Elections Bill

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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage
Wednesday 6th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 141-I(Rev) Revised marshalled list for Report - (5 Apr 2022)
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.
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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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.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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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.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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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?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

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17:37

Division 1

Ayes: 199

Noes: 170

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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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.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

Baroness Quin Portrait Baroness Quin (Lab)
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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.

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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.
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.
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.
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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.
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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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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.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

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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.
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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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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.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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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.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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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.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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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.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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He has had a Covid revelation.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No. As the House knows, nothing distresses me more in life than disappointing my erstwhile colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but I am afraid that I must. This is a simple disagreement. The Government’s view is that the first past the post system is simple, clear and effective. Reference has been made to our manifesto. It said:

“We will continue to support the first past the post system of voting … both locally and nationally.”


Clause 12 supports the first past the post system for local elections—for elections of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, and for the Mayor of London, combined authority and local authority mayors. It moves these to the simple majority voting system. In 1998, the referendum question in London was simply:

“Are you in favour of the Government’s proposals for a Greater London Authority, made up of an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly?”


There was no great ringing endorsement of proportional representation.

We had a thorough and invigorating debate in Committee on this matter. I did not agree with all of it and I suspect some of your Lordships did not agree with me. We want to move on. We have a difference of opinion. It is clear that using the first past the post voting system for these elections will displease some Members of your Lordships’ House but we are committed to supporting it. I regret to remind people that, in 2011, the public expressed a clear preference when two-thirds voted in favour of retaining first past the post. I am afraid that I will again disappoint the Green group, but that was a fact. There was support for PR in only 10 of 440 voting areas or, to put it the other way, 430 of 440 voting areas supported first past the post. As such, I do not believe there is any merit in holding—

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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It is so often said that PR was defeated in 2011. The simple fact is that PR was not on the ballot paper. We must not repeat that falsehood about our electoral systems. That was, of course, a vote about Members of Parliament and not about mayoral systems. In relation to the London mayoral system in particular, there was a consultation which showed that most people were against first past the post. The results of that consultation were made known before the referendum vote.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I have not read as many volumes on proportional voting systems as the noble Lord. I simply repeat that 430 out of 440 voting areas supported first past the post in 2011.

It is clear from points brought forward in our debate that alternative voting methods can be confusing and not easily understood. In September 2021, the Government responded to the Electoral Commission’s report on the London mayoral elections. The figures are that 114,201 first ballots were rejected and, of second preferences, 265,353 were invalidated. We have heard that this was all because the form was difficult, badly designed and so on and so forth. This is not a system which it is easy for the electorate to understand. We have heard that only 4.3% of votes were rejected—that is one in 23.

First past the post reduces complexity for voters and for electoral administrators. It makes it easier for the public to express a clear preference, providing strong local accountability. It is also cheaper. For example, the complex system in London requires e-counting—a devastatingly boring count that, last time, cost £9 million.

In our contention, these voting systems are a recipe for confusion and for legislative and administrative complexity. We intend to pursue our manifesto commitment to support first past the post both locally and nationally. I acknowledge that there is disagreement on the matter. I do not believe we need to debate it further now. I respectfully urge that the amendments be withdrawn and that this clause to bring simplicity and clarity to these elections should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, what really struck me from the Minister’s responses was that, if the Government felt so strongly about this, why was it not in the Bill originally? If the London elections in particular caused so much of a problem, why was it not a priority? The fundamental issue is not about the principle of PR or the supplementary vote—which is not PR. It does not undermine the position of first past the post. Our concern is that this has been introduced at a late stage without any proper consultation with those most affected. This undermines the Government’s position, especially as they inserted it into the Bill at such a late stage. I beg to test the opinion of the House.

--- Later in debate ---
19:28

Division 2

Ayes: 153

Noes: 160