Debates between Lord Desai and Lord Scriven during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 21st Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Elections Bill

Debate between Lord Desai and Lord Scriven
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 21st March 2022

(2 years, 2 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-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Mar 2022)
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I shall speak first to my Amendment 66A and, in so doing, I draw the Committee’s attention to my entry in the register, particularly my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I see this as what I call a “two Ps” amendment: a probing amendment about the practicalities of what the Government are suggesting. I thank Solace, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, for the wide and helpful briefing that it sent about this. It is important that we consider this briefing, because many of those chief executives are the returning officers in constituencies up and down the country.

The briefing talks about the impracticality of suggesting that the voter ID card can be applied for and supplied if people apply by 5 pm on the day before the poll takes place, which, as it points out, is inconsistent with every other form of voter application—whether it be for a postal or a proxy vote—unless it is a medical emergency. We talked about the practicalities of Northern Ireland and it is also inconsistent with Northern Ireland, where this is not allowed to happen until 5 pm on the day before the poll.

It is impractical because it places extra burdens on those administering an election at their busiest time: the week before the election. Anybody who has seen what happens in an electoral office a week before an election will understand that the administrators are already under great pressure to ensure the security and integrity of the election. To suggest that people can turn up until 5 pm on the day before the poll to seek one of these voter ID cards is impractical. The Government’s impact assessment suggests that 50% of people will apply by post and 50% will apply in person. It states that the closer you get to an election, the more people will apply in person. So people could be trying to sort out postal votes and ensuring that the ballot boxes and everything else are in place with queues of people seeking this ID.

In this respect, the Government’s impact assessment is detailed. It suggests that the cards will take approximately five to 10 minutes to produce, assuming that everybody has the things that they need to produce one. It suggests that there be one machine per constituency, which I think works out at just over two on average per local authority.

It is inconceivable that this requirement is practical. So I ask the Minister: why was the stipulation of 5 pm on the day before the poll selected; why is it not consistent with Northern Ireland; and, specifically, what discussion took place with Solace and other returning officers, who would have pointed out that this was impractical? If the Government did consult those who administer elections, what advice came back on the practicalities of delivering this?

I will now speak to some of the other amendments, particularly weighing in with my support for those to which my noble friend Lord Rennard has put his name. I will talk specifically about Amendments 64, 68, 78 and 80.

On Amendment 64, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has mentioned on a number of occasions, it is absolutely vital that when people register to vote, they should be able at the same time, as an automatic right laid down in the Bill, to apply for the voter ID card. I see no practical reason why that should not happen. There is no practical reason why returning officers, Solace or anybody else who administers elections would say that is not consistent. So what would stop the Government allowing that to happen as an automatic right and including it in the Bill?

Amendment 68 is important because it comes back to the powers of the Secretary of State, which we have talked about a lot. The Secretary of State could, by decree, by the stroke of their pen, decide what documentation is or is not available. I shall come in a second to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which is really important. I see no reason for that provision.

Amendment 78 is also important. The noble Lord, Lord True, has on many occasions referenced Canada having voter ID. It is absolutely not true to say that to vote in Canada, you have to have voter ID. If you turn up without voter ID, there is a system called vouching. Somebody can vouch for you, if they have some ID, to say that you are the person who you say you are and they vouch for your identification.

I see no practical reason why that should not happen if this clause stands part of the Bill. It is sensible, it is not unknown across the world, it is practical and it happens. In Canada, it does not happen significantly, but it happens. As many people have said, if somebody turns up without their voter ID at 9.55 pm with their spouse, friend or loved one, I see no reason why that person could not vouch for them.

The Minister mentioned people turning up to a polling station and being asked to return, as he was. For some people, that is impractical. If you work 12-hour shifts and are going just before you start work, you cannot turn back. For people with childcare responsibilities, it may be impractical or impossible to do that. That is why, if you turn up without your ID but with somebody else who has some ID, vouching on the Canadian system should be allowed. I see no reason why it should not. It does not undermine the integrity of the ballot. Somebody who has the appropriate ID could vouch for somebody who has not whom they know. There is then a way of checking, if there is personation by the second person, who the person has vouched for—but there is no evidence in Canada that that actually happens.

I come to the most powerful and important intervention in the debate on this group, which was from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. He made it very clear as a member of the Conservative Party who sits on the Conservative Benches exactly what was in both the 2017 and the 2019 Conservative manifestos: that voter ID would be required. Neither manifesto used the word “photographic”. That is key in terms of the Salisbury convention and the Conservatives being able to carry out their manifesto commitment. In terms of providing extra ID, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, showed a practicality and pragmatism that I would expect his Front Bench to replicate. If not, the cat is out of the bag. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is trying to make it as easy as possible, if this provision comes in, for people to exercise their democratic right to vote.

If the Government, from the Front Bench, refuse to accept that mandatory photographic ID is not required to vote, then they will be saying that they will be making it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their vote. This is the litmus test. We must all listen to the answer to this particular set of amendments.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, not just for his amendment but for making it very clear that the Conservatives would be carrying out their manifesto commitment without introducing photo ID.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I shall make a very short point about Amendment 80. The noble Lord should look carefully at whether many of these indicators are male-oriented. Women do not have their names on documents such as mortgage statements and utility bills. It would make more sense to have one particular card, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, suggested. It would be personal, in the name of the man or woman.

I want to add that I have my Freedom Pass in London. It is a very good thing. I could show it around.