading. That is because everybody already has a compulsory national ID card in almost all the rest of Europe, so there is no extra barrier to voting by requiring one to be presented at a polling station there.

It is ironic that, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has just pointed out, one of the main reasons we do not have national ID cards in the UK is because Conservative Members of this House opposed attempts by the Blair Government to introduce them on the grounds that they were not specifically mentioned in the Labour manifesto. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. National ID cards were not in the Labour manifesto, so this House blocked their introduction. Compulsory photo ID at polling stations was not in the Conservative manifesto, so the Government’s attempt to abuse their majority in the other place to change election rules should be prevented here.

In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, highlighted what the former chair of the Conservative Party, the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, said in the report which the Government commissioned from him—that

“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 … measures should enhance public confidence and be proportional. A driving licence, passport or utility bills”.—[Official Report, 21/3/22; col. 695.]

Utility bills do not have photos.

There is, however, one form of voter ID eminently suitable for the purpose—the official poll card. Making poll cards an acceptable form of ID is proposed in both Amendments 6 and 7, and these amendments are both compatible with Amendment 8, which includes many other forms of possible ID. A polling card is issued to every voter by electoral registration officers. Anyone impersonating a voter would not just have to expose themselves to risk at the polling station, but they would have to steal the poll card as well prior to going to vote. If a polling card was stolen, a replacement could be issued, and a note made to question anyone turning up at a polling station with the original poll card.

In the pilots in 2018, poll cards were allowed in both Swindon and Watford. In Swindon, 95% of voters used their poll card, 4% their driving licence and 3% their passport. In Watford, 87% used their poll card, 8% their driving licence and 3% their debit card. Altogether across the two local authority areas, 69 replacement poll cards had to be issued. In Swindon a vouching or attestation scheme was also used, and 107 voters used this option.

There were more pilots in 2019, three of which accepted poll cards. In those three areas, 93% of people used their poll cards, 5% their driving licence, and 1% their passport. Using the existing poll card avoids any additional cost. The pilots also showed that adding QR codes to poll cards was, in some cases, unnecessary, more expensive and less secure. So, the existing poll card, with other forms of ID as set out in Amendment 8, and a vouching system will do the job well.

We know from multiple sources, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Runnymede Trust, that those without the requisite photo ID proposed are most likely to be the most deprived in the country and from diverse communities. We know that the groups most in need of a new form of photo ID are also the groups who are hardest to get on the electoral register in the first place. Putting another unnecessary barrier in the way of them taking part in the democratic process is at least open to suggestions of voter suppression.

There have been several references in our debates to Northern Ireland. I will not repeat them, but there, in 1983, there was a clear case of multiple voter fraud and the Government acted. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has pointed out, in an electorate 20 times as large, and in two sets of elections, there was only one such conviction in Great Britain, showing that there is simply no case.

The Government even accept that photo ID may be acceptable at the polling station even if the photo is not recognisable, so what is the point of requiring photo ID at all? Non-photo ID would be sufficient and proportional to deal with any perceived threat of election fraud. The Government should concede that they have consistently failed, at every stage of this Bill, to show that there is any real evidence of a significant level of fraud at polling stations. They have failed even in trying to assess the scale of any problem with personation, as was powerfully demonstrated by my noble friend Lord Scriven in Committee. Spending £180 million over the next 10 years to address this potential problem is unnecessary and disproportionate.

My Lords, I will briefly speak to Amendment 8 in my name and the names of other noble Lords. The proposal in Amendment 8 would extend the list of accepted documents beyond the narrow group of photo ID that the Government are proposing, but I regard my amendment as consistent with the commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto. I approach this from the perspective of red tape. Is the extra regulation being proposed proportionate to the problem that needs to be tackled? As we have heard from all sides of this House, there is no evidence that personation is a significant problem in the British electoral system.

That is very different from Northern Ireland, where ID and then photo ID were introduced. There, there was in the words of the then chief electoral officer a “planned and well organised” programme of personation. In the absence of any such evidence of personation as a significant problem in the UK, the costs imposed by this measure seem to go way beyond the scale of the problems—costs estimated at £180 million over 10 years. If a broader range of documents is accepted, that removes the need for a new, separate group of voter ID cards and, hence, lowers the costs involved.

I acknowledge the way in which the Minister has engaged with these issues and has recently written to us on these proposals. He may say, “Well, there’s not a problem now, but we still need to do this to boost confidence in the security of the British electoral system”, despite the evidence that our problems are actually in postal voting and proxy voting and not in personation. We know that confidence in the British electoral system currently runs at over 90%. It is not clear that confidence could be much higher than that. Indeed, the attempt to legislate may have the opposite effect to the one that Ministers are seeking and may create anxiety and uncertainty where none existed before. In Northern Ireland, where there is a track record of voter ID, confidence in the system is no higher than in Britain—indeed, on some measures, it is lower.

Besides this, I have one wider concern: what might happen at the next election if a significant number of voters—hundreds of voters per constituency—confronted with a new requirement with which they are unfamiliar in order to vote, photo ID, are turned away from polling stations and do not return? Let us imagine that the outcome of the next election is a modest majority—I hope a majority for the party of which I am a member—where, throughout the day, the media story has been of voters being turned away from polling stations. That seems a significant political and constitutional risk that needs to be taken into account if this measure is introduced. Here we do have a precedent from Northern Ireland: the first use of voter ID in polling stations there was estimated to have reduced voter turnout and turned away the equivalent of approximately 1 million voters across Great Britain, so this is a real risk.

In light of that, while I respect the similar thinking behind Amendments 5 and 6, for example, my intention is to divide the House on Amendment 8, because I regard it as protecting our system from a major political and constitutional risk while remaining consistent with the manifesto on which the Conservative Party fought the last election.

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 8, to which I have added my name. I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willetts.

The one real argument put by Ministers to support the restriction of identification to photo ID was that it is the most secure form of ID. However, we never got an explanation of how it was decided that, in the necessary balancing of the two, security trumped accessibility to the point that only the most secure forms of ID were permissible, despite the lack of evidence of fraud, as we have heard. In reaching that position, it was not clear why the Government rejected what we might call the “Pickles principle”—that perfection must not get in the way of a practical solution. Amendment 8 and some of the other amendments offer such a practical solution, but the Government’s response hitherto has been disappointing.

Ministers have also frequently cited the finding of the Electoral Commission tracker that 66% of the public say that the requirement to show identification at polling stations would increase their confidence in security. But I note that the word “photo” is never mentioned, so I can only assume that the question did not specify photo ID. Also, we do not know how members of the public would weigh up that balance between security and accessibility. It would appear from the latest election tracker—a point made by the noble Lord—that a much larger majority, eight in 10, are confident that elections are well run, and that nearly nine in 10 think that voting at polling stations is safe. But there is a real danger, as has been said, that perceptions will be tainted by the Government’s narrative of voting fraud, which risks reducing trust in the system, as has been pointed out by a number of bodies. According to the Electoral Reform Society, recent US studies have found that talking up voter fraud reduces confidence in electoral integrity and has indeed corroded trust in the system.

As I made clear in Committee, I am particularly concerned about the impact on people in poverty or on a low income, who are not necessarily caught in the Government’s focus on groups with protected characteristics. Of course, I am concerned about them too; I particularly noted the position of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities in Committee. The Government have chosen not to enact the socioeconomic duty in the Equality Act, which might have encouraged them to focus on people in poverty. As it is, the more I have read, the more convinced I am that they have in effect been ignored in consultations with stakeholders and in the pilots.

According to 2019 data from the British Election Study, provided to me by the Library, there was a clear income gradient in turnout in the 2019 election, with half—or slightly more than half—of those in households with an income of £15,599 or less not having voted. If the JRF is correct that, as it stands, Clause 1 and Schedule 1 risk disenfranchising as many as 1.7 million low-income members of the electorate, these worrying figures can only get worse.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, promised that she would get me

“a list of the consultees that we worked with because that is important.”

This was in response to my questions as to

“what engagement there has been with organisations speaking on behalf of people in poverty, or in which people in poverty are themselves involved, so that they can bring the expertise born of experience to these policy discussions”.—[Official Report, 17/3/22; cols. 562, 567.]

I repeated the question when we returned to the issue on day three of Committee, but there was still no sign of that list. Instead, in his letter to Peers, the Minister assured us that there has been a comprehensive programme of engagement with civil society organisations, with a heavy emphasis once again on those with protected characteristics. However, once again, the implication of the letter is that the impact of poverty has been ignored, and that there has been no engagement with organisations working with people in poverty or with those who can bring the expertise of experience of poverty to bear on the matter. Yet, their perspectives could be particularly valuable when considering appropriate voter ID and the process of applying for a voter card. I ask yet again whether there has been such consultation and, if not, will the Government now prioritise it?

As it happens, I was at an event this morning organised by Poverty2Solutions, an award-winning coalition of grassroots organisations led by people with direct experience of poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage and supported by the JRF. The key message was the need to put lived experience at the heart of policy-making, complementing other forms of expertise. I asked whether Poverty2Solutions would be willing to engage with the Government on the development of voter ID policy, and the response was an enthusiastic yes. The door is open.

My Lords, I rise to support—I could say all the amendments in this group, but that is slightly inconsistent. There is absolutely no evidence at all to support the need for any voter ID in British elections in person, as highlighted by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Government’s plans are unnecessary, discriminatory, expensive and a regressive step.

There is also no public support for these changes at all. The latest edition of the Electoral Commission’s public opinion tracker, which measures public views on the electoral process, showed that 90% of voters say that voting at a polling station is safe from fraud and abuse. That is an exceptionally high percentage in any poll. Overall, public confidence in elections is apparently at its highest level since data collection began.

We know that the idea of voter ID arose from the allegations of election fraud in Tower Hamlets. However, as noble Lords know, the Tower Hamlets allegations had nothing to do with personation at polling stations. It is interesting that the judge in the Tower Hamlets case told the Bill Committee:

“Personation at polling stations is very rare indeed.”—[Official Report, Commons, Elections Bill Committee, 15/9/21; col. 15.]

This is basically the view of most noble Lords in this House.

The voter ID system will cost an estimated £120 million over three years—there are various estimates, but that is the median. I must say that I find it quite shocking that any Government would spend that sort of money on a completely unnecessary reform when there is so much need which is unmet all over the country—it is really upsetting. I like the Liberty analogy on the voter ID issue: a householder who has not had a problem with burglary for years and yet decides to spend a fortune on a new lock. In similar ways, his house was perfectly safe and so is our electoral system at polling stations. However, I would not say the same necessarily of postal votes.

This is a serious matter. By far the most important cost, as others have mentioned, is the democratic deficit caused by depriving citizens of their right to vote. The Electoral Commission’s latest research shows that about 2 million—I think the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, mentioned this—are potentially being denied their vote. The Government say, “Oh, there’s no problem. We’re going to issue these voter cards.” But the Cabinet Office research found that 42%—nearly half—of those without an ID are either unlikely or very unlikely to apply for a voter card. In addition, there are another 186,000 voters who do have an ID but who will not vote if the ID system is introduced, probably because they will forget to take their ID with them and they certainly will not go all the way back to vote later in the day.

The consequences of the voter ID system are considerably worsened because of the fact that this will not be spread evenly across the population. About three times as many unemployed people, or local authority and housing association tenants, as the rest of the population do not have any form of acceptable ID. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pointed to other groups and other ways of looking at this, but it is a huge difference. Disabled people will be similarly disadvantaged.

I particularly support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, because it accepts the Government’s manifesto commitment to the principle of voter ID but goes a long way towards ameliorating the worst consequences of a thoroughly undesirable and unnecessary proposal. Allowing a range of documents, including the poll card, to be presented as ID, and allowing another elector with ID to vouch for the one who does not have any, would greatly increase the likelihood of minority groups successfully voting.

My Lords, I would like to pick up on a couple of comments. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, spoke about the objection to grouping all BAME communities together and believing that they will not be in favour of an ID card. I have spent weeks talking to people from all communities, including BAME and poor communities, in my own city of Leicester, which is one of the most diverse cities in the country. When I asked them whether they would object to a voter ID card with a photograph, not one person said that they would. I do not understand where this evidence keeps coming from that BAME communities or people on the lowest incomes are going to be disfranchised.

I have spent my whole life in Leicester. I understand the worries that there are in Leicester. One case has been pointed to, but I have had people coming to me, over several elections, worried about the integrity of the elections being held in Leicester. I am speaking about Leicester because it is my home city and I want it to be a city that believes voting in this country is fair for everyone.

When people in this Chamber say that eight or nine out of 10 people are happy with the system as it is today, I do not know who has been consulted or how far that has reached out into communities such as mine, because I would love each and every one of your Lordships to come and speak to people in my home city and get a real reflection of why I am so passionate about making sure that voter ID is part and parcel of the way we take our elections forward. So many people tell me that they do not feel safe or happy with the current system.

Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I say: please stop talking on BAME communities’ behalf as if all of us are grouped as one lump and we all think and do things in the same way. We do not. We actually are consistent in our duty as citizens to try to partake in elections in the UK, but part of the problem, which I have seen, has been demonstrated to me. At the last local election I was involved with, people showed me two cases where people came with proxy votes: five proxy votes in one case, four in another, and the only registered proxy was one vote in the council.

I really want there to be a genuinely good system for all of us. This is not about the BAME community. It is about the integrity of voting, which is all I am interested in. Not one of the people I spoke to has objected to voter ID. The only clarification I should like from my noble friend on the Front Bench is: will the ID card be for everyone, or for those people who do not hold a photo ID of any kind? Will this £180 million be spent on ID cards for everyone, or is it particularly for those who have no photo ID of any sort? I was not sure about this.

Can the noble Baroness tell me exactly what “photo” means? Looking at the list produced by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, it could all be contained on one identity card or, as I prefer to call it, a smart card for all.

My Lords, I am only saying that I have had no objection to it being a photo ID. The implication seems to be that we, as communities, would object and become disenfranchised but I have not found that. This is the only point I am trying to raise.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. She has raised some of the issues that have prompted me to speak today. I have had a slight change of heart or mind—or my mind has been changed—which is why I am speaking, rather than repeating everything that I previously said.

My concerns about these photo IDs have fairly consistently been that there is no evidence of voter impersonation; it is not an issue. I do not like any move towards a “show us your pass” society. I worry about the unintended consequences of the Government pushing voter ID. In itself, it implies a problem which might then undermine trust in the democratic process. In particular, I echo the query from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, about the consequences of people being turned away from polling stations. I have raised that before.

I am not very good at paperwork. I am the kind of person who gets it wrong. We have only to look at the best-intended interventions in Ukraine, or in Poland with the issuing of visas to Ukrainian refugees, to see that paperwork can go wrong. I am concerned about people turning up with the wrong thing and being sent away when they only have that day to vote. It would imply to fellow citizens that something dodgy was going on—that they were cheating, rather than just having the wrong piece of paper. What does the Minister advise in this instance?

In following the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, the problem is that we have probably got to a point where the ship has sailed regarding trust in democracy. Something has gone wrong. A constant theme in commentary on elections is that too many people seem to think it impossible for their side to have lost without implying that the other side has somehow won by cheating or that the vote was manipulated. I have been quite shocked by the commentary around the vote in Hungary, in which it has been implied that the only basis on which Orban won was become something dodgy happened and that it was unfair. That was said about Brexit, about Trump’s win and about Biden’s win. In all those instances, there have been implicit or explicit accusations by losers that somehow cheating has happened. There is a broader problem of the undermining of trust in democracy, which I think a lot of people in this Chamber and outside it have created, but it has nothing to do with voter ID.

When I started to talk to people after my speeches at Second Reading and in Committee, I was absolutely inundated by those who said that they disagreed with my opposition to voter ID. Those were not the cut-and-paste emails, which we all receive, or from organised lobby groups. They appeared to be from ordinary people. Pundits and loads of people contacted me—some I knew and some I did not. I have had more correspondence on this than on anything else.

I tell your Lordships this because I was taken aback, but when I started to talk to people, they said that because there is a big debate about trust in the democratic process, for whatever reason, they want reassurance that the ballot box is secure. People said that their motives were about protecting the vote and respecting democracy. I do not know that it can be described as fake news when the Government say there is a discussion about the democratic process, because it seems that there is. I suppose that has happened in the name of transparency, accountability and trying to be honest, so when people say that they want to shore up democracy through ID, I want to take at least some notice.

Another thing that was said, which fits in with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was that they felt insulted by the idea that showing ID would put them off voting. They said, “You think we have such a low view of democracy, that we are so easily put off voting. The problem is that we go out to vote and when we do, people tell us we voted the wrong way.” That was their problem.

I have thought about it a lot and am still not sure but I am prepared to consider some compromise, particularly on Amendment 8. It does the job by letting us have some ID, as wide a range of IDs as possible so we do not have the problem of turning people away at the ballot box. It is also important to recognise that, whether we like it or not, there is a debate about how much we can trust the democratic process, so if there is a way of reassuring people—although I wish we had not got to that point—then maybe we should think about this.

I would like to know what the Minister thinks about the dangers of undermining our trust in democracy by pushing this too hard. Is there a compromise that the Government can make that would, relatively speaking, satisfy all people? Even the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said he might reluctantly go down that line, despite it going against what he wants, which is to get rid of it altogether.

My Lords, I did not participate in Committee but I intervened a couple of times, most notably when the noble Lord, Lord Collins, tried to pray me in aid to something I did not say. I want to put my position on the record and, bearing in mind the strictures from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, I will be quick.

I want to add a cautionary note about this group of amendments. My caution is absolutely not because I want to restrict participation in our elections in any way. The reverse is true, as evidenced by the work we have done in the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, a follow-up report to which was published a week or two ago. I was lucky enough to chair that committee and place on record my thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friend Lady Eaton. The committee did important work and I made sure that I personally sent the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, a copy of our report last week, as he had made a powerful speech during the last stage.

I argue that our primary objective has to be to ensure that people use their vote. I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, about declining turnout. While I understand that you cannot vote unless you are on the roll and have ways of voting, we have failed to persuade people that their vote is worth using, as evidenced by the figures laid out in the earlier remarks by the noble Lord.

I suggest that there are principally two reasons why people go out to vote. The first is that they see the act of voting as having their say—“to chuck the rascals out” is the famous phrase that is often used. We need to find ways to encourage more people to think like that, and about what is meant by being a citizen, and by rights and responsibilities. I am afraid that the Government’s response to our work to try to encourage citizenship education can so far be described only as desultory. I think I speak for all members of our committee when I say that we do not intend to give way on this. However, equally, nothing in these amendments deals with the question of participation. That is the problem, and that is what I am really interested in getting at.

The second reason people have confidence is that they want their vote to be fairly weighed—that is to say, they believe in the integrity of the system. We have heard a lot from my noble friends Lord Willetts and Lady Verma, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about various aspects and views that people take. I add that, when I was doing the third-party campaigning review, there were rumblings when we talked to third-party campaigners about what was going on. It was not easy to put a finger on it, but there was a general feeling that things were not quite as they should be.

We have to recognise that electoral malpractice—alleged, maybe, but not proven—is big news. Should it be? Well, bad news tends to be news and this is seen to be news. Once a few cases begin to work through the system, a climate is created—one that is jolly difficult to dissipate and dispel and it takes a great deal of effort to do so. I put it to those who tabled these amendments, which would widen the ability to vote, that it is a difficult balance to strike. I am not sure, from hearing some of the speeches and reading some of the amendments, that all other noble Lords recognise just how difficult the balance is or that there is a balance that we have to deal with.

Finally, and potentially more controversially, in my youth, the poster of choice on the wall of my girlfriend’s hall of residence or of her flat was a picture of Che Guevara in battle fatigues—she thought he seemed very attractive; not quite my sort of thing, but there we are—carrying a rifle, which had a flower coming out of the barrel. Some noble Lords will probably have seen it. The underlying message was that you have to make some effort to achieve something if you want to value it when you have got it. I accept that defining “some effort” is exceptionally difficult, but if being a good citizen gives you rights, it also gives you responsibilities. Somehow, we have to reach a situation where being able to vote is seen as infinitely more precious than getting a driving licence.

Overall, having heard the arguments, having read my noble friend the Minister’s letter of 4 April in response to the Committee debate, particularly the paragraph on turnout, and having heard my noble friend Lady Noakes explain the ways in which our society is changing and the ever-increasing use, in the digital age, of other ways to ensure we have a system that people feel is worth while and want to participate in, and in which their vote is weighed fairly, I think that this is extremely difficult. The Government have the balance about right in what they propose.

My Lords, I rise very reluctantly to speak in this debate because I participated only very briefly in Committee. However, it seems to me that ID cards for all—or smart cards, as I tend to describe them —is the future. It is time to move the electoral system on, not backwards, as the Minister is trying to do by describing photo ID or whatever it might be as the way forward.

The way forward is one card. I have gone through the list in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and believe that they could all be on one card: an ID card. In fact, an ID card or smart card could be in the back of your hand, which you carry with you all the time, and not one that you carry in your wallet. A driving licence, a birth certificate, a marriage or civil partnership certificate, or an adoption certificate could all be on a smart card for all and used as an ID card. It could all be contained within one card. You would then use your thumb or finger, or your eye, wherever you need to use your ID card, certificate or whatever it might be.

This policy needs to be withdrawn at this stage of the Bill in favour of the introduction of an ID card or smart card for all that contains many of the things listed. I would object to a bank or building society chequebook, for instance—when did the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, last use a chequebook? I do not even know where mine is, let alone use it. I want to see all those things put on to one card or in the back of the hand.

My Lords, it has been a very wide-ranging debate, considering it is Report. I wonder if the House would accept me just focusing as far as possible on the business in hand and the amendments that we have in front of us.

First of all, I fully understand and accept the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has put forward: that if everything else fails, we must pull this out. That would be my starting and finishing point. My noble friend Lord Rennard and I have tabled Amendment 7, which has found some favour among those who have spoken. We have made it clear that that would be something which fits very well alongside the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. It is just an addition to his list, but a very important addition, because people are familiar with the poll card. Those of us who, on election days, very often spend time trying to persuade people to put their coats on, always hear things like, “Oh, I have lost my poll card.” People already assume that the poll card is a significant thing that they need to take with them, so when it comes to acceptance, we understand it to be very much there.

To the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Desai—who feel that, somehow, to point to the fact that having voter ID might deter some people from voting is to pick out, talk down to or single out people in a patronising way—I say that we are responding to the evidence of the trials which were conducted by the Government and which are fully certified facts. The facts are that in those places, fewer people finished voting because of the ID system: it is not a huge number fewer but, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, pointed out, if we were to read across the data from those experiments, it would be 2 million voters who failed to vote as a result of having such a system in place.

The Government understand that there could be a problem, which is why they are prepared to spend somewhere between £120 million and £180 million getting those 2 million voters to come and vote—if only they would spend that amount on the 8 million not registered, it would be a very good thing. If we acknowledge that there is a problem whereby introducing voter ID reduces participation, let us look at the most straightforward ways of rectifying and lowering that barrier.

I believe that all these amendments are, in their different ways, making the same point. Obviously I want to make the case for Amendment 7 in particular, but I certainly do not exclude the others. It is important to get participation; it is important to consider the issues that have already been raised in the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, where he prayed in aid the Pickles report. As I have said to the House before, I served with the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, in the department for a couple of years and I never heard him in favour of red tape. I cannot imagine that he seriously thinks that spending £120 million or £180 million on this scheme makes any sense when he has said himself that a utility bill would do.

I say to this House that, from every side, the argument is made that there will be a reduction in participation with an ID scheme. It will be lower if we can manage to make it without photo ID. The pilots showed exactly that: the schemes where no voter ID was needed had fewer voters refused and losing their vote. It is a very straightforward issue; there are bigger issues floating around, which we have heard already, but surely this House must understand and accept the case that, if we want to keep participation up, we need barriers to people going to vote to be at the lowest practical level consistent with a secure system.

My Lords, I will not go over the ground that we have already covered—and there has been a lot—and will just speak to my amendments. Like a number of others in this group, they extend the acceptable forms of voter identification to broaden them out to include non-photographic identity documents. As has been said, the manifesto commitment for voter ID was not for photographic ID, but we respect the fact that the Government had a manifesto commitment to voter ID. My Amendment 6, in particular, would allow a polling card to be an accepted form of identification and would allow for the vouching system currently used in Canada, for example.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, mentioned that polling cards were used as the primary method of identification in some of the pilot schemes that were held and that some used a QR code on the card, which was then scanned at the polling station. It was felt that this was more secure but more expensive. However, the evaluation of the pilots also noted that:

“It is also not clear … that additional IT in polling stations … is absolutely necessary to support the use of the poll card as a form of identification.”

We believe on these Benches that the Government need to look at this again.

The Government could learn a lot from Canada on this subject. Its vouching system allows a citizen who has ID and appears on the electoral roll to sign an affidavit to confirm the identity of another voter who does not have identification. That provides a clear paper trail linked to registered voters so that any suspicions of irregularities can be investigated. It also ensures that many citizens without identification, or those who feel uncomfortable providing it, can still cast their vote.

In Canada, it is possible to present identification in up to 50 different formats. We have heard that even the Pickles report, on which the Government are leaning heavily in this part of the Bill, suggests that utility bills could be included as a possibility. The noble Lord, Lord True, has stated that photographic ID is the most “secure and appropriate” model of voter ID. However, the Government have consistently failed, as we have heard today from other noble Lords, to provide any evidence of personation fraud that would require this tightening of security around voters’ identity. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, the case for fraud has not been made.

In Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, said that the issue is

“about making sure that as many people as possible take up their democratic right to vote”.—[Official Report, 17/3/22; col. 550.]

I could not agree more. However, if that is the Government’s intention, I genuinely do not understand why amendments to expand the acceptable documentation are not being accepted. We debated this long in Committee. We have heard again today that the availability of identification is lower among a certain number of groups and would likely drive down participation. There is clear evidence to support this. As my noble friend Lord Grocott said, this is a new hurdle. Enabling non-photographic identification and the adoption of a vouching system, as in my amendment, would help to mitigate against the serious concerns about the impact of photographic voter identification on turnout.

My noble friend Lady Lister mentioned engagement. Noble Lords will be aware that I have previously expressed concern about the lack of engagement in and scrutiny of much of this Bill. The Minister has claimed that extensive engagement has taken place to understand the needs of voters with protected characteristics, and that there has been a significant programme of work to engage civil society organisations. Unfortunately, despite considerable concern from groups representing voters with protected characteristics and wider civil society groups, nothing in the proposals has changed and the Government have adopted the most stringent form of voter identification possible.

If the Government were keen to gather views, they could have done so with pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposals and a search for consensus and common ground. I repeat my request to the Minister for post-legislative scrutiny of parts of the Bill—including this clause, which will have a huge impact on the way in which our elections are run. Does he also accept that we need a much wider range of acceptable identification documents so that, if the Government insist on bringing in voter identification at the polling booth, it will have as little impact on participation as possible?

We believe that my Amendment 6 and Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, are compatible with Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I commend the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts; if he tests the opinion of the House, we will support it.

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have spoken. In case I forget it, I will take up right at the start the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about post-legislative scrutiny; she has made it before. As I have said from the Dispatch Box and in our engagement, it is something on which the Government are reflecting.

If the proposition put by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to leave out Clause 1 and Schedule 1 is accepted, your Lordships’ House will be saying to the other place, in striking out the whole proposition, that noble Lords find it perfectly reasonable for photographic identification to be required in our society for travelling, picking up a parcel and being allowed to drive but not for choosing Members of another place. That is the message your Lordships would send to another place, which has sent us this Bill with its approval.

As has been said by a number of those who have spoken, this topic has been discussed exhaustively in both Houses at almost every single stage of the passage of the Bill. This is not the first time that we have seen these amendments so I will keep my speech on the main points short; however, I will answer the detailed amendments that have been put forward.

The Government’s position on this debate has not changed. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, acknowledged, introducing a requirement to show identification to vote in polling stations was a manifesto commitment, was discussed during the election and is an issue in which the Government believe strongly. In our submission, voter identification is part of a series of measures that will help to prevent fraud and abuse taking place at polling stations.

There are issues of climate and balance, both of which were spoken to wisely by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. We have thought carefully about these matters and believe that this is a reasonable and proportionate measure. I want to reassure the Chamber again that everyone who is eligible to vote will continue to have the opportunity to vote.

In an impressive speech that should give food for thought to a number of us, my noble friend Lady Verma asked whether the voter card was only for people without other accepted forms of identification. It is certainly in the interests of accessibility and helping people to vote and intended for those without other accepted ID, but there is no restriction on anyone applying for the free voter card, as long as they are registered or have applied to be. Cards will be available free of charge from each elector’s local authority for any elector who does not have one of the wide range of accepted forms of identification that the Government are already proposing—not unrecognisable identification, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, claimed, but yes, expired identification if it is recognisable.

Similar measures have been in place across the world and in this country; Northern Ireland has had photographic voter identification since 2003, when it was brought in by the Labour Government of the time. As I have said before, we submit that this is part of an essential suite of measures to ensure that our democracy continues to be effectively protected from fraud. The Government therefore cannot support an amendment to remove these propositions.

I will address specifically the various amendments that fall short of the total rejection of the proposition of photo identification. I think the noble Lord, Lord Desai, would fairly acknowledge that his speech was not entirely welcome to some in the House, but he spoke one truth that was picked up by my noble friend Lady Verma. He said he saw no reason why anyone should be put off by having to show photographic identification, and we agree with him on that.

The noble Lord’s Amendment 2 would provide that the Electoral Commission should be responsible for issuing voter cards, rather than individual EROs. Amendment 3 would say that voter cards should be issued automatically to all eligible electors rather than just those who apply for them, and Amendment 4 has specific details that should be on the cards. Collectively, they would make a significant change to our voter identification policy. By including significantly more personal information and mandating that they be issued unilaterally to the entire electorate for relevant elections, the noble Lord’s proposition would in effect become tantamount to a national identity card. He is very happy about that, as indeed is the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, but this is not something that the Government intend in any way in these propositions or have plans to introduce, and therefore—I regret to tell the noble Lord, Lord Desai—not something we can support.

I now turn to Amendments 5 to 7, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, regarding alternative options for voters to prove their identity at polling stations. The Government cannot support these amendments either, as they would open the way to use of documents that are less secure than those in the list we have put before your Lordships.

The first suggestion, in Amendment 6, is that an elector could prove their identity by showing any document issued to them by their local authority or returning officer that shows their name and address, or their poll card. This is not something we can support. Few, if any, such documents will show a photograph of the elector, so they cannot be used simply and easily to prove at the polling station that the bearer of the document is who they say they are. Such documents could easily be intercepted—particularly in places of multiple occupation, for example—and could give false legitimacy to a potential personator.

Allowing any documents issued by local authorities or returning officers would also open significant avenues for forgery, for a forger would simply need to copy the letterhead from correspondence, which would be straightforward to extract from an electronic version emailed to them by their local authority.

Similarly—and I know the noble Baroness feels strongly about this, and I understand her feelings about it—permitting attestation at polling stations is not something this Government can support. Again, all attestation would leave open an avenue for electoral fraud, and potentially expose legitimate electors to a situation which I know from our previous debates everyone in this House wishes to prevent, where an elector could be intimidated or coerced into breaking the law to falsely vouch for a person.

The Minister mentions attestation, but this Bill specifically introduces at a later stage the allowing of attestation for overseas voters to get on the electoral roll, so I cannot see why he is quite so concerned about this.

My Lords, I am explaining to the House why we are concerned in this particular context. I would have thought the noble Lord, having listened to the speech by my noble friend Lady Verma, might feel there is something in what she said.

I wish to reassure your Lordships that our intention remains to realise our ambition that the last possible point at which electors can apply for a voter card will be 5pm the day ahead of a poll. We consider that this too should reduce the need for attestation. Up to 5pm the day before a poll, the card will be available.

I now turn to Amendment 8 laid by my noble friend Lord Willetts—others have supported it. It suggests an even wider number of new documents that could be used as a form of identification at the polling station. This too is a topic debated at length in both Houses, and the other place settled on the propositions we have before us.

As I have already discussed, the majority of these suggestions do not show a photograph of the elector and so cannot provide the appropriate level of proof that the bearer is who they say they are. Looking further down the list in Amendment 8 at some of the suggestions which do display photographs, I wish to reassure noble Lords that the list of identification was developed with both security and accessibility in mind—this point was addressed by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts in his thoughtful speech. Unfortunately, some of the forms of identity listed in my noble friend’s amendment are not sufficiently secure for this purpose.

We cannot permit any workplace ID or student ID card, as we cannot be sure of how rigorous the process is to issue these documents. The 18+ student Oyster photocard and the National Rail card have also been suggested before—unfortunately, currently, the process for applying for these documents is insufficiently secure for the purposes of voting. The final suggestion on the list is the Young Scot National Entitlement Card. This card is accredited by PASS, the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme, and so will already be accepted as proof of identity under the current proposed legislation.

Should further forms of photo identification become available and—I stress this—be sufficiently secure, I reassure the House that the Bill already makes provision, in paragraph 18(4)(1Q) of Schedule 1, for the list to be amended so that additional identification can be added or removed as necessary without the need for further primary legislation.

In summary, taken together, these amendments would weaken the security of our elections and the propositions that we have put before your Lordships. Therefore, they are not something we can support. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I apologise for intervening again, as we are trying to get on with this, but I did ask a specific question. What, if any, estimate have the Government made of the effect of these proposals on turnout in elections? If they have not made any estimate of that, why not?

My Lords, the Government’s objective—as indeed is the objective of anybody who practices the art of politics—is to achieve the highest number going to the polling station. The noble Lord knows well that turnout is not affected by any specific institution or object; turnout varies according to the electors’ very broad perceptions of the state of politics. If the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, were standing as a candidate in the constituency in which I was living, I would flock—if an individual can flock—to the poll to vote for him; I might not for others. Turnout is contingent, but the Government’s desire is to see as many people as possible voting. That is why the photo ID card will be free and why the Electoral Commission will operate a major national publicity campaign from next year to ensure that people are fully aware of it.

It has been an interesting debate. I want us to move on, but I want to pick up a couple of points raised, not least those raised by my noble friends Lady Verma and Lord Desai regarding the point that there is not a race issue around voter ID. I think we should put our political colours aside for the moment—that is really important—and look at the facts. When we did these pilot projects, there was one in particular in Derby in which Africans, Asians and Caribbeans—more colloquially, black and brown people—came to vote and did not have the right identification. Many—and this is the point—disproportionately black and brown people, did not come back to exercise their franchise.

I do not know where people get their information from but if we base this on the facts we see that we are hit harder—and that is before we even get to the polls. If you calculate the number—it was between 0.5% and 0.7%—of those who came to the polls, were turned away and never came back, and translate it to the general population, you will see that we would be looking at hundreds of thousands, if not more than 1 million people, being turned away before exercising their franchise. Are we happy to accept that? Ask yourself that one question.

The other point I want to make is this. People talk about identification cards, but let me ask the House these straight questions. How many noble Lords—raise your hands—have been stopped and searched by the police? How many noble Lords have been stopped and strip-searched? I am sorry if noble Lords find this funny. It really is not funny—ask Child Q if it is funny. I say to my noble friend Lady Verma that for a lot of young Africans and Asians the worry is that, in the hands of the authorities, identification cards will be used to target us, because that is our lived experience. So we worry: we worry that it will be abused; that we will be harassed and humiliated. I know this is a digression, but the subject came up and I wanted to knock it on its head.

I am also from Leicester and I also know the young Africans and Muslims there. They are worried about what we do here. They want us to use our energy and our wisdom to ensure that they know about this institution, that they understand it, and that they can effectively register to vote—which I hope we will vote on shortly—and for people like me to express their lived experience and protect them. That is why I am worried about photo ID. I want to make it work. I want to bring people in, not lock people out.

I thank noble Lords for giving me that time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Schedule 1: Voter identification

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Schedule 1, page 69, leave out line 8 and insert “The Electoral Commission must provide an electoral identity document to”

I want to move Amendment 2 because I feel that I have a simpler solution to what the Government propose. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker decided on a show of voices that Amendment 2 was disagreed.

Amendments 3 to 7 not moved

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Schedule 1, page 83, line 25, at end insert—

“(1HA) In this rule a “specified document” also means any of the following documents (in whatever form issued to the holder)—(a) a driving licence;(b) a birth certificate;(c) a marriage or civil partnership certificate;(d) an adoption certificate;(e) the record of a decision on bail made in respect of the voter in accordance with section 5(1) of the Bail Act 1976;(f) a bank or building society cheque book;(g) a mortgage statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;(h) a bank or building society statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;(i) a credit card statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;(j) a council tax demand letter or statement dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;(k) a P45 or P60 form dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;(l) a standard acknowledgement letter (SAL) issued by the Home Office for asylum seekers;(m) a trade union membership card;(n) a library card;(o) a pre-payment meter card;(p) a National Insurance card;(q) a workplace ID card;(r) a student ID card;(s) an 18+ student Oyster photocard;(t) a National Rail Railcard;(u) a Young Scot National Entitlement Card.”

My Lords, I think it is important to test the opinion of the House. The Minister spoke very eloquently but this is still an enormous and expensive measure of red tape to solve a problem that no one insists is a serious issue in the British electoral system. I therefore seek the opinion of the House.

Amendment 9 not moved.

Clause 3: Restriction of period for which person can apply for postal vote

Amendment 9A

Moved by

9A: Clause 3, leave out Clause 3

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 9A and also Amendments 9B and 70, which are consequential amendments in this group. These amendments relate to my ongoing concerns about the new postal vote restrictions in Clause 3 and Schedule 3.

I wrote to the Minister about this subject following our earlier, very brief discussion. In particular, I asked him what evidence there was to back up his remarks that an indefinite postal vote, in the way we have at present,

“presents a significant security concern”.—[Official Report, 21/3/22; col. 739]

For reasons that are completely understandable, I did not receive a reply before the deadline for tabling amendments. It is a pity, in a way, because I might not have felt it necessary to table these amendments if I had been able to receive a reply, but I totally understand that the Minster was unavoidably absent over recent days, and I realise too that it would have been better to send my email to the department rather than using a parliamentary route. None the less, I am very glad that the Minister is back with us today. As I say, there was a brief discussion on 21 March about the new restrictions on postal voting. Unfortunately, I could not be present on that occasion, but I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury for referring to some of my concerns.

The background to this is that I come from a part of the country where postal voting rates are among the highest in the UK, and have been consistently so ever since the Labour Government’s experiments with all-postal ballots between 2001 and 2005. For example, in the 2010 election, eight out of the top 10 constituencies for postal voting were in Tyne and Wear. Newcastle Central was at the head of the list, with a rate of over 40%. I very well remember, in my old constituency of Gateshead East and Washington West, when the all-postal ballots took place, I was so struck by the number of people who had not voted by post before and really appreciated it because they felt it suited their lifestyle much more.

Voting in person, on a Thursday—a system that came into force when most people lived and worked very locally and there was far less commuting and travel—has become very difficult for a lot of people, and remains difficult. Many of us who have knocked on doors on election day to try to get people out to vote at the last minute have experienced this. Sometimes people have come home from work and are reluctant for all kinds of reasons. Whether it is the weather or something much more important perhaps, such as leaving a child at home, they are very reluctant to venture out again. We have seen this phenomenon grow over the years so that it has a negative effect on turnout. When the all-postal ballots took place in my area, in local elections we experienced a hike from 20% to 50%. In the area that I lived and knew, there were no instances of fraud whatsoever; there was no evidence of fraud.

At the time, the Conservative Party was very much opposed to these postal ballots, fearing that the Labour vote in particular would go up. However, when one looks at the evidence, particularly over a number of years, this is not really the case. Voting went up dramatically, but it did so proportionately.

As a result of these experiments, postal voting in my part of the world has remained very high. I mentioned that, in the 2010 general election, eight out of the 10 highest constituencies for postal voting were in the north-east. In 2017, that was still true—Newcastle North was, I think, head of the list with 44.3%. In the 2019 election, the rate fell slightly but, none the less, in the north-east it was still high with, I think, Houghton and Washington East having the highest rate.

In raising these concerns today, I am concerned in case this Conservative Government are in some way antagonistic to postal voting. I ask the Minister: is it the Government’s aim to facilitate postal voting or hamper it? It seems to me that it would be particularly crazy to make it more difficult for postal voting to take place at a time of a pandemic, when postal voting is particularly valued by people who, for various reasons, might be nervous about going to polling booths. The Pickles report, which has a lot of good things in it and has been quoted by a number of Members during the course of our debate, was, I think, in favour of some restrictions on postal voting, but let us remember that it was produced in 2016, pre-pandemic and before the experience of the last couple of years. Listening to the earlier debates today, and listening to so many people, quite rightly, worrying about a decline in voting, I think it seems crazy to bring in a measure that does not seem to be backed up by evidence and could reduce the number of people taking part in an election and, in particular, voting by post.

I know that, over the years, there has been much stress on the danger of fraud and, although there have been instances of fraud, which I completely deplore, they would not have been stopped by these provisions in the Bill. The fraud took place in different circumstances. Also, keeping on talking about fraud, in areas where there has not been any, does talk up a non-existent problem. I very much agreed with the comments made earlier by my noble friend Lady Lister on that subject. Certainly, the more it is said that there is a problem of fraud, the more in general that the electorate is likely to perceive that there is a problem of fraud. Yet, in constituencies where postal votes have had the highest rate of participation, there has not been fraud. As I say, in any case, these particular measures would not have prevented fraud that has happened elsewhere.

My honourable friend Fleur Anderson in the House of Commons made this and similar points in another rather short debate on the subject. I was disappointed that, in her reply, the Minister in the Commons said that Labour was simply focusing on costs and administrative burdens and that these were being overstated. This was not true. My honourable friend was mostly concerned with the lack of evidence in backing up these new restrictions. The measures were also criticised by Scottish members in the House of Commons—not surprisingly since Scotland and Wales allow indefinite postal voting under the current arrangements but will have to impose the new limits for UK parliamentary elections only. This leads to a confusing and unjustified situation.

I recognise that the Government have conceded in a number of areas in the Bill, but I put on the record my opposition to these postal voting provisions, which I believe are unnecessary and unhelpful. Could I at the very least ask the Minister—assuming that these measures become law—to ensure that if postal voting is seen to further reduce in areas like mine, where it has been so successful and not caused problems of fraud, that the Government will be prepared to look again and review the impact of these measures to fulfil the goal I understand we all have, which is of increasing turnout?

I conclude by saying once again that I wish a cross-party view of this had been sought and agreed on the basis of evidence. The Bill does bear the stamp of partisanship, and cross-party agreement on issues such as these is much better than a one-sided approach.

My Lords, there is a problem with permanent postal votes, and it is a problem for which I am partly responsible. It is the issue of matching the signatures on the applications to vote by post with the certificate that goes with the ballot papers when they are sent off. That arose from an amendment for which I was responsible quite some years ago, when my concern was to reduce the prevalence of postal vote fraud. I thought it was important to have matching signatures on the application to vote by post and the certificate on the ballot paper. But I have some reservations about what will happen if we end permanent postal votes. It may mean you get a fresh signature on the application that can be compared with the certificate that goes with the ballot paper, and the problem at the minute for which I am partly responsible is that, very often, the signature is deemed not to match the signature on the application to vote by post. Sometimes this is because, as people get older, their handwriting changes, and large numbers of postal votes are rejected. There is a problem and a case for people re-registering.

My fear is that if we stop the system of automatic postal votes, trying to get people to renew their postal vote applications will favour the richest parties with the biggest databases, which are more able to contact people by post and ask them to re-register. Mitigating against that will be the new system for applying to vote by post online, and I very much welcome that. But I wonder if the Minister might be able to tell us how you can maintain a system of verifying signatures on an application to vote by post and a certificate that accompanies the ballot paper—and do so online.

I also wonder, for the millions of people who choose to vote by post, when their three-year limit comes to an end, how they will be told that they have to apply again to vote by post. It seems that one letter in the post would not be enough. We need an extensive government communication campaign to tell people that if they wish to apply to vote by post, they need to do so and to reapply by the end of their three-year limit.

I will be very brief, because we need to make progress. I just say that, clearly, we are aware that there have been issues with postal vote fraud, and it is important the Government do everything they can to tackle this. However, I understand the concerns so clearly laid out by my noble friend Lady Quin, who makes some good points about potential unintended consequences of these changes. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s response and his reassurance on these matters.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for her kind remarks, and I apologise that she did not get a response. I assure her that I was horrified when I went into my office this morning and found her letter there, but I did not have a forwarding arrangement to my sick bed, I am afraid. I understand that the purpose of the clause that she wants to remove is to seek to strengthen the current arrangements for applying for a postal vote. It is not intended to in any way attack the principle of the postal vote.

The noble Baroness asked about evidence. The Electoral Commission winter tracker for 2021 found that 21% of people who were asked thought that postal voting was unsafe compared to 68% who thought it was safe. There has been evidence of postal voting fraud reported in Tower Hamlets, Slough, Birmingham and Peterborough among other places, but that does not invalidate the case for postal voting itself. What the Government are proposing is to facilitate online application, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said we are doing. Our intention, as with other elements in this Bill, is to improve safeguards against potential abuse.

As the noble Baroness acknowledged, the set of measures implements recommendations in the report by my noble friend Lord Pickles—he has appeared behind me—into electoral fraud that address weaknesses in the current absent voting arrangements. Also, a 2019 report by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee gave support to the proposed voting reforms. The proposal is to require an elector to reapply at least every three years, and that will enable the electoral registration officer to regularly assess the application and confirm that they are still an eligible elector. Also, it gives an opportunity, as I said at an earlier stage of the Bill, for someone caught in a cycle of coercion, or who is coerced into having a postal vote to enable their vote to be influenced on an ongoing basis, to break out of that situation. It makes it harder to maintain ongoing coercion.

Keeping details more up to date will reduce wasted costs of postal votes being sent to out-of-date addresses where, again, there may be risk of abuse. Under the Bill, there will also be transitional provisions for existing long-term postal voters, and we intend to phase in the measure for them so that they will have advanced notice to enable them to prepare for the administrative change. EROs will be required to send a reminder to existing postal voters in advance of the date they cease to have a postal vote and provide information to them on how to reapply for it, including online. We believe this is an important measure that could strengthen the integrity of postal voting and not undermine it in any way.

I will of course reflect on the points the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made in the debate. I was surprised to hear him accepting responsibility; I thought he accepted responsibility only for defeating Conservative candidates at elections. But I will take that admission as well.

Postal voting remains an important part of our electoral system. We do not believe that moving from five to three years, for reasons including those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, would invalidate the position, and I hope the reassurance I have given, and the supporting evidence, plus the reports and recommendations I have cited, will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am still somewhat concerned about the possible effects of these measures, but I am encouraged by the Minister’s words that the Government in no way want to discourage postal voting and they see it as an important part of our electoral processes. I just hope that the Government will look at the evidence as the situation progresses. In the light of what has been said, and in the interests of making progress, I wish to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 9A withdrawn.

Schedule 3: Restriction of period for which person can apply for postal vote

Amendment 9B not moved.

Clause 7: Requirement of secrecy

Amendment 10

Moved by

10: Clause 7, page 10, line 33, leave out “a local government election in Scotland or Wales” and insert “an election in Scotland or Wales under the local government Act”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment fixes a minor drafting issue in relation to references to local government elections.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 10 to 18, 20 to 25, 47 and 50 tabled in my name. Apart from Amendments 20 to 25, these are all technical amendments to ensure consistency with the way in which local government elections are currently referred to in the Representation of the People Act 1983. The relevant provisions under Part 2 of the 1983 Act refer to

“an election under the local government Act”

rather than using the term “local government election”, and these proposed amendments therefore reflect the more appropriate terminology to use. They will also ensure that earlier amendments applying these matters to reserved elections only meet that stated aim.

Finally, due to earlier amendments to ensure that the modernised undue influence offence applies only to reserved and excepted elections, amendments in Schedule 5 which currently cross-refer to Section 115 of the 1983 Act should instead refer to the new Section 114A. Technical Amendments 20 to 25 will correct this to ensure that the amendments made by the schedule function as intended. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support those amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment 10 agreed.

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: Clause 7, page 10, line 38, leave out “a local government election in England” and insert “an election in England under the local government Act”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

Amendment 11 agreed.

Clause 8: Undue influence

Amendments 12 to 18

Moved by

12: Clause 8, page 11, line 10, leave out “is guilty of undue influence if the person” and insert “(“P”) is guilty of undue influence if P”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes a minor change to the terminology used in new section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (undue influence), consequent on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

13: Clause 8, page 11, line 12, leave out “an elector or proxy for an elector” and insert “a person”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes a minor change to the terminology used in new section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (undue influence), consequent on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

14: Clause 8, page 11, line 19, leave out “an elector or proxy for an elector” and insert “a person”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes a minor change to the terminology used in new section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (undue influence), consequent on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

15: Clause 8, page 11, line 21, leave out “an elector or proxy for an elector” and insert “a person”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes a minor change to the terminology used in new section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (undue influence), consequent on the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

16: Clause 8, page 12, line 3, leave out “a local government election in Scotland or Wales” and insert “an election in Scotland or Wales under the local government Act”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

17: Clause 8, page 12, line 6, leave out “a local government election in Scotland or Wales” and insert “an election in Scotland or Wales under the local government Act”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

18: Clause 8, page 12, line 8, leave out “a local government election in Scotland or Wales” and insert “an election in Scotland or Wales under the local government Act”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 10, line 33.

Amendments 12 to 18 agreed.

Amendment 19

Moved by

19: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—

“Security of the vote

(1) The Electoral Commission must issue guidance on—(a) steps that presiding officers or clerks should take to ensure the secrecy of the ballot in polling stations, including on barring anyone from accompanying the elector into the polling booth, unless on grounds of infirmity, and(b) compliance with the provisions in section 8.(2) Local authorities and returning officers must take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the guidance under subsection (1) is followed.”

My Lords, I first welcome my noble friend the Minister back to his place. He has dealt, as manfully as he possibly could in the circumstances of his ill health, with queries that many of us have had, although I just wish that when he was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, he had not referred to his greatest victories, since that was a dagger fairly close to my heart—but that is another matter.

In Committee, I moved an amendment in relation to secrecy of the ballot, and I identified the serious problems we have with what is called “family voting”. This is not just in relation to Tower Hamlets but elsewhere too. In the response to that amendment, my noble friend Lady Scott was very helpful in saying:

“The current legislation requires that voters should not be accompanied by another person at a polling booth except in specific circumstances, such as being a child of a voter, a formal companion or a member of staff.”

It is fair to say that there was unanimity in the Chamber in relation to that as an understanding of the law. My noble friend then went on to say:

“However, given the important concerns that have been raised on the secrecy of voting, Minister Badenoch will be writing to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police to confirm our common understanding”—

that confirms the unanimity within this House—

“that the only people who should provide assistance at a polling booth are polling station staff and companions who are doing so only for the purpose of supporting an elector with health and/or accessibility issues”.—[Official Report, 21/3/22; cols. 750-51.]

My noble friend the Minister has been exemplary in her writing a letter, and it is fair to say that we have had very quick replies from both the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police. One might, therefore, wonder why I am raising this question and this amendment at this stage, but I want briefly to go back over the history of the problems in Tower Hamlets, although it also relates to other parts of the country as well.

While looking at this issue, I turned up a report prepared by the Electoral Commission in 2013, and it said then:

“Without taking steps now to begin rebuilding confidence and trust between the key participants in the election process, we are concerned that the May … elections will again be damaged by allegations of electoral fraud.”

We then had the farce of 2014 in terms of what went to court with Lutfur Rahman. Despite what the Electoral Commission said in that report, Richard Mawrey criticised the commission in paragraph 274 of his judgment:

“All one may say, with the greatest of respect for the Commission, that the enquiries into the structures of”—

Tower Hamlets First—

“cannot have been excessively rigorous.”

We then had the court case and then, in 2018, Democracy Volunteers—to which I referred in the last debate—produced a report citing quite staggering numbers for family voting continuing to take place. Therefore, action is clearly not being taken.

I have sympathy with the Metropolitan Police here, because the guidance that everybody relies on across the country, not just in terms of the Met, is provided by the Electoral Commission. That is the organisation to which anyone—such as the police forces—would naturally turn. What is the position of the Electoral Commission, and is it absolutely clear in its guidance? The answer to that is no; it has not been clear over a number of years. The net result is that the Metropolitan Police, when it receives complaints in relation to family voting, says, quite staggeringly, that the only people who can complain are those affected—in other words, the wives being accompanied to the polling booth. Is it really credible that complaints will be filed in those circumstance? What should actually be said—clearly, effectively and in writing from the Electoral Commission—is that this is against the law.

I read with interest the response to the Minister both from the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police. The Electoral Commission said in the first paragraph of its letter that it is

“the Commission’s established and consistent position on this important subject”.

“Consistent” would imply over a number of years. However, the Metropolitan Police has had difficulties, as have polling officers, applying the guidance that it has received from the Electoral Commission. The letter goes on to say that:

“The right to vote in secret is set out in UK electoral law. Anyone attempting to steal someone else’s vote, or to influence inappropriately how another person votes, is committing an offence. For this reason, and as stated in your letter”—

namely, the letter from the Minister—

“voters should not be accompanied in the polling booth except in specific defined circumstances.”

Noble Lords might think that that is absolutely clear, but the letter then goes on to say:

“We give Returning Officers and their staff clear guidance that voters should be supported to vote in secret and free from influence.”

It says “supported”—not that someone should be stopped from accompanying another person. So even in the letter which the Electoral Commission has written to the Minister, it is not precise about it. This leaves the Metropolitan Police—and other police forces—in a difficult position. The net result is that the Metropolitan Police, in its letter to Minister, said:

“We have provided additional support to”—

Tower Hamlets—

“Electoral Services to develop improved processes to record incidents of ‘family voting’ to ensure a consistent approach.”

It says “to record”, not to stop. Therefore, the Metropolitan Police clearly believes that its job is to record the incidents. Why can we not just say that it is against the law?

Is the Electoral Commission actually being open in its comments about its consistent understanding? To me, the answer to that is quite clearly, “No”. I say that because I have a letter from the Electoral Commission, dated 9 December 2021, to Councillor Peter Golds in Tower Hamlets, which says, in paragraph 2 and beyond, that,

“whilst every situation will have different details and evidence, someone accompanying another person into a polling booth … would bring into consideration suspicion whether there may have been an offence … These are matters within the remit of the Police and the CPS.”

In effect, the Electoral Commission is passing the buck yet again to other people.

But the problem is highlighted by a note relating to a meeting that took place between Councillor Golds and the Metropolitan Police, dated 21 January 2022—in other words, it was several weeks after that letter was written by Mr Posner, head of the Electoral Commission—which says that

“we have checked with Electoral Commission, and have been informed that just because the voter process was not followed, in terms of secrecy”—

under sections of the RP Act—

“it might not necessarily relate directly to an offence. But as I promised in the meeting Trevor”—

that is, Trevor Normoyle—

“will write to you around secrecy and”

Metropolitan Police findings.

A note a few weeks later from the police to Councillor Golds says—inevitably, with the issues and the obfuscation we have seen:

“I apologise it has taken so long to get a definitive answer … around this”,

but

“having conversations with Electoral Commission”,

the local authority

“and our own Department of Legal Services … to establish exactly what secrecy means”.

In other words, it has taken a long time for the Electoral Commission to establish what secrecy is. This House was absolutely clear; the law has been clear since 1872. But the police, when trying to get clarification from the Electoral Commission, have to write to a councillor in Tower Hamlets and say, “I’m sorry it’s taken so long to establish what ‘secrecy’ means”.

It is for that reason that I have tabled this amendment. I wanted to put on record that, unfortunately, the reply from the Electoral Commission is not clear, because it conflicts with what the Electoral Commission says when asked by other people about family voting. Family voting is a malaise that affects not just Tower Hamlets; that is where the debate is concentrated, but we know that it affects many parts of the country. It should be stopped immediately; it should not need this legislation to pass. It is for that reason that I have raised this debate yet again—because the Electoral Commission will not provide consistent advice as to its approach to family voting. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, has put in front of your Lordships just now. I would have hoped to hear a much more vigorous response from both the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police if the facts are exactly as he brought them to this House. I hope very much that the Minister in replying will be able to give assurances on the one hand about past history but, more importantly, that the department will write in appropriate terms to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police setting out clearly the best legal advice of the department’s lawyers on the interpretation to be put on current legislation. If the Minister is not able to offer us that course of action, I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, may want to push his amendment a little further.

My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. Certainly, this is a matter of concern. I will stress a point he has made: the law is clear, and there is no ambiguity about that. So, if there is an issue, I think it is a matter that the Minister should raise with the Electoral Commission.

Over the many years that I have been campaigning, I have been in no doubt about the authority of the police who patrol around polling stations. It is absolutely clear. One of the things that worries me about the amendment is that it is not necessarily going to clarify something which I think is clear in law. I think it is the responsibility of the Minister to make this clear to the Electoral Commission. The police should have that responsibility; they do not need the advice of the Electoral Commission to apply the law, which, as the noble Lord said, has been there for hundreds of years.

So I hope that the Minister, when he responds, will be very clear that the law needs to be applied and that there is no doubt about it. If there is ambiguity from the Electoral Commission, I hope that the Minister will point it out to it.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this subject forward again. I know he strikes a chord with all of us on all sides of the House. It is an important issue. There is an important principle which underpins these concerns, and I agree with the noble Lord opposite that the law is clear. Indeed, in the material sent out for the Tower Hamlets elections in May 2022, the guidance to electors states:

“Under no circumstances are family members and/or friends permitted to assist each other when casting their vote in the polling booth”.

That is clearly the position.

A person’s vote is theirs and theirs alone. I have said before in this House that it is completely unacceptable in the 21st century that women—and it is normally women—experience pressures from family members in the way that we have seen. The Government fully share the feelings of Members who have spoken about the importance of ensuring that this is firmly stamped out from our elections. Secrecy of the ballot is fundamental, and I state unequivocally that the current law requires that voters should not be accompanied by another person at a polling booth except in specific circumstances, such as being a formal companion or a member of staff.

The Electoral Commission issues guidance to returning officers and their staff to support them in upholding the integrity of the process. The Electoral Commission guidance specifically advises polling station staff that they should make sure that voters go to polling booths individually, so that their right to a secret vote is protected. The Electoral Commission will update its existing guidance as necessary, in light of new Clause 8 in the Bill, which extends secrecy protections to postal and proxy voting.

As my noble friend asked when we last discussed this, given the important concerns that have been raised on voting secrecy, Minister Badenoch wrote to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police, as my noble friend acknowledged, to confirm our common understanding of the position in law that the only people who should provide assistance at a polling booth are polling station staff and companions who are doing so only for the purposes of supporting an elector with health and/or accessibility issues which need such support. That is the position.

My noble friend spoke about the concerns he still has on the ongoing integrity of elections in Tower Hamlets. However, I hope that having seen the swift commitment of my honourable friend Minister Badenoch to take this issue up, he will be assured that there is and will be a concerted effort to ensure that the integrity of those elections can be upheld and that the law can be upheld everywhere. I know that my noble friend was not satisfied with elements of the Electoral Commission’s response, but I hope very much that the commission will examine what has been said in your Lordships’ House today and reflect on the points put forward. In that light, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I thank my noble friend for his response, which I find reassuring, but I find more reassuring the clear statements from all sides of the House and the emphatic manner in which they were made. Some sections of the Electoral Commission’s guidance relating to the process of voting are inadequate and have given rise to confusion for the police in terms of the actions they take. If I could make one request of the Minister, I hope he will have conversations with a number of people over the next week or so and that, as a result, the Electoral Commission will rewrite certain sections of its guidance. They need to be rewritten to provide reassurance to polling station staff, the Metropolitan Police and other police forces. Given the speedy way in which the Minister in the Commons responded previously—I am sure she will do the same on this occasion—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Schedule 5: Undue influence: further provision

Amendments 20 to 25

Moved by

20: Schedule 5, page 113, line 14, leave out “115” and insert “114A”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment updates a reference to the provision in the Representation of the People Act 1983 relating to undue influence in parliamentary elections, in consequence of amendments made to Clause 8 during Committee stage.

21: Schedule 5, page 113, line 31, leave out “115” and insert “114A”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory note to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 113, line 14.

22: Schedule 5, page 113, line 38, leave out “115” and insert “114A”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory note to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 113, line 14.

23: Schedule 5, page 115, line 26, leave out “115” and insert “114A”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory note to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 113, line 14.

24: Schedule 5, page 116, line 3, leave out “115” and insert “114A”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory note to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 113, line 14.

25: Schedule 5, page 116, line 24, leave out “115” and insert “114A”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory note to the amendment in Lord True’s name at page 113, line 14.

Amendments 20 to 25 agreed.

Clause 9: Assistance with voting for persons with disabilities

Amendment 26

Moved by

26: Clause 9, page 12, line 21, after “vote” insert “independently”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendment in Lord Holmes’ name at page 12, line 22 reference the need for equipment provided for a polling station under rule 29(3A) of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 to enable or facilitate independent and secret voting by voters who are blind or partially sighted or have another disability.

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 27 to 30 and 34 to 37, which are all in my name. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the courtesy he showed in meeting me on a number of occasions, and his officials for the helpful discussions we have had since Committee. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for co-signing my amendments and for his wisdom and support, which are well known and appreciated across the House.

In Committee, I set out three pillars that blind and partially sighted people—indeed, all people—should be able to expect when voting: to be able to vote inclusively, independently and in secret. I carry these three pillars through to Report; they are the key pillars anyone should be able to rely on when exercising the most essential and fundamental right in our democracy.

The suite of nine amendments that I set forward would transform Clause 9 and achieve these three pillars, not least for blind and partially sighted voters. The clause will be simply changed by the insertion of “independently” after “to vote”, and the insertion of

“(including in relation to voting secretly)”

after the words “rule 37”. If agreed, this would set out in statute a high standard that any equipment provided would have to meet for voting independently and in secret.

I have not changed some of the Government’s drafting, which refers to “such equipment” that “is reasonable”. “Reasonable” would apply were it in the Bill or not, by operation of equalities legislation in this country, so it is all the better for being up front in this clause. I have also not changed the wording

“enabling, or making it easier”.

My interpretation of this wording is that it is a two-limb test for the equipment to be provided. I ask my noble friend the Minister to confirm whether this is the Government’s view. I believe that is how “enabling” comes into play for people such as myself, who would not be able to vote at all without such equipment. For those people who potentially can vote, but for whom it is unreasonably difficult for a whole host of reasons, “making it easier” comes into play. I see these as two separate and important elements of the clause, which are not set out as a choice to either enable or make it easier. I would welcome my noble friend’s view on that element of the clause.

I also talked in Committee about the real need to avoid a postcode lottery, which is absolutely critical. Whether you vote in Kidderminster or Kew, Cambridge or Sheffield, a blind or visually impaired person—or indeed any disabled or non-disabled person—should be assured that there is provision that meets that standard. Prescription could be either of equipment or, as set out in my amendment to new paragraph (3B), around a standard, which I believe is far more than the minimum standard.

Alongside this, moving forward from my Amendment 20 in Committee, I have set out a number of provisions for the Electoral Commission on these needs: to issue statutory guidance; to consult relevant organisations that will have expertise to bring to bear for the guidance; for a duty to report on what has happened at elections on accessibility and provision; and, for the first time, a duty to put in place performance measures around accessibility for returning officers. Added to this is the need for a “have regard” duty on returning officers for this guidance. Again, I believe that “have regard” is a high statutory duty to achieve.

Amendments 34 to 37 are equally important. They would do exactly what I have just set out in the context of Northern Ireland local elections.

Taken as a whole, these nine amendments would transform Clause 9 and Schedule 6 in terms of inclusive, independent and in secret provision for blind and partially sighted voters. Crucially, if adopted, they would not only make voting inclusive, independent and in secret but mean that people would no longer find voting difficult, upsetting, humiliating or demeaning. Even more so, they should mean that people who perhaps have never voted, for reasons of lack of inclusion, or inability to vote independently or in secret, will be encouraged to come to the poll and exercise their democratic right. I believe these amendments will achieve that. I hope my noble friend the Minister will support them in full. I very much look forward to the debate and I beg to move.

My Lords, I express my full support and that of the Liberal Democrats for the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for producing this amendment. I congratulate him in particular on the success of his negotiations with the noble Lord, Lord True. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord True. This is a very sensible way to deal with a problem that I had not appreciated until last year, when I was partly sighted. The amendment stresses that a person suffering from blindness or partial sight, or another disability, can vote independently and in secret, and will not have to face the humiliation to which the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, referred of having either to announce his vote publicly in a polling booth or to have someone else vote for him.

It was very wise for he and the Minister to agree that the Electoral Commission should give guidance to returning officers and that it would have to consult the bodies concerned—the RNIB and others—before specifying the sort of mechanisms which would enable this to happen. One of the good things about this is that it is not prescriptive and so it allows the mechanisms to improve over time, as new inventions come forward. In Committee, I talked about the pilot scheme going on in, I think, Norfolk, where not only was a frame put over the ballot paper but information was given to the voter by a recording as to what was on the ballot paper. That was an interesting pilot scheme, but maybe more things will develop in the future and the wisdom of these provisions will be recognised. Having agreed the report that must be returned by returning officers, that of course ensures that these provisions are carried out. I very much support this amendment.

My Lords, I too very much support and welcome these amendments. I am very pleased that there have been discussions which have led to an agreement. However, I have been approached by the RNIB, which welcomes the amendments but has some concerns. I want to raise a couple of them now.

One concern was partially addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, when he talked about the postcode lottery. He argued that there is a minimum standard contained in the amendments, but the RNIB’s view is that there still is not a minimum standard of provision specified in the Bill. It would like to see that being more explicit. I would be grateful if, when responding, the Minister could explain how he sees the question of a minimum standard and whether the Government might be minded to tighten it up a bit.

One of the other points the RNIB makes—we discussed this in Committee—is that it is very keen that trials of potential accessible voting solutions continue. Therefore, I would be very grateful if the Minister could commit to driving innovation through government-run trials in the future.

My Lords, I shall make three brief points. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on his valiant efforts to move this forward in a constructive way. This has been exemplary, in my view. Secondly, I wholeheartedly support his amendments, which I think will move this on. In Committee, I was seriously concerned about what was being proposed by the Government; according to the RNIB, we had moved things backwards from where we are at the moment and that was a serious concern. I am sure there is further work to do, but nevertheless this set of amendments will move things forward, and that is greatly to the noble Lord’s credit. Thirdly, I entreat the Minister to give his support to what I think has been a really excellent piece of work.

My Lords, I support the nine amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and congratulate him on pushing this issue. His very modest yet elegant amendments fit into this Bill very well.

I have two more points to make. Why were such accommodations not in the Bill already? The Government are constantly consulting on this or that; surely this is an area that they should have thought about including. They have at least given way now—I hope after my remarks they will not withdraw the offer. Finally, the Royal National Institute of Blind People sent a briefing about this, and it is clear that it feels the Government could go a lot further. It gave two statistics that I thought were quite interesting: every day, 250 people start to lose their sight; and age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults. Clearly, this is a problem that is going to increase. Therefore, the Government have to look forward and should perhaps bring something even better to update the Bill.

My Lords, I stand briefly to speak on this and to apologise to my noble friend for missing the entire Committee due to contracting Covid. I have been away at a public inquiry today, but it was great to arrive at the point to hear my noble friend Lord Holmes making these very sensible suggestions. I raised this issue at Second Reading and I am immensely grateful to my noble friend the Minister for accepting these amendments and making these changes, which will bring enormous dignity to the voting process. Again, I congratulate my noble friend, Lord Holmes.

My Lords, we very much welcome and support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and thank him for so clearly laying out their importance in his introduction. I also congratulate him and my noble friend Lord Blunkett on their continued work and persistence on this matter.

We welcome that these amendments will mean that, for the first time, the Electoral Commission would be tasked by law to create specific guidance to address the needs of blind and partially sighted and other disabled voters at the ballot box. This is long overdue. We strongly urge the Minister to accept these amendments and hope that he will look on them favourably.

However, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the RNIB has raised concerns with some of us, so I would be grateful if the Minister could provide clarification and reassurance on some issues that have not been raised so far. The first question it asks is this: how do the Government anticipate

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

independently being interpreted? How do they see the interpretation of that phrase? The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, mentioned that the RNIB is concerned that we must not go backwards. Its concern on this is that “making it easier” to vote is still weaker than the right to vote “without any assistance”, as in the current wording.

It would also be helpful if the Minister could look at how this would be managed going forward, including availability and the cost of the provision of equipment for returning officers and how that would be supported at local government level. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm the body that he anticipates will fund individual items of equipment provided in polling stations. I am not sure whether the Government currently provide the funding for the tactile template—I am sure other noble Lords know. Again, it would be helpful to know if that is currently the case. Obviously, we need to have certainty in these areas, because the last thing we want to see is a legal challenge if the expected equipment is not provided.

In summary, we welcome these amendments and urge the Minister to accept them. We thank all noble Lords for an important debate and, again, thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for pushing this and bringing it to this stage.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their general welcome and support for the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes. I can tell the House that the Government are very pleased to be able to accept these amendments. I pay tribute to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for their hard endeavours in helping us to improve accessibility measures in the Bill. It has been quite a pleasant operation for me to return to my old office, which I used to share with my noble friend Lord Holmes, and see a couple of my pictures still hanging on the wall—I had forgotten about those. I thank those who have spoken and am grateful for the kind words said by many, including the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. There was one slightly discordant note from the Green group, but a great effort has been put into working together to find a solution that works for all parties.

We have been clear from the outset that the Government’s intention with these changes is to improve the accessibility of elections. My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, have understood our policy intentions and introduced welcome changes that complement and improve them. These amendments will introduce specific reference to supporting disabled voters to vote independently and secretly through the provision of assistive equipment by returning officers. While the existing drafting of the duty to support disabled voters would undoubtedly have facilitated the provision of suitable equipment for this purpose, this amendment will underline the importance of equipment to enable or make it easier for voters to vote independently and secretly, where that is practicable.

My noble friend specifically asked me—as, I gather, did the RNIB, which I took great pleasure in meeting in the course of these discussions—to clarify “enable” and “make it easier” in practice. His understanding is precisely right in terms of what the people who drafted this are seeking to achieve. The Government see it as fundamental that we recognise the variations in what people need in order to be able to vote, so that they may access the most appropriate support for each of them. The use of both the terms—“enable” and “make it easier”—reflects the fact that the duty relates to the provision of equipment for those who find it impossible to vote under rule 37 and for those who can do so but find it difficult due to their disability, as per the definition of “relevant person”, which covers both. For those who would otherwise find it impossible to vote independently, appropriate equipment might enable them to do so, but for those who are able but find it difficult to vote due to their disabilities, we also want them to be supported by provision of equipment that would mitigate the difficulties, making it easier. As such, having “make it easier” in the clause does not result in an either/or situation or a dilution. If the amendment said only “enable”, there would be no duty to assist those who find it difficult; if the amendment said only “make it easier”, there would be no duty to assist those who simply find it impossible. The amendment is designed to ensure the widest possible assistance support, greater innovation and accessibility.

As my noble friend has said—this was something on which he was understandably insistent, and I hope it has pleased all those involved—his amendments will put on a strong statutory footing the role that the Electoral Commission will play in providing guidance about meeting this duty, which returning officers will have to have regard to. While these are things that we are confident both the commission and returning officers would have done as a matter of good practice, we welcome that these will be put on a strong and permanent statutory basis. That is why the Government have acceded to these proposals.

As I said, I recently met the RNIB and heard its concerns—which were echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—including around the risk that guidance might not be as strong as statute and might represent the end of a conversation on accessibility that may not have disabled voters at its centre. I can say only that that conversation will continue; that is why the amendments will in fact require the Electoral Commission to consult with relevant organisations, such as the RNIB and other disability charities, in the production of the guidance and to report on the steps that returning officers have taken to assist disabled voters. This will promote accountability in the policy.

I will respond to the concerns that, without a minimum standard, there will be uncertainty about how individual returning officers decide what they deem to be reasonable. First, in requiring provision for what is reasonable, the clause imposes an objective standard rather than a subjective one. Secondly, the role and purpose of the Electoral Commission guidance will be to set out a clear framework, and therefore to promote consistency. Returning officers will have to have regard to this but the guidance will, of course, be more flexible than legislation—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—with a much more responsive capability for adding new equipment that has been developed and identified over time, without having to bring forward primary or secondary legislation each time.

The amendments make provision for a suite of duties that I hope will reassure those with concerns. I am confident that the changes represent a good move away from the limited, prescriptive approach towards more flexibility and innovation. We will look to the Electoral Commission to do its duty in consulting with organisations representing disabled voters, such as the RNIB, in producing its guidance.

I cannot specifically answer the noble Baroness’s point on funding, which, in a sense, is related to what will come out of the ongoing discussions, but I will communicate to her what I am able to on that.

I believe that this has been good work by your Lordships’ House, working in a consensual manner for a common purpose. I hope this will lead us towards a more accessible future for our elections. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for tabling these amendments, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. The Government support them and urge the House to do so as well.

Before the Minister sits down, can he say something about what the RNIB has asked for in respect of driving forward trials for innovation? I do not think he mentioned that in his speech. The RNIB is looking for an assurance from the Minister that that will stay on the table.

My Lords, I infer from the debate that the RNIB has been spreading quite a lot of correspondence around your Lordships’ Chamber on these issues. I have not seen that specific letter myself, but we are acting in good faith here. The RNIB is a trusted and respected partner. I have told the House that there is a duty on the Electoral Commission to consult with it, and I said in my speech that we should move towards a future of more innovation. This was something that we were challenged on, quite rightly, by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond in his first speech on this matter. That remains the Government’s hope and expectation. This is a conversation that is going to be carried forward, not by me at this Dispatch Box or by your Lordships but under the duties set out in the amendments, hopefully to produce a better and more accessible future for all voters. I repeat that I urge the House to accept these amendments.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this evening’s debate, and particularly my noble friend the Minister for the way in which he has responded to the nine amendments set down in my name.

I believe that legislation is important. Why would we be here if it were not? These amendments put forward a transformation for inclusion, independence and secret voting for blind and partially sighted and all disabled and non-disabled people. But as with all legislation, though it is important to pass it, this is but one step on a journey. If we pass the Bill post the Easter Recess, it will be incumbent upon the Government, the Electoral Commission, the association of EROs and civil society to come together to work to make this not only compliant or of a minimum standard but a positive experience for everybody at the polling booths.

Amendment 26 agreed.

Amendments 27 to 30

Moved by

27: Clause 9, page 12, line 22, after “37” insert “(including in relation to voting secretly)”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement relating to the amendment in Lord Holmes’ name at page 12, line 21.

28: Clause 9, page 12, line 24, leave out “paragraph (3A)(b)” and insert “this paragraph”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord Holmes’ name at page 12, line 28.

29: Clause 9, page 12, line 28, at end insert—

“(c) after paragraph (7) insert—“(8) The Electoral Commission must give guidance to returning officers in relation to the duty imposed by paragraph (3A)(b).(9) Before giving guidance under paragraph (8), the Commission must consult such persons, including bodies representing the interests of relevant persons, as they consider appropriate.(10) In performing the duty imposed by paragraph (3A)(b), a returning officer must have regard to guidance given under paragraph (8).””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment requires the Electoral Commission to give guidance about the duty of returning officers to provide equipment to enable or facilitate voting by people with a disability, and to consult appropriate persons before giving that guidance. It also requires returning officers to have regard to such guidance.

30: Clause 9, page 12, line 37, at end insert—

“(5) In section 5 of PPERA (reports on elections etc), after subsection (2A) insert—“(2AA) Subsection (2AB) applies where a report under this section relates to—(a) a parliamentary general election,(b) a parliamentary by-election, (c) an ordinary election of police and crime commissioners,(d) an election held under section 51 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (election to fill vacancy in office of police and crime commissioner), or(e) a Northern Ireland Assembly general election.(2AB) The report must include a description of the steps taken by returning officers to assist relevant persons (within the meaning of rule 29 of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983) to vote at the election.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment requires a report under section 5 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, in relation to a parliamentary election, an election of a police and crime commissioner or a Northern Ireland Assembly general election, to describe the steps taken by returning officers to assist blind, partially sighted and other disabled persons to vote.

Amendments 27 to 30 agreed.

Amendment 31

Moved by

31: Before Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—

“Candidate nomination paper: commonly used names

(1) Schedule 1 to RPA 1983 (Parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.(2) In rule 6 (nomination of candidates), for paragraph (2A) substitute—“(2A) If a candidate—(a) commonly uses a surname that is different from any other surname the candidate has,(b) commonly uses a forename that is different from any other forename the candidate has, or(c) otherwise commonly uses one or more forenames or a surname in a different way from the way in which the candidate’s names are stated in accordance with paragraph (2)(a) (for example, where the commonly used names are in a different order from the names as so stated, include only some of those names, or include additional names),the nomination paper may state the commonly used name or names in addition to the names as stated in accordance with paragraph (2)(a).”(3) In rule 14 (publication of statement of persons nominated), in paragraph (2A)—(a) for “in addition to another name” substitute “in accordance with rule 6(2A)”;(b) for “any other name” substitute “the other surname or forename”.(4) In the form of nomination paper in the Appendix of forms, for note 2A substitute—“2A_ Where a candidate commonly uses a name or names—(a) that are different from the candidate’s full names as stated on the nomination paper, or(b) in a different way from the candidate’s full names as stated on the nomination paper,the commonly used name or names may also appear on the nomination paper; but if they do so, the commonly used name or names (instead of any other name) will appear on the ballot paper.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment clarifies the circumstances in which candidates in parliamentary elections may use names by which they are commonly known. It also makes related changes to the notes that appear on the nomination paper.

My Lords, before I make any comments in relation to this group of amendments, I want to pay credit to my noble friend Lord Holmes. I chose not to speak in the previous debate but, throughout my adult life, I have suffered from losing my eyesight—not on a total basis but on a substantially partial basis—on impromptu occasions. Although it has never happened to me, I can imagine going to a polling station and suddenly being confronted by the fact that I cannot see the ballot paper properly. Many Members of this House know that I used to referee rugby matches. Now, I vouch that I never lost my eyesight in the middle of a game, despite what many of the players and spectators may have thought.

More seriously, I will move on to Amendments 31 to 33 and 38 in my name—they involve many words for what I thought would be a simple amendment. Having spoken in Committee on this matter, I intend to speak now only briefly.

In Committee, I made the point that there is an anomaly in our legislation. Had it operated at the time, it would have debarred both Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson standing as James Callaghan and Harold Wilson because, in both cases, those were their second names and what they were commonly known as. The Welsh Senedd has already made this amendment to its legislation; my Amendment 31 is intended to bring us in line with the Senedd. It makes sense that, where people regularly use their second name as their main forename, they should be able to do so on a ballot paper so that, when people go to vote for them in a polling station, they recognise their name when confronted by it.

I thank the department officials and the Minister for their help in drafting what look like enormously substantial amendments but achieve a relatively small but sensible change to our electoral law. On that basis, I beg to move.

My Lords, I simply want to declare an interest in that, if this amendment is passed, I should be a beneficiary of it. When I first stood, as the noble Lord referred to, it was possible to use your commonly used name. On that occasion, I appeared as Andrew Stunell but, subsequently, I have had many a tussle with electoral returning officers. Fortunately, it is not an issue in this place but, I have to say, it is a common-sense amendment. I very much hope that the noble Lord has had some quiet discussions with the Minister and we are about to get a positive surprise.

My Lords, I will briefly address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward. There is an anomaly. The Welsh Senedd has made this clear and made important changes so I am sure that we can get this simple amendment accepted, in the spirit of the previous group. The Minister—I am glad to see him back in his place; I wish him the very best of health—accepted the previous amendments, so I am sure that it will be straightforward for him to accept these ones. I look forward to his response.

My Lords, with respect to Amendments 31 to 33 and 38, under the current law, a person who is nominated as a candidate must give their full name. They may also provide a commonly used forename or surname, which must be different to any of the names already given, that they would like to have included on the ballot paper. My noble friend Lord Hayward has highlighted that this does not, for example, facilitate the use of a middle name where someone is commonly known by such a name.

My noble friend’s amendments would widen the scope of the current provisions concerning the use of commonly used names by candidates. They would allow a person to include on their nomination paper any name that they commonly use as a forename or surname. For example, under this amendment, a candidate would be able to choose to use their middle name if that is a commonly known name for them. A candidate may also use a commonly used forename and surname on the ballot paper.

When my noble friend raised this issue in Committee, the Minister, my noble friend Lord True, indicated that the suggestions had some merit. After further consideration, I am pleased to say that the Government consider that these are sensible changes and we are able to support my noble friend’s amendments.

My Lords, I note the welcome for that from all sides of the House. I am getting slightly embarrassed—this is the second time this afternoon that I have had support from all sides of the House on amendments I have put forward. I thank the Minister for her support and favourable response.

Amendment 31 agreed.

Schedule 6: Local elections in Northern Ireland and elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly

Amendments 32 and 33

Moved by

32: Schedule 6, page 117, line 28, leave out “8” and insert “6A”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord Hayward’s name inserting a new paragraph 6A in Schedule 6 to the Bill.

33: Schedule 6, page 117, line 28, at end insert—

“6A_ In rule 5 (nomination of candidates), for paragraph (2A) substitute—“(2A) If a candidate—(a) commonly uses a surname that is different from any other surname the candidate has,(b) commonly uses a forename that is different from any other forename the candidate has, or(c) otherwise commonly uses one or more forenames or a surname in a different way from the way in which the candidate’s names are stated in accordance with paragraph (2)(a) (for example, where the commonly used names are in a different order from the names as so stated, include only some of those names, or include additional names),the nomination paper may state the commonly used name or names in addition to the names as stated in accordance with paragraph (2)(a).”6B_ In rule 12 (publication of statement of persons nominated), in paragraph (2A)—(a) for “in addition to another name” substitute “in accordance with rule 5(2A)”;(b) for “any other name” substitute “the other surname or forename”.” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes provision for the nomination paper of a candidate at a local election in Northern Ireland corresponding to the provision made by the new clause in Lord Hayward’s name to be inserted before clause 10.

Amendments 32 and 33 agreed.

Amendments 34 to 37

Moved by

34: Schedule 6, page 119, line 17, after “vote” insert “independently”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes provision in relation to local elections in Northern Ireland corresponding to that made by the amendment in the name of Lord Holmes at page 12, line 21.

35: Schedule 6, page 119, line 17, after “34” insert “(including in relation to voting secretly)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes provision in relation to local elections in Northern Ireland corresponding to that made by the amendment in the name of Lord Holmes at page 12, line 22.

36: Schedule 6, page 119, line 19, leave out “paragraph (3A)(b)” and insert “this paragraph”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Lord Holmes’ name at page 119, line 23.

37: Schedule 6, page 119, line 23, at end insert—

“(3C) The Electoral Commission must give guidance to returning officers in relation to the duty imposed by paragraph (3A)(b).(3D) Before giving guidance under paragraph (3C), the Commission must consult such persons, including bodies representing the interests of relevant persons, as they consider appropriate.(3E) In performing the duty imposed by paragraph (3A)(b), a returning officer must have regard to guidance given under paragraph (3C).””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes provision in relation to local elections in Northern Ireland corresponding to that made by the amendment in the name of Lord Holmes at page 12, line 28.

Amendments 34 to 37 agreed.

Amendment 38

Moved by

38: Schedule 6, page 123, line 18, at end insert—

“18A_ In form 1 in the Appendix of Forms (form of nomination paper), for note 3 substitute—“3_ Where a candidate commonly uses a name or names—(a) that are different from the candidate’s full names as stated on the nomination paper, or(b) in a different way from the candidate’s full names as stated on the nomination paper,the commonly used name or names may also appear on the nomination paper; but if they do so, the commonly used name or names (instead of any other name) will appear on the ballot paper.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes provision for the nomination paper of a candidate at a local election in Northern Ireland corresponding to the provision made by the new clause in Lord Hayward’s name to be inserted before clause 10.

Amendment 38 agreed.

Clause 12: Extension of franchise for parliamentary elections: British citizens overseas

Amendment 39

Moved by

39: Clause 12, leave out Clause 12

My Lords, I will introduce this amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. I hope that we can avoid what we incurred in Committee, which was a detailed and long debate about the merits of proportional representation versus first past the post. I do not think that what we are dealing with here is about removing pr