My Lords, we are encouraged by the first rollout of voter identification and are confident that the vast majority of voters will have cast their vote successfully based on sector feedback and our own observations on the day. As set out in legislation, we will be conducting an evaluation of the implementation of voter identification at the May polls and intend to publish the report no later than November this year.
I am quite surprised at that Answer, because initial reports suggest that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people were not able to cast their votes. Of course, the really disturbing thing is that a former member of the Government—still a Member of the other place, recently knighted, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg—said at the National Conservatism Conference in Westminster last Monday:
“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections”.
So a member of the Minister’s own party has called it “gerrymandering”.
The successful introduction of voter identification at May’s elections was to ensure the future integrity of our voting system. Comments from elsewhere do not reflect the reality of the reason for or the administration of that change. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government and Building Safety, Lee Rowley MP, made the Government’s position absolutely clear in a letter responding to a point of order raised in the House of Commons on 16 May. This letter has been deposited in the House of Commons Library.
My Lords, several years ago I was concerned in a case involving allegedly forged postal votes. In the course of that time it became clear to me that many heads of family in some communities were providing postal votes that were, in my eyes, highly questionable. I very much hope that the Government are still keeping the matter under review.
I assure my noble friend that voter identification is just one of a series of measures within the Elections Act that are aimed at tackling voter fraud and ensuring the future security of our electoral system. Further changes will be delivered later this year to introduce sensible safeguards against the abuse of absent voting, clamping down on the practice of postal vote harvesting and tightening the rules around postal and proxy votes.
My Lords, according to the Electoral Commission, 1.2% of people who attended a polling station at this year’s local elections were turned away because they lacked photo ID. We are not talking about ID but photographic ID; that is the concern. If the next general election reflects the turnout of 2019, this could mean that 380,000 voters are sent home and prevented from exercising their right. On this basis, can the Minister really say that these photographic voter ID requirements, as they stand, are fit to be applied at the next general election?
As I have said, we are undertaking a review. It is essential that, before we make claims such as we are hearing from the other side, we understand how the policy has operated in practice, what has gone wrong and where there are any areas for improvement in the future. Of course, where there are lessons to be learned, we will do so and we will change at the point of that evaluation. We are already gathering evidence as a Government. Also, the Electoral Commission is conducting extensive evaluation; we expect its initial findings later this month and a full report in September. I suggest that the whole House waits until we get that full evaluation before we start throwing stones.
My Lords, we already have a problem with fewer young people turning out to vote than others. The clear implication of what Jacob Rees-Mogg said was that this was intended to discourage more young people from voting, but it ended up discouraging some older people from voting as well. Would not one of the easiest things be to expand the number of possible means of identification that young people could present when voting, and make it clear that that is being relaxed?
Do the Government have any intention of specifying what sort of ID is acceptable? I decided to test this out in the recent local elections. I took my House of Lords pass; it has a photograph, as we all know, but it was not acceptable. Luckily, in my pocket I also had a passport, so I was able to vote. This should not be left unclear.
The returning officers have a clear list of acceptable forms of photo identification that they use. They have been fully trained on those. As I have said, we will look at other methods of photo ID and get the evidence to say when something is particularly useful. ID is changing all the time, but we have to ensure that it is secure ID that is being used in a polling station.
My Lords, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence in London and, indeed, councillors have reported cases of voter fraud to the police in previous elections and been ignored. Can we have an assurance that there is going to be proper evaluation, particularly in some of the London boroughs where this evidence exists?
We have made it very clear in the legislation that will be doing a review, not only after this general election but after the next two to ensure that the voter identification system we are putting in place is right, is correct and is not disenfranchising any voters from electing.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this Question would not be relevant if the introduction of biometric ID cards by the last Labour Government had not been opposed by the party opposite? Does she also agree that such a measure would also have addressed the scourge of criminal identity theft that blights our country as fraud offences go through the roof?
My Lords, the integrity of our electoral system is important. In the light of what the Minister has told the House about the Government’s review, will she now undertake in advance to raise with her noble friend the Leader of the House that we should have an opportunity to debate that review in government time in the autumn?
I do believe that it was agreed in the legislation that when the review came out it would be discussed by both Houses. If that is not correct, I will correct it in a letter in the Library—but I am pretty sure that that is what was agreed.
My Lords, whenever photographic ID was introduced for elections in Northern Ireland, it was supported by all parties and all Members in both Houses of Parliament. Why should it be different for any other region of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I welcome the comment that my noble friend made in relation to the Electoral Commission report, which is due in the next few days, but is she aware of the Democracy Volunteers report, already published, which would appear to indicate deficiencies in terms of communications and publicity, particularly with the ethnic communities, and also, as indicated previously, that certain returning officers did not have adequate information as to what photo ID was acceptable at polling stations?
I am certainly well aware of that report and we will take into account any comments made and any evidence in it. We will also be doing quite a lot of talking to people who went into those polling stations and taking their views as we move through the review. What I have to say is that some local authorities were exceptional at reaching out to their communities in many different ways in order to ensure that people had full access to their polling stations We need to use that best practice across the whole of the local government sector.