Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Woolley of Woodford during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2

Elections Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Woolley of Woodford
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (17 Mar 2022)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness made some interesting points about the issues that will face local government in implementing these proposals. She referred to the cost estimates, which are of course included in the impact statement, and seemed to say that these were extraordinarily large numbers. There are 45 million electors. At £180 million, the top end of the range, that is only about £3 per elector: we have to get this into perspective. We are talking about proposals that will improve the integrity of our electoral system. This is a very modest cost; can we just get it into perspective?

Lord Woolley of Woodford Portrait Lord Woolley of Woodford (CB)
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My Lords, waiting five hours to speak, you can get a bit anxious. I am not quite sure how you do this on a regular basis. I would have preferred not to be here today; I would have preferred to be in Cambridge, at Homerton College with my students. We have a big event on, and I would have liked to be there with them, but I told them I need to be here discussing the Bill, because of its immense importance, not least to them and their generation. We are making laws that, if we are not careful, lock people out rather than encouraging people in.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord True—I reached out to him to have a conversation and he said, “By all means”. We had a good conversation, and it was a respectful one. I am not sure I persuaded him on some of the fundamental points that I am going to put now, but he said, “Lord Woolley, you need to persuade the House as well”, not least those on the Government side. He said to make sure I have my facts and to make sure I have evidence. We talked about a number of things, two of which I would say the noble Lord, Lord True, violently agreed with. One was the need for comprehensive citizenship in our schools. He said, “What’s not to like about that? We need to empower, to inform, to educate the next generation to understand what happens in this Chamber. Because, if they do not have that, they do not engage in politics.” It is the truth.

I was struck, as the Minister may have been, that a year or so ago hundreds of thousands of young people, black, brown and white, protested with Black Lives Matter up and down the country, demanding justice and race equality. However, many of those hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets do not vote because they do not see the correlation between their protest and what happens in these Chambers. Having citizenship education, giving them that knowledge, would help their protests to translate into voting. We agreed on that.

We also agreed on the need for the Government and local authorities to ensure that people are encouraged to register to vote. We know that in my community, the black community, particularly among young Africans, 50% are not even registered. So these were the two issues that the Minister and I violently agreed on, yet—think about this for a second—in the Elections Bill there is nothing about citizenship, nothing about how we get people to the polling booths and nothing about ensuring that local authorities and communities engage in voter registration. You could not make it up. What we are presented with is not how we get people to the voting booth, enhance our democracy or inspire a generation to play their part, which this Bill should be campaigning for; instead we are spending hours upon hours ensuring that people do not fall off the register. Many of us today are not trying to ensure that people can get on but trying to save people from falling off. That is the truth. This is putting the cart before the horse.

The Minister said to me, “Make sure you get your facts”—and rightly so, because we are moved by evidence. I am here to tell the House that the last time I spoke here I inadvertently misled the House. When talking about voter fraud, I said in front of your Lordships that five individuals had been convicted of that offence. I was wrong: there was one, and one caution, out of 47 million people. So when we are looking at facts and justifications, are we telling these young people and our society that we are spending £180 million and are on the verge of losing—how many people might we lose through this legislation?—10, 20, 40, 100, 1,000 or potentially even millions of people because we are saying that there is a problem with voter fraud? How can I go to schools and colleges and tell young people to engage in politics when they see how we are doing politics, and when they see that we are spending millions of pounds but the effect is to take people off the register?

Evidence was asked for. The noble Baroness mentioned the local elections in 2019 and the pilot schemes. In its evaluation, the Electoral Commission noted that between 3% and 7% of those who engaged with those elections were turned away because they did not have the right voter ID, including non-photographic ID. We have to extrapolate what that might mean in a general election, because that is the evidence we are presented with. The Electoral Commission and others suggest that between 50,000 and 400,000 people could show up at a general election, be turned away and not come back—that is against one conviction of fraud. Is it me? Am I missing something here about how bonkers that sounds?